Tuesday 14 April 2015

Estron's first album - `Gwawr'

The week starting April 6th saw Estron gathered in Jez King's Pant y Gafel studio to record our first album. It took us three days to get our entire repertoire `in the can' and a bit longer to do the mixing and mastering and finally upload a selection to Bandcamp. The result is `Gwawr' and I have to say I'm rather pleased with it and it does give a good representation of what we sound like live. Four of us - me, Micky, Danny and Jess - recorded our parts playing live together, while Holly came in later due to work commitments and recorded her bits separately on top.

There was also an opportunity to finally get our act together and have a decent full band photo taken:

So this is it - the finished article:

Click on the image to go to Bandcamp
and give it a listen...

Saturday 14 February 2015

2015 Gigs

Things were a little quiet last year in terms of gigs (apart from Morris dancing with Heb Enw of course). This year has started off quite well so far. Here's the list so far:

24th January - Burns night supper, Moylegrove, North Pembs. - with Holly Robinson.

1st March - Saint Davids Day parade, Cardiff - with Pibau Planed: Peni Ediker and Stef Balesi.

29th March - Palm Sunday procession, Llanfyrnach. With Micky and Danny Tose, and Phil Higginson.

4th April - Ceilidh for a Meditation Weekend, Stackpole Centre, Sth. Pembs - with Estron.

6th April - Procession to Llanwinio church for the celebration of Saint Gwinio. With Micky, Danny, and Phil again. Also Dave Peterson (drum) and Sue (?) on flute.

6th - 8th April - Recording session with Estron at Pant y Gafel for our first album.

23rd May - Fishguard Folk Festival, 1.30pm in the Ffwrn - with Estron.

30th May - Big band workshop for pipes in G and D, and concert performance, at the Bagpipe Society Blowout, Polesworth, Staffs.

Estron news:

Last year we acquired a new band member which has added a new dimension to our sound. So here's a welcome to our harpist - Jess Ward from Pembroke.

Jess has an album out on Bandcamp if you want to hear what she sounds like:


Tuesday 10 February 2015

Welsh Pipes album `Cerrig Dymuniad'

A couple of weeks ago I finally got round to uploading the album I made in 2007 to Bandcamp. `Cerrig Dymuniad' is basically myself on Welsh bagpipes - Bacbib and Pibau Cyrn - plus a bit of Medieval double chanter bagpipes, pibgorn, bass pibgorn (that's just a really big pibgorn fitted with a clarinet mouthpiece), and recorder; Jez King (of The Mordekkers) on percussion, and who also recorded the album for me in his barn studio in Pembrokeshire; and Stef Balesi (also of The Mordekkers) on crwth on a couple of tracks.

Truth is though, it's only in the last year or so that our internet connection could have coped with the upload - Bandcamp needs you to upload music as wav files, which for `Cerrig Dymuniad' works out at about 450 Mb, and took about 3 hours to upload!

Another thing which I should have done a long time ago and have finally gotten round to is to create a tunebook to go with the album. That is, all the tunes from the album written down exactly as I play them. I've added a pdf of the tunebook to the album download on Bandcamp as a free extra.

Full track listing for `Cerrig Dymuniad' is:

1. Hyd y Frwynen / Bwrlwm
2. Morfa Rhuddlan / Digan y Pibydd Goch
3. Y Crwtyn Llwyd / Philomela / Y Hwch yn y Haidd
4. Jig Arglwydd Caernarfon / Dawns y Tylwyth Teg
5. Lloyd's Whim
6. The tune of Morfydd's Pipes / Mwynen Glan Teifi / Y Twmpathe
7. Gwynt o'r Glan / Spanish Minuet / Jig Heb Enw
8. Meillionen o Feirionnydd
9. Mae'r Flwyddyn yn Marw / Dyma Gariad fel y Moroedd
10. Ffarwel i dre Caernarfon Lon / Harlech / Brig y Brwyn
11. Lloer Dirion, Lliw'r Dydd

Monday 2 February 2015

Chepstow Wassail and Mari Lwyd 2015

We do this event every year unless the weather prevents us getting there (we were snowed in at home in 2013), but despite being a bit chilly and a bit damp at the start, the weather was quite kind to us this year. It's organised by the Widders Border Morris who do a sterling job of bringing order out of the chaos...

So there we were on the 17th of January. We arrived a bit before the official start so we could get warmed up with a bit of dancing and danced in the light rain for a half hour or so while more sensible folk watched us from behind pub windows.

As the rain fizzled out other teams joined us - Styx from Stroud and Silhill from Birmingham way - and the Mari's began to appear. Then it was the official start and we all trooped off around the corner below the castle to wassail the apple trees, singing songs and hanging bits of toast from the branches of one lucky recipient.

Then it was back to the Three Tuns for some Mari Lwyding, a bit of a pwnco outside the back door before the Mari's were allowed in for a warm, a beer and a bit of a sing-song.

Afterwards there was more dancing outside, though we missed that in favour of a drink and some food and a bit of a warm. But then as it began to grow dark we headed down towards the bridge and did some more dancing, just ourselves (Heb Enw) and the Widders as the rest of the Morris teams had gone over to England for the wassailing over on that side of the river.

And then it was time for the main event - the meeting in the centre of the bridge of the Welsh and English contingents. We finished our final dance as a rocket went up over the river to herald the approach of the English and then we all gathered on our side of the bridge. Me and Dan piped with Holly on whistle and Micky on ukulele, all with drumming accompaniment from Aaron Meli and others, and the Mari's led us all up to the middle of the bridge which marks the English / Welsh border to meet with the English wassailers and Morris teams.

Then we all headed back to the entrance of Chepstow museum for another Mari Lwyd pwnco, more dancing and drumming, before we headed off for the two and a half hour drive home.

Another great event organised by the Widders. You can get the essence of the whole thing from Angie Latham's video of it below:

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Bagpipers of the Maastricht Hours

A few months ago a friend of mine and fellow member of the Bagpipe Society, Tom Hughes, posted a picture he'd found on a British Library webpage depicting a bagpiper from the Maastricht Hours, Medieval book of Hours. It didn't take much imagination to come up with the idea that if there was one bagpiper, then there may well be one or two more. In fact there turned out to be 15 of them !

Droneless short-chanter bagpipe, page 16v

The Maastricht Hours was produced in the first quarter of the 14th century in Liege in the Netherlands for an aristocratic woman who it is thought is actually depicted in various places through the manuscript. Such books were apparently often given as wedding gifts to the bride from the groom. Whoever she was she must have had quite an enlightened attitude and have been a bit of a music lover. Many of the illustrations depict scenes from normal life, often in humorous context and often depicting a good many musical instruments as well as the bagpipes.

The pipes fall into 3 basic categories - firstly, droneless bagpipes with short, conical chanters; secondly, similar instruments but with very long chanters, so supposedly much lower in pitch; and thirdly, a bagpipe fitted with a short conical chanter plus a bass drone and a baritone drone all in a common stock. All the pipes are mouthblown.

Bagpipe with drones, page 44v

This latter group of pipes is particularly interesting. Vaguely reminiscent of the Italian Zampogne, though with only a single chanter unlike the Zampogna's two, there is a surprising amount of detail considering that the pictures are quite obviously `illustrations' rather than detailed, realistic depictions. Take the example above - note the stopper in the end of the baritone drone with the chord attaching it to the pipes clearly shown. That this is precisely what it is can be seen from the image below, where the drone is unplugged:

Page 35v

This image is much more of a sketch really, whereas in the page 44v image, the drone lengths relative to the chanter would seem much more realistic. Below are the rest of the illustrations depicting this style of bagpipe.

Page 49r

Page 116r

Page 234r

All of these, except the monkey one, seem to show a realistic arrangement of drones - the longer of the two seems about right to be 2 octaves below the chanter, while the shorter drone seems about right to be a baritone, but whether at a 4th or a 5th above the bass drone it's not possible to say. I would suggest that the presence of the stopper for the baritone would be a useful thing to have as it would make the instrument just that bit more flexible. Let us imagine that the chanter is in C - and at the length depicted that wouldn't be too far out - then if the baritone drone is in F (a 4th), then if stoppered, the pipes would be good for tunes with a six finger tonic (C), whereas if unstoppered, it would be good for tunes with a 3 finger tonic - F. A similar argument could clearly be made for the baritone at a fifth, though it would be the other way round; stoppered for tunes in F, unstoppered for tunes in C.

The two drones must have been a bit of a handful for the lower hand, much more-so than the typical arrangement for French pipes with but a single drone alongside the chanter, but if the drones were quite thin (and they are depicted as such) then the arrangement would not seem impossible.

I've never seen pipes like this from another source, and certainly never seen any `Medieval Bagpipe' recreations in this style. If you know of any, do let me know.

Below are the rest of the bagpipes. A little less interesting perhaps as they have no drones. This is a common arrangement in early medieval depictions of bagpipes in British churches - there is for example a fine example in the form of a carving in Llanelien church on Anglesey, North Wales.

Page 18v

Page 31r

Page 109v

Page 115r

Page 137r

Page 157v

Page 206v

Page 208v

Page 253v

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Into the New Year

So here we are - 2014. January, not exactly as cold as perhaps it should be but pretty miserable and wet. We were supposed to be dancing out (Heb Enw Morris) on New Years Day at Tafarn Sinc in Rosebush, but had to cancel when the weather forecast changed from showery to steady rain. Not much joy Morris dancing on a wet January afternoon anywhere, and definitely not 600 plus feet up a Welsh mountainside. The weather had at least been kinder on Boxing day when we danced at the Bristol Trader in Haverfordwest, down by the riverside.

And it was just as well we'd organised the gigs this way round as the Bristol Trader was flooded out by New Years day...

More Morris dancing on the 18th of January when we once again took the team to Chepstow for their annual Wassail and Mari Lwyd. This time I shared the horse-head carrying duties with Sheila as the Widders Border Morris who organise it had loads more to do with the Maris than they've had in previous years.

Here we are in the Three Tuns during the sing-song. It was good too to see Micky and Danny again even though it was only a couple of weeks since we took them back to Uni.

Danny's piping has been coming on great. We only had one `Estron' rehearsal over Christmas but her playing has stepped up a league since she switched from my old set of pibau cyrn to the set she and I made together.

And having mentioned Estron - we have a new member of the band - Jess Ward, a harpist from Pembroke. Rehearsals have been going well so far - looking forward to doing a few gigs as the year progresses.

Meanwhile on the instrument making front, I spent a couple of days knocking up a new dulcimer. Well not so much an Appalachian Mountain version as its fore-runner - a European Hummel. Roughly styled after the German Scheitholt illustrated by Praetorius in 1620, but fretted with a pattern of frets equivalent to the scale for the Swedish sackpipa.

Here it is in the video below, accompanied by the sackpipa. The pictures are from a touring holiday me and Sheila took in Norway back in 1986 or thereabouts.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Winter 2013

It's December the 17th as I write this. After nine and a half years of doing the job I've edited my last ever edition of  `Chanter' the quarterly journal of the Bagpipe Society. I have to say, when I first volunteered for doing it, I never imagined I'd be at it for so long. On the whole it's been a thoroughly rewarding time, but now it's passed on to the capable hands of Jane Moulder and I hope she enjoys doing it as much as I have...

Things are moving on with Estron as well - the girls are away at University (though they're home now for Christmas) and to fill the void we've acquired a new member for the band - Jess who's a bit of a whizz on the harp has been joining us for the last couple of practices. Of course when the girls are home we've got the full band, but now when they're away we can still do a creditable performance.

Meanwhile things have been fairly quiet on the instrument making front. I still have customers waiting patiently for the pipes they've ordered - and they will be getting them soon, though I'm not as quick at it as I used to be. Just finished this set of pibau cyrn for one customer - it's made from yew sourced in Carmarthenshire, plastic Eezydrone reeds in both the chanter and drone:

Also finished for another customer - Bill Reese in Virginia who plays with the Welsh / Breton folk group `Moch Pryderi' - another set of pibau cyrn, again in yew. This is Bill playing them during a concert:

In my last Blog post I showed you a set of Swedish pipes (sackpipa) I made for myself. It works at a lighter pressure than my pibau cyrn so I've been playing it quite a bit recently - trying to get to grips with the different fingering, and assembling a collection of tunes in it's peculiar scale from various internet sources.

I've also gone back to my first love - the Appalachian dulcimer. I made my first one in the early seventy's and a few months ago made another. This is a type known as the Tennessee Music Box and has a bigger sound than the more normal types, due to it's much larger soundbox.

One characteristic is that the bridge and nut are formed from tin, cut and bent to shape over iron nails. Frets are made from staples and are placed just under the melody string, while the tuners are simply screw in eyes which work much better than you might imagine.