May-June 2013

HAPPY, COCKY, BELLIGERENTLY RESOURCELESS

By Linda Dewar

Glenfarg HotelAn aptly named festival… This year’s annual Glenfarg Folk Feast has just ended, and it was indeed a Feast. I love this festival. It’s small, taking up only the space available in and around the Glenfarg Hotel, a 16-room treasure on the main (and almost only) street in the village. Mornings are devoted to workshops; this year we had Songwriting, Fiddle, and Traditional Singing. After the workshops there’s a planned singaround session in one of the hotel pubs, with other informal sessions breaking out both indoors and out. Saturday afternoon brings the songwriting contest, which is always given a theme. This year’s theme was “We’re All In This Together,” which provided a platform for a plethora of satirical lyrics.

On Sunday afternoon, there is the World Championship Puff-a-Box competition, which features attempts by apparently sane adults to blow the inside of a matchbox the longest distance. There are concerts on Saturday and Sunday nights. Sunday’s concert always features a ‘big name’ performer… this year it was Karine Polwart. Saturday is a collection of several acts who brilliant and well-known, plus the opening act which is always the Farg Folk, a collection of talented club members who only perform together once a year.

Karine PolwartNowadays, it seems as if we are easily drawn into the idea that bigger is better when it comes to music. Artists we used to see in clubs are now more likely to appear in basketball arenas. Festivals are spread out over acres of ground and some last as long as a week. An event like the Glenfarg Folk Feast is a reminder that smaller can be very special indeed. You meet new friends and play music with folks who bring you new tunes and songs. You attend workshops with only 10 or 15 people, given by artists who are genuinely eager to share what they know and to get to know you. The professional artists join in the sessions and are happy to stick around for a coffee and a blether. It’s something to think about…

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“If you ever get any award, you know it’s just not for you, it’s for the generations of musicians before you who kept that music alive…”

Kathryn Tickell, accepting the award for Musician of the Year at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards

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There are a couple of interesting recently-released films that you may want to check out. The first is Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation. It features plenty of archival footage, along with interviews and reminiscing by some of the stalwarts of the 1960s, including Tom Paxton, Peter Yarrow, Eric Anderson, Joan Baez, and (of course) Pete Seeger. If you were a folkie in those days, you’ll appreciate both the memories and the insights. If you were born too late, this will give you a taste of what it was like.

In an entirely different vein, there is Last Shop Standing: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of the Independent Record Shop. Based on a book by Graham Jones, it traces the rise of independent record shops in the UK in the 1960s, the influence of the charts, and the impact of the transition from vinyl to CDs and the subsequent move to downloading. Over 2000 record shops have closed in the UK, and the film features interviews with shop owners, music industry leaders and musicians.

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“…The fact was that the folk we heard did not really know they were ‘folk’ singers, had very little to do with the ‘folk’ revival, and were very much singing and playing for their ‘ain folk’ in their own community, with no hangups about whether the material was ‘folk’ or not…”

Jim Bainbridge, writing in Living Tradition magazine, about folk festivals in the 1960s

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I’m not a doctor—and I’ve never played one on TV. But over time I’ve acquired plenty of layman’s level medical information about hands and how musicians abuse them. The latest malady I’m battling is trigger finger, which is probably familiar to any of you who play the guitar or its relatives.

Here are a few things I wish someone had said to me long ago:

* If your hands are hurting, don’t assume they’ll get better on their own. See a doctor, a chiropractor, or any other professional with the expertise to diagnose the problem and help you to correct it.

* Don’t practice for hours without a break. Take a 10 minute break every half hour or so. Get up, move around, flex your hands, wiggle your fingers, and bend your body.

* Musicians should do warmups just like athletes do. Ask a physician or a qualified music teacher to suggest some exercises you can do before you start to play.

* If you feel pain in your upper back or neck, it may be due to pressure from your instrument strap. Trying a different strap or changing the length of your strap may be helpful, but if not then see a doctor, chiropractor, or whomever you choose.

* If you sit down while you play, don’t—don’t—don’t do that thing where you turn your left foot on its side and put your right foot on the edge of you shoe in order to raise the knee your guitar is resting on. Over time, it will make a mess of your hips, back, neck… you get the point. Instead, get a foot stand like classical guitarists use, or grab whatever is handy… books, a brick, even a soup can will do.

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Yes, but did he like it?...

"Theirs [the Beatles] is a happy, cocky, belligerently resourceless brand of harmonic primitivism... In the Liverpudlian repertoire, the indulgent amateurishness of the musical material, though closely rivaled by the indifference of the performing style, is actually surpassed only by the ineptitude of the studio production method. (Strawberry Fields suggests a chance encounter at a mountain wedding between Claudio Monteverdi and a jug band.)" -- Glenn Gould

An American now living in Scotland, Linda Dewar is a singer-songwriter and a player of various stringed and wind instruments. Besides being a solo performer, she is half of a duo with Scottish singer Douglas Craik, plays in an occasional ceilidh band, and is a founding member of the revue Simply Burns. Visit her website.

  

All Columns by Linda Dewar