July-August 2008

The world is smaller than we think.  Last month, hubby and I attended a folk festival put on by the Glenfarg Folk Club.  On the evening of the final concert, which featured the McCalmans  and Jim Malcolm, we got there early and began chatting with a woman seated in front of us.  She was a delightful older lady (in her 80’s), who had just released her fifth CD of Scottish songs, having begun her musical career in her 60’s.

Hearing my American accent, she asked where we’d come from, and we told her we’d moved from Los Angeles to Scotland, which prompted her to ask if we’d ever been to Ojai. “Oh, yes…” said hubby, and mentioned our friend, Scottish musician John Hannah who lives there. The dear lady looked stunned for a moment, and then a smile broke out across her face.  “Well,” she said, “He’s my son!”

As it happens, she’d been over to visit him quite a few times, and gotten to know most of the Celtic musicians who were playing in the LA area in the 1980’s… so here’s a big hello from her to everyone who remembers Nell Hannah


True Bloopers:  Ever start singing a song and get the lyrics twisted around your tongue? Never happens in rehearsals—only at live gigs.  And then, whether the audience has noticed it or not, you have to do something to hold back the giggles! Here are a few gems, thanks to the good folk on the Mudcat Forum…

In John Prine’s Paradise, someone sang “Mr. Coalbody’s pee train” instead of “Mr. Peabody’s coal train.”

The line “you shall sit and spin” somehow got turned around by one poor singer and became “you shall spit and sin.”

And, while singing The Fields of Athenry, my partner once managed to change the line “Against the famine and the crown…” to “Against the salmon and the crown…”


The price of speaking out:  It’s a tough call… musicians who are invited to play in a foreign country sometimes have to weigh their options if the country in question has policies that don’t sit comfortably with their beliefs.  A few months ago, Icelandic singer Bjork made the decision to play in China, and during the gig she spoke out about her sympathy for Tibet and the Dali Lama. 

Now, the Chinese government says that they are going to crack down on this sort of behavior. In a statement, the Chinese Culture Ministry said,  “We will further tighten controls on foreign artists performing in China in order to prevent similar cases from happening in the future. We shall never tolerate any attempt to separate Tibet from China and will no longer welcome any artists who deliberately do this.”.


Another of music’s unsung heroes has passed away.  Artist Alton Kelley, along with his friend and collaborator Stanley “Mouse” Miller, was the genius behind all of those psychedelic gig posters and album covers that defined the San Francisco style of the 60’s.  Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin… for anyone old enough to remember the late 60’s and early 70’s, their names instantly conjure up images of Kelley’s work.


Everyone’s a critic: Here are a few examples of colorful criticism I came across recently.  As the saying goes (sort of), if you can’t say something nice, at least say something clever:

“The harpsichord sounds like two skeletons copulating on a corrugated tin roof “ (Thomas Beecham)

“His Majesty does not know what the Grenadier Guards Band has just played, but it is never to be played again.”  (King George V)

“I liked your opera; I think I will set it to music” (Beethoven)

“I could eat alphabet soup and sh** better lyrics than that.”  (Johnny Mercer)

And finally, one for the other side:  “Critics can’t even make music by rubbing their back legs together.”  (Mel Brooks)


Last year, when FolkWorks was still a print-only publication, Roger Goodman wrote a column about an electronic instrument called the Theremin.  As I read it, I had a vivid memory of seeing one played on television back in the black-and-white days.  Sure enough, it was on a segment of the old You Asked For It program, and it’s now available on YouTube.  So, depending on your age, you can either take a walk down memory lane or see something really weird by going to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5EzKtn2ARE.


“Music can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable”  (Leonard Bernstein)


What color is the key of G?  Do you associate each note of the scale with a color?  How about letters, or days of the week?  It’s called synesthesia, which means “a merging of the senses,” and apparently a lot of us have it.  Some people literally “see” colors… sometimes in the notes or words on a page, sometimes when playing or hearing music.  Others don’t actually see the colors, but they associate certain colors with specific musical keys or notes. 

There’s a new book out, called Musicophelia, written by Oliver Sacks, that examines this and other interesting neurological quirks related to music.  If you have experienced synesthesia and would like to know more, the book is a great read… or just Google “synesthesia” to find lots of excellent web sites and forums.

An American now living in Scotland, Linda Dewar is a singer and a player of various instruments with strings and keys.  She can be found performing Scottish and American folk music at gatherings on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as singing In the Aberfeldy and District Gaelic Choir.  Visit her web site at www.lindadewar.com.


All Columns by Linda Dewar