Old Timey Music

Location: Worcester, United Kingdom

I live in the Midlands at the heart of the UK, though originally from Manchester, well actually from Salford, a little fishing village just outside Manchester. I've spent most of my life dealing with words one way or another, writing for fun and money (than goodness it was fun!). So, now I've found yet another way to exploit my interest. One of my other interests is music, particularly Old Timey music (I play guitar, banjo, mandolin etc.)and blues.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Mountain Minor or G Modal tuning

I was asked about 'Mountain Minor' or G modal tuning, one that I use a lot for such songs as 'The Cuckoo', 'Pretty Polly' and 'Shady Grove' - this is simplicity itself: just tune the second string (B) up a semi tone to 'C'. Sounds great for frailing or up-picking.

A variant is the double-C tuning which is great for playing fiddle tunes on the banjo, such as 'The Devil's Dream'. Tune to G-modal as above (second string up a semi tone to C) then tune the fourth string a whole tone down to C also - so you have (from the fifth string): gCGCD.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Modern stuff

There are some great 'modern' tunes that lend themselves wonderfully to an old timey treatment. Many years ago I was inspired by the Dillards' treatment of the Beatles' 'I've just seen a face', on their album Wheatstraw Suite. Over the years I've included a number of such numbers - some are easy, as they come from a country/rock genre: many Eagles songs for example benefit from full acoustic stringband perfomances. But also songs like Dire Straits' walk of life is just a Cajun song bursting to get out.

I've adapted a few Springsteen numbers but the song I like best is the Stones' 'Honky Tonk Women' - great for the mandolin, even better with a fiddle (but sadly I don't play fiddle).

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Yet another list

Lists can become addictive, after writing a brief gig list, I started thinking of the singers and bands I rate, those who have influenced me (and whose songs I have appropriated). Here are just a few:
  • New Lost City Ramblers (obviously)
  • Tom Paley's New Deal String Band
  • The Dillards
  • Art Rosenbaum
  • Eric Weismann
  • Flatt and Scruggs (obviously)
  • The Stanley Brothers
  • Uncle Dave Macon
  • Frank Proffit
  • Pure Prarie League
  • String Bean
  • Bill Munroe
  • Peggy Seeger
  • Clarence Ashley
  • The Carter Family
  • Ry Cooder
  • Woody Guthrie
  • Gid Tanner
  • Doc Watson
  • Stefan Grossman
  • Dave van Ronk
  • Leadbelly
  • Pete Seeger
  • Allison Kraus

Friday, November 03, 2006

Songs and the gig book

It's been quite some time since I did a gig, so the gig-book has been gathering dust in the little cupboard in my banjo case. I dug it out yesterday and thought it make make an interesting list for the blog. Here's just a few of the songs I included in sets, in no particular order:
  • Roll in my sweet baby's arms
  • The cuckoo
  • Crow black chicken
  • Wild Bill Jones
  • Handome Molly
  • Let me fall
  • Goodbye old booze
  • Hungry hash house blues
  • Rye Whiskey
  • Devils Dream
  • Pretty Polly
  • Jimmy Sutton
  • Won't you come and go
  • Old Joe Clarke
  • Tom Sherman's barroom
  • Willie Moore
  • Orange Blossom Special
  • Cindy Cindy
  • When first unto this country
  • Train on the Island
  • Durhams Bull
  • Moonshine in them old Kentucky hills
  • Solid gone
  • Gold watch and chain
  • Hot corn cold corn
  • Wildwood flower
  • Batchelor blues
  • Dallas Rag
  • Swannoa Tunnel
  • Rye Cove
  • Do Re Mi
  • Big Ball in Boston
  • Pretty litle miss
  • Sailing on the lonesome sea

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Serendipity - The Mustn't Grumble

Just stumbled across this site; I don't know why but the music really appealed to me - http://themustntgrumble.com/


Every time your interest seems to flag, and the rest of life's minutiae gets in the way something comes along to spark you off again. Recently I saw, rather belatedly Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, and out came all my old vinyl and I dusted off my banjo once again.

The Ethan Coen has done it again... I loved the soundtrack for 'Raising Arizona'.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Nice venue

Here's a club that books some great Old Timey perfomers - Walthamstow Folk - every Sunday at the Plough Inn London E17. www.walthamstowfolk.co.uk

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Moving on

Well, I've explained how I came to Old Timey music, but it was still a pretty lonely place. Although, back in the late 60's and '70's a few bluegrass bands started to stick their heads above the parapets. In Manchester there were only a very limited number of Bluegrass bands: I was playing at one club where a band called 'The Dog Hobble Ramblers' turned up - they featured Tom Travis and Tom Bowker later to become a great duo, Tom and Smiley together with Ivan Kelsall, a virtuoso bluegrass banjo picker with whom I worked for a while on a hybrid mix of bluegrass and old timey.

In the 70's I moved down to London and started performing in clubs around the SW and Surrey where I was based, including the Surbiton Assembly Rooms and the Angler's at Teddington. Later I played at the Country Club and the Mean Fiddler when it was at Harlsden, and Les Cousins.

It was still a fairly rarefied scene for Old Timey music, and when, In 1076 I moved up to the Midlands, opportunities to play were so scarce, I stopped playing for a good few years apart from the occasional trip to festivals such as Jackfield.

Blame it on the banjo.

Back in the late '60's when I was at college, I spent most of my free time singing in folk clubs around Manchester. Most of the singers were either finger-in-the-ear traditionalists or Tom Paxton style lyrical singers. But I was always attracted to the sound of the banjo - trouble is I really didn't know what kind of music was available. I had a secondhand banjo bought from a junk shop and was just singing the same stuff as everyone else. There were a few banjo pickers around such as Mike Harding, Harry Boardman and Frank Duffy, but all singing within the European tradition.

One day, searching in 'Rare Records' I came across a Topic album - 'The New Lost City Ramblers' - this was a revelation! I didn't even know what this style of music was called. Armed with a copy of Pete Seeger's 'How to play the 5 string banjo', I set out to try to work out how they got this great sound. I explored strange practices like frailing, double thumbing and mountain minor tuning.

I worked out a few songs and turned up at a club where I was a regular, for a floor spot. I sang the hard-driving 'Crow Black Chicken' and Clarence Ashley's 'The Cuckoo' - it went down a storm. It was as new to the audience there I believe and my musical career path was sown.