Hifi, Vinyl is bollox so are valves and foo

Like a few males of a certain age I like playing music via my hifi system and to keep abreast of things I joined a couple of online forums (fora?). I won’t name them but I’m sure you’ll find them if you search for UK hifi forums. Most of the stuff posted there about valves, vinyl, cables, mains conditioners is complete and utter crap; as Alan Shaw the respected designer of Harbeth loudspeakers frequently points out.

I love this comment from him about speaker cables:

‘We noted recently that the signal from the microphone to the loudspeaker comprises a line. A line of electrons flowing towards the voice coil of the speaker drive units. Because the voice coils are in a magnetic field, and the voice coil is glued to a speaker cone, we can hear a sound.

Before we get too carried away with spending money on the speaker cable that connect the amp to the speakers, and which is sometimes the thickness of a hose pipe, what about the part of the chain that you the consumer can’t play with? The voice coil wire itself.

Did you appreciate that the voice coil wire is not much thicker than a human hair? And if we unwind a voice coil from a RADIAL 5″ or 8″ woofer we can stretch it out a long way …. far longer than the cable typically used to connect your amp to your speakers! So, on the basis of the sound be limited by the weakest link – in this case the thinnest wire – I’m satisfied that QED79 strand (or equivalent) is ‘more than adequate enough to get you going’.

It really is most bizzare and it’s like the world hasn’t changed since the video above. There is almost a universal lack of scientific knowledge and a desire to ‘believe any old crap’. This is perpetuated by an industry selling dreams of perfect and better sound to the delusional. Some audiophiles call themselves ‘subjectivists’ (i.e. if I can hear the improvement it is better) and they generally spend a fortune seeking audio perfection. Of course the only purpose of a hifi industry is relieve consumers of as much cash as possible and if some sort of ‘pseudo babble’ or fancy coloured light on the front of the equipment does that better than cold hard science they don’t really care; they just want your cash.

People claim that they can hear all sorts of improvements by changing this or that. This is of couse just expectational bias. Hardly anyone carries out listening trials in a scientific way. It’s a fact that if you take any well designed, competent solid state amplifiers and adjust for the difference in sound levels they output – people cannot distinguish between them. That’s why I use a good old Quad solid state amplifier rather than the latest ‘in fashion bling’. Valves by the way just add distortion (which may be nice when creating a sound in the first place) and can, some claim, be pleasing. However, as they move the sound away from what the artist or engineer intended they are ultimately not improving the sound but diminishing it.

This lecture shows how difficult it is test things scientifically.

Vinyl is bollox, there i’ve said it. It really is, no if’s and buts. The dynamic range of even a CD is 100dB or more compared to around 50/60dB of an LP; that is it is 100-1000  better than analogue working at it’s very best. Distortions of 10-30% are quite normal for vinyl replay of loud sounds. That amount of distortion may actually be masked by music, or may add a certain character not readily attributable to “distortion” by the casual listener. Some listeners may even like the distortion, as they consider a particular ‘sound’ to be normal to their ears.

The cutting engineers developed numerous craft skills for working around the technical reality of discs. They became masters of taking the recording and manipulating it so that it would, literally, ‘fit’ onto a gramophone record.

He/she squashes the dynamic range so that the grooves never accelerate the average stylus too fast, he raises the loudness of the quieter elements of the music so that they are both audible above the inevitable hiss, crackles and plops, he reduces the stereo width generally since that minimises stylus movement, he probably monos the bass below about 100Hz (reduces groove width, necessary for 20 mins/side), he sets the peak loudness to minimise distortion on the average pickup and so on.

He uses every trick he knows to compensate for the limits of the medium even though it is significantly different from that recorded by the microphone. And I haven’t even started on hiss, crakle and pops or discussing a medium that degrades over time and with playing.

Vinyl might be a satisfying theatrical performance but is never capabale of reproducing the original performance; full stop. The cartridge is dumb it cannot separate the wanted motion (the music) from the random motion (the noise).

The development of the CD red book standard by Sony/Phillips was an astonishing piece of work for the time and was the greatest leap forward in hifi reproduction ever. The standard still can reproduce everything that anyone over 18 (Some youngsters MAY technically have hearing that extends beyond the upper frequency range) can hear.

By far the biggest factors in hifi reproduction are how the material was recorded in the first place, how it was mastered (some people defending vinyl will quote the mastering loudness wars at this stage) and the acoustics of the room you are listening in.

As for those who claim that some vinyl has a better dynamic range than the CD according to the Dynamic Range Database; well you had better take a look at this.

Basically vinyl is taking the piss. Marketers are selling a theatrical performance (look at the artwork, feel how tactile it is) and a retro nostalgia to get people to part with cash (probably for the second time) for an inferior product.

Oh yea, you also have to turn it over halfway through.

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Ryan Young Scottish Traditional Fiddle Player

It’s been sometime since we wrote a blog here. But I doubt that there are too many regular readers! We’ve been keeping ourselves busy in the meantime. Not least helping a young traditional fiddler from Scotland; Ryan Young.Ryan Young Traditional Scottish Fiddle Player

We came across Ryan playing on BBC Alba on the TV and where so impressed that we got in touch with him with a view to seeing if we could help him at all. Ryan is quite simply, in our opinion, the most promising young traditional fiddle player in the UK. His interpretations of traditional Scottish tunes are quite stuning.

Our friendship with Ryan has ultimately led to him recording his first album with a triple Grammy award winning producer – Jesse Lewis.We still can’t quite get our heads around the fact that Jesse agreed to fly to Scotland to do this project; here are some of his albums he was involved in recently.

The album has been recorded in high resolution audio at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and we had a lot of fun helping pull all this together. You can find out more about this here. The album should be available around the first quarter of 2017.

If you are at all interested in traditional music; particularly the fiddle playing of Martin Hayes, Alasdair Fraser and Liz Caroll can I suggest that you check out Ryan’s playing. He really is in the same league as they are. He is, in my opinion, the best young traditional fiddler of his generation.

You can find out more about Ryan at his website www.ryanyoung.scot or follow him on Facebook.

Edit: Since posting this Ryan has won ‘Up and Coming Artist of the Year’ at MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards 2016.

Traditional Scottish Fiddler Ryan Young with Martin Hayes

Traditional Scottish Fiddler Ryan Young with Martin Hayes

Traditional Scottish Fiddler Ryan Young with Dennis Cahill

Traditional Scottish Fiddler Ryan Young with Dennis Cahill

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Rachel Sermanni at The Magic Lantern, Tywyn

Well its been a quiet few weeks for us old codgers. However, for the next 3 weekends we have 3 gigs lined up. The first was a trek up to Tywyn to see Rachel Sermanni in concert (last night) then next weekend we’re off to see Nick Cave play in Koko, London as John managed to get tickets for the special gig he is doing there as part of his film 20,000 Days on Earth. Then the weekend after it’s back to Tywyn to see Robyn Hitchcock who I blogged about earlier in the year when he played at the Laugharne Weekend. Crickey, at our age, we should be sat on the sofa watching the TV with a mug of cocoa not hurtling round the UK to listen to quirky folk play music in quirky places.

The Magic Lantern, Tywyn

Rachel Sermanni at The Magic Lantern, Tywyn

So speaking of quirky we headed off to The Magic Lantern yesterday afternoon in the van. Liz spent many weekends as a child in and around Tywyn so it was a trip back down memory lane to go back there. We ambled across country, in the annoying way old folk do (if you’re stuck behind in a car whilst John scans the countryside for photographs) and stopped off in rainy Aberdyfi for a cup of tea and fish and chips before trundling into Tywyn an hour or so before the gig. The Magic Lantern is a delightfully converted old Assembly Rooms/Cinema that has real character and rather fine acoustics.

Hitchcock at the Magic lantern

Hitchcock keeps an eye on proceedings at the Magic Lantern, Tywyn. This will be very weird in two weeks time when Hitchcock watches Hitchcock!

I get quite a buzz out of hearing new people for the first time and I’m not too sure how I first strayed across Rachel. ‘That sounds good’ I thought not realising that she was only a tad over 20 years old. Our paths nearly crossed in Clonakilty in the south west of Ireland when she was playing in De Baras pub but we were already going to another gig at Baltimore Fiddle Fair. So, as she lives in Scotland and not that much music gets to the far west of Wales, it wasn’t until last night we got to see her.

What a delight it turned out to be. The venue was perfect, the audience, although not large were attentive, and Rachel was delightful with the bubbly enthusiasm of one so young. Do not be deceived – her songs, voice and delivery are mature. Each song is is sung with a delivery that emphasises its meaning, a little stop or a little smile can mean a lot in these songs. Because she is so unique it’s quite hard to categorise her music; I’ve heard things like ‘folk noir balladeer’ banded about but that doesn’t really do her justice. Rachel is Rachel and I very much doubt she is ever going to be neatly slotted into any pigeon hole.

Songs that stood out for me were ‘Ever Since the Chocolate’, ‘Song to a Fox’, the Robbie Burns song ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ (which I hated when I heard Eddie Reader do it) and the delicious ‘Eggshells’ which was an encore sung without the microphone.

Rachel Sermanni

Rachel Sermanni singing ‘Eggshells’ at the Magic Lantern, Tywyn

A really good gig and it just proves that if you keep your ears open there is great stuff out there. Not wishing to turn this into a rant (us old folks are pretty good at that Rachel – and I’ve done it previously here anyway) I just wish a few more people would turn off their ‘mind numbing’ televisions, that are spewing out plastic pap in the spaces between the commercials, and get along to gigs like this.

After such a good evening what else could we do but park the van down by the estuary and fall asleep to the sound of the wind blowing through the trees. It beats a mug of cocoa and the goggle box any night.

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40 Years Ago – The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle

The Wild the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle

The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle

Forty years ago today one of the greatest rock albums of all time was released. It was the difficult second album for a 23 year old Bruce Springsteen who went on to become a household name.

People seem to love him or hate him. The greatest rock artist of all time or a boring formulaic oldie? This post isn’t about that debate.

How did this young man, who had not exactly been a success at school, manage to conceive, write and put together this masterpiece? Although he probably answered this question himself later in life – “For me, I was somebody who was a smart young guy who didn’t do very well in school. The basic system of education, I didn’t fit in; my intelligence was elsewhere.”

It’s a massive cinematographic style album of the characters and places of where he grew up; stories from the board walk and the beach. Springsteen is observing life from the street corner, rather than driving down the highway.

For me Bruce has never surpassed this album and whilst this was an early (and some argue weaker) incarnation of the E Street Band I love the production and feel of the recording. The music has vast open spaces and room to breath whilst at the same time you can almost feel the heat of a Jersey night. I much prefer the production to the later ‘wall of sound’ production.

As Bruce grew older he seemed to restrict himself into tighter and tighter song structures, that were much more formulaic (albeit a formula that most would be more than happy with). I guess we shouldn’t be angry that he never wrote down this way again, we should just be grateful that, at one time, he did.

So if you detest the thought of listening to Springsteen give this a listen and marvel at the creativity of a 23 year old; you may be pleasantly surprised and if you’re one of the ‘converted’ (like me) have another listen to probably the most underrated album of all time. The last three tracks, especially ‘Incident on 57th Street’ and ‘New York City Serenade’  are some of the best tracks ever written in the ‘rock’ genre (although it defies categorisation); lyrical and vivid story telling at its best. Probably my ‘Desert Island Disc’ if I had to just choose one.

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Tulla Festival 2013

As a few people know we’re kind of particular to traditional Irish music and the music of East Clare is high on our list. Most years we can be found heading for Feakle Festival (John helps out with their website) and it was a particular disappointment that we missed it this year due to the death of a close friend.

However, the neighbouring village of Tulla also has a smaller festival at the beginning of September and so we loaded up the campervan and headed of to East Clare for the weekend. Now Tulla can seem a bit of a quiet place (even the residents might agree) – by day it is an ordinary working town that probably doesn’t feature too highly on the tourist radar. It’s even known as ‘the Windswept Hill’. But for those in the know (together with neighbouring Feakle) it is a rich vein of traditional music that produces some of the finest pearls (that could be a tautology or some other linguistic faux pas – but I hope that you get the gist).

The music from this region is some of the best on the planet and I’ve seen some of the all time ‘greats’ playing in the pubs here; Liz Carroll, Arty McGlynn, Joe Burke, Seamus Tansey, Matt Molloy, Eileen O’Brien, John Carty, Mary Bergin, Darren Breslin – the list is endless. Mind you Tulla and Feakle have their own list of greats including the mighty Tulla Ceilidh Band and Martin Hayes.

We got to Tulla on the Friday to find the whole place buzzing with excitement as Clare were in the all Ireland Hurling final on Sunday (Probably the equivalent of the F.A. Cup final in the UK).

The Colours of County Clare

The Colours of County Clare could be found everywhere including John Minogue’s Pub

The Festival proceedings were due to ‘kick off’ around 8.00 p.m. on Friday night with a parade through the town. By 8.15 not much was happening (to the consternation of a couple who had found their way here from Quebec – and I had to explain that Irish time can have a slightly different meaning to elsewhere) but by about 20 minutes past the hour the Chapel Gate Wrenboys, All Ireland Wrenboy Champions, came strolling through town; looking remarkably like extras in Midsomer Murders. They then put on a lively, fun and (sometimes) bawdy show in the Courthouse; great fun.

Chapel Gate Wren Boys

Chapel Gate Wren Boys parade through Tulla to open the Festival 2013

From their we trotted across the road to Minogue’s bar to catch up with a few friends, have a few pints and listen to the session going on. There is clearly some strange ‘time vortex’ in Irish pubs; before you know it – it is 2.30 or 3 in the morning.

Saturday evening brought the main event; the Concert in the Court House hosted by Mary MacNamara, a fine concertina player who does much to teach the youngsters in the area. What a great concert it turned out to be with fine playing from the start when it was opened up by some of those youngsters including 12 year old Lilly O’Connor.

Sorcha Costello and Aisling Hunt

Sorcha Costello and Aisling Hunt, who won the duet category (U18)  at the Fleadh na hEireann, show why the music in Tulla is so strong. Brilliant playing girls!

The concert continued with a line up that just kept up a cracking standard all evening including, Johnny Og Connolly, Harry Bradley, Oisin MacDiarmada, Caitlin Nic Gabhann, Zoe Conway and the Full Set band. Brilliant stuff and a reminder that there is astonishing music out there.

Caitlin Nic Gabhann

Ciarán Ó Maonaigh and Caitlin Nic Gabhann

Harry Bradley

Harry Bradley in full flight

Zoe Conway and her husband John McIntyre

Zoe Conway and her husband John McIntyre

The Full set

Part of The Full Set (if you see what I mean). An excellent young band playing powerful music.

Once again it was back of to the pub afterwards where Andrew MacNamara, Eileen O’Brien, Mark Donnellan and Michael Landers playing a great session. ‘Playing’ is not quite the word for Andrew (whose playing can be best described as ‘fiery’) was trading unusual phrasing with Mark and the battle went on into the early hours with Eileen smiling to herself every time these two issued another challenge to each other. Mighty music; you’d have to have been mad to miss it. Another late night/early morning in a pub (Tulla has this effect)!

Sunday was the day of the ‘All Ireland’ final and Tulla seemed deserted. Some more sessions were happening at lunch time but most minds were focussed on the big game starting at 3.30 pm.

A Session in Minogues

A Session in Minogues at Tulla Festival 2013

Clare had not won the All Ireland Final since 1997. And there was much excitement as Clare led for most of the match, to lose the lead in added time and then equalise 30 seconds after the ‘end’ of added time. So it all has to be done once more in a few weeks time! Not sure I could stand that much excitement again.

It looks all over for Clare, losing by one point at the end of extra time.

It looks all over for Clare, losing by one point at the end of added time.

Then a defender knocks one over from long range 30 seconds past the end of added time!

Then a defender knocks one over from long range 30 seconds past the end of added time! It’s a draw.

Sunday evening was rounded off nicely by a CD launch from Edel Fox (concertina) and Neill Byrne (fiddle) who played a great set to finish the festival off. Time for another pint before heading for the Ferry and home. What a weekend that was.

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The Laugharne Weekend

Spring 2013 has seemed long and cold and whilst still cold, the days have recently been dry and bright. So on a lovely sunny and bright Friday afternoon we found ourselves heading off to the small town of Laugharne here in Carmarthenshire. Laugharne is not far from where we live and is best known as being the home of Dylan Thomas from 1949 until his death in 1953.

The Laugharne Weekend

The Laugharne Weekend

Every spring Laugharne hosts an absolute gem of a music and arts festival and to our shame we had never been before; in fact before moving here we had never heard of it! But having gone to Hay festival last year to see Chris Wood in concert and not been impressed (not by Chris Wood who was excellent but by the whole corporate bollox) as it was full of trendy people from London having a ‘few days in the sticks’ before they rushed back to the city for a shower, a latte and the security of street lights. I really should have known better about Hay Festival as it is sponsored by the Telegraph Newspaper (enough said).

The Laugharne Weekend is the complete opposite and is clearly run for pleasure rather than profit. Laugharne very much reminds me of Kinvara in the west of Ireland and it proved extremely confusing, as I overheard in a conversation, for those from the city who did make it here. The locals had cunningly extracted all their cash from them for board, lodgings and refreshments but had failed to advise them that things like cash machines don’t exist in small towns in Wales. Not sure how they would get on where we live with no mobile phone signal either but I expect that you can get counselling for such trauma.

The Castle at Laugharne

The Castle at Laugharne

We parked by the church and had a walk round. It really is glorious down by the estuary on such a grand day – as Beth Orton remarked in her set later in the evening; ‘It’s fecking gorgeous’ or words to that effect. After getting orientated and collecting our wristbands we headed off to the Millenium Hall where Joe Boyd was to give a talk, based around his book ‘White Bicycles’, about his time working with the late Nick Drake. Joe was pretty much responsible for a who’s who of music in the late 60’s and 70’s (He was Muddy Waters’s roadie once as well) and here he was on the pavement in our remote part of the world shouting across the road to Robyn Hitchcock who had just turned up with a guitar and who was wearing a hat like a dead cat to insulate him from the chilling air. Joe’s talk about Nick was interspersed with music from Robyn Hitchcock, Charlotte Greig and Keitel Keinig (the latter who did a very emotional version of River Man). All in all a pretty fine opener.

We returned later for Beth Orton’s gig in the packed hall. ‘Oh look’, I said, ‘there’s Sam Amidon‘ who was tuning up on stage before the gig – we didn’t think he would be playing. Sam is Beth’s husband and son of Peter and Mary Amidon who are pretty well respected folk musicians in Vermont. We had last seen him last year at the Gloaming concert in Dublin with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. Sam is also the childhood friend of Thomas Bartlett or ‘Doveman‘ who is another astonishing musician who has worked with all sorts of people including producing an album for Hannah Cohen whose grandfather was a friend of Dylan Thomas (I think I just went ‘full circle’ – you still with me?). To cut a long story short; Sam is a damn fine musician and I felt that he accompanied Beth perfectly with guitar, fiddle and vocals at this rather good gig in a village hall in Wales.

As we had splashed out on a weekend ticket we headed back on Saturday to ‘fill our boots’ with more music and culture. This can prove to be a bit of a lucky dip in our case as we don’t pay much attention to names and celebrities; so for at least half of the ‘names’ here we didn’t have a clue who they were. But at least it’s a chance to see if anything has passed us by over the years that perhaps we should have paid more attention to.

A Welsh ‘food fair’ was set up in the castle grounds and people were doing what they do at food fairs; eating and sitting around in the sun.  Sir Peter Blake the Godfather of British Pop Art was also waiting for his ice cream cone.

Sir Peter Blake waiing for his Ice Cream!

Sir Peter Blake Waiting for his Ice Cream Cone at Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Ice Cream Stand

And later in the afternoon Robyn Hitchcock is enjoying his ice cream.

Robyn Hitchcock enjoys his Ice Cream and has a chat with Sir Peter Blake

Robyn Hitchcock enjoys his ice cream and has a chat with Sir Peter Blake

This is turning into a right celebrity ice cream festival; all we need now is John Cooper Clarke to eat an ice cream but he just seems to stick to chain smoking cigarettes. I presume that they must have run out of nicotine flavour.

Time to head off to our first event which was Tracey Thorn reading some of her book ‘Bedsit Disco Queen’ and chatting about her life as a pop star. This was a weird one as I hadn’t a clue who she was until I heard her reading a serialisation of her book on the radio a few weeks ago; and very good is was too. Her reading of extracts from the book was just as humorous; she is obviously an intelligent woman who came through being a ‘pop star’ and rejoined the human race quite successfully. I’m not sure the same could be said of the ‘music journalist’ who subsequently chatted to her on stage and who didn’t seem to ask any questions that got to the heart of who Mrs Thorn was. That said it probably wasn’t helped by me not knowing anything about ‘Everything But The Girl’ or any of the records they ever made.

On reflection Tracey’s writing was very much in the style of the ‘late’ John Peel. Perhaps she’d make a great presenter of ‘Home Truths’ on Radio 4? It would certainly be better than the fairly dire replacement programme now on a Saturday morning; which causes me to hurl abuse at the radio and reach for the off button in the same manner as when ‘Thought for The Day’ appears. I’m digressing too much.

A quick mid afternoon sugar boost of cake was required back at the Food Fair before heading off to see someone else called Mark Watson. This was really a toss of a coin as the choice was him or someone called Caitlan Moran. Once again we hadn’t got a clue who either was but we did think that Mark Watson might be a comedian and thus possibly funny so the coin landed funny side up and off we went. Well he did turn out to be a comedian who also wrote books (he was reading from his book and trying to flog it) and yes he was quite amusing in that fast ‘smart arsed’ way that ‘comedians’ seem to perform these days. He is probably better as a comedian than a novelist from the bits I heard; and no I won’t be buying the book.

The afternoon was now passing and it was getting cold on the shady side of the street. It was time for the main event to see Robyn Hitchcock in the Congregational Church. This event unfortunately clashed with John Cooper Clarke who was on just across the road in another venue; but being more ageing hippies than ageing punk rebels it was Robyn we wanted to see – particularly as he can best be described as quirky or as other might say ‘as mad as a box of frogs’ (in the nicest possible way!). He played a gorgeous intimate set, accompanied by a rather fine cello player (the lady in the ice cream picture above) to around 50 or 60 people and a similar number of Welsh midges who had flown into the church for a warm on a cold night. Robyn is very much of that whimsical English singer song writer tradition  who very definitely ploughs his own furrow; who else sings lyrics like ‘I feel like a three-legged chinchilla, standing on a table so wide I can’t see over the side’? Contrary to most of the others here he wasn’t trying to flog his merchandise and very refreshing that was too. The midges also seemed to have a particular affinity for Peter Blake’s hair, which was also fascinating to watch and certainly made for quite a surreal evening.

How many other people have sat, in a Welsh chapel, by an ‘icon’ of the Pop Art movement watching a cloud of insects hop around his white hair whilst a quirky British eccentric sang ‘ River Man’ (written by another eccentric) in the wrong time signature? Evenings like this (mosquitoes excepted) don’t happen too often in our part of Wales.

So Sunday dawned, not quite so bright but still acceptable by Welsh weather standards and we headed back for the the last day of the festival. It has proved to be quite the best little festival we have ever been to in the U.K. and I hope it remains so and avoids the trap of  getting too big and accepting the money of corporate sponsors. Sunday couldn’t be any better could it?

Like most weekend festivals Sunday is a more chilled and relaxed affair. A time for recovering from any excesses the night before etc. So we decided to go along and see what Sir Peter had to say about Pop Art and ‘that’ Sergeant Pepper Cover.

Sir Peter Blake with His Painting of Himself with Badges

Sir Peter Blake at Laugharne with his painting ‘Self Portrait with Badges’ or my shot of ‘The Artist with Himself Looking Over his Shoulder’.

Now most art goes ‘whoosh’ over my head so this was an interesting hour or so as he chatted to Mark Ellen (remember him from the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’?). On the way in to the hall they had been selling some raffle tickets and Liz said she’d buy one to help support the festival. I suggested that she wait for the seller to come to her; as good fortune would be more likely to come to her (rather than go chasing it).  The event came to an end and the winning ticket was drawn……..drum roll…….ticket number 45…….yes we were the winners of a cartoon of Sir Peter Blake drawn by Martin Rowson of the Guardian and signed by Sir Peter. So now we have a Rowson and Blake on the Wall or at least we will have once it has been framed.

Edit: Since posting this Martin Rowson has kindly commented on the blog and explained how the cartoon came into being; which probably explains the bit above Sir Peter’s ear; which now turns out to be a portion of refried beans – not a carefully considered dash of the pen. I do wish we had gone to see Martin now as anyone who can write ‘Is God A Hedgehog‘ is O.K. by me.

Cartoon of Sir Peter Blake by Mark Rowson; signed by Sir Peter

Cartoon of Sir Peter Blake by Mark Rowson; signed by Sir Peter and Mark Rowson

We drove home in the weak sunshine asking each other if that weekend had really happened or did we just dream it?

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Martin Hayes – Shores of Lough Graney now on CD

We headed off to Ireland, staying with our friend Dorothy who is great fun and who we feel runs the best B&B in East Clare (and who will always guide us to the best music) to

a) Make sure that we were out of the UK for the Royal Wedding as there was no way we could put up with all that crap about the spoilt kid of some rich old woman living in a big house getting hitched at our expense

and

b) much more importantly to coincide with fiddle player Martin Hayes being back in his home village for the 10 year anniversary of the death of his father P. Joe Hayes.

The latter turned out to be very special as Martin has decided to re-release (at long last) his original debut recording that he made with his father. This was originally released only on a cassette tape (which was recorded on a four track cassette recorder at the house of Pat Talty and was not very long because Martin’s father had to leave to play in a ceilidh with the Tulla Ceilidh Band).

It took me many years to find an original copy and they are as rare as ‘hen’s teeth’!

Mary MacNamara, Martin Hayes and Steeve Cooney

Mary MacNamara, Martin Hayes and Steeve Cooney

So on Friday 6th May on the 10th anniversary of P. Joe’s death a few of us were lucky enough to find ourselves in Bohan’s pub where Martin launched the CD  and played for us with friends such as Mary MacNamara, Steve Cooney, John Canney and Mark Donnellan (whose father played with Martin’s father in the Tulla Ceilidh Band). The music went on into the small hours and it was a privilege to be here listening to these great players playing in the back room. It is always a special treat to hear Martin and Mark together as they clearly love playing together and Mark is such a talented and unassuming player himself.

Martin Hayes, Mark Donellan and Pat O'Connor

Martin Hayes, Mark Donnellan and Pat O'Connor

The CD is released on a small label (Quillan Records CD 001) not Green Linnet; and I’m not sure of it’s distribution. I do know that Custys of Ennis will be stocking copies. However, the initial pressing is only 2000 copies (and you’re not having ours!). The CD contains 3 extra tracks recorded with Dennis Cahill on guitar in addition to the original recording. This was really a bit of history in the making.

This was of course only the start of a great weekend with Martin playing with the Tulla Ceilidh band on Saturday night and playing in a 3 hour session in Peppers on Sunday. For someone who would happily sit and listen to Martin tune his fiddle this was of course a fabulous weekend for us.

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Corofin Festival 2011

After our trip to London to Ecobuild the day before we set off for Ireland. The Stena ferry for Rosslare left at 2.30pm so we had to leave at about 11 am as we needed to pick up some food for the journey as we did not want to pay ferry prices. The drive to Fishguard only takes about one hour and a half as the roads are pretty good. We were quite surprised how pretty Fishguard is. Stena actually own the ferry terminal the rest of the harbour is a small fishing port surrounded by a small picturesque town and beautiful coast. The railway station stops quite close to the ferry terminal making it convenient for foot passengers. We  met some people who had travelled from Bath with only one change at Cardiff.

The journey to Ireland is about three and a half hours. The England v Ireland cricket world cup was on live so that passed the time. Ireland won!

The drive the other side to County Clare is about three hours. We got off the ferry at about 6.20pm and were in Peppers Bar by about 10pm. Peppers is a famous music pub in Feakle. As it was a Wednesday evening we were expecting a session but it was very quiet as everybody was at the festival in Corofin. We went on to our friend’s B+B Clondanagh Cottage near to Tulla. Clondanagh cottage is situated in peaceful countryside on a donkey farm and overlooks Clondanagh Lake. Dorothy is an amazing hostess and she and her husband Michael and their two children make you feel very welcome. The B+B is very cosy with lovely bright rooms and super ambience.

Dorothy certainly spoils you with her lovely breakfasts which set you up for the day.

Irish Breakfast

Full Irish Breakfast at Clondanagh Cottage

The area is famous for the fishing being in the East Clare Lakelands. Dorothy, who herself is a keen fisherwoman, can give advice and hire out tackle and provide a boat for Clondanagh lake where there is private lake frontage.

McGlynn

Arty McGlynn one of the Best Guitarists in Trad Music Playing at Corofin

This area is also very famous for Traditional Irish music which is the reason we started to visit. We decided to go to Corofin festival this year as this is the first opportunity we have had (a big advantage of being retired). Corofin is a small village just on the Burren only about a 45 minute drive from Clondanagh Cottage. Corofin together with Tulla and Feakle are hugely important in the traditional music of Clare (and Irish music in general). If you want to hear the ‘real thing’ as opposed to a tourist pastiche this is the area to come.

Mick Leahy

Mick Leahy Playing with John Blake and Lamond Gillespie at Corofin 2011

The festival itself was excellent. It is quite small but very well organised. We had specifically gone to see Lamond Gillespie, John Blake and Mick Leahy of Traditional Irish music of London and Humours of Highgate fame. They rarely play together and were brilliant giving a lesson in how to play traditional music – perfectly together without being over the top – letting the music speak for itself. True masters.

In fact there was excellent music the whole weekend. We will certainly go next year as well if we are not travelling.

The Burren is  a karst landscape area in Northwest Clare and is famous for its biodiversity and it’s archeological sites. As we were exceptionally lucky with the weather, dry sunny and quite mild for the time of year, we decided to explore a bit more of this beautiful area and take a few photographs. We eventually found, the very well preserved dolmen, Poulnabrone (well we didn’t have a map!). The name means the hole of sorrows. John managed to take some good photographs at sunset.

Dolmen

Poulnabrone Dolmen © John Burton

We had a quiet day on the Saturday, when John helped Michael building some sheds that Dorothy is going to use for fishing tackle and then went to at Macks Bar with the Healy brothers later that evening. They were brilliant as usual.

On Sunday we had to come home as there is a lot of sorting out to do  with the house alterations. The journey back was all right. We managed to find a 24 hour Tesco in Clonmel which is useful to know about for a break, especially if we ever used the late ferry. The ferry arrived on time, in fact, it may have been early.  We arrived home at about 1-30am.

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Tony Furtado at the Angel Inn Llandeilo

We drove off to LLandeilo on a bitterly cold night. This was a good concert in the upstairs room at the Angel, if it was a bit (Ed. very!) cold. Tony Furtado is an American banjo and slide guitar player, playing Americana, bluegrass and folk music. He has played with people such as Allison Krauss and Tim O’brien. I thought he was excellent in his own genre but was not too keen on the Irish tunes. He had 3 other people playing with him that night all good especially the two female vocalists. It was an enjoyable evening listening to a different genre of music.This concert was organised by the Llandeilo Acoustic club and they do have some good people playing in such a small town. Andy Irvine had played there in the past so we shall be keeping a lookout for what’s on.

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Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, London Irish Centre

Last night, a couple of days before moving to Wales, we went to London to see our heroes, Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill in concert at the London Irish Centre Camden. What can I say? Words do not do justice to these two remarkable musicians. A fabulous concert as always.

They never disappoint and are lovely people. Martin’s mum came over from Ireland for the concert and she always takes the time to come and say hello to us and ask how we are.

Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill – Taken at Feakle Festival 2010 by John
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