Sunday, November 25, 2012

Capn Morgan's Spiced Confusion

devilish stuff this cap'n morgan's spiced rum. because .... it doesn't taste of rum. it tastes of the sort of vanilla syrup a child rising to the challenge of early obesity might pour over ice cream in his or her bid to be the fattest kid on the block .... pronto.

however if you are determined to tackle this tipple don't be surprised when the following morning your brain has absconded. You may also notice that the vague discomfort your taste buds experienced as you imbibed has spread throughout your whole being because ......... while you were waiting for the gustatory hit to turn up, you absent mindedly drank a small bottle of the stuff.

am i glad i only bought the one.

don't say you haven't been warned.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Old enough to know better but far too old to give a damn"

Taken on one of Swansea's few sunny Sundays in September 2012 by my good friend Betsabé Longo who came all the way from Uruguay to help me on my musical journey.

Monday, October 22, 2012


well, yes, i've done it. i've gone from complete-harmonica-dork-who-can-do-a-bit-of-blues to, dare i say it, a musician. last friday i played ambient tango harmonica for the best part of three hours at la Parilla in SA1, UK entertaining bar staff and diners alike.

and OMG am i proud of myself?

go on

do you need to guess?

the answer is yes.

this has been one solid, long term build, boys and girls. still plenty of work to do but if i can cover that gig i guess i can do it in any restaurant in any part of the world.

thanks loads to my busking angel who sometimes turns up when i need him, if he's not trying to cop-on to the barmaid or being sick on someone else's daps.

thanks also to the big hearted dance angels: madeline and angela and gary and tim and felicia and heathers 1, 2 and 3 and alice and martin .... and obviously not forgetting pauline cakes for her early encouragement ...... or 'pops' ezard who showed me how to use my breath to paint colours in the air ....... and everybody else who helped ......

peace and love


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Meeting Ms Melancholy

Her eloquent eyes were our first connection. Briefly she took my attention away from the manuscript in front of me. Then she walked. I didn't see which way. I couldn't stop in mid tune after all could I? But when I came to the end I did regret that I hadn't.

They do flash past mind. Connections I mean. Beguiling like silver salmon crashing up stream. Gone before you realised what they are. Energised by the laughing river they wriggle through the rapids to oblivion. And then there they aren't. Leaving this ancient bear blindly swiping at the shimmer, catching nothing but spray trails.

This one though wasn't all a-glimmer. This one wore a soft melancholy that showed itself more strongly when she returned three tunes later to talk.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

does the groove have rules?

This ramble has been sparked off by a discussion at the Tawe Tango Taster and Practica Night on 20th June 2012 and is looking for a response from anyone who wants to give one.

The second thing I realised, after first deciding I wanted to share my thoughts on this with the seagulls and the bats, is that absolutes are ill advised in tango discussions. Its easy, as you will find if you haven’t already, to lay down the law when you don’t know much about it. But experience shows that the further you get into this dance culture each fresh piece of knowledge acquired reveals a new question to be dealt with. There might be a right answer somewhere. But I don’t know it, and I haven’t yet met anyone who does. So most of the discussion on what is appropriate music for tango must be subjective.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Bahia Vista Tango Kicks Off To a Great Start

Friday night 2nd December in the Bayview Hotel, Oystermouth Road was Bahia Vista Tango's first gig. Despite it being a rubbish night weatherwise we pulled in enough dancers to make the event work. More power to their collective elbows, or should that be knees, they danced great.

A vid of selected hilights could well find its way up here soon.


Friday, November 04, 2011

harpwales goes global

I could feel the electricity running down my arms. Buzzing under my skin it stabbed into my fingers. ‘She’s going to give me a heart attack,’ I thought, the idea alone creating a secondary voltage surge. But as sensation was equal on both right and left sides, there was no pain in my chest and I was still breathing, I worked out that she probably wasn’t.

What I was sure about though was that I was not a happy harmonica player. I wondered what I would have done had I been on my own turf and not in a foreign country, the guest of someone I hardly knew who was being a real pain. Pointless really, because my current state fulfilled none of those criteria.

I didn’t know whether I was more shocked than angry. I had been invited to Mallorca for a few days to check whether it would be a good place for me to look for work as a musician. Now it seemed my hostess was doing everything in her power to block me. ‘If you play here,’ she said as I tested the free movement of my slide and warmed my harmonica up, ‘I’m going for a coffee somewhere else and you’ll have to come and find me later’.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tango Mango

Con mis catorce billetes, yo empecé mi viaje. Todo fue bueno y yo llegué a mi destino una hora temprano. Dije 'Hola' a mi anfitriona y fui a la 'Tango Mango' para comer y para encontrar los bailadores.

Yo bailé. No lo habia hecho desde el mayo pasado a causa de la espalda. Esta vez, aunque yo había olvidado muchos pasos, todo estaba bien.

Cuando las señoras bailan por la tarde ellas visten de forma de informal. Pero por la noche es diferente. En ese momento ellas visten las ropas muy bonitas, las faldas, los vestidos y las blusas todas centellantes. Pero más importante son los zapatos. Tienen todos colores con los tacones muy altos y muy peligrosos. Es estupendo.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

songwriting class

if you want to check out our songwriting class which i've been running for swansea university please click this.

its the fun path to empowerment. no wonder its under threat of closure. hope you enjoy

Friday, March 25, 2011

tango mango

booked my rail tickets for tango mango in devon in april. i'll be there from 14th - 16th. hopefully i will be able to play some music, spread the word, sell a few CDs ..... and do the washing up. which i am so good at!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

new gig

got a last minute invitation to play in swansea last weekend. in the three tunes i was permitted i managed to reach the mostly latin audience deeply enough to get a rebooking. so thats two return gigs - which is excellent news for all those who are following my could-be-more-meteoric rise to harmonica stardom. i'll post the date when i know.

i also got confirmation of my norfolk return indirectly via their online programme

my new webpal has agreed to correspond with me to improve my spanish. she speaks it like a native. which isn't really surprising as she is argentinian. she is also an aspiring tango singer with an aunt who sings professionally in france. she is also half a world away.

i recently refurbed my website featuring my new cd. hope you enjoy.

paz y amor

Friday, January 28, 2011

the gigs start to roll in

I've just had a return booking. Yeeha! Six years after I committed to my chromatic harmonica teacher, for the second time, the first year being taken up with learning how to tongue block, it looks like all my hard work could start to pay off.

Well it might. And it might not. Whatever. But it is satisfying to be invited back.
I suppose I must have given up on jazz. I did try. Honest. But it seems to have beaten me. When I hear most jazz harmonica now I cringe.
So what I've done in the absense of an accompanist who is open to the tango genre is to record guitar backing tracks. These were originally to practice to.
Then I realised that I could use them in a live situation. Then I realised that I could use them as the basis of a CD. And thats what I've done. 'Interpretaciones' - twelve standard tango, vals and milonga melodies with myself on guitar and harmonica came out in December 2010. Yours for a tenner. Mail me.
Having played at Tango Mango in Totnes a couple of times in recent years, and offered to play for tango fans in other parts of the country, Madeline Lees finally invited me to play in Diss, Norfolk last December.
I used the backing tracks and the gig went really well. I played two sets of about 20 minutes each while Mike Lavocha DJed and Alice and Martin of Moontangles made some lovely music also.
It must have worked because now I've been asked to return to Diss for their milonga on 11th June 2011.
So thats cool.
In the meantime heres some of the music but please don't pay it on crap laptop speakers. This is my heart calling. It needs sensitive handling. Even the most basic ear-phones would be ok.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

falling off my bike

As any schoolboy, whatever his age, will tell you there is never a good time to fall off your bike. However it could be that just after persuading a mate, who happens to own a restaurant, that now is the time he should give you a solo harmonica gig, is one of the worst.

Richard the restaurateur had taken a little convincing in the first place. ‘You have done this before, haven’t you?’ he asked giving me a steely look. ‘Of course,’ I said, lying through my teeth, which at that point were fine, ‘loads of times.’ We fixed a date.

Two days later I found myself coming round on a wetly red and particularly unforgiving swathe of reconstituted granite paviours. The fun only got more intense when I noticed some hard material in my mouth. ‘Bits of pavement,’ I thought at first. And then, ‘Oh no, its bits of tooth.’

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

stop press new blog

yo blogsters, these Dead C Scrolls have been recently unearthed in the inaccessible caverns and time worn amphorae of my hard drive.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

off my perch

last w/end was bristol for harmonica 2007 where, following two years of coming first in the jazz competition, i didn't get placed. not too down hearted as it happens. the guy who won was a good player but hardly improvised. and improvisation really is 80% of jazz. i got up under pressure and played my guts out. which is a triumph in itself.

involved playing footprints, a rehearsed melody from the dots, plus impro, to a backing track. as such its completely different from my pre-jazz performing experience where i stand up with a guitar and warble on. or off. this approach is much more demanding and requires a lot more effort/concentration and much more technical ability.

Friday, September 28, 2007

st james infirmary. (actually st james social club in swansea's uplands district - but lets stay in the groove)

last tuesday was sitters in night yet again. and this time i didn't screw up. well not massively as i have in the past. this time i had a plan.

firstly: try to play within my capability. basics i know. how often do i need to learn this one? well this time i stuck to it. chose satin doll and ladybird. which are as tricky or otherwise as you want to make them. i kept them basic. good.

secondly: get there early and try out the sound on the pa before anyone else turns up. did this too. as it happens charlie hewitt* was already working out on a stand up bass. i waited till he'd got himself comfortable before asking whether i could blow a few notes myself. when i did charlie, along with alan vaughan on drums and dave cottle on keyboard piled in. the numbers worked. relief.

of course you're never as alone as you think you are. lawrence and walter, a pair of seasoned jazz scene heavyweights overheard my efforts. and were very encouraging. which gave me that warm soft glow .... which is not to be mistaken for incontinence for the simple reason that its neither wet nor smelly.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

fiddler on the wing

what a wonderous bird is the violin. its gleaming raptor essence swooping and hovering, crying, pleading and soaring before sweetly penetrating the darkest and most mysterious depths of the listener's eternal purple soul.

its all in the touch apparently. in the wrong hands it has all the majesty of a peacock sliding down an electrified razor blade on its rump.

which is why the unsheathing of a fiddle can draw gasps from any audience. anticipation growing no less as the zorro of the stave flourishes his hirsute rapier, preparing to caress the strings to the point of exquisite release.

a moment later you know whether you are dealing with a master of sonic art .... or an arrogant drunk who is going to dump his tortured squawking in your ears as loud, and for as long, as he likes whether you want him to or not.

well i'd only sat next to the guy for a minute before i understood which one he was. with an attack as abrasively insistent as his personality he was ok on the fast stuff where he flew from all angles on mach 10 beer drive. when coasting however it was a different tale. foot off the gas and he was a good quarter tone flat.

and who got the blame? me of course. the harmonica player.

its happened before so it was no surprise that the flack came my way. if the crew you are playing with are not right on the button tuning wise you're stuffed. they sound ok. you sound rubbish. and there is nothing you can do to compensate. you can't retune a harmonica as you go as you can a stringed instrument. you've just got to grin and bare it.

however my stoicism did momentarily falter when one of the guitarists pointed out that 'the harp and the fiddle don't sound too good together man, perhaps you should sit out for a bit.'

'they don't sound too good together,' i thought to myself 'because he's out of tune you tone deaf .....*'. but realising that making the point would only seem like sour grapes i let it go. there was enough ugly sound around at that moment without creating more.

i flew the coop.

oh i do suffer for my art.

*as this is a family blog, gentle reader, in deference to your personal proclivity for profanity i invite you to insert your epithet of choice here.

peace and love

Saturday, August 11, 2007

this is what it sounds like - work in progress.

autumn leaves: joseph kosma and johnny mercer.
backing track: the colin cosimini trio.
harmonica: patrick ellis

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

must try harder

been going to a jazz class and recently actually had HOMEWORK which lead to MARKS and subsequently what to all intents and purposes was an END OF TERM REPORT. anyway i had 100% attendance and was described by the tutor as 'another very keen student.' just like bishop gore*. huh! marks weren't bad either. but modesty forbids.

*my old secondary school in swansea, uk. quelle durmp!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

first gig

well yes folks its happened. i've had my first gig as the chromatic harmonica player in a gypsy jazz band. esinti actually, outside the dolphin in llanrhidian, on the gower peninsula, in the rain. on 15th july 2007.

it didn't feel like a milestone at the time. but i think its starting to now. i'm surprised at how much effort and energy i have invested in this project without realising it. and consequently how much release i am experiencing now that i've accomplished part of what i set out to do.

i have definitely achieved something. there's no doubt about that. what it is tho is not quite so clear. i've been working on the chromatic for two and a half years. well actually since the beginning of 2004 if truth be told, but i have discounted the first year as that was taken up sporadically familiarising myself with the tongue blocking technique.

it is true that i managed to contribute throughout the set without the rest of the band glaring at me for screwing something up but i'm certainly nowhere near to being the player i feel i ought to be. is anyone? ever? and does that mean you shouldn't keep trying?

its an interesting issue but there is always the temptation to accept oneself in terms of other people's responses. don't. you can't trust 'em. you can't trust yourself i have found. what was last night's master work is this morning's garbage. what a good job i didn't triumphantly e-mail the recording to my long suffering mates. lucky for them. lucky for me.

so there is still a long long way to go. many obstacles to be overcome.

the game plan is to work until the nhl festival at the end of october and see where i am up to then. the band have invited me to play at the next pontardawe festival. which is in a month. there will be time for rehearsal and the event itself should be loadsa fun.

having said that there isn't any money involved and i could do with some paying gigs really. to keep the wolf from the door. i am sure they are out there (wolves and paying gigs of course) if one can achieve a suitably proficient standard.

but at the mo i am exhausted. motivation at an all time low. maybe i've got one of those sleep deficit wassnames that are so fashionable just now. perhaps what i need to do is sit back and husband the resources. regenerate the energy and have another go in a bit.

watch this space ........... if you can stay awake.

not sure i will.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007


"of course the big thing about music is not confusing your flarps with your sh**s."

sorry to admit it but i overheard this one in the pub.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

as the spider says ....

happening to bump into last tuesday's bass player in the filling station i grovellingly sidled up and apologised for being crap. see below.

he was cool. pointed out a couple of strengths of my performance, which i hadn't recognised, and told me to keep turning up.

i felt much relieved. and encouraged.

as the spider says ....... 'a little sycophancy can take you a long way'.

went to a great funeral afterwards.


yeah, wasn't mine.

peace and love

Monday, April 30, 2007

'ye'll no play harp if you sit there feeling sorry for y'sel, jimmy'

24th april 2007 - my busking angel stayed in the bar drinking and chatting up the barmaid leaving me to face the music, or lack of it, alone. usually i can blag my way out of even the trickiest musical situation. but with old feather shoulders verbaling a decidedly disinterested damsel over the cooking lager, last tuesday became yet another disaster at the st james crescent social club sitters in night.

alone? if only i had been. this project obviously still needs a lot more work. once again i couldn't get a handle on my sound and my normal jitters amplified themselves into a kind of shredded emotional pulp. altho the band were very good and not loud i just couldn't hear what i was doing and couldn't find myself again once i had got lost. which i did.

all very embarrassing and a classic 'beam me up scotty' moment. altho i understand that james doohan, the actor who actually played scotty in startrek, recently beamed himself up and had his ashes deposited on infinity's doorstep. ie in space. which would've felt like a pretty good option to me. certainly preferable to standing up with the band.

of course it could be that i haven't got a snowball's chance in hell of getting on top of the instrument. i've always been a feel player more than a technique player. maybe it's just too difficult? especially when you can't see where you are, because the machine's in your mouth, and you can't orientate yourself by your fingering, because there isn't any.

but i don't think i'm going to own any of that just yet. i've come a long way since i bought a hohner chromatic in 2003 and couldn't get anything at all out of the little blighter. trouble is it all takes time. it was the best part of a year before i got tongue blocking sorted. and i still haven't managed to memorise the landscape of the mouthpiece. i guess the question is how much time has one got left anyway. and who can answer that?

so what to do? keep going i suppose. as the spider said to robert the bruce, 'ye'll no play harp if ye sit there feeling sorry for y'sel, jimmy.'

angels? who needs 'em?

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Fate of the Good Ship Plentydough ... Part the First ... Whats A Songwriting Workshop Between Mates Anyway?

It was in the year of our lord 2007 on the 2nd day of March that my feet (actually the wheels on my vee-dub) brought me to the fair City of Bristol. At the command of the Musicians Union and the British Academy of Songwriters and Composers the Good Ship Plentydough had put into port for to instruct us landlubbers in the mysterious machinations of the music business. A faceless ruffian, I took my place amongst the throng gathered in the Colston Hall. Sweet innocent that I was, never in my wildest dreams could I have foretold the lessons I was to learn that fateful day.

As it happens my wildest dreams don't leave a lot of room for the scurrilous antics of music biz sorts. Any more than my even slightly wild ones do. I'm just setting the scene. OK? Anyway, back to the plot.

Cap’n of this barque was a very well spoken bloke called Dave who occupied pole position on the bridge. Dave was accompanied by First Mate, a sleek sea-lawyer, and the Bosun, a posh-and-hyphenated geezer from Bath-Spa-University amongst whose claims to song writing fame was once having been 50% of a duo that weren’t quite as good as the Eurhythmics. 'Hm, wild,' I thought. 'We're really going to rock this morning.'

My underwhelmedness remained undiluted as Dave, anxious to establish his own CV quietly referred to his own seminal works. Their titles rang no bells, nautical or otherwise, in my consciousness but t'was still a bright and breezy morn and I was not to be deterred. 'The fact that I haven’t heard of them or their work signifies nothing,' I told myself. 'I am nought but a scurvy wretch when all is said and done and have come to be taught the wisdom of the world by my betters.'

And my betters certainly knew a trick or two. Well they knew enough tricks to get their feet well under the music biz table thats for sure, as they were to demonstrate during the the days first 'Business of Music' session . A choir of angels could not have sung from a more focussed song sheet as they explained their arcane mysteries to us humble folks a-gathered afore them.

As you would expect from pros, their performance hit several Cs square on. They were considered, concerned and courteous. They stressed the difference between reputable and the other sort of music publishers. Then they pointed out that new songwriters really need to do their own legwork to find one of the latter who might want to listen to their sort of stuff. They also revealed the secret path to success, ie hang out on the big city scene and create a buzz about the songs. Which I translated as 'have some talent and be young and beautiful in London.' Not only true for songwriters I thought, and probably not 'news' in the usual sense of the word.

They went on to talk about moral rights, and the advantages or otherwise of waiving them, especially in the context of the USA market which apparently doesn't recognise them anyway. Copyright and the importance of retaining ownership of one's work were discussed. As was the recent court case over Matthew Fisher’s successful bid for a piece of the Whiter Shade of Pale action.

Sessioneer Raphael Ravenscroft’s sax solo on Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street also came under scrutiny. The excitement here for me being that now I knew the name of the guy whose introductory six notes still echo round my memory as they do around the world a good thirty years on. The boys were a little more pragmatic. Their eyes lit up as they indulged in some in-crowd banter along the lines of would he, wouldn't he, had he, hadn't he gone for a slice of the booty himself. Depends which bridge you're looking from I suppose.

On we sailed. Feigning a street wisdom that they hadn't had to scrape off their shoes since they'd scuttled up the gangplank themselves all those years ago Dave and the boys championed the vibrancy of the acoustic scene. They agreed that folk music was really rather jolly good stuff after all (even shanties probably) and referred to obscure uilleann pipers to prove they had done their research.

Suddenly we seemed to have run out of wind. Becalmed amongst artistic considerations the bridge didn't quite know what to do. They perked up on entering financial waters once more however, and got quite excited about how to charge YouTube for the use of Snow Patrol material in the myriad of teeny mimers’ posted video clips. (That'll teach the little bastards. Who do they think they are anyway?)

They were nothing if not comprehensive. But in their exposition of the intricate channels and bountiful lagoons of a music biz establishment they seemed to know like the backs of their hands, was there maybe one C missing? Were they actually convincing?

Not to everybody it seemed. ‘This is all old school,’ came a broadside from the woolly hatted mutineer in the front row. Sure enough there he was, five foot and a gust, and enough attitude to sort out a colossal cephalopod (thats giant squid to you) with one hand while packing the fathomles memory of his iPod with the other. ‘This is the internet age,’ he said, ‘I’m going to put my stuff on my website and make money from selling the advertising space.’

From a bridge who had already publically doubted the existence of an effective way of digitally tagging a song and had admitted that the music industry’s own system of digital rights collection was failing fast, there was a fair degree of cautionary huffing. Not a little puffing. And the unavoidable sense of nautical types pulling the deckchairs closer together as it got a bit cooler on the Titanic.

That young buccaneer definitely got up their Richter scale. It was just tricky to tell how far. Those intent on wriggling aboard didn't seem to want hear that their salvation might actually start leaking like a sieve at any moment. By contrast those who had already kicked, bitten and gouged their way up the gangplank, and who one might expect could read the wind better than most, looked mighty worried. Worried in the way that an opulent blancmange might look worried on hearing that there is a particularly malevolent tsunami heading right here, right now.

On the basis that the best thing to do when faced with something thats just too hard to handle is stuff your face, the morning's ‘Business of Music’ session hove to for lunch. Seeking shelter from the storm perhaps? But was there any? In the internet age things move fast. By the time the crew had started tucking into their tack (or tackling their tuck or whatever it is that matelots do when the rest of us are eating) the question blowing in the rigging had morphed into ‘Is There Going To Be Any Kind Of Music Business Left Anyway?’

..... continued below, shipmates.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Fate of The Good Ship Plentydough ... Part The Other ... A Bloody Massacre Thats What!

Yes. Well there was enough music business left to get us through the afternoon at least. Having replenished resources on the sumptuous raft of MU sandwiches (no crisps, gastronomes please note) the post meridian skirmish kicked off. Entitled ‘The Craft of Songwriting’ those below decks had been urged to bring along a CD of their work to contribute to the mele. Lucky for me I didn’t have anything that I wanted to expose in public. (My songs are actually fantastic as it happens. My performance even better. But bizarrely enough whenever I record them they sound shit and my voice reminds even me of a slightly out of tune angle grinder.) Boy was I glad I had kept my precious little fingers out of that particular fire. Thankyou, humility, thankyou, thankyou.

The line up on the bridge had changed. Cap'n and his faithful Midshipman had survived but were now augmented by the Purser and Cliff the Cabin Boy. Purser was MD for a real music company. He brought along a bit of gravitas and not a little bottle. But who had ears for it? When he actually admitted that 'CD sales in the market are collapsing,' was it only me that sensed the Plentydough suddenly list alarmingly to starboard. Was it only me who could hear the straining timbers popping off their pegs below the water line? Guess so. Selective deafness had descended and on we sailed.

In contrast to the grizzled veterans abreast of him, Cliff projected an 'acceptable face' of the business. In Ramones T-shirt and geeky specs he had nailed his cred firmly to the mast. Youngish and innocent looking he was introduced as the notorious ex-guitarist of cutting edge minstrel brotherhood ‘My Sister’s Lesbian Tortoise Rocks.’ Huh?

Perhaps I’m wrong. I'll look at my notes. No maybe it was ‘My Fathers a Bit Dodgy - But Don't Say Nuffin About Him- He's Still My Old Man, OK’? Or some similar amalgam of high school angst and gender re-alignment signifiers? Come to think of it, it could have been 'My Sister's Lesbian Rocks Tortoise.' Or was that a headline in the Sun?

Whatever. No sooner had the crew handed over their tiny treasures than the Cap'n and his men (they were all men by the way - but thats another post, ladies) ripped into them like vultures on a new born babe. In some sort of counterfeit X Factor pastiche each on the bridge sought desperately to prove that he, should someone on a real TV show unexpectedly kick the bucket, could best pick up the role at short notice. Oh, and the salary check please.

As my mind takes me back to the cut and thrust of that gory afternoon I find myself lost for words. But not for long. I had thought, and I was not alone as I found out afterwards, that this session was to be about the craft of writing songs. ‘Behold,’ I had expected to be told, ‘this is how Ray Charles did it, or Coldplay did it, or Gram Parsons did it, or Amy Whinehouse did it, or The Arctic Monkeys did it, or Hoagy Carmichael, or REM, or Irving Berlin, or Kaiser Chiefs, or Christy Moore did it. And the people you should be checking out because they can’t half put a song together are her and him and him and her. And he or she is hot with the words and the other one will melt your soul with the tune.’ Well guess what, gentle reader, we didn’t get any of that poncy, artsy bollox.

Oh no. The cat o’ nine tails came out big time. And a lot of the below decks scum, ie us, were subjected to severe emotional laceration. While the few egos facing us, and who had actually imposed this punishment agenda, preened and strutted in as ugly a spectacle of tough boys beating up little kids as I have seen since junior school. I think its called bullying these days. Those who were quite good, and kow towed, got patted on the head. Those who needed most help were given a kicking. Justified as being for their own good. 'If you can't stand the heat etc etc.'

Mr Midshipman, a bloke called Roger who no doubt to his great relief had avoided the role of Cabin Boy himself, managed to keep a shine on his karma. He was getting on a bit. Perhaps age had dimmed his appetite for other people's flayed spines? Having made the point that ‘I don’t have to be here,’ (as if any of us did, matey boy!) he softened up a bit. ‘The only person who really needs to believe in the song is the writer,' he said. 'It took me four years trying to find a publisher before I got my first break.’ Generosity of spirit roared for an infinite moment like a candle flame in a hurricane. And went out.

Fair as fair Roger had tried to talk about the songs in a creative sense. He even asked to 'hear a bit more' of one or two. But his fellow officers would have none of it and we were subjected to what was probably an excellent preparation for pitching a song in the real world.

But ‘Pitching A Song in the Real World' wasn’t the title of the session. I know, I’ve still got the paperwork, and it don’t say that. Whoever put the day together would do well to practise their communication skills and think a bit more creatively about what the membership were expecting and what would be productive. Maybe they could also put their speakers under a bit more pressure to deliver something that was constructive and had been thought through more intelligently.

Yes sure it might be a rough old whirlpool in the real world. But the real world also offers real prizes, ie a contract or deal or at least an expression of interest. I don't know what happened after the event in Bristol but I didn't hear any of that sort of connection going on. Maybe it did. I certainly hope someone got something tangible back for sitting through, if not their own then others', humiliation.

Amongst the carnage there was some good advice. There was unanimous emphasis on the importance of presentation. All experts agreed that submitting the best quality demo was essential and that front (or was it top?) loading the CD with the best song was a really good idea. As was front loading a song, with the chorus for example, so that when the record company earholes gave it the customary thirty seconds listening there was at least the vague chance it would impress.

But what about the broader picture? There was a little dissent on the bridge about what was an acceptable song. But not much. And the songs were judged in terms of what? Their artistic content? Their political impact? Their marketability?

I'll leave the answer open. But I would suggest that those parading about the poop deck should take a brief break from preening to check their course. There are some dark shapes eyeing their succulent hams hungrily from the foam below. Maybe the Plentydough is set to run aground and the days of tricking the natives with comodified garbage are numbered. Maybe Cap'n Dave and his not-very-merry men are about to find, as they cling to the timbers of the quaking hulk, that those looking for an authentic listening experience are legging it for Port Download as fast as their mouses (mice ?) will carry them. And could it be that they will choose to while away the final slow minutes wondering what sort of deal John Williams cut on the Jaws theme? Oh and by the way, does anyone know if the internet has a triangular dorsal fin?

Hang on tight boys.

Peace and love.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Women and the Plentydough

While I'm on a roll: as you might have deduced from the names, although women were well represented amongst the rank and file at the musicians union songriting event in Bristol on 2nd March 2007 (see main Plentydough blog 13 March), the officer class was all boys. Not that I've got anything against boys mind you. I've been a boy all my life. And boys ain't all bad. Unless you ask them really nicely.

But where was the crumpet? A bit of eye candy on the bridge would have improved matters no end. At least I could have tried to look up their frocks when I got bored.

Thats irony by the way. Point being: where were you ladies? Apparently at one time it was thought to be unlucky to allow girls onto a boat such as the Plentydough. Despite this the female principal is often invoked in matters maritime. Ships are referred to as 'she' and historically representations of ample lasses, Brittania for example, were often to be found breasting the billows on the sharp end in the same way that substantially proportioned damsells such as Britney, Madonna, possibly not Amy Whinehouse, but certainly my fave Dolly, can be seen to be fronting up the music industry.

But surely women don't stop there? Y'know, up under the lights shaking their thang. There must be some in the business side of the business too, no? Steering a course for the open horizon and leavening all that yang with their yin. Someone needs to be.

Or perhaps girls who can't sing are only allowed to make the tea? And the few who rise above this humble station become so testosterone packed that you can't tell 'em from the boys?

peace and love from the bunker

Monday, March 05, 2007

the magic

The first time I heard that chord on the radio I knew what magic was. It wasn’t rock and roll actually. Although it probably was an e chord. In a piece of classical guitar music that hit me right in the heart. I must have been six or seven years old. And a hopeless case from then on in.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

mickey raphael: country gentleman

An ageing rockstar once told a friend of mine how much he enjoyed listening to my friend's harmonica playing. ‘You’re great mate,’ the raddled one opined. ‘Oh,’ thought my pal, ‘perhaps its my phrasing? Maybe my tone, or my sense of dynamics? Even that oh so subtle touch of distortion that I have been working hard to perfect?’ He was brought brutally up to speed by the guitarist’s next comment. ‘Yeah, man,’ he slurred, ‘for a harp player you sure know when to shut up.’

Having played harmonica alongside one of country music’s major talents for over three decades that’s a skill Mickey Raphael has in bundles. He sure knows when to shut up. And theres no disrespect in the suggestion that Mickey is the living proof of that much quoted, but seldom practised, folk dictum ‘less is more.’

Fair enough, Willy Nelson, with all his raggedy edges and nuggets of warmth, is the show. Especially, as it turned out in the Cardiff International Arena on 25th January when Tony Cresci and I were lucky enough to get to see that show, his guitar playing. But good as he was he wasn't the top of our list. We'd gone there to hear the harpman, and if our luck stayed in, meet him afterwards.

Huddled in the centre of the stage the band looked as if they thought they were playing in a mean honky tonk, in a dusty one horse dorp in the middle of the back of any beyond. Perhaps they didn't feel they could rely on the monitors? Perhaps they just liked each other? Whatever, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of ego going on. They were there to accompany Nelson while he delivered a selection of his and others big songs. It was all pretty laid back. And that’s where Mickey Raphael so subtly and seemingly easily shone like a diamond.

Whether he had more than 10 solos all night I doubt. And nearly none of those lasted more than half a dozen bars. Yet although the flights of full throated harmonica warbling were kept to a minimum he continued to season the musical stew throughout the whole set. He’d blow a couple of notes here, in the intro to 'Blue Skies' for example, or some sensitive chording there, as in 'On the Road Again', before turning his tongue to rhythm chugging when the country bus got gently rolling.

Far from trying to grab the limelight he helped craft the groove by building on the dynamics of what was essentially a mature set of mature songs played by mature musicians to a mature-ish audience. (And before anybody out there gets sneery, maturity ain’t a crime. In fact it’s a damn site better than the alternative.) Mickey’s main strength seemed to me to be his awareness of the dynamics of the songs and of the band and how his touches of harmonica could contribute to pushing the whole thing forward.

He’s a neat player more than flash and the audience loved him. When his boss got a laugh from a bit of clowning around with the Welsh flag during one of Mickey’s solos they waited for the harp to finish before setting the record straight with a serious round of applause. He was one of the last to be released from autograph signing duty.

On stage he looks a youthful 35. And he's tall. Up close however, although still tall, he is more forgivably older than that and while you wouldn't say he has a face like a road map, you can tell he's clocked up a few miles. ‘Hey Mickey,’ I said as he rushed past us in the freezing backstage labyrinth, ‘we’re here to meet you.’

He was courtesy itself. We chatted about harps.

Now listen up, gear freaks, and remember you read it here first.

Mickey likes the Lee Oscar Natural minor tunings and uses Hohner Echo harps as a melodic pad on a lot of tunes. He plays Hohner Marine Band, the Deluxe, and the Special 20 and for his favorite solos like 'Georgia' he uses a Marine Band customized by Joe Filisco, James Gordon, or Richard Sleigh.

He likes Seydels too. He just got one in circular tuning which he's trying out on Amazing Grace. He also uses Suzuki's SCT 128 chromatic tremelo harp. He says, "I may sound like I'm all over the place on my choice of harps, but I have my favorites from all the companies. Playing with Willie, and working with many different artists, calls for a plethora of harps."

He certainly achieves a broad tonal spectrum and blows a great Tex Mex accordion sound, reminiscent of Ry Cooder's old mucker Flaco Jiminez, out of the tremelos. Neither Tony nor myself had come across this technique previously but agreed that it is a useful addition to the range of sounds in a harp man's grip. While much of his solo work is weighted towards blues he also has some of his harps tuned up to a major seventh in second position a la Charlie McCoy, for more traditional country phrazing.

The man came across as not being in love with technique for its own sake. He has no interest in overblows for example any more than he has in the Green Bullet pathway to harmonica excess. He goes for a deceptively simple and pure country sound. To achieve this he uses Beyer M 160 ribbon mikes, both in a stand and handheld, and routes the signal directly into the pa via a HHB Fatman tube preamp and compressor.

Next time he comes he told us we can show him around. He hadn’t had a chance to see anything outside his hotel and the venue. Next time he comes I would really recommend getting to hear him live. Some harp players sound better recorded but to my mind Mickey isn’t one of those. I mean he sounds fine on Willy Nelson albums, as he does with Emmylou Harries, but if he is musically courteous on stage he can seem to have been edited to oblivion by the time his work has left the studio.

Before the concert I checked some of the numbers he is credited with playing on in my own record collection. Of course there are the outstanding pieces such as Georgia but on other tracks where he gets a credit you might be able to make out a faint tinkling of reeds way back in the mix. When you think about what the guy can do it seems less than fair to use him as musical background. But such is the session man's lot. We can only hope he got a good fee. Which he probably did.

Yes get out and hear him. His playing is an education in harmonica as an accompanying instrument. Many of us can learn a lot from him. Or even get back in touch with stuff we once knew and have let slip. I'll definitely go and hear him again. But if I get the chance to talk to him next time I think I just might ask him what its like to play harp for thirty years with a guy like Willie Nelson. Now I bet thats a tale worth the telling.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

sweat dreams

i like to get up a good sweat. its been a talent of mine for as long as i can remember. it's got no less since i've had the tummy. however pas de problem. some of the best dancers i know are big guys. they can't half move the flesh. anyway getting up a head of steam is part of the fun and a bit of mass is no disadvantage there. even if the heart attack is just around the corner. but i'm not running scared of that one now. so i tend to shift and to hell with the consequences.

trouble is the ladies don't all appreciate my hard line terpsichorean ideology. some ain't so fussy of course and are happy (or at least prepared) to squash up to a hot wet boy gyrating along the path to salsa euphoria. some point blank refuse to climb aboard the human waterfall. while others, just so long as the waterfall in question realises they are acting under duress and would much rather be dancing with a person with more polite transpirational habits, will condescend to a twirl or two.

me i don't care. i just go for it. like i do when i play music. i generally perspire quite heavily on a gig. more if its a good one in a hot dive with the bass reverberating off the rafters, the pints of cooking lager flowing free and the bodies crushing and pushing together. i used to perspire so much at events like that i had to wear a sweat band. just like mark knopfler. only a little bit for the pose but mostly because there was so much juice running off my face i couldn't see the finger board if i didn't.

there haven't been so many of those sessions recently. perhaps the days of good old thumping r&b are over. r&b as in rhythm and blues that is, not its claim-jumping contemporary namesake. yeah good old fashioned r&b, music with a back beat, a bit if drive and if you're really lucky, plenty of harmonica.

maybe the lack of gigs is one reason its been such a buzz to discover salsa. i love the dancing. only wish it had been around when i was younger, thought i was cooler but was in fact stupider. i may not have spent such a colossal amount on the drink. salsa is a similar, if not more intensely uplifting experience to playing in a pumping r&b band to a hall full of grooving punters. the argot changes of course, with culture and with time, but the buzz and the beat go on.

although i love the moves i've never been the one to watch from the floor. i've always needed to be part of the action. whatever that action is. with musical action this is more so. and so i fall under a new spell. i want to play harp in a salsa band. and a tango outfit. my dream is renewed.

who does it? the only one i have heard is charlie musslewhite. and that is ONE. i'm sure the harp could deal with those trumpet lines. or do something equally useful. and the chrom can for definite do tango. i've heard joe powers. and hugo diaz.

the quest now is how to work up a sweat with a bunch of latino musicians on their own musical and geographical turf. why are they not going to blow me out? answer is they are. there must be a way round it though. how'm i going to put the dream into practice?


Sunday, December 10, 2006

hitting the big time

did my first solo public performance yesterday. played at the funky craft fair in mumbles. reasonable response. got £3 in the hat. lunch cost £4 but got a free cuppa.

i have some backing tracks on the laptop. but in the event they were too quiet so, like a good boy scout, i burned them onto a cd (can you get a badge for cd burning in extremis? i think i'll propose it to brown owl next time i catch him at it) and put that on the fair's ghetto blaster. ghetto whisperer would have been more accurate. but it gave me the volume i needed in that environment.

played st louis blues, love story, malaguena (sort of. well i knew it was malaguena anyway.) hungarian dance, georgia, speak softly love, summertime, misty and a couple of others including one of my own called left foot tango. plus a bit of diatonic. did two sets. more accurately the same set twice.

i felt i needed to get used to performing so that playing in comps would not make me so nervous. in addition to the bucks i got a couple of positive comments from the stall holders. and married women started throwing themselves at me. got chatted up by a charming lady, espoused for over the half century and some years my senior, who wondered where we had met before. and another, enthusiastic lass who could talk the spots off a leopard and whose current conubial standing turned out to be more meaningfully measured in months. nuff said.

later on went to peppers wine bar in newton road plus harps and was asked to play for brian evans the owner's dinner guests. did speak softly love. went down a storm. ended up generally tooting till the wee hours. some chrom some diatonic. so now i think i can play when i'm drunk too. just as well as i had several pints bought for me. but whether to lubricate the larynx or shut me up i am not sure.

anyway hasta la pasta, compadres, and away

Friday, September 08, 2006

laydeez an' genlmens, introducing, for one night only ... mr gerry 'pops' ezard

specialising in sinuous strands of silver sound, gerry ezard is someone for whom the word urbane could easily have been crafted. considering he has spent much of his life working amongst the polished surfaces of the furniture business this is hardly surprising. lets be fair, with prolonged exposure to all that veneer it would be more of a shock if some of the gloss hadn't rubbed off.

in gerry's case the sheen is particularly noticeable in his music. as in conversation, he doesn't do loud. when he plays its more about statement than nailing a melody home. but that's not to say it's light-weight. far from it. its just that you'ld never hear him being called a rough diamond. with gerry the finish goes all the way through, but theres no denying what you get on the surface can only be described as ..... polish.

in my experience different performers have different radii of musical impact. it may be just a fancy but i find some don't reach me at all until i'm really close to them. whereas others can touch me across a crowded room.

i don't think its about amplification. it may be about personality projection or the difference between playing to yourself and playing to the back of the hall. i don't know. but i do know that i once gigged with an adept banjo man whose music sounded to me as dry as dust. until i stood next to him. then i understood the guy's delicately crafted poetry which was a very timid and sensitive animal indeed. a complete contrast to the harsh persona he offered to the world. weird stuff, huh?

i first met gerry during my quest for instruction in the arcane art of the muffigan. his name had been suggested as one of the few chromatic harmonica teachers in south wales. so i gave him a call. he invited me round for an hour. i left after two. with a sheaf of charts and a vague idea how to tongue block. 'see you in a month,' i said. and never went back.

well when i say never, actually i did go back after about a year during which i had sporadically taught myself the tongue technique. it was just after christmas and i didn't have much to do so i overcame the embarrassment of the broken word and called again. his welcome was just as enthusiastic.

this time however i decided to commit to a regular session. establishing the pattern for the next nine months, before the first lesson finished we had agreed time and place for the second. gerry gave me plenty to work on and i gave myself the time to do it. up until the national harmonica league's weekend festival at the end of october.

we studied around a pristine table top, protected by a thick mat against accidental engraving by sharp metal edges, in gerry's dining room. surrounded by elegant furniture we worked hard. we worked on reading. mine was rubbish. we worked on a duet. which we actually performed in the october event. and came second. (out of three. but then they do say that two out of three ain't bad. who am i to argue?) i worked on several simple solo pieces. which were beautiful. i thoroughly enjoyed myself. talked when i should have been listening, usually stayed over time, had to be encouraged to bugger off, and struggled to get to grips with this new pocket-sized groove tool.

i learnt a lot but probably what will stay in my mind for longest was gerry's demonstration of his sound. 'you've got to bare down on it, patrick,' he said just before he got the resonance rolling. 'like this.' i recognised the shining notes. beautiful as usual. 'wonder what he's on about,' i thought. 'bare down on it? maybe the old boy's losing it?'

and then, as if i had made an indiscreet remark about zinadine zidane's sister, i felt like i had been butted in the chest. i had to catch my breath. i even took a step back. it was gerry's tone. still as polished and non aggressive as ever. but now with an unfamiliar emotional intensity. and a kick like a rhino.

for someone like me who has always gone for the more directly stated attack, what during the seventies we used to call raunchy (yes we did), that was a big lesson. like a mortar round coming out of a water pistol. no mean feat and a very neat technique.

now i think about it he hasn't shown me how to do it yet. i'll have to get on his case. urbane or not. i need to know.

more to come.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

the chromatic versus diatonic debate: a guitar player's view

coming from a guitar background as i do there is nothing quite so mind numbing as listening to someone banging on about the superiority of diatonics over chromatics. or vice versa*. with us twangers there are differences, yes, but even the most partisan strummer and twiddler can accept the diversity within the genre of instruments referred to as guitars.

from classics to strats, dobros to archtops, national steels to country jumbos, macaferris to ovations (a lot of people do think of an ovation as a guitar actually) and 335s to les pauls, they might have a name in common but they have massively different characteristics. thank heavens. and can be used for different things.

i see the diatonic versus chromatic debate in the same way. they are different. vive la difference. they have different strengths. you can do different things on them and i for one really enjoy listening to them both.

i think that any conflict that exists does so primarily in the ear of the beholder. maybe not even there. maybe just in the closed mind-set. in my opinion it just ain't the instruments. its what people do with them that counts. and that is down to the breadth of each player's personal horizon.

for example i really enjoy the blues and r&b and am the first to recognise the impact of this genre on 20th and possibly 21st century music. and yes it can be - but i hope we would all agree isn't always - great music to listen to and to play .... BUT we do need to recognise that if the talent that made this magic from a combination of thin air, dust and bad whiskey had been focussing on how music was made nearly a century earlier, in other words on how music SHOULD be played .... the blues just would not have happened. full stop.

the musicians who made the blues were innovators who could pull a riff out of a piece of wire nailed to a shed door. so while all respect is due to the music it wouldn't hurt if the idea of development started creeping into some blues disciples' headphones. rather than spending valuable playing time, not to mention the money, trying to replicate little big willy frogmorton's distinctive harp tone which he originally achieved on an instrument of hand carved whalebone and buffalo hide with his head six inches under the mud on the south bank of the snake-lash river in catfish creek, mississippi at 3:47 pm on friday 13th june 1922, i suggest maybe we could look to the future.

so why don't we stop bitching about how wrong the other guy/girl is. and by default pumping our own approach up. lets honour the guys who made the stuff, rather than slavishly copying them and get on and make some music. while we've still got the breath to blow. and suck of course.

* having said that its often not as ennui inducing as listening to them actually play. in my experience those who choose to exercise their intellect on such trivia tend towards the extra tedious in their musicality also. whether they play with a slide or not.

© Patrick Ellis 2005

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

from the top

the deal was, the devil got my soul. in return i could play the blues. in the event the bastard short changed me. but thats what you got to expect if you negotiate with a supernatural entity who, in most Western religions, is the central embodiment of evil.

i should have known. he's caught me over a capuccino before now. just by hanging onto that fistful of pound coins when my attention was elsewhere he smilingly transformed an expensive cup of milky coffee into an exorbitantly expensive cup of milky coffee. but way back then i still trusted the hornèd old reptile.

these days i like to think i can see him coming. so it was something of a disappointment when, on my way TO the pub one summer evening, he slipped a near lethal manhole cover under my shoe and i hit the deck with a substantial bump.

i tore some stuff in my foot. worse than that tho, and infinitely more sneaky, as i landed the scaly sod caught me one in the neck. ever since i have been ... ahem ... bedevilled with multiple nerve problems in
my right arm.

in that instant my guitar playing was stuffed. not to mention the mandolin. my passion, and a significant part of my income, were removed. just like that. although i suppose in his diabolical way he was keeping his side of the bargain. from that point on my experience of the blues intensified significantly. now i really had something to play about.

despite his smart little moves mephisto the great dis-illusionist had missed a trick. as luck would have it my dalliance with stringed instruments had been a second act. the first love of my musical life had been that fundamental tool of the groove, the trumpet of the blues angels, a 7/6d hohner super vamper.

i can
still see my first harp. several lengthwise windings of tape bandage keeping it on the right side of mortality long after the cover plate tacks had snuck through the pearly gates into tack heaven.

did that bandage stick! it stuck to everything. especially when moistened with enthusiastic teenage saliva and thrust uncased into a jacket pocket. a dirt and fluff magnet beyond compare.

oh god, talk about filthy. but not then, to me. to me it was beautiful. and in tune despite having the reeds roughly jabbed with a matchstick if they ever got stuck. which from time to time they unaccountably did. who knows what they were made of but they couldn't half soak up a bashing. and that was before playing the little demon.

to get slightly more technical, i am talking diatonic here.
you know what i'm saying brothers and sisters ... the little one without the knob on its side. the harmonica that is mostly used for the blues. because ... it sounds great. in fact that high wail is so good that a lot of audiences just love to hear the thing regardless of the skill with which it is being tooted. trust me. i can bear witness. probably even done it myself.

over the years i had kept my hand, or more accurately, lips in. when i wasn't playing guitar anybody who didn't tell me to shut up or bugger off or both could expect to find me a-honking, a-tooting and a-wailing along side them at the slightest opportunity.

after the fall i realised that if i was going to keep on making music it was going to be on harmonica. and this would mean raising my game above the morass of hound dog howlers who, having paid their £20 or so, reckon they're as good as charlie musselwhite or rod piazza any day of the week and don't understand why they aren't fronting the blues band. now!

i felt i needed to be able to offer something different. so i decided i'd learn to play the chromatic. i bought one from an acknowledged dealer. it was crap. what to do?

buy another. (this time a hering special 48. a name dripping derring-do nautical machismo, and hopefully appropriate for the charts with which i was trying to navigate a scarey new ocean of dots and lines into the deep end of which i found myself plunging.) and get help.

i made enquiries and eventually beat a path to the door of the shadowy national harmonica league. i went straight to the top. and spoke to the chairman.

"is that roger trobridge? i'm looking for a chromatic teacher."

silence ... then an extended intake of breath.

"there's not many of them about

anxiety's chill talons scrabbled for a grip on my vertebrae. somewhere out in the ether i sensed a rustle of leathery wings as old nick did his best to divert me from the path of righteous endeavour. all three of us knew there was a lot riding on this one.

a pause ... "where do you live?"


"oh," said roger. "one of the best teachers in the country lives in porthcawl." (for the uninitiated porthcawl, apart from being welsh rhyming slang for 'an insignificant amount' is twenty miles down the coast from swansea.)

and that, gentle reader, is how i met gerry ezard.

more to follow ...

© patrick ellis july 2006

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

the stumble

tuesday, 27th june 2006. following kevin the drummer's explanation that i should come in after a count of two (which is NOT how it kicks off on the practice cd) i launch for a second time into my debut performance at swansea jazzland. nerves now uncomfortably ajangle, here we go again. misty take two.

the b flat is strongish, the g isn't bad. then cometh the d. where the band pick it up on e maj7 and all harmonic hell breaks loose. i am overpowered by a swirling miasma of tones whose fist grabs my timorous harmonica sound by the throat and pummels it like a sardine in a tsunami. for the second time in two minutes i recognise the sensation of being, embarrassingly, comprehensively and irrefutably stuffed. my bottle evaporates big time. i grab my coat. i have fortuitously left the pork pie hat at home. intent on leaving my troubles on the doorstep on the way out, i walk.

only to have my exit blocked by the expansive mc who encourages me to finish what i've started. by now i'm so shook up i can't even say my name. but i do what the big man asks. and stumble weakly through the tune, accompanied only by the keyboard player. miraculously i get to the end of the first chorus. now for the next bit.

during rehearsal i had decided on a strategy of once through the
head (the tune) and improvise (er actually in my case, jam it) to the end. so i now find myself at the point where, in my plan, the exciting part starts. however i am so shell shocked and we are playing so slowly that i don't have the tempo to take off. so i do a few garbled phrases, fake it for another chorus and signal the keyboard to finish. which he promptly does giving me the opportunity to limp out on the d that had been sucked to a watery grave a few minutes earlier.

i am grateful to the compassion of the audience who give me a rousing round of applause. i thank them more sincerely than i have thanked any group of people i have played in front of. ever.

i return to my seat to find the comradeship of my fellow jazzers a little cooler than when i left. but not to worry, there'll be plenty of time to re-arrange that particular dynamic. the big mc comes over and asks me if i've got another number. which i don't have. and certainly wouldn't be playing now if i did. he then explains that the night is for those who want to learn to play jazz, not experienced players, and invites me back. and i will be. in a month.

'all that pain,' you may ask, 'why?'

best i can do in reponse is 'who can say?'

what is surprising is that i am back close to where i was at fourteen years old.
apparently by chance here i am walking the streets of swansea in a lived-in bomber jacket with a harmonica in my packet. do we ever grow up? i suppose some of us do. but i'll leave that to those who think its important.

i've done loads since then of course. trained for a career. found myself knee deep in local government clones. got married. worst fortnight of my life. went to college. got a couple of degrees. so now i'm educated, drank and drank and drank. met the purple bunnies. but i'm better now. lived in various parts of blighty. learned to play guitar, and
to a lesser extent, mandolin.

i've won and lost more than a bevy of girlfriends. performed in loadsa crummy bars with loadsa bands. some crummy, some not. i've played rock and roll, country (& western), blues, rhythm and blues, and folk. i've been part of seven-piece bands, six- five- and four-piece bands, trios and duos.
i've written songs. i've worked solo. in which capacity i have been known to out-number the audience.

i've played in uk and several other parts of europe. i've done tv, live radio, worked as a session man, played clubs, pubs and festivals. i've
busked on street corners. and now, four decades down the line in the world beyond 1984 and 2001, the wheel seems to have turned full circle. so .... back in abertawe with my eyes on the heavens .... lets hear it one more time.

more to come.

© patrick ellis june 2006