Wonder

I always associate this word with Patrick Kavanagh. ‘Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder’ – from Advent. Reminds me of Leonard Cohen actually – ‘There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in’ – from Anthem. Anyway back to wonder. I always remember my English teacher in secondary school telling us how Kavanagh rediscovered the wonder in simple things later in life while recovering from lung cancer. It has been a barometer for me since – I have always figured that if I amn’t seeing the wonder in things that I used to, then I need to reevaluate some part of my life. Yesterday over 20 talented teenagers came to The Blue Room Recording Studio in Grange, Co. Sligo and recorded drums, violins and choir parts to complete a track on which I’m working at the moment. Bar one, it was their first time in a studio. I could hear the wonder

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“Short accounts make long friends”.

A man uttered this phrase to me yesterday when paying me (promptly) for a gig. I liked it. Immediately I was reminded of another business-related phrase…”It’s just business”. Two different ways of doing things. The first one encourages friendship in business dealings, the second can be used to excuse actions in business dealings that would rarely be seen between friends. You can’t be friends with everyone you do business with. Respect should be a minimum though.

Play That Funky Music

Rob Parissi, the founder and lead singer of Wild Cherry, also wrote their only hit – Play That Funky Music, which was a no. 1 hit single in the US in 1976 and reached no. 4 in 1990 after Vanilla Ice released it as a single (Ice Ice Baby was the B-side ). He was inspired to do so after the band’s drummer recounted hearing a fan shout at a gig ‘Are you white boys gonna play some funky music?” According to Wikipedia, there have been 14 members of Wild Cherry over the years, with Parissi the only ever-present. I’m not sure if Eddie Fitzpatrick (trombone) knew this, and the mainly teenage band he put together for the below performance featured only the 13, but I’d be surprised if Wild Cherry ever had as much fun playing it.  

Teenagers, music and being yourself…

This morning I’m reflecting on the 15th in the series of the Teenage Theme Nights. We had two wonderful nights where almost 70 teenage musicians performed their favourites from the 1970s. The four teenagers in this photo – Julie, Joy, Eoin and Conor were our emcees for the two nights. Julie performed an instrumental version of Billy Joel’s Scenes from an Italian Restaurant on piano, Joy arranged strings for and sang Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain, Eoin arranged and sang a Neil Young medley accompanying himself with harmonica and guitar, and Conor led a keys/piano/bass/drums quartet to play Chick Corea’s Spain. And there were many other standout performances over the weekend, too many to list. But that’s not the point I want to make today. Expressing yourself, being true to yourself can be difficult as an adult. It can be even more difficult as a teenager. However it’s key to your happiness. And so when I see these teenagers be

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When life isn’t fair…

Waiting to play a gig one Saturday evening I observed two children playing in the car park at the back of the venue. They were no more than 7 and they had one bike between the two of them. They took turns to ride it down a steep hill, turn sharply around a parked car and then come to a quick stop before they hit the fence. Improvised fun, making a game out of nothing – I loved watching it! The mood darkened however when one child took two goes in a row. The other child started shouting at her – things like ‘It’s my turn’, ‘You had two goes’, ‘That’s not fair’. He was angry – convinced he was right, but hurt and upset that the other child didn’t seem to care. His emotions were laid bare for all to see, but he didn’t care, he kept fighting for what he perceived to be his right to a turn

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On being discovered

Back in my college years I took a trip to California. And on that trip I took a bus from San Diego to San Francisco. And on that bus we passed a series of huge vineyards. And I was fascinated. It wasn’t the longest bus journey I ever made, but it was long nonetheless. And in the era before smartphones, and when roaming charges were prohibitive, all there was to do was read a book or think. And I had run out of books. Thankfully it was a great place to think. It was on a different bus journey a few thousand miles further south that thinking led me to making the choice to be a musician, but that’s a story for another blog. Anyway back to the vineyards. They seemed to go on forever. Lines and lines of vines, meticulously planted. Diagonal to the road but each line at exactly the same angle to the next. When passing them

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Autumn Leaves

They fall every year. Without fail. There will be lots of them and if you don’t deal with them properly they will stop the light getting to the grass and it will suffer. Autumn Leaves is also the title of a jazz standard. Often one of the first that jazz students learn, and possibly because of this it’s not one that seasoned professional musicians tend to play very often. However they all can play it inside out, upside down and backwards. Because like its counterparts in the picture, the chord progressions from the tune will fall to you in every gig. Without fail. There will be lots of them, and if you don’t deal with them properly as a student, the light won’t get to your playing and it too will suffer. Do the basics well and the rest will follow.

A Musical Well

One reason why I chose to play and teach music as a career was that I knew I would never stop learning. There was infinite knowledge and experience out there that I knew I could draw on, take in and use in my own way to help make my music and that of others sound and feel better. I visualised it as a bottomless well, into which everyone pours their own music and experiences. All of the songs, tunes, performances, and knowledge waft around and you can take your pick every day as to what you want to listen to, watch or learn about. We got to play Michael’s composition Tobar an Cheoil last Saturday night. The title of the piece means ‘A Musical Well’ or ‘A Well of Music’. It couldn’t be more appropriate.

Backing vocals

Traditional thinking may lead you to believe that backing vocalists are backing vocalists because they aren’t as good as the lead vocalist. Certainly this was the impression given by the Oscar-winning documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom  – where many of the most prolific and successful backing vocalists in history spoke of the unfair hierarchies that existed in many of the bands in which they found themselves. The thing is – being a good backing vocalist requires completely different skills to being a good lead vocalist. Sure, some backing vocalists may not make it as a lead vocalist, but many lead vocalists wouldn’t make it as a backing vocalist either. This is mainly because there is usually more than one person singing backing vocals. In fact there is often 3. So while the lead vocalist can be a little more loose with her phrasing, her melodies, backing vocalists have to be more rehearsed. Precise. Tight. Hit the right notes but the wrong phrasing and

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Beginnings

The beginning of something is always exciting. The road ahead full of potential, the many possible paths from which to pick, the promise of a shared journey. And while it’s only a beginning, and nothing has been achieved as of yet, it’s worth recognising that you are lucky to have something to begin. Something that excites you, something that will challenge you, help you grow, bring you joy, make you feel alive. Sometimes the hardest part is finding something to begin. After our gig last Saturday night, Niamh, Michael and I feel like we’re beginning something together now. We’re looking forward to it, whatever it turns out to be.