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Posts posted by StuartEstell

  1. Here's the Katrina & the Waves song "Going Down to Liverpool" which the Bangles subsequently covered, my version being based more on theirs than the original.


    Admittedly, the concertina plays a much-reduced role in this - I used it to imitate the way the Bangles did their backing vocals in their version of the song, so it's quite low in the mix, and doesn't appear immediately.


    I never really finished it, and despite the fact that if I were to revisit it now I'd certainly redo the bits where the high notes in the vocal veer off pitch, when I found it again yesterday I was pleased with the gentle bluegrassy feel of the arrangement, so I thought I'd share.



  2. While rummaging through my hard drive, I found this recording from 2007 - a version of "Sister Ray" by The Velvet Underground, reimagined for duet concertina, acoustic guitar, and acoustic bass guitar.


    In the interests of being "family-friendly" I should say that if you're not familiar with the song, it's a particularly sordid Lou Reed paean to, amongst other things, drugs, prostitution and murder - it's basically an urban folk ballad, really, but not for the queasy of stomach.


    Anyway, it rolls along quite nicely, I think - I was pleasantly surprised when I heard it again after all this time.



  3. In all honesty it was a bad back. I was playing a hulking great 120-bass piano accordion for Foxs Border Morris, and simply couldn't cope with the weight of the thing. I researched concertinas, became convinced that I needed an English, went to the Birmingham Accordion Centre, got my hands on one, and... found I couldn't make head nor tail of it. So I started off with a Hohner (Stagi) 30 button anglo, which as a pianist made far more sense to me. The rest, as they say, is bankruptcy.



    I played piano in college, but when I graduated I no longer had access to one. I went through a diagnostic to determine what kind of instrument would best met my needs. It must be:


    1) Portable (I wanted to be able to take it to the park, or to shows)

    2) Chromatic (I like to modulate)

    3) Allow for singing (because I like to sing!)

    4) Have fixed pitches (I have a middling sense of intonation)


    There weren't many instrument that met all of the creteria. I thought about ukulele, but it seemed kind of trendy in my surroundings, and that set me against it. I saw a cheap Anglo for sale in a local music shop, bought it ... the rest is history.


    Steven,just wondering how you go singing with the anglo? Of course it's often used for song accompaniment but can be a bit tricky managing the push/pull aspect. And you didn't quite end up with a chromatic instrument.


    I can't speak for Steven, of course, but personally I don't find singing with anglo any more or less of a challenge than singing with Maccann duet or Jeffries duet. After a while, I found that the change of bellows direction on bisonoric instruments just becomes part of the fingering, really.

  4. Karl, I can't speak for any advantages the Maccann layout might have over the Crane as my experience of the latter is limited, but the Maccann keyboard is eminently playable, and the irregularities are nothing that practising a few scales won't fix. The fact that there are Eb and Bb buttons scattered liberally throughout the "white notes" takes a little getting used to initially (and you can guarantee that a wrong note played by a Maccann player will be an E flat!), and in my experience it's easiest to play in keys on the sharp side of Bb - F, C, G, D, A, E are all fine.

  5. Hello all


    Here's a little excerpt of a performance from an event that took place at Wray Castle in Cumbria earlier this month. It's an improvisation upon a medieval tune called The Drowned Sacristan, arranged/adapted by Laura Cannell as part of her Medieval Uprising project - and Laura kindly invited me to join her for this, the last item in her set for the evening. I'm playing my 67k Wheatstone Maccann duet for this.




  6. James Joyce was known to be an enthusiastic musician - he was an accomplished tenor and pianist, and his work is full of musical allusion.


    I began another voyage through the wonderful dreamworld of Finnegans Wake recently and was struck by a reference to Charles Wheatstone:




    With a grand funferall. Fumfum fum-fum. 'Tis optophone which ontophanes. List! Wheatstone's magic lyer. They will be tuggling foriver. They will be lichening for allof. They will be pretumbling forover. The harpsdischord shall be theirs for ollaves. (p13)


    According to various FW resources, Wheatstone's acoucrytophone resembled a lyre (I looked in vain for images or drawings of one online) - but given the general textual slipperiness of the Wake it's tempting to see the pulling and pushing of bellows in the phrase "tuggling foriver".


    And 15 pages later, Joyce mentions the concertina when talking of Anna Livia:




    She was flirtsome then and she's fluttersome yet. She can second a song and adores a scandal when the last post's gone by. Fond of a concertina and pairs passing when she's had her forty winks for supper after kanekannan and abbely dimpling and is in her merlin chair assotted, reading her Evening World. (p28)


    Perhaps needless to say there's no further mention of either anywhere else in the book...

  7. David - as a couple of others have said, it might be worth trying a small Maccann duet or Crane duet. You should be able to get something usable with 46-ish buttons for a good deal less than an anglo with 30 buttons. You might find that a duet system actually suits what you want to do a bit better in that you'll be able to put nice little chromatic twists in, without having to concern yourself with the direction of the bellows at any given moment! Plus it would open up the possibility of playing tunes in their more usual, flatter, keys.


    Chris Algar would indeed be an ideal port of call.

  8. Like Jody, when I play anglo I tend to play G/D most of the time - I find the pitch of the instrument better for singing. Before I took up the duet systems, I would play in C, F, Dm and Am on the C/G and G / D / Am / Em on the G/D. I think with diatonic instruments it's worth keeping your options open but it often depends on the style you're playing in. I can't really comment on Irish traditional music as I don't play it.


    Then the Jeffries, which is almost certainly an anglo. (I've only ever heard of one Jeffries-system duet -- the other "possibility" -- with that few buttons.)


    One thing... can you confirm that the buttons on the Jeffries play different notes on push and pull? Or not?


    Good luck.



    While we wait for Laura to reply, and given that a little bit of pointless speculation never hurt anyone, the button arrangement on the left hand of the Jeffries seems a little odd for an anglo to me - it doesn't have the core 15 buttons you might reasonably expect. But that button arrangement would work as a small Jeffries-system giving you everything chromatic from Bb above middle C down to the G below and then the F and C below that...


    I will of course turn out to be completely wrong in this.

  10. If anyone finds themselves at a loose end in the North-West at the weekend, I will be performing at the Wray Castle leg of this event:




    Should be lots of fun. I will be doing some improvisation on various folk materials.


    Laura and Alison are both superb musicians, and I'm greatly looking forward to playing with them...

  11. Only the first one was accidental: I was finding playing a 120-bass piano accordion for morris (affectionately known as the musical 'fridge) far too heavy, and so researched concertinas, and was convinced that the English system would be the right one.


    It wasn't. To this day I can only just get a tune out of an English if I concentrate really, really hard. I find going backwards and forwards between the hands very unintuitive.


    But: I got an anglo in my hands and it made perfect sense as a kind of keyboard-harmonica.


    The duets were a deliberate move. I love the anglo, but I also like to be able to sing in the right key for my voice - first came the Maccann, and then curiosity from studying keyboard layouts online drew me to the Jeffries duet. Chris Algar happened to have one that I could try, which had been on eBay but was still unsold by the time I caught up with him at Witney that year, and it was love at first "where the devil is everything?" I now play Jeffries duet almost exclusively, the other systems only being used for specific song arrangements.

  12. Notemaker, you haven't really described what sounds "horrible" about it, but I suspect the benefit of such an alteration to a 30-button C/G would be far outweighed by the cost. Yes, the fingers can get a bit tied up in that little triangular B-E-G shape and how ungainly that feels depends on the size of one's fingers, I guess. You could try some alternate fingering - say 4-3-2 rather than 3-3-2 if you particularly want it to be legato...

  13. Hello Pauline - I think this is a great idea but I must admit I agree with Jim regarding the treatment of all duets as a single system.


    Although basic principles apply across the board, particularly in the case of playing by ear I think it might be more helpful to consider each duet layout as a separate "system" (although whether it's then worth doing specific Jeffries duet videos is anybody's guess :lol: ) . In my experience of playing the Maccann and Jeffries layouts, they are instruments of very distinct character, and as different from one another as they are from the anglo.

  14. As part of the Kickstarter campaign to fund the planned film about Shirley Collins, The Ballad of Shirley Collins, I was invited by Shirley to perform at Café OTO in Dalston, which resulted in this duet with the comedian Stewart Lee. As Stewart says in his introduction, we had tried this out a couple of weeks previously without really rehearsing it... was great fun!



  15. I sometimes like to play the tune as well as singing it - it can be quite effective in giving a nice doubled-at-the-octave feel.


    For me the elements of devising an accompaniment are something like this, and roughly in this order:

    • apply "scorched earth harmony policy" - make the harmonic structure as uncluttered as possible while still fitting the needs of the melody. Chord changes can be such a distraction - and if they're used sparingly, they can really be made to count. Quite a lot of my arrangements reduce the harmony to just I and IV (in different inversions) - I have a bit of an allergy to V7 chords and almost always replace them with IV!
    • choose a drone note. I almost always have one, but not necessarily - in fact often not - in the bass. This may or may not be the tonic. If I'm playing my Jeffries duet, drone notes are usually in the upper end of the LH range - i.e. in the 5th above middle C that overlaps both hands.
    • devise bass line - if relying on droney textures and often near-immobile harmony, what goes on at the bottom can add a lot of colour with deceptively simple means, through various inversions etc.
    • work out what the right hand might do - I sometimes imitate guitar picking patterns, sometimes use arpeggiated figures that stay constant even if there's a chord change (i.e. so that they function like a "broken chord drone")

    You could, rather than starting from chords as such, start from a simple drone of a fifth, and then work outwards from there...

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