Quest for Wellyfest – With your support see us on the main stage

Hi folks, friends, supporters.

We’re in the running for the People’s Choice at Wellyfest. We entered late but moving up fast and with your support we’ll get there.

Parryphonalia at the Festival of the ElementsThe prize is a spot on the main stage at Wellington Folk Festival and we need your vote.
I’m in an entry with folk band Parryphonalia and also featuring superb guitarist Julian Ward.Wellyfest

In order to vote, you first need to ‘Like’ the Wellyfest Facebook page (only once).

Then you just head over to the People’s Choice competition here.

Click the Vote button on our entry.

Nigel Parry w Parryphonalia and Julian WardHave a wee listen to the rough compilation if you like, I think it shows we can successfully fill the 45 minute stage slot with some good music.

And please click Vote. If the Vote button is green, it means you have voted for that day and have to come back later.

You can vote each day up to the 20th September (NZ time) when it closes.

If you wanted to go the extra mile to help a friend in need, then why not post this to your Facebook Wall or to Twitter so your fiends can consider voting as well.

Many thanks for reading this, and being a friend.

Update – We only went a got there ! Winners of the People’s Choice. Thanks so much for everyone’s support – it was a blast !!

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A musical journey

We had the privilege to be in the centre of France for the big annual hurdy-gurdy / bagpipes festival in July. And what an amazing experience, quite unlike anything in New Zealand.

Some years ago, this event outgrew it’s original home in the village of St Chartier and moved just up the road to Chateau D’Ars. Given new life this year as ‘Le Son Continue‘ (the music continues), it collects together enthusiasts from France and combines this with musicians and instrument makers from nearby countries as well.

There is a big stage for the evening concerts, but for me the magic happens around the chateau and woods alongside. Chateau D'ArsThere are stages and dance floors constructed either side of the chateau where there is an almost constant stream of music, dance and workshops every day.

Almost hidden among the trees are rows of temporary stalls where some of the best luthiers ply their trade. Although there are many hurdy-gurdy and bagpipe makers, this is mixed with accordions, drums, epinettes, nickelharps and much more.
Music just happensMusic seemed to spontaneously erupt in little groups among the trees, with a variety of instruments and all of the highest standard. The bagpipes are a variety of european types, all with a more mellow sound than the scottish pipes we often hear. In French they are called corne-muses (literally; horn musics) and on the last day there was a parade of pipers all playing the same tune around and even through the little chateau

What also impressed us was the age mix; there was perhaps a majority of younger people, who often played brilliantly and knew the old tunes and dances. They know their own culture and have an enthusiasm for it.

We camped, in a tiny tent, and quickly made friends among our neighbours from France, England and Holland. Add to that good local catering while surrounded by beautiful countryside. Utterly fabulous.
Cite do la MusiqueWith such variety of musical instruments, it was a nice link to the previous week when we had visited the museum of music in Paris. If you get the chance, do go. There is a bewildering array of instruments from the last 1,000 years, but what really made it special was being able to use the audio guide to listen to recordings of the actual instruments playing music of the right era.

Across the English Channel after France and we stumbled across a local music session in a great little pub in Devon. Like a singaround but mainly instrumentals, some of the musicians were very good but were welcoming of newcomers and the less experienced.

Interestingly, this was almost all English music. Not a single Irish tune and with a different flavour to the ‘diddly music’ sessions we are familiar with. The people were friendly, the music very enjoyable (we did join in and kicked a few tunes off as well), the pub atmosphere quite unlike anything in NZ and the beer superb.

If you are ever in Totnes, Devon, check out the Bay Horse. There’s often folky music of various sorts.

Next musical stop was one day of a folk festival in Wiltshire. The Village Pump is in a park under a white horse carved into the chalk hillside and it had a familiar and friendly vibe. The acts were very good (especially Steve Knightly), there are several stages and it had a bit of an ‘Auckland Folk Fest’ feel about it.

The local sheep’s milk ice cream was also amazing in the scorching weather; peanut butter and chocolate is my new favourite.

And guess who we should bump into almost as soon as we arrived? Pat Smith and Ned Clamp; these two lovely people toured NZ recently including a local house concert. Some very friendly faces to make the festival even better.

We chatted for some time while the Peatbog Faeries thundered their heavy folk rock and frenetic scottish pipes in the distance.

More to come.

Update – the next instalment is here.

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Playing live – a small big audience

Well, thanks to the staff of Paekakariki 88.2FM for inviting us into the studio, and for looking after us so well when we got there.

The audience in the little studio was perhaps five. I know we were actually playing to more than that, including the twice daily repeats for a week. But we were made to feel welcome and at home, from arriving about 15 minutes before going live, to finishing our 25 minute live spot and beyond.

The studio is in a little old building in Wellington road, and with four of us plus instruments we were squeezed almost into the front bay window – you can even hear the odd car drive past.

But how to perform, and record the sound? We can overcomplicate things sometimes. We’re getting used to having a vocal mic each, and more for instruments. DI as well. A decent venue sound system.

Mollycoddling I hear you say !

And it also means we’re in the hands of the soundies for how we … well … sound. Even if there are that many mics and a soundie used to close harmonies. So could we do a performance acoustically?

Yes, we can.

We tried it out before we went down to the studio, with a main condenser mic set up at practice, and another pointed at instruments (mandola and guitar mainly). We even worked out how far back or forward each of us needed to stand to get the right ‘mix’.

Four voices, one mic - we can do itAnd with practice gathered around the one mic stand and a friendly welcome, we felt we could happily unleash the four part folkiness on air.

In true ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ style, we sang and played around the one mic. Four songs and a bit of chat.

So thanks 88.2FM. We think it worked, but you can listen for yourself here;

 

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Instruments as Sacred Space

Music meeting photography. Some great images here.

Luna Guitars' Blog

I have always considered the connection between a player and his or her instrument to be a sacred thing. What I had never considered was that the instrument itself could be sacred space. In a 2009 print campaign for the Chamber Orchestra of the Berliner Philharmoniker, Art Director Bjoern Ewers captured the insides of instruments, revealing the hidden landscapes within.

The resulting photos blew my mind. I created stained glass for places of worship most of my life, and am convinced that the stunning architecture and play of light inside these instruments definitely qualifies as sanctuary. The interiors appear larger than life, with each instrument conveying a different emotion and sense of space. With music being the universal language, the architecture of a stringed instrument would make a stunning inter-faith chapel!


For inspiration, art director Bjorn Ewers showed his clients an old photograph of New York’s Grand Central Station in…

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Plenty of music in the Bay

High time I wrote a little something about a music festival I was at recently – the Tauranga & Katikati Acoustic Music Festival, 21-22 Feb.

This is a totally relaxed event with just one smallish stage, set in a nice little lifestyle orchard just north of Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty. That doesn’t mean you’re short changed on the music front, and at just $25 its quite a bargain (WOMAD is five times the festival but ten times the price, and that’s before you get stung for the camping).

Speaking of camping (quite a few festival-goers do), you get to pitch up in the orchard within easy earshot (and if you are lucky sight) of the stage. Facilities are minimal (tap and portaloos) but a coffee cart and food stall popped up on the saturday.

On stage at the Tauranga Festival - photo Ian Barr

On stage at the Tauranga Festival – photo Ian Barr

The event starts friday night with a blackboard concert. Several hours entertainment from people I knew and others I didn’t, but a high standard. A nice mixture too, of solo performers, duos and more, from folk and early music to the odd country standard. The stage finishes after 9pm but the music doesn’t; for the stayers there’s plenty of time to jam around the camping, or better still join the circle in lovely hosts Paul and Penny’s garage. That went on for ages both evenings.

Saturday afternoon and evening was the time for day trippers and main acts. Quite a line up too; Owen Hugh, Rachel Dawick, Bev Young, Hobnail were all great and there were local performers in the gaps – also very good. The published programme was a little out though so I missed one performer who started earlier than I expected.

Hardly ever seen Lake Taupo so calm and peaceful - just had to go in for a dip.

Hardly ever seen Lake Taupo so calm and peaceful – just had to go in for a dip.

The music and the experience were great all weekend. The rain didn’t make any difference to us (although it gave the togs a rinse after swimming in Lake Taupo on the way up).

The jamming in the garage was great. Also it was nice to see guest Owen Hugh jamming with everyone so much, and even Hobnail for a while.

There is a nice mix of familiar faces from the folk festival circuit, new faces / friends and local attendees.

A lovely setting for a day and a half of nice acoustic music. One for next year’s calendar.

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The Story Behind the Song – Roll on the Day

Roll on the Day is a sad, haunting ballad created by UK folk singer Allan Taylor.

It tells of the health difficulties suffered by a working man from the north of England struck down in retirement by a typical industrial disease.

In Allan’s own words;

“I wrote this song about an old man called Henry Johnson. I would occasionally visit Henry in his high-rise apartment in Leeds for what reason I’m not really sure; he seemed to derive little pleasure from my visit and I always left extremely depressed. Henry was typical of men who have spent their working lives in factories and coal mines in that he had breathed so much bad air, coal dust and general pollution that breathing had become difficult and painful.

I would find him during the day trying to sleep sitting in an upright chair leaning against the wall, because that was the only way he could breathe. The nights were a torment to him; when he lay down he could not sleep as his breathing was so laboured. He used to tell me how he would lie awake and say to himself, “Roll on the day, roll on the bloody day”.

For foreign readers I should explain that this expression has two meanings; the first, literal meaning is a way of wishing the day to come quickly. The second, less obvious meaning is a way of wishing for the day to come quickly, when it’s finally over, which is in fact wishing for death. Henry certainly wanted death to come quick as he would very often ask me if I could bring a revolver for him so he could shoot himself.

A few days after he died I sat at the piano and thought of the things he had said. The phrase “Roll on the day” kept coming back to me, and over the course of only a couple of hours the song was written.

I’ve performed this song regularly all over Europe, but the most poignant and powerful renditions, in terms of audience involvement have been in the Yorkshire and Durham mining areas. To hear the voices of a hundred members of a folk club, singing with such passion about a problem they are intimately familiar with is indeed a moving experience.

Note: I wrote a fourth verse for this song but forgot to sing it when I recorded it.”

It is a powerful song that always goes down well and I can often hear the audience singing along. I started performing this when I had worked out a guitar accompaniment that sort of fitted – although I am sure guitar aficionados would be able to spot how simple it is just picking shapes in DADGAD.

Hurdy gurdy recordingPhilippa added some deceptively simple hurgy gurdy arrangement. I think it all came together when Niels and Sue joined in with lovely harmonies one folk gathering. It might even have been the first song we all sang together. And we added in the fourth verse that Allan Taylor originally forgot to record, although changed the order slightly to make what I feel is a better ending.

We practiced it, we performed it, we recorded it and we love it.

You can find a high quality recording on Bandcamp here. It’s also on iTunes and Amazon.

You can also listen on Soundcloud if you prefer.

I hope you enjoy listening to is as much as we did recording it.

Original lyrics;

Chorus:
Roll on the morning, roll on the day
I hear the old man softly praying, Roll on the day

As the dawn comes creeping, roll on the day
Another night not sleeping, roll on the day

Praying for another day, roll on the day
When it comes it wastes away, roll on the day

Every night you fight for breath, roll on the day
It hurts so bad you wish for death, roll on the day

Another long and sleepless night, roll on the day
Staring at the naked light, roll on the day.

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The making of an album – #1

Now THAT was an experience.

So I have been in studios before (mainly radio and TV, but still with mics and other bits & pieces you don’t have at home) and done some bash recording, but nothing is quite like recording an album.

And if it hadn’t been for as number of wonderful people, some requests and some supportive influences along the way over the past two years, it might never have happened.

So here’s a little bit of the story and a few things I learned along the way.

When talking to friends about someone to do some recording, I was looking for very good quality that really captures the full spectrum of vocals, and something with spark rather than too smooth (I like my peanut butter crunchy).

It was recommended that I have a chat with Robbie Duncan of Braeburn Studios, and some samples of his art suggested that was a good idea. Some of the recordings he has done are superb, with a sound that seems to live inside your head rather than come at you.

Wise decision. He is an absolute pleasure to work with, fast and with the gear and approach that resonated with my aims. He would rather have a recording with that special ‘something’, despite the odd slight imperfection, than one that is over produced but characterless. And he is an acoustic recording maestro.

Nigel Parry at Braeburn StudiosHis studio is actually part of the house, with the ‘control room’ overlooking Wellington harbour and the main recording studio was previously the living room. You can use more of the house as well, as if you need an extra recording booth, that’s the bedroom, and we even pressed his kitchen into service to get the right sound of trudging feet.

He has a wonderful way of communicating during a recording session. “Would you have another take in you?” = that take wasn’t right, you can do better. Or if his smiling face appears around the corner of the studio door you know it’s time to go have a listen.

IMG_5219-200Most of the tracks with multiple musicians were recorded in one session, usually in the studio together. That gives far less scope for cheating with takes, but was great fun and I am sure the smiles we had recording ‘live’ helped us to raise our game.

A couple of instruments are too loud / stand out too much for that technique as they impose themselves on other microphones. So for She Moved Through the Fair Philippa was in ‘booth 2’ (the bedroom, but visible through glass doors) with the ocarina.

Hurdy gurdy recordingRobbie had been itching to get his microphones all over the hurdy gurdy and we recorded that separately as well. I just had to imagine the gurdy part while we laid down the guitar and vocals for Roll on the Day.

One word of warning about high quality recording; it is brutal. You will expose every glitch in your playing, every waver in tone, everything in the way you phrase a line. Things you easily get away with when performing live just stand out, but in ultra high quality sound. Things can sound good when you are playing them at home, but don’t work when you listen on real high quality speakers.

You shouldn’t be under-rehearsed. You may even want to do home recording and play it back to yourself until you get it right, or until you are happy that something works. That’s what I did with the harmonies on The Magpie. I had to be sure the sounds in my head worked when we listened to them.

Rehearse until you can’t get it wrong in the studio and waste recording time (and money, and possibly even tire yourself out before you get the right take).

Until you get used to it (if you ever do), a recording studio with the mics on you is a slightly alien environment. It’s weird, I am usually confident playing live, but there was one little bit of In the Dawn I just couldn’t get right with the mics turned on, but ran through perfectly whenever Robbie wasn’t recording.

Luckily, there are several things in the recordings that only I notice aparently. Others say they can’t hear them. Maybe they are just being polite.

Robbie is also great at helping you build a track. For A Beggin I Will Go, the picking guitar track was a little too bare for what I was after, so we added a second strumming version. Then hunted around his studio for percussion with just the right sound.

It was immense fun hitting heaps of different things in so many different ways, but I finally settled on a large drum to give a low resonant ‘boom’, and the wooden side of a small one for the ‘tap dancing cum spoons’ section. Robbie added some finishing touches with a quirky guitar solo after I had gone home.

Modern recording technology is just fantastic in so many ways. For example, rather than traditional reverb Robbie can put us in ‘sound environments’ with natural echoes. We spent much of the album playing in a 17th Century Dutch stone church – nice.

Each time you leave the studio there’s another CD in your pocket. I listened on everything I could find, from lap top speakers and budget headphones to car stereos, a CD player in a noisy diesel van, decent speakers, good Hifi gear and excellent headphones. I wanted things to hang together however and wherever the music gets played, and that meant some changes to the mix as we edited.

Nigel listens in the edit suite

Nigel listens in the edit suite

So back to the edit with a heap of time coded notes. Editing itself can be a time consuming, careful and tiring process. You can be making decisions in quick succession, in the timeless dark of the control room.

And then you leave, with the final master CD. An exciting moment to complete a fun process.

Row Out to your ship of dreams - Nigel Parry

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Wellyfest 2013

And what a great time we had.

Held over Labour Weekend at a scout facility way down a country valley beyond Wainuiomata, the weather has a reputation for being a bit unkind to campers.

Not this year. The cold and wet stayed away, the sun put in the odd appearance, and the music was fabulous. At least, the bits I made it to, and joined in with, certainly were.

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Wellyfest is one of those events where it just isn’t possible to do everything. Which means you can drift, sample whatever music takes your fancy, go to a workshop, join in with jamming, make new musical friends, party…..

There is a big marquee that can hold hundreds, where most of the main acts perform, but actually I rarely made it there. The Balladeer tent, in its second year, has a small stage one end, catering the other, and plenty of seats in the middle. Perfect for the half hour slots that run continuously each day. And excellent music it is too.

There are some other indoor venues, often booked up as part of the programme with anything from kids events to open mic gatherings and dancing. And in good weather add jams and music sessions in kitchens, tents or just in the open air.

My faves from the weekend; the Balladeer tent; a very good open mic on saturday evening with heaps of quality; the festival choir (run over 2 days, where we were taught several songs in lovely harmony by Carol Shortis then performed them); playing percussion for hours in a gathering of early musicians.

Photo by Gerard HudsonAnd the best bit of all? The Homebrew singaround session. A whole evening with over 100 good folk singers in a village hall style building, taking turns around the circle to start a song. Oh the harmonies, the choruses, the sheer fun. You sing songs (if you want), you learn new ones, you come out very late, tired, hoarse but happy.

A visiting performer from Australia, Tom of the Roaring 40s, called it one of the best he had experienced in many years. I’m looking forward to similar sessions at the Auckland Folk Festival and Hamsterfest again.

Photo by Hannah VarnellYes, we did perform. It was a fun set (at least we enjoyed it), with a couple of new twists and I am sure we are still improving.

Roll on the next one !

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Music with friends

Playing with other musicians is a special thing. Especially when it all comes together so nicely.

Solo can be a bit limiting if it is all you do. And although I can put together extra instruments and harmonies with my own tracks in Garageband, there is something special when fellow musicians get together.

And when that meeting of musical minds hits the spot, something magical happens. At least, I feel it does.

Whether it is in the home, jamming at festivals, on stage or in the studio, there are moments that can bring a big smile inside and out.

I used to perform in bands, so I know that feeling. And it has been happening again. I suppose it kicked off again with regular singarounds in the Welsh Bar, organised by the knowledgable and friendly Dave Barnes. When the voices hit the harmonies it can be a big tingle factor like nothing else. Then I found myself in a blind date concert with great singer Carol Shortis; that worked to well we now perform trad a capella as Nipperkin Pipperkin.

Playing at the Southern CrossMore recently, it has been wonderful performing with hurdy gurdy and ocarina. And just practising and experimenting.

Then, out of the blue, a chance get together at a music weekend a few months ago. Two of us were singing and playing. A couple of friends joined in. The four part harmonies were almost instant and just as captivating.

Fast forward three months and all four of us are on the stage at Meow in the showcase concert for Acoustic Routes. Fully rehearsed (in my view a bit of improv is great, but you shouldn’t short change the audience by jamming your way through a concert) and confident. Add in the wonderful guitar playing of Julian Ward on a new song and things get special.

And then we so nearly won the Wellyfest contest after entering a week late, with this video. A lot of people seemed to Like it.

In the studio with Niels, Philippa and SueA few weeks later we are in front of mics together in the recording studio. Creating music, making magic and having fun. I’m not sure the CD, Row Out  to your ship of dreams, would have happened at all without them.

So, heartfelt thanks to Philippa, Susan, Niels and Julian (and Dave and Carol and others). Philippa has made the most difference to my life but you have all made my musical world so much the betterer.

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Playing it Live – Showcase Concert

And what fun we had.

We were asked to close out the Showcase concert at Meow in Wellington. There was enough time for a few practices, some careful thought into the set list and song order, and before we knew it we were on stage.

Let’s start backwards with a review from the Balladeer;

Review of Acoustic Routes Showcase concert,
Meow, Thursday 22 August – Last Act;
Nigel Parry’s closing set was a delight – a nicely balanced selection of songs, beautifully sung and played and enhanced by some very accomplished accompanists: Julian Ward on guitar, Philippa Boy on ocarina and hurdy gurdy, and Niels Gedge and Sue Rose on backing vocals. James Taylor’s ‘Millworker’ got an airing, and Alan Taylor’s ‘Roll On the Day’, but the highlights for me were Nigel’s own songs. ‘Ship of Dreams’, with Julian’s harp-like guitar backing had its first public performance and ‘The Road is Long’ was given the full, rich a cappella treatment. I can see that one becoming an old friend at singarounds.

It is often hard to know what to kick off with, and a friend some time ago advised to ‘start with two songs you know’. Ignoring that completely, I launched straight into Millworker.

We only had a limited time on stage, so the chit-chat was kept to a minimum. Don’t get me wrong, I can talk well enough between songs and there’s a lot you can say for some of them, but with so many good tunes left out just to fit in the time slot we wanted to perform as many good ones as we could.

Meow Compo Image

Photos courtesy of Peter Dyer

That meant thinking carefully about the changes between songs too. With solo, three other combinations of musicians and several instrument changes it would have been very easy to eat up time faffing between numbers. Planning to build a musical picture without ‘spoiling the moment’ can be tricky and it is the first time I have had to think about it so hard.

It can also be a sound mixer’s nightmare. So hats off to Barry Carter for doing such a great job in the midst of what could have been musical mayhem. And thanks to Peter Dyer for taking such nice photos, and Bernard for the video.

Here’s a taster for one of the numbers;

I did get to chat, with some of you at least. That was after the gig had finished (we were the final act on stage).

So many thanks to the other wonderful performers who made the gig so enjoyable. It was definitely a strong part of the encouragement and inspiration that led to the new studio CD recorded soon after. That has lead to a new web site as well.

Thanks for taking part, for watching, listening or just reading.

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