01 October 2015


That's what 2015 has been: fleeting. I can't believe my last update was January, and now we're entering October.

But I also can believe it. After all, time flies when you've a manuscript due. And my manuscript, my ghostwriting commission, is due in eight weeks. I'll tell you all when it's done and dusted and I can talk about it like it's a real entity – at the moment, it doesn't even have a title (but if you're reading this, dear publisher, don't worry – we are most definitely on the home strait)

So I'll leave you with an image that has made my week. My colleague spotted this in his local Oxfam bookshop and I really, honestly, truly can say that it's always been an ambition to feature on the shelves of a second hand bookshop. And here I am...

08 January 2015

Fiddle-related pun here

It's a great way to start the year, interviewing fiddle players.

We're only eight days in and I've already interviewed Bryony Griffith and Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll. I've got Cath James next week and Henry Webster - all being well - on the horizon.

FiddleOn was the first magazine I wrote for around 15 years ago, my first commission a truly over-excited, sycophantic Q&A with my then-hero, Jon Sevink. It was probably far too wordy, and undoubtedly shed more light on the writer than the subject. Still, I remember the subject being gracious and professional, and my copy of the final thing smudged by (my own) inevitable tears of pride. I was hooked.

I now reckon I'm close to having interviewed 40 players. It could actually be more. So why do I like it?

Well, it's comfortable, of course - I've been doing it for some time - and playing the fiddle (or violin, depending on who I'm talking to and how confident of my own abilities I'm feeling) means that I can at least have some insight into their greatness - after all, my own violin practice involves, well... avoiding practise.

Because playing the violin is hard.

It refuses to co-operate: if your fingertips are hot, it will squeak and moan; if you're trembling with fright or cold, it will tremble with you. It will show you up, loudly, frequently: it's unforgiving if you misjudge your fingerboard; its hatred is audible if your right hand applies too much - or not enough - pressure. It's tough on wrists, necks, shoulders, backs. And it isn't just beginners that feel the violin's wrath: it's a constant challenge, a slog of a journey that not a soul ever completes. Speaking of souls, did you know the devil plays the violin?

So when a fiddler I admire - or who others admire - comes along, or a fiddler who has made a living out of playing the violin, or who teaches other people the violin, well, I've just got to ask a few questions... like, how do you keep practising? What feeds that motivation? When the latest argument erupts between you and your fiddle, who wins? Do you ever feel like throwing that stubborn piece of wood against the wall and flouncing out of the room? Do you ever silently cry into your f-hole after your latest attempt disintegrates into a foxy yowl?

My favourite violinists are those which have maybe had a few 'classical' lessons - or years of classical lessons, orchestras, string quartets, recitals and ABRSM exams - and become disillusioned with it all... only to discover a kernel of something interesting elsewhere: perhaps they happen across a folk session in a pub and see old beardy men play their fiddles with fat chins and flat wrists, or witness Dave Swarbrick on stage at a festival they only came to because they heard the beer was cheap.

It fuels their fiddle fire. They start again, their ears keening for new sounds, their eyes entranced by idiosyncrasy. They can attempt to make it their own - if their violin lets them, of course.

The violin needn't be all 'up bows and down bows', in the recent words of Bryony Griffith. It needn't be stiff, aching backs after entire symphonies; double-stop and chromatic scales; crying, affected vibrato.

I like my violins muddy, swaggering, clanging and scything, played through pedals rusting with sweat, taking centre stage with bodies moving to match. It can chug like the best rhythm guitars, rip out a dexterous riff to rival any lead. I like violinists that play what feels right.

It still takes practise, though.