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.  



14 October 2014

Lovely new commissioned article

There's nothing better than the moment someone commissions you to write an article you just hoped you would get to write, is there?
I adored Way Of The Morris. It was beautifully shot, sensitively put together and featured a place and a subject very close to my heart. I loved it so much that both my husband and my parents bought me a copy, and I've lent them both out to friends so now I don't have a copy at all. Need to recall those, while I remember...
Anyway, I was delighted to learn that Tim Plester and Rob Curry have got a new full-length film on the horizon, about the legend that is Shirley Collins. I know, I know, 'legend' is too easily bandied about, but when so many musicians and influencers from a genre cite the same name over and over again... well, it becomes a term that seems very real.
The funny thing about Shirley, though, is that few outside of the folk world - another ridiculous phrase, I know - have heard her name at all. The cult of Shirley?
So imagine my glee when Canadian music magazine, Penguin Eggs, asked me to give the filmmakers a call and find out what they're up to. Every question I was dying to ask!
Admittedly, I'm not so gleeful now; now that I'm having to edit dramatically as I've gone way, way over the word count. Still, I can just tell it's going to be an eye-poppingly gorgeous film, even if we are a couple of years away from being able to witness it.

In the mean time, take a look at the off-cuts from Way Of The Morris. I'm a proud North Oxfordshire-ite.

Right, anyway, back to the edit before English Folk Expo 2014 beckons!