“I’ve been trying to learn on-line and there are a lot of mixed messages out there. I now see clearly how to link scales and key skills to my playing.”
Call in on a Tuesday each month for your musical check up with the Harp Surgery’s very own Good Doctor, Richard Taylor. It all takes place at The Brunswick in Hove, Beginners 6.00-6.30pm / Intermediates 7.30-9.00pm. For further details and bookings just expand this post or click the Workshops icon across the page..
Deeply disturbed by my chance encounter with Barry Manilow outside Tiffany’s this afternoon, I was in serious need of rehabilitation. Mercifully the Copacabana was closed for staff training, so Biscuits and Blues it was to be my place of convalescence and, to my good fortune, harmonica wizard Jason Ricci would be there, weaving his harp hoodoo and performance mayhem.
To be brutally honest, I had actually never heard of Jason before, but he came highly recommended by Dave Barrett (Harmonica Master Class) and I intended to atone for my ignorance. Dave couldn’t make the gig, but Aki Kumar, one of his protoges, was at the bar nursing a beer. We made our acquaintances and Aki initiated my path to harmonica nirvana. Jason, he informed me, was originally from Maine, but currently works out of Nashville. His influences include Pat Ramsey and Johnny Winter, while his style includes fast flowing third position patterns, overblows and licks drawn from jazz, rock, samba and swing.
Jason took the stage playing through what looked like a Shure SM57 or Unidyne mic, into a 4×10 tweed 59 Bassman. The sound he created was at times reminiscent of Johnny Mars in full flight. Avant garde in urban blues terms, it is not your classic Chicago crunch, but a synthesised variant. The tone is specific and unfamiliar at first, it’s ‘in your face’, but you soon acclimatise to its punk compressions and focus on the artist.
Musically, Jason is as challenging as his adopted harp sound. He has planted his flag on the ramparts of Fort Radical. His persona is gloriously complex and countercultural. His energy is arresting. His playing is simply astonishing. If I had to credit specific harmonica players and bands for redefining the blues’ boundaries, Blues Traveler, Alabama 3, Little Axe, Lee Sankey, Lee Oskar and Sugar Blue readily come to mind. Jason Ricci vaults them all.
When students come to the Harp Surgery for tuition, we begin by setting clear goals. This process starts with a short diagnostic session to identify gaps in a student’s technical skills. It also involves a short playback, so that we can see and hear a student’s level of competency. This is done not as a cold critique of the student’s ability, but to establish exactly where the Harp Surgery can provide practical support and encouragement. In other words, we’re on your side every step of the way.
We can then consider particular pieces of music, styles and players we’d like to investigate. This gives us a healthy balance between exercises, theory and technique learning (foundation stuff), and repertoire (song learning and fun stuff).
For complete Beginners of course, we’re working from a blank sheet and we can build solid foundations from the outset. For others, we will need to address any bad habits, while exploring fresh territory to complete our Beginners Learning Path.
Once we have captured our regular bending skills, thereby adding twelve new notes to our palette, the Beginners Learning Path is complete, and we can embark on our Intermediate Learning Path.
Together we stand, divided we fall
In 2016, John Cook attended Hohner’s prestigious harmonica accreditation training programme at their headquarters in Trossingen, Germany. He was subsequently appointed a member of Hohner’s worldwide accredited Service team.
Today, John manages and operates an excellent harmonica repair and modification service from his base at East Coast Music in Hornchurch, UK.
In a very short space of time, John has become the go-to repair and modification engineer for Hohner harmonica owners, not only in the UK, but internationally.
Come on now people, let’s get on the ball
Periodically, John runs small harmonica repair workshops, and this autumn we joined him alongside a small band of harmonica repair enthusiasts. Covering a wide range of essential skills, from blueprinting new harmonicas out of the box, to standard maintenance procedures and fixes, the day was fully hands-on and well worth the effort.
We dismantled harps, we cleaned harps, we tuned reeds, we gapped reeds, we replaced reeds, we embossed slots, we chatted and we laughed. We even took our first steps in harmonica customisation; by which time we’d gathered a wealth of top tips and handy tools. Best of all, we came away knowing how to approach and solve a range of problems that lurk beneath the average diatonic cover plate.
Come on, come on, let’s work together
If you need help restoring or repairing a broken harmonica, you’ll find a link to John’s website below. But perhaps you’d like to meet John yourself and learn some helpful skills like sanding your harmonica comb and draw reed plate for greater air tightness, correctly gapping your reeds for improved response and, of course, tuning your own instrument confidently.
In which case, get along to the UK’s annual National Harmonica Festival, Harpin’ By The Sea harmonica festival, or to the Blues Weekend in Bucks, where John leads some wonderful drop-in sessions for diatonic and for chromatic players.
Alternatively, check out John’s website and book yourself in for a super Sunday of indulgence in the dark art of harmonica repairs and maintenance. You know it makes sense.
The Good Doctor, Greasy Rob from the garage and Barry the Landlord were enjoying some time out on the patio, shelling a mountain of fresh prawns and sipping ice-cold pilsner. Amidst occasional quacks from the village duck pond and the chirrup of sparrows in the privet hedge, they could detect the approaching whistle of Otis the postman, who was steadily making his rounds.
‘How do all!‘ Otis leaned over the Surgery gate, tugging the peak of his hat and holding out a letter for the Doc. ‘Thanks Otis old boy, have you time for some of our splendid seafood?’ the Doc enquired. ‘Sorry’, Otis replied, ‘I’m in a bit of a rush right now – an Otis rush you could say’. Otis was visibly pleasedwithhis impromptu blues pun.
‘Aaah!‘ said the Doc, ‘You Don’t Love Me!‘ Otis looked a little surprised.‘I wouldn’t go that far‘, he replied, straightening his cap. ‘No, no, no…the letter old boy! It’s from Tom Esposito. He wants to know how to play the riff for You Don’t Love Me by The Allman Brothers’. ‘Now we’re talking!‘ whooped Otis, as he pulled a Special 20 from his pocket, ‘I likes a drop of the AB’s.’
In a good country, virtues wouldn’t be necessary. Everybody could be quite ordinary. Mother CourageBertold Brecht
All you young people, now you listen to me
It was a chilly spring morning. Wood smoke whispered from the Harp Surgery chimney. Unshaven, the Doc stood admiring the laburnum, a steaming mug of Ringtons in one hand and a toasted tea cake in the other. He was listening to Rory McLeod’s Farewell Welfare and contemplating the day ahead when there was a knock on the Surgery’s back door.
Wiping warm butter from his chin, Doc turned down his Sonos and opened the top gable. ‘Morning saviour! A package for you from the dark side.’ It was Otis the mailman. ‘Really? Where’s that then?’, the Doc murmured blearily. ‘Croydon,’ Otis answered, reaching in for one of Monica’s warm buns.
Otis has been talking about a Surf Guitarist he heard busking in the underground walkway under London’s Science Museum. Apparently he was so good, everyone jumped in the soup for a slide.
A detail that caught Otis’s ear was the lick the guitarist added to the end of Secret Agent Man by The Ventures. It was the familiar outro to Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes cartoons. He played it as a group of children were passing by and it turned every single head.
We’ve tried it on the harmonica and it’s all there! You might like to add it to your repertoire. Grab a C major 10 hole diatonic and make out in first position (straight harp).
5B 4D..4B 4D 5B..4D..5B 4B 4D..4D..4D..4D 4D 2D 3D 4D 5B 4B-5B-6B (….gliss to 10B)
Now show all your friends. Unless of course they’re hunting Wabbits. In which case, be vewwy, vewwy quiet.
The Doc was preparing dinner after a knotty day re-tuning knackered harps, when there was a knock on the Surgery’s back window. Wiping sun-dried tomato oil from his fingers, he unlatched the top half of the kitchen door.
It was Stomping Stu from the local allotment. ‘Aaaaah, hello Doc!’ Stu spluttered, cycling hat askew and cheeks flushed, ‘I was just passing and thought you might like these’. He waved a bunch of purple-sprouting broccoli. ‘Excellent timing dear boy,’ the Doc replied, ‘come on in. Fancy some pasta?’.
‘Sounds v-very nice, thank you,’ Stu stammered. ‘I’ve b-been reading your old post about Paul Jones and the B-Blues B-Band’s Flat Foot Sam track’, said Stu, initiating the evening’s topic of conversation. ‘Ah yes,’ Doc replied, ‘a very nice man and a great band. Was that the post about Knebworth 1980?’. ‘Yup! I think you said Lindisfarne were on the same bill. I wonder what ever happened to Ray Jackson? He was a handy harp player’.
‘Jacka? I believe he left the band a few years later when they recorded a rap version of Fog On The Tyne with Gazza. Felt they were selling out. He’s since opened his own art shop. Some of the band met at Art College; I think he designed their album covers. Does his own paintings of vintage busses now; pretty canny like.’ The Doc attempted a poor Geordie accent. ‘They were from Newcastle Doc, not Uttar Pradesh’, Stu chuckled. The Doc disappeared for a few moments.
He returned with a copy of Nicely Out Of Tune, grinning from ear to ear. ‘Sorry if that was a bit rude of me’, Stu apologised. ‘No offence taken old boy, my Geordie accent’s a bit ropy. I’ve just been on the blower and I may have tracked Jacka down’. He hurried into the study, slipped the LP from its sleeve and placed it on the turn table. As the pink Charisma label revolved, the captivating strains of LadyEleanor rolled from the stereo system, complete with Ray’s resonant mandolin.
Fifty years on, old big lips and the gang are back on stage delivering their special brand of rock’n’roll. And we still like it!
Coincidentally, we got a call from our good friend Gordon Russell, asking if Harp Surgery had a student who could add the harp line to a song one of his own protégés would be performing locally. ‘What’s the song?’ the Harp Surgery’s Good Doctor asked. ‘Sweet Virginia in A, by the Stones’, replied the ex-Doctor Feelgood axemeister.
‘No sweat me old mucker, we’ve got just the person.’ Cue Harp Surgery’s junior player of the year 2011 and 2012, Josh Cooper, age 10. Josh and the Doc duly put their heads together and this is what they came up with.. (more…)
For the past two summers, I have had the great pleasure of leading the beginner’s harmonica workshops at Blues Saturday in High Wycombe (UK). Organised by the utterly wonderful Aron Woodall’s (Big Azza to his mates), Blues Saturday is a great day, and night, out. In 2015, Azza adopted ideas from our annual Harpin’ By The Sea festival, and now produces his own programme for folks closer to the Central Southern UK. It’s a fabulous event, which we highly recommend. This year it takes place just before the May half-term break and you can find out more by clicking the red text in our workshop link to the right of the screen.
Back on message. Last year, half way through the day, Azza gathered his attendees for the prize draw. And as he announced the list of sponsors, heads turned involuntarily at the mention of Pinegrove Leather. Was this a secret fun day for harp swingers, as well as slingers? Was there cheap furniture up for grabs? The attendees shuffled their feet and avoided eye contact.
We needn’t have worried. Pinegrove is synonymous with top-of-the-range, hand made, leather accoutrements for musicians. Their portfolio includes shoulder straps and plectrum cases for guitarists, stick holders for drummers, and a host of well-designed bags and pouches for harmonica players. Everything is made in England from high quality leather, which is beautifully hand stitched and expertly finished. Proper craftsmanship, with highly desirable results.
I contacted Rod Boyes at Pinegrove’s Yorkshire headquarters in Hebden Bridge for a chat, and his knowledge about the professional needs of harp enthusiasts was immediately apparent. He ran through his range of harmonica carriers, all of which are illustrated on Pinegrove’s website, and we talked about new ideas he’s developing. Pinegrove’s products are now sought after, and being shipped, right around the globe. And we can proudly announce that Pinegrove has also agreed to sponsor this year’s Harpin’ By The Sea festival.