It was a humid summer’s day. Beyond the duck pond, the Rear Admiral’s mower muttered to itself and occasionally spat stones at his prizewinning parade of pink floribunda. Next to the Tickled Trout, a canopy of elder flowers floated in the warm breeze, while hover flies patrolled the cow parsley below, pretending to be bees. In the harp surgery kitchen, the Good Doctor was preparing cordials and halving strawberries for afternoon tea. He flourished sugar across the fruit from a shallow silver spoon. ‘How many songbirds fly to and fro, in an English country ga-ar… what the?’ A manilla envelope boomeranged through the window, clipped his ear and skidded to a halt on the kitchen table. The sugar spoon fell to the floor.
As regular visitors to the Surgery will know, we hold immense respect for the work Steve Baker does in harmonica education and as a consultant to Hohner harmonicas. Having proudly hosted Steve at our Harpin’ By The Sea Festival in 2013, we recently stumbled upon his Step by Step module for blues harp beginners. Ever curious, we duly purchased a copy so we could take a good look under the hood. Here’s what we found. (more…)
‘Take a loooook up the rail track, from Miami to Canada.‘ With a song on his lips and a bounce in his step, Otis strode into the Surgery to deliver a letter from America. The Doc was plinking and filing away at a Crossover reed plate on his Sjoeberg 7.5 rig. He peered over his glasses and smiled. ‘Your vocal chords would benefit from a go on here, Otis old boy!’ Otis stopped dead. ‘Whaddya mean?‘ ‘Well, if you were a dressmaker,’ the Doc replied, ‘you’d be tucking up all the frills, instead of which, you’re just..’ ‘I have the voice of an angel‘ Otis interrupted. (more…)
Ain’t that a pity, I declare it’s a cryin’ shame
It was Guy Fawkes’ night down at the Surgery. Beside the wood burner, Greasy Rob and Shagpile Jim were playing light sabres with their indoor sparklers. From the galley, the Doc was dispensing glögg and spiced ale. As Otis queued up Homework on the Sonos system, from the foggiest fathoms of his sub-conscience, he quietly muttered, ‘Poor old pigeons.’ The Doc set down his mulling poker and turned from the ARGA. ‘Since when did pigeons and The J. Geils Band have anything in common?’ he asked. Otis resurfaced. ‘I was thinking of the fireworks; it’s coming down in stair-rods outside. The Rear Admiral said there’ll be a few damp squibs this year.’
Well you know it’s nine below zero
‘That’d be wet squab mate.’ Greasy Rob was chairman of the surgery’s pub quiz team and an authority on trivia. ‘Young pigeons are squab. A squib’s a small stick of dynamite; an out-sized banger to you and me. And we’re not talking Cumberland. And don’t you get me started on squid either, sick or otherwise. They’ve set up a marquee by the pond – they’ll be fine.’ Otis was back in the building. ‘Alright! Alright!’ he growled, ‘no need for the third degree.’
It’s been a while since we posted anything technical from the Harp Surgery, so pull on your overalls and let’s hit the grease pit. We’ve been busy refreshing our harp rig and look forward to reporting on all the fantastic hardware we’ve assembled. Customised harp mics, harp effects pedals and tuning equipment; they’re all here. So let’s start with some real harp mic cheesecake.
There’s a right old rumpus down at the Harp Surgery! The Doc has taken delivery of his new Hohner Rocket and he’s been putting it through its paces. The verdict? It’s everything Hohner claims it to be – comfortable, responsive and loud. If you’re considering investing in a Rocket, we say go for it, you’ll love it! It’s great for blues, rock and pretty much every contemporary style. And just to get us in the mood, here’s some Pocket Rocket from the Fab T-Birds..
For those of you looking for more information before you dive in and buy a Rocket, it’s time to grab your beverage of choice, turn the phone to silent, draw the blinds and enjoy a good graze through our analysis below. But just before we get going..
At the start of the 2014 when we had the pleasure and good fortune of seeing Kim Wilson in San Jose, there was rumour he would be playing new Rocket harps for the show, in advance of their official release date. Contrary to speculation however, he didn’t. Nevertheless, here’s a short video of Kim trialling the Rocket at the 2014 NAMM exhibition. (more…)
Otis the postman dropped by this morning to deliver a letter from brother Neil Callaghan, who writes, ‘As a complete novice harmonica player I am trying to find out the harmonica key that Steve Weston is using whilst playing on the song I Keep It To Myself, which also has Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey performing. I hope you can help’.
Well, before you ask, yes that’s Roger ‘M-my g-g-g-generation’ Daltrey of The Who. And for anyone not in the know, I Keep It To Myself is on Wilko Johnson’s new album Going Back Home, which features Roger Daltrey (vox), Norman Watt-Roy (bass), Dylan Howe (drums), Mick Talbot (keyboard) and Steve Weston (harmonica). The occasion has also been marked by a bespoke resurrection of the iconic Chess record label.
Now, in response to the original email, I could slide into a friendly discourse about how to identify song keys and pick the right harp for yourself, but I’ll save that pleasure for a rainy day. In any case, divulging the secret could quite possibly make me redundant. So instead, let’s cut to the chase and call West Weston for the answer. You can listen to our chat and find the answer to Neil’s question on SoundCloud the end of this post. In the meantime, here’s some background.. (more…)
Eireann go Brach.. Happy St Patrick’s Day!
Virtually forgotten in the post-war revival of traditional Irish music, Celtic and folk harmonica has recently enjoyed a massive rise in popularity. This is largely down to the work of Brendan Power and Mick Kinsella, both of whom joined us at the UK Harmonica Festival in Bristol 2010. To celebrate St Patrick’s day, let’s investigate the Irish harmonica style a little further and learn a great tune called Garryowen.
Brendan’s 1993 recording New Irish Harmonica ultimately led to his tenure in the Riverdance show, bringing him to the forefront of the Irish harmonica style. Meanwhile, native Irishman Mick Kinsella drew on compatriot Eddie Clarke as the major inspiration for his Celtic harping. Both are active on the Irish folk music scene today, as well as TV, Radio and Film. Did we recently hear Brendan on the soundtrack of the Leap Year movie? (more…)
Close encounters of the third kind
This question was asked by a student in our Harpin’ By The Sea beginners’ workshop; we had touched on positional playing as a way to extend the scope of the diatonic harmonica. And to be honest, it’s a fair question. Perhaps we accept the fact too easily, without asking or fully understanding the reason why. But we were a group of beginners. So we decided to explain the finer details after the workshop for those who were interested, rather than risk putting the majority off music for life. Here’s the result.
If you are unfamiliar with the concept of modes and positions, then I recommend you first check out the post entitled Modes (or visit Modes via the Theory menu at the top of the screen) and come back when you’re comfortable with everything. It’s quick and it won’t hurt! (more…)
..The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: “—that begins with an M.. (Alice In Wonderland – Lewis Carroll)
Why is it the slightest hint of the M word triggers narcolepsy in harmonica players? We smile wistfully, we nod politely, then we glaze over and let everything entering one ear pass straight out of the other. In fact the quicker, the better – we’ve enough trouble in our day already. Basically, talk of modes never, ever, makes sense and a visit to the dentist for a double root canal filling would be infinitely more pleasurable. Aren’t modes what jazzers do? We play blues, and blues comes from the heart right? Well, listen up and listen good – WRONG! Here’s how it all works.. (more…)