We got to play a short set at the Scots Fiddle Festival in the Pleasance on Friday evening, which gave us a chance to play some new tunes in public for the first time. This was a bit nerve-wracking as there were a lot of great musicians in the audience! The video below is of our closing set of tunes - 'Romney for President*/Shetland Turtle/Franconia Cabin'. The first and last tunes were written our very own Anna Kintner, and the middle tune is by Calum McCrimmon (Breabach).
Lol at Anna making a few faces in the video, as she couldn't hear herself in the monitor mix! But the sound in the video doesn't seem too bad, so hopefully we came across ok to the audience! :-D
* Anna would like to point out that this tune name is heavily filled with sarcasm!
Part of the band (Anna and Martin) – should we say, 0.33 of Point Five? – recently traveled to El Portal, California, just outside Yosemite National Park, to go to a family wedding. As is becoming something of a custom, we were asked if we might play a few tunes for dancing – and teach a couple of Scottish social dances for a North American audience. After some quick thinking by the bride and scrambling by one of the guests, we ended up with a lovely borrowed fiddle, guitar, and sound system to plug right into the DJ’s setup.
And then we bit our nails for a while! Our usual caller Annie was left behind in Scotland, and she normally does a fabulous job teaching dances and leading bemused but laughing guests round the dance floor. What if no one knew how to dance, and we couldn’t teach them? What if if we ended up with one big mosh pit with people feeling awkward? What if no one wanted to dance at all and they just stood there looking accusing? What if everyone hated Scottish music?!
As luck would have it, the groom’s family included a number of professional salsa dancers who were eager to swap styles. Before the wedding, at a family barbecue, Anna traded a lesson in the Gay Gordons, Canadian Barn Dance, Cumberland Square Eights, and birling for a lesson on a salsa back flip, ensuring that there were at least ten ringers in the audience who could help support any dancers who needed a confident partner. The bride’s mother learned to call a few key dances as well, to step in for Annie’s usual required hollering. Then at the wedding, as we went to set up our sound check, there was the groom’s older brother teaching a salsa dance lesson to a few dozen people, all of whom looked delighted to be learning some moves. The nerves remained… but perhaps this wouldn’t be a disaster.
The wedding reception was a beautiful swirl of party and Latin ballroom dancing, with plenty of opportunity for folk to get their groove on. Before ceilidh time, the bride and groom rocked out with an amazing and stylish salsa performance of their own. Then, we got up to play a Canadian Barn Dance, an easy couples dance, for the bride and her father to do together as nod to her family’s heritage and to open the floor. They took three turns round the dance floor before Jean called for other guests to join them – which they did, no calling necessary. Annie calls this stage of a ceilidh “counting your guns,” where you gauge people’s capabilities so you can gauge what dances they’ll most enjoy. Our gun count showed that our worries were totally unnecessary, since the floor was overflowing with people who had all picked up the Canadian Barn Dance with no trouble at all.
Since the audience had just witnessed the bride and groom throw a backflip, and because everyone was obviously so good at dancing, we decided to give them a Cumberland Square Eights. This dance is similar to an American square dance, where you have four couples facing each other in a square, so we figured it would be familiar to at least some of the guests. It also has a great move in it called a basket, where the two tallest dancers facing each other twirl two shorter dancers at such speed that their feet leave the floor. Not recommended for people with sore backs, but definitely recommended for an energetic wedding party! As with the previous dance, the biggest problem we faced was not too few dancers, it was that everyone got up and filled the floor.
We followed it up with a Riverside Jig, another lovely easy dance with occasional risk of decapitation when the four dancers in the top couple make arches with their arms and run down the line of dance, making everyone else duck. In one memorable group, one of the dancers was a five year old girl who was too small to make the arch, so her father scooped her up to give the line of dancers high fives instead as they passed.
We followed up with a waltz by Robbie Leask called Shetland Times and Tatties, thinking we’d give everyone a nice break from the energetic dancing they’d been doing – but nope, there they were, straight back out on the floor, free waltzing away. No lack of energy in this crowd! So we rounded things up with an Orcadian Strip The Willow, then handed the reins back to the DJ.
Overall, we were delighted at how this American and Mexican audience took to Scottish ceilidh dancing. On the groom’s side of the family, the professional dancing really showed, and on the bride’s side, there was no lack of enthusiasm to give each other a whirl. And for a ceilidh, you can’t say fairer than that!
This is a tune that we often play at gigs, and is one of our favourites not least because it was written by our piano player (and fiddler) David Fisher.
It was written by Dave a few years ago during a visit to Northern California, where he attended a Blackberry Festival in Covelo which takes place at the end of every summer, celebrating the annual fruit harvest. Perhaps fuelled by the sweet berries, he and his brother took part in a 5km run - the footrace of the tune title.
Later, in a hotel in Phoenix, as he was trying to recall another tune, he came up with the B-part figure, from which the rest of the tune developed.
The tune was well received, and has become a regular in scottish sessions, also spreading further afield, perhaps helped because of its north american roots.
It was picked up by Boston-based fiddler Hanneke Cassel during a Valley of the Moon music festival, and she liked it so much that she recorded it on her album ‘For Reasons Unseen’. It has also been recorded by Ian Fraser (brother of Alastair Fraser), and the Poozies, amongst others.
Apparently Dave received a royalties check soon after Hanneke’s recording, and he was so amazed at the life his tune had taken on that he never took it to the bank and still has it as a keepsake!
The video below shows Hanneke’s wonderful arrangement of Blackberry Festival Footrace.
I like to think that as a bunch of musicians, we sound great when we're sitting around having tunes, and playing for fun.
But when we play ceilidhs we invariably have to use a PA system to amplify the sound - otherwise we just wouldn't be heard over the sounds of the dancing and the whoops!
We look for high quality, natural sound, that conveys the music clearly, and at a level that doesn't deafen people. After all, a ceilidh is not just about the dancing, but it's also about meeting and chatting with friends old and new.
Having a good and flexible PA system is key, and we think ours is pretty good for the size of events we normally get asked to play at.
There's a trade-off of course between quality, cost, and size/weight of the PA, as well as the complexity and time it takes to set up. We don't have a 'sound guy' (would be nice, but the cost to the client obviously goes up) to set up for us - we do it ourselves, and after many years experience I think we can say we do a good job. Our caller keeps in contact with the client throughout the evening to ensure they're happy with sound balance and levels.
For larger events (around 180 people or more), we can either use the installed PA provided at the better venues, or hire in extra equipment to augment the sound. We've played at venues where there is a sound limiter built in to the PA power supply - this can be slightly unnerving when you hear the sound of 150 people boisterously ceilidh dancing. If the limiter kicks in, it switches the power off! Fortunately, that's not happened yet though...
I'll write about some of the equipment we use in further blogposts, hopefully it will be interesting to those with an interest in sound equipment. This will include the choice of microphones/pickups on the fiddles, the acoustic guitar amplification, the piano gear/sound modules we use, the delights of using a digital mixer, instrument eq-ing, and the speakers of course.
We're having fun rehearsing for next week's Scots Fiddle Festival gig. It's a short set, and we have a few of our own tunes that we'll be playing together for the first time.
There's a slow air from Sarah, and three tunes from Anna, one of which is a rather dark jig called 'Romney for President', written when it seemed that the worst thing that could happen in American politics was Mick Romney standing for president. How things have changed!
Great to be asked to play a slot at the Scots Fiddle Festival next month. (This is a regular gig set, rather than a ceilidh, something we also love to do.) This year it's in a new venue, the Pleasance, where we've played before at the Edinburgh Folk Club. We liked the venue very much, so we're really looking forward to this.
Last year we played a slot at the SFF, when it was still at the Summerhalls, in the spookily named (and chilly) Dissection Room. Fortunately there was no blood let during our gig, and we had a great night!
We're starting a blog! Yay!
Well why not? Our website is hosted on a paid Weebly platform, and it's one of the features that is offered. All of the internet intel points to the fact that the Google search engine ranks a website with a blog higher than one without, so we're going to see if that works for us. Also it gives us a space to chat about things that interest us, and finally it gives others a chance to comment on the band site. (If I can get the comments function to work!) Apparently the blog function can also link to our facebook and twitter pages, but that's not working yet...
So with all that in mind, let's give it a whirl!