Time for some diddley-diddley

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Now I’ve played strings for months, been flatpicking the guitar and practicing Norman Blake style licks as well as the usual bluegrass runs. But all of a sudden it’s autumn and my husband’s birthday. He invited for a big barbecue & music session at our house, and most of the people who showed interest were the people from the Irish session. So now I’d better start practicing some Irish tunes. I have barely touched my concertina since we came from the concertina event, not because it didn’t inspire me, but because I’ve been doing other things, and then because I’ve wanted to play the guitar instead. I actually started worrying that it might go bad, as it did some year ago when I didn’t play it for a long time. That was in the winter though. All instruments seem to hate the winter.

I can’t even remember what tunes I used to play, and what tunes I was learning. It’s not just to pick up where I left off. Sadly. But the three tunes I can remember, I can play fairly well. Boys of Bluehill, Cronin’s hornpipe and the-something-that-I-can’t-remember assembly, the later one is an English tune I learned at a workshop at Melodeons & more a couple of years ago.

2009 I bought an octave mandolin from a player in California, or better said, we did an exchange, so I sent him my bouzouki and he sent me his octave mandolin. It’s a beauty made by Gypsy’s music, and I’ve played it a lot, but lately it hasn’t been sounding great, like out of tune all the time. I was thinking I should leave it with someone who knows about those things and can give it some service, but it never happened. However, I haven’t played it much at all the last 2 or so years, and probably it’s just sick from being lonely and neglected, in combination with dry air. So I left it in the case with a set of Humidipaks for the summer, and I now took it out. It seems to sound quite ok actually, but needs to be played and tuned up.. I hope it is that easy. It’s a lovely instrument that suits so well in Irish music. Sadly my left wrist hasn’t been great lately and it always gets worse when I play the octave mandolin. But if all else fails, I always have the concertina, which is also the instrument I want to focus on in Irish music.

Mandolin and more picks

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Some time ago, after I had written about picks here, a kind gentleman from somewhere in the US sent me a little package loaded with picks for the mandolin. I’ve had a little pick crisis, and recently bought lots of picks, only to realize that I can’t play with the thick ones. They don’t give a good sound, and they do give too much click noise no matter what “everyone” says. I still played with the Fender heavy about 1mm. But I felt like, hmm, what’s wrong with me? All the pros say they use very thick picks, why can’t I play with them? And when I received the package they were all quite thin picks actually, so I was glad to know I’m not the only one, and that I might be normal. And after all, some of the American bluegrass pickers would probably drop dead if they saw the thin picks the mandolin players in Ireland use. :)

Now, I don’t want soft picks. They need to be hard and stiff to give a good sound, but thin enough to give a clear sound. I have some picks that are 1.50 mm and they are the thickest I can manage, I think.

My mandolin-less experience, and playing the Gibson mandolin in Gränna, actually boosted my love for the mandolin. A lot. It was divine to come home and play my own mandolin. It is the best mandolin, really… And I’ve been playing more mandolin after that, although I must say that I haven’t played much of anything because I’ve worked a lot and had other projects after work. But I’m glad to have some inspiration to play the mandolin, because I really felt sad about not wanting to play it. I’m not sure what next step is but probably some Norman Blake tunes.

Wreck of the old 97

Right now I’m learning to sing/play the Norman Blake version of Wreck of the old 97. I didn’t really think of this event being based on a true story until I googled for the Norman Blake lyrics and found this article. I also found this video that tells the story about the event.

I’ve sung this song before but the more common version, but I really like Norman Blake’s version more. It’s slower and more of an observation, plus it’s easier to sing too. I hope I can learn to play the break too. Sadly I didn’t find a recording of him playing and singing it, but here’s the song performed by the Osborne brothers in 1984.

Gränna and new inspiration

I’m home after the bluegrass festival. We’ve had a great weekend!
Every time I go to events like this, I realize how much I suck at playing, but I get a lot of inspiration to learn new stuff. And of course I still enjoy myself jamming with old and new friends. We rent a little cabin with a friend of ours who is a brilliant guitar player. The weather is usually very unstable during this festival (at least the last 10 years) so it’s good to have somewhere decent to sit down and play if it gets too bad outside. This year the weather was actually brilliant. It rained on Friday afternoon but cleared up during the evening, and we had a good time jamming outside the cabin. Later when it got too cold we went inside, but took a stroll to check out other players before going to bed.

Gränna is such a beautiful little town. It has the old houses and the old charm, and although they’ve started to build modern apartment houses (that are crazy ugly) just outside of town, it’s still a nice town of the old style with wooden houses and cobblestone streets.

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The concerts are held up a hill above the town, but I think everyone agrees that the real festival is at the campsite. Most musicians stay there and there are jams and fun going on from Thursday to Sunday. There used to be a lot more jams in the past, I’m not sure why there are not so many people out there playing these days. We’ve been wandering around a lot, but these days we just stay around with friends and start our own jams, usually people show up and join us. On the Friday we played with a lady fiddler who lived in the cabin next door, and a friend of ours who also plays the guitar. We were three guitar players and then his girlfriend who just started out on the mandolin, but it actually sounded great with three guitars because we all have different playing styles.

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On the Saturday there were some good bands, my favourites were these guys, a very experienced bluegrass band from further north, they play good traditional bluegrass music. Then there was a great cajun band too. Both bands have been there before and always deliver good music and good entertainment. Generally what I miss up there is real traditional bluegrass music and old songs. So many bands write their own songs, and that’s good of course, but they all sound so mainstream. I like the old sounding stuff.

These were great, however.

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The festival has always been organized, and all bands presented by the brilliant Pelle Brandt. Nowadays his son is taking over but Pelle is still the conferencier. And sometimes he borrows a guitar or a banjo and plays a tune. That’s usually the best moment of the day! He’s a fabulous clawhammer banjo player, but mostly he plays the guitar. I have a video somewhere of him playing the banjo at the campsite. I’ll have to post it some time.

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The area where the festival takes place is very nice and there’s an incredible view over the town.

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You know, it only took me a couple of hours before realizing I was an idiot for not bringing my mandolin. I was happy playing the guitar, but I really, really missed my mandolin. I actually borrowed one for a little bit, from a girl who joined our jam.
Then yesterday up on the hill there was the guy who always come to the festival to sell banjos, mandolins, books, picks, strings and whatnot. And he had a nice Gibson A-style mandolin from 1938 that he had for sale, for not much money at all (for being a Gibson from 1938). The thing is that Daniel still wants to play the mandolin, but the one he has is in really bad shape, but he doesn’t want to buy just anything, but mandolin prices are crazy if you want one that is good. So this was a real bargain really. And, since I “needed” a mandolin for Saturday night, we decided to buy it. It’s a very nice instrument. I played it, and it drove me crazy because it wouldn’t stay in tune (because of the weather, and that it hadn’t been played and tuned for a long time), but it was lovely to play the mandolin!

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This one will be perfect for Daniel, it’s heavier and has more “punch” in the sound than mine has, and will suits his playing style really well. Mine has a big sound but still a good chop and a good sound for bluegrass and oldtime. It took me a while to learn to play chops with my mandolin, since I was used to a mandolin with much less sound, but I learned a good working technique for it. Since I play this mandolin since 2009, it now feels weird to play any other mandolin. I’m so used to my mandolin now and that it doesn’t take much effort to make it sound, so playing that mandolin last night made my wrists hurt. It was great to play a mandolin but I was so happy to come back home to my own pretty mandolin. My wrists still hurt this morning but they have recovered during the trip back home. So tomorrow I’ll spend some time playing, and will try to figure out what I want to do next with the mandolin to get forward with it, and will also check out some guitar licks.