Category Archives: what I’m up to

16 November

I was to have been in Toronto today, getting ready to play my second gig with James Vincent McMorrow. Sadly, the visas hit a bump and didn’t get processed in time. They’re in for a treat tonight (and then next week in New York) as James does his inimitable thing. It was after a beautiful solo show a year and a half ago in St Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, that James spoke to me about his wish to put some horn parts on his new album. I went away from that conversation excited and it’s amazing now to be playing a part in introducing the new material to the world.

The silver lining from not being away this week is that I can go to two gigs that I’d have otherwise missed: Patty Griffin next week (who Jen and I have never seen live — *very* excited about that one) and tonight New Dublin Voices in the exquisite Christ Church Cathedral. I can’t wait to hear what they’ve been working on. Since I stopped singing with them, they’ve gone on to win gold medals in one of the most auspicious choral competitions in the world (in Arezzo, Italy) and have greater things ahead.

A new chapter begins

I’m just home from a lovely full day of being a professional musician. I had five students in the afternoon / evening, three in one household and two in another. In the second house I was given a hot bowl of leftover chilli, in the first I got all the coffee I could drink and some marvellous chocolate chip cookies. I worked on aspects of musical performance, theory, and aesthetics with keen students.

Pretty good, right?! And that wasn’t even the best part…

This morning I rehearsed for the first time as a member of James Vincent McMorrow’s band. I worked with James on his new, ridiculously good, expansive, melodic, beautiful record, ‘Post Tropical‘. The opportunity arose for me to go touring with him and — having thought about it a *lot* and with the crucial blessing of my amazing wife — I jumped at the chance. (Check out some of the places we’ll be going.)

We got five songs done today, four from the new album including the new single, ‘Cavalier’, that has just been released today. It’s a different sound to the material he’s released before now — it’s bigger, bolder, stronger. I cannot *wait* to play it live — take a listen and you’ll see what I mean 🙂

Laugh, Kookaburra

I’ve had quite a lot of religion in the last twenty-four hours. Quite a lot of beginner guitarists, too, and fifteen minutes of ‘Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree’ (with the word ‘gay’ in the last line substituted for ‘great’ in the kids’ books).

I sang in the choir yesterday at St Ann’s for the funeral of a man I didn’t know called Des. His eulogy (delivered brilliantly by an old friend to a packed church) painted a picture of a long and happily full life. Full of work, sport, and friends — many, many friends and, in 1973 (when he was fifty-one) he got married in St Ann’s.

St Ann’s is an Anglican church, in the same tradition as the ones I attended growing up in the North. The minister is from the North, too, so it’s all very familiar! I’ve sung there quite a few times in the past few years — I also started to learn organ there with Charles Marshall last year. At the service yesterday, Charles played as the minister said some introductory sentences of scripture before we processed down the aisle ahead of the coffin. It was really effective — the music ebbing and flowing, suspending time, allowing the concepts of life and death and resurrection to be carried into the room, not simply said by a person.

After is finished in the music school last night, I got a lift into town with Emily, who takes the new community choir out there (Castleknock School of Music in Ongar). She was asking me what brought me to Dublin and I was telling her about coming here initially to do a year of discipleship training at CORE church. It seems rather strange to me now (well, what I mean is, it sounds strange when I tell others…), but I was seriously considering becoming a minister at one point. I don’t think anyone but me would’ve thought it a serious possibility, in retrospect! Anyway, Emily and I chatted about what we believe or don’t believe.

I came home and, rather too late, had a take-away from the Chinese place opposite the DART station in Howth. The young girl at the counter, wearing a hoodie emblazoned with the name of a school of English, tapped away on her plugged-in iPhone as the two of us waited in silence for the hatch behind her to open and the brown paper bag to be thrust out. ‘Kick Ass’ was playing on a flat screen above her head. I ate the food — shredded chicken with cashew nuts in a honey sauce with boiled rice — while watching Richard Dawkins on YouTube debating with an Australian cardinal, George Pell, in front of a studio audience that applauded *a lot*. And laughed at a couple of odd places, which led the jet-lagged and exasperated Professor to ask a few times, “what’s funny about that?!”.

Today in the Irish Times there’s a review by John Waters (a renowned pro-religious columnist) of Colm Tóibín’s ‘The Testament of Mary’. On the opposite page, there’s this letter:

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I wonder if I feel the same way about religion in my life as I do about the word ‘gay’ in the Kookaburra song. It’s not the same to surmise that the bird’s life is “great”. Okay, the more suitable words aren’t going to fit so neatly into the song, but when I think about that word I wonder if we haven’t lost something in ‘losing’ its original meaning.

It’s simply not possible to revert to it, though.

First week back…

This past week was my first back after the summer. I had a wisdom tooth out on Monday 2nd and took that whole week off to recover (although it wasn’t as stressful and traumatic as the extraction I had back in April…). It was good not to try and start back that very first week and let the kids get back into the school routine. My timetable didn’t need too much tweaking, thankfully. I’m teaching every afternoon and it all seems to work, travel-wise. Tuesday is a bit frantic and I reckon I’ll need to get a GoCar for those days, but the rest is doable on public transport.

I’m listening to the new album from Elvis Costello & The Roots, ‘Wise Up Ghost’, as I write this…

I’ve started some new things this term, too. I’ve started singing with Anúna — so far I’m getting to know the music and the group. It’s going to be a steep learning curve: the choir sing everything from memory and I’m just not used to that yet. I also have a good deal of work to do on voice production. Over the next weeks and months I’m going to seek out some voice lessons from a very experienced teacher who will be able to help me get a bigger sound.

Another new group I’ve joined is Dublin Symphony Orchestra, a long-established amateur orchestra in Dublin. I expressed my interest to their clarinettist literally years ago when we worked together on a theatre piece. Woodwind spots don’t come up very often, so I was delighted when he got in touch a few weeks ago and invited me along. We read through Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on the bare mountain’ and Wagner’s ‘Siegfried Idyll’ at the rehearsal and it was so good to be back in an orchestra. Seems like a lovely group of people, too 🙂

Something had to give with all this novelty, of course, and I’ve bid farewell to my regular gigs at The Millstone. We had a good run — I’ve played there at least once a week for over a year — and I’ve learned an awful lot in that time. Obviously my repertoire has hugely expanded, too, and I’m going to try and capture some of the breadth of the material I can do now on my YouTube channel over the next months.

Definitely try to give ‘Wise Up Ghost’ a listen — mellifluous grooves, fabulous lyrics delivered by a confident, experienced front man…

Chamber music group in Howth

One of the things I miss the most in my music making at the moment is playing with others. I’m just coming to the end of Alan Rusbridger’s inspiring book, ‘Play It Again’, and found his descriptions of informal chamber music sessions very compelling. I also had the great fortune to win a couple of tickets to see the Vienna Piano Trio playing Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven in Castle Coole last week. It was wonderful to watch the communication between them and sense, especially in the Haydn, the fun they were having. I’d like to try and initiate something like that in Howth (where I live). It would be a place for musicians to come together and explore the chamber repertoire. Maybe you have learned an instrument when you were younger and haven’t played for ages… I play piano, but I also play clarinet and would love to *actually* play it, as opposed to just knowing how to!

Please pass this on to anyone you think might be interested.

Lyndsay & Dave’s wedding

A beautiful wedding today at Our Lady of Dolours church, Glasnevin, that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

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The bride is the aunt of a girl I teach piano to, Chloe (who earned a distinction in her Grade I last term and is working away for her Grade II). Months ago, Lyndsay asked me to play for her wedding and already had some cool ideas about what music she’d like. Here’s the full rundown of what I played this afternoon:

Hoppípolla — Sigur Rós (piano)

Tunnels — Arcade Fire (piano)

I, The Lord of Sea and Sky (piano / vocal)

What A Wonderful World (piano)

Ave Maria — Schubert (piano / vocal)

Should I Fall Behind — Bruce Springsteen (guitar / vocal)

Pie Jesu — Andrew Lloyd Webber (piano / vocal)

Love Theme (from ‘Cinema Paradiso’) — Andrea Morricone

Marry Me — Train (guitar / vocal)

Sweet Child O’ Mine — Guns ‘N’ Roses (piano)

Quite the programme! It all went well, and I really enjoyed myself 🙂

Here’s my set up (thanks to Paul McGough for the use of his excellent Bose PA):

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Late night gig

On the DART into Connolly station now with my guitar, bag of music books, and music stand. Picking up a GoCar from the Rotunda and driving to Castle Leslie, where I’ll be the entertainment for a wedding later on. Once the DJ has to wind down, I’ll be on hand to keep the party going in the bar. Need to do a set list, so must do that now, but thought I’d share this rather unusual occasion with you.

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Gig in the Swan Centre, Rathmines

I just finished playing a set of an hour or so as part of a community day that’s happening in Rathmines today. Great fun 🙂 (I’m writing this to the soulful strains of local jazz singer, Emilie Conway, who was on after me.) A lovely sunny day for it — although the glass dome of the centre was right above me as I powered through my more ‘up’ covers. And now I’m chilling out at ‘The House of Tea’ having afternoon tea, if you please…

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Here’s what I played:

Englishman in New York – Sting
Imagine – John Lennon (via Herbie Hancock)
Why, Georgia? – John Mayer
The Wild Rover – trad.
Alberta – trad. (via Eric Clapton)
Trust You – moi
Oh, Pretty Woman – Roy Orbison
Just The Two Of Us – Bill Withers
Way Down In The Hole – Tom Waits
Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley
Better – Tom Baxter
Something For The Weekend – The Divine Comedy
Seven Days – Sting

I put out my tip jar (and my nifty cat) and got more tips than I do on the average night at the restaurant! I’m still trying to crack the secret of getting tips at the restaurant. I think the fact that I was very visible today helped, and also that I was more playing the role of a busker. In the restaurant I’m tucked away, out of the view of most of the tables, and it’s less common to tip a musician in a restaurant. Maybe people think the musician gets some of the service charge? (They almost certainly *don’t*…)

The tea I’m drinking is a delicious Darjeeling, recommended by the waitress (who sounds like she’s from the north). Kept warm on a little tea light burner. Lovely little cafe, this 🙂

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Going to a concert

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Tonight I’m bringing half a dozen of my piano students to hear Benjamin Grosvenor’s piano recital at The National Concert Hall. For many of them it’ll be their first time at such an event. I don’t know a great deal about Mr Grosvenor (although he’s probably weirded out by people calling him Mr Grosvenor), other than that he’s a phenomenal pianist, a prodigy, a wünderkind.

I showed some of my students a YouTube video of an 11-year old Benjamin performing with astonishing maturity in the final of the BBC Young Musician of the Year back in 2003. Tonight, his programme consists of transcriptions of Bach, some Chopin (including the Op. 22 Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise), Scriabin, Granados, and ending with a virtuosic arrangement of Strauss’s Blue Danube. Here’s a Spotify playlist I put together of the pieces. One of the Bach pieces I couldn’t find and one I could only find in its original solo violin form (but I’ve included it anyway).

I’ll let you know what we all think 🙂

The book in the picture, by the way, is something I found in a charity shop (possibly The Secret Bookstore on Wicklow Street). First published in 1950, it’s full of entertainingly unapologetic opinions such as:

A word about the habit of giving bouquets at concerts. You will see it both at star recitals and, sometimes, at recitals by new artists. It’s silly really, and as it’s perfectly obvious that the flowers are sent in by friends or, in the case of young artists, by proud relatives, it deceives nobody into thinking any the more of a performance. It was, I think, Bernard Shaw who pointed out the impossibility of an audience offering spontaneous tributes, and who referred ironically to the custom of well-bred people of always taking a bouquet with them to a concert on the off-chance of wanting to present it!