I used to play in altered tunings extensively and arranged a number of Scottish and Irish fiddle tunes in them (particularly DGDGCE). Now, I’ve grown to really quite dislike open tunings. Why? Mostly because it’s impractical to change tonality, or keys, in them. Play in DADGAD and your stuck in (the key of) D, or D minor, for example – going anywhere else is counter to the point of the tuning. These tunings are predisposed to playing very diatonic and modal tunes and don’t handle chromaticism well. Also, each has a very distinct sonic “flavour” to my ears – and as with any food, it quickly becomes humdrum if indulged in too frequently. In short, and for those reasons, I got very bored with them and, over a period of time, stopped using them. These days, I’ll only even go to dropped-D if it’s to play something I learned, or made up, years ago.
Different strokes for different folks, I suppose, but I like to think I can tell immediately when listening to a CD if a player’s in DADGAD. Ho-hum.
I also used to be suspicious of players using altered tunings exclusively, suspecting a lazy approach to playing since it is much easier to get something tuneful out of an altered tuning that it is in standard tuning. I’ve altered my view on this since it’s self-evident that there are players who use altered tunings all the time who can play the pants off of me.
Anyway, the reason the standard tuning of the guitar – EADGBE – is what it is is no accident; it evolved as the most efficient tuning with which to play harmonically (as distinct from modally) and as the most convenient way to play scales – and hence melodies. Or something like that…
I’m a big fan and I’ve bought books on the subject and CDs of some of the greats – but I can’t call myself a jazz player by any stretch of the imagination. I’m toying with the idea of getting a Gibson ES-335 for some of that groove which might kick-start me into putting in some serious study time in order to justify buying the guitar in the first place! Also, I’ve never been a natural improviser outside of my own doodling and doodling which is pretty unstructured and I’d be totally out of my depth in a band, or combo. I don’t even know if I could fake it even after a few years study and practice.
But I do love the form and some of the “sound” has crept into a couple of songs. Eh, but that not hard to do if you liberally sprinkle a few altered dominant-seventh and minor-ninth chords here and there. If you can’t do it for real, pretend you can and call it “pastiche”.
My relationship with folk music has always been ambivalent and has oscillated between a passion for arranging Irish and Scottish fiddle tunes for guitar to a real distaste for the precious attitude of many of the practitioners of the genre. I’ve come across examples of posturing ethnicity that is non-inclusive and reeks of a superior attitude based on perceptions of purity and supposed authenticity. There is sometimes also a whiff of nationalism and fear of contamination from other
Now I should make clear that I’m not forgetful of the benefits to me of having played innumerable folk clubs and the warmth of the people and audiences who organised and populated them. My remarks are directed to a small(ish) sub-culture that parades here and there under the banner of this aforesaid purity and authenticity. There are those who even achieve a degree of state funding to perpetuate and even educate others in the practices. This seems to me to be almost the ossification of a culture’s music and art.
To my ears, the best of folk music is to be found in what later composers have done with it in the creation of their own works. Or the way many folk songs have been passed down, have been changed, embroidered upon and otherwise developed from generation to generation of performers. Statues are for sculptors.
That folk music is even an “art” is matter of debate and dispute in some quarters (art being held as something that is consciously prepared as such – which is not the case with folk song) and the claim that the term “folk-art”, as is sometimes used, is sometimes scathingly cited as an oxymoron. This is not to devalue folk songs, but rather to clarify their genesis and, perhaps, continuing relevance.
The perceptive reader will spot the semblance of a grudge I might have, or have a chip on my shoulder, about traditional folk music. It’s true – and it’s borne out of having to compete with this music when I was playing for my living in folk clubs in the ’70s and early ’80s and that, in itself, was a function of there being few, if any, other performing outlets for acoustic guitar players. The designation of being a “folk-singer” is one I’ve learned to live with, with a shrug of the shoulder. I could hardly care less, these days, but then it doesn’t materially affect my living any more. But I have had cause to observe and reflect on the phenomenon of traditionalism as I’ve seen it emerge – most recently in Scotland. It’s inward-looking nature worries me and I hope it’s not indicative of a growing trend in Scottish “culture” in general.
I wrote a couple of days ago about how I came to “lose” my ‘Gibson Country & Western’ guitar (see sidebar pages). Well, I found a piccie of the pub outside of which I “lost it”. It sends a shiver down my spine to look at it. Inside this place on a Sunday evening convened – and still does – the Twickenham Folk Club, one of the oldest folk clubs in the country, and a fine one, too. I made some good friends there and enjoyed a few good gigs.
I must go back one day and see if there’s been any reports…
I have this new thing called The Little Tinker and an older one called Local Anaesthetic. There are parts in each that feel as if there at the limits of my technique. It’s all very well making up cool sounding “licks” and changes when you’re noodling at a slow tempo and sotto voce, but if you can’t play it properly at speed and “in anger”, then what’s the point? Dumb. Anyway, most of yesterday evening was trying to come to terms with the guitar parts of these songs. I’m going to have to take them out soon and it’s going to be a nervy debut.
So, I didn’t get any work done on the recordings as I’d hoped. Maybe later today I’ll fire up the DAW and mull over a couple of things. I’m still keen to get one or two songs as near as damn it “finished” and post them up for critique. Some are quite close, I think.
A topic on an internet forum not too far from here. Various examples were proposed that might be timeless songs – examples from The Beatles, Dylan, Sinatra, et al. All the usual suspects. I opined that perhaps genuine folk songs that had been around for a couple of hundred years, or more, could lay some claim to quasi-timelessness – and maybe some plainsong from the abbeys and monasteries of the dark ages – but that no such claim could be made yet of anything from the genre of popular song.
Maybe, as is sometimes claimed, some contemporary songs may acquire the status of folksong – and hence a sense of timelessness – in a century, or two, hence. But not yet! The best to be reasonably aspired to in the early 21st century is some currency lasting slightly longer than five minutes…
The day is still and only on the coast does there appear to be the rumour of a chill wind. The light is sharp and the low morning sun keeps one honest when driving east along the north Deeside road. The gulls, judging by the absence of airborne nagging and screaming, must be sunning themselves on the cliffs nearby. Being Friday, I have high hopes of exeunt-ing this battleship-grey office building shortly after noon and do some real work in the studio…
…I have come to the conclusion that one EQ and one compressor – both used with a very light hand – is all that the guitar tracks are going to get. Deifinitely no hi-shelf on the EQ – I’ll provide any air together with the voice when brought together later on. There are – what? – half-a-dozen, or so, songs that are ready to be mixed? ‘Bout that. A simple task you might think for acoustic guitar and vocal, but it’s given me no end of trouble in the past – it’s something to do with the exposed nature of it all – no band or orchestra to hide behind. Ha! Any little sonic flaw seems to slap me in the face with its impudence. Damn things. Anyway, fingers crossed, folks. I’ll pick one, see how it goes, and post it here for you to tear into”¦
Don’t ask me what it is ’cause I won’t tell you. This is a deeply ingrained habit. I’ve always endeavored to keep that part of my life separate from the important bit. It’s a rare day-job colleague who knows I play guitar. I like it that way. Suffice to say I’ve got day job. Which is OK”¦sometimes…
I fail to understand the impulse of some folks who doggedly try to exactly copy the playing style of the famous old bluesmen. I come across “tuition” in this regard through my lurking around some of the guitar forums out there. Lick by lick, folks slavishly copy the accents and even the supposed disposition of the fingers (passed down through the decades by some expert, or student, or by hearsay”¦) Surely this is the musical equivalent of painting by numbers? Better by far to put on a recording of one of these masters and play some air guitar – far more convincing.
Early morning this Wednesday very benign with blue skies and a trail, or two, of cirrus. I haven’t heard a weather forecast so I don’t know if it’s a lull before something. Also warm for the north-east of Scotland and the time of year. (Hey – I’ve just checked the spelling of “cirrus” and found that the word also refers to the male copulatory organ of flatworms and various other invertebrates. Guffaw, guffaw.)