A plea for help.

A plea for help.

I’m having a real crisis with the music. Indeed, I was playing in a ceilidh the other day when halfway through a tune I thought "what am I doing here?" and practically gave up. All the dancers looked like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B69umIClRqs .

Sessions are no fun (partly because none of us have any clue if what we’re doing is legal or not), I’m not sure what English folk music is so can’t have a go at something new, and am sorely tempted to give up the fiddle and banjo and learn the spoons.

Joking aside, I’m in one of those places musicians often find themselves in, seeking inspiration. So this is a plea, for videos, albums and stories, to help me out of this rut and show me that all is not lost.

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Sometimes when I find myself in this situation I take a bit of a break. Maybe put down the fiddle and the banjo for a few days or a week and then come back to them. This usually helps me get back into it but it may not solve all your problems. Nice clips as well lads that Molloy and Lunny one is one of the best on youtube, hadn’t sen the Geantrai one but nice stuff there.

FWIW I find one of the most inspirational modern bands to be Fidil just three fiddles but the stuff they do is incredible. Check them out if you haven’t heard them; if I was a fiddler and looking for something fresh that is where I’d look.

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Sometimes, an intermission is great and can fix low creativity. I find inspiration comes from different things for different people. Beauty inspires me. I beautiful sky,. A pretty face. A painting of either. Sunrises, Sunsets. Mountain, or lake views. Pastures and Forests. Rays of light. Colors. etc. If you’re looking to get in touch with feelings, listening to music to accompany those feelings always works for me. I got a heavy dose of that from cycling through my iPod today.

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Back to the serious side of things ~ leave Cambridge, say one night a week. or at the very least every other week, and find someplace rougher and less organized to listen to and share music, drink and chat… Or, you could always join a Zumba class, or take up some form of dance? There are several Morris teams in your area. What better way to let fly than hitting sticks together and jumping around with bells on your trousers?

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I get my dose of it from merely cycling

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Ahhh, bicycles, sigh! There’s also mountain climbing? ~ Parkour? ~ Capoeira? ~ escape your comfort zone and take on a new challenge?

Learn the ‘dirt’?! ~ as understood and appreciated by Cape Breton fiddlers and many others, including Llig, hopefully…

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I have a feeling there is very little mountain climbing in Cambridge. 🙁

I had an epic on the Cuillin a couple years ago and found afterwards that my playing improved — temporarily anyway — because a lot of the confidence and frustration issues I’d had vanished. Nothing like abseiling off Sgurr nan Gillean in the dark to give one a sense of perspective and realise ballsing up a tune isn’t the end of the world.

That new sense of confidence and passion for sitting in the safety of a pub playing tunes didn’t last forever (I clearly need to climb something stupid again and nearly get benighted) but it was a nice boost while it lasted. I recommend that method.

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Take a short break, focus on a different instrument for a while, play with different people, put the paid gigs on the back burner for a while—all these things can help recharge the batteries. And count your blessings, there are many people who physically can’t play, even though they want to…
My best wishes go out to you—good luck in finding your musical mojo again!

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You would be right, there is little mountain climbing to be had in Cambridge. And while there is plenty of Morris, it’s not really my scene.

Being back home for the "holiday" might help, especially for playing with different people and having a go on the harp that never fits in the car. Of course, I have the small matter of a degree to do too…

Cheers for the encouragement everyone, and keep the clips coming. I thought I’d scraped YouTube clean after that Jack Black clip, but clearly not!

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Sometimes I stop trying to play tunes, exercises, scales, and whatnot and just play notes. Try closing your eyes and playing the same note over and over. Focus on playing it perfectly, and let it decay naturally before you play it again. Listen to how it changes over time, and how the vibrations feel in your body and the air around you. Sometimes we get so focused on playing "something" we forget to just enjoy playing.

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There’s some unabused flute playing to keep your heart beating.

Do you play too much perhaps? Having had the experience of playing for hours and hours for most days of the week, I believe that it’s good to keep your schedule full of non-musical agendas. Then, when you get the opportunity to sit down and play a few solid tunes with friends, or even by yourself, you’ll appreciate it more. I do anyway.

And keep it simple, steady and interesting. Don’t play obnoxiously technical music as you may find your music becomes a "performance for others" rather than an expression medium for yourself.

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I have the opposite problem. Work is uninspiring - more Tunes
is the remedy - not enough Tunes in the day.

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"I have a feeling there is very little mountain climbing in Cambridge." - dear Silver

Well, there’s always ‘water’ and paddles… 😉

Yes, you definitely have all our sympathies, as I suspect we’ve all been in a similar fix before. Surely your studies are also weighing in on all this? What degree are you pursuing?

Do or try something different…




And there’s always the Welsh hills, and mountains, not really that far away as the crow falls…

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I get terrible music blues, really feel godawfull after a session of poor playing on my part, which seems to be quite regular.

My solution to this? Time. In an little while you will feel differently and ready to meet the challenge again.

I won’t mentionthe fact that it appears to be a vicious cycle, you can only hope that eventually something will work out.


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Playing in ceilidh bands is something that I’ve done for years - the good, the bad and the ugly!

Here’s an example of an ugly one.:

It’s the middle of winter. Your gig’s a 30 mile drive away. It’s either raining cats and dogs, snowing or blowing a gale - or probably all three! You’re feeling terrible, just recovering from a bad dose of flu. One of your fellow musicians has broken a wrist so can’t come at all. So you’ve booked a stand-in, but you’ve never met him before, and are worrying whether he’ll be any good or not.

You allow plenty of time to get there, but there’s an accident on the motorway, resulting in a long tailback and subsequent detour. You arrive with minutes to spare, but all the venue car-park spaces are taken. So you have to pay to park in a public car-park 200 yards away, then lug your PA and instruments to the venue.

The venue turns out to be a run-down dilapidated hall, with harsh fluorescent lighting and smelling of cheap disinfectant. The stage is full of dusty chairs, tables and pantomime props which you have to clear away (with no help from the organisers) before you can even set up. There’s only one power socket on the stage, but that’s not working. So you waste more time rigging up an extension lead to another socket half-way down the hall.

The venue has a semi-circular roof, and no matter how many adjustments you make, the band sounds like its playing in a swimming pool, and there are continual problems with feedback.

No sign of the-stand in that you booked, but you go ahead anyway. An hour into the gig, the stand-in turns up, giving the excuse that he forget to print out the map that you emailed him, so had trouble finding the venue.

Hardly any punters have turned up, and the ones that do complain because they thought is was going to be country-and-western or line dancing. No refreshments are provided for the band – all they have is tins of lemonade and packets of crisps, and have to pay for through the nose for it if you want some.

Some of the adults have brought their children with them - but they’re not the well-behaved kind. Screaming and shouting, doing knee-slides on the dance floor, and always trying to get onto the stage to interfere with your instruments and/or PA.

You somehow survive the evening. It’s the last dance, and you’re overrunning the event finishing time by a few minutes. The venue caretaker pulls the plug on the power, telling you afterwards that it’s more than his job’s worth to allow the venue licence conditions to be infringed. So you end up packing your gear up in semi-darkness - with no help from your stand-in, who made a cool sharp exit as soon as he got paid.

So you set off home, but 10 minutes down the road you realise that you have left some of your gear behind in the hall. So you go back for it, but when you get there, everything is locked up.

Afterwards, you ask yourself: “Why am I doing this?” – especially if you’ve had a few bad gigs in a row. As Shakespeare put it: “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions” 🙁 🙁 🙁

But of course, this kind of thing is more than offset by the great gigs that we’ve had over the years: posh venues, gourmet food, unlimited free drinks for the band, rapturous applause after every tune-set/dance, etc etc. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Nice one Mix, I enjoyed that tale and saw and felt every bump… 😉

But, important to know, did you get your gear back?

“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions”

If only there were battlements and moats to fend off such attacks…

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I didn’t realise I’d ever played stand-in for you, Mix. 🙂

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After lots of back to back ceilidhs you can get very sick of it all. You play your best but all they’re really hearing is the rhythm and drive, there is no space for subtle nuance and nobody’s listening to your carefully crafted variations. But a ceilidh is about them stomping about merrily all night, not gorgeous music, and you’re enabling all their fun. And think of the dent you’re making in the obesity epidemic!

So stop playing your ceilidh music entirely for a few weeks. Explore your harp, or learn something new on the fiddle. Have you found the 3/2 hornpipes from the Cheshire area, newly published as John of the Green, the Chehire Way (compiled by John Offord & published by Green Man Music)? This music was played in & around Lancashire from probably 16th to 18 th century and it’s refreshing to try and get into the very different mindset of these ancient itinerant fiddlers and make the music come alive.

Or you could learn something like A Job of Journeywork (set dance) or a lament like Neil Gow’s lament on the death of his second wife, both of which are unlikely to be played as ceilidh tunes so you can reserve them for enjoyment only. Do not return to the ceilidh tunes until you need to, and you will find they have grown sparkling and fresh again with the neglect!

Well, that what works for me! Good luck!

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I wish my bathroom could grow sparkling and fresh again with neglect!

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For the record, all those bad things didn’t happen in the course of one gig. But they all happened.!

It was a kind of a collage of "some" of the bad things that have happened.

Just some of the bad things, mind you.!

Almost everything else as well, all though we’ve yet to play anywhere that has chicken wire in front of the stage - a la "Blues Brothers" film … but you never know … 😉

.. and BTW we did get that gear back, Ceol!

Anyone who has played in a ceilidh band for any length of time could probably identify with most of the events in my apocryphal tale above …

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ethical blend "I didn’t realise I’d ever played stand-in for you, Mix."

One incident that I didn’t include in my collage, was the stand-in guitarist that we booked who needed to attach (or remove) a capo every time we changed key within a tuneset. No, I’m not joking - it really happened!

Would that have been you then, blendo? 😉

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Hehe, Mix’s story is very, very easy to relate to.

The harp is tuned and at the ready. As is the guitar. And the bouzouki. I’ll roll a dice to decide which to pick up. Or I might just go hiking.

As for other things to do in Cambridge, I could always repeat this feat http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/6677125/Santa-hats-appear-on-all-four-spires-of-Kings-College-Chapel-Cambridge.html. Or maybe meet up with these guys http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voB6WiP83NU.

I’m trying to avoid rowing though ceolachan - my roommate is a rather keen rower, and just listening to him is my weekly exercise 🙂

Still, there’s always a Materials Science degree to do!

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"Anyone who has played in a ceilidh band for any length of time could probably identify with most of the events in my apocryphal tale above …"

I did a corporate gig on a cricket ground in the centre of London once, on a stage surrounded by hay bales, where amplification was banned apart from for 15 minutes a day, and all the guests were smart City-types who were "too cool" for ceilidhs.

I also nearly ended up on the BBC last weekend. Shame that gig fell through. Live on Let’s Dance for Sport Relief…

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"I wish my bathroom could grow sparkling and fresh again with neglect!"

Wait, you’re saying that *doesn’t* work?


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I am late to this.

In the same vein as ceolachen’s first post, my not-so-touchy feely inner construction superintendent says "quicherbitchenens**tergitoffthepotandwhileyouratitgitouttamysight and gitsomethingproductivedoneberforeIreamyouanewyouknowhwat!!!!!"

Or, If I gave your post to Herself the Junior High teacher, she would start out here response…"What in the world have you got to complain about…It’s not like you gotta stand in front of 30 snotty smelling preteens who have yet to discover deodorant…..and talk all day…you don’t know how hard we haveit…and all you are worried about is playing yer damned music….We don’t have any fun like that…..and I don’t get tot psend that kind of money on (fill in the blank for your instrument)…..(this repeats and keeps going for another half hour or so- you get the idea)

Sorry. My touchy-feely side can’t offer warm and consoling advice because it is a bit hung over after too much conversation last night over Guinness about how if the Republican Conservatives get elected in the fall, they will pass a law requiring all the loafer musicians get real jobs like topping mountains or cleaning out grease traps and such.

Seriously, when I get into those moods, no one gives me much sympathy, so I sigh, and get over it. There is always some obscure slide out there waiting to be discovered

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second para.. "…and I don’t get to spend…"


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Erm, cheers zippy…

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It’s been a long week in the salt mine with several run ins with the TSA nazis as a finishing touch.

No matter how much the our church Liturginazi’s music selections grate on me, or how frustrated I get with John W’s obviously thoughtful and well-intentioned obscure tunes (very occasionally of course) The Music (Yes, even the Liturginazi’s tripe from the LiturgicalMegaMusicSuasage Factory in Chicago) is what I fall back onto when the banality of the my life at the financial salt mine drives me to tears.

So when the Church music gets to me, or I can’t make Patsy Campbell’s sound like anything, I sigh, suck it in and change to my other box for a while.

Cheers 🙂

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You need SKIFFLE !

Or jug band music; and/or any of that American stuff that makes the fiddle scream like a stuck pig.

Irish fiddle is too cerebral and ascetic to allow expression of the baser passions. Exclusive devotion to it is probably bad for one. It can make people end up with nerves like piano wires and haunted by a feeling they are slumming it with buffoons, which becomes in due course a full-blown realisation, distracting them from the eternal quest for that exact note somewhere between b and b flat. 😉

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Between F# and G too, and not forgetting ~

I’m with nicholas, though I prefer the earlier forms, Jug Band!!!

Enjoyed your link Smash, how I wish I could. I loved how the lad ended up hanging from a windowsill, and then the YouTube video ended…

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They apparently filmed that bit twice, the first shot wasn’t very good. Either way, he had to take the fall…

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I’m surprised the three-in-a-bed bit with the mountain goat ( nanny I presume ) got past the censors…….

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Meanwhile, back at the ceilidh coalface….
….I was once invited to do a ceilidh with friends. I turned up with all my gear, guitar and amp, 45 minutes before scheduled start. This was in the days before mobile ( cell ) phones so no ringing round was practical.Organiser started to ask where the hell they were as the start time came and went, and I couldn’t answer. They turned up, grinning ( shame-faced or sh*t-eating, I have no idea ) all over their faces just before the interval. They set up the PA and off we went; guitar ( me ), bass, fiddler doubling as caller. It doesn’t work, guy doing the calling has to be on automatic pilot for his instrument, which is why I can only do it as bass- or rhythm-player nowadays.
I considered we were lucky yo get half the fee, and p*ssed off with my friends with neither sharing their intoxicants nor giving me the lions share of the fee….
But there you go, that’s what friends are for.

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Yeah, nicholas, Irish fiddle is too cerebral. You have put your finger on something that I have suspected for years. 😛

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You mean because there’s no frets? I don’t play fiddle, but I would think the greater ability of articulation one has on fiddle might make things rather playful ~ as opposed to fretting …

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Yup, no frets!