Rodrigo y Gabriela

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I have written in the past that I used to listen to a bit of heavy metal as a teenager (Mostly Metallica), but not really anymore. I mention this because a couple of weekends ago we were round a friend’s house and she had a mix of various different music on. At one point some incredible guitar music came on. It was apparently a Mexican duo called Rodrigo y Gabriela. They have an interesting back story. He was playing in a heavy metal band in Mexico City when they met. She joined the band, but after a few years the band split and the two of them decided to get away and moved down to Ixtapa to play background music in the tourist hotels. They would frequently sneak in heavy metal tunes in, but could get away with it because they were playing acoustic guitars; the tourists being none the wiser thinking they were getting ‘authentic’ Mexican guitar music.

After a while the good life of living in a beach resort got a bit too much for them and they fancied a change. An Irish girl that they met in Mexico suggested that the Irish music scene was so good that they could try there. She told them that since she was going to be away they could live at her house. So not speaking any English they upped sticks and moved to Dublin. Sadly they arrived at her’s to find a note on the door saying that they couldn’t stay there. The taxi driver took them to a cheap hotel and then they hit the bars to offer themselves up as musicians. As anyone who’s been to Dublin knows there is not a shortage of musicians in the bars so they ended up busking.

After not too long their busking started to to draw in huge crowds. On some occasions the police had to come and move on some of the crowds which were spilling out onto the roads and generally creating blockages. Their popularity in Ireland spread such that started getting gigs in pubs and eventually they began producing albums. Their second album went straight to the top of the Irish charts in 23rd February 2006 knocking Johnny Cash off the number one spot. This is the album that covered Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven and Metallica’s Orion although most of the song’s were originals. Those familiar with Orion will remember that it is an instrumental from the Metallica album Master of Puppets. as a teenager I used to have the t-shirt of this album which featured rows of white grave crosses. I bought this in the early nineties from the Arndale Centre in Manchester. This was before the IRA blew the Arndale up with the biggest bomb on Great Britain since the Second World War and at stroke got rid of the hideous cladding and kick-started the regeneration of the city.

Anyway back to Rodrigo y Gabriela. It is really difficult for me to sum up their sound. You just have to listen to it yourself. Unless you saw it you wouldn’t believe that it was just two people playing, I guess part of the reason for that is because Gabriela performs percussion using the guitar as well as playing it normally. If all the talk about Metallica has put you off. Don’t let it. If I hadn’t mentioned it you wouldn’t say heavy metal, in fact a lot of people describe their sound as flamenco, although they shy away from this description. I spent a week at work listening to all their music after being introduced to them. I can heartily recommend you do the same too….

They have now moved back to Mexico. They are no longer in a relationship with each other but still perform all over America and the world as a duo.

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Technology

I like technology. I make my money through technology, however I am fairly analogue with quite a few things. I don’t have an e-reader. Have never fancied one, much preferring the real thing. Yes I know that you can take 2000 books on holiday with you, but come on, how many do you actually need to take? I would argue that one is sufficient anyway. Plus I have never had a book reboot on me or smash if I drop it. Likewise with walking maps. Sure I use google maps for car journeys, but I would never set off cross-country up a hill without a paper map. Paper rarely runs out of batteries.

I mention this because we have had a few tech issues recently. Our home PC died last Wednesday. Given that this is what my wife works on she was pretty scuppered. Fortunately I am pretty good at backing up so when it failed to boot we were only looking at losing a few days works of work (unfortunately the stuff that was currently being worked on). Luckily it was the motherboard so I was able to recover all the remaining data from the hard drive, now there was the little matter of getting the PC back up and running. Sadly the motherboards are no longer order-able. The PC is only 2 years 9 months old, so out of warranty, but that didn’t stop me pursuing the retailer under the Sales of Goods Act. To be fair to them, once I proved to them the motherboard was faulty and unrepairable, pointed out to them that I wasn’t going to go away and reminded them how much I spend with them each year they came good. In fact really good! I was expecting a partial refund, but they actually offered a full refund, which should wing it’s way over to me as soon as I return it. In the meantime my wife had to work on our tablet whilst a new laptop was ordered and delivered. A few weeks ago this wouldn’t have been possible since we didn’t own a tablet. We have resisted buying one for years given that most children that we know even have one, but recently had to bite the bullet.

We had to head up north at very short notice due to a family illness and whilst up there my wife needed something to work on in between sorting out family so we picked up a Samsung Tab A 10.1. I am so glad we did. As well as being useful to my wife for email, web and document editing when she is out and about, it will also be useful to me for the piano.

I have said in the past that I am rubbish at memorizing music, so end up relying on sheets most of the time. That’s mostly fine for at home but no use if I am out and about. I said ‘mostly’ because on longer pieces I end up with quite a few page turns which are always a fumble, or 5 sheets sellotaped together across the piano.  This is where I think the tablet will come into it’s own. I should be able to digitize my current sheets into PDFs and turn a page with a simple swipe. The other advantage is that they will be much more portable.

I am currently scanning my sheets into Adobe reader, although I have quite a few to get through if I am going to digitize everything. I could go down the route of an app like MobileSheets which not only displays them, but also catalogues them. I have a Youtube friend who uses this along with a bluetooth pedal so that she can turn the pages with her foot instead of having to swipe the tablet, thus keeping both hands free for playing, which I think is a cool idea. although since I am a bit cheap, I will see how I get on with Adobe reader and a simple hand swipe for now….

How about you; are you purely digital, or still holding onto analogue?

I’ll be there for you…..

There can’t be many people that haven’t seen at least one episode of Friends. The song above was written partly by the producers of the TV series, although is played by and credited to The Rembrandts. It sounds like just the quick jolly intro for a comedy series that it is, but if you listen to the lyrics the sentiments of the song are actually pretty spot on.

I link to this song because I was thinking about a friend over the Christmas and New Year period. We have the kind of relationship where we don’t really see each other frequently, but I have have always been there for her when she is struggling. She has had quite a bit of health issues so I am always there for her if she needs me. She has also had a number of relationship and career problems that again have needed someone to listen too, and have a shoulder to cry on. I kind of see that as the most important part of a friendship. Of course it’s nice to go out with friends and do cool things, but really it’s about support through the hard times where friendships really count. I tried to reach out to her in the lead up to and over Christmas period, but didn’t really get very far. She has got a new partner, which is great so I can well understand why there’s less time for friends. But there’s always time to send a quick message even if not to make/return a call. The fact that she hasn’t bothered to get in touch has made me come to feel a little sad.

I have known her most of my life, although we haven’t lived near each other for years. Since we were teenagers in fact. We normally see each other once a year, and we did pop over to her town in the spring because she was having a rough time, but since then and despite me sending her a few ‘don’t be a stranger’ type messages she hasn’t been in touch. I don’t think this is a case of her trying to get rid of me, just that she knows that we have the kind of relationship that can be picked up again at any time. But I’m not sure what I can do to get her to initiate a message or a call. It would be nice for her to check that I am OK once in a while.

Any ideas would be gratefully received….

 

P.S There are some great sitcom theme tunes out there. I must do a post about them some time.

Nearly there

Well it is Christmas Eve Eve. I have finished work for the year. I was working last Christmas (on-call), so I get this year off completely. We were given this afternoon off from work as well which is nice. I was already planning on working from home today anyway to avoid the maniacs on the road hell-bent on driving at crazy speeds through the terrible weather and bad traffic to shave a minute or so off their journey. I do hope they actually make it to wherever they are going.

Tonight I will make the mince pies. My wife has already spent part of the day baking something up that I am not allowed to see. Classic FM has been pumping out the carols all day. We will pick up the meat and veg from the farmer’s market shortly and that’s us set. I will no doubt play a little more from the Nigel Hess Silent Nights book.

Once in Royal David's City - Nigel Hess;s arrangement from 'Silent Nights'

Once in Royal David’s City – Nigel Hess;s arrangement from ‘Silent Nights’

Christmas is a nice quiet one this year. Next week we are off to meet up with friends and we also have my parents come down for 3 days. It will be nice to see them, and I am hoping for decent weather as we won’t want to sit in the house all day. Especially since the countryside round here is so pretty.

Our chances of getting a white Christmas appear to be nil. which is a shame, but hey you can’t have everything. We got to see snow back in November on our Scotland trip. See the below photo from Ben Lawers:

The top of Ben Lawers

The top of Ben Lawers

Tonight we will start our annual board game Christmas championship with a game of Ticket to Ride.

Tomorrow we pick up the fresh fish, we will do a nice walk and have lunch out. We started the tradition a few years ago of getting lunch out on Christmas Eve, and this year we are planning on heading over to the Chapel in Abergavenny which we have had a brew in and admired the menu, but never tasted.

Last year I made a few new years resolutions. I didn’t stick to the scales practicing, nor have I memorized 10 pieces, but we did manage to swim 100km. (102.5km to be precise. Which i am very pleased about. I even have a graph (with a baseline) to prove it many thanks to a friend who is a whizz with excel.

2016-12-23-15_41_10-swimming-tracker-with-chart__ic-xlsx-excel

what are your Christmas/New year plans?

Christmas is definitely coming….

I have written in the past that we decorate the house on the 1st of December, but this year we were a bit cheeky. We weren’t able to pick the tree up on December’s first weekend as we were up north visiting family, so we got it on the 26th November. We have gone for a Nordmann fir again. They are fantastic trees that never drop their needles. Last year ours lasted 2 months. It had to; given that we collected it super early (the start of November) because it was needed for a Gardener’s World photoshoot. The magazine is out now by the way, so if you live in the UK then do check out the results of last years work.

nordmann fir

The ever dependable Nordmann Fir

The plan was to decorate the tree on Sunday the 4th December, but we caved in and did it on the 29th November. Only a few days early. We read a really snobby ‘etiquette’ article in the Sunday Times this weekend that said that the earlier the decorations go up the more downmarket the household is. Oh dear. Sorry everyone…

I have also made a start on the Christmas piano tunes. They are great because they are sight-readable by me. Mostly I am still using my Bumper Book of Christmas Songs, but I am interspersing it with other older carols that I ‘inherited’ from the person I bought the piano off. I am also trying some jazzy Christmas tunes. I have said in the past that I would like to play more jazz, so this is my nod to that.

Ideally this post would have been accompanied with a video of me playing I Wonder as I Wander. The Appalachian Christmas carol that I am still working on.  But I don’t feel that it is good enough to record just yet, so you will have to wait for that treat.

We have already done our Christmas shopping. We don’t spend a lot on each other as we already have enough ‘stuff’, but we do like the magic of opening presents. So have got each other quite a few small things. We have also carried on the tradition of getting a new decoration for the tree. A couple of years ago we got this hand painted star:

Hand painted in Kashmir

Hand painted in Kashmir

Last year we got the robin in the background. And this year we got the below. A needle-felted pheasant who appears to have a lot of character.

pheasant decorationWe have also bought a new board game it’s called Ticket to Ride. It was recommended to us by Dave Gorman, who once traveled the length of the UK playing strangers at board games. See the book about his exploits here. So his recommendation was taken seriously. Anyway we had a go at the game at the weekend and is a good one. It will definitely get a place in our usual Christmas games tournament, along with the usual family favourites.

What about you? Have you started Christmas already? What are your plans?

 

Leaving a sour taste?

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I have been baking bread now for the last decade. For the last 3 years I have been baking sourdough loafs; at least 3 a week. So I am pretty good at them. Back in August 2013 I wrote about how to make a sourdough loaf, but I thought I would expand on that given what I know now.

There are two methods that I use for making sourdough bread depending on whether I am at home or out and about on the day of baking.

If I am going to be away from the house during working hours then I will use the kneading method as mentioned in the previous post. However if I am going to be in the house I will use my preferred method which is the no-knead approach. This gives a more holey, slightly chewier textured loaf, and is outlined below.

In the morning pour 200g of your sourdough starter, 520g of bread flour, 270g of water and 10g of salt into a large mixing bowl. For my bread flour I always use organic. You don’t have to of course, but do make sure it is ‘strong’ flour. How much of each flour you use can be varied as much as you want so long as it all adds up to 520g. I typically use about 260g of strong white and then make the rest up with either strong wholemeal or wholemeal spelt, or a mixture of both. Of course for a stronger flavoured, but slightly denser loaf you could use less white and more wholemeal.

Give it a mix and then cover the bowl with cling film. About an hour or so later (no need to be precise) take the cling film off, stretch and fold the dough four times (once in each direction), put the cling film back on and give it another hour or so.

Repeat 3 times.

After the last lot of folds you can put the dough straight in a floured proving basket and then let it prove for 3 hours.

Put it in the oven for 45 minutes at 230 degrees and you will have the perfect tasting and looking loaf.

This is a wholemeal spelt loaf made with my no-knead method

This is a wholemeal spelt loaf made with my no-knead method

Note that it might sound like it has been lots of work, but if you add it all up its 3 minutes of mixing the ingredients together, and 1 minute of folding 4 times. That’s it. What could be easier?

I use a baking cloche nowadays so I put the cover on for the first 35 minutes in the oven and take it off for the final 10. If you don’t have one, keep an eye on it in the oven getting too coloured. If need be turn the oven down a bit.

 

A quick note on the starter. Loads of people will tell you about feeding and cossetting your starter. Ignore them. I leave mine permanently in the fridge. I take it out to use some of it in my mix, and just bung some more flour and water in to replace the 200g that came out. Then it is straight back into the fridge. It can be left completely alone in there from a few days to a few weeks without coming to any harm, and comes straight back to life after being mixed with some fresh flour.

 

 

 

Africa

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So, that’s Christmas* sorted then…..

On Sunday we had a friend over to ours for lunch and a walk. She is called J. and is the author behind the cotswoldsgirl blog. I have been following her blog for some time, but it is only recently that we have started to meet up. This was our second time, the first being back at the end of August, which I did start writing about but never finished the post. That time we met for a walk in the Malvern Hills which is within an hours drive of both of us. This time she came to our house so that a) we could feed her, b) we could show her the sights of our county and c) so that she could play on my piano – Humphry.

She is also a pianist, having had lessons as a child and has recently bought her own piano to go in her new house. It was actually through piano that we met. I was searching in wordpress against the piano tag, and a steamy post of hers which featured a piano popped up. We have stayed in touch through the blogs and given that we are similarly minded, both cool and fortunately fairly local we have started to meet up.  She very nicely brought some flowers, which was appreciated by my wife wellywoman, as she never receives flowers anymore, since she started growing them herself.

Along with the flowers she also brought some sheet music. Hence my initial statement. One of the books she brought was called The Most Requested Songs of the 80s the-most-requested-songs-of-the-80sThis is a fantastic book, which I have now requested as a Christmas present. I am not short of sheet music. It would take me at least a decade to learn all the music that I currently own, but that doesn’t stop me coveting new music. Especially books that contain all the classics seen below:

backofthe-most-requested-songs-of-the-80sWhen J. was over she treated us to a rendition of Africa by Toto. This worked really well for solo piano. I am under strict instructions from my wife to learn this one first, but to be honest there are loads of them that I want to play. We tried to play a few as duets, but I was a bit rubbish at sight-reading. So in the end we went with playing With or Without You by U2. I was playing the left-hand, as that was relatively straightforwards. In fact I felt a bit like Mr Bean playing Chariots of Fire in the London 2012 Olympic ceremony;

as the left hand was a bit repetitive. But the overall piece was a pretty good version of the original, and it is always lovely to play duets.

What do you think of the book? Is there anything you would like me to learn?

Another treat of the day was the walk. We took a wander along the towpath of the Brecon Canal. It’s quite a picturesque place to walk, and this time had the added bonus of a male kingfisher. He was quite shy, so every time we got close he flew off a bit further down the river. Even with a 300mm lens he was tiny in the resulting photos: close enough for me to identify him as male**, but not close enough to get a decent shot. We have seen them on this canal before, but not that frequently. So it was lovely to see that they are still around.

How was your weekend?

 

*sorry for using the C-word so early on.

**the way to tell male and female kingfishers apart is that the males have all black beaks, whereas the females have orange bottom beak and black on top.

A Highland Fling

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Do you ever take two week holidays? In 17 years of marriage my wife and I have only ever taken two. All the other years it just hasn’t felt feasible to take a full fortnight off. Our first 2 week holiday was 5 years ago. We spent 1 week on the Isle of Skye and 1 week on the Isle of Mull. Our second 2 week holiday finished this Sunday gone. Again we went up to Scotland. This time we went to near Inverness and near Perth.

The motivation for picking here was to see wildlife. For some time I have wanted to see the dolphins up by the Black Isle. There’s a point just north of Inverness where they come right up to the beach. The best place to see them is Chanory Point, which is at the mouth of the Moray Firth. The tide times weren’t in our favour, with low tide (1 hour after low tide is the best time to see them) being in the late afternoon, moving through to the evening as the week progressed. On the first Sunday we arrived by the beach late afternoon and sat near the beach for about an hour watching a seal bobbing around. Then the dolphins arrived. I was the first to spot one, then another 2 and then finally a 4th. We were game on! We got off the benches headed down the beach to the shoreline in anticipation of some fish feeding frenzy, or perhaps some water leaping action. Instead they swam off out to sea! I didn’t get a single photograph. OK it was nice to see them, but was such a brief view of a few dorsal fins, and an anticlimax after what we were expecting. Ah well, they are wild creatures after-all.

Although we missed out on great photos of dolphins, we did manage to see some other fantastic wildlife. Such as badgers:

A very close-up badger

A very close-up badger

Three badgers climbing a tree

Three badgers climbing a tree

and pine martens:

A very shy female pine marten.

A very shy female pine marten.

These were seen from a hide operated by Speyside Wildlife. The hide can take up to 12 people, but fortunately there were only 4 of us, so we had plenty of space to walk around to both sides of the hide and always get access to a window.

We also got to see some other wildlife in Scotland, such as Polar Bears,

pb2

Snow Leopard,

What are you looking at?

What are you looking at?

Great Grey Owl,

who are you calling twit?

who are you calling twit?

Wolverine,

Don't mess with me. I may look cute, but I can kill a polar bear given a chance

Don’t mess with me. I may look cute, but I can kill a polar bear given a chance

and Snow Monkeys.snow monkey

OK these were actually at the Highland Wildlife Park just outside Aviemore.

Back to the natives, we did manage to see loads of red squirrels and not just at feeding stations. We actually saw some wild ones in the woods. We saw loads of buzzards and absolutely no gold eagles  😦 We saw lots of red dear, and some little birds on the moors which turned out to be Ring Ouzels.

We ended up seeing quite a few waterfalls. Some very high, some wide. Plodda falls is very high and has a cool cantilevered platform jutting out above it so you can look vertically down the whole drop.

Plodda Falls as seen from the bottom

Plodda Falls as seen from the bottom

At the Rogie Falls not far outside Inverness we managed to see salmon leaping, which was a real treat.

This was one of many unsuccessful attempts.

This was one of many unsuccessful attempts.

Every time one leapt up the small crowd of onlookers cheered them on their way. Sometimes they made it, most times they fell back down to try again. If only the realized it there was a salmon ‘ladder’ put in place to bypass the waterfall, but we didn’t see any evidence of any fish using it instead.

So all in all we had a fantastic time. The fact that we didn’t get any photos of golden eagles or dolphins just gives us a perfect excuse to go back up again…..

Busking

We went to Bath on Saturday for a mooch around. It’s not an original thing to say but it really is a beautiful city. We go there fairly regularly, although would go much more frequently if it wasn’t for the scandalously huge Severn Bridge toll. Here’s a top tip for you. If you want to make an obscene amount of money, beyond what anyone could hope to gain, let alone spend in a lifetime then try building some infrastructure for the British government. Hospitals, schools, bridges, nuclear power stations, basically anything that the chancellor doesn’t want to put on the books to make his figures look bad. Offer to build it for him at hugeley inflated prices. You can make hundreds of millions of pounds if not billions off the British public and government will welcome you with open arms (and wallets).

Anyway, where was I? Oh Yes: Bath. Beloved of all the tourists, part of its charm is all the street entertainers. They tend to have a fairly high class of busker there. Opera singers, string quartets, etc…. Saturday we saw a violinist called Joel Grainger who used a loop pedal to build up a backing track for himself. Below is a video of him in Winchester playing a version of Pachelbel’s Canon. We got to hear him play this on Saturday, as well as a Coldplay inspired track.

Further down the high street was an amazing guitarist who sat down and started playing Romance de Amor. If you don’t know the name, you will definitely have heard the piece. I have no idea who the man was because he wasn’t also trying to flog a CD, however I was reminded of a feature that the BBC Culture Show used to run. They would send famous musicians out to busk on the streets to see how much money they could make. Sometimes they would have sneakily let their fans know and would have a huge crowd, but others would have played by the rules and be completely unrecognized. There are so many fantastic musicians out there that it is easy to see how people can walk past soem famous performer, mistaking them for ‘any old busker’. A similar thing happened in 2007 when the famous American violinist and conductor Joshua Bell performed in a Washington metro station. A few nights before he had played to a sellout concert where tickets cost $100. Here for free nobody really batted an eyelid, 7 people bothered to stop in the 45 minutes he was playing, and even then only for a minute or so.

So who knows perhaps the Bath guitarist was someone famous, perhaps I missed a John Williams performance…

How about you? Do you stop to watch street musicians?

 

 

Confidence?

I have been super busy so feel I have neglected the blog. I have missed it. I have however still managed to find time for piano lessons. And have even started on a new piece:

I am playing it from my book The Piano Treasure of Classical Music. In this book the piece is called Confidence. However I have no idea where that name comes from. It isn’t a name that Mendelssohn used. It is actually from one of his Songs Without Words volumes.

I have to admit that I am not really familiar with Songs Without Words, although had vaguely heard of them. There is a a couple of bars in it that remind me of the old Hymn ‘My God Loves me’ which I remember singing at school.

I have been told to learn the second page first. Which is probably a good idea as normally I get pretty good at the start of a piece and then abandon it before I fully master it. Since I really like it I hope to not only learn to play it but also to memorize it.

How about you? Are you a Mendelssohn fan? Are you familiar with Songs Without Words?

On a different point I also got Humphry tuned. Unfortunately I will need to get the tuner back because there is one note: an G-sharp, which is actually sounding flat. I noticed it almost immediately, but wasn’t sure if it was just me. But now I have downloaded the free app Pano Tuner, and have been able to prove that the note is indeed flat. I just need to get in touch and tactfully ask him to return and try not to sound like I am insulting his work.