Historic Sites for FFCP Practice

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  1. greenwdse

    Good morning and welcome to another installment of MandoCymru's Historic Sites for FFcP Practice. Today I'm in Grosmont, a small village nestled in the hills high above Gwent. Across from the Post Office is the path leading to the ruins of 13th c. Grosmont Castle. Built on the site of an earlier 11th c. motte and bailey site, Grosmont Castle saw action in 1233 during the nearby Battle of Monmouth and in 1403 when it was attacked unsuccessfully by Owain Glyndwr's son.

    And of course it sees action today as I sit on the stones practicing my scales and arpeggios.

    At first I tried the keep, betting that the tower would offer the best acoustics. And it did - not for me but for the buzzing of a nearby wasps' nest. Autumn's a lousy time for wasps as they are inebriated from drinking too many fallen apples. Better seats were found in the Hall Block (made in 1201 - above was once The Great Hall).


    History - 8
    Ambiance - 8
    Acoustics - 6
    Tush magnets - 7 The walls are comfy and there's a bench just outside the castle
    Seclusion - 7 It's pretty sparse, with a sporadic visitor
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 2 (Did I mention the bench just outside the castle?)
    Drizzle shelters - 2
    Nearby snacks - 5 The Post Office has sweeties
    Cost - Nada. It's Cadw-owned but there's not admission fee.

    Practicing alongside FFcP - Colored Aristocracy

    Notes: Don't forget to visit the ancient and remarkable St Nicholas Church just a few feet away.
  2. stevenmando
    Hi been working on that myself FFCP , even though I have been playing for years I still have a lot to learn and I guess when I'm in my 90,s ill still be doing the learning , which is fun to do , I love the place you were playing at, seems like great acoustic place , they have places down by Houston Texas which is a couple of hundred miles from me , I live in North Texas which has the same bugs and stuff , nats they drive you crazy when your doing something out side but I love history and historical places , have fun with the FFCP
  3. greenwdse
    I remember heading through the panhandle after leaving Tucumcari. It took me what seemed to be forever to get across. You're over 90? You don't look it. Anyhoo. . .keep your eyes on this space over the weekend. The second in the series takes mandolinists back 2000 years.
  4. greenwdse

    All quiet flows the Usk as it meanders through the hills toward the Bristol Channel. By the small woody village of Bettws Newydd, the Usk curves and sways as kingfishers zip like little green Andrettis down its track.

    High on a hillside is the Iron Age hillfort, Coed y Bwnydd. 2000 years ago, before the Romans came, a community of Celts called this home. They were part of a larger group known as Silures - a warlike tribe (described by Tacitus) as the ditches around the hillfort attest. But when they weren't at war, children played here, by the roundhouses with cozy fires as the cows grazed nearby.

    There ain't lots of places to sit, but I do manage to find a fence to lean against and hang my stuff.

    Then I start my tirade.

    Don Julin. Bubbe. I love ya. I do. I think this 'Mandolin Exercises for Dummies' book is fab. Truly. But what's the dealio with these arpeggios? Sure I know WHAT they are - the bones of chords. I get that. But WHY am I learning them? What's my raison d'être? What will I achieve? Don? The book doesn't say!

    But Don's somewhere in Michigan and he can't hear me.

    Anyhoo, all that's left of the Silures are the deep furrows in the earth. Trees and braken have long replaced the roundhouses. Still, there's good views of the valley and when I'm not shouting at Don, there's plenty of peace and quiet. And in the spring, the hillfort is carpeted with bluebells.

    (looking for a place to sit)

    History - 7
    Ambiance - 7
    Acoustics – 4 But it's better than being stuck inside
    Tush magnets – 2 Bring yer own
    Seclusion – 9 The only reason it's not a ten is because of the 1310 from Heathrow to JFK
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 5
    Drizzle shelters – 3 Tree canopy
    Nearby snacks – 1 Unless you like blackberry picking
    Cost - Nada. It's in the care of National Trust

    Practicing alongside FFcP - Ochi chyornye

    Notes: Head down the slopes into Bettws Newydd. They say that two things in this world are certain – Death and Taxes. But the yew tree in the 15th c. Church of St Aeddan challenges one of those certainties. Some people claim it's 4000+ years old. But there's no way to tell with yews. Because of they way they embed their branches in the ground to grow and sprout new trunks from old, theoretically, yews can be immortal. At 4000 years old, this male yew still has no trouble pollinating in the spring.
  5. greenwdse

    Down under the shadow of Cadair Idris by where the dolphins romp sits little Llwyngwril. It's a nice getaway spot for anyone wishing to getaway anytime of year. Cheap and cheerful. From the rocky beach, there's a path that leads back toward the tiny coastal thread that's the A493. And just off this path is a small overgrown walled cemetery . The slate slabs are all that remain of a once thriving Quaker community.

    In the 17th century, Llwyngwril was far from the maddening crowd that drove the Quakers west. Sure, Pennsylvania was farther, but for many who couldn't afford the trip, this was far enough. The Civil War couldn't bother them here. It took the 1682 Act of Toleration under William and Mary to provide some respite.

    I spent enough time in Ojibwe Country to understand that burial grounds are sacred spots. And the sounds coming from my Stagg can hardly be called venerable. So there would be no playing on the grounds proper. But closer to the beach, overlooking the wide expanse of Cardigan Bay, there's a lonely little bench. And a couple yards up the road is a really nice playground, perfect enough for my eight year old. So while she played on the swings, I took out Theodora (when you own a Stagg, ya gotta name her) and played on the strings. Ten minutes into my practice, some of the neighborhood kids came 'round and my kid made some new friends. However, they were also interested in Theodora.

    Is that a little guitar?

    No. It's a mandolin.

    My dad plays the guitar.


    Can you play a song?

    Well, uh I . . .

    What's your name?

    Well my name is. . . .

    Can I play it?


    Now here's the thing. I'm all for giving whomever a chance to try out stuff. I like to think of myself as generous and trusting. But here's a kid, a complete stranger, who wants me to hand over the Stagg. . . my precious. Am I being a complete schnook for saying no? WWDJD? What would Don Julin do?

    (the little card on the bench is my FFcP Cheat Sheet)

    History - 5
    Ambiance - 7
    Acoustics - 4
    Tush magnets - 7
    Seclusion – 6.5
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 7
    Drizzle shelters - 1
    Nearby snacks – 4 The only shop closes at around 5
    Cost - Nada.

    Practicing alongside FFCP – St Anne's Reel

    Notes: The quiet sands of Fairbourne beach is just a mile or so down the road where you can spend weeks on end making sandcastles and looking for gobies. And in nearby Tywyn, there's honey ice cream. But beware of barks in the night. This land is home to the Cŵn Annwn.
  6. greenwdse
    One of the neat things about having the mandolin is its portability. Theodora gets tossed in the Panda when I head to work, wait about for the kid to get out of school (don't worry - I practice in the car so I don't annoy the teachers) or when I go on my rambles. Here's another little cheat sheet I've made (using lessons from Don Julin's Mandolin Exercises for Dummies) I'm including in my case when I feel like practicing but don't feel like carrying about any books.

  7. greenwdse

    At page 118 of Don's book, I experienced a "eureka" moment, like an apple falling from a tree and bonking me on the noggin.

    It was like a signal of extraterrestrial life beamed from a distant solar system straight into my keppie. At 118, I began to finally understand the potential to arpeggios. My universe will never be the same.

    (The Wow Signal)

    These are early days of understanding but I feel like taking time off work just so I can practice all day. I want to get this right. And I’m giving into a full attack of MAS, checking out what I can online, and supplementing Don’s book with Mike Marshall’s Arpeggio DVD (which should arrive later this week). I’m steaming along on the arpeggio train heading into the great unknown.

    You know what I could really use at this point though? Someone to play off of. I wish I could find someone – a beginner like me – a guitarist, violinist, whatever, to just jam with. The thing about these arpeggios is that I’d like to practice them against very simple chord progressions. And I’d like to have a friend that needs the same. But I don’t know where to look. It’s a lonely train right now.

    Anyhoo, after a month of rain and another loss to the All Blacks, Wales finally turned sunny this week. So I took the Fiat Panda out for a spin to practice these arpeggios in the small village of Caerwent, a giant's stone throw from the Severn Bridge.

    Two millennia ago, it was called Venta Silurum - Market town of the Silures. This is where the name Gwent comes from - Venta. The story goes like this: the Romans finally had had enough of warring with the Celtic Tribe of Silures, and, being the smart cookies they were, decided the best way of saving money on battles was to make peace. They huddled a good chunk of the tribe here, and made a nice little town to make the Wild West less wild. Here, Romans and Celts bought and sold and traded and got together and made babies and for hundreds of years, Venta Silurum was a lot like Pet Clark’s “Downtown” – the hap’nin place to be. It’s much quieter now, but far from a lonely place. These days, by people’s homes and gardens and children’s playsets are the walls and remnants of shops and temples. In fact, because families are still digging up bits of Roman curios, doodads and whatnots in their back gardens all the time, it's no wonder Caerwent is called an archaeologist’s paradise.

    (Arpeggios on the South Wall)

    History – 9
    Ambience – 9 a nice place for birdwatching
    Acoustics – 5 it’s all open air but the cars aren’t around
    Tush magnets – 9 There’s even benches in a green outside the church
    Seclusion – 2 to 4 depending on the season
    Places to hang the gig bag – 4 there are fence posts but beware of noshy sheep
    Drizzle shelters – 9 The church of St Tathen
    Nearby snacks – 9 A post office and a pub
    Cost – nada but the CADW toilets are locked for the season.

    Practicing alongside FFCP - Indiana. This gypsy jazz stuff has really gotten into my head. So I went to Dix Bruce's website and downloaded Indiana. It's a joy because there're no open strings and I get to put into practice all these three-finger chords Don taught me from his first book. I like this stuff so much I'm getting Dix Bruce's Gypsy Swing & Hot Club Rhythm for Christmas. It's a surprise. How do I know it's a surprise? Well, once it arrives in the mail, I'll hand it over to the missus who'll wrap it up and put it under the tree. Then on Christmas Day, I'll unwrap it and look stunned. Oh sweetie, you knew exactly what to get me! Better'n socks! Bendigedig vunderlekh.

    Notes: A visit to Caerwent isn’t complete without seeing the military side of Roman occupation. Caerleon, with its impressive amphitheatre (perfect for mandolining) is just nine miles away down the Roman road that is now the A48.
  8. greenwdse

    (A new Certificate of Appreciation)

    With the clan finally scrammed, a sunny day after Boxing Day seemed a good time to stretch some legs after being stuck inside over the holiday. So along with the missus and the nine year old (and her new Nerf Bow and Arrow), I went to Raglan Castle on the road from Abergafoofoo and Monmouth.

    Before the Civil War, Raglan was a stately grand pleasure palace for very rich and powerful families. In 1500 Raglan was gleaming white. It had library, orchards, fishponds, peacocks, gardens. It was made for luxury, not war. But in 1646, war came to Raglan. The castle, and the royalists inside, was under a 13-week siege and pounded by cannon (one of them - Roaring Meg - can be found in nearby Goodrich Castle). There are still earthworks made by attacking troops outside the castle walls. When Raglan fell, it pretty much marked the end of the war. They started to demolish it soon after, vandalising the once great palace. But the ol' gal was tough, and she's now one of the most glorious ruins of Wales.

    While the kid was attacking troops in the interior (it says on the tin, the thing can fire up to 85 feet! The Royalists don't stand a chance!), I sat down with Theodora in the great stone court to practice with my new Christmas present, Dix Bruce's Gypsy Swing book. This stuff is great. It's challenging without being ridiculously beyond me. I've started straight away on Sheik of Araby. I'm thrilled learning all these news chord progressions and shapes.

    So sittin' there, I was thinking Sheik of Araby is in Bb. The first line (I'm the Sheik. . .of Ar. . aby. Your love . .belongs. . . to me) goes Bb - F7 - Bb. The Dixmeister suggests in the book that I practice solos. Fair enough. But how? I thought that as I hit that F7 (when there's a pause after the word "Araby") rather than tremolo the "G" note, I could shove in a newly-learnt F7 arpeggio. But it doesn't seem to work! Could I play up and down a Bb pentatonic scale here? Is this a good place for a lick? If so, is it in Bb or F7? Dix? Gimme a sign!

    As I asked, it started to rain and we had to head back home.

    (Bb - F7 - Bb but it's that Bb-Bdim7-Cm7-F7 that's really groovy!)

    History - 9
    Ambiance - 9
    Acoustics - 9
    Tush magnets - 9
    Seclusion - 5
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 6
    Drizzle shelters - 8 Plenty of nooks and crannies
    Nearby snacks - 4 The giftshop has some fizzy drinks, but down a path is a nice chippy for the tourists in season.
    Cost - Oh yeah. £4.50 adults. But I have a Cadw family card, which comes in handy when you want to get into Cadw and English Heritage sites f'free.

    Practicing alongside FFcP - Sheik of Araby

    Notes: Raglan Castle is haunted by the ghost of the librarian who before the siege began hid secret books in tunnels below the castle's foundations.
  9. greenwdse

    So I wrote to The Man Himself, Dix Bruce about how I should handle spaces in the Sheik of Araby rather than tremolo. And sure enough, The Man Himself wrote back.

    “The best thing to do,” The Man says, “is to play something melodic (pertaining to the melody or some other melody) or allude to the underlying chord and its arpeggio. If you play the melody, you can't go wrong. If you play the chord tones, you can't go wrong. They're all just vocabulary and you have to assemble into a narrative that expresses what you want it to express.”

    Easier said than done for a newbie like I, but still Words of Wisdom to fuel me! Still, I didn't want to give up tremolo-ing completely. I found something online that's been helping me.

    This best is from this gal on YouTube. She makes a good case for making a metronome your best bud. And Mike Marshall adds some good points about relaxing.

    I've also been concentrating on rhythm. And last month a fretting finger started to hurt like billio. A splinter? A blister? You know, you look online and it says that if you have a blister to "play through it." But this hurt so much when I pressed down that I couldn't play at all. It isn't the first time this has happened. When I first started out, another one of my fretting fingers felt this way. After that, I had the action lowered and the trouble didn't return. Until now.

    But a couple days later and the pain hadn't disappeared. It felt like a splinter.

    So I googled Guitar finger splinter and found out that I'm not the only one with this problem. An inward growing callous is one suggestion.

    Anyway, I stopped walking on it for a week and the pain's gone away. In the meantime, I worked on tremelo-ing. But I'm back this week and I wound up in a really neat part of the world that the A465 cuts through, once known a thousand years ago as Archenfield - an ancient and spooky place. By the border and off the road , you travel into another dimension. It's a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. There's a signpost up ahead. Kilpeck.

    Kilpeck is a tiny village and its tiny church of St Mary's and St David's is surrounded by the most wonderful characters you'll ever meet outside of the Thousand Acre Wood. Kilpeck's exterior was made about 1150 by someone belonging to a group of masons who have been given the name the Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture. You think Picasso and Dali were groundbreaking? The genius who sculpted on pink sandstone the wild and wonderful corbels around this church surpassed them. Abstract and cartoonish, dozens of animals and people, from kissing couples to bunnies to musicians to dragons - creatures with buggy eyes and the teeth of Buster Brown's dog - guard this place, things from a child's dream (or nightmare depending on the figure). This church was buried so deep in the corners of border country that Henry VIII, busy whitewashing the ecclesiatical landscape, missed it. As did Cromwell's puritans. So, like the Pyramids and Avebury, these little dudes of 12th century backwater Britain are survivors.

    And they are the reason that, even at its most quiet, you'll never feel alone in Kilpeck.

    Kilpeck also boasts one of the coolest places to practice your scales, on a huge mound adjacent to the church is the ruin of Kilpeck Castle. On a sunny day, with wildlife all around, you can see for miles.

    History – 8
    Ambiance – 10
    Acoustics - 6
    Tush magnets – 8
    Seclusion - 9
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 6
    Drizzle shelters - 10
    Nearby snacks – 4. The Kilpeck Inn makes a nice (though pricy) burger
    Cost - Nada.

    Practicing alongside FFcP – O Pato

    Notes: One word. The Sheela-na-gig. She's here in all her glory.
  10. greenwdse

    I'm sitting on a very windy mound made more than thirteen centuries years ago, sitting up against an old oak tree, doing my FFCP drills and thinking about baseball. I remember my older brother playing Little League at Watts Park in Middletown, New York. The cars were parked on the other side of the fence down the third base line so if a kid foul tipped it just so, windows would be smashed.

    I have no sheet with tabs with me. I've been inspired by Don Stiernburg's version of Take Me Out To the Ballgame. With my eyes closed, I'm “feeling” the notes. . .trying to improvise, just toying with the melody and using arpeggios. And what's weird is without the tab in front of me, without me trying too hard. . . everything seems lighter. . .more fluid.

    It's like learning how to hit the ball just right, isn't it? Square away. Making good contact. No foul tips.

    History is strewn with walls that keep the good guys (known as “us”) from the bad guys (known as “them”) Whether they're called “Great” or “Hadrian's” or “Berlin,” they never seem to do their job forever. Yet Offa's Dyke still acts, more or less, as a boundary. It's a man made hill begun in the 600's - an earthwork sometimes eight feet high, stretching mile after mile along the border of Wales. Chances are it wasn't created by Merican king, Offa, but by a series of rulers trying to keep out the Wēalas – which is a Saxon word basically meaning “them.” For over a millennia, the hill has been the Demarcation Line separating two countries. This part of Offa's Dyke, a spot outside of Presteigne, was once the front line of a war that lasted generations. Now, it's part of a beautiful path, and a place to practice my scales and try to hit the sweet spot.

    History – 8
    Ambiance – 6 (It's the great outdoors. . but it's so windy)
    Acoustics – 2 (did I mention it's windy?)
    Tush magnets – 1
    Seclusion - 8
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs – 2 (tree branches and posts)
    Drizzle shelters - fuhgeddaboudit
    Nearby snacks – you're kiddin' me, right?
    Cost - Nada

    Practicing alongside FFcP – Take Me Out to the Ballgame, smoothly moving between G & D four fingered chop chords.

    Notes: In nearby Presteigne is the gravestone of servantgirl Mary Morgan who's story is very sad. In the other direction is the church of St Michael in Cascob with its magic spell on the wall. Under the church, according to legend, a dragon sleeps.
  11. greenwdse

    Brad Laird has the voice of Shelby Foote and he says in his Master Class, "Practicing tunes will help you play some things better. Practicing a good set of exercises will help you play everything better."

    So I've taken his words to heart (because I like Brad and I don't want to disappoint him) and I've gone back to basics - concentrating hard at practicing hitting the strings just right, using my metronome, and making sure I do things well instead of just so-so. I'm even recording my progress. It's a chore though. Oy, such a chore!

    Practicing this way is repetitive and takes more that just a measley 20 minutes of my day. And, for the first time in since having the mandolin, I've driven the missus upstairs to her Kindle.

    "I understand, love," I said to her. "Do you want me to burn the mandolin?"

    "Don't be ridiculous," she said to me turning on the oven.

    So today, to make sure I didn't drive her and the kid insane, I've fled to White Castle nestled high in the Monmouthshire hills. I don't mean White Castle with the little square burgers also known as "gut bombs." I mean the most impressive of the Three Castles owned by King John's right-hand-man Hubert de Burgh that include nearby Grosmont and Skenfrith. Massive, moated and muscular, this ruin is a beaut.

    And there are days when this puppy can be all yours.

    Depending on the time of day, and the time of year, White Castle is so off the beaten path that it's not a tourist mecca. Sure there are times, especially when there's events like fairs for the kids, and medieval heritage days when it's packed. But I've been there when there's no one around.

    On a sunny day, even if its windy, the cozy inner ward is a charming spot for practicing. But the best place, and I can say with certainty one of the finest places to play, is in the inner gatehouse tower. Come in the early morning, and head up the stairs. There's a ledge here where you can practice to your heart's content over miles and miles of countryside.

    History - 7 (It would have had an 8 if the castle had seen "action")
    Ambiance - 9
    Acoustics - 8
    Tush magnets - 10
    Seclusion - 4 to 10 depending
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 8
    Drizzle shelters - 9
    Nearby snacks - 6 The entrance kiosk has noshies
    Cost - Cadw charges about £3 I think, but I have membership. So there.

    Practicing alongside FFcP - Picking in time to the metronome and transitioning I-IV-V chords smoothly.

    Notes: The glorious Llantilio Crossenny Church of St Teilo is just a mile south. This was the site of a great 6th c. battle against the Saxons. Every year they hold a music festival in the church but I've never gone. I'd like to though.

  12. greenwdse

    “What's with the face?” the missus wanted to know.

    “Huh. What do you mean?”

    “What's with the face?” she asked again. “When you're practicing and concentrating really hard, you make a face, like this.” And she scrunched up her lips in a Billy Idol sneer. It's embarrassing for two reasons. 1) My onstage presence has been diminished before I even make the stage and 2) I don't know the chords for Rebel Yell. How can I possibly duet with Sierra looking like that?

    I've been diligently practicing. Picking techniques, changing chords smoothly, scales – all with a metronome. Am I any better? I don't know. I hope so. One thing I would like to do now is learn double stops though – to learn where to use them, and how to play them smoothly DUDU. I don't know where to start though.

    This May has been unusually lovely. Nice days for a white wedding. But also nice days for practicing outside. And there's no finer spot on a lazy sunny afternoon than Tretower Court in the foothills of the Black Mountains. This is one of Europe's finest picnic spots. Bring a Kindle, bring bubbles for the kid, and bring the mandolin.

    Tretower is a 15th century medieval manor house – a home in the country for the posh and aristocratic. The first 300 years it belonged to the remarkable Vaughn family who were often executed in one way or another. The lovely thing about Tretower is that, after all these years, it still comes through as cozy and charming. Outside is a medieval-style garden with wild strawberries and rosemary. The bunnies romp here and starlings swoop about. Now and then, you'll spot a red kite. At dusk, rare bats storm out from Tretower's nooks. It's a pretty place to practice, even in winter.

    (trying to keep my mouth shut)

    History – 9 The court and the more ancient castle next door has seen action!
    Ambiance – 10!
    Acoustics - 7
    Tush magnets – 10 Lots of benches.
    Seclusion - 5 It depends on the day really. But it feels as if stringed instruments have been played here for centuries. So play on!
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs – 10 They're nice benches
    Drizzle shelters – 10 It's lovely inside
    Nearby snacks - 5 Sometimes the church up the road serves tea
    Cost – Yeah unless you are a Cadw member

    Practicing alongside FFcP – So much. . and Tantz, Tantz Yiddeleh

    Notes: Stargazers hold an annual three night AstroCamp in nearby Cwmdu every year.
  13. greenwdse

    Despite the lack of benches, this is a nice place to practice – somewhere high above the limestone cliffs at the end of the Gower Peninsula jutting deep into the Bristol Channel.

    The coastal path that runs along the Gower shore (and for that matter all along the coast of Wales) is stunning. This is far from green and mystical. This particular spot is raw and ancient, as old as stone. Before the castles, before Arthur and Merlin, long before there was Stonehenge, before the catastrophe that became the North Sea and English Channel, there were caves between Port Eynon and Rhossili. Three hundred centuries ago however, there was no coast. All the water was locked up by the last ice age. A few miles north was the terminus of an enormous glacier – south, where the Bristol Channel is now, was a large plain where woolly rhinos grazed.

    A young man died near here. It's not sure exactly how. But this land was his home. He was taken to the caves, and buried in ochre and given shell necklaces, bone bracelets, stone needles and a mammoth skull to have on his journey. He was loved.

    When his remains were discovered in 1822, the small body with ochre-stained bones was thought to be some sort of medieval witch. He was called the Red Lady of Paviland. But she turned out to be a dude (and you can see him if you ever visit Oxford).

    If you ever come by this way, don't even think about going to the caves themselves. They're delicate, beautiful things and mustn't be disturbed, but also they are very dangerous to get to. Keep to the brilliant coastal path above them. And if you have a moment, over the expanse of the sea that once was not there, play something about “home.”

    (A mile or so south of the caves)

    History - 8
    Ambiance - 8
    Acoustics - 1
    Tush magnets – 3 Hope you like rocks
    Seclusion - 9
    Places to hang the gig bag – 1 At least there are no earwigs here
    Drizzle shelters - 1
    Nearby snacks – 4 Port Eynon is a nice spot for chippies and sand castles
    Cost - Nada

    Practicing alongside FfcP (second finger, scales with alternating notes) – Accuracy accuracy accuracy. Pick placement. More accuracy. Using the metronome.

    Notes: The Gower Bluegrass Festival is coming up in September.
  14. greenwdse
    Gwâl y Filiast - ST LYTHAN'S DOLMEN

    I so want to do this. To improvise.

    Over the past week, besides my other drills, I've been practicing Sweet Georgia Brown. I've been trying to get it just right. Then, using Dix Bruce's Cycles as a start off point, I try to toy with the melody. It's my first steps into improvising. But I don't know if here's the place to do it. First off there's nowhere to rest mein tochus.

    Just over six thousand years ago, at about the same time the people from other parts of the globe started riding horses, writing down words, doing things with wheels and learning how to drink beer and play the first stringed instruments, folks in Britain were creating neat architecture for their dead. This was the age of the megalithic tombs and perhaps the very best are located in Wales. Today, they look like houses of cards, except made with huge rocks. Some capstones seem to be delicately balanced. St Lythan's is one. But when it was created, it would have all been covered with a mound of rocks and earth and would have made a nice little nook for a neolithic VIP much like a pharoah. Over the centuries, the earth eroded away and the chamber became a shelter for cows and dogs (hence the Welsh name - The Greyhound Mama's Kennel) and beginner mandolin players who are trying to contribute to the Mandolin Cafe website in the only way they can think of.

    History - 9
    Ambiance - 3
    Acoustics - 2
    Tush magnets - 0 It seems it's still used by animals, if you know what I mean.
    Seclusion - 6
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 1
    Drizzle shelters - 5 I so wanted to give it a 10. . but alas, I cannot.
    Nearby snacks - 1 Bring your own
    Cost - Nada

    Practicing alongside FFcP: Sweet Georgia Brown

    (I'm not the first person to play scales in here, and I won't be the last.)

    Notes: What's the difference between a cromlech and a dolmen? Don't ask me. But while you're thinking about it, go for the two-for-one deal and walk to nearby Tinkinswood - another megalithic tomb less than a mile away. It's a finer place to sit too.
  15. greenwdse

    The new Shooglenifty CD out yet? It is? Oh good. And next week is payday.

    It's been lousy at work (oh you know, the usual. Management. You know what they're like) and on my day off, I felt the need to escape with Theodora if only for a couple hours. I needed a place that could be an asylum and retreat.

    The Vale of Ewyas is a very ancient, very secluded valley just touching the border. Halfway from the A465 toward Hay are the ruins of Llanthony Priory. This was once home to an order of Augustinian monks. The first priory was destroyed by the Welsh in 1135. But that's what you get when one of the monks wrote down that the Welsh were “savages.”

    I'm sure that most days, much like now, it rained. Anyway, fifty years later, it was rebuilt bigger than ever. It even had one of the first medieval clocks.

    The great travel writer Gerald of Wales called this place the monks' “asylum and retreat.”

    “As they sit in their cloisters in this monastery, breathing the fresh air, the monks gaze up at distant prospects which rise above their own lofty roof-tops, and there they see, as far as any eye can reach, mountain-peaks which rise to meet the sky and often enough herds of wild deer which are gazing on their summits.”

    It stayed a tranquil retreat until the “savages” under Owain Glyndwr wrecked it again in the 15th century.

    Sitting on a slab of rock on the north side of the priory, I started my routine. I've started to give myself weeklong lessons with specific goals. For example, besides working on those FfcP scales over and over, I work to perfect specific arpeggios, then rhythm that I aim to do perfectly before the end of the week, and some song, always with a metronome. The message has gotten through. And I'm definitely improving.

    Because I want to do the chops right, I'm using Pete Martin's MandoTips as my online teacher. Thank you Sir! Just don't expect results tomorrow. It'll take some time.

    History - 8
    Ambiance - 10 It's a great place to sit and play.
    Acoustics – 7
    Tush magnets – 7
    Seclusion – 2 There are visitors, usually campers or trekkers
    Places to hang the gig bag away from slugs on a damp day - 3
    Drizzle shelters – 10 Is that a bar in the hotel adjacent to the priory? It is? Well there ya go.
    Nearby snacks – 9 Ice cream here and across the road
    Cost - Nada.

    Practicing alongside FFcP – Big Sciota

    Notes: While you're in the neighborhood, try to pay a visit down the road to Cwmyoy. People by the gazillions flock to Pisa to see some leaning tower. Cwmyoy is much more interesting. Cwmyoy has a leaning church. See, 10,000 years ago, the steep sides of the Vale of Ewyas caused a landslip of glacial rock. And someone in the 12th century decided, hey, let's build a church on it! They had no idea the rock underneath was still unstable. So quiet little serene St Martin's Church in Cwmyoy was heaved and twisted into collection of angles where little is straight. The song that always goes through my head visiting here is Strawberry Fields Forever.

    (I didn't think I should actually practice inside the church without permission. So I didn't)

    And in the opposite direction toward Hay (not to be travelled on icy days. I've done it. I really don't recommend it) at Capel-y-ffin is the home of Eric Gill, who created the typefaces Gill Sans and Perpetua here in the 1920s.
  16. greenwdse

    This Baron Collins-Hill guy is awesome.

    I'll tell you why. On his Mandolessons website, The Baron puts out these how-to videos that are absolutely stellar. His fiddle tune lessons make putting together a basic repetoire easier than putting together a Lego set. Wanna pick up St Anne's Reel? A half hour of watching and BOOM, you're off and running.

    Now The Baron's done something that is so very needed and appreciated. He's teaching rhythm. Now look, I've seen a lot of stuff online, but so little has been able to teach me fundamentals. Yes there are a few exceptions. But the overwhelming majority of instructional stuff online focuses on melodies and I need to know WHEN to chop, HOW to strum. I need some help deconstructing it all. The Baron does it well.

    So with this newfound junk The Baron's stuck in my noggin, I left to go practice at Skenfrith.

    This is one of the most comfy places on the planet to practice scales (and strumming!) and there's a reason this is home to a two day music festival every summer. The atmosphere is really nice. Hugging the border, Skenfrith Castle is one of the Big Three built in the early 1200s that, along with Grosmont and White protected the trade routes from Hereford to Monmouth.

    The Monnow River, which the castle hugs, was diverted around the castle walls, forming a 20 foot deep moat, that was there as recently as the 18th century. But that's long gone - just as well considering the potential this lowland has to flooding. The village trembles when Derek forecasts heavy rains.

    And the TARDIS landed here not too long ago.

    (Keeper of the Keep)

    History – 7
    Ambiance – 10
    Acoustics - 9 Inside the round keep is like practicing inside a giant locomotive stack
    Tush magnets – 9
    Seclusion - 5 It depends on the day really.
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs – 3
    Drizzle shelters – 9 Don't fidget, Visit St Bridget.
    Nearby snacks - 5 There's the inn across the street and sometimes in the village there is ice cream.
    Cost – Nada.

    Practicing alongside FFcP – Tam Lin

    Notes: About a mile and a half north of Skenfrith is the village of Garway, home of a Green Man, shadows of the Knights Templar and once in dire need of the Rev. Merrily Watkins.
  17. greenwdse

    I know what you're thinking. Is it okay to practice klezmer in a 5000 year old neolithic burial chamber? Well, I'm glad you asked because it was on my mind too. That's why before heading to Bryn Celli Ddu, I asked advice from the Anglesey Order of Druids.

    It isn't far from the mound that, just two millennia ago, the druids of Celtic Anglesey faced the Roman army of Suetonius Paulinus across the Menai Strait. There was screaming. There was fear. There was fire and invasion. Although massacred, the druids soon had some revenge. While Suetonius's army was busy in Anglesey, in the east Boudicca's army was making its preparations.

    But I stray. Where was I? Oh yeah. Klezmer.

    Mel Bay has this really fab mandolin web magazine. Sadly, it hasn't had any new articles since 2009, but the online content it amassed in its archive is a wealth of good stuff. Shana Aisenberg wrote a couple articles on the site for the klezmer mandolining enthusiast (that's me!). Anyhoo, she says, if you're interested in klezmer mandolin, to practice the predominantly used Freygish scale. Here it is, from the site, in D.

    And then she suggests trying out Moshe Emes. Mandozine has the TablEdit file for it.

    And just what do the druids have to say about all this?

    “Bryn Celli Ddu is a living monument, not just a place for the dead. She adores music, life and vitality. We imagine you will find her to be rather accommodating.”

    And so I did. Very cozy in fact. As if I was enveloped in history. Not everyone gets to play inside a calendar. I just hope she liked klezmer.

    History - 10
    Ambiance - 10
    Acoustics – 10
    Tush magnets – 6 (I thought it was quite pleasant)
    Seclusion – 4
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 1
    Drizzle shelters – 10 (What better place?)
    Nearby snacks – 1 (No, thank goodness)
    Cost - Nada. Dim byd.

    Practicing alongside FFcP – Moshe Emes

    Notes: I love Anglesey. This is one of the world's most perfect lands. It's no wonder the druids considered (and still do!) the entire island to be sacred. And if all you really want out of a summer weekend is to pick strawberries, build sandcastles with the kids, visit several dozen ancient sites, and play the mandolin surrounded by mountains, sea and sky, I can think of no where finer.
  18. greenwdse

    "Candlelit Celtic Music - 7pm - Llandanwg Church,"
    the sign at the lychgate read.

    You know, if it wasn't for music and the people who really cared about this little church, it would have been buried under the sand long ago.

    Lemme sum up the significance of this spot. Back in the 5th century, just as the remains of Roman Empire in the West was disintigrating, St Patrick was sending his people to Britain to spread the gospel. And this spot in the dunes a few feet from the tides of Cardigan Bay was one of the landing points – a Calais for Christian missionaries. A church was put up here by a man named Tadwg, most likely on the spot where this present 15th c. church stands, making Llandanwg possibly the oldest continuously Christian “foundation” in Britain. It's a cozy little place and inside there's a wealth of inscribed stones from deep in the "Dark Ages", etched with Latin names. Gravestones? If so, they aren't from around here. Someone most likely hauled them all the way from Ireland.

    And although I'm not as masterful as the folks playing Celtic stuff at 7pm, I figured the foundations wouldn't mind if I practiced my double stops here.

    The Baron has some new vids about double stops and Brad Laird has a couple nice lessons. But besides that, there's not much out there that helps. And this is where a teacher would really be useful, because guys, I'm really not doing these well. Yes, I understand the basics. And what double stops ARE. But playing them smoothly is tricky.

    Here's something both The Baron and Brad don't mention. When playing these double stops, it seems best to hold the pick very very lightly. Really lightly. It helps with the wrist movement, and I had to figure this out on my own. Yeah I know, they've all drilled it into me to hold the pick lightly. But the “why” is never explained in detail. Double stops are the “why.”

    So I got out of the church and headed toward the cafe across beach carpark. A guy came up to me and asked if the gig bag holds a ukelele. No, I didn't clobber him, because he seemed nice and we got to talking. He's a blogger who writes about interesting stuff in Snowdonia. And he told me about Robert Plant visiting the cafe just a couple days ago. I'm sure he knows about the church in the dunes too.

    History - 7
    Ambiance - 7
    Acoustics - 6
    Tush magnets - 10
    Seclusion - 7
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 10
    Drizzle shelters - 10
    Nearby snacks – 10 Robert Plant might head to the cafe for the coffee or the ice cream
    Cost - Nada.

    Practicing alongside FFcP – Brad Laird and The Baron's double stop lessons

    Notes: Bring your beach stuff! Also, the Dyffryn Ardudwy burial chamber is just down the road.
  19. greenwdse

    There are plenty of battlefields in this little nation. I’m practicing at one of them.

    For years, Pontypool's rugby squad was made up of steelworkers, coalminers - men forged with hammer and chisel, in furnace and shadow. The town churned out internationally reknowned talent. And this arena was the playpen once to the most feared men in any sport – the Pontypool Front Row who dispensed summary justice with a smile to opponents during the 70’s and 80’s. Think of the ’85 Bears Defensive Line gravitationally condensed into a malevolent neutron star. These were men who didn’t take losing kindly. So they didn't lose often.

    And although the team has suffered with the ebbs and tides when Welsh Rugby restructured itself, it's fans are still as loyal as ever.

    On a rainy weekend morning, the stands are an awesome place to practice. Sure the seats aren't plush, but they're dry. And the acoustics here are amazing. The only problem is my choice of practice tunes. It seems some songs just can't be translated well for mandolin. Take Vince Guaraldi's theme for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. For a newbie like me, it's just too tricky. Too many notes. And no easy pattern. More promising is playing around with the chords to Suffragette City. And it's getting so cold out that I'll have to start bringing out the gloves to practice. I've taken off the fingertips.

    Oh and I'm looking forward to a mandolin-related present the missus gave me for my birthday. Stay tuned! I'll let you know about it next time (if it all works out).

    History - 5
    Ambiance - 4
    Acoustics - 8
    Tush magnets – 10
    Seclusion - 5
    Places to hang the gig bag – 9
    Drizzle shelters - 10
    Nearby snacks – 10 The leisure centre's food is great and Pontypool Market is a stroll away
    Cost – Season tickets are £91

    Practicing alongside FFcP. . always FFcP – Vince Guaraldi's Thanksgiving Theme and stuff from Mike Marshall's arpeggio DVD
  20. greenwdse

    Gotta say, I was completely terrified. But it's a good thing I persevered.

    I attended my first workshop, a Klezmer/Welsh music class just a few feet away from St Illtyd's Church in the Marcross Room at the Western Vale Integrated Children's Centre held by the Llantwit Major Tune Club (you'll be quizzed later). Apologizing for my lack of talent, I joined four fiddles, three accordions, two harps, one woodwind, a bodrhan, and an acoustic bass all under the tutelage of composer, classical violinist, half of the duo Fiddlebox, and teacher Helen Adam.

    Not only was she brilliant, but like the rest of the club, was wonderfully patient with me. See, since picking up the mandolin, I've never really played with anyone.

    It was very intimidating at first because I was surrounded by people who can play. I felt woefully inadequate. I can't read notation, so when Helen handed out some sheet music I had to rely on my meagre knowledge of the Misheberakh and Freygish scales. And because I couldn't master the melody that fast, I eventually gave up and fell back on the chords. Thank the heavens for both Don Julin and Dix Bruce who stressed using three finger chop chords, because I loved finally hearing how I sound WITH someone.

    (Helen with a fish coming out of her ear)

    And while fiddlers concentrated on the melody, Helen introduced me to how to play rhythm alongside the bodrhan and the bass. She had us all flowing Bulgars, Horas and Freylechs into traditional Welsh songs and it sounded fantastic. And she'll get up from her seat when we're jamming and start strolling about while she plays, ready for Chagall to paint us all. Bendegedig.

    And learning how to play with talented people is invaluable.

    “You're a bit of a natural on the offbeat,” one of the club members said to me.

    Whotta compliment! It's all that Marley I listen to (I wasn't that good. Trust me). Another said I should attend more of the club's sessions because they really would love to have a mandolin. Shame I live so distant. How does all this fit in with history, you ask?

    I'm following a tradition of learning here that dates back more than 1600 years.

    Once upon a time, there was a Roman Emperor named Theodosius. Theodosius had a rough time because he couldn't keep the massive empire together. Not only was it being attacked by crazy tribes on its borders, but within it was suffering with religious schisms. The whole thing was meshuggenah.

    Far away from Rome, in a tiny spot protected by Roman Occupation, someone decided to build a university and name it for Theodosius, probably because they thought the Emperor was trying his best. The College of Theodosius, created in 395, is known as the oldest college in Britain. . maybe even the world. And it survived when Roman Occupation ended in 420.

    But not for long.

    For sixty years, after it was ransacked by, well who do you want to blame? The Irish? The Saxons, no one really knows, it lay barren. Until St Illtud arrived and reestablished the ecclesiastical Cor Tewdws - The New Choir (or College) of Theodosius. It was enormous, teaching more than two thousand students at once. St David went to school here, as did Gildan the Historian. Many would-be Celtic saints did.

    Annoyingly, the college just happened to be situated in a really odd location - by the coast in a place called, in English, Llantwit Major. It was a great spot for the college that wanted attention, i.e to be laid waste by Vikings, Danes, Normans, and pirates. Henry VIII finally had enough of the place and dissolved it around 1540. A church was built right atop of the ruins, the same one a few feet away from the Children's Centre.

    Notes: I'm going have to find a midi file of all these songs that Helen's given me – so I can figure out the melody better. Mekhutonim Tsum Tisch and Rhif Wyth. U Rabina and Heno Heno. . . well, Heno Heno I've got a good grip of (as does anyone in Wales with a kid). St Illtyd's Church also houses one of the finest collections of Celtic stone crosses in the world.
  21. greenwdse

    Never look a Christmas freebie in the mouth.

    Earlier this month, the brilliant Matt Flinner had a free online course and I got tons out of it. It was two hours worth of quality education from a quality teacher. What impressed me was the practicality of what he taught – e.g. these are scales, these are variations of those scales, and this is how to use them. Super lesson! All free. I'm seriously thinking about taking his other online courses. Merry Christmas Matt. Thanks for the present!

    On the other hand, there’s nothin’ worse than when things go wrong around Christmas. The TV kicks the bucket, the iron goes on fire, and now I’ve broken my beloved V-Pick. Look at it. I’ve been working with this gem for a couple years now. Its only fault (up ‘til now) was that it was clear, so when I dropped it, I’d have to hire the ten-year old to search the floor with me. But, like the TV, iron and the Fiat Panda, it too has a limited lifespan.

    It should be a lovely time of year. The lights, the music, the joy, the goodwill to all mankind. All that jazz. But sitting here, of all places, you know that isn’t always the case. “Here” is the Great Hall of what remains of Abergavenny Castle.

    It’s question time. If a Norman lord with a proclivity toward ruthlessness invites you and your Welsh pals to a Christmas freebie dinner ‘round his place, do you:

    a) Run for your life because he’s Norman and ruthless and therefore will kill you?

    b) Tell’m you can’t make it but send your best love to him and his family with a bouquet of roses?

    c) Trust him because, hey, ‘tis the season. Goodwill to all mankind and all that jazz, right? Bring the ham.

    The answer is A. What happened here 840 years ago was C.

    B wasn’t possible because damasks and albas weren’t available in local shops until after the Crusades.

    In 1175, William de Broase had control of Abergavenny Castle, his family wrestling it back from the Welsh who had taken it just a couple years earlier. To make an effort at reconciliation, de Broase invited the nearby Welsh chieftans to a Christmas feast in the Great Hall. A Christmas freebie. Everyone was asked to leave their weapons at the door, come in, try to enjoy the lute player, have a drink and make merry.

    Once de Broase had his men in position, the doors were closed.

    Sounds a bit like a scene from Godfather III, dunnit?

    The massacre at Abergavenny didn’t go unavenged and the ensuing war lasted generations.

    But that was then. From these walls, stretching my pinky in the cold, practicing single string arpeggios, and assorted stuff from Matt's lesson, I can hear the sounds from the high street of people laughing and shopping and having a nice time. It’s Christmas after all. Abergavenny is pretty this time of year. And picks don’t last forever, right? And that’s ok. I'm filled with Christmas spirit thanks to Matt Flinner. . and Strings and Beyond’s free delivery. Goodbye little clear V-Pick. You were lovely. Hello little black Wegen.

    History - 8
    Ambiance - 8
    Acoustics - 4
    Tush magnets - 10
    Seclusion - 3
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 5
    Drizzle shelters – 9 There's a great little museum here
    Nearby snacks – 10 especially on Market Day
    Cost - Nada.

    Practicing alongside FFcP – Midnight in Moscow, Flinner's stuff, Doublestops, lots lots more

    Notes: After you finish your busking and having a lunch in the market, visit Abergavenny Music, one of the coziest classical and jazz music shops in all the UK. And the Borough Theatre is often the venue for many folk and international bands.
  22. greenwdse

    Peronne in Northern France is a quaint unassuming little town. In 1916, history was about to wipe everything there but its name off the map.

    Peronne is near the Somme, site of some of the fiercest fighting of the First World War. In 1916, an English soldier equipped with his gun, gasmask, a few rations, and a mandolin fought here.

    His name was Arthur Kennedy. Kennedy was a music teacher and he took his mandolin with him when he left his home in Oxfordshire to fight. At the front, Kennedy proudly became, what he called a minstrel, entertaining his mates in his battalion and trying hard to keep up morale at a time when it was in very VERY short supply.

    Kennedy would go on to other battles further along on the Somme from France to Belgium to Italy. . .in Hermies, Ypres, Vimy Ridge, Asiago, Piave - and his mandolin came with.

    After the war, Kennedy came home and painted the names of the battlefields he and his mandolin fought down the instrument's side. Decades later, Kennedy donated his mandolin, by then old and cracked to the Pitt Rivers Museum, one of the world's most wonderful collections of wonderful things housed next to the Natural History Museum in Oxford, where it stands, retired from active service, to this day.

    Read more about Kennedy's Mandolin at:

    Or listen at:
  23. greenwdse

    The worst part about learning mandolin on your own is the lack of direction. Am I going at the right pace? Am I playing this correctly? What do I do now?

    So I'm joining ArtistWorks' Classical Mandolin course with Caterina Lichtenberg. My quavers are all a'quiver. Will it help? I hope so, but I haven't seen it yet because the site is down and there's been a delay on its rollout. I'm none too pleased, but it's not worth yelling about. These things happen I suppose. And I shouldn't get angry at the poor schnook from ArtistWorks who has to deal with frustrated customers like me.

    Middle management and office administrator types have it rough. Unloved and unnoticed by the rest of humanity, these poor souls live out their lives going to meetings, printing and collecting paperwork, getting yelled at by unsatisfied bosses and demanding customers, while negotiating their way around Microsoft Office. No lyrics are sung for them. No tunes are played. They are not the heroes or the jilted lovers or the workmen or the gal behind the bar famed in so much song and story. Many of us wouldn't bat an eyelash if their offices would just be covered by the sea, washed away by the sands of time.

    This month I'm practicing on the ruins of an Anglesey administration centre - an ancient governmental office block and royal court called a “llys.” When the head honcho was in town (the honcho being Llewyllen the Great, perhaps the most awesome of all Welsh leaders) he'd conduct his banquets here, danced with the missus (when she wasn't jailed up) and thought out military campaigns. When he wasn't around, his administrators “moved things along” from here. . .settling disputes, collecting taxes, running things – unloved and underappreciated by history.

    In 1330, a storm hit Anglesey, burying Rhosyr in the dunes, covering it in sea, and washing most of it away in the sands of time where it laid undiscovered and nearly forgotten for more than 660 years.

    And it's where I sit, going back over pentatonics, frustrated that I can't get started with Caterina's classes. Soon I hope.

    History - 6
    Ambiance - 3
    Acoustics - 2
    Tush magnets – 4 Brrr. . .cold stones.
    Seclusion - 3
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 0
    Drizzle shelters – 0
    Nearby snacks – 3 The village of Newborough is half mile down the road.
    Cost - Nada.
    Practicing alongside FFcP – I was trying Bach's Invention #4 to get into the mood. But I have picked up a playful little tune from the Mel Bay Archives called Peanut's Last Ride. It's relatively easy and quite fun.

    Notes: The beautiful beach where they filmed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is here. And if you look in the trees, you'll hear the ravens and see the red squirrels.
  24. greenwdse

    I'm sitting at the crossroads. See that little island behind me?

    Once upon a time, long long ago, there was a princess. Her name was Tecla. Rather than live in the mountains with her chieftain father, she found religion, travelled south to a small shadowy spot by the Severn estuary and became a hermit. Her end is a sad one. And one that happened, according to legend, right by here. On that little island.

    Also once upon a time, the King of a united Wales, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, met with the Saxon King of England, Edward the Confessor to talk shop. That all happened, according to legend, right by here. On that little chess square of an island.

    Right by here, where I'm sitting going over Caterina Lichtenberg's ArtistWorks lessons is Beachley Point, between bridges. The one almost directly overhead is the “old” Severn Bridge which is now nearly fifty years old. We almost share the same birthday except I was never opened by the Queen. The other one, just down there is the Second (newer) Severn Crossing where tens of thousands of journeys head to and fro every day.

    Just over 200 million years ago, the only bridges here were little jetties in a silty archipelago in a tropical shallow sea slowly expanding into something that would eventually be called the Atlantic. These rocks that I'm sitting on, practicing method and accuracy, hold the remains of ammonites - spiral molluscs that were kings of these shallow seas. I'm on their fossils, tons of them, along with fossils of bivalves and brachiopods. They were all that was left, more or less, after the great extinction that purged the waters and marked the end of the Permian and the beginning of the Triassic. That, too, was a crossroads.

    And here I am, a child of the first mammals, those furballs that joined the cast of characters in the Triassic, trying to do justice to Caterina's lessons on downstrokes, doublestops and Packington's Pound. I'm at a sort of crossroads as well, because I feel like I'm starting my next stage of playing.

    These ArtistWorks lessons are quite smart. Caterina provides not just a series of videos, but gives direct feedback on everyone's questions and any video postings. It's an online classroom but where everyone works at their own pace. So when I asked about something trivial like how to hold your pick correctly, one of the world's preeminent classical mandolinists wrote back with her detailed answer. For students who post videos, she videos back and "fine tunes" them. And it's all shared. And you get to call her "Cat."

    But it IS hard. It's not something you can breeze though. She really makes your work that pinky finger. And you're encouraged to be thorough and exact, not a speed demon. Yet besides the frustrations of working off three different £$%!& inept computers, the lack of tab in the downloads (I've been transcribing it myself! – Notes to Tab! who'da thunk I could?) and the complete absence of any classical training, I've been enjoying myself immensely. Finally, a regimen!

    History – 8 Beachley was also the site of a Civil War battle
    Ambiance - 2 It's a muddy place. And don’t stray because it’s by MOD land. Try not to get shot.
    Acoustics - 2
    Tush magnets - 3
    Seclusion - 8
    Places to hang the gig bag away from all that mud - 2
    Drizzle shelters - 1
    Nearby snacks - 1 BYO
    Cost - Nada.

    Fossils all about.

    Notes: Magnificent Chepstow is a couple miles away - right over the border.
  25. greenwdse
    Meanwhile, tucked away in a quiet corner of Bristol Cathedral, an angel practices scales and arpeggios.

  26. greenwdse

    I’m at the point in Caterina Lichtenberg’s ArtistWorks lessons when I’m learning tremolo. When I first took up the mandolin I didn't like tremoloes. Too difficult. Too annoying. I didn't see the point.

    Now I do. I understand how I can use them and make even my little Stagg sound decent – like water flowing over pebbles in a tiny stream, at least that’s what I'm trying to achieve. But it ain't easy. Playing these songs of Ranieri and Pettine and Cristofaro and Mazas can’t be done in a day. At first, I was trying to hold the pick lightly, really I was, and use just my wrist. But by the last note, I assumed the vice grip and my entire arm was exhausted. I’m finding that learning tremolo is an education in relaxation.

    It’s not easy to completely relax when the kid is doing handstands right by me, on the lawn of Wells Cathedral, but it’s fun to have the company.

    Forget that its architecture is sheer brillant combination of art and function. Forget that it holds one of the oldest mechanical clocks in the world, and that it has some of the finest collections of stained glass windows in the known universe. Forget that it’s just plain beautiful. Music has been at the heart of Wells Cathedral for over a millennium. The present cathedral was constructed in the late 12th century. Even today, there’s music going on – an orchestra is practicing Elgar this afternoon before a show. Since 909, there’s been a boys choir singing here. . well in the cathedral before this one. Nowadays its composed of boys and girls and the Wells Cathedral Choir was rated by Gramophone magazine as one of the finest childrens choirs in the world.

    History - 8
    Ambiance - 10
    Acoustics – outside? 2. . inside? 10
    Tush magnets - 10
    Seclusion – 1
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 9
    Drizzle shelters – 10
    Nearby snacks - 10
    Cost – It’s free but doggone it, donate something. It’s hard to take care of a jewel this big.

    Practicing alongside Caterina’s stuff & FFcP – Leone’s Allemandes and Reviewing the Situation

    Notes: A few miles south is Glastonbury Tor, which, depending on legends could be a gateway to the underworld or resting place of the Holy Grail.
  27. greenwdse

    I'm coming to the end of three months worth of lessons with Caterina Lichtenberg. Once my subscription to ArtistWorks runs out, I'm going to go over all of the lessons and all the downloaded material once again from scratch, and play everything perfectly, because I've been rushing though all the beginners lessons (and some intermediate). I just won't be able to get Caterina's feedback now.

    Has it been worth it? Oh yes. I recommend it very much.

    I'm in Trellech for the Annual Harp Tea Party where people can play, listen and try out harps. It's also a venue for schoolchildren to show off the talent from their harp lessons. In fact, my kid is getting lessons at school and she's asked me to duet with her. So I'm learning a song called "Charlotte in Spring" and if we can do it right, I'll post it here for you.

    The Harp Party is being held in St Nicholas Church, with its enormous spire that can be seen for miles around. Why is something so large and grand in this tiny village far from anywhere? Because St Nicholas is one of the few things that survived a firestorm that has been compared to Dresden's.

    Once upon a time, in the 13th century, there was a town here. It was a big town filled with shops and homes and industry. Iron would be sent here from mines in the forests just over the border and metal would be forged to make all sorts of stuff, like pots and swords. Families laughed together, shopkeepers bickered, couples fell in love and children played ball. It was a big place, possibly bigger than Cardiff was at that time.

    And then came the Four Horsemen.

    When some townspeople poached some deer in the king's woods just south of here, the local lords burnt the town down. Then came the war against the Welsh, and this being a bordertown that specialized in making weaponry, it was a prime target. Again it was razed, this time by the Welsh. Then came the Black Death, and famine. Owain Glyndwr attacked the town in the 15th century. By 1500, very few people were left to call Trellech a place, much less home. It was nearly wiped off the map. So now all that's left is a few houses. There's a small school here, and a doctor's office, and a few horses in fields, but no shops, no markets.

    I'm practicing on a remnant of old Trellech. It's called the Tump Turret. It's a steep manmade mound, about, oh, twenty feet high. It's a Norman creation and on it once sat Trellech's wooden castle, although all that's on it now is bramble and a huge evergreen. A local myth says it is the burial mound for the soldiers in a battle against the Welsh and Harold Godwinson's troops in 1063, but it most likely isn't. Harold's name appears a few yards away though he had nothing to do with what's there. Harold's Stones is the name of the three neolithic stones sticking out of the ground that gives the village its name. Tre-Lech. Three Stones. Who made them and why is anyone's guess. But if you don't mind sitting against them with sheep grazing beside you, then they are a nice spot to play. I think they might like music.

    What makes Trellech so remarkable is that it still exists. A battle of sorts is still being waged here - this time against opposing archeologists who have differing opinions of the shape and size of medieval Trellech. One side has dug just outside of the village and found the remains of the firestorm - an iron pot completely melted, stones liquified, thatch from homes practically turned into glass. So I'm unsure whether to think of Trellech as a sad place or not, because I can hear harps nearby, and the sounds of someone laughing at village's single pub, and the bluebells are coming out.

    History - 10
    Ambiance - 10
    Acoustics - 2
    Tush magnets - 2
    Seclusion - 4
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 2
    Drizzle shelters - 6 Head to the church. And while you're there, check the time on the sundial.
    Nearby snacks - 2 Snacks no. . . but there is the great Lion Inn which dates from the 1600s and has homemade pizza
    Cost - Nada. Though the Harp Party is £1.

    Practicing alongside FFcP - Closing Lessons with Caterina, Ashokan Farewell

    Notes: Suffering from scurvy or colic? Head to the St Anne's Well, last remaining holy well in Trellech (there were nine once).
  28. greenwdse

    Where have I been, you ask? Well, if you must know, I've been accepted to play with The Uskuleles - Usk's Ukulele Group - who meet in town every Monday to practice, chat, and drink. They're a dedicated team but informal and fun and eager for anyone to join, even a lowly mando player like myself. In fact I was able to share the stage with the group when they played for the Queen's birthday and a summer fair earlier this year. That's me way in the back all shy and pixelated.

    Being a part of their Mondays have been an invaluable experience because I've never played with a band before. Y'know, you can assume that you can play rhythm, and that you know all the chords, but until you actually start jamming with people, you really can't tell how good you are. Everything changes once you're put under the pressure of playing with others. By the time you're brain bickers with itself - should I play this closed Em chord? Or should I keep playing the open Em? - the rest of the band has moved on to C. Playing with others forces you to. . .well. . just play, and not think. And the mando, I think, seems to compliment it all a bit.

    But the neatest part is the attitude and comradarie.

    "Oh I sounded awful!"

    "So did I."

    "Me too."

    And then later with a little practice.

    "Oh that sounded quite good doncha think?"

    "Yeah, first time I played that through without slipping up."

    "Me too."

    The group practices in a building a stone's throw from Usk Castle where 300 men were beheaded following the Battle of Pwll Melyn (The Yellow Pool) in 1405 - when Owain Glyndwr's forces during the last war of Welsh independence were slaughtered by the English.

    According to one historian, "Pwll Melyn is the pond lying north-east of Usk Castle. Numerous skeletons were found in this pond when it was cleaned out. The pond is so called because the water is always slimy and of a dirty colour."

    It brings to mind Tolkien's Dead Marshes. And considering that Glyndwr's men may have been betrayed by someone leads to that feeling of spookiness here. Mind you, the betrayer may have had good reason as Glyndwr burnt Usk to the ground a couple years earlier.

    Despite the flowers and gardens here, the bees buzzing and a cat slowly crossing your path, Usk Castle isn't the finest of spots to play. No not because of its gruesome history but because of the chickens. Inside the castle's court (which is lovely by the way) chickens roam free and if you start practicing they'll start pecking at your shoelaces, then at your tush underneath the bench and then they'll start eyeing those shiny strings.

    Usk is where Adam of Usk was born (hence his name) sometime in the middle of the 14th century. Adam was a lawyer, soldier, and priest. But his claim to fame is as a chronicler of events. Throughout his life, Adam wrote about history and his travels from Britain to Rome. He met kings and popes and visited town after town always scribbling.

    What makes Adam so very interesting is his style. He wrote about all the things that fascinated him, often in first person. He talks about his emotions and dreams, his hopes and fears, and his opinions about everything from the beauty of Lake Lucerne in the Alps, the magnificence of French wine and the dog-eat-dog world of the Rome's canines. And he chronicles Glyndwr's War better than anyone.

    Someday, I hope, someone will write a song about Adam.

    And he's buried, back at his home, at the lovely Priory Church where I sit outside, in an enclosed court, tremoloing Nearer My God to Thee and quietly practicing chord progressions to "I Wanna Be Like You" far from the chickens.

    Here's the Usk Castle Breakdown (hey. . now THAT'S an idea!)

    History - 9
    Ambiance - 7
    Acoustics - 5
    Tush magnets - It depends. There ARE places where you can sit away from the chickens. So 1 to 5.
    Seclusion - 4
    Places to hang the gig bag away from chickens - 3
    Drizzle shelters - 5
    Nearby snacks - 9 Nice chippy just down the hill. And plenty in town.
    Cost - No, but a donation IS appreciated. The castle is privately owned so don't cause a ruckus. Be polite.

    Notes: Underneath the town, there's more Roman remnants of Burrium waiting to be discovered. Who knows what lies underground!?
  29. greenwdse

    I've been keeping a wide berth around Abergavenny. This year's Eisteddfod is being held there right now and I just don't want to get caught in the traffic. I'd like to have tickets though.

    Instead, thanks to Joe Walsh, I've been practicing doublestops in Carmarthenshire, at the spectacular Kidwelly Castle. Last month, I signed up to his"Advancing Mandolinist" class at Peghead Nation just for a bit, just to try it out. Sadly, it's just beyond me at this stage. It may have to wait another year and in the meantime I think I'll sign up to more intermediate courses soon - perhaps Mike Marshall's or Matt Flinner's or Sharon Gilchrist's.

    But it's not to say I haven't gotten anything from Joe Walsh's course. This doublestop lesson is superb and just what I needed. Best one I've seen. It also showed something deeply bothersome.

    I think the action on my mandolin is way WAY too low. See, when Joe was playing, he'd take his pick and start strumming right on the neck. I thought, "ooo. I'll give that a go." But it proved (and I mean this) impossible. My strings, even at the very end of the fretboard are incredibly low to the frets. No matter how light I picked, I'd smack the neck. When I first had my mandolin set up, I asked for the action to be low. But now, three years later, I think it's time I have the strings raised a bit. It could explain why I couldn't do certain pullups in Caterina Lichtenberg's class with any real emphasis (am I making excuses? - Yes. Forgive me. I should know it's not the mandolin's fault). My fear is that I've never raised the action myself before. I suppose my first port of call should be the very trusted Brad Laird - who has a free "how-to" lesson. But I'm still terrified of messing up my mandolin.

    Kidwelly's a stunning place to practice, especially when the sun is out. It's also a place that should be considered in the annals of music and song and poetry in Wales. And here's why.

    Despite them being military supermen and brilliant political maneuverers, you'll be hard pressed to find anything really kind anyone has to say about the Normans. Before the invasion in 1066, Saxon Britannia was perhaps the best run land in all of Europe. Then came the Norman crazies who in just a matter of decades put other crazies - henchmen - in control of the populace and struck fear throughout the countryside.

    Boy, were they ambitious! In just a few years they spread out, taking control of all England and moving into the west, toward a Welsh land beyond Cardiff called Deheubarth. Nearly 900 years ago, this land belonged to a prince named Gruffudd ap Rhys and his beloved wife, Gwenllian.

    But the Normans took control and built a huge fortress near the coast called Kidwelly where they consolidated their power. Gruffudd, Gwenllian and their family had to hide in the woods where they commanded a guerilla war. When the Norman king, Henry I died in 1135, they made their move to wrest their kingdom back. But as Gruffudd went north to get help from other Welsh rulers, the Norman lord, Maurice de Londres countered. Like a Boudicca, Gwenllian took control of the army and led a brave stab at the heart of Norman Deheubarth - Kidwelly Castle. But she was captured and killed.

    Gruffudd joined forces with Gwenllian's brother and together they drove the Normans out and freed their land. Gwenllian's son, Rhys, eventually became ruler of Deheubarth and made peace with the Normans rather than fighting them. In 1176, Rhys launched a great festival of poetry and song - the first Eisteddfod.

    History – 9
    Ambience – 9
    Acoustics – 7
    Tush magnets – 9
    Seclusion – 5
    Places to hang the gig bag – 9
    Drizzle shelters – 9
    Nearby snacks – 9
    Cost – nada for CADW members but some denaro for the rest of you lot. Get some membership. It's really worth it.

    Practicing alongside FFCP: It seems everything these days, without proper direction. I'm working on arpeggios and pentatonics daily. Then I'm reviewing Caterina's stuff I worked on months ago. Doublestops. I'd like to have a really fun song to work on right now. I wonder what The Baron will come up with this week? I have a desire to take something Welsh and try my hand at doublestops with it and then give it some improvising.

    Notes: If you like Black Cats, you'd love Kidwelly. And here's something you can download that tells Gwenllian's story.
  30. greenwdse


    Even in mystic, shadowy Wales, there are few places that feel as mystic and as shadowy as Nevern.

    Beyond the stream there's a small rocky hillside, overgrown with bramble and bracken and trees that once was the home to a wooden castle called Nanhyfer. The quick story goes, Nanhyfer was originally built by Welsh kings, and taken over by a Norman family called the Fitzmartins, but then stormed by the local Welsh Lord named Rhys because the Fitzmartins didn't keep the peace after Rhys allowed his daughter Angharad to marry one of them, so Rhys captured it only to be eventually kept prisoner here by his sons, who then kindly released him but then Rhys captured two other sons and kept them prisoner, so there nyaah. It wasn't a happy family.

    On the other side of this wall, there's a churchyard, a mystical shadowy enclosure rich with a moist cumbrousness of dark greens and browns and where the yew tree bleeds. Head past it and you're greeted by a looming giant, a thousand years old - a thirteen foot high Celtic cross.

    Near the cross there's a stone that has Latin carved into it. VITALIANA EMERETO - the stone of Vitalianus Emereto. Some say this is the gravestone of the dread king Vortigern. Besides the Latin, there are notches on it. When you look inside there church, there are similar parallel notches etched into a stone that's been made into a windowsill.

    They aren't just notches. It's communication.

    It's called Ogham, and it's a early medieval Gaelic kind of script. The notches are letters. The Ogham on the windowsill is from the 5th century and it reads: Maglocunus, son of Clutorius.No one knows for sure why this style of writing was created. Secret codes? Easy to carve? But what scholars do know is it started in the last days of Roman occupation in Ireland. When Christian missionaries landed here on the coasts of Wales, they brought Ogham with them.

    The letters are all given the names of trees. So imagine singing the ABC song but each letter is given the name Ash, Birch, Oak, Hazel and so on.

    Except for the occasional car crossing the old bridge, little Nevern is one of the quieter places. No 747s overhead. No cellphones. Just the stream gurgling by. And Lichtenberg's Ornaments lesson in my head as I concentrate on Pietro Denis' La Tourneuse again. This may be one of the last adventures the Stagg and I have together. We may be parting soon.

    I've been emailing a few dealers in the hopes of getting my hands on a southpaw Eastman 305. I've written to a few places who, not only couldn't find a left handed model, but sounded like they'd rather not bother with my business at all. I felt a bit put out, and if you're a lefty mandolinist, I'm sure you'll understand. One dealer said they couldn't help, BUT I shouldn't be deterred. As a proud Eastman player himself, he said he'd love to help me. He'd hand a right handed model to his crack workshop guru, who turns out is a militant southpaw like me and badaboom badabing. October mebbe? Poor Theodora though. Like the Fiat Panda, all good things have their end. Perhaps I can find her pastures new and give her new adventures.

    On a related note, I was walking by Cranes Music Store in central Cardiff last week with the ten year old and in their window was a Morgan Monroe F5. A lefty of all things! A lefty F5! Cheap too. £399. Not too much of a step up from my Stagg, but, gasp! A lefty F5! I've never seen one in the flesh before. So the kid and I waltz in and remarkably, hanging on the wall, was another! Same thing. I asked the salesman if I could try one out. I've never even touched an F before.

    "It's left handed though," the guy said, hesitating before he saw my eyes light up and then comprehending.

    It's not the Eastman I have my eye on (sigh) but wow. F5. Fits so nicely. Like a comfy pair of jeans. Sure it's cheap but it's a fine entry level mandolin and has a richer sound compared to the Stagg. Isn't it wonderful that someone cares enough to make these things and understand there's a market for them? Mazel tov Morgan Monroe. Mazel tov.

    History - 8
    Ambiance - 10
    Acoustics - 6
    Tush magnets - 5 There's old horse mounting steps just outside the churchyard
    Seclusion - 7
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 2
    Drizzle shelters and Nearby snacks - 5 Try the Trewen Arms
    Cost - Nada

    Practicing alongside FFcP - I'm attracted to Mike Marshall's ArtistWorks class. I'm trying out his trial Wabash Cannonball lesson and it's brilliant. But can I afford it?

    Notes: Pentre Ifan is in the hills overlooking the sea.
  31. greenwdse

    I've been busy in the run-up before my new Eastman 305 arrives, giving the little Stagg quite the workout. The sun sets on her soon, so we've been racing through FFCP minor scales, practicing doublestops and arpeggios like crazy, Blackberry Blossoming, and Dubuquing. There's an eight sided die that I keep in my gigbag. Instead of numbers, I've taped little letters to it - A to G (and an eighth side that I use as a wild card). I'll roll it and what letter it lands on, I'll practice its chord progressions, various chord shapes (with minors, dom7s, maj7s, min7s), FFCP scales both major and minor, and pentatonics. For fun, I've also been spending my time working on something that might be useful to you. It's my tab for "Reviewing the Situation" from Oliver! I've tried it out, adding tremolo and things I've learned from the Lichtenburg course and it sounds quite decent. It's a good song to learn if you're ticked off at your job. I've posted it on the Klezmer pages in the forum.

    And, as the sun sets, I've been giving the pinky a good FFCP workout beside Carreg Samson, perched beside enormous cliffs overlooking the Irish Sea. This dolmen, legend has it, had its massive capstone placed there by Saint Samson, who nudged it there using his little finger. Samson was the great grandson of King Tewdrig, who I'm sure I'll get to in a few months. Pinky legend aside, other than his name, Samson most likely had very little to do with this site, which was made 3500 years before he was a twinkle in Tewdrig's DNA.

    These dolmens weren't just big stone boxes for deceased neolithic notables. There was ritual here, honour, and praise although no one has any idea what form it took. Its giant slabs and capstone aren't all that's left of what was once an artifical hill. During an excavations in the 1960s, archeaologists discovered burnt bone. That could mean this was a place of cremation rather than actual entombment.

    History - 8
    Ambiance - 10 Oh those cliffs!
    Acoustics - 3
    Tush magnets - 1
    Seclusion - 7
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 0
    Drizzle shelters and Nearby snacks - 3 It IS a drizzle shelter. . .for sheep. And the nearby village of Trevin has a great cafe that makes wonderful Eggs Benedict.
    Cost - Nada

    Notes: Carreg Samson lies on the wonderful Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, which is one of the most beautiful strolling spots in the world.
  32. greenwdse

    Before she goes, I'm making one last adventure with Theodora. And we're working together on pentatonics at the base of Montgomery Castle atop a crag of rock high above the River Severn. Why pentatonics? Brad Laird has a brilliant series of Pentatonic Innovation videos and he really gave me an urge to learn more. Bitten by this Pentatonic Bug, I've bought a chunky book by Jesper Rubner-Petersen (ya you betcha) called The Mandolin Picker's Guide to Bluegrass Innovation. And so far it's so good. I like a book that gives you homework.

    I've also been forced to practice some quick chord changes because I've been working out with my uke pals from Usk (even setting up their new Facebook site). Some of the songs they're working on are great, but challenging to me - like A World of Our Own by the Seekers.

    And then there's something I found that I've added some doublestops to - a song that most likely has never been heard in Britain. The Asquamchumauke Waltz. It's Theodora's swansong.

    I can see for miles from here. The creepy Stiperstones in Shropshire are to the west beyond a plain that used to hold army after army trying to attack the spot where I sit.

    There's enough history in and around little Montgomery (pop <1300) to fill an encyclopedia.
    ⦁ Site of an iron age hillfort
    ⦁ Situated by the river Camlan - possibly where King Arthur was killed.
    ⦁ Home to the castle - one of the most vital Marcher strongholds - plundered by the Welsh, rebuilt, sieged again, rebuilt etc etc etc. There was a truce made here, when Henry III acknowledged Llywelyn, Prince of Gwynedd to be ruler of all Wales. Then it all fell apart again. . . etc etc. During the Civil War, after a nasty battle, the castle was wrecked again. And so it goes.

    But all this isn't what I like most about Montgomery. In town, there's a lovely museum that is rich in town history. It's just £1 entry. I left my gigbag with the friendly curators of the place and had a look around. Among the Civil War cannonballs, medieval armour, the turn-of-the-century medical equipment of the town's doc, iron age pottery and loads of other stuff, there's an old cabinet. It holds neatly folded blankets, knicknacks decades old, and old dolls, all arranged just so. The things inside belonged to "Blind May" - Hannah Phoebe May Thomas - who couldn't see, couldn't hear, and didn't talk and, at the age of 4, was sent to a nearby asylum for being "mentally defective." But she could sew, thread a needle, and communicate quite well and eventually was understood to be just someone who simply blind, deaf and mute. She was loved and cared for by staff at nearby Brynhyfryd Hospital and this is her cabinet, with all her things, undisturbed since the day she passed away in 1986 at age 89.

    History - 10
    Ambiance - 9
    Acoustics - 6
    Tush magnets - 8
    Seclusion - 5
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 3
    Drizzle shelters - 4
    Nearby snacks - 9 (The town has plenty)
    Cost - Nada. It's Cadw-owned but there's not admission fee.
    Practicing alongside FFcP - Asquamchumauke Waltz

    Thank you my friend. Shī péi le

    Notes: Head due west toward Stapley Hill, site of Mitchell's Fold stone circle. From here on a clear day, sitting on rocks, you can play to your heart's content with views across Wales - and Cader Idris rising like Mount Doom in the far distance.
  33. greenwdse
    I went to pickup the new Eastman at the local bikeshop. Don't ask. It arrived in an oblong Deering Banjo Box.

    "So what is it?" the guy behind the counter asked.

    "It's a mandolin," I answered.

    "A what?"

    "A mandolin."


    "It's a mandolin. It's a musical instrument."

    The guy looked closer at the box.

    "Oh it's a banjo then?"

    "Yes. "

    "Do you play?"

    I wasn't sure how to answer that. Many responses came to mind. I just nodded. Anyway, I now have one of the few southpaw Eastmans in the UK even though it's a rightie. It's a mando with gender identity issues.

    So let me get this out of the way. What exactly IS the difference between a Stagg and an Eastman? For some, I assume, it's like asking what's the difference between an Harley and a Huffy. But I'll try to put it into words.

    1) The sound. The Stagg has an ok strum. Furrhum. But the Eastman rings. It resonates. There's nothing tinny about it.

    2) The feel. Aided by the radiused fingerboard, the Eastman's neck is sculpted to the hand. It feels like an extension of my arm. It feels natural.

    3) The look. It's clear that this is a musical instrument and built to make music. It makes the Stagg, forgive me, look like a toy in comparison. That's not to say that I don't think the Stagg had its place. It was a brilliant tool to break into the craft. And I'd recommend it in an instant. But if you are serious about playing, the upgrade seems in order.

    Oddly enough, the only thing cheap thing about the Eastman is the gigbag it came in. It's twice as thin as my other one.

    Bouncing about Britain, I wound up with the new Eastman (named Ursula by the 10 year old - Ursula the Little Brown Bear) in a place called Witney. Fortune and fame are transient things and few places reek of the Ozymandias creed more than the grand ruin that is Witney Court in Worsterchestershire. It used to be a relatively posh medieval manorhouse. Then the Georgian Foley family bought this place, and didn't just modernise it. Oh no. They went all out. Huge Greek porticos, new additions, giant handpainted windows. They wiped the town of Great Witney off the map in the creation of a vast garden and grounds. The Foleys fell into debt so the Dudley family took it over during Victoria's time and added a gleaming white Italianite surface hiding the "dated" red brickwork, along with the pianos, frescos and ballrooms for their lavish parties. Sadly one of the things that wasn't upgraded was a fire pump attached to the grand fountain. In the 20s, the second earl of Dudley, deep in debt, sold the whole kitnkaboodle to a carpet manufacture who still didn't upgrade the fire pump.

    In 1938, a fire started in the kitchen.

    History - 4
    Ambiance - 9
    Acoustics – 7
    Tush magnets – 6
    Seclusion – 4
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 5
    Drizzle shelters – 3
    Nearby snacks – 8 A tearoom nearby
    Cost - It's about £8 entry. But English Heritage and CADW members get in free.

    Practicing alongside FFcP - Apollo Club Hornpipe. Rubner-Petersen exercises, going back over Lichtenberg stuff too.

    Notes: The Dudleys hired a young pianist to tune their pianos here, a man who had a little boy named Edward Elgar.
  34. greenwdse
    In the 1830s, Augusta Hall, Baroness of Llanover Hall was deep in immersing herself in All Things Welsh.

    She couldn’t get enough of it – language, culture, folklore, poetry, dress, song. She had prints made preserving for posterity traditional Welsh costumes. She’d hold grand balls in Llanover House just below Abergavenny, that showed them off to the sounds of her in-house harpist.

    Augusta struck up a friendship with musician Maria Jane Williams and together they collected a mass of Welsh folk songs, hundreds of them. Without their efforts the music of the Welsh might have been lost forever.

    One of these songs is known as the Llanover Reel. Now up until a couple months ago, I wouldn’t have touched Llanover Reel. I certainly wouldn’t have tried any Welsh jigs. DUD DUD? You gotta be kidding! Way too hard. Besides, why would I want to change my DUDU pattern? But ever since the missus gave me Welsh Fiddle Tunes (Llanover Reel is #3) by Sian Phillips (no, not Livia – the violinist) I’ve been wanting to do these songs justice.

    So I signed up to Marla Fibish’s Irish Mandolin courses at Peghead Nation. I dig Marla. Maybe it’s that white streak in her nest of raven wool hair that I love. But she’s also a fantastic teacher. What a brilliant course! Marla just doesn’t go through the notes. She teaches you how to FEEL reels and jigs, where to put the accents, how and where to play triplets. DUD DUD? After Marla no problemo. So I’ll use Phillip’s book, take a half hour to transcribe it to Tab, and use Marla’s teaching all to introduce me to a universe of Welsh folk music, including Llanover Reel.

    Notes: Parts of Llanover House are still around. And you can get access now and then to its beautiful walled garden at Rare Plant fairs (with tea and cakes) and gardening courses held there.

    History - 6
    Ambiance – 5 Access in the gardens? 10
    Acoustics - 2
    Tush magnets – 1 Unless in the gardens
    Seclusion - 3
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 2
    Drizzle shelters - 2
    Nearby snacks – 9 There’s a little cafe here called the Hummingbird that makes really REALLY good soup
    Cost - £5 on Rare Plant Days.

    Practicing alongside FFcP – A ton of Fibish stuff. Y Derwydd. Deildy Aberteifi. And I’ll give Wyres Megan a go.
  35. greenwdse
    BRIDGE 109
    The snowdrops are coming out by the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. The ducks are eyeing up my bag of cornflakes. And I’ve seen my first bumblebee of the year.

    Except on rainy days, canals are always a good place to practice. Relatively quiet. Lots of places to sit. And an excellent spot to concentrate without tv’s and phones. Concentration is needed these days. I’ve been working on something wonderful the last several weeks, mixing stuff I’ve learned from Lichtenberg and Fibish. I first thought I couldn’t possibly do it justice. It’s a song called Wyres Megan (or Megan’s Granddaughter - pronounced oy’res may’gan). It’s a waltz. Now what’s the difference between a waltz and a jig exactly? I dunno. A waltz doesn’t seem to always adhere to the DUD DUD thang. It’s a lovely tune nonetheless and one that really stretches the pinky. Why don’t I video myself and share it? Well, honestly I still don’t think I’m that good. Insecurity sets in. I’ll play something just right. But then I worry that, once I start videoing, I’ll screw it up. . over and over again. I suppose what I’d like more than anything right now is someone to practice with, so I can play a melody off of someone. I mean, take another pinky busting song I’m working on – Chicago, from Dix Bruce’s book. Sure Dix provides the backup track, but I’d rather have someone nearby. Maybe it’s the energy. .the vibe. . that I’m looking for. This is something that is missed when you practice nearly exclusively off books and the internet.

    Quack quack. The ducks want me to serenade them.

    Just as the Information Age owes its existence to Windows, the Industrial Age would be nothing without canals. New York City wouldn’t be New York without the Erie and the Delaware & Hudson canals, just as Britain wouldn’t have been the powerhouse it became without canals moving coal from the Welsh valleys.

    Ever try to move forty tons of stuff? (place marriage/spousal/lazy child/Dodge Intrepid joke here) It ain’t easy, especially if you need lift it in your rickety cart, whip your exhausted mule team, haul it over hill and dale, until you finally reach the river to unload it. The year 1800 marked the moment when the mass movement of goods – coal, limestone, slate, agriculture stuff – sped up for the first time since prehistory. The more the quarries and mines churned, the more active the canals became. And the more the barges moved to and fro, the more nations grew. These lines from mountain to sea carried wealth and power. Eventually many canals would be replaced, and railway tracks would be laid along canal mulepaths. Then, in the late 20th century, roads would replace the tracks. Most canals, like the once lovely D&H in New York State are filled and gone. Not here. Two hundred years after its creation, the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal, used to carry coal from the Black Mountains and the Valleys, is still is a vibrant waterway, although now more for relaxation than work. It’s a place to narrowboat or canoe or kayak down 35 miles through the dense green, quiet of woodland Wales, or bikeride with the family, or serenade ducks.

    (I'll never get anywhere holding Ursula like that)

    History - 7
    Ambiance - 8
    Acoustics - 6
    Tush magnets - 8
    Seclusion – 4 depending on the season. But the audience of canal boaters are always appreciative
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 4
    Drizzle shelters - 6
    Nearby snacks – 5 Llangattock and Crickhowell are nearby (nice bakery in Crickhowell)
    Cost - Nada. But you can rent boats and play to your heart’s content as the ducks follow you like the Pied Piper.

    Practicing alongside FFcP – And there IS lots of FFCP practice! Minor scales and by thirds. Chicago, Wyres Megan, and Tros y Garreg.

    Notes: The “metaphysical poet” Henry Vaughan grew up around here. Vaughan is part of a long tradition of poets from this corner of the world who straddle the line between humanism and faith, the natural world and the divine. He was also perhaps the first person to use the word “symphony” in literature to refer to something other than in a strict musical sense.

    In sacred hymns and order; the great chime
    And symphony of nature. Prayer is
    The world in tune,
    A spirit-voice,
    And vocal joys,
    Whose echo is heaven's bliss.
    O let me climb

    His twin brother, however, is another wunderkind. If you are a fan of Harry Potter, you should get to know the Rector of Llansantffraed, alchemist and seeker of the Philosopher’s Stone – Thomas Vaughan.
  36. greenwdse

    I’ve gotten more confident playing tremolo. Practice practice, I suppose. It’s always been that initial strike that’s been difficult for me. But all those triplet exercises I’ve been doing (thanks Ms Fibish!) has had the benefit of helping me through that tremolo kickstart. So since it’s March, and since my tremoloing has been coming along, I thought I’d give something a try.


    I have Caterina Lichtenberg’s voice going through my head as I play. Sink of where to let ze notes breeze. Yes ma’am. I promise not to disappoint you. Gonna do my best. I’m letting the notes breathe, making sure concentrate on each one, how it rings and how it moves into the next. The song starts with a D flat and works itself up an entire octave to the D flat on the A string. If you’ve never ‘eard Myfanwy, it’s a song about unrequited love – perhaps the most emotive.

    Why so the anger, Oh Myfanwy,
    That fill your dark eyes.

    In Welsh, everything sounds more intense.

    Paham mae dicter, O Myfanwy,
    Yn llenwi'th lygaid duon di?

    BBC Radio has a short programme on the song and it’s worth a listen. Explains it all.

    And I’ve come to perhaps the greyest place in the world to play it, - the mudflats of the northern Severn estuary. With the tide out, these wetlands around Newport are a quiet place, with just the sound of the foghorn far in the grey and the wading birds taking a breather from digging in the silt. A few decades ago, with the tide far out, archaeologists discovered nearby a set of footprints preserved in the estuary clay. People footprints. Two adults and a small child. A family, walking together along the shore. Over six thousand years ago.

    Much much MUCH later, a man was also heading this way, toward Cardiff, perhaps in a small boat that sailed just over the footprints. In the 1640’s, he was a man with a problem – whether to keep loyal to his king, or his friends and fellow Calvinists in favour of a Parliamentary uprising. He chose to stick with the King, and when the Roundheads (as the Parliamentarians were called) fell on Bristol, he fled. His name was Bishop James Ussher – the same Bishop Ussher whose claim to fame was working out the age of the universe according to scripture. He calculated its beginning at 4004BC. Right around the time a family was taking a stroll in the silt.

    I think too many people mock Bishop Ussher and his chronology. But I can’t begrudge a man for trying to do his best to figure stuff out, especially when I’m trying to master the intricacies of tremolo.

    History - 5
    Ambiance - 7
    Acoustics – what acoustics?
    Tush magnets – 5 Hope you like rocks
    Seclusion - 8
    Places to hang the gig bag - 0
    Drizzle shelters - 0
    Nearby snacks – 7 Goldcliff and the wetlands are on the Welsh Coastal Path. There’s a lovely cafe by the seawall (the Seawall Cafe) that serves a simple and lovely a cup of cappachino that you’ll ever have.
    Cost - Nada.

    Practicing alongside FFcP – Myfanwy and Don Julin’s pinky stretch exercises

    Notes: What caused the tsunami of 1607, immortalised in the plaque in the church at Goldcliff? Dunno. Or was it just a really really bad storm? Whatever it was that inundated Goldcliff caused the Severn to pour as far inland as Glastonbury.
  37. greenwdse

    When it rains, the Taff flows like malt into Cardiff. Just a castle away from the river is St David’s Hall, where Sarah Jarosz played not too long ago. A few weeks back, it was my turn.

    I’d feel really honored, footsteps of giants and all, if it wasn’t that I was performing on stage in an Aussie bush hat and a beer-themed waistcoat with big words in back: IF FOUND PLEASE RETURN TO THE PARTY.

    “Do I have to wear this on stage?” I ask John, the leader of the Buskuleles ukulele group I’m with. He nods and smiles. John insists we all have to wear waistcoats. I had to borrow this one from Bri, the bassist, because I burnt my old waistcoat with the iron. Sigh. Betcha Miss Jarosz never had to deal with issues like these.

    I shouldn’t complain. Two songs was our lot at the annual Cardiff Ukulele Festival (has anyone even noticed I don’t play uke yet? How long do you think I can keep foolin’ ‘em?) And let’s face it, playing with these guys has really helped me. Because of them, I can do chops now! Good ones!

    But, especially here in a room packed to the rafters with uke players, I can’t help but feel, um, culturally apart. A misfit. A stranger in a strange land. Play different. Talk different. Southpaw. New Yorker. Mandolinist. A wolf among the fold. And my instrument is bigger.

    And that’s a problem too. Size. I have to take a flight for the first time in over a decade and I just found out that British Airways will not, under any circumstances, allow Ursula to be close to me. I’d have to put her in the hold, because she’s over 22 inches. The hold! No way. It’s lousy because I haven’t gone more than 48 hours without practicing in over three years. She’s my security blanket.

    So to calm myself I decided to head up the Taff, to the great church on the Taff. Llandaff Cathedral.

    Llandaff has seen it all. It’s been a religious site for 1500 years. It’s been the site of some of the finest tales ever to be written in Welsh. It’s been the site of song for century after century. It’s been praised, plundered, pilgrimed. And, love it, it’s survived. Nothing shows how tough this unassuming but charming cathedral in a hollow by the Taff is, than a large crater just an ant's stroll from its walls.

    On the evening of 2 January in 1941, the skies above Cardiff went black with the drones of the Luftwaffe. Their target was mostly the docks. One parachute bomb fell beside Llandaff. It blew the roof off, wrecked the spire and to this day, you can still see the scars on the north wall. But the cathedral survived, and now daffodils grow beside the crater.

    I went to practice, where I have before, in the ruins of the Bishops Palace. But for three other visitors, at 9am, it was clearly time for some Carling.

    “A’rite, Butt?” one of them belched as I walked around looking for a seat. Yeesh. I found a quieter spot outside the palace gardens, much further away, near the ruins of the Bell Tower. I started practicing, and the cathedral would respond with its mighty bells. In anger? Or was it complimenting me? I don’t know.

    History - 8
    Ambiance – 2 to 7. . . depending on who’s about
    Acoustics - 3
    Tush magnets - 7
    Seclusion - 2
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 2
    Drizzle shelters - 9
    Nearby snacks – Best coffee in Cardiff at Jasper’s Tea Room.
    Cost - Nada. fee.

    Practicing alongside FFcP – Pentatonics Galore!

    Notes: The Book of Llandaff, compiled by someone in the cathedral whose name is lost to history, tells the story of the kings, queens, invaders and battles between the 6th and 11th centuries.

    Update: So I just received an email from BA. "Where possible we'll continue to allow on board those musical instruments (and cases) which are just slightly larger than the maximum hand baggage dimensions.However, please bear in mind that this won't always be possible - if a flight is very busy and there will be limited storage space on the aircraft per customer, but we assure you that we'll always try our best." To me that means they're gonna put her in the hold, aren't they? "Try our best?" Oy vey.
  38. greenwdse
    I’m having another “AHA-So-THAT’S-how-that-works!” moment. I’ve been working like the dickens on pentatonics, revisiting Brad Laird’s unparalleled lessons on pentatonic improv as a guide. They’re brilliant lessons that teach how to find pentatonics up and down the fingerboard. I wrote to him recently about it, when trying to cop his Mississippi Sawyer lesson. I told him that I can’t seem to force my brain to change pentatonics when the tunes are playing. When I’m listening to the music, I can’t seem to switch from a G to a C to a D. I wish someone would yell at me “C! NOW!!”

    “Time and milage,” Brad says. And he suggested that I work with Mississippi Sawyer itself. So I’m giving it a go. And some other stuff as well. Practice practice practice. I really want to crack this nut. But it ain’t easy. Take Whiskey Before Breakfast (although after lunch might be wiser). Brad has a nice little playalong practice on his site in three different speeds. I’m working on the one at 60bpm. The opening D is fine. .but then the chord changes to G, quickly back to D and then A. My head can’t seem to adjust to all that. Yes, I know where the G pentatonics are. And the A. But my brain isn’t moving fast enough to make those changes.

    I also downloaded a free thing called ChordsPlus Lite. Plug in what chords you want played, what tempo, what style (jazz, bossa nova, rock, easy listening) and it’ll pop out a nice little backdrop to practice changing pentatonics. I’m trying with that as well but it seems so difficult. I really could use a teacher.

    I’m not frustrated, mind you. Not much. Just unsure. But I think I’ve found just the right place to practice and contemplate pentatonics – the Chapter House of the Cistercian monks at Valle Crucis Abbey, cwtched deep in the peaceful hills of the Vale of Llangollen. The acoustics in this little vault are exceptional.

    When you think Cistercian, unlike Franciscan or Dominican, think “Gotta-Git-Away-From-It-All.” The doctrine of the Cistercians were to live as a community of hermits, far from the maddening crowds and getting their hands dirty, working the land.

    They built big glorious abbeys, from Hungary to Scotland with big rooms, big vaulting, big windows. These were the precursors to all the great European cathedrals – showing the way. And then they’d use all the latest hightech. Waterwheels, advanced metallurgy, practical farming instruments. They didn’t invent them, but they utilised the technology on a grand scale.

    Solitude, prayer and hard work may sound a labour of love. But staying pious is hard for any organisation trying to separate itself from the world and by the 13th century, the cracks were showing. When the citizens of nearby Llangollen were happy enough with the monks to grant them fishing rights in the River Dee, the monks showed their appreciation by building a river trap that monopolized all the fish. The citizens brought them to court but it was no surprise they lost their case. The judge was Valle Crucis’ abbot.

    Worst still, the border of Wales and England in the late 1200s was not quality real estate. And nuzzling up to Llywelyn and siding against Edward I in the war didn’t do the abbey any favours. After it was rebuilt, Valle Crucis slogged on, through more wars and fire and internal problems – like when the abbot was arrested for highway robbery - until Henry VIII and his kingly chutzpah did away with the abbeys and monasteries.

    History - 8
    Ambiance - 8
    Acoustics - 10
    Tush magnets - 7
    Seclusion - 4
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 4
    Drizzle shelters - 9
    Nearby snacks – 9
    Cost - £4 unless you have a Cadw card.
    Practicing alongside FFcP – Mississippi Sawyer

    Notes: I flew to Phoenix recently and like a schmuck I didn’t visit The Mandolin Store. Before you shoot me, please understand I didn’t have a car and public transportation in Phoenix isn’t stellar. You really want me to stand in 110 waiting a couple hours for a bus? But I did however visit the Musical Instrument Museum. Now they have Elvis stuff, Johnny Cash stuff, and Sarah Jarosz is playing there tomorrow. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice place. But their mando collection needs updating! They have three in a quiet corner. Can’t someone donate a Loar?
  39. greenwdse

    It’s not unusual to be flamboyant and eccentric.
    It’s not unusual to be a vegan and a nudist.
    And if that was all of Dr William Price’s eccentricities, no one would have ever considered him unusual.

    But he was unusual. Real unusual. Like a fiery green sun.

    And I’ve come to Pontypridd – where he had his practice, to practice “The Druid” - a nice bouncy Welsh jig I’ve gotten quite good at thanks to Ms Fibish’s teachings.

    Who was Dr Price you ask? Let me get out my Victorian cookbook and mixer. One Doctor William Price, coming up. Here are the ingredients:

    -Take one son of a rather erratic Oxford-educated minister.
    -Add one membership at the Royal College of Surgeons.
    -Mix in acceptance in the top echelons of Pontypridd society
    -A dollop of Welsh nationalism
    -A cup of revolutionary social ideals
    -A tablespoon of righteous indignation
    -A couple teaspoons of druidism
    -A heap of heretical blasphemy against the establishment
    -A sprinkling of hydra teeth from Keith Richards, Abby Hoffman, and Lord Summerisle,
    -Cook over decades in an environment rich in upheaval, and blackened by wealth, poverty and coal and you wind up with the Grandfather of Cremation. I don’t dare explain him, because I simply cannot. Nobody can. And, well, let’s just say he was a controversial figure. Doctor. Self-proclaimed Archdruid. Maverick.

    Pontypridd was his nest and where he treated his patients with his own concoctions. Quack? Maybe. But his practice was very popular. And during the late 1800’s, as he became more and more wild (no better word for him) he was embraced by the people here. So much so that they rejoiced when he was allowed to cremate his dead son even though it was against the law at the time. You might think of it as a pretty minor freedom, but the reason people were allowed to cremate loved ones in 20th century Britain was because Price “pioneered” it in the 19th.

    Pontypridd was a relatively large urban centre in Victorian Wales – where IT was happening, man. The coal came through here. The money. The action. And Price. This park, for instance, Ynysangharad War Memorial Park, where Price would have walked in his bright green clothes and fox fur hat, is one of the nicest urban parks in all of Wales filled with trees and playing areas, and the huge Lido Ponty. I’m sitting under the shadow of the statue commemmorating the writers of one of the most wonderful songs ever sung – Evan and James James, the father and son who wrote Wales’ national anthem ‘Hen Wlad fy Nhadau’.

    I don’t know if the old Welsh jig, “The Druid” is about Dr Price or one of the many neopagans in Victorian Britain. It could just be about a druid for all I know. But one thing is really clear. Mix it with the Manx song “Berree Dhone” (a good tune to practice improvising with) and you’ve got a Key of D winner.

    Besides all of this, I’ve been trying to improve my crosspicking. It seems I can’t enough crosspicking practice but after all the tons of practical exercises from dozens of sites over a dozen months, I’ve been craving a song that had some really interesting crosspicking challenges. But not too interesting to be too difficult. I’ve found a doozy. Delaware Hornpipe. Check out the B section. Isn’t that fab? I’ve figured out the trick to doing this is to shove in lots of doublestops there.

    History - 7
    Ambiance - 7
    Acoustics - 3
    Tush magnets - 10
    Seclusion - 2
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 9
    Drizzle shelters - 9
    Nearby snacks – Oh yea.
    Cost - Nada.

    Practicing alongside FFcP – The Druid/Berree Dhone, Crosspicking

    Notes: If you go to the south part of the park and walk down the Taff you wind up within a few minutes in Treforest, where one day in June 1940, a baby was born who had the most incredible voice the world has ever heard.

    Some people make a pilgrimage to Graceland and Memphis. But many others come here.
  40. greenwdse
    “You gotta see this,” the missus says flipping on the FreeSat.

    The BBC’s “The Detectorists” could be the only show on television that combines the fascination of history with the pitiful life of an aging wannabe mandolin player struggling to make decent chord changes.

    I love original ideas.

    Hey, it’s arrived! Marilynn Mair’s 100 Techniques & Exercises! This is just what I was looking for – something to help my practicing. Listen.

    “The most important aspect of all may be understanding when you need to step back from your playing to survey the situation and develop a game plan, to hear what you want before you play it, and to be able to figure out where you want your music to go. I can help with that.”

    I’m sold! On first glace, this looks fantastic. Perfect timing too. Because I’ve been slacking a bit.

    I’m a bit miffed at myself. I’ve quit something. Meillionen - an 18th c. Meirionydd dance . It’s easy enough – well most of it. But the 12-bar B? The first and last four bars are simple. But it’s the middle I can’t seem to memorise. I don’t know where it’s going, or why it’s even there. I can’t even hum it. It’s like a road I’m lost on. So I gave up. I’ve never done that because I like to persevere. Isn’t that what everyone teaches? I’ve even tried to make up my own middle four bars, but that just took the fun out of it. I don’t like giving up. Well, not in this anyway. But now that Ms Mair’s book is here, I have renewed vigor.

    Meirionydd isn’t too far from here – East, toward the mountains. In the other direction is that thing behind me. Criccith Castle. No building, anywhere, is better suited for its location than that castle atop of that rock. Llywelyn the Great built it. His son was imprisoned in it. It’s also a really nice spot to practice with the wind whipping about and the notes ringing across Cardigan Bay.

    Criccith is a gateway to the Llyn Peninsula and I’ve been spidering around the Llyn with family and Ursula in search of fun and beaches. In nearby Pwllheli there’s a Welsh music/book store packed with CDs. Avoid the sweetie shop next door but by all means, head to that Welsh shop.

    If you wanna get closer to the contemporary Welsh music scene, along with Bangor and Anglesey, you must go through here. There’s no place more packed with the sounds of Welsh than the Llyn. There are 10x more speakers and singers of Cymraeg here than Cardiff. It’s only in the most touristy spots, like Criccith and Porthmadog where you don’t hear it as much.

    The Llyn is rich in Dark Age history. The only reason it's called the Dark Ages is because we just don’t know as much about it as, let’s say, the medieval period. Few paper records. And many of the stories we have are infused with legends and fables.

    Before the Normans, this crook of the Llyn was called Dunoding.

    In the 400s, the Rome had had enough of defending Britain and informed everyone, “yer on yer own.” The wolves circled. The Saxons from the West. From the East, the Irish, who sent warriors, settlers, and preachers. The beach here was a popular landing spot.

    According to legend, King Cunedda (key-netha) comes down from Scotland, kicks the Irish invaders out of North Wales and divvies up land to his nine sons. Ceredig gets a place that would be called Ceredigion. Meirion gets Meirionydd. And so on. Dynon was given Dunoding (does everything have to sound so Tolkien?). Criccith was its capital. According to the legend, that is.

    Because Cunedda and his kids took north Wales from the Irish and made it their own, they helped safeguard a valuable resource, one that survives to this day. Cunedda brought with him Brythonic, the ancient Celtic tongue, a language the Welsh had been speaking as well. By winning, Cunedda and his descendants acted as a shield protecting early Welsh from irish gaelic or saxon germanic. It's one reason the Llyn is fiercely proud of the Welsh language.

    Without Cunedda, Welsh doesn’t survive. There’s no struggle for identity, no music to bind the workers in the coal mines and the slate quarries together. No Suo Gan. No Ar Hyd y Nos. No Myfanwy. And the whole world is a different place.

    A nice spot just outside of Criccith to practice is the secluded medieval home, Penarth Fawr.

    History - 7
    Ambiance - 9
    Acoustics - 10
    Tush magnets - 9
    Seclusion - 7
    Places to hang the gig bag - 9
    Drizzle shelters and Nearby snacks - 4
    Cost - Nada
    Practicing alongside FFcP - Pant Coran yr Wyn and Mair
    Notes: I’m proud to play a left handed instrument.
  41. greenwdse

    I love the Wye. She simply doesn't want to get angry or too emotional. She prefers to keep her temper in check. She wants to be mellow and easy and lovely, swaying and swirling in the September sunshine.

    I'm practicing on a tree branch in Bredwardine, but there's a few really nice spots all along the Wye you can practice. My goal is to one day do my FFCP meanderings in a canoe. How cool would that be?

    I've been a whirlwind of mando-activity over the past month. Melodies, chord changes, strum patterns, cross picking, Mair's stuff. To give you an idea, I've been working on making sure going into my tremoloes are smoooooooth by working on the jazz tune Margie. I've been working on perfecting the chords to Billy Bragg's "A New England" making sure I can switch cleanly when the key changes. I've been even trying my hand at imitating the rhythm of Nick Drake's River Man. That ain't easy on mandolin. C. Cm. Bb? is that it? Then Ab I believe. River Man is Moody. Etheral. Shadowy. Like an ancient dark orchard, of which there are plenty about here.

    So, Clive, the mandolinist from the local band Sloe Gin came by the uke rehearsal the other week and I was floored. Not only were the twenty or so ukes were drowned by the two mandos but Clint showed me how to play Steve Earle's Copperhead Road.

    "So what do I do?" I asked.

    "You hammer on the D chord. And then it's like this. "

    I tried to imitate, but my fingers just wouldn't do what I asked of them at a moment's notice. Still, after a week of practicing, I have it down now.

    This is what I'm craving. Someone brill to talk shop with! Someone to teach me a bit. Face to Face.

    Now what no one knows, and I'll tell only you guys (keep it under your hats) is that I'm being lured by another group. Wooed. Not ukes. Something very Welsh. I don't want my mates to know just yet because, well, I'll be honest, if I do leave, I'll feel like I'm letting them down. My playing has really improved because of them, and I'd feel like a jerk if I left. Besides, I like them all loads! But it would have to be one or the other. And the other is very interesting. I'll keep you updated.

    So much to think about. But when the sun is out, there are few better places to concentrate than next to the Wye in Autumn. Harvest season.

    There was a guy from Bredwardine, Rowland Vaughan. Rowland would walk the fields around here back in the 16th century. His wife would tell him to get out more, so he'd take strolls. One day, he noticed that the grass around molehills was more lush when the mole had burrowed by a riverbank. And it inspired him to see if the same thing couldn't be done on a larger scale.

    So he started creating a trench system through the fields (not too far from here actually). A sluicegate controlled the flow of water into the fields - opening it in times of heavy rain and closing it when the fields needed water. The trenches could also be used to carry produce to and from the mills by the fields. It was an astonishing success, boosting crop yields as if the fields were being powered by rocket fuel. Whenever you have your morning cereal, or drink your beer, think of Rowland walking the fields looking at molehills, because he helped to improve the irrigation methods that made modern commercial produce production possible.

    History - 7
    Ambiance - 9
    Acoustics - 2
    Tush magnets - 3
    Seclusion - 7
    Places to hang the gig bag - 2
    Drizzle shelters and Nearby snacks - 4
    Cost - Canoes can be about £30 an hour I think

    Notes: This is deep into Merrily Watkins' territory. Whenever I'm in the Marches, and visit these mournful churches, like the one in nearby Byford, with St Margaret guarding over the pews in her scarlet apple gown, I feel like I'm walking in her footsteps. Also. . I'm going to try to take some online advice and get lighter strings. I feel like I'm always pressing down on those frets far too hard.
  42. greenwdse

    Dear Mses & Mssrs Marshall, Lichtenberg, Julin, Fibish, Laird, Collins-Hill, Phillips, et al, et al:

    I'm scribbling this from a decrepit non-conformist chapel in Blaenafon in Wales. The pews have all been pushed like discarded dominoes up to the aisles above me. This is where the Dawnsywr Blaenafon Welsh Dance Group come to practice. They grew tired of using CDs for their 17th and 18th c. dances and started to hunt for musicians. And that's why I'm here! I'm busy playing with a talented fiddler and an equally talented guitarist, trying to keep up playing chords of a vast repertoire of traditional Welsh songs.

    And I'm learning a lot!

    “Sit between us,” the other two musicians said to me, because I felt I didn't have the confidence to play alongside. And so I did. As we all played “Ymdaith Gwyr Dyfnaint” and kept up with them thinking, “hey! This doesn't sound half bad!” I felt for the first time in my life that I've become a musician. Built on the shoulders of a ukulele troupe and taught by, well, all of you, I can finally say that I can truly make music. I'm helping people dance!

    So I wanted to write and say Diolch yn Fawr. Thank you for your tools, your time, your encouragement, your teaching and all your hard work. You've made a musician outta me.

    I wrote that earlier this week. And I meant every word.

    Blaenafon's an extraordinary place. To the people here, it's sadly just another valleys town – neglected, forgotten, struggling. But like all towns in the South Wales Valleys, this is where the muscle of Wales lies. The Welsh. There's no better word for them. All English words are inadequate. Up the road from the spooky decrepit (and at this time of year, chilly and damp) chapel, and where I sit right now, is a great symbol of that muscle – proud and cruel, powerful and haunting. A giant coal pit where miners helped create Britain.

    Once upon a time, centuries ago, this area was green and lush. Then came the industrial revolution and the landscape changed.

    As the author Alexander Cordell wrote, “no salmon leap in the river now, for it is black with furnace washings and slag, and the great silver fish have been beaten back to the sea or gasped out of their lives on sands of coal. No alders stand now for thy have been chopped as fuel for the cold blast. Even the mountains are shells, groaning in their hollows of emptiness, trembling to the arrows of the pit-props in their sides, bellowing down the old workings that collapse in unseen dust five hundred feet below. Plundered is my country.”

    Underneath my feet, thousands upon thousands of men ripped coal from the bowels of the earth, in blackness, breathing dust and smoke, just so they could earn enough to feed their children, and try to create a future for their family. They weren't expected to live past fifty. But their muscle was directly responsible for the energy that powered everything – to forge the steel, to run the railways, to propel the ships, to build a nation.

    All of Blaenafon is a World Heritage Site, and this place, known as Big Pit, is now a museum, created to honour this history. Tomorrow, I'll write more about what's across the street.

    History - 10
    Ambiance - 8
    Acoustics - 3
    Tush magnets - 9
    Seclusion - 2
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 9
    Drizzle shelters - 10
    Nearby snacks – 10
    Cost - Nada.

    Practicing alongside FFcP – Dozens of new things. I won't even start. But to give you one thing, I'm working on The Baron's offering of King of the Fairies. He had an online lesson just after about not pressing down on the frets too much, and so I'm trying to combine the two. I've always thought that's one thing I do far too much – press harder.

    Notes: You can go into the pit.
  43. greenwdse

    About a mile from Blaenafon's Big Pit is the Iron Works, where iron ore would be heated and molded to become steel. That steel wasn't just used to make, let's say, the railroad tracks around here. That steel was sent all around the world. It went to build tracks in Russia, in India, in Brazil.

    A century and a half ago
    , in those buildings behind me raged some of the hottest manmade fires on earth - the great furnaces that spewed out, 24/7, material that created the modern world. The iron would be melted down, released from impurities (slag) and molded into a shapes through channels that looked like piglets suckling from their mother. It would be called Pig Iron, and that would be taken away (often by the canal that leads to the docks of Newport) to forges all over Britain to be made into, e.g. railway tracks, or cables for bridges, or great gears.

    They started to extract and fire up the iron from these hills in the 1780s. By 1842, this place employed about 2000 people, and processed about 400 tons of iron per week in five furnaces. Men. women, boys and girls.

    Steel, of course, is also used for mandolin strings.

    Earlier this year, I posted something on the Cafe forums asking just what goes into the making of an acoustic string. I've seen videos on line, explanations, about how strings are made. But I wanted to know where the metal came from? And when it comes down to it, what IS the difference between, e.g. a La Bella string and a D'addario?

    I found out that the answer was complicated. But a few people replied and I'll try to make sense of it all here. Feel free to correct me if I don't have this quite right. Let's take a simple bronze string.

    Mandolin strings are made from bronze with an a steel core. The steel can come from anywhere - various continents, or recycled scrap (like that terrible Clio that I just got rid of - think! iron atoms in your string probably have come from where I sit. We're all connected, Dude). The bronze comes from a combination of copper and tin mined and recycled. The copper for that bronze might come from locations like a copper mine in Arizona. The mining company might also own rod mills and processing plants where, as one of the posters on the forum said, "the copper is turned into something useful," like wire. The wire might become electrical wire, or would form an bronze alloy with tin and be used for musical instruments. That wire would go to a manufacturer, where they'd cut, wind, flatten, coat, and whatever to it.

    The steel or the strings, like I said, might come from a variety of places, but that too would be sold to manufacturers as wire to be shaped, and in the case of those G and D strings, winded with the bronze.

    The difference with the tone and sound varies from how manufacturers shape that core, or wrap and coat and whatever the bronze.

    Now I THINK I have that right. Don't quote me.

    History - 10
    Ambiance - 9
    Acoustics - 3
    Tush magnets - 9
    Seclusion - 3
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 4
    Drizzle shelters - 10 Just head to the furnace
    Nearby snacks – 9 Blaenafon's a lovely little town.
    Cost - Nada.

    Notes. Wanna see how hard it was to live here 90 years ago? Of course you do. Where I sit is where they filmed BBC's magnificent Coal House.
  44. greenwdse

    I'm attending monthly Welsh music class/practice/jam in a local library. Ok, it's not completely local. It's a jaunt. But it's worth it. A couple fiddlers, a banjoist, guitarist, a nice little informal group that just gets together to learn a few songs each month. Luffly people who just like to get together and work together. Fab.

    I'm beginning to “network” I suppose. But it's still a tad difficult for me because I still feel inadequate. To be completely honest, I'm not sure what I'm nervous about. That I can't play like Johnny Staats? I know that. I'm not trying to. (Though I can dream, can't I?)

    Recently, I posted yet another Welsh song tab on a mandolin facebook site. But like these, if you've noticed, I don't post any videos of me playing. You can buy every book, get all sorts of accessories for your gig bag, purchase any number of posh plectrums, but the one thing you cannot buy is confidence.

    I tried to once – something I could post up here and you could see. But sure enough, as soon as I started “filming,” the notes left me. I get all sheepish – which being in Wales isn't SO terrible I suppose. What in Winneboujou am I so apprehensive about? What makes this even more odd is, with all my broadcasting experience, I'm not shy when the cameras start rolling.

    Anyhoo, besides the Welsh songs (like Abergenni – which I'm trying to perfect with a few Lichtenburg techniques), and the scales and basic training, I'm planning on taking another ArtistWorks course for three months soon – Mike Marshall's. Besides making sure my skills are improving, I'm hoping it will help boost my confidence because I can post videos there to him. Provided he doesn't call me a schmuck and tell me to stop playing, I think it'll be quite beneficial. The course is a Christmas prezzie of sorts from the missus (I get her Wild Turkey, she gets me mandolin courses). And more quality practicing during the holidays will mean I'm less crabby when the entire family comes over.

    Which leads into this wonderful segue.

    The War of the Roses was the Mother of all family fallouts. Don't expect me to give you the history lesson about it all. This is a mandolin site for goodnessakes. But to give you the rundown – it all started because of, well, don't think of roses or Lancasters and Yorks. . .think of two snakes – one red, one white - coming from the mouth a much larger angry golden snake. When the big golden snake dies, the two larger ones fight for control of their little patch of earth. They tangle all the time. Sometimes they give birth to babies. Red snakes and white snakes. And those tangle.

    The Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 was where all the white snakes finally took down the red ones. The Lancastrians (5000 red snakes) met the Yorkists (4000 white snakes) near this luffully huge abbey where there's plenty of seats around it to just practice all day long. Despite having the choice of ground and superior numbers, the Lancastrians not only lost, but many of their leaders took refuge inside this same abbey. Let's just say it wasn't a good sanctuary for them.

    There's all sorts of places to play around Tewkesbury. But the Abbey grounds are particularly splendid. They're relatively quite and comfy. Robins will come and sit on the bench with you just to listen to what you're doing.

    History - 9
    Ambiance - 7
    Acoustics - 2
    Tush magnets - 7
    Seclusion - 3
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 6
    Drizzle shelters - 10
    Nearby snacks – 10 Nice town Tewkesbury
    Cost – Nada but be sure to give a little something in the abbey

    Practicing alongside FFcP – Abergenni and the Wrexham Hornpipe.

    P.S. I know Mr Marshall is a stickler for posture. So I've found myself a cheap foldable footrest, so I don't have any excuses. Also, I'm trying to get into the habit of using my metronome. I really must focus more!
  45. greenwdse

    Sorry I’m late. I’m in the middle of a four month ArtistWorks course with Mike Marshall. How’s it going, you ask? Super. He’s very thorough, and pushes students to make their mandolins sing. Lots of slides, tremolos, expression. Most importantly, Mike gives suggestions on how to improve.

    I was terrified sending my first video. What if he came back and said I was drek?

    “Hey man. Doin’ alright. Posture’s good. What I wanna see is you keeping those fingers down on those strings, and not lift them unnecessarily.”

    And he’ll then suggest exercises. Plenty of suggestions. PLENTY. A month in, I was playing cleaner. More efficiently.

    Once a video is sent, Mike seems to respond about two weeks later. The guy must be swamped! How does he do it?

    I think the thing about having a teacher is not just learning but also this juvenile need to impress. I’m an old guy, but there’s still this immature desire within that wishes approval. Because I began on my own, with just internet courses and books to guide me, there isn’t any proper feedback from someone with experience. It’s as if I’m travelling on a road without destination. It’s refreshing to have that. And it forces me to improve.

    And Mike gives me a lot to work on. And to avoid distractions, this time 'round I'm in Talgarth, ancient capital of Brycheiniog, where Brychan the 5th century King of Brycheiniog lived with his three wives, 24 daughters and 22 sons. In 1972, a farmer here discovered an neolithic burial chamber while trying to clear some stones. During its excavation, archeaologists discovered a small bone with little holes in it. It was a 6000 year old flute, the earliest known musical instrument in Wales!

    I’m practicing Mike’s lessons on the steps leading up the eighty foot tall stone keep of Castle Bronllys, with the River Llynfi chugging far below me and surrounded by a white blossoming of February snowdrops. Now what makes this place such a great spot is that, well, there's no one here! Sure the A479 is a few yards away, but unless you peer over the hedges and through the tree branches, it's barely seen. Inside the keep are the ancient stairs that lead even further to the top. And OH the acoustics are magnificent. I'm like an ant playing in a giant stone toilet paper tube directing Liberty and Mississippi Sawyer to the overcast heavens above. Beat that!

    Since you’re here with me, spare a moment in thought for poor Jane Cave. Jane was born just over those trees in the mid 1700's. Very little is known about how she grew up, but she could write very very well. Her poetry is filled with her views of domestic life, friendship, marriage, angry kitchenmaids. But she also wrote poems about her terrible migraines and how despite the best doctors, no one could make the suffering go away.

    Not one short month for ten revolving years, but pain within my frame its scepter rears!
    In each successive month full twelve long days and tedious night my sun withdraws his rays!
    Leaves me in silent anguish on my bed, afflicting all the members in the head.

    History – 8
    Ambiance - 8
    Acoustics - 10
    Tush magnets - 6
    Seclusion - 7 When I say there's no one here, I mean there's hardly any visitors. But there is a home just nearby . So it's not quite the place for a full on jam session. But it is secluded enough for a good gentle practice.
    Places to hang the gig bag away from earwigs - 2
    Drizzle shelters - 1
    Nearby snacks – 5 And there’s one of the better garden centres just a mile south
    Cost - Nada.

    Practicing alongside FFcP – Redesigning Liberty using "target notes"

    Notes: The castle itself has a good history. Gerald of Wales in his travelogue mentions that someone died here after getting clobbered by a wayward rock (and so it goes) and it was also used by Llywelyn the Great as a place for diplomacy.
  46. greenwdse
    I'm lost. I made a mistake and now I'm lost.

    The right turn off the muddy path led me straight into a marshland, and lemme tell you, with the snow coming off the hills, that water is cold. My feet are soaked, my jeans are soaked, I'm crabby and yes, just maybe this was a stupid adventure to take with Ursula.

    I thought it'd make a nice getaway, looking for the stone circle deep in guts of Wales, on the Powys/Carmarthenshire border, have a sit, practice some triplets. But no. Here I am doing everything to keep from falling and wrecking my mandolin. Careless and dumb. You don't have to tell me. At least I'm alone and no one need know my shame.

    Why this place? Well, a little over four millenia, SOMETHING was going on here. This whole area (Jeez Louise, am I wet!) was some sort of religious hub. Very active, much in contrast to the place now. They placed stone rows here, and created a couple circles that now are so worn down I can't even see them. This was a bad idea.

    I have to admit. it's not just finding these stupid rocks that I'm having trouble with. It's these triplets. Ok, hear me out.

    I want to play triplets. Among all the other stuff, I want to play Welsh music and Klezmer (like Helen Adam of Fiddlebox) and so I need to learn the Art of Triplets. But everyone out there has their own method of doing it. Take a BCD triplet on the A string for example. Mike Marshall and Brad Laird do it one way with a down stroke, slide and then an "Up" to finish it. The Baron seems to do an UDU motion. Everyone is different and when they show in their videos, it's always with a song - not some small repetative exercise. Ok ok ok, I could be wrong. Maybe they ARE teaching with a repetative exercise, but I haven't seen it. (Forgive me if I'm wrong!) But because they are all different I am unsure what avenue to go down.

    Paddy Cummins at the Online Academy of Irish Music has some good free lessons on line. He suggests starting with a single note triplet. He plucks all the strings sans hammer for a quick DUD. So that's what I've been trying to do, and adding it slowly to some of the Welsh reels I know. Start slow. Build up speed. I'm trying.

    But then comes the BCD on the A. 235. How do I practice that? Paddy does a superfast DUD B,C,C#. I don't know if I should try that. I really doubt I can do it. And if I fail, then what?
    I just want to do it the right way. . .and I'm not sure where to start. And worse still, like a schmuck, I don't trust my fingers to fret fast enough. So I feel lost.

    Oh great, now I'm bleeding thanks to the gorse bush I just scraped. Wet, cold and bleeding. Nice. Real nice brainiac.

    No, this is just a pile of stones I'm sitting on contemplating how I'm gonna cross the stream to get back to the Panda.

    History - 7
    Ambiance - none today, that's for sure
    Acoustics - 1 The sound of running water is nice.
    Tush magnets - 1
    Seclusion - OH without a doubt 10
    Places to hang the gig bag away anything damp - 0
    Drizzle shelters - 0
    Nearby snacks - 0
    Cost - My shoes

    Notes: Can't find them. Nope. Maybe I should try to find another stone circle? Stonehenge is too touristy. What's more grand than Stonehenge?
  47. greenwdse
    Sure Avebury is the biggest and most grand stone circle in the world. .but you still can't play there when it's soaking wet.

  48. greenwdse

    Okay, the story starts, lovely little Berwick-upon-Tweed was (and still is!) a contested town, strattling the border of England and Scotland. It’s been fought over so much throughout its history. Battles have been waged here. Massacres! Revenge! You remember Braveheart doncha? Well, some of Mel Gibson was displayed here in 1305 as a message. In a treaty of 1502 that defined the demarcation line between the two nations, it was stated that the town was "of but not within the Kingdom of England." Got that? So sometimes, when there was an official document that needed to state that England and Scotland agreed to something, there was an added line that included a mention of Berwick. Keeping up? Good.

    Skip ahead a few years. According to the story, in 1853, the Crimean War was declared in 1853, and in the Declaration of War, Queen Victoria signs it, "Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, Ireland, Berwick-upon-Tweed and all British Dominions.

    The war ended with the Treaty of Paris BUT (and here's the fun part) doesn't include a mention of Berwick. SO, in theory, Berwick stayed at war with Russia.

    True story? Nah, pr'olly not. But just to make sure, in 1966 the mayor of Berwick met with Soviet delegates, exceeded his powers, and signed a new treaty adding, “Please tell the Russian people that they can sleep peacefully in their beds.”

    That's the Tweed behind me. I've been up here preparing myself for the next "Voyage of Mandolin Discovery." It's been a busy few months and in the next few posts I'll explain how. But lemme tell you something more about Berwick first.

    Off the high street in this small, but wonderfully historic town, there's an unassuming shadowy alleyway. Down it, there's a cozy music store I found quite by accident called The Music Gallery. Plenty of guitars, violins, a few ukes and OH mandolins galore! Vintage stuff, bowlbacks, unusual shaped things all reasonably priced, and up there on the wall, a couple Eastmans even! I felt lousy because I didn't need to buy anything. But it was a nice treat to find this diamond of a shop. So do me a flavour and if you are thinking about adding to your collection, visit this little shop in the alleyway by the North Sea.

    History - 8
    Ambiance - 6
    Acoustics - 4#
    Tush magnets – 8 The town walls are pretty nice with lots of benches
    Seclusion – 3-5#
    Places to hang the gig bag away from midges – 1
    Drizzle shelters - 8#
    Nearby snacks - 9
    Cost - Nada.

    Notes: James Redpath, an American journalist, was born here in the 1830s. In America, he became part of the anti-slavery movement writing articles condemning it under the name “Berwick.” After the war, her became the first superintendent of public schools in Charleston, putting 100 teachers to work teaching 3500 children, both white and African American.
  49. greenwdse

    Not everyone has a chance to play on board a doubledecker bus. But you have to take opportunities when they present themselves.

    I was mando-ing at an event with the traditional Welsh dance troupe I play with. Before us in the lineup, on the stage was a group of Appalachian cloggers dancing to a bluegrass trio. Oh for fun. I took Ursula out of her case and started to chop along from the grass near the stage. After they played, we got to talking to one another and I fell in love. Long story short, I've been to a few rehearsals with the band hoping to one day be good enough to play along with.

    This is a new thing for me - having to play with a small band, having to play melody.
    At my first rehearsal, the banjoist Lee was playing Old Joe Clark, then he gave me the nod. Solo time. And lemme tell ya, oy was I awful!

    But this is a learning experience. I'm gonna do this if it kills me.

    And it just might. . but I'll go down trying.

    Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, on the doubledecker somewhere in Northumberland. Once above York, the English landscape is a fertile land - fields like unrolled golden ribbon toward the Scottish border. The sky is blue and wide. It's no wonder over the centuries, everyone wanted a piece of it.

    So the Romans call it a day in 410, abandoning Hadrian's Wall, and the Angles from the Baltic fill the vacuum, taking advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves. For three hundred years they take over the entire east coast. Let's face it, if you are a farmer coming out of your hut first thing in the morning, you don't want to mess with armies marching up the hillside led by guys with names like Ida the Flamebearer. They were fiercely fierce and fiercely pagan.

    Then a king comes along and turns Northumbria into a powerhouse. His name was Oswald. He converted to Christianity when he was very young and exiled in Western Scotland. He returned to rule the kingdom and fight with, well, everyone that he could think of. Mercians coming up from the south? WHAM! Welsh oozing in from the west? BOFF! KAPOW! And like the Roman Emperor Constantine, he had divine visions. So not only did he have his armies baptised, he establishes the big hubs of worship throughout his lands, like the magnificent monastery at Lindisfarne.

    Oswald is killed at 38 because he tries to bite off more than he can chew fighting the Mercians far away in Oswestry, proving that not all opportunities should be taken. But Northumbria becomes a formidable nation of its very own for many many years to come where culture, technology and influence flourished.

    That is until a group of marauding crazies come from Scandinavia and take the opportunity to wreak havoc. As a farmer in 866, coming out of your hut first thing in the morning, you don't want to mess with armies of wild-eyed Vikings marching up the hillside led by guys with names like Ivar the Boneless. In fact, it's best to run.

    Ambiance - 7
    Acoustics - 8#
    Tush magnets – 10 Doubledecker!
    Seclusion – depends on who's driving
    Places to hang the gig bag away from midges – 10
    Drizzle shelters - 10#
    Nearby snacks - 1
    Cost - this one didn't cost me a thing
    Practicing alongside FFCP: Merch y Tafarnwr yn enwi'n Chariadon (The Innkeeper's Daughter Naming Her Lovers)

    Notes: I've left my pals with the Uke band. Too many other rehearsals, see. I shall miss them dearly.
  50. greenwdse
    So if I practice hard enough, do you think my new pals in the bluegrass band will let me play with them at the Bluegrass Festival in September? Oh I’d have to work like the dickens.

    “New River Train?” I ask out loud. “I’ve never heard that. And looking online, I don’t see any tabs for it. I’m on my own here.”

    After a few minutes though, I think I’ve figured out the melody on my own. For the next couple hours, I repeat it over and over again until I get it right.

    The trouble isn’t learning the melody. The trouble is, at this stage, is not having that melody break apart when you are playing with someone. Fretting when you are fretting is not easy to overcome.

    This is all new to me.

    I found a nice little bench to practice for a bit outside the town of Alnwick in Northumberland.

    This place does NOT have a good reputation with mandolins. In the future, Q and Paramount takes Picard and other officers from the USS Enterprise back to merry ‘ol England and turned them into Robin Hood and his men. It was in the Alnwick Castle grounds behind me where they filmed Worf deal with Geordie trying out his mandolin in the woods. Worf calmly takes the bowlback and slams it into a tree. “Sorry,” he says, handing back what’s left.

    Remember how you learned in school that in 1066, William the Conqueror and his angry band of Normans come across the sea, and overwhelm the Saxon army at Hastings, shooting King Harold through the eye and take over the kingdom? Sure you do. What you might not know is what happens next. And it ain’t good.

    William marches north to London. Everyone flees. Saxon nobles take refuge in Scotland, including a guy named Edgar Ætheling who is, get ready, now King of England after Harold dies. Edgar, not stupid, surrenders and gives his allegiance to William. But many of the old Saxon lords are still threatening. So William keeps heading north. What happens next is dreadful. And horrible. And is, for the most part, an almost forgotten piece of history – turning the entire countryside into a zone of death. Few are spared. It’s known as the Harrowing of the North.

    William dies just over a decade later, in France no less, and his son, William Rufus takes over. Now, this is where things get truly wild, because all of Britain is suffering from aftershock, and is in the hands of two musclemen – Rufus, and Malcolm III of Scotland. These are two guys do not care about anyone or anything. Both have nasty temperaments. And both crave power. Worse still, they hate each other. Edgar Ætheling tries to act as a mediator between them but fails and the area where I’m sitting turns into a theatre of war.

    Enter yet another powerhungry demigod-wannabe – Robert de Mowbray. Mowbray is Earl of Northumberland and has conspired against Rufus. But he’s pardoned and now goes to tackle Malcolm at Alnwick. In the end, everyone dies.

    - Malcolm and his son are killed at the Battle of Alnwick.
    - Mowbray wins, but just two years later goes back to fighting William. He’s caught a few miles from here and is imprisoned in Windsor Castle for the rest of his life.
    - William is murdered while out hunting, probably by his own troops. He was not liked.

    So why on Earth would you want to come here at all? Because Alnwick is home to a place called The Origami Café that serves the BEST milkshakes in England. End of.

    Ambiance - 5
    Acoustics - 2
    Tush magnets – 4
    Seclusion – 3
    Places to hang the gig bag away from midges – 2
    Drizzle shelters - 2
    Nearby snacks - 9
    Cost - The castle is £16 for entry. Uff da!
    Practicing alongside FFCP: Hedwig's Theme
    Notes: That castle appears in quite a few Harry Potter films.
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