Hamish & Freya

I haven’t put any new pictures of our baby son Hamish on my website for a long time, mainly due to the hassle of doing the html, selecting and resizing the pictures. Perhaps having a blog will be a way of ensuring that I put family pictures up more often, something about which I’m sure our families back in the UK will be most pleased about!

So, here’s a nice picture of Hamish, taken on 9 November 2006.

And while we’re at it, here’s one of Freya tucking into her lunch on 1 November 2006:

Pictures are taken with a Nikon D70s (which I bought just a couple of months before the D80 came out — grrrr!)

I’m going to invite some friends and family to my Vox account now to see how the whole thing works. Please post a comment if you get a message about this. Fingers crossed!

My first blog entry… EVER!

So I’m a blogger now I guess. Although I suppose that having a blog does not make one a blogger. It is the act of blogging on a blog that makes one a blogger.

I’ve never done a blog before and, to be honest, am not sure about how it all works. I found my way to Vox after seeing Anil Dash of Six Apart on episode 36 of Cranky Geeks. It seems to have a nice interface with a similar feel to Backpack (a now defunct product that was run by 37 Signals, now Basecamp), which I love and is the only Web 2.0 service to which I have a paid subscription. (I do pay the $2 donation to Leo Laporte each month).

On the subject of Leo Laporte, I discovered podcasting about a year ago and it’s annoying that I don’t recall exactly how it came to my attention. I think that the first podcast I listened to was Steve Gibson’s Security Now podcast, co-hosted by Leo. It wasn’t long until I discovered TWiT and all the other TWiTcasts. The first TWiT I listened to was episode 24 (26 September 2005).

I guess I really discovered Vox on Inside the Net when Mena Trott of Six Apart was on there (episode 28), but I’m a bit slow to catch up with blogs and things.

Podcast Cover Art

I actually have my own podcast, called Wood & Steel and hosted at Big in Japan (which I also learned about on Inside the Net). I’ve only done three podcasts thus far, but plans are in the works. It’s going to be interviews of acoustic guitar players and builders. It’s available for subscription through iTunes and it should get off the ground in the new year when I finish translating the book I’m working on on Russian archaeology (currently 80% done of the first draft with 15000 words left to do by 15 December – yikes!)

I think it will be a lot of fun to keep this blog going and it will be useful for me to refer back to things. I’ll see how it goes.

Steve Kaufman Acoustic Kamp, 2005

The Picture Gallery is now online. If anyone would like a high-resolution original of any of the pictures in the gallery, email me using the link in the footer and I’ll be happy to oblige.

If anyone would rather not have their picture on the Web, let me know and I shall remove it.

Photo Gallery

Well, that’s me back from two weeks at Kaufman Acoustic Kamp in Maryville, Tennessee.

I met Richard, a 7-time Kamper with a CA guitar and a mandolin, at Detroit airport on the Sunday morning on the way to Knoxville. We had a good chat and arrived at Knoxville feeling excited. There were several more folks with instrument cases out on the pavement awaiting the Kamp shuttle and the sense of excitement was palpable (as was the humidity!)

I got to Kamp and met my good friend Dave S. in the registration hall. The feeling was like nothing I’ve felt – travelling all that way on the recommendation of Dave to spend two weeks in what could only be described as acoustic heaven.

Registration dealt with, we headed to our dorm room in Carnegie Hall (yes, I’ve now played in Carnegie Hall!) The room was basic, but comfortable, and for all the time we spent in there, it was just fine. Thankfully there was an Ethernet port in the room so I could stay in touch with Lorraine on MSN and keep up to date on how Freya was getting on.

On the Sunday evening several folks gathered in Carnegie Hall’s lobby and the jamming commenced. That set the scene for the next two weeks. As a relative newcomer to flatpicking, I was having difficulty playing ‘up to speed’ but still attempted to take some breaks when I was given the nod. At no time was I ever made to feel like a beginner and received much encouragement. On a few occasions I was asked to call the tune and would start it off at my own pace. By the time it got back round to me again, the pace had doubled, but it was a great learning experience for me and I found that, by the end of the two weeks, I was a better and more experienced player than on that first Sunday night.

One picker who stood out head and shoulders above the rest (even when seated!) was Steve Kilby. A more unassuming and friendly player you could never hope to meet. And his picking was simply sublime. He makes a good role model for technique – his economy of movement on both hands is astounding and he never strays far from the melody. And man, when he gets going with those eighth notes, he’s like a machine gun, never skipping a beat but somehow keeping a huge amount of soul in the playing. His wife Penny was great fun, too. I spent a couple of mealtimes in the chow hall chatting to them both.

I won’t go into details about each class, as it would take too long; suffice it to say that the teaching was really good, but, in some senses, two hours with each instructor was not enough. On the other hand, the short sessions with each instructor gives you the opportunity to get instruction and advice from such a diverse group of players as Roy Curry, Beppe Gambetta, Dan Crary, Tony McManus and Slavek Hanzlik. Not one of the instructors had the same approach, although, naturally there was some crossover.

One of the points I’ve brought home with me is Dan Crary’s approach to learning the melody before attempting to play it, and moving away from the tablature. I’m pretty much a tab slave and, having learned Tony McManus’s King of the Pipers by ear, know the value that learning by ear can have, both in terms of achieving one’s own sound and in aiding memory retention.

I did a couple of masterclasses during the first week, one with Steve Kaufman and one with Roy Curry. Both picked up on similar technical issues and I am able to work on those right away. I believe the masterclasses were new for 2005 and they were a great idea.

Those who’ve never been before may appreciate an explanation of how Kamp is structured.

Breakfast is from 7.30 to 9.00. You’ll be there at 7.30 on day one (we actually got it wrong and was there at 7.00!) but, as Kamp progresses, you’ll either be running to make it at 5 minutes to 9, or will skip it all together.

From 8.30 to 9.15 there is an organised slow jam. This involves playing a bunch of well-known fiddle tunes at under 100bpm and is a good opportunity to learn the chords for rhythm playing or to practice your lead runs at a reasonable pace.

Classes run from 10 to 12 then 2 to 4. There is another slow jam at 4.15 or the chance to attend one of several focus panel discussions, masterclasses or one of the orchestras. The focus panel discussions were varied and interesting, such as a Celtic jam session with Tony McManus and Robin Bullock or learning to play by ear with Dan Crary. There are sign-up sheets for the masterclasses and classes are limited to eight students. This gives you the opportunity to play in front of one of the instructors and have your playing critiqued. This was invaluable for me. During the first week there was a guitar orchestra run by Beppe Gambetta. Practice sessions were during the 4.15 slot each day with the orchestra playing on the Saturday evening. It’s a shame that one has to make such tough choices every day about masterclasses, focus panel discussions, orchestra or slow jam, but there are only so many hours in the day.

A couple of the class slots were taken up by class scrambles. This gave everyone the chance to visit a class outside of their own timetable, e.g. flatpickers could attend fingerstyle classes, guitar players could go to mandolin classes, etc. That was a great idea. Wednesday had a class scramble in the morning and a workshop in the afternoon with the bluegrass band Hiwassee Ridge (who also ran sound for the evening gigs impeccably). That offered up a chance to have a break and catch up on some sleep, some email or simply relax in a jam somewhere. During that afternoon of the second week, I joined a small circle outside the Kamp store where we were treated to a couple of tunes by Tony McManus. What a treat! On the first week, I spent that same time jamming with Rolly Brown!

There were a few classes on theory and chord substitution which I found really interesting. Rolly Brown explains this very well and, whilst it can seem somewhat overwhelming at first, he was only too happy to explain it further. I took his class twice and recorded it so maybe by next year I’ll be making chord substitutions successfully! I missed August Waters’ class, which was a shame as I’m told he explained some more theory really well. I was just too tired and something had to give.

As with Rolly, all of the instructors were only to happy to sit down and talk to you outside the classroom and help you out with any queries. I asked John Carlini to explain minor keys to me outside the cookhouse and had Tony McManus join us midway through. If you want to know anything about any aspect of music theory, John Carlini’s your man. I still walked away feeling as if I’d asked Einstein to explain the laws of physics, but nevertheless, I’m sure I learned something, even if I don’t yet know what it is!

Each evening saw a programme of concerts from the instructors, starting out with an open mic from 7.00 to 7.30. I performed once each week and really enjoyed it, particularly so as I was joined in my second performance by Tony McManus! That was a dream come true. One of the great things about performing at the open mic is the support and congratulations that you get from everyone afterwards. It really does one’s ego good and both inspires and encourages to a great degree.

The concerts were structured in such a way that each performer had a 20-minute slot with no encore. That meant the concerts were done by 10.30 and we could go and get some jamming done while we were feeling fired up.

Every concert was as good as the last. One of the things I found about Kamp is that the outside world fades out of existence and all the barriers that one might erect during the course of one’s every-day life simply disappear. That left me in that magical place of being open, feeling vulnerable and sensitive and it made the music so powerful that I was in tears at the concerts every night. There were too many performances to review them all, but one of the standout ones had to be Jim Hirst and Missy Raines. I’ve never seen a standup bass played like that in all my life, and the two of them went so well together. Likewise Stephen Bennet (guitar, harp guitar) and Bill Gurley (fiddle). There’s was the first of many performances to receive a standing ovation. They did one tune called The Beautiful Sky that would move a grown man to tears, and indeed it did.

Following the concerts each evening, there was an open mic in the café, Isaac’s, which ran from 11 to 1.00 during week 1, and 10.30 to 12.30 during week 2. This was a great opportunity to sit down and have a burger and listen to some great performances, or as a practice ground for performing at the open mic on the big stage.

Between the two weeks, Dave and I took a trip to see Bill Warmoth of Artisan Guitars in Franklin, TN. His store is really nice and I urge you all to visit and support Bill in any way you can. We also met Joe Carpenter there, a player that I met at an RMMGA gathering in the UK a few months ago. It was kinda weird to go somewhere I’ve never been and meet up with an old friend. Playing guitar really is starting to make the world smaller! Bill put Dave and me up at his home and treated us to some of the best hospitality I’ve ever had the good fortune to receive. He and his family are great people and I shall treasure that memory for many years. I hope I can return the hospitality one day, Bill! It did us both good to get away for the weekend and get a break from Kamp and the road trip gave us a great opportunity to listen to the various CDs we’d bought at the Kamp store.

I recall walking to the cookhouse on the first day and being simply overwhelmed by the whole thing. There I was, back on a college campus but, instead of tired looking students carrying their essays and library books to class, there were people with instruments everywhere you looked, either walking with them to class or sitting in little groups on the grass in the shade of a tree jamming away. It really made it feel like acoustic heaven.

The jams were terrific and went on long into the night. And they were everywhere: in people’s rooms, in hall lobbies, out on the grass, in every corner of the campus. There were bluegrass jams, the ubiquitous fiddle tunes, and songs of all kinds (well, except for rap and that grungy yelling that seems to popular these days – am I getting old?)

Spending time with Dave was a good thing for me. He and I roomed together for the duration and we became firm friends during our time there. I thank you Dave for all those good times spent in the room together with our guitars and a cooler-full!

So, I shall finish off now. I could write the same again but shall refrain from doing so.

In short, my camp experience has changed my playing for good. (and my CD collection, too) If I remember any important stuff that I’ve omitted to mention, I’ll pop back and let y’all know.

Cheers a’body


Back in December 1991, I decided I’d like to learn to play acoustic guitar. Another of my mates decided the same, so we headed off to Glasgow with a guitar-playing friend to choose a guitar each. I ended up with an Aria dreadnought and started learning. That guitar travelled with me through university and saw many beach parties, bonfires, and even went with me to Almaty when I was working out there. It was also with that very same guitar that I wooed my wife-to-be when first we met in the Bradford uni halls of residence!

It is now suffering from fret-wear and in December 2002 I decided that I needed a new guitar to get me back the enthusiasm I used to know and enjoy. After much research, I got my Lakewood and the spark was rekindled. I’ve got more and more passionate about acoustic guitar with each passing month; in the Internet age it’s so easy to find like-minded people who eat, sleep and drink acoustic guitars, and some of my favourite haunts are listed on the [Links page][1].

[1]: http://celticguitartalk.com/assets/guitars/links.shtml

The type of guitar music I like to play and listen to is varied, although of late I’ve come to favour Celtic fingerstyle since discovering the music of Tony McManus and El McMeen. That sort of music makes my hairs stand up on end, no doubt partly due to my being a proud Scot. I also enjoy country blues such as Mississippi John Hurt, and have learned a lot from fellow guitar addict and Internet friend, Little Brother. [LB’s site][2] is a gold mine of lessons, reviews and general guitar-related stuff, well worth checking out!

[2]: http://littlebrother.nlpd.com/

Bourscheid Castle – Luxembourg Travel

Bourscheid Castle

Bourscheid Castle is a mediaeval castle dating from 1384. It’s in the east of the country, near the town of Diekirch. It ties in nicely with a trip to the beautiful town of Esch-sur-Sûre, so put that on your itinerary for a spectacular day.

I lived in Luxembourg from 2001–2008. Whenever we had visitors come, we would ‘do the castles’, something Luxembourg is very good for.

If possible, visit in the autumn. I’ve included some photos in my gallery below that were taken on 1 November 2003 and you’ll see the stunning colours of the surrounding forestry. Of course back in those days digital photography was quite a new thing and I was shooting on my first digital camera, a Minolta F100 and didn’t really know what I was doing. Even so, the colours are pretty vibrant.

I went back in 2007 as part of a photography course with Robin Jensen, this time with my Nikon D70s. That was about the time I was starting to take my photography more seriously and growing into it.

I remember there being a café there in the summer months, but check do check before if you’re planning a visit and want to eat something there.

And if you’re thinking of eating lunch in Esch-sur-Sûre, try and do that before 2 in the afternoon, as I seem to recall that everything shuts after that. That was back in the 2000s so Luxembourg might have gone a bit more capitalist since then, but do check!

Beaufort castle

Beaufort castle is in Luxembourg’s Müllerthal region, also known as Little Switzerland. The scenery in the region is quite spectacular, and driving around the winding roads is great fun — if you like that sort of thing. The castle suddenly appears as you round a bend and BLAM – its beauty hits you right between the eyes.

It’s a great region for cycling too, although I’ve yet to try it. Some of those hills though – phew!

Tam o’Shanter

When chapman billies leave the street,
And drouthy neebors neebors meet,
As market-days are wearing late,
And folk begin to tak the gate;
While we sit bousin, at the nappy,
And gettin fou and unco happy,
We think na on the lang Scots miles,
The mosses, waters, slaps, and stiles,
That lie between us and our hame,
Whare sits our sulky, sullen dame,
Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.

This truth fand honest Tam o’ Shanter,
As he frae Ayr ae night did canter:
(Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpasses,
For honest men and bonie lasses.)

O Tam! had’st thou but been sae wise
As taen thy ain wife Kate’s advice!
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
A bletherin, blusterin, drunken blellum;
That frae November till October,
Ae market-day thou was na sober;
That ilka melder wi’ the miller,
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
That ev’ry naig was ca’d a shoe on,
The smith and thee gat roarin fou on;
That at the Lord’s house, ev’n on Sunday,
Thou drank wi’ Kirkton Jean till Monday.
She prophesied, that, late or soon,
Thou would be found deep drown’d in Doon;
Ot catch’d wi’ warlocks in the mirk,
By Alloway’s auld haunted kirk.

Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet,
To think how monie counsels sweet,
How monie lengthen’d sage advices,
The husband frae the wife despises!

But to our tale:-Ae market night,
Tam had got planted unco right,
Fast by an ingle, bleezing finely,
Wi’ reaming swats that drank divinely;
And at his elbow, Souter Johnie,
His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony:
Tam lo’ed him like a vera brither;
They had been fou for weeks thegither.
The night drave on wi’ sangs and clatter;
And ay the ale was growing better:
The landlady and Tam grew gracious
Wi’ secret favours, sweet, and precious:
The souter tauld his queerest stories;
The landlord’s laugh was ready chorus:
The storm without might rair and rustle,
Tam did na mind the storm a whistle.

Care, mad to see a man sae happy,
E’en drown’d himsel amang the nappy:
As bees flee hame wi’ lades o’ treasure,
The minutes wing’d their way wi’ pleasure;
Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious,
O’er a’ the ills o’ life victorious!

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white–then melts forever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.
Nae man can tether time or tide:
The hour approaches Tam maun ride,-
That hour, o’ night’s black arch the key-stane
That dreary hour he mounts his beast in;
And sic a night he taks the road in,
As ne’er poor sinner was abroad in.

The wind blew as ‘twad blawn its last;
The rattling show’rs rose on the blast;
The speedy gleams the darkness swallow’d;
Loud, deep, and lang the thunder bellow’d:
That night, a child might understand,
The Deil had business on his hand.

Weel mounted on his grey mare, Meg,-
A better never lifted leg,-
Tam skelpit on thro’ dub and mire,
Despising wind and rain and fire;
Whiles holding fast his guid blue bonnet,
Whiles crooning o’er some auld Scots sonnet,
Whiles glowrin round wi’ prudent cares,
Lest bogles catch him unawares.
Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,
Whare ghaists and houlets nightly cry.

By this time he was cross the ford,
Whare in the snaw the chapman smoor’d;
And past the birks and meikle stane,
Whare drucken Charlie brak’s neckbane:
And thro’ the whins, and by the cairn,
Whare hunters fand the murder’d bairn;
And near the thorn, aboon the well,
Whare Mungo’s mither hang’d hersel.
Before him Doon pours all his floods;
The doubling storm roars thro’ the woods;
The lightnings flash from pole to pole,
Near and more near the thunders roll;
When, glimmering thro’ the groaning trees,
Kirk-Alloway seem’d in a bleeze:
Thro’ ilka bore the beams were glancing,
And loud resounded mirth and dancing.

Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
What dangers thou can’st make us scorn!
Wi’ tippenny we fear nae evil;
Wi’ usquebae we’ll face the devil!
The swats sae ream’d in Tammie’s noddle,
Fair play, he car’d na deils a boddle.
But Maggie stood right sair astonish’d,
Till, by the heel and hand admonish’d,
She ventur’d forward on the light;
And, wow! Tam saw an unco sight!

Warlocks and witches in a dance;
Nae cotillion brent-new frae France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels
Put life and mettle in their heels.
A winnock bunker in the east,
There sat Auld Nick in shape o’ beast:
A towzie tyke, black, grim, and large,
To gie them music was his charge;
He screw’d the pipes and gart them skirl,
Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl.-
Coffins stood round like open presses,
That shaw’d the dead in their last dresses;
And by some devilish cantraip sleight
Each in its cauld hand held a light,
By which heroic Tam was able
To note upon the haly table
A murderer’s banes in gibbet airns;
Twa span-lang, wee, unchristen’d bairns;
A thief, new-cutted frae the rape–
Wi’ his last gasp his gab did gape;
Five tomahawks, wi’ blude red-rusted;
Five scimitars, wi’ murder crusted;
A garter, which a babe had strangled;
A knife, a father’s throat had mangled,
Whom his ain son o’ life bereft-
The grey hairs yet stack to the heft;
Wi’ mair o’ horrible and awfu’,
Which ev’n to name wad be unlawfu’.

As Tammie glowr’d, amaz’d and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious:
The piper loud and louder blew,
The dancers quick and quicker flew;
They reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit
And coost her duddies to the wark
And linket at it in her sark!

Now Tam, O Tam! had thae been queans,
A’ plump and strapping in their teens!
Their sarks, instead o’ creeshie flannen,
Been snaw-white seventeen hunder linen!-
Thir breeks o’ mine, my only pair,
That ance were plush, o’ gude blue hair,
I wad hae gien them aff y hurdies,
For ae blink o’ the bonie burdies!

But wither’d beldams, auld and droll,
Rigwoodie hags wad spean a foal,
Lowping and flinging on a crummock.
I wonder didna turn thy stomach.

But Tam ken’d what was what fu’ brawlie;
There was ae winsom wench and wawlie,
That night enlisted in the core
(Lang after ken’d on Carrick shore.
For monie a beast to dead she shot,
And perish’d monie a bonie boat,
And shook baith meikle corn and bear
And kept the country-side in fear);
Her cutty sark o’ Paisley harn,
That while a lassie she had worn,
In longitude tho’ sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie.
Ah! little ken’d thy reverend grannie,
That sark she coft for her wee Nannie,
Wi’ twa pund Scots (’twas a’ her riches),
Wad ever grac’d a dance of witches!

But here my Muse her wing maun cow’r,
Sic flights are far beyond her pow’r;
To sing how Nannie lap and flang,
(A souple jad she was and strang),
And how Tam stood like ane bewitch’d,
And thought his very een enrich’d;
Even Satan glowr’d and fidg’d fu’ fain,
And hotch’d and blew wi’ might and main:
Till first ae caper, syne anither,
Tam tint his reason a’ thegither,
And roars out, “Weel done, Cutty-sark!”
And in an instant all was dark:
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
When out the hellish legion sallied.

As bees bizz out wi’ angry fyke,
When plundering herds assail their byke;
As open pussie’s mortal foes,
When, pop! she starts before their nose;
As eager runs the market-crowd,
When “Catch the thief!” resounds aloud;
So Maggie runs, the witches follow,
Wi’ monie an eldritch skriech and hollo.

Ah, Tam! ah, Tam! thou’ll get thy fairin!
In hell they’ll roast thee like a herrin!
In vain thy Kate awaits thy comin!
Kate soon will be a woefu’ woman!
Now, do thy speedy utmost, Meg,
And win the key-stane of the brig:
There at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they dare na cross.
But ere the key-stane she could make,
The fient a tail she had to shake!
For Nannie far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle-
Ae spring brought aff her master hale
But left behind her ain grey tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

Now, wha this tale o’ truth shall read,
Ilk man and mother’s son, take heed,
Whene’er to drink you are inclin’d,
Or cutty-sarks run in your mind,
Think, ye may buy the joys o’er dear,
Remember Tam o’ Shanter’s mare.