Sheffield, not exactly a hot bed of classical guitar happenings, will be treated to not one but two guitar recitals in March, when Nick Fletcher and Eddie Foster perform at the Sheffield Cathedral.
The free lunchtime recitals (donations towards the Cathedral welcome) take place most Fridays at 1.15pm in the main part of the cathedral, where the vast acoustics make for a very mellow and magical sound. Perfectly timed to fit into a lunch hour, the recitals are a great way to take some time out, relax, reflect, and enjoy some wonderful music.
I enjoyed Jill Crossland’s piano recital back in January, where I enjoyed her vibrant and impassioned playing of some of my baroque faves – Scarlatti and Bach among them.
I sat rather gingerly a bit far back, which meant some of the faster playing was a little blurred in the large, reverberating acoustics. My tip – don’t be afraid to get up close and personal if you want to hear the music at it’s best!
Nick Fletcher, Guitar
On Friday 24th, local Classical Guitarist Nick Fletcher will be playing a mixed programme of classical guitar repertoire including his own compositions. Here’s a video of Nick playing the classic Carcassi A major study and a link to his Facebook page:
The following Friday 31st (when I’ll be on a train to London for my Stag Do !!), fellow hirsute strummer (and artist) Edward Foster will also perform his own compositions – from his recently released album. His lush tone and romantic stye should really sing in the cathedral!
With each new beginner guitar pupil I meet, I find myself recommended certain must-have bits of gear – things I think make a guitarist’s life that little bit easier. Over the years I’ve found myself trying all sorts of different gadgets and gizmos, designed to improve our playing and make gigs run like clockwork.
Here are my top 4 recommendations for the guitarists toolbag – tech and gear I wouldn’t do without. It’s useful not only for guitarists, but for friends and family of guitarists who might be looking for great gift ideas for their budding Hendrix!
So, up first, Tuners:
1. Clip-on Tuners
Clip-on tuners are a great invention. Small enough to fit in your gig bag, and powerful enough to quickly pick up chromatic tunings through the vibrations of your guitar. There’s now a dizzying array of these on offer – just look at the range available from Rich Tone Music here…
If, like me, you often can’t remember why you just walked up the stairs, or where the cup of tea you just made disappeared to, you might also, like me, struggle to remember where your recently purchased clip-on tuner ended up clipped-on.
But, you always have your smart phone on you, right?
So, it’s lucky then that plucky I.T. entrepreneurs have flooded the Android and IOS App market with tons of free tuning apps. I like the recently pimped up TUNA tuning app.
There’s a more in-depth review of it here, but it’s a really easy-to-use app which can auto detect the note you’re playing (through your phone/tablet microphone so not ideal in noisy gig environments – hence the clip-on tuner’s use) It has an interesting and intuitive seismograph-esque display to help you tune up or down, and it gives you a little congratulatory beep when you get the note in tune. It’s got something of the computer game about it.
Thanks to the graphic display of the headstock and large note names, it’s great for beginners just getting to grips with learning the open strings, which tuning peg are which, and which way to turn it and the ‘AARGH I’M GOING TO PULL MY HAIR OUT’ sort of feeling when tuning. With this app you’ll be breezing through your tuning in no time.
(As an aside, it’s worth mentioning that I always encourage guitarists to tune their guitar EVERY TIME they pick it up, even if they think it’s in tune, or it was only tuned ten minutes ago. I am convinced there are impish little creatures who sneak around when our backs are turned to fiddle with tuning pegs – sometimes even when we’re playing.)
The app also has some fun learning games, and a very good Metronome. If you’re still not convinced, see this Youtube review here…
More advanced players might find it a little toy-like, and opt for more streamlined apps such as Cleartune, or the retro vintage valve vibes of Chromatic Guitar Tuner. There’s loads to choose from. Like I said, developers developed the heck out of tuning apps!
Here’s a good article listing some of the top Android apps out there to help you decide:
Essential to avoid getting R.S.I’s, and not to mention extreme boredom, when changing your strings. Because you’re a good pupil, and practicing an awful lot every day, you’ll no doubt need to change your strings at least once a month, right? So, save yourself hours over the course of a year (I’ve done the maths, this is a fact) by using one of these nifty gadgets to quickly un and re-wind your string tension.
You can pick these up for one or two pounds in your local music shop, or if you’re feeling flush, get one of these winders with in-built wire cutter, for removing excess string
For Classical Guitarists, the issue of ‘to footstool or not to footstool‘ is a very personal one. I’ve seen bar room brawls break out, fingernails flying, rasguedo backhanders and G String garrotings all over the suggestion that guitar rests are for cheats.
I sit on the fence nowadays. Sometimes, I love the connection I feel with the guitar and the ground when I’m slightly hunched over it, left foot planted on a footstool. When I bought my first Gitano guitar rest about five years ago though, I loved it. When I play corporate gigs, plucking away for one or two hours at a time, it really helps avoid leg and back strain. Now I’m in my *cough* late thirties, after over twenty five years of guitar practice, I’m afraid sciatica has come a-knocking. This means I need to take regular breaks from practice to roll around on the floor red-faced, stretching and contorting myself to find relief. I’ve also started doing yoga, but then I do live in Meersbrook, so that’s standard behaviour.
It seems there’s always lots going on in Sheffield. It’s not surprising given it’s long history of hard work, industriousness and graft. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen events listed on the brilliant ‘Timewalk Project’ Google Calendar and thought “I’ll get to the next one”.
About halfway between the city centre and my house, Portland Works is a place brimming with history brought alive by a dedicated group of volunteers. Without the hard work and passion of these people, one of the last remaining cutlery works in Sheffield was threatened with development into yet more identikit ‘luxury’ flats.
Instead, it’s now home to a bustling mix of creative and manufacturing industries. From hand-made custom knife maker Stuart Mitchell, to fine artist Mary Sewell, vintage vehicle restorer Jimmy Holmes to experimental electroacoustic record label Singing Knives Records, it’s all going on at the Works, where traditional industrial manufacturers work side-by-side with Sheffield creatives.
Many of the tenants were there last night for a special presentation by ‘naturalised Yorkshireman’ and owner of the Famous Sheffield Shop, Paul Iseard. He told the story of his lifelong love affair with knifes and cutlery, how Sheffield became one of the centres for metal and cutlery manufacturing, and how changes in social dining paved the way for cutlery design innovation and development. He also shared with us some of his prized collection, a stunning treasure trove of beautifully designed and made pieces. I’ll be saving up to make a trip down ‘Eccy Road’ soon (I think ‘Pocket Knifes’ is my thing)
After the talk I got to meet some of the team behind the Works, and a few of the businesses based there. I even got a ‘backstage’ tour from Carl Witham, (who is a local photographer and runs thePortland Works Studio) seeing the cramped ‘village within a village’ layout of the factory from one of the workshop roofs. It’s easy to imagine the place one hundred years ago when Harry Brearly and Earnest Stuart were making their groundbreaking discovery of stainless steel. Hundreds of workers, men, women and children, busily going about their back-breaking work, completing the full chain of production from metal working, to grinding, to buffing, packing and selling.
Truly a hive of industry then, just as it is now. Long may it remain so.
Before I start, let me make one thing clear: I love Liverpool, right? I’m as loyal and as committed as any migrant who has settled in the City and grown to love it deeply.
So it’s with some reluctance that I write this post about a place in Manchester: Liverpool’s long standing urban nemesis.
There’s no denying it, though – Manchester is a great city with lots to offer. Not least it’s brilliant centre for musical excellence, the Royal Northern College of Music. I was lucky enough to be invited to a performance of the Classical Guitarists studying at the College, and was blown away by the whole experience.
This is the first list thing I’ve done, and will probably be my last. I was inspired to have a go at compiling a list of my favourite albums of the last ten years after reading a very good top ten on Peter Guy’s ‘Get into this’ blog on the Liverpool Echo site. Problem was, the list grew from ten, to fifteen, to twenty. Then I got a bit overwhelmed at the task of writing a bit about each. So I gave up. Then I decided I’d have another go, but cut it right down again, which was a slow and painful process (like reading this little preamble).
So, here it is. My totally self indulgent top ten albums of the naughties, in chronological order, replete with music journo-style spiels on each record (why do I always lapse into this language when writing about music?)
A new decade seems like a big deal to me, even if no one seems to be able to agree what to call it, (is it the teenies? The tens?) so I want to be more productive than ever this year!
Projects in the pipeline include starting up a Liverpool Classical Guitar Society, which will give Classical Guitarists in Liverpool a long-overdue opportunity to come together with like minded people.
I’ve taken up the lap steel guitar, have set myself the task of developing my Jazz guitar skills, and am hoping to take a classical guitar performance diploma exam after the summer. All this, and I’m planning to release a solo album of folk/pop music in or around May.
Let’s hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew…