Blog No.18: My Close Encounters Of The Music Legend Kind – Part 5 – George Martin, Mark Knopfler & Paddy Moloney


My close encounters with several music legends in one day!

BLOG NO.18 – IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ PART 4 OF THE CLOSE ENCOUNTERS FIRST, CLICK HERE

(Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window. If you’re looking at this in your email inbox, the videos won’t play there but will opened in a browser window from YouTube)

First, I think I must confess something: I thought I would do these Close Encounter blogs purely because I knew they would get more folk coming to my blog site and, hopefully, listening to my music too. Well, I was right on the first count, but, judging by my site and SoundCloud statistics, I don’t think it’s getting many people to have a listen to my musical attempts. Hardly surprising really, as most of those wanting to read these – include either current or budding puppeteers – are not that interested in folk-type music that is primarily about the history of a specific region of England. Just so you know, I have blogged about the other kinds of music I have done – see THIS one for example – and I will be doing more in the future. (I’ve added a couple of songs to the right-hand sidebar.) There, now I’ve done my confessional, on with the blog….

Left to right: Mike Quinn, the legend that was Richard Hunt (Scooter from The Muppets) and me.

In my 40-odd years as an actor, puppeteer and movement choreographer in theatre, television and film I was fortunate and honoured enough to meet and work with some music legends – both human and places – from Elton John to Capital Record Studios in LA. It’s only recently that I realised music has been with me my whole adult working life, in one form or another, and I thought I’d share these ‘close encounters’ with you. So here is Part 5 of those encounters….

Farkas Faffner

In 1988 I got my second tv series with the Jim Henson Company: The Ghost Of Faffner Hall. (The first being Jim Henson’s Mother Goose Stories.) I was doubly excited because this was an educational show about music, and we were going to have a great many musician guests, from the famous to the not-so. The one downside was I landed the job of puppeteering Farkas Faffner (pictured left), the owner of Faffner Hall, who hated music! In fact, he even had trouble saying the word. This meant I wouldn’t get to meet half of the guest stars, like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. But there were times when I would get the chance, either through being asked to perform a secondary character, or standing in for one of the other performers who couldn’t do their character that particular day for some reason. This last reason gave me the chance to meet and hear the amazing South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo; used by Paul Simons on his Gracelands album. I was standing in for the lovely Mike Quinn performing his character, Riff. (See video below.)

As Farkas, I did get to work with the amazing trumpet player, Dizzy Gillespie, and when Farkas got a bump on the head, which changed him to loving music for one episode, I got to perform with the incredible Danish recorder player, Michala Petri. The most memorable Farkas/musician encounter was probably with violinist Nigel Kennedy. Mostly memorable because it was hard to get through a take without him swearing.

The other great thing about doing this show was that it was a co-production with Tyne-Tees-Television and we recorded most of it in the town where I’d started my acting career 14 years earlier: Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. My wife, Fiona, and our two young sons, Ben and Toby came up to stay in a rented cottage for a while, which was not far from the town I grew up in. This meant I could also get to see some of my family.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THREE KIND

So, how did these particular close encounters come about you ask? (You may not have asked, but I’m going to tell you anyway!) Well, George Martin (producer of The Beatles) had composed a tune for a Riff dream sequence, which he was going to play on an upright piano, as Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits and a Newcastle lad) played guitar and Paddy Moloney (The Chieftains) played the penny whistle. Several of us puppeteers would be performing Muppet monsters playing violins and a cello – me on the cello – stood next to George Martin. (See video below.)

I’m sure many of you will not have heard of any of these particular gentlemen of music, but they are all legends in their own ways. I have to admit, I’d forgotten who George Martin was until I was reminded on the day. It was he who did the amazing and groundbreaking arrangements and orchestrations for The Beatles on albums such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Mark Knopfler I knew of well, partly because I liked his band, Dire Straits, and partly because he was from Newcastle and a fellow Geordie. But, for me, the biggest treat was actually getting to work with Paddy Moloney of the Irish folk band, The Chieftains. Not only had I many of their albums at the time, but my first date with the woman who would become my wife was at a Chieftain’s concert in the Town Hall, Birmingham.

About 15 years later I would get the chance to visit George Martin’s AIR Studios in Hampstead, London, as Brian Henson was there recording the score for a tv mini series he had directed and I had both puppeteered and been CGI animation director on: Jack and the Beanstalk – The True Story. What a wonderful experience that was! I love recording studios anyway, but that was something else. Funnily enough, both Brian and I had another connection to this building before it was the studio, when it was the unused Lyndhurst Road Congregational Church, because the Jim Henson Company – which was based in Hampstead at the time – used it for rehearsals and auditions, and I auditioned there for Faffner, and (possibly) Labyrinth.

AIR (Associated Independent Recording) Studios

If this day wasn’t thrilling enough, two more amazing things happened. After we’d finished recording, George Martin turns to us Monsters and asks if he can have his photo taken with us? Us? We all thought it should have been the other way around. Of course we obliged, although we never did see that photo.

Then, to really cap this incredible day off, our writer and producer, Jocelyn Stevenson, knowing I was a huge Chieftains fan, asked me if I’d like to go out to dinner with her and Paddy Moloney. Well, I nearly fell of my chair! So it was that I sat in an Indian restaurant in Soho, London not only listening to Paddy Moloney tell some wonderful anecdotes, but he then gets his penny whistle out – which he carries everywhere – and starts playing along to the Indian music that was on the tannoy, saying how like Irish music it was. Wonderful! BUT…the most amazing part of the evening was Paddy’s story about his old friend Peter Sellars. He told us that one night, at about three in the morning, he was suddenly awoken by the sense that someone was standing at the bottom of his bed. There was, he said: Peter Sellars, smoking a cigar. He simply smiled at Paddy, said, “See ya Paddy”, then disappeared. Paddy then told us he went back to sleep, if he wasn’t already asleep already and this had been a dream. The next morning, however, he turned on the radio only to hear the news that Peter Sellars had died. This is when it really hit him. Dream or not, it was either an incredible coincidence – which do happen – or Paddy’s mate had come to say goodbye. Make of it what you will.

That was the end of an amazing day, and working on The Ghost of Faffner Hall was pretty incredible all around. It had its problem and faults and, unfortunately, ITV didn’t want to take the risk of a second season with, what was in children’s television terms, an expensive show. So that was that.

I AM NOT WORTHY

If you think these stories are interesting, they will be nothing compared to those the puppeteers from The Muppets or Sesame Street could tell. They’ve worked with more musical legends than I’ve had hot dinners. Having said that, I do have more to come, and Part 5 will be my Close Encounters with ‘Elvis’, ‘Michael Jackson’ and ‘Bono’. (You’ll discover why their names are in inverted commas.) Before that, Blog. No.19 will cover tracks 5 to 9 of Part 3 of A Musical ‘History’ Of Northumberland & Durham.

Thanks, as always, for reading and please do leave a Star Rate at the top of the Page (good or bad, I don’t mind), or Like it below if you’re a member of WordPress. You can also leave a Comment below. Until next time,

Mak

Blog No.17: A Musical ‘History’ Of Northumberland & Durham – Part 3 – 1900 to 1945 – Tracks 1 to 4


The first four tracks of the ‘album’ covering the first half of the 20th century – from a true mining disaster to the football rivalry between Tyneside and Wearside

BLOG NO.17 – IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ BLOG NO.16 FIRST, CLICK HEREIf you’d like to read first why I wrote these 65 tracks, then click HERE to read that blog. (Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window.)

(Those getting this via email won’t be able to see the tracks. Clicking on the title of the blog will open it in a tab of your web browser. For those reading on a iPad, the tracks will open in a separate browser windows and not play on the Page. Apologies.)

Whilst these particular blogs don’t get the same number of visitors as my Close Encounter blogs, I will continue with them, for a while at least.

Welcome to a blog about tracks 1 to 4 of Part 3. Now comes the blurb if you haven’t read the other Parts…. There are five ‘albums’ (now 66 tracks in all), covering over three hundred years of history – both real and fictional – relating the English northeastern counties of what were Northumberland and Durham, but now Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and Durham including Teesside; Part 3 covers 1900 to 1945. As such, some of the songs are sung in the old Northumbrian, Geordie or Pitmatic accents and dialects. I’ve included explanations of the words used where necessary, and sometimes give lyrics in Standard English.

The dates by the track are either just where I have placed them (e.g. c.1900), this is when the traditional song was written, or this is when the historical event they portray happened. Keep in mind the music styles will change greatly from Parts 1 to 5 as they reflect the time they depict.

If any ex- or working miners out there spot any technical mistakes, please let me know in the comments section at the bottom of the page. If anyone else spots typos, please let me know. Thanks.

Anyone can give a Rate This star rating at the top of the blog or leave a Comment at the bottom of the page, and you can Like this blog if you’re a WordPress member at the bottom. If you’d like each blog to be posted to your inbox, click on the Follow Mak’s Music Blog tab at the top of the sidebar to the right if you’re with WordPress, or FOLLOW (THROUGH EMAIL) if you’re not. Please do rate the tracks in the Poll after them.

I ONLY RECENTLY DISCOVERED THAT YOU CAN’T PLAY THESE TRACKS DIRECTLY ON AN IPAD, AND YOU ARE DIVERTED TO A BROWSER. APOLOGIES FOR THIS, AND I HOPE IT DOESN’T STOP YOU FROM LISTENING TO THEM. I ALSO DISCOVERED THAT THOSE RECEIVING THESE VIA POST CAN’T SEE THE TRACKS AT ALL. APOLOGIES FOR THIS, BUT IT IS BEYOND MY POWERS.

Blurb over…now for the tracks….

Track 1 – And Far Beneath Them – This was my centennial tribute to the 168 men and boys who lost their lives in the West Stanley (Burn’s) Pit disaster of 1909. Stanley was the town I grew up in, but, strangely, I only heard about this much awful disaster many years later. Please excuse me if this time I quote in detail from Wikipedia.

“The 1909 explosion occurred at 3:45 p.m. on 16 February. By 2 a.m. the downcast shaft was available for rescue parties to descend. They entered the Townely and Busty seams, and from thence went into the Tilley seam. In the latter they found and brought out 26 men. From the Townley seam four men were found, but one died from the effects of afterdamp after 30 hours. Eventually another 165 bodies were retrieved, two were unaccounted for when the search was called off.[15] In 1933 later workings broke into the Busty seam and two skeletons were discovered. They were identified as the missing men.[16]

BEFORE THE EXPLOSION

By this date a significant amount of electricity was being used underground. Two electrically driven coal cutting machines were used in the Townley seam and one each in the Tilley and Brockwell seams.[17] The largest motors underground were the 100 horsepower (75 kW) pump in the Busty seam near to the Busty shaft and the 100 horsepower (75 kW) haulage motor in the Townley seam. There were also two smaller 25 horsepower motors and three 5 horsepower motors elsewhere in the colliery.[18] To power this a 40 Hz 550 volt 150 amp three phase generator was installed on the surface which delivered the power through insulated (but unarmoured) cables down the Busty shaft.[19]

As well as the motors, there were a few incandescent lamps around the shafts.[20] All other illumination was from Marsaut and Donald type safety lamps. The lamps were lit and locked on the surface, and if extinguished had to be sent back to the surface for relighting.[20] However, following the discovery in 1933 of the two skeletons an inquest was held (as required by law). At this inquest J B Atkinson attempted to present fresh evidence that another type of lamp was in use. This was the Howart’s Patent Deflector lamp which was larger than the standard lamps. As a result of the increased volume the lamp was unsafe; an explosion inside would be large enough to pass through the gauze and ignite the surrounding atmosphere. The coroner allowed him to read the statement, but the jury were directed to disregard it in their determination of the identity and cause of death.[21]

Other preventative measures were watering, control of shot firing and inspections. Watering to keep coal dust damp was performed regularly, however the inspector cast doubt upon its effectiveness having observed pools of water next to dry dust.[22] Shot firing to bring down stone and, in some seams, coal appears to have been tightly controlled.[23] Inspections on behalf of the men were meant to be carried out every three months. The reports from January 1909 could not be produced. Those from September 1908 were produced and were all satisfactory.[24]

THE EXPLOSION

Five minutes before the explosion the man in charge of the large pump in the Bust seam advised the generator house that he was about to start the pump. This was normal procedure. Five minutes later there was a “burring” noise from the generators indicating an electrical overload, followed by two of the three (one per phase) fuses blowing. Smoke issued from the downcast shaft, in other words moving against the air flow, followed fifty seconds later by a fireball and cloud of smoke. A few moments later the cloud was sucked back down the downcast shaft as the air circulation re-established.[15]

Both main shafts were damaged by the explosion. The downcast (Busty) shaft suffered damage all the way to the surface, and then the casing between the pit top and the heapstead[d] was blown down. The upcast (lamp) pit also suffered damage, but fortunately the fan was uninjured and continued to run.[15] Before the district inspector could arrive the shaftmen had already started to clear away the debris from the downshaft. A temporary hospital was established at the pithead. Medical and rescue stores were brought in and by 2 a.m. the cages could be lowered down the pit. The men mentioned above were brought up, but there were no further survivors. Recovery and exploration work went on “unceasingly” until 6 days after the explosion all but two of the bodies had been recovered and brought up. The search for these two (the ones found in 1933) was abandoned due to increasing danger to the recovery parties.[15]

INVESTIGATION

The first step in investigating a colliery explosion is to determine where the explosion occurred. In the case of West Stanley the official report states “in no case that we [ie Redmayne and Bain] have investigated has it been more perplexing than the one under consideration”.[26] The first thought was that the seat of the explosion might have been in or near the engine house in the Towneley seam, but further investigation rendered this unlikely. The Brockwell seam was next considered. There was evidence of some burning; this being the only place in the mine where it was observed. No cause of ignition, accumulation of gas or the presence of a blower[e] was found. Further damage to the props and the separation door indicated that the explosion had swept into the seam (“inbye”) before sweeping out (“outbye”).[26]

There was no damage to the Tilley seam and the men working there had been saved, so it was not considered further. The only seam left was the Busty coal. The onsetter, Matthew Elliott, was the only man to have survived from the Busty seam and his evidence is quoted at length. Critically the electric lights went out at the time the explosion was heard (“Yes, it was instantaneous”), some time before the cloud was observed by a safety lamp.[26] Two mining engineers who had arrived at 8 p.m. following the explosion were cross examined and agreed that the explosion occurred in the Busty seam and was due to a coal dust. Neither could say how the dust was ignited.[26]

The inquiry then considered how the coal dust might have been ignited. Four possibilities were considered: Open lights (lamps or matches), shot firing, sparking from friction and electricity. No evidence of faulty lights or contraband was found (though there remains the question of the Howart’s Patent Deflector reported at the 1933 inquiry).[27] All shots were accounted for and every shot hole inspected; none was fired at the time or shortly before the explosion.[28] Friction from tubs (coal wagons) against the rails or following a derailment was considered and dismissed.[29]

Electricity was then considered. The fuses within the mine did not blow, but evidence from the colliery electrician mentioned a previous occasion when sparking had burnt through a cable and not blown the fuses. Dr W M Thornton, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Armstrong College was then called as a witness. He considered three causes but settled on one in particular as the most likely; that a train of coal dust between the terminals of a junction box or switch causes arcing between the terminals which ignited the coal dust causing an explosion within the box. This explosion raised enough dust to trigger a bigger, fatal, explosion which spread throughout the mine.[30]

The report concluded with a number of recommendations including better mechanical protection of electrical equipment (impact and ingress of gas or dust), trip coils in place of fuses and better cleaning.[31]

AFTERMATH

A pit-wheel memorial was erected at Chester Road in Stanley.It shows all of the people who died in that incident.[32] A memorial service was held in 2009 to mark the centenary of the disaster.”

-END OF WIKIPEDIA ARTICLE-

I actually recorded all of this song with GarageBand in 2009 when I was recovering from shingles, sitting in an armchair in the living room, so my voice is a little wobbly at times. Apologies. I did try to re-record the vocals recently, adding in one of the coal seams l hadn’t mentioned – the Tilley – but it just didn’t seem to have the same feel, so I left it as it was.

Dialect words: bairns=’children’; owld=’old’; cracked=’chatted’/’bantered’;

Track 2 – He Volunteered For The Money – (1914) – I did cover the next two tracks in an earlier blog, but I will list them again here.

Whilst the Northeast of England had the two army regiments of the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Durham Light Infantry, it was with the Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers that the miners of the region would join as Sappers. Sometimes it may not have been the duty of fighting for King and Country that led them to do this, but the money, which was considerably more than that of most colliers. The two songs I wrote are set at either end of this awful event in history. The first – He Volunteered For The Money – takes place in 1914, with a miner volunteering for the extra money.

There are dialect words in the second track: thowt=’thought’; knaa=’know’; urth=’earth’; aall=’all’; divn’t tell uz=’don’t tell me’; me marra=’my work mate’

Created with the aid of GarageBand on the iPad.

Track 3 – I Never Thought I’d See The Day – The tune for this song started life as one of the newer songs for the belated 40th anniversary recordings of my musical, Leaving School. Set in 1918, with a Sapper returning to the mines, it is about how his experiences in the war have made him see mining as not being as bad as he used to think. Whether this is how it affected some returning miners, I don’t know, but this is where my imagination took it.

All instruments care of GarageBand and Logic Pro X.

Track 4 – The Magpies And The Black Cats – This will be appreciated by those who know of the longstanding rivalry between the football (soccer) teams of Newcastle United (The Magpies) and Sunderland (The Black Cats). It was ever presence in my youth, just as it is now, but at present Newcastle supporters are revelling in the fact that Sunderland are doing so badly. I have always been a Sunderland supporter, but want any Northeastern team to do well, no matter who they are.

Created with the aid of Apple Loops and GarageBand on the iPad.

Recorded in Weston Lullingfields & Oswestry, Shropshire © Mak Wilson 1974, 1976, 1977, 1993, 2007 & 2017

THE END


Blog No.18 will be Part 5 of my Close Encounters with George Martin (producer of The Beatles),  Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits and a Newcastle lad) and Irishman Paddy Moloney (The Chieftains), all in one day.

Thanks so much for reading and listening, and please, please, please rate the songs (below – the polls are anonymous) and the blog (at the top)! (Grovelling over.)

Mak

IF YOU’D LIKE TO HAVE A SKIM THROUGH ALL 66 TRACKS, CLICK HERE.

PLEASE RATE THE TRACKS IF YOU HAVE TIME

Blog No.16 – Why Oh Why? – Why I wrote all these songs and did these blogs


BLOG NO.16 IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ BLOG NO.15 FIRST, CLICK HERE.

Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window. If you spot any typos, please let me know.

Whilst in the past I’ve partly explained how it was I ended up doing 65 (now 66) folky-type tracks and blogs about them and my musical past, I don’t think I’ve fully explained their genesis. So, for anyone interested, here goes…

In the beginning….

It all began back in March, 2017 when I started to work on a belated 40th anniversary version of a musical I wrote at the age of 16 in 1974 called Leaving School for my older nephew, David Calvert, who played the teacher in it. (See THIS blog.) Before recording these, my illnesses had made me give up on writing and recording music. Silent (acid) reflux (for one) has partially damaged my vocal cords, which hasn’t helped; but writing and recording those songs not only got me back into the swing of it, it warmed the voice box up, and, more importantly, got me being creative again. We are creative beings, and I think we all need to be creative in one way or another, whether that be gardening, fixing a car engine or composing songs.

Once I’d completed the 22 tracks of Leaving School (it wasn’t meant to be that many!) I needed another project to do, so I thought I’d record some of my (very) old Northeast England coal mining ballads (I grew up in Stanley, Co. Durham) and maybe do a few new ones to add to them. I seem to have got a bit carried away with that idea! I soon passed the amount of tracks I could get on one CD, so I thought I’d try and make them into two. After a few weeks I had past this number also, and began to wonder what to do with them? Maybe I should give them a theme, I thought? It was whilst I was part of the way through a third CD that I wondered about turning them into a kind of musical ‘history’ about the Northeastern English counties of Durham, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear. (‘History’ is in inverted commas because some of the songs are about fictional events.) So this is what I did, and, having chosen this theme, I then had to chose which bits of ‘history’ to cover. That, actually, came quite easily.

I then decided to use them to experiment and, because they were originally just going to be for my ears only – and possibly David’s, as well as his ex-coal mining brother, Alan and another older nephew, Keith Wilson – I wasn’t too worried about trying to please a wider audience or folk music lovers. Since I’d had 40-odd years of doing that as a professional performer, this time it would be for me. If anyone else liked them, it would be an added bonus, but not important. It was just great being creative again, even if I did get very frustrated with myself for my lack of musical skills – especially on guitar – and just how much my voice had deteriorated since I was last recording my songs back in 2004 to 2007, when I also had a purpose built studio beside our old house…rather than the 2 meter square one I have now.  I think, had I been writing to entertain others I would have composed some very different songs.

Some of my ancient equipment, including a Roland 2480 digital 24 track, M-Audio Keystation 61 keyboard (black) and Korg Triton LE keyboard (silver)

Technological Tough Guys!

I was actually amazed that my now ancient equipment – ancient in technological terms – was still working. I purchased much of it back in 2000/2001. Any songs I had already recorded, other than the newer ones for Leaving School, were done on a Roland 2480 24 track (at the back near the window in the photo above), and I needed to transfer them to my MacBook Pro laptop and the music programs GarageBand or Logic Pro X. This was going great until the equally ancient Plextor CD writer attached to the Roland I was using to do the transferring decided to give up the ghost! This meant I could only do a stereo recording of them onto my Mac, rather than having the individual tracks to be able to adjust. As it turned out, I ended up re-recording many of them. How happy I was that I did have the amazing DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) that are GarageBand and Logic Pro X. What incredible pieces of software they are – which we tend to take for granted – and what fantastic virtual instrument and real instrument loops they contain. There are some tracks I couldn’t have done without the latter, and I am eternally grateful to Apple and the musician they used to create them.

Another amazing piece of software and kit has been GarageBand on the iPad, which has some great virtual guitars that can be played via its screen. (See image below.) Each instrument also has four Autoplay chord settings, which I ended up using a lot; being someone who isn’t great on the guitar it was a saviour. It has the same thing for strings and piano.

GarageBand acoustic guitar on the iPad

SoundCloud Songs

I spent about two months doing the 5 ‘albums’ and 65 tracks (adding another one later), and I was at a loss as to what to do after I’d finished them. I’d put three albums onto CD and sent them north, but my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) was getting the better of me so I decided to put them all online on SoundCloud instead (image below); still not with any thought of anyone but family listening to them.

My SoundCloud page

After a little while I began to think, ‘Should I see if anyone else might like them?’ Of course, to do that you’ve got to go out and advertise y’self! I knew I would first have to set up a WordPress blog. That wouldn’t be too taxing – he stupidly thought – as I’ve had a couple of blogs before, both about the Arthurian subject. I set it up pretty quickly, and it was only going to cover the folk songs, but to get more people to know about the blog and SoundCloud I couldn’t stop there, oh no….

This blog site

Facebook Friends

Next, I did something I said I was never going to do again: I went back on to Facebook. There was a good reason for doing this; because I needed to set up a Facebook (‘Fan’) Page I had to have a Facebook account. So, I signed up again and set up the Facebook Page. Interestingly, it hasn’t taken much traffic to these blogs or to SoundCloud. What did help the latter though were two of the Facebook Coal Mining groups. Whilst not all my songs are about coal mining, the majority are, and it’s hardly surprising that these ex-miners would be interested.  They were the most nerve-racking of listeners for me. These were men who had actually been there and done that. Luckily for me, they seem to like them, and, ironically, the one song I was most worried about they have liked the most. As the Americans say: ‘Go figure’.

My Facebook Page

Twitter Twerking(?)

Then, I went even crazier and returned to Twitter. For someone who, because of CFS, is supposed to try and avoid extremely stressful situations, I was setting myself up – again – for doing the exact opposite. When I told my health counsellor what I was doing, he just looked at me with that ‘Is that wise?’ look on his face. I’m glad I did set this up, because it not only got more people to listen to the music and read the blog, but it got me writing about my career, and ‘meeting’ some great people. Initially I did the blogs about my career called My Close Encounter Of The Music Legend Kind purely because I thought they would get more people coming to my blog site and, hopefully, listening to my music too. Well, I was right on the first count, but, judging by my site Page and SoundCloud statistics, I don’t think it’s getting too many people to go to the blogs about the folk tracks and have a listen to my musical attempts. Hardly surprising really, as most of those wanting to read these – include either current or budding puppeteers – are probably not that interested in folk-type music, especially ones that are primarily about the history of a specific region of England. However, just so you know, I have blogged about the other kinds of music I have done – see THIS one for example – and I will be doing more in the future. I’ve also added a couple of songs to the right-hand sidebar.

My Twitter page

What doing these blogs about my career have been is therapeutic. Before I started all this I was completely staying away from anything to do with puppetry or animatronics, because it was just too painful to think about, having had to give it all up over three years ago. I couldn’t even watch them on television. So this has helped me deal with that, and take away some of the pain. Still, it’s not always easy writing about it.

What next?

Whilst there are a good number of people listening to my songs and tunes, most of those have coming via two of those Facebook Coal Mining groups, they still haven’t had a great many plays; which doesn’t actually surprise me considering that they were never meant for the general public. What I’d like to do next, song wise, is get folk artists interested in doing some of my better ones, and I might work on doing that next. I would also like to have a go at composing pieces specifically to be listened to by those into folk music, to see if there is any better response. If there isn’t, then that’s fine too, because at least I’ll know. It can take a while for things to catch on though, so I will give it a few months. If it still doesn’t work, then I’ll find a new project to do. In the meantime, I’ll continue writing my Close Encounter blogs, which seem to be the most popular. I will also continue to use them as therapy for accepting that I can no longer do what I once loved and did, but that I am extremely proud of (most of) it.

Blog No.17 will cover the first four tracks of Part 3 (1900 to 1945). Blog No.18 will be Part 5 of my Close Encounters with George Martin (producer of The Beatles),  Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits and a Newcastle lad) and Irishman Paddy Moloney (The Chieftains), all in one day.

Thanks, as always, for reading and please do leave a Star Rating it at the top of the Page (good or bad, I don’t mind), or Like it below if you’re a member of WordPress. You can also leave a Comment below. Until next time,

Mak

 

Changes are afoot…or is that afeet?


Just to warn visitors that I’m experimenting with a different look to this blog site to better reflect what it now covers. I still haven’t settled on a look yet, so you should refresh your browser window each time you visit, in case it’s changed. Do let me know what you think about what you see, either in the Comments section below, or on my Facebook Page or Twitter.

Thanks for your understanding…he says hopefully,

Mak

Blog No.15: My Close Encounters Of The Music Legend Kind – Part 4 – the legendary ‘Little Shop Of Horrors’ & Levi Stubbs


From flapping rubber lips to ending up on Family Guy

BLOG NO.15 – IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ PART 3 OF THE CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH DAVID BOWIE FIRST, CLICK HERE

(Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window. If you’re looking at this in your email inbox, the videos won’t play there but will opened in a browser window from YouTube)

I wrote this whilst my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was pretty bad, so apologies if there are typos or it doesn’t quite make sense in parts.

First, I think I must confess something: I thought I would do these Close Encounter blogs purely because I knew they would get more folk coming to my blog site and, hopefully, listening to my music too. Well, I was right on the first count, but, judging by my site and SoundCloud statistics, I don’t think it’s getting many people to have a listen to my musical attempts. Hardly surprising really, as most of those wanting to read these – include either current or budding puppeteers – are not that interested in folk-type music that is primarily about the history of a specific region of England. Just so you know, I have blogged about the other kinds of music I have done – see THIS one for example – and I will be doing more in the future. (I’ve added a couple of songs to the right-hand sidebar.)

What doing these has been is therapeutic. Before I started all this I was completely staying away from anything to do with puppetry or animatronics, because it was just too painful to think about, having had to give it all up over three years ago. I couldn’t even watch them on television. So this has helped me deal with that, and take away some of the pain. Still, it’s not always easy writing about it. There, now I’ve done my confessional, on with the blog….

In my 40-odd years as an actor, puppeteer and movement choreographer in theatre, television and film I was fortunate and honoured enough to meet and work with some music legends – both human and places – from Elton John to Capital Record Studios in LA. It’s only recently that I realised music has been with me my whole adult working life, in one form or another, and I thought I’d share these ‘close encounters’ with you. So here is Part 4 of those encounters….

I was honoured to be asked by another legend, director Frank Oz (original Miss Piggy and Animal, as well as Yoda) to be part of his up-and-coming film adaptation of the stage musical Little Shop Of Horrors – which itself was based on a 1960 film made in three days – whilst we were filming Labyrinth. At the time I still hadn’t seen the stage show, although I had friends who had puppeteered the Plant (known as Audrey II) both in the States (Marty Robinson) and London (Anthony Asbury and Marcus Clarke). Frank asked myself and Rob Tygner if we would be the principal lipsync puppeteers, me on the bottom lip – along with Brian Henson and Anthony Asbury on the Plants and Dave Greenaway on secondary lower jaw and Sue Dacre on tongue – and then would go on to ask me to be the voice (more like sounds) of the two smaller Audrey IIs. What an honour! (See video below.)

Although it had now been over ten years since I left the once coal mining town of Stanley, Co. Durham in Northeast England, I still had to pinch myself that this was happening to me. I still felt like that same working class teenager, and that these kinds of things just didn’t happen to people like him. Well, of course, they do, and did. I wasn’t the only Stanley person to have ended up in film and television. It started (allegedly) with Judi Bowker (who some may remember in the early 1970s from The Adventures of Black Beauty, and later from Clash of the Titans) who may not have been born in Stanley but who (allegedly)* lived in Tanfield for a while…or so it is said; but, more famously (and definitely) Anfield Plain lad Alun Armstrong, who will be best known for the British tv series New Tricks. (*I say (allegedly) with regard to Judi Bowker because I still haven’t been able to confirm this.)

Meanwhile, back at the story: so, off we trod from Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire (then twice the size it is now) to Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. I preferred the former as it’s not stuck out in the sticks, but it was incredible to be working in the famous massive hanger-like building that is the 007 Stage; the original one that is, before it burnt down on Legend in 1985. As you can see by the above footage from the movie, it is huge; which is all very well in summer, but we were filming over the winter, and it was freezing! Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene had to suck on ice cubes before takes so their breaths wouldn’t show just how cold it really was.

Levi Stubbs singing ‘Mean Green Mother From Outer Space’ at the 59th Annual Academy Awards

Lip-syncing to Levi Stubbs – We would be lip-syncing to a musical legend indeed: Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops. What a voice! (See video below.) (Probably another legend long before some of your times.) Because of the size of the Plants, the only way we could do this lip-syncing was to film everything at 16fps (two-thirds speed) for the mid-size Plant, and 12fps (half speed) for the full sized version, so it would be sped up, but appear normal, when played at 24fps. This meant poor old Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene had to move and mime in slow motion as we listened to the backing track slowed down to 16 or 12 fps, but pitched up. We thought this might be a problem for Rick, who had the most to do, but no, he smashed it pretty quickly. We, in the meantime, had four months of rehearsal so we could cover every line we had to sing. We could only do a few lines at a time, because the two five foot tall metal poles we had in each hand to control a top or bottom lips where very taxing, as you were pulling and pushing thick cabling, along with rubber lips that had been covered and soaked in KY jelly. Added to this, Brian Henson (on the mid-size Plant) and Anthony Asbury (on the large) had quite a workout operating these two beasts! Marcus Clarke had a workout too, as he operated the counterweighted polearm that was attached to the back of the largest Audrey II, with Anthony Asbury sitting inside of it.

Audrey II at ‘her’ largest with singing pods

Another wonderful thing about doing this film was my wife, Fiona, was working as a puppeteer on it also, for a while, puppeteering one of the singing pods. (See photo above.) We’d bring our first son Ben into the dressing room each day and had a nanny look after him when we were filming. It wasn’t his first experience of the movies, as we took him to the Labyrinth wrap party when he was just a week old. Funny that he should end up working for the catering firm employed on Muppets Most Wanted 28 years later; so we were kind of working together. The singing pods Fiona would be working were part of the Mean Green Mother From Outer Space song, when the Plant was at its largest and ‘fullest’. There were vines and pods everywhere, which meant an awful lot of puppeteers were needed: around 50 actually. It did look fantastic. It would all be done with CGI now.

Dad-Doo! – I also got to audition for a part as a Da-Doo guy for the Total Eclipse Of The Sun song, and got the job. (See video below.) I’m on the right-side end of the group. On the other end is, Danny John-Jules, better know as Cat from Red Dwarf and, more recently, policeman Dwayne Myers from Death in Paradise. Danny had already had Muppet and Henson connections as he voiced a couple of characters in Labyrinth and was even a dancer in The Great Muppet Caper. You’ll also see some of Pat Garret‘s wonderful choreography. I would work with and use Pat as a puppeteer on a few projects, one of which will be covered in a later Part.

Ping-pong – One of the undying memories most of us took away from making this film…was playing ping-pong/table tennis. Frank Oz loved to play, so behind the set was a ping-pong table, which you had to book to use; and it got a lot of use! If you watch the making-of video from the film, you will see this subject covered in detail. It was a great way to unwind. Some took it a lot more seriously than others, but I’m not going to name any names…Franks Oz.

Ending re-shoot – After the film had been completed, it was tested with several audiences in various parts of California. They loved it…right up to the part where the two leads are killed, as happens in the stage show. The test cards they returned were not good, and Frank and Warner Bros soon knew they had a problem and would have to reshoot the ending. It was one thing in a stage musical for the heroes to be killed off, but there they came back at the curtain call to take a bow; in a film, they were gone. So it was that we returned to Pinewood for two weeks to do the reshoot. For Rob Tygner and myself, who were the only ones left stuck down in the emptied 007 water tank where we operated from, it was a pretty boring fortnight. We’d come in at 7am, flap the lips around as (spoiler alert!) the Plant was electrocuted, read a book between takes, and leave at 7pm. I have to say, unless you know where the original and new endings were joined together, you’d never know.

The original ending has since been made available on DVD, and you can see it at this link on YouTube. It has some amazing model work by Richard Conway, and we may have picked up the Oscar for best SFX that year had it had the original ending. Instead it would be Aliens that would win it. Doh!

(Just as an aside, I happen to have listened to another Northeast England lad, Sting, and his album The Dream Of Blue Turtle very often on my 45 minute drive to and from Pinewood and my home, which was near Tring in Hertfordshire at the time.)

Immortalised on Family Guy – One evening I was sitting in the back room at home doing some writing, when I heard my three of my sons shouting “Come here dad!” I shouted back that I was busy! Once I did make it into the living room to see what they wanted, they told me I had just appeared on Family Guy. This did not compute; why would I be on Family Guy? They then went on to explain that they had done a pastiche of the Total Eclipse Of The Sun song from Little Shop. It took a while before I ever found the video of it, but I did…and there I was! I even sent a Tweet to Seth McFarlane, asking if it was possible to have a frame from it? I also contacted Fox TV, but got nothing back, from either. I expected this from Fox but not Seth McFarlane. I’m hoping it was just because it got lost in a mass of other Tweets.

Little Shop has to have been the happiest film I ever worked on, and I am eternally grateful to Frank that he asked me to do it. It also contains some of the work I am most proud of, created with a fantastic team of makers and puppeteers. A big thank you must also go out to Lyle Conway who designed that amazing Plant!

I AM NOT WORTHY

If you think these stories are interesting, they will be nothing compared to those the puppeteers from The Muppets or Sesame Street could tell. They’ve worked with more musical legends than I’ve had hot dinners. Having said that, I do have more to come, and Part 5 will be my Close Encounters with George Martin (producer of The Beatles),  Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits and a Newcastle lad) and Irishman Paddy Moloney (The Chieftains). Before that, however, Blog. No.16 will be a deeper look at the reasons why I wrote these 66 tracks in Why Oh Way? That blog may turn into a Vlog if my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome continues to be as bad as it currently is, which makes writing and reading very difficult.

Thanks, as always, for reading and please do leave a Star Rating it at the top of the Page (good or bad, I don’t mind), or Like it below if you’re a member of WordPress. You can also leave a Comment below. Until next time,

Mak

Blog No.14: Over The Hills & Far Away – 250 years of Northeastern soldiering


From the War of Spanish Succession to The Falklands War

BLOG NO.14 – IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ BLOG NO.13 FIRST, CLICK HEREIf you’d like to read first why I wrote these 65 tracks, then click HERE to read that blog. (Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window.)

(Those getting this via email won’t be able to see the tracks. Clicking on the title of the blog will open it in a tab of your web browser. For those reading on a iPad, the tracks will open in a separate browser windows and not play on the Page. Apologies.)

I was going to be posting my next Close Encounters blog as No.14, but it wasn’t ready, so I swapped it with this one. Close Encounters Part 4 will be blog No.15.

When I was doing these 66 tracks the second track I chose for Part 1 and the 18th century was the traditional song, Over The Hills And Far Away. After I’d recorded it, I thought I ought to do another version to balance out this propaganda song, so Track 3 would become this. Then, once I’d reach the late-20th century, I thought I’d bookend the first track with another, contemporary version. I then decided I’d do a couple of songs about World War I and the miners of Northumberland and Durham who volunteered to become Sappers with the Royal Engineers, digging trenches, as well as tunnels underneath the enemy, so they could plant thousands of pounds of explosives. So here are those five tracks….

WAR OF SPANISH SUCCESSION

  1. Over The Hills And far Away No one knows when the original dates from, but the song I have done dates to 1706. According to Wikipedia: “One version was published in Thomas D’Urfey‘s Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy; a very different one appeared in George Farquhars 1706 play The Recruiting Officer. A version also appears in John Gay‘s The Beggar’s Opera of 1728.” However, the song was made famous by the British television series, Sharpe, starring Sean Bean. The version I’ve done – the George Farquhar one – dates to over a hundred years before the Napoleonic Wars that his character was involved in. Mine stays closer to the ‘original’ tune, and not the one arranged and sung by John Tams for Sharpe, although I’ve added some Northeastern dialect to it. It’s about recruiting men for the War of Spanish Succession.

2. Over The Hills And far Away – Epilogue – An epilogue to the previous track. Where that was a propaganda song to get recruits, my version – which uses something closer to Tams’ tune – looks at the affects of war on the men who were ‘fortunate’ enough to return home to Northeast England. No support then. It was either beg, steal, or both. (I’ve given him a slight Northumberland accent.)

DIALECT WORD: Gan owwa=’go over’; owwa the hills=’over the hills’; waak=’walk’; aanly=’only’; afore=’before’; nee=’no’; aall Aa wanted=’all I wanted’; thowt=’thought’; Noow a violent=’Now a violent’; waa=’war’.

FIRT WORLD WAR

Whilst the Northeast of England had the two regiments of the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Durham Light Infantry, it was with the Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers that the miners of the region would join as Sappers. Sometimes it may not have been the duty of fighting for King and Country that led them to do this, but the money, which was considerably more than that of most colliers.

The two songs I wrote are set at either end of this awful event in history. The first – He Volunteered For The Money – takes place in 1914, with a miner volunteering for the extra money, and the second – I Never Thought I’d See The Day – is set in 1918, with a Sapper returning to the mines, and how his experiences in the war have made him see mining as not being as bad as he used to think.

There are dialect words in the second track: thowt=’thought’; knaa=’know’; urth=’earth’; aall=’all’; divn’t tell uz=’don’t tell me’; me marra=’my work mate’

NORTHERN IRELAND AND THE FALKLANDS WAR

Regardless of what anyone might think of the politics behind The Troubles or the Falklands War, it had profound affects on the soldiers that served in them, especially the latter.

Over The Hills And far Away – Contemporary  – By the time I had got the point where I’d done five ‘albums’, I thought I may as well attempt a more contemporary version of Over The Hills And Far Away, and decided to date it to around the early-1980s, when British soldiers were dealing with Northern Ireland, the Falklands War and UN duties in Bosnia. It may have been the 20th century, but there was still was no support for the returning soldiers to help them deal with what they’d experienced, in the Falklands especially. There were more British soldiers who committed suicide after returning from the Falkland’s than died in the conflict itself. The Iron Lady in the song refers to the Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher.

Thanks as always for reading and listening, and do please leave your thoughts below, or a star rating at the top of the post,

Mak

 

A thank you and a reminder


Firstly, I just want to say a huge thank you to all of you who have chosen to follow these blogs, either via WordPress or email. I appreciated it more than I can say!

Secondly, I just wanted to remind – or tell if you weren’t aware in the first place –  that if you’re getting these blogs via email, meaning you won’t be able to see those that have track or videos with them from your inbox, just clicking on the title of the blog will take you straight to its Page on your web browser.

That was it. Thanks, and do drop by to leave a comment or rate a track at any time.

Mak

Blog No.13: A Musical ‘History’ Of Northumberland & Durham – Part 2 – 19th Century – Tracks 10 to 13


The next four tracks of the ‘album’ covering the 19th century – from a Tyne/Wear lover affair to the dawn of the town of Stanley

BLOG NO.13 – IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ BLOG NO.12 FIRST, CLICK HERE.  If you’d like to read first why I wrote these 65 tracks, then click HERE to read that blog. (Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser window.)

(Those getting this via email won’t be able to see the tracks. Clicking on the title of the blog will open it in a tab of your web browser. For those reading on a iPad, the tracks will open in a separate browser windows and not play on the Page. Apologies.)

Welcome to a blog about tracks 10 to 13 of Part 2. Now comes the blurb if you haven’t read the other Parts…. There are five ‘albums’ (now 66 tracks in all), covering over three hundred years of history – both real and fictional – relating the English northeastern counties of what were Northumberland and Durham, but now Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and Durham including Teesside; Part 2 covers the 19th century. As such, some of the songs are sung in the old Northumbrian, Geordie or Pitmatic accents and dialects. I’ve included explanations of the words used where necessary, and sometimes give lyrics in Standard English.

The dates by the track are either just where I have placed them (e.g. c.1800), this is when the traditional song was written, or this is when the historical event they portray happened. Keep in mind the music styles will change greatly from Parts 1 to 5 as they reflect the time they depict.

If any ex- or working miners out there spot any technical mistakes, please let me know in the comments section at the bottom of the page. If anyone else spots typos, please let me know. Thanks.

Anyone can give a Rate This star rating at the top of the blog or leave a Comment at the bottom of the page, and you can Like this blog if you’re a WordPress member at the bottom. If you’d like each blog to be posted to your inbox, click on the Follow Mak’s Music Blog tab at the top of the sidebar to the right if you’re with WordPress, or FOLLOW (THROUGH EMAIL) if you’re not. Please do rate the tracks in the Poll after them.

I ONLY RECENTLY DISCOVERED THAT YOU CAN’T PLAY THESE TRACKS DIRECTLY ON AN IPAD, AND YOU ARE DIVERTED TO A BROWSER. APOLOGIES FOR THIS, AND I HOPE IT DOESN’T STOP YOU FROM LISTENING TO THEM. I ALSO DISCOVERED THAT THOSE RECEIVING THESE VIA POST CAN’T SEE THE TRACKS AT ALL. APOLOGIES FOR THIS, BUT IT IS BEYOND MY POWERS.

Recorded in Weston Lullingfields & Oswestry, Shropshire © Mak Wilson 1974, 1976, 1977, 1993, 2007 & 2017

Blurb over…now for the tracks….

Track 10 – The Lass Of The Wear – A humorous, tongue-in-cheek look at the rivalry between those from Tyneside (Newcastle area) and those from Wearside (Sunderland area), and the problems this causes for this young couple in a Romeo and Juliet-type love story. This rivalry is ever present between those who support their respective football (soccer) teams.

This one was created purely using loops, not from Apple but Acid.

Dialect words: ‘gannin to’=’going to’; ‘fatha’=’father’; ‘doon’=’down’; ‘Mackems‘=’people from Sunderland and Wearside’; ‘Geordies‘=’people from Newcastle and Tyneside, although it very often gets applied to all those form the Northeast’; ‘got nee money’; ‘got no money’.

Track 11 – Sinking The Shaft – About the extremely dangerous job undertaken by shaft, or pit sinkers. There were untold hazards, from falling to sudden flooding and exploding gas. They could work on one shaft for two years or more, after which they’d up-sticks with their families and move to wherever the next job might be. There’s a great new paperback/ebook out about the pit sinkers of Northumberland and Durham. Click HERE to learn more.

All instruments care of GarageBand and Logic Pro X.

Track 12 – I Fell In Love With A Pit Brow Lass From Ravenglass – A song from a Durham miner who has fallen for a ‘pit brow lass’ from Ravenglass in Cumbria. Pit Brow Lasses cleaned and sorted the coal on the surface, but they were not allowed in Northumberland and  Co. Durham because the Methodists thought it an unseemly job for a woman…that and they wanted to keep them in the kitchen! In the Northeast the job was done by old colliers, or those unfit for work underground, and boys. It was a noisy, dirty and, for the women especially, a dangerous job. As you can see from the image below, they wore shawls, and they sometime got caught in the conveyor belt. Many a Pit Brow Las was either scalped, maimed or killed.

Dialect words: Pit broow=’pit brow’;  divn’t knaa=’don’t know’; owld men=’old men’; marras=’marrows‘=’work mates’; gannin soft in the heed=’going soft in the head’.

All instruments care of GarageBand and Logic Pro X.

Track 13 – Stanley’s Dawn – About the ‘birth’ of the town I grew up in, Stanley. Whilst there had been mining going on for over a century before this story, and there was a small community there before Lord Joicey (a man from Shield Row – where I lived from the age of 9 until leaving home at 16) started sinking the deep shafts in the mid-19th century, it was his work, and other mine owners, that saw the dawn of the Stanley we know today. Before that, Stanley lay to the northeast of the current town, around Hill Top. This is why West Stanley School and West Stanley Colliery were on the east side of the current town. Before this Tanfield was the larger community of the area.

If some locals wonder why I say ‘its church tower now a landmark, seen for many mile around’ and not ‘its church spire now a landmark, seen for many mile around’ – which it is –  it’s because the spire wasn’t added to St. Andrews church until much later.

The name ‘Stanley’ is of Anglo-Saxon origin, meaning ‘stoney clearing‘ or ‘stoney meadow‘, and there are a number of Stanleys around the country. There’s another in Co. Durham, called Stanley Crook to differentiate it.

All instruments in GarageBand and Logic Pro X.

THE END

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Thanks so much for reading and listening, and please, please, please rate the songs (below) and the blog (at the top)! (Grovelling over.)

Mak

IF YOU’D LIKE TO HAVE A SKIM THROUGH ALL 66 TRACKS, CLICK HERE.

BLOG NO.14 WILL BE PART 4 OF MY CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH MUSIC LEGENDS. THIS TIME IT’S ABOUT WORKING ON  THE LEGENDARY MUSICAL FILM, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS AND BEING IMMORTALISED ON THE TV SHOW FAMILY GUY.

PLEASE RATE THE TRACKS IF YOU HAVE TIME

 

Blog No.12: From the Iron Age To The Age Of Iron – my other historical interests


Going farther back in time than my usual 18th century

BLOG NO.12 IF YOU WANT TO READ THE PREVIOUS POST FIRST, CLICK HERE

(Those getting this via email won’t be able to see and listen to the tracks. Apologies. Blame WordPress and SoundCloud!)

Blue text are external links, which will open in a new browser tab.

Although when composing and recording my music I only went back to 1700, my interest in history goes waaaaay back, to pre-history in fact. It probably started at school with the Romans, as, growing up not far from Hadrian’s Wall, it was part of our school curriculum, and visits. They fascinated me then, and they fascinate me still. My home town of Stanley, Co. Durham was also not far from the two Roman forts of Lanchester (Longovicium) and Chester-le-Street (Concangis), also in Co. Durham. The clue’s in their names really, which include ‘chester’ (also found in places with ‘cester’ and ‘caster’ in them) from Roman castrum and Anglo-Saxon caester meaning ‘military fort’. (Modern Welsh is Caer – Old Welsh Cair (pronounced kiyer), which is the Welsh name for Chester in Cheshire, England.) But first, let’s go back to before the Romans even set their military hobnailed boots on British soil….

THE IRON AGE

I think my interest in the Iron Age (c.800BC to the AD100) started when we moved to Shropshire in the mid-1980s, as it has the largest concentration of hillforts of anywhere in the UK, and we had moved to a house just over a mile from one of its more well known forts: The Berth (see reconstruction image below – the blue text link to the Megalithic Port has more of our virtual reconstructions of the site). This has recently been made even more famous by Arthurian author, Graham Phillips‘ claim that the historical Arthur was buried there…I won’t get started on that claim and subject as it’s a blog all of its own, and I’ve written about it in the past more than enough!

A GCI/photo composite reconstruction of how the Berth may have looked c.AD380. Done by a company I used to co-run called Pastscapes. (Modelling by Peter Hurst, other work by me.)

The Iron Age was the period when the hillforts of Britain really flourished, and I now live about a mile from one of Shropshire largest, Old Oswestry, and a few miles from another: Llanymynech on the English/Welsh border. (If you want to know how to pronounce that Welsh name, click HERE.) ‘Hillfort’ can be a bit of a misnomer, as some weren’t forts at all, but religious or seasonal ‘pens’ for animals. They also range greatly in size.

When it comes to Northeast England, most of the hillforts are in Northumberland, with forts like Eildon Hill and Trapain Law (pictured below) being the most well known. Of course, there was no England, Scotland or Wales then, just the various tribal nations of the Britons. We only know the names of some of these because the Greco-Roman geographer, Ptolemy, documented them in the 2nd century AD. We have no idea if they had the same names centuries before him, or after, and we know from inscribed stones found that even he missed off quite a few.

It’s not a time that I have written music about, but I hope, one day, to do so.

Traprain Law from the north – Photo by Kim Traynor on Wikipedia

‘THE DARK AGES’

Leap-frogging the Romans, my interest in the so called ‘Dark Ages’ (Post Roman and Early Medieval – c.410 to 1066),  probably started – along with my interest in King Arthur – with the early-1970s British tv series Arthur of the Britons. I’d never been particularly interested in the Arthurian legend, but there was something about this gritty telling of his stories and placing him at the time a historical Arthur may have existed (late-5th/early-6th century) that captivated me. To me, back then, they’d made him ‘real’. My interest in all-things-Arthurian would eventually go way beyond this, and I ended up blogging about him and attempting to write three eBooks on the many ‘Arthurs’ of history, from 800BC to AD1200. I had to give up on these books too, due to my illnesses, even though they weren’t far from finished, but I have done a few Arthurian musical compositions, which now follow….

Arthur o Brynaich (Arthur of Brynaich) started life as Arthur o Wynedd (Arthur of Gwynedd) in 2005, when I first composed it for the Arthurian author, Steve Blake, whose theory it was that a historical Arthur may have been from what is now the Gwynedd region of North Wales. Since then my views on Arthur have changed and I’ve now placed him in Brynaich or Bryneich (Anglo-Saxon Bernicia), which was roughly what is now the modern English county of Northumberland. I could have placed him in another location, but went for this, as some identify several of his twelve battles found in the 8th/9th century Welsh Latin pseudo-history, Historia Brittonum (‘History of the Britons’) in this region. It was the longest ‘orchestral’ piece I had done for a long time, and I only recently surpassed it with a piece I’ve compose about the River Tees…although I’m still not happy enough with it to share.

(Music created on an old Korg Triton LE keyboard, and recorded on a Roland 2480.)

Arthur’s Battles Song is based on the twelve battles of Arthur found in the Historia Brittonum, which some think (not all) originated from an ancient battle poem or poems. In the Early Medieval and Medieval periods ‘poems’ were actually sung by the bards. Mine is a modern version of a battle poem, but certainly not done with the meter and rhyming scheme the bards had to use, but I did attempt the 7 and 8 alternating syllables. (My thanks to Christopher Gwinn for the Brythonic pronunciations of the battles. If you know the battle list, they may not sound like you imagined.)

(Done using GarageBand instruments.)

So To War is just another instrumental on the same theme as Arthur o Brynaich…but half the length.

(Created using the Korg Triton LE and GarageBand)

MEDIEVAL PERIOD

The next couple of tracks reflect more the King Arthur of the Anglo-Breton-French-Norman medieval legends. The king who, eventually, got a round table, a sword in the anvil (not in a stone!), Camelot, and all the other Arthurian elements now in the popular perception of him. The Welsh Arthur was a different kettle of fish, even though he was the one the Normans and everyone else first drew from; a far more fantastical figure in a more fantasy world, and – in the surviving texts we have – not central to the stories he’s found in. This character I have yet to put to music also. One day.

King Arthur’s Theme is very much inspired by the King Arthur of the medieval legends.

(Created with the Korg Triton LE and GarageBand)

Queen Guinevere is another inspired by the King Arthur stories.

(Created with GarageBand)

*The image behind the tracks was one Peter Hurst and I did for Arthurian author, Steve Blake.

THE AGE OF IRON

I grew up not far from the centre of iron and steel making in the region: Consett. (In fact I was born there.) Probably unknown to many living in the region, the name is thought to derive from a Ancient Brythonic one, possibly from the same derivation of Chester-le-Street’s Romano-British name: Con-gangis; thought to be named from the local British tribe of the time.

Even six miles away in Stanley we could see the night sky in the west suddenly glow orange from Consett Iron Works. The were many from the town that worked there, but nothing compared to those from Consett itself. Like the closing of the mines, this had a devastating affect on the region, and by 1983 the unemployment rate would be up to 30%.

Below is my experimental song about the closing of the Works in 1980. I say ‘experimental’ because I used a pitch shifter to make my voice deeper, as the song is meant to be coming from the Iron Works itself. The title of the song reflects the fact that the town used to get covered in a fine red dust.

(Created in GarageBand.)

Of course, iron and steel production led to another of the once great Northeastern industries: ship building. Though there is still some done today, it is nothing like it once was when the shipyards of Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside where bringing ships of all kinds to the seas and jobs to their regions. The song below is about the Swan Hunter shipyard at Wallsend on the River Tyne, and is set in 1953; although photo behind the track dates from 1973.

(Created with GarageBand)

Thanks, as always, for reading and please do leave a Star Rate it at the top of the Page (good or bad, I don’t mind), or Like it below if you’re a member of WordPress. You can also leave a Comment below. Until next time,

Mak

BLOG NO.13 WILL BE MY THE LAST FOUR TRACKS OF PART 2 OF MY MUSICAL ‘HISTORY’.

PHOTO CREDITS:

Featured image: King Arthur from the Ontrano Cathedral mosaic.

Trapain Law – CC-Kim Traynor-SA3.0 Wikimedia Commons

Swan Hunter photo: World Unicorn, built by the shipbuilders Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd, at the Wallsend shipyard, Tyneside in 1973. CC-TWAM – Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums – World Unicorn Uploaded by PDTillman

 

About Me, my Music and my Blogs


Since my ‘About’ page doesn’t get published, I’m going to do it as a Post. It’s for those who may not have seen my About page, and still wonder who the hell I am? I won’t count it as one of my blogs. So….

I am a 60-year-old ex-television and film actor, puppeteer and movement choreographer from a coal mining family from Stanley, Co. Durham, England (now living in Oswestry, Shropshire) who had to retire three years ago for health reasons. I now keep busy and creative by writing and recording original and traditional folk songs and tunes in many styles (some in more of a musical genre) about or set in the Northeast of England, from the 18th century to the present day. I’ve recorded 5 ‘albums’ (Parts really) in all, with 13 tracks in each, and it’s these I will be sharing here, along with some stories about my professional and personal musical past. (The professional stories will include my encounters with Harry Nilsson, Stephen Sondheim, Elton John, Paul McCartney and David Bowie, to name but five.)

Mak’s Folk – I did the folk songs and tunes primarily for my own creative outlet, and for the entertainment of a few of my Northeastern England family, but thought it might be worth sharing them…we’ll see. After 40-odds years of entertaining others, this time I was just entertaining myself. I was also experimenting. Sometimes it worked, other times not so much. Another reason I decided to share them, was to see if others might take some, make them their own and improve on them…which won’t be hard to do! They are free to use for non-commercial use with only a credit, but in the unlikely event of anyone wishing to use them for professional reasons, I’m sure we can come to some arrangement. I’d just like to her someone in with a voice in a better state than mine singing them. (Some of my ailments affect my voice at times.)

What my music is not (in general), is a romantic, rose-tinted nostalgic look at the past. A great deal of the time it was anything but the ‘Good Old Days’, and I’m glad for young people today that some of it is indeed past and gone, even from my own childhood days. A great deal of the time it only seems good because we see it through happy childhood eyes, or because there was plenty of work to go around. However, it cannot be denied that there was probably a much stronger sense of community in the Northeast during the coal mining times. There had to be to survive! But, no matter how hard it was, there was always a great deal of humour and laughing!

I’m not your usual amateur folk singer-songwriter – if there is such a thing – as I don’t play acoustic instruments, even if I strive to make most of my music sound acoustic through the use of virtual instruments and loops. I never could get the hang of the guitar besides a few basic chords, and had a lot more success on the keyboard. Even then, I would never put myself in the same league as many an amateur folk artist, let alone professional! Also, unlike most, I don’t usually sing as ‘me’, but as the character of the song, so I will change my voice to suite at times. However, as I mentioned above, because of my illnesses, my voice isn’t always at its best on some tracks – it’s certainly not what it was ten years ago – and with a lack of energy to do more takes they have to remain that way. I hope they’re not too bad, however. There, that’s the excuses out-of-the-way.

For those not into ‘folk’ music, well you may have a false view of it. It isn’t sandal-wearing bearded blokes with one finger in the ear these days. There are so many sub-genres from Traditional to Indie Folk, all using different styles and instruments, from acoustic to electric, but all with the same general underlying content. If you want to see just one new kind of folk, take a look at Devonian Seth Lakeman‘s work, or the ladies he’s been singing with lately, Wildwood Kin. I’m not worthy! (Blue text links to YouTube.)

Music – I have done other types of music and, in fact, this all began back in March, 2017 when I started to work on a belated 40th anniversary version of a musical I wrote in 1974 called Leaving School for my older nephew, David Calvert, who played the teacher in it. (See THIS blog.) Before recording these, my illnesses had made me give up on writing and recording music. Silent (acid) reflux (for one) has partially damaged my vocal cords, which hasn’t helped; but writing and recording those songs not only got me back into the swing of it, it warmed the voice box up, and, most importantly, got me being creative again. This is the most important thing for me. We are creative being, and I think we all need to be creative in one way or another, whether that be gardening, fixing a car engine or composing songs.

Music Folk – I must confess something, I only started to do my Close Encounter Of The Music Legend Kind and other past musical career blogs purely because I knew they would get more folk coming to my the site and, hopefully, listening to my folk music too. Well, I was right on the first count, but, judging by my site and SoundCloud statistics, I don’t think it’s getting many people to have a listen to my musical attempts. Hardly surprising really, as most of those wanting to read these – include either current or budding puppeteers – are not that interested in folk-type music that is primarily about the history of a specific region of England. Just so you know, I have blogged about the other kinds of music I have done – see THIS one for example – and I will be doing more in the future. (I’ve added a couple of songs to the right-hand sidebar.)

What doing these has been is therapeutic. Before I started all this I was completely staying away from anything to do with puppetry or animatronics, because it was just too painful to think about, having had to give it all up over three years ago. I couldn’t even watch them on television. So this has helped me deal with that, and take away some of the pain. Still, it’s not always easy writing about it. There, now I’ve done my confessional….

Enjoy,

Mak Wilson

Updated 25th. October, 2017