For the latest stop on its residency, Carolan found itself in the expert hands of Mick Pearce. Mick is an accomplished player, singer and arranger, and an organiser and regular performer at the Folk Beeston online club.
I started playing guitar in folk clubs as a teenager in the mid-60s in my home town of Middlesbrough. In those days I was playing a nylon strung guitar and singing the usual repertoire of the time – about half Irish songs and half songs of the American singer-songwriters. I later took up classical guitar, initially with a view to improving my folk music playing, but eventually for the classical guitar in its own right. I continued playing folk music on nylon strung guitars until the 90s, after which I mostly used steel strung guitars (a variety of Lowdens). In the early 2000s I devoted myself more seriously to the classical guitar, studying for several years with guitarist, teacher and composer Steve Marsh, in Chesterfield and later Bakewell.
Most of my playing has been in folk clubs, largely devoted to the accompaniment of British song traditional and modern, only rarely playing tunes on the guitar. I play almost exclusively fingerstyle, using only the nails of my right hand – no picks. I also played for a few years in a classical guitar quartet and long ago and far away (Addis Ababa in the mid-80s) some jazz guitar too.
Carolan stayed with Mick for several weeks during which time Mick extended its repertoire with some wonderful material.
Given that this was the Carolan guitar it was tempting to play some of the tunes of Turlough O’Carolan. But at the time I was involved with an online folk club (running while the live clubs were closed because of Covid-19) and there had been a lot of Carolan tunes played there (including by myself – 20 minutes of Carolan on the guitar as an introduction to one of the shows). So I decided to do something different instead. Coming as I do from Middlesbrough in the North East of England, I decided that I would use some of the tunes from the Northumbrian smallpipe (a type of small, bellows-blown bagpipe) repertoire and so broaden Carolan’s connections to the music of the British Isles.
Two of the tunes – Bonny North Tyne and Bonny At Morn – I arranged just for this session, so the playing is not quite as fluid as on the other two. They are mostly two part arrangements, a simple accompaniment to the melody for Bonny North Tyne, and a simple and then more complex accompaniment to the melody for Bonny At Morn.
The third tune – Derwentwater’s Farewell – is more practiced, as I sing the song that goes with the tune and have played it for many years. Again this is mostly the melody, though sometimes embellished, with a simple accompaniment.
Finally, I wanted to see what Carolan was like when accompanying a song and chose The Maid Of Colemore, an Irish song that I have also played for a long time.
First is this fine Northumbrian waltz Bonny North Tyne written by Billy Ballentine.
Next, Mick gives us a setting of the soulful Northumbrian Lullaby, Bonny at Morn.
Derwentwater’s Farewell is a moving Northumbrian air, and one with a solemn history. It relates to a song from that tells of the beheading of James Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater in 1716 for his participation in the Jacobite rebellion. You’ll find the lyrics and background at this link <link here: http://www.contemplator.com/child/derwen.html>.
Finally, Mick shows us what a fine singer he is too with this version of the Irish song The Maid of Colemore. It’s inspiring to hear how voice and accompaniment can fit together so well, like hand in glove. By no means an easy feat.
The guitar was recorded using a matched pair of small capsule condensers (Røde M5, one is visible in the videos) arranged as a spaced pair (ca.35cm spacing), positioned about 80 cm in front of the guitar at a height of 84cm. The mics were angled slightly down and out, one towards the rear of the guitar, one towards the neck/body join.
The audio was recorded and edited in Reaper and mixing (some track eq, compression and reverb) and mastering (eq, compression, limiting) done using Mixbus32C. The audio was then added to the separate video.
The Carolan Guitar
The first thing I noticed about the guitar – and I think it’s been mentioned in other blogs – is that it’s surprisingly light.
When I first started playing the Carolan guitar I found the string felt quite stiff for my right hand, compared to the Lowden F50 I usually play. I did wonder if it was the strings and changed them for the ones I usually use (D’Addario EJ16 .12-.53), but it made no real difference. (It’s possible the different scale length is a factor. The Lowden is 650mm/25.5”, but the Carolan specs say 610mm/25.5” so clearly something is wrong there! I did measure it, but I’ve forgotten what it was!).
However, despite the “stiffness” the guitar was very playable and produced a good sound. (I still wouldn’t want to trade my Lowden for it!).
So thanks so much Mick for adding these lovely tunes and songs to Carolan’s history. We’ll see you at the club soon.