last morning of Banjo Camp

Well, just two more sessions to go at banjo camp. It’s been a lot of fun, and I’ve learned so much. I do need to get my chord skills down, but even my half-formed frailing did garner compliments.

The concerts were great. Last night we had Wade & Julia Mainer perform some gospel numbers. Wade turned 100 this year, but you wouldn’t know it to hear them play.

So it’s a long drive back, but it was worth it.

it’s official – i suck at banjo

okay, I need to work on my basic G chords and getting to know the standard jam canon. I knew none of them at the slow jam tonight – no Boil Them Cabbage, no Cripple Creek, no Buffalo Girls. I might know a bunch of modal tunes, and one in F even, but can I fret a C chord … ?

whee!

It was the Banjo Special last night. There was much frailing, picking, and whatever it is that Irish Tenor players do.

spiked!

Took advantage of the holiday to scoot down to The 12th Fret to have my banjo looked at. I’d managed to do a bad thing to the tailpiece (which I’d rather not talk about, thank you), and had Grant fit capo spikes at 7, 9 & 10.

While working on the fretboard, Grant confirmed that these really were model railway track spikes — or more correctly, model railway enthusiasts use capo spikes to hold their rails down!

all the stars came crashing down

Saw the Decemberists at the awful barn that is the Kool Haus last night. The place was fairly busy, but not full. A scalper offered me a derisory price for a spare ticket, so I don’t think they sold out.
They were pretty good; great in parts, kind of tired and meh in others. Naughty Chris Funk lit up on stage; that’ll mean a fine for the venue. That’ll teach him not to play banjo on stage.
Sensitive wee Scottish folkie Alasdair Roberts supported. He was good enough for me to buy the CD.

house concert!

We went to a house concert last night to hear Chris Coole & Erynn Marshall play some Kentucky duets. Erynn’s back from BC to record with Chris; today’s a long day in the studio.

Great music, nice venue, excellent evening. Maybe we’ll eventually get enough money to buy Chris a new banjo head; his current one looks stricken with some dread skin disease …

tunes I must learn (eventually)

Not all of these could be classed as banjo tunes, but I’d want to try, anyway:

  • The Coo-Coo Bird (it’s not optional)
  • The Old Plank Road (Uncle Dave’s delivery, which was more demented than the Rounders)
  • Hot Corn, Cold Corn (like HMR; just how does one spell moo’m moo’m moo’m de boo’m boo’m de boo’m?)
  • I’m Going In A Field (Nic Jones style)
  • Bridges & Balloons (Joanna’s song’s just crying out to be covered with a broad Glasgow accent)
  • Needle of Death (too many banjo tunes are too happy)
  • Ghost (the Neutral Milk Hotel one)
  • something by Sufjan (even if Peter Stampfel says he plays banjo kind of boringly)
  • I Love How You Love Me (like Mangum, not Spector)

banjo blues

I’m kinda stuck with my banjo playing. I can frail away an adequate Shady Grove, but — despite what my teacher Chris Coole says — I just don’t have the confidence to learn new songs from a book or CD.

I get home late and tired, and very often the banjo gets neglected. This isn’t good. I enjoy playing, but I think everyone around me would appreciate it if I got some new tunes.

Slower, and of Montreal

Bit of a compendium today:

Chris Coole, while trying to teach me to play “Shady Grove” on the banjo, told me about The Amazing Slow Downer. This allows you to slow down CDs or music files without changing pitch, so you can work out how it’s played.

This is Windows and Mac only, but I found SndStretch for XMMS. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t sound as good (sounds slightly like it’s played through a hoover hose) as TASD, but it’s free.

While I was at Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (I contract for them), I found a Montreal-style bagel bakery. It’s on Bayview a couple of blocks south of Eglinton. They are great bagels; wood-fired, with a sweet crust. Maybe not quite as good as the tiny, rock-hard Polish bagels I got in Glasgow, but miles ahead of anything else in Toronto.

Speaking of Montreal, of Montreal‘s new album Satanic Panic in the Attic is great. Think “Wilson & Barrett make psych-disco”, and you’re about there.

Oh, and I start a new job tomorrow. Wish me luck …

frailing miserably

A year ago today, I started playing banjo. None of that “Duelling Banjos” picking style, either — this is old-time 5-string clawhammer, or frailing. I can play a few tunes, given the best efforts of my teacher Chris Coole.

If you’re in Toronto on January 31st or February 1st, it’s worth seeing Chris play at the Flying Cloud Folk Club as part of the annual Banjo Special event. Last year was amazing; this year can only be better.

I also owe a lot to approximately 50% of the Holy Modal Rounders, Peter Stampfel. When he heard that I was taking up the banjo, called me from New York with tips on getting started. This quite unnecessary act of kindness seems typical of the banjo community.