Newport Celtic Festival, Oregon

Celtic festivals – now there’s the thing. Playing in pubs – I can do that and its fun, it’s become my bread and butter – but what about a Celtic festival – there’s much less beer, far more listening and way more Celtic! Ok – I can do that – how do you get in? Steve Behrens’ list told me who I needed to contact for the Newport Celtic Festival, Oregon, I checked their website and bingo! The entry deadline was two days away! Timing is everything. I filled in the (pretty big and thorough) application and sent it in.

I got accepted. Nice! June 14th & 15th wasn’t long in arriving, however by this time my “gig until you drop” strategy (see last blog post) was in full swing and I was also committed to play at Mahers in Lake Oswego on Friday June 13th. Lake Oswego is 3hours drive from Newport which is on the Oregon coast. I also received the band schedule from Newport – I was playing at 10am on Saturday. Hmm, it was getting harder – no worries – a call to the Comfort Inn in Newport (thanks Dorothy) – they could take us in at any time of the night – ok we had a bed.  At Mahers in Lake Oswego, when its nice I play on their lovely outdoors patio from 7pm to 10pm -we’d be on the road by 10:30pm. Then the weather turned. I played inside the pub from 8:30 to 11:30pm and was on the road after midnight.

sloth

Four hours sleep, 4 mugs of throat-coat tea (one before bed), severe tooth brushing with listerine involved, several Halls mentholyptus lozenges and a piping hot shower revived my voice enough to know that I could sing again (with a few wee yodels thrown in free). We arrived at the festival as everyone was loading in, so surrounded by tartans, pies, wolfhounds, heiland coos, swords and all things Celtic, we found the music stage. I had brought my sound system as we didn’t know what equipment was laid on. Wow… the music crew were in the process of clicking together an enormous professional PA system. This was a serious scaffold around the stage dripping with speakers on each side and enormous bass bins (big speakers) on the ground which reached to the stage. Four large stage monitors in front of you… no, I didn’t need my sound system – this was a very nice setup.

clans

The event started with a march of the clans. There are official clan organizations who attend these events, sign up people who have discovered they have ancestral ties to that clan and stimulate people’s knowledge and enthusiasm for their roots. They have researched their family history and (generally) they do know their stuff. By 10am the weather was warming up, people had arrived, the organizer appeared on the stage and introduced me. This was it.

The stage was pretty big, the seats in front of the stage were quite far away – there were people sitting there – looking expectantly. This was totally different from my beer swilling, happy singing crowd from the previous night in Mahers pub… there people were… sober!

meagain

Happily – the bond that joined us all – the love of Scottish and Irish music was soon formed. The crowd clapped when I wanted them to, they sang when I wanted them, they listened intently… and applauded enthusiastically when I finished each song (that was a relief!). The sound system was cranking out the decibels and I told stories as I diligently kept my guitars in tune – outside gigs in damp, warm climates play havoc with your strings – I  managed pretty well, I just had to remember to keep checking and fine-tuning, normally tuning’s not much of an issue.

The songs flew by as did the time, I felt pretty good on the stage – I did once experience what my daughter Valerie describes as “octopus arm”, she is learning to play the guitar and occasionally loses control of her strumming arm (making it feel like it’s an octopus’s… and not yours!). I now know its caused by overthinking. On stage, my songs almost play themselves these days, I just have to add enthusiasm, energy and keep an eye on what I’m up to  – but when you start thinking too much about what any one part of you is doing… you’re asking for a dose of octopus arm! So Beware! I reached the end of my set and was really happy to see a few wee groups of people heading over to the CD buying table – great! After some CD sales I headed over to the pretty impressive merchandising tent run by 1916, the headline band for the festival. We got talking, they liked my set, they had some whiskey, I had some whisky… one thing led to another… we hit it off really well.

By evening, the day was done, we’d all performed well, Dorothy and I had sneaked an hour’s sleep in the afternoon – then we met up with Steve and Cathi Behrens – it was great to see them and even greater when they treated us to dinner in Newport! After 9pm there was a fine old Celtic session in the Irish pub in Newport – most of the musicians and dancers were there. This was a ton of fun… and the guinness was slipping down well!

session

… and of course – there’s no show without Punch… watch Rothsey-O here

On Sunday I was on at 11:15am… shower, throat coat tea, Halls mentholyptus, listerene… I was getting good at this early morning gigging thing. I played again in the afternoon – all went well, crowd was great, CDs sold and I was happy – this was a fine couple of days.

The largest crowd of the day formed in front of the dance stage, what was this, the headline band, the top dancers, pipers, battle of the bands, massed pipe and drums??? … no – the fashion show. You have no idea how “appealing” Celtic dress can be (to the males especially)… they did a fantastic show – and as long as I have lived in Scotland – I never saw Celtic dress look so good! This was an eye-opener for sure 🙂

fashion

We headed home Sunday late afternoon to celebrate Fathers day (which was lovely) and I went to bed late, tired … and happy – Newport Festival, Oregon coast – check it out next year – it is a lovely place, very nice event with very welcoming people. You’ll love it!

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Life after recording

You know that “yahoo… It’s done” feeling when you’ve completed a project…like many projects, making a CD is only the beginning (no pun intended) – the album was new to everyone else apart from me. I needed to promote and sell it. 67 Music have pushed the release with great enthusiasm around the Pacific Northwest (and even globally) CD Baby were just fantastic – they just know what they’re doing and their disc maker blog seemed to know what I was wondering about … as a new post would arrive with that subject as their special feature just at the right moment! Nice. I took the flat-out approach… gig, gig, gig ’till you drop …  play more gigs and sell the *** out of the CD.

air_guitar_kangaroo

Since the release on March 2nd, I have played 28 gigs and have sold CDs at all but one. The discussion with Dorothy, Steve and Cathi Behrens in Hubers was spot-on, you really do need a CD to get further – it’s just good to be able to send someone a sample of your music that you’re not ashamed of  (hint… buy it here!or here).

I sent a CD to Alex Salmond, the leader (first minister) of the Scottish government. I was really pleased when I found a letter waiting from him when I returned from my trip to Scotland and NL (with a few giggity, giggities thrown in 🙂 ). I’d asked him to listen to my version of “Scots Wha Hae”. You can read his response here. All I was wanting to know is – would he approve? would he use it further?… well he liked it and who knows about the rest.

Feedback is good … and so far I’ve had good feedback… when I remembered to do it, I added to my website under “testimonials” – nice to share what people have said… and have something to look back on on those days when you need to remember you can do it.

With all the gigs I’ve been doing – I’ve hit a rhythm – I feel and act like a pro (well, sorry, it sounds big-headed… but I do…). Our lives have become more nocturnal, a gig night means 2am to bed, weekends have become my work week and weekdays are filled with music stuff (playing, learning, writing, fiddling about), website updates, facebook posts, newsletter writing and every week a wee bit for my blog… and the good news is that with this one, I am now bang up to date and I’m ready to go “in the moment!”…

Next blog will be a behind the scenes look at my time at the Newport Oregon Celtic festival this weekend.

Cheers, Bill

http://www.bill-mullen.com

http://www.facebook.com/billmullenentertains

 

Time to Party

Celebrate – give me more of that! I imagined holding the release party would be stressful – it wasn’t at all. It was a pretty happy time, I enjoyed the fact the CD was done and done well, that glow of relief stayed around a long time 🙂  I was looking forward to sharing my music with others – I knew they would find something they liked in it.

March 1st – that 1st moment of delight when I logged on to CD Baby’s site, typed in my name and there was my new album… on to iTunes – the same… Amazon, Google, Shazam… there it was – me, published and available to buy on-line. Nice ! Then the unexpected emails – friends in Scotland, England, Australia, Netherlands had looked on-line, found and bought the CD – I’m sure that’s no big deal to seasoned artists who sell thousands on the 1st day – but to me this was such a blast – I was on top of the world!

Sunday, March 2nd, now really looking forward to the release party – so much so that Dorothy & I arrived uncharacteristically early, set up my gear (and fiddled around far too much trying to get the perfect stereo sound … sigh – sometimes that control freak in me need to take a day off… was I always like that ?). Gabrielle Maher and the Mahers family had the pub all ready and looking great. skOt, Steve and Cathi (67 Music and good friends) arrived with banners, balloons, merchandise – the scene was set… and people started to arrive (despite the fact that my party was clashing with the Oscars!)

I played songs from the Album, played tracks from the CD, told stories, supported by Steve, skOt drawing raffle tickets and keeping things going. Kevin Nettleingham was there enjoying the atmosphere and said nice things about working with me. It was great. How often do you have the perfect crowd? – the pub was full – a very nice atmosphere – everyone there had come for the CD launch, to hear the music, buy my new CD… and enjoy a great afternoon – which it really was. I had a ball

Here is a video summary made by Steve Behrens

Home later that day – a good few beers and whiskies further on – and the happy feeling that goes with mission accomplished!

whisky

… ok, now what?…

Ok – now what? Ah yes – Spanish coffee… a professional musician (I still love that job title!) but what do you do? Hmmm… Become popular ? Learn more? play more ? perform more?  travel more? … At the age of 57 starting a new career…  Spanish coffee with Dorothy and our friends Steve and Cathi ( from 67 music) seemed like a great idea.hubers-irish-coffee Downtown Portland, Saturday, end November, 4pm, happy hour ( 2 hours actually… but American happy hours can stretch a whole weekend!) Hubers bar and restaurant (one of the oldest establishments in Portland) do an incredible Spanish coffee ( they are the biggest consumer of Kailua in the USA as a result) – this was the ideal location (and ingredient) for a “… now what… ” brainstorm. It was obvious and not a new idea – we concluded I needed a CD … as a priority. How else can people know what I sound like and be confident hiring me if they have never heard me. Groan… recording…. I’ve done it before, all that excitement and drive you have at a live performance, missing, the focus you have while playing live, missing, the forgiving crowd, missing… In my experience, recording was always a bit scary – you re conscious every second that what you play is captured  – for  ever…  and you will be judged! I had also come to the conclusion that I was the wrong person to also be the recording engineer. I have recording equipment and software but any time I use it, I seem to spend 80% of the time getting the equipment and recording set the way I want it and 20% of the time actually playing music or singing… and the constant voice in my head whispering “start again, you could do better”.

judging-you-anderson-cooper

Looking back, it seems like a small thing – but it was a big, grown-up, professional musician kind of step that took me from the fiddling around with music and equipment in my good, but clearly not state of the art, purpose-built home studio to the fully professional, you’re paying money, you’re serious, recording palace which is Nettleingham Audio!

It all started with a Party…

It all started with a party… and not just any party: Scottish Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) parties were a real highpoint for us. Most workers had a day off on 31st December (they didn’t get that at Christmas) and families would visit each other after midnight. That was called first-footing; it was lucky if the first foot over your door threshold belonged to a tall dark and handsome person, and they also needed to bring you a present: a lump of coal was a lucky present… a drink of whisky was also very acceptable!

For our part, we would end up in the Gibson’s house two houses down from us; they held the best parties by far! Mr and Mrs Gibson welcomed people from all over and insisted they did a “party-piece” where each person in the room would perform: a song, a joke, a story, a dance… there was no escape; everybody had to do something. The Gibson children, Danny and Hazel, were older than my brother Doug and I, and were very musical. Together with Hazel’s 1st boyfriend, John—a “beatnik” going to Dundee Art College (super cool, opinionated, beard, long hair, pipe smoking, corduroy trousers, tweed jacket with elbow patches)—Danny and Hazel would sing, play guitar, harmonize—they were brilliant—weaving spells around us all. I would have done anything to just join in and be a part of it.  At the age of 11, I made a new year’s resolution, desperate to surprise everyone at the next Hogmanay party: I would learn the guitar and be able to really join in. I spent many hours the following year in secret up in the bedroom I shared with my older brother Doug, holed up with his guitar and song books (my folks could only afford lessons for one of us… and it wisnae me!) My goal was to prepare myself for the party so I could surprise everyone by playing the guitar and singing songs.

The next Hogmanay, when it was my turn to perform, I (casually) asked to borrow Danny’s guitar and—much to everyone’s surprise (including my mum & dad’s)—I played two songs and sang. Way-hay!!! All of a sudden I was in, an accepted part of the musical inner circle. From that time, at every opportunity there was, I would be there, soaking up songs and playing and singing along.

By the time I was 16, I could, and did, entertain at all sorts of parties on my own, no problem—I had developed a fine Celtic song repertoire by then. Meanwhile, the music scene in Dundee was moving fast in many directions: Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, Leonard Cohen, Elvis, The Beatles, Creedence, the Rolling Stones. I was playing guitar and learning songs of every kind; I just loved how I could skip from one world to the next as a song, tempo, genre or mood would change. I kept my Celtic music going for my own consumption and for something different at my friends’ parties (who mainly played rock and pop music, but still liked a good sing-song thrown in). I also answered the call of rock and roll and formed a 5-piece band, “Badge”. We played rock and pop and were booked at dances, weddings, events, and discos, mostly in Dundee or Perth, but we would travel all over Scotland in the weekend for gigs when needed; the money was poor, the nights were long, but boy—we were on top of the world! We would slog through the week at college or work, but when the weekend came—Yahoo!—we were gigging again and loving it! When I was 31, I moved from Dundee to Aberdeen for work and left the band. After 15 years of solid playing, this was hard to do, but I felt it was time to see what else life had to offer.

My wife Dorothy and I lived in Aberdeen for a few years before we went to live in the Netherlands, where we had our family. I didn’t play for several years: not until I started playing with a musically gifted Irish colleague of mine, Feargal Maconuladh. I have never heard Feargal sing a duff note; he has an incredible voice. We started playing for fun at work and quickly realized we not only had the same taste in Celtic music—we were also pretty good! We started playing gigs in the Netherlands as the Duo “Keltic Fire”, and we had a great time establishing ourselves musically. We were a bit of a novelty as our audiences loved the idea of Celtic music, but had very little experience of it for the most part. Again, the emotional connections these old songs would make with our audience were wonderful to see: with no real folk singing tradition comparable with our Scottish and Irish ones, the Dutch audiences loved this new vibrant cultural exposure. Feargal and I played together for 6 years (including recording two albums), and after that, I moved (with the family) to the USA for work, and Feargal moved to Barcelona.

Late in 2008, David Maher heard me play with Feargal during one of Feargal’s visits from Barcelona, and he asked me to play in his new Irish pub, Maher’s, in Lake Oswego, Oregon. At first I was reluctant to play solo and I didn’t really want to play with anyone else—Feargal was a hard act to follow—but I gave it a try one evening and played around 8 songs just to see how it would go. The crowd loved it and so did I. Since then I have built up a large collection of Scottish, Irish, English, American, and other songs which allows me to tailor what I play to the audience I have in front of me. I was always aware when playing in pubs that the customers didn’t necessarily come to see me; they came to be entertained, which I could do pretty well. When I play in pubs now, I (mostly) have the best of both worlds in that the crowd wants to be entertained… AND the majority of them are there to see me…

In September 2013, at the age of 57, I took a big step and left a good job to follow my passion for music. I now have time, focus and the energy to take my musical career to wherever it is going. You only get one life: you’d better live it to the fullest—and I am certainly doing that. I love playing and seeing the impact I have on people in my audience. In the USA, I watch people as they are transported to places I create by singing them songs from their forefathers, places and experiences they have heard of from their parents or grandparents. They still have an emotional bond to the “old country” where they have never lived, and a piece of their spirit still wants to connect them there.

So… that sets the scene for what about to come, my next blog will talk about the joys and ins-and-outs (and ups and downs) of making my first album, “the Beginning” which I completed early 2014 with Nettleingham Audio of Vancouver Washington.