By the time I get to Phoenix…

Phoenix! We drove down from Flagstaff (an ear-popping 7,000 feet) into Phoenix (2,000 feet) – the City sprawled out huge before us, build up in the middle of the desert with 3 million inhabitants! … the whole of Scotland has 5 million!…and all we needed was a few groups of happy drinkers to come to my gigs – hey – they were there too!

Phoenix is hot – I mean hot, in the middle of the desert… it’s hot, hot nights & roasting hot days – even in October! (the Phoenicians ( 🙂 )told us it was really cooling down!!!) We arrived 2nd October and I was playing 3rd in the Skeptical Chymist (Scottsdale), 4th in Tim Finnegans (Phoenix), 8th in Fibber McGees (Chandler) & 14th in O’Connors (Phoenix) (that last one was sneaked in by Michelle (my tour manager) after badgering the booking person into submission 🙂 … well done you badgerer you 🙂

Who says you don’t get support when you’re on the road? At the Skeptical Chymist, we had our friends the Mathyssen clan – Tina (Oregon), Mary (California), Brian, Jenny, Rose (Phoenix) all out for a good time – to celebrate Tina’s birthday – and who cares about tomorrow… hahahaha – Tina? Jenny?

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Then in Tim Finnegans the gang of Burkes & Johnsons arrived from Washington (via Palm Desert)  … now we didn’t get pictures of them although there were hundreds taken… does this reflect on the outrageous shenanigans that went on… you know, it just may!) They were a great bunch who really boosted the evening – as a consolation prize here are a couple of me 🙂

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and the next day on the golf course with Kevin… that’s stamina!

2014-10-05 13.55.06Fibber McGee’s, Wednesday, midweek, no ready made support imported (apart from Dorothy – who manages it all with a smile!.  It was a small but very appreciative crowd who stayed longer than they intended (it was a school night), bought CDs and had a fine time. The friendly barmaid from Belfast (Joline) was just great.

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Then lastly at O’Connors, a small friendly Irish pub, I met lots of great locals, happy genuine people, not reluctant to give their opinions, very interested in music and my experiences. As a late booking, mid-week, I had low expectations – but this was very nice – a great way to end my time in Phoenix. the Dewey crew from Lake Oswego and Washington also came along (I worked with Shelley for years and played at the wedding of Shelley & Craig’s Daughter Megan (and new Son in Law Sean (who makes incredible dark, potent Quad beer) – I played bagpipes at the end of their ceremony &  a set of their favorites from Mahers for their cocktail hour)  – it was great to have experienced Mahers go-ers in the crowd!

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So summarising my experience of Phoenix, the pubs I played are top Irish pubs, well worth a night or two to discover them. The decor, the ambiance, the drink selection, the food, the service, the staff were all just right –  they fitted the style of the bar – and were high quality. It was a pleasure to play in each of them – they were all different. The customers – a real mixed bag – the simpler the pub the nicer the crowd with more people out to see than to be seen… as opposed to the higher-end pubs. All these pubs are doing their best to promote Irish / Celtic culture – you can help them do that by seeking them out if you are ever in town – there’s a lot to discover and enjoy… and folks, please, when the musician plays a Celtic song – listen & clap… it may be me 🙂

My next Gig is in Sedona – I hope to experience a Vortex or two while I’m there… then next gig stop San Antonio Texas (3 gigs and a whisky tasting in a week!)… Michelle is cracking the whip!

 

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Taking the High Road…

We did it! … 2nd week September on the Monday we had packed up our house and had it moved into storage (Willamette Valley moving company were absolutely superb!). On the Tuesday we moved the stuff we will need for the next year into our 5th wheel which was in storage and headed off to the Roamers Rest, an RV park on the Tualatin river (where we had spent many a happy day Kayaking over the years). The change from 3 bedroom luxury house to a 5th wheel (even though it’s a nice one) was a shock to our systems Big_Hug

The whirlwind of chaos that followed (and the sneaky Birthday Party for Chris Hatzi – all secretly orchestrated by his lovely wife Ellie) … and an overnight in the Paramount hotel, Portland (while the RV had an overnight in Curtis repair shop to fix a couple of last minute things) ran away will the time and before I knew it I was headed to Mahers with Dorothy in our truck to play my last Lake Oswego gig in Mahers Irish pub. See the video here  When I think back to my first appearance in Mahers five years ago, I did it more to get Dave & Mark Maher off my back than anything (they are persistent feckers!). I could only confidently  remember the words to 8 songs – which I played. Little Mahers (as we now fondly called it) was really pretty small, there must have been around 10 people in – and still I was nervous getting up there to play. The songs went down great, I loved doing it and I had the realization that I could actually become a solo performer – I just never had the confidence to do it before.  On Friday 12th September 2014, I took to the stage, no nerves, fully confident, a crowd of over 100 people crammed in, lots of experience playing in pubs, parties, festivals… I had come a long way – and these people had all come to see / hear me . The crowd was tremendous, they were clapping and joining in from the 1st song. I let them sing a full chorus of “the piper o’ Dundee” on their own – a song which I know none of them knew before I started playing it there. Lynn who now works on the admin side of Mahers, I know her as one of the Mahers Irish Dancer’s mums who used to organize the Celtic Christmas events we had, baked me a cake with a tartan base, guitars around the middle and a dozen conflicting signposts on top (as Gabrielle Maher joked… I don’t have a feckin’ clue where I’m headed) They gave me a whisky (Macallans 12 year old – nice!) and drank a toast to Dorothy and I. Mahersand cake

It was great to see so many good friends there and people who had helped me get my act in gear – Steve & Cathi (from 67 Music who do a great job of promoting Celtic music in the Pacific Northwest) (with lovely party ballons too!), Kevin Nettleingham from Nettleingham audio who recorded my CD, Dorothy who puts up with me and many, many more. In my extended break (thanks to Jack the server for filling in for me) I tried to get around as many people as I could to say hello and goodbye… and maybe managed a third of those who came to see me (apologies if you were there and I missed you!) When I got to the last song – I got a standing ovation… that is a really nice feeling… it was wonderful. They of course wanted one more song… which is not allowed in Lake Oswego after 10pm… as if by magic, my guitar pickup stopped working (it was on it’s 3rd battery of the evening… yes there was something wrong with it)  and I sang the proclaimers song 500 miles with my guitar unplugged. It was magical. I sang the verses and everyone… and I mean everyone sang the choruses. When the song was over, there were cheers, hugs, thank-yous, more hugs and then it was all over… well apart from another 2 hours chatting, laughing and drinking!… The last Mahers gig of 2014 was over… it was time to take the high road! See the Sept 12 Mahers video here 

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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… 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 🙂

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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!

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.

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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

 

In the Studio – the final stretch

We (well, Kevin with me listening intently) mixed and mastered the whole CD over two separate sessions. Mixing is sort of done as you add tracks, but when you sweep through every song when its finished, you need to make sure the instruments are all balanced off against each other and you are hearing what you want to hear. Mastering is after you have finished mixing you then listen to the album as a whole, bringing volume levels etc on the different tracks up to match / compliment each other. The key to all this was finish recording before mixing, finish mixing before mastering as you listen for different things during each of these phases.

I had also given my outline ideas for the CD cover to Kevin and he had sent on to his artwork person. This came back wonderfully, he had added Celtic patterns, used great fonts and within a few iterations, the artwork was good, we had a final draft of the mastered CD, Kevin was due to fly to Costa Rica at the weekend – I had to give it a final, final listen and then we would print the CDs.

Then disaster… (well it felt like that) … The more I listened, the more tormented I got, all tracks were good, apart from the one I really wanted to be spot-on, the 1st track, “Scots Wha Hae”. I had played the bodhran through the song… but I had put too much expression / intonation in my playing, which was jumbling the rest of the instruments … if you listened carefully standing on one leg. Ok, maybe not the standing on one leg bit – Dorothy was having trouble hearing what I was hearing… but I knew that I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t fix it… why hadn’t I heard this earlier … well I had, but I thought it would be ok – I now know that was wishful thinking… I couldn’t listen to the track without hearing the slight jumble the bodhran was causing. Decision made, I called Kevin… I needed an hour. I knew this was a blow for Kevin as he was sure we were done (mainly because I had told him …. ooops! – just as well he wanted a final, final written ok before going further). Also, in his haste to get everything else he was doing done before leaving on 2-weeks vacation he had tripped and had wrenched his back… despite all that, he agreed to slot me in.

When I arrived, Kevin was looking awful, his complexion was grey, eyes were dull, I could see he was in great pain – and here was me wanting to change something that possibly only I would hear. He set up the mics, got his system set back to where it needed to be, I did one recording of simple basic bodhran on my 20″ drum – which was deeper and more solid that the one I had used on the previous version. We listened, I gave a sigh of relief, it was perfect – just what I wanted. Kevin adjusted the master, burned a new one and I headed off to give it all the final final listen at home again (I just loved the way he would not shortcut the process, no matter how much we wanted it to be done), Kevin wanted me to be absolutely sure that I was happy with the music .

Driving home, I had tears in my eyes when I listened to the CD – I was so happy, I knew it was was good – the final listen at home, it also had to get the Dorothy seal of approval. She loved it – even the banjo (which, as I mentioned before,  she “disnae like”) – I sent the final go ahead email to Kevin, felt the weight lift off me. A nice Glenfarclas 21 year old single malt whisky proved to be just the very thing to relax with!!

The process was now in the hands of Kevin and his CD manufacturers.

 

In the Studio – week 2

After a good sleep after my Friday gig, I rehearsed all Saturday, Sunday and Monday then was back in the studio on Tuesday for another 3 days. I had my ups (e.g. the added vocals on “Scots Wha Hae”, the harmony whistle solo on “fields of Athenry”) and downs (I was rustier on the bass than I thought) – there were times where I thought I would never get a track right, then as if by magic (usually a break and a cup of coffee did the trick) I’d nail the part which was stumping me and we’d be off and running again.

As the songs built I really appreciated how Kevin listened to music. A lot of folk songs have people all jangling along playing the same thing on different (or sometimes the same) instruments. Kevin was pushing me to “keep mixing it up” so that each instrument was clear and each part complimented the one before. He was also placing the sound in the stereo mix so that if you closed your eyes you could hear where the bass player, 12 string guitarist, singer etc were standing in a semi-circle facing you. There were some things he said would crack me up – my favorite was on the banjo – “I love it when that stops”. I laughed as Dorothy (my wife) always loved it when the banjo stopped – or didn’t even start 🙂 (my daughter Valerie’s (cruel) comment was the best sound ever is the sound the bagpipe makes when a banjo hits it when it lands in a dumpster).
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Kevin actually quite liked the banjo – what he meant was the sound contrast it gave when instruments would come in, then go out, then come in again… adding color to the sound.

By the end of the 2nd week I had pretty much done every track, but I needed an extra day to finish loose ends and tidy up things which we said we would come back to.

One of those things we came back to was trying to create a feeling of being more in a live setting – but without the background noise, chinking of glasses and uproarious laughter. So I invited people to come along to the audio one Saturday morning. They were my wife Dorothy, my son Kyle (who just arrived back from Japan that morning), daughter Valerie, Valerie’s husband Shady, Shady’s mum, Christine, our good friends (and Irish music lovers) Fergus and Sarah with their daughters Niamh and Siobhain, with me that made 10 “clappers and joiner-inners”. It was a lot of fun, everyone was very impressed by the studio, everyone got headphones (except Sarah – but she was good enough to manage without). I thought it was hilarious when the joking stopped and everyone realized (as we all do in that moment before recording) the “ooops, this is serious, it’s being recorded, immortalized!” I have never seen such concentration on people who would normally be laughing and clapping along casually at a gig. Shady and Kyle became extra animated as they stamped their feet and clapped intent on making maximum noise and being right on the beat. This wee clip that Fergus magically recorded (edited and produced) on his iPhone does a nice job of capturing the mood.

 The “Clappy Clappers”

In the Studio Week 1

You need to write up a matrix of songs and the instruments / tracks you want in them said Kevin. Oh my – and here’s me, king of the Excel model – that’s has been the answer to many things in my life… and getting my act together for recording was going to need a plan. I spent a good morning planning out each song … and when I counted up the tracks I would need to record (and get right) I opted for a more contained approach – I really didn’t need (and couldn’t afford)  a “wall of sound” on each song.

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The picture above is the finished result, I used color coding to let me know which instruments were ready to record and which needed more practice… and blue meant done! I practiced and recorded each piece on my own on my iPad using a USB recording interface once I could play a part fluently all the way through, I would record it then mark the cell on my excel model green = ready for the studio. I could of course play all the instruments, but you can never underestimate the pressure of recording, how your lips tense and your fingers stiffen when you stand in from of a microphone with a whistle… how your voice changes as your vocal chords contract as you’re about to sing. You know that whatever you are about to do will be printed to CD, downloaded and listened to intently by people who paid money for it – that’s realization can (and does) freak you out – you want to be your absolute best… and like most things, the harder you try, the more mistakes you make and worse it gets.

Relax. That’s the key. Deep breaths, loosen up, shake out those arms, warm up that voice, hear the song in your head and make it come out your fingers or vocal chords just as you imagine it should sound, put your heart into it and be confident, you’ve played these so many times in front of critical audiences and always leave people smiling and happy… you just need to do that … alone in the studio.

Day 1, Tuesday 10th December 2013, we would start recording at 10am, so I got up early packed up all my instruments into the car, had breakfast with Dorothy then headed of to Nettleingham audio with my “Broons” carrier bag (it’s a scottish thing) with soup, sandwiches and a flask of throat-coat tea which Dorothy had made up for me. It was a bit weird, I don’t know why, but I felt like a kid going to 1st day at school. I was nervous.

At 10am my instruments were in the band room and Kevin and I reviewed the excel model. Years ago when I was recording with Feargal, we would do all tracks on a song and finish that song, then move on to the next. Kevin’s technique was to get me to play 12-string guitar on all songs which had 12-string guitar, then do all songs which needed 6-string guitar, layering each sound on each song and building them all up – but not finishing any of them until the very last track was recorded. This was incredibly effective. The consistency of sound and the balance of the finished product was spot-on. I told you before, Kevin is a craftsman – and he was ensuring quality from the very start.

When it was time to eat my soup, we had a click-track (tempo to keep me on the beat), 12-string guitar and a rough vocal on 5 songs, we were ploughing through them.

The day continued well , it was intense as you have to start right – whatever comes after the 1st track is building on what you have already done, so it needs a strong foundation. I did not use sheet music, I had made up a script for each song, this told me how many bars of introduction I would play, how many bars before the chorus, when was the solo, which instruments would start and stop – and when. When you’re on your own and playing a different instrument (e.g. fingerpicked 6-string guitar) over what you’ve already recorded on strummed 12-string guitar, you need to have the same “feel” of the song that you had when you did the 1st track. This was strange at first, but after a few tracks, which I now know Kevin was never intending to use, I settled down and got right into the music – Kevin heard this and the recordings really started to work. Having that independent musical brain paying attention and matching with what you have done before was invaluable – and Kevin was the master of tact, when I was off the beat he would say (innocently) “can you hear the click track?” or ” you need to get this one right in the pocket” – I knew we meant “that was sloppy… do it again” I would play the piece again paying more attention to the beat and hey presto – it worked!

We stopped at 5pm, I was exhausted, drove home on a high, told Dorothy everything about what we’d done (it’s that 1st day of school thing again), ate my dinner, drifted off in a nap (boy I was tired), woke up with a “I can’t be napping, I’ve things to do!” sort of panic, then headed up to my music room to practice and record on my iPad again, getting ready for the next day and working on my weaker (less played) instruments.

By the end of Thursday, I was really tired – but we were pretty much half way through and where we planned to be. I had a gig in Mahers, Lake Oswego on Friday evening – and it felt good to just play, me, my guitar and a happy crowd singing along with me – let rip and relax… a nice end to the week.