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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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

 

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!

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It’s ready !!!

Kevin was off to Costa Rica, all artwork was done, the CD master was off to the manufacturer for printing,… now what? We needed to set a release date – ok, time for another Spanish coffee. Another fine Saturday afternoon with Steve and Cathi Behrens in Hubers and we had our release plan set – it would be in Mahers on Sunday March 2nd, we would need posters, web sites, emails, table tents … and agreement from Mahers that this was ok. Gabrielle Maher immediately agreed and couldn’t do enough to help, she recommended the marketing place down from the pub (www.gisimarketing.com) for the posters and table tents as they already did all the Mahers printing work.

Great – we had a plan… but no material. My kelticbill.com website was obsolete  Apple had abandoned iWeb (which I used ggrrrr).  I would have to redo the website – so decided to use the theme and colors from my CD. All I needed was a web publishing package… shouldn’t be hard to get –  there were quite a few out there and several web services. Aaaargh … after going cross-eyed looking through them all and trying evaluation copies for a day, I still couldn’t decide which one to use…  they all did much the same as iWeb had done… but all had restrictions of some kind or other… off to bed dazed and befuddled by technology.

My (lovely) daughter ( 🙂 ) had given me Adobe creative suite as a present a few years ago (I love Adobe photoshop) – so I had the bright idea to investigate Dreamweaver – the professional web design tool included in creative suite. Boy it looked complicated, but after following a couple of tutorials and youtube videos I had built a small test site and could see that this would take much longer to do that the other packages… but I could do whatever I wanted with my site as I would have total control (evil laughter!!!).

I got absolutely hooked… I spent days deep in the bowels of web-site design and html… and loved it! My inner geek had fully re-emerged and after a couple of weeks hard slog I had put together what I still think is a pretty nice web site ( www.bill-mullen.com) and learned a lot in the process.

On-line CD sales – you can’t go wrong with CD Baby, I signed up and put in all the details they needed to do digital music distribution. I loved their sign-up process – their 1st question was “how do you want to be paid?”… at last a website that doesn’t just take your money! I linked the services (iTunes etc) which CD Baby arranged for me to my website and set the release date to be the day before my release party – so I could be sure it was all available on the day.

The CD artwork was all I needed to put together my release poster and table tent notices, after some wrestling with Photoshop files it all looked good – working with Tyler at Gisi was great – he really knew his stuff and did a great job of the posters and table tents… at a good price!

A few late nights to complete the final touches and I was ready – 67 Music (Steve & skOt)  Mahers, Posters & table tents, new web site, new email were all ready, the music was all set to be ready on 1st March on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, Google and Shazam, the royalties were all paid and registered with Harry Fox Agency and the boxes of CDs had arrived… we were all set for the release.

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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”