Thursday, October 10, 2013

Britain From A to Z: I


I’m not sure how often a particular musical instrument can be easily associated with a particular country, but in the case of bagpipes it seems to be true. Ask anyone where bagpipes originated and the great majority will certainly answer, “Outer Mongolia.” No, of course it would be Scotland. And there seemed to be no shortage of bagpipers in Scotland. In Edinburgh, we saw one at a Scottish show and another in a contemporary band at a park. We saw one on a video at a store. We even saw two at different roadside stops in the middle of nowhere in the highlands. That’s all good since I actually enjoy bagpipes…in moderation.
Roadside Bagpiper in Scottish Highlands

What you might not realize is that Scottish and Irish music heavily influenced bluegrass music here in the US. This is of interest to me since I used to play 5-string banjo in a band that played bluegrass music as part of an eclectic repertoire. We did not have the pleasure of visiting Ireland while on our UK trip, but we did get a taste of bluegrass sounding music while at Jamie’s Scottish Evening at the Thistle Hotel in Edinburgh. The fiddle player was both fast and excellent, providing a sound very similar to bluegrass music. The difference came from their having a drummer, keyboardist, and accordionist. Oh, and not to forget the occasional bagpiper. By the way, no bluegrass band members would be caught dead in a kilt. There was also dancing at the show. However, rather than clogging or square dancing, they did something I would call flying triangle dancing.

Musicians at Jamie's Scottish Evening

Flying Triangle Dancer

Apparently there is an instrument that is thought to be originally from Wales called a Crwth. I believe the name kind of gave it away. It’s a strangely shaped six-stringed instrument similar to a guitar, but has a fretless fingerboard and is played with a bow like a violin. If you ask me, it looks like something from an alien planet on Star Trek: The Original Series. I wish we’d had an opportunity to hear someone play this instrument. It would have been a great time to wear the James T. Kirk outfit I carried with me.

Although the harp is not considered exclusively a Welsh instrument, it seems to play a pretty large role in much of their music. The wife of the emcee at the Welsh banquet at Cardiff Castle played a harp during the show. This was a bit confusing since the emcee was the one that looked like Harpo Marx.

Harpist at the Cardiff Castle Welsh Banquet

Emcee, Comedian, and Flutist at the Cardiff Castle Welsh Banquet

So what about England? Well, I’m glad you asked. I have to say that I believe the most famous instruments to come out of England were the rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass guitar, and drums. Actually, it wasn’t so much the instruments that were famous, but rather the people behind them. Perhaps you remember the names John, Paul, George, and Ringo. You know, the Herman’s Hermits. Nah, the HHs were big, but not as big as THE BEATLES, as you can see with the “all caps.” When we were in Liverpool we took a bus tour about the city, seeing a number of places that the Beatle boys frequented. We also went to The Beatles Story, a museum and a place of worship. Don’t laugh. Just look at the old clips of THE BEATLES first visit to the US as part of the British Invasion. People raising their hands, speaking in tongues, and being slain in the rock and roll spirit. However, it did originally appear to be mostly a female religion. The guys didn’t catch on until later.

Entrance to the Worship Center

Faux Paul, George, John, and Ringo

And that's all I have to say about that.

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