April 2007

Many of you will know that when we were in China I bought an electric violin – a fine piece of Guangzhou engineering – great sound for recording, but tiring to play for any length of time because it’s quite a bit heavier than a normal violin.

Electric violin

That set me wondering about how I might reduce the weight – I thought about putting in some tasteful holes in the side to give it that ‘industrial’ look, but after liberal application of the forstner bits it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing. So I had a re-think. I would need a stub wing on the right for position work and I would need enough belly to hold a shoulder rest – but was the rest of the superstructure really necessary?

Electric violin

The whole thing is made from a fairly dense craftwood so I set to work with the bandsaw and removed segments of the skeletal violin shape – that was a bit better on the weight. And so to the main strut to which the neck was attached. There is a fairly crudely routed box section for the electronics, but the rest seemed to be a solid plank.

Electric violin

I tested with a couple of discreet drill holes and found it was indeed solid MDF – no wonder thing thing weighed so much! I took to the main strut with a couple of sizes of forstner bit in the drill press and took a series of impressions. Then I joined them to make a cavity – not all the way through, but about two-thirds so there would still be plenty of strength. I still need to do a lot of finishing work on the back, but you’ll get the idea.

Electric violin

A LOT of shavings later and the fiddle is now substantially lighter – not quite as light as the kevlar Guscott ones, but certainly light enough to use in performance without putting my neck out 🙂

I agree that it has lost some of the aesthetic quality, but it will work well as a good workhorse electric fiddle



Another wonderful St Albans Folk Festival 2007 has come and gone. Highlights included the delightful crowd that attended my fiddle workshop and the really responsive crowd at our Full Circle concert at the Fickle Wombat restaurant. This is a really friendly folk festival – small enough to meet old and new friends, and big enough to hear some great musicians.

The setting is delightful – nestled in a gorge not far from Wisemans Ferry in NSW (about an hour from Newcastle) and the morning mist makes the place quite magical as the first morning flutes and fiddles announce the new day.

We found a campsite conveniently opposite the Fickle Wombat venue


The first stop after setting up camp was to head off to the main festival ground and get a good hot cup of coffee – and a bacon and egg sandwich. Both were warm wet and filling.

But the folk/blues coming out of the main marquee quickly set the scene for a night of great music. I ran into the excellent fiddler Tony Pyrzakowski and he was keen to play a session after his gig with the inimitable Wheeze and Suck Band. They’re terrific if you haven’t heard them – and great to see live as they really get the audience going. You’ve got to hear Tony’s new five string electric fiddle – it’s light; it’s got a great sound; and it has the viola C string as well as the normal violin ones. And in Tony’s hands he makes it really sing. That’s a Guscott fiddle – light weight (the pre-amp goes on your belt, not in the fiddle – and the fiddle is made from lightweight kevlar).

We had a blistering ‘dueling fiddlers’ session at the Settlers Arms pub – a grand old country pub – perfect spot for a music session. There was trad session in the back room then when the pub closed it was everyone on the verandah until the wee hours. Tony and I played and members of the Mothers and Wheeze and Suck and Full Circle – it was terrific and there were several other fiddle and whislte players joining in – and that’s what it’s all about – the sharing of the music. I had a few songs with Nigel ‘Muddy’ Waters – great guy.

Settlers Arms
Settler Arms Hotel, St Albans

When the cool damp air started playing havoc with my bow – the wood expanded until the bow would no longer keep the hair stretched tight – it was time to call it a night.

Next morning with the light mist keeping the dust down Sharon and I headed up to the Fickle Wombat for the Poets breakfast and then over to the Gallery – where my fiddle workshop would be held – and had a lovely fresh brewed plunger coffee and chocolate slice for morning tea, then after checking out the paintings and handcrafts we headed back to the main venue to hear some music and take a few photos.

The fiddle workshop was well attended and I took them through some technique training and some stretching exercises

fiddle workshop St Albans 2007
Jerry’s fiddle workshop, St Albans Folk Festival

fiddle workshop - St Albans

Then it was down to the pub verandah for a bit of a warm-up session with the rest of Full Circle Band before grabbing a bite to eat, some music at the main marquee and then off to get our instruments to the Fickle Wombat ready for our concert.

Fickle Wombat Restaurant, St Albans NSW
The Fickle Wombat, St Albans NSW

These guys deserve a lot of praise as they supported the festival throughout and worked 18 hour days tirelessly to keep everyone fed and coffee’d – Well done!

Other highlights – the Mothers of Intention with their Karifolkie (see it to believe it!) They played at the Fickle Wombat before us and set the scene for the concert to follow

Mothers of Intention - Karifolkie
Mothers of Intention – Karifolkie

Then it was our turn, and we soon had the crowd stomping and dancing and singing along. Tony told me after that as he was walking away to do a Wheeze and Suck gig he heard us start up and he kept wanting to go back and listen to us! We played for a good two hours – which flew by – it seemed like half an hour to us, and the packed audience were really responsive – a truly lovely festival crowd. We were called back for three encores and it was a real high note to end the concert.

The old van went well – with the minor irritant of a short circuit in the headlights to make our arrival in the evening a bit interesting. And we passed a milestone on the speedometer – 400,000kms – in the the van we’ve had since new


With the final morning dawning it was time to pack up the camp, listen to the poets breakfast and say a few farewells before heading back up the road via Wiseman’s Ferry and homeward to Canberra. Interestingly, Wisemans Ferry is the oldest continuously operating ferry service in Australia having run since 1827.

Wisemans Ferry NSW

Wisemans Ferry

… and that sign is in miles! It’s actually 21 km to Wisemans Ferry.

Anyhow, congratulations to Alison Boyd and all the organisers for a great festival – hope to see you all there next year!


Thanks to Angela I came across this amazing vid

It seems that the lead singer is 90 years old and there he is singing “I hope I die before I get old…” I like their attitude – and I like their visual take on the Beatles Abbey Road cover image too!

Here’s what the YouTube notes say about this group:

Lead singer Alf is 90 – and he’s not the oldest – there are 99 and 100-year-olds in the band!
The Zimmers will feature in a BBC TV documentary being aired in May 2007. Documentary-maker Tim Samuels has been all over Britain recruiting isolated and lonely old people – those who can’t leave their flats or who are stuck in rubbish care homes.
The finale of the show is this group of lonely old people coming together to stick it back to the society that’s cast them aside – by forming a rock troupe and trying to storm into the pop charts.

There are all sorts of things one could sy about society’s marginalisation of the senior population – but above all this is just great fun and they obviously loved doing it 🙂


Having just spent four days doing street performances with Will o the Wisp musical circus, I was intrigued when Sharon spotted this article in the Washington Post online. Take one virtuoso violinist and place him out of his usual context playing to sell-out audiences in the US and Europe’s finest auditoriums and place him in a subway station in Washington DC and observe how people react.

The result is amazing. Watch the videos and see the reactions – or almost complete lack of reaction! I know how he feels: I reckon street performance is one of the hardest genres. As violinist Joshua Bell notes

“When you play for ticket-holders,” Bell explains, “you are already validated. I have no sense that I need to be accepted. I’m already accepted. Here, there was this thought: What if they don’t like me? What if they resent my presence . . .”

And he was playing a 1710 Stradivarius violin!

Some say my style is …well…vigorous – and that’s because I began my musical career by busking. Very quickly I learnt that if you move with the music people get more responsive. It’s that immediate that you can learn a lot from busking. You get instant feedback on what works and what doesn’t – at least when there is a responsive crowd of passers by.

I suspect there is also a bit of commentary here on US culture – people being utterly absorbed in their own worlds that it takes a lot for people to take in their surroundings.

The article is a fascinating insight into art and context.


Well, the Australian National Folk Festival has come and gone for another year, and soon I’ll catch up on some sleep – but not before I’ve told you how wonderful this festival is.

This year there were several great highlights – and it was great to be performing with my daughter as part of Will o’ the Wisp musical circus.

Will o the Wisp circus

The campsite was a brisk short walk in the chilly evening (okay well into the morning) after a night playing in some amazing Irish music sessions – and the up-and-coming young players give great hope for the future of folk music in Australia.

The festival is set in the Exhibition Park grounds on the northside of Canberra and it has come a long way from my first National Folk Festival in 1977. The venues are well signposted and the festival atmosphere is deliciously enhanced by the myriad food stalls and exotic clothing, jewelry and musical instrument makers.

And session bars provide great spaces for singing and swapping tunes across musical styles from bluegrass, to hungarian to various flavours of celtic music and jazz and blues – this festival has it all and the fusion of styles shows the folk tradition at its best.

I was pleased to see that a new session bar has been opened up and dedicated to the memory of the late Billy Moran

Billy Moran session bar

Between performances with Will o’ the Wisp I managed to see several great concerts and see some emerging talent at the blackboard events. Martin Pearson did a great satire on the daVinci Code, Mothers of Intention launched their new CD and there was a breathtaking array of amazing fiddle players from around the world.

Mothers of Intention
Mother of Intention

I did the Chris Duncan Fiddle Workshop where I learnt a couple of great Scottish tunes, and got to see Chris’s style up close.

Chris Duncan

For me there were three stand-out performances – The first was to see the amazing Dave Swarbrick on his ‘Lazarus’ tour – just several months after his double lung and heart transplant – his style is smooth and whimsical – and yeah he’s still got that swing! Sadly, the performance I saw turned out to be the only one he gave at the festival – knowing how tiring it is to tour, I felt privileged just to have heard him once. He played with singer-songwriter Allistair Hulett.

Dave Swarbrick live in Canberra

Dave Swarbrick live in Canberra

The second was the Festival Fiddlers concert, featuring Jane Unger (daughter of the writer of the tune Ashokan Farewell); Kevin Burke (legendary Irish fiddle player); Nancy Kerr (English style); Lisa McIsaac (Cape Breton fiddler, member of Mad Violet, and sisiter of Ashley McIsaac); and Chris Duncan (Australian Scottish fiddler). It was great to see all these leading exponents of their respective styles in one concert!

Fiddlers concert

The empty chair next to Chris Duncan was reserved in case Dave Swarbrick was able to return.

Jane Unger performed her father’s tune and then did some nice Appallacian style fiddling

Jane Unger
Jane Unger

Kevin Burke has a smooth Irish style that made even the most dramatic reel seem effortless

Kevin Burke
Kevin Burke

Nancy Kerr was described as having two brains – for her ability to sing one tune while playing a different accompanying tune on the fiddle and plucking a third rhythm – all at the same time! You have to hear it to believe it 🙂
Nancy Kerr
Nancy Kerr

Lisa McIsaac is closest to my style of playing – attacking the fiddle with gusto and moving with such energy that the chair was just there to keep her on the ground. Her Cape Breton style is amazing – although her bow hair expenses will be very high: hair was just fountaining off the bow as she played! I’m not sure whether it was Jane Unger of Lisa McIsaac who was given an excellent piece of advice when beginning the fiddle – “either get mad at it or don’t play fiddle at all” Lisa certainly embodied the passion in the music.

Lisa McIsaac
Lisa McIsaac

And Chris Duncan provided some Pagannini moments showing his technical skill to considerable effect on a range of Scottish tunes.

Chris Duncan
Chris Duncan

The third particular treat was Mad Violet – haunting ballads and furious Cape Breton fiddling.

In the session bar Tony Pyrzakowski and I turned a few heads with our duelling fiddlers routine – just nudging the speed a little 😉 We were both practically airborne and still going note for note so you could hear each note of the tune clearly defined but at breakneck speed! Both fiddles were practically smoking by the end!

Tony Pryzakowski

I only saw the sun come up on the second morning – the rest were comparatively early nights finishing between 5.00AM and 6.00AM most nights.

I came away with a few new tunes and some great memories.


See you all next year! Or in two weeks time at the St Albans Festival in New South Wales, Australia


When the strangely-shaped packages arrived addressed to me I thought there was some mistake – clearly the chocolates and whatever else there was, were meant for Sharon as a get well gift … Sharon just smiled and told me to stop being silly and open them.

I could not believe my eyes! Someone must’ve sneaked a peak at my blog a little while back – remember the mystery location challenge set by another blogger – Angela Thomas? Something about chocolate?

Ghirardelli chocolate

But hang on… these were not from Angela – but from Linn who was so kind in asking after Sharon’s health. Now, Linn had emailed me about another blog post of mine – on the Japanese drain covers, and said she had some rubbings of some different ones. Then I opened the long tube package – and there was a mysterious hint of aged but high quality paper. I carefully unrolled it with a wooden batten so as not to tear the delicate parchment and slowly some precision pen drawing and some words emerged – PLAN No 3 – STRADIVARIUS VIOLONCELLO –

Cello plans

yes a complete set of cello plans – hand drawn and with a wonderful patina of age. They were drawn by Joseph V Reid of Hamilton Ontario Canada in February 1963.

Cello plans

You could’ve knocked me down with a feather – Much better than a musty old treasure map of book of spells – these are full size luthier’s drawings.

Cello plans

I am touched and amazed – thank you Linn Skinner 🙂 You have made my day! And the chocolates are wonderful!