Category Archives: Blogging

Simon Thacker

Last night I attended a guitar recital given by Simon Thacker, a former pupil of Knox Academy. The programme of contemporary works was the last in this season of ECAT concerts.

While it’s always nice to see former pupils continue with their musical life, there was much that evening to make it special. Not least was Simon’s complete command of the instrument and the chosen repertoire which put the audience at their ease. This is always a good thing when the programme contains some challenging listening. Moreover, the humorous introductions to each item are becoming a Thacker trademark.

The recital featured two recent commissions by composers active in Scottish musical and academic life. Nigel Osborne’s After Night and the premier of Kenneth Dempster’s Sanctum.

Two pieces, with self-explanatory titles featured relatively unusual elements – Shirish Korde’s Time Grids for amplified guitar and computer synthesized tape and Nigel Westlake’s Hinchinbrook Riffs for guitar and digital delay.

If there were any doubt before, I think this recital confirmed the following quote from The Herald:

“Thacker…is now one of the UK’s leading classical guitarists – and, as well as having the instrumental mastery to play demanding pieces with apparent ease, boasts a disarmingly natural and entertaining presentational style.” This is all the more impressive when one considers that he did not begin tuition until S2.

Friends occasionally ask, with the delicacy of a mammoth, “is he better than you then?” I sometimes jokingly reply, “I hope so, I’ve just paid a tenner to get in,” but the real point is that if 25 years of teaching had produced nobody who could leave me behind, then I’d consider it strange to say the least – although perhaps not as strange as if every pupil did.

 Update: since writing this post, the following 5 star review has appeared in The Scotsman.

Pathhead Music Collective

I was taken by friend and colleague, Steven Polwart to the inaugural concert of the Pathhead Music Collective (PMC)  – a double-bill featuring Tangalgo  and Lau. The welcome was warm, the atmosphere congenial and the response to these two great bands, enthusiastic to say the least. This was in no small way due to the presence of many of the village’s young people. The fact that the following afternoon was to feature a family ceilidh suggests that this is a community drinking from the glass half-full side of life.

Tangalgo (Phil Alexander  – piano, Mario Caribe  – bass & Mattie Foulds  – drums) are a trio who specialise is their own take on tango music, especially that of Astor Piazzolla.

Lau, (Kris Drever – guitar.vocals,  Aidan O’Rourke – fiddle, Martin Green – accordion) another energetic trio, feature two traditional music award winners. To describe their style simply as folk/traditional would be to miss out on the imaginative, atmospheric arrangements and unusual stylistic features e.g punk accordion and Hendrix-style fiddle.

PMC comprises a pool of local musicians (Karine Polwart, Mattie Foulds, Sophie Bancroft, Tom Lynne, Inge Thomson, Martin Green, Tom Bancroft  , Gina Rae, Sandy Wright) who, in addition to performing, are involved in music education projects in the neighbourhood.

The next concert, another double-bill, features Karine Polwart Trio (musical samples with a slightly larger band here) and Sophie Bancroft Duo (musical samples here) and takes place on May 5th. There is also a vocal workshop with both singers 3.00-5.00 p.m. Pathhead is, after all, a mere hop, step and jump along some lovely back roads from many East Lothian towns.


I read a fascinating article in New Scientist recently, with whose kind permission the italicised quotes appear. Alison Motluk’s piece considered whether true multitasking is really possible, or whether we are simply involved in a pale shadow of the intended tasks as a result of their simultaneity.

The subject grabbed my attention for two reasons:

  • teaching involves a heightened level of awareness and mediation of so many factors that it really ought to be considered as a form of multitasking
  • the performance of music (especially in ensemble) is all about multitasking

Unsurprisingly, performance seems to benefit from Continue reading Multitasking

myspace music

To be honest, I had always imagined myspace to be something like bebo – a social networking forum aimed predominantly at young people. Then Malcolm MacFarlane, a Haddington-based guitarist, alerted me to some tracks he had deposited there. I began to see the site in a new light, particularly when I discovered that my cousin, Martin Byatt (also a guitarist) had his space. I began to root around further and have now posted some links on a new page.

Apart form those mentioned already, my personal favourites include the Zagreb Guitar Quartet. They seem to have captured the holy trinity of ingredients here (arrangement, performance and recording). On their website, they also generously provide a link where you can hear two more tracks (“while you surf”).

I should also like to recommend Gareth Pearson. Cousin Martin met him while playing in the Ullapool Guitar Festival and was impressed/horrified to discover that he began playing four years ago. Given that these are audio links, may I suggest clicking on link and imagining any S4 pupil you know playing like that.


I managed to catch some of BarCampScotland – an event very ably organised by Ewan McIntosh  and sponsored by Chinwag. Ewan and Tessa Watson have already posted very good write-ups and so I’ll not cover the same ground.

I attended two sessions at which there were no other East Lothian people present, and so I’ll mention them here. Continue reading BarCampScotland

User Experience

I am hoping to pop into BarCampScotland tomorrow (Sat) and give a very brief description of the user experience of pupils practising at home with the midi files posted on the Guitar Group Support Page. I intend to make this a very short presentation (5 mins max) but in that time hope to highlight the following points:

  • that the virtual ensemble is likely to encourage practice – especially for those who perceive their part as having no intrinsic meaning i.e. all those not on a melody part
  • the benefit of using various versions of the same tune at gradually increasing speeds
  • the importance of panning (getting the stereo spread across the speakers just right)
  • additional parts

As a personal test, I intend to take a guitar, no music and to switch between parts in any given arrangement. Get out the mats!

I spoke to Ewan (who is organising the event) today and he stressed that it might be nice if came across as a resource which was open to all and not limited to present pupils. As it is, I have directed some former pupils who are now private pupils to these pages. It will be interesting to see if anyone on the outside tunes in.

Open Meeting

Today’s teaching at Campie PS and Wallyford PS was followed by the Exc-el Open Meeting at JMH. I’m sure many of the points will be covered in other blogs and will mainly restrict descriptions to those aspirations for this blog which came up. There are two areas of development which, I feel, would benefit pupils greatly: Continue reading Open Meeting

Peo Kindgren II

I received the following prompt and kind reply from Peo Kindgren about the fantastic quality of his guitar recordings on YouTube:

Dear Alan! Thank you for your kind words. And for recommending me on your blog! I’m really honoured. You are doing a great job there!! I don’t have any “secrets” regarding my recordings.
“apart from fantastic technique on a lovely instrument”… LOL
I have spent all my life exploring the creation of sound on my guitar. I take very much care of how I hit/stroke the string, the angle/length of my nails. I think it pays of right now. But I have some “secrets”…
I have an old DAT-recorder (1991) and two very good AKG 460 B mics. I record the sound at the same time as I start the camcorder. In the Video editing software (Pinnacle studio 9) I sync the sound with the video and add some reverb (it’s a plugin) That’s it, really. Since it’s video, I can’t cut and edit in the sound so some misstakes are there! 🙁 Sorry!
I hope it helps! Good luck with experimenting!
Kind regards,

Kommentar af Peo Kindgren — 19. februar 2007 @ 22:18

Peo Kindgren

Yesterday I came across a huge catalogue of fine performances on YouTube by Peo Kindgren – a Swedish guitarist, resident in Denmark.

In addition to very nice playing I was struck by the sound quality which is the best I have heard on YouTube. His own sound production on the guitar is excellent and I imagine that the bare wooden room he uses is also a contributory factor. However, I have written to ask him if he uses any post-production equipment to achieve such magnificent results. I am curious for two reasons:

  1. I should very much like to explore the avenue of similar recordings of pupils
  2. I am considering options for making my own recordings of new, external exam material

The latter of these is not intended to replace pupils working from notation but would offer a great supplementary resource for the more visually inclined learner.

I’d recommend any of the Bach three pieces which open the extensive list of links I have posted at the end of the Recommended Youtube Performances Page – on the right. The Air is one most people would recognise instantly.