Category Archives: Former Pupils


Always a nice end of term event – a trip to Law PS with a troupe of NBHS guitarists to play for P7s. Normally seniors fulfill this role but as many are out of school at the moment on trips, a group of S1/S2 pupils took on the job. Three of these pupils were in the audience last session, when in P7. With the younger pupils we were able to demonstrate some of the pieces and techniques that new pupils will meet in a few months. At the end of the gig, the pupils huddled together for a group photo:

In The Frame

When does a lesson become a sound check? When many variables have to be investigated. David –  now starting S6 at Knox – is to receive the Higher Music prize next week, in addition to the Michael Godek Memorial Guitar Prize. He is also to perform the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 BWV 1007 – one of my favourite pieces.

To avoid feedback problems, in what needs to be an amplified situation, he has been kindly lent a Yamaha Frame Guitar by my friend and colleauge, Chris Day. So, David & I went to down to the school hall for his first shot of the guitar and to take note of the best guitar and amp settings.
Game as ever, David agreed to be recorded on this first shot and for me to post the recording.
To help you see some of the moves required in this piece, here is my friend Per-Olov Kindgren:
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and to let you hear the Prelude as originally intended by Bach here is Mstislav Rostropovich:
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Fiddler On A Hot Tin Roof

This morning saw the band call for North Berwick High School’s forthcoming production of Fiddler On The Roof (music by Jerry Bocklyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein). By the time this pic of the band was taken


our drummer, debonair Dave Swanson, hungry for CPD as ever, had raced off to a drum clinic by Omar Hakim.

The show runs from Thu 18 – Sat 20 at 19:30 in North Berwick High School. Tickets are available on the door but, to avoid disappointment, you can call the school on 01620 894661, reserve tickets and pay on the night.

Why not visit the production’s Facebook page?

Nava Rasa Ensemble on YouTube

Guitarist and former Knox pupil, Simon Thacker, has posted three videos on YouTube featuring his recent East-West project with the Nava Rasa Ensemble. This film features: Simon explaining the origin of and ideas behind the project; rehearsal footage; interviews with members of the ensemble. Look out for waterphone at 0:16; the fantastic Brazilian/Scots accent of Maria Lima Caribé da Rocha at 0:47

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This film features extracts from Shirish Korde‘s piece Nada Ananda, concerto for guitar and chamber ensemble:

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This film features the final movement of Nigel Osborne‘s The Birth of Naciteka for guitar concertante:

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All three films feature explanatory notes to the right of the screen.

It’s interesting to note that Simon, who left school before the digital revolution, as we currently understand the term, was underway, has effortlessly harnessed technology in the service of communicating his art to as wide an audience as possible.

Nava Rasa

Former Knox pupil, Simon Thacker, is currently gathering together an East/West ensemble entitled the Nava Rasa Ensemble for a ten-date tour (details here). The programme, Inner Octaves, will feature music by Shirish Korde, Terry Riley and Nigel Osborne. Simon is never one to shy away from technical or musical challenges and this promises to be an unique evening – and one to remember.


I received a publicity email today from former Knox Academy pupil, Simon Thacker, alerting me to forthcoming concerts with vocal virtuoso Daisy Chute.

It seems pointless to paraphrase the content, so I’ll simply paste it in below. Just let me flag up an international project of Simon’s scheduled for later this year – the Nava Rasa Ensemble.

singing star and virtuoso guitarist
Tuesday 9th June, 7.30pm
Loretto Chapel, Loretto School, Musselburgh, East Lothian EH21 7RE
Tickets £10 (concs. £6)
Tickets: 0131 653 4433 or e-mail:
Wednesday 10th June, 7.30pm
The Osprey Music Society
Boat of Garten Community Hall
Reidhaven Park, Craigie Avenue, Boat of Garten, PH24 3BL
Tickets: £13 (£11/£5/£2) call 01479 831213 or email
Friday 12 June 2009, 8pm
Inverurie Music, Kemnay Church Centre
Church Lane, Kendal Road, Kemnay, Inverurie. AB51 5RN
Tickets £9.00, £7.00 (concession), £1.00 (children & full-time students)
available at the door or call (01467 624629)
Virtuoso guitarist Simon Thacker joins forces with Brit Award nominated All Angels’ star singer and recording artist Daisy Chute to perform passionate and colourful classical, Latin American, jazz and folk influenced music of remarkable range and stylistic diversity.
Their programme includes beautiful classical and exuberant popular Brazilian music, itself a merging of European, native and African cultures, Martini’s much loved romance Plaisir d’Amour, masterfully arranged North American folksong including their unique take on Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (popularised by Led Zeppelin) with digital delay, Spanish renaissance songs, a result of the fusing of Moorish, Jewish and Christian influences, Cuban song and a flamboyant Mexican Fiesta for guitar. The programme will display Daisy’s stunning voice, radiant stage presence and remarkable abilities to interpret music of diverse origins, whilst also featuring virtuosic guitar solos. Guitar and voice is one of the most intimate and affecting combinations and this promises to be a special concert featuring two acclaimed musicians.
Daisy shot to fame with the female vocal quartet All Angels, whose debut album reached the top 10 in the national pop album charts and number 2 in the classical charts, earning a platinum disc, Classical Brit Award nomination and making them the fastest selling début classical group of all time. All Angels were watched by 10 million TV viewers when they sang in front of the Queen at the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall and have appeared countless times on peak time BBC and ITV. Their performances include Blenheim Palace, Sandringham Last Night of the Proms and Proms At The Palace at Scone Palace. Daisy has sung at the Wigmore Hall and released a critically acclaimed solo jazz album at the amazing age of 15, championed by Humphrey Lyttelton on Radio 2.
“I could listen to her fantastic voice all day”, Howard Goodall, composer and television presenter
Simon’s fleet fingered fretwork, imaginative programming and emotionally charged interpretations have earned him acclaim from London to Havana. He was recently appointed Honorary Fellow in Music at the University of Aberdeen and nominated for a Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award, the highest recognition for live classical music-making in the UK. In 2006 he was a winner of the 50th Park Lane Group Young Artist Awards, resulting in his solo Purcell Room debut. He has performed in Cuba and the US, toured the UK several times and broadcast on Cuban TV and BBC Radio 3. Simon is Head of Guitar at Napier University and founder of acclaimed crossover group Camerata Ritmata. He will be leading his ground-breaking nine piece East/West project The Nava Rasa Ensemble, which features nine leading Indian and Western classical musicians, on a prestigious Scottish Arts Council Tune Up tour across the UK later in 2009. 
“The guitar is often underrated as a solo instrument, but Thacker demonstrated with startling virtuosity just how versatile and exciting it can be in the right hands.”
The Scotsman

Alma mater

It’s always special to take part in concerts in a school you attended as a child – one obvious element is that you bump into people you’ve known for quite a long time.

I was especially happy with the performance of the Knox Academy Guitar Group this evening’s Spring Concert. The piece was rhytmically tricky, relying upon fierce concentration but, once on stage, it felt more as though the group had secured the right feeling for the piece. Not only had many of the members performed 6 pages of music on Friday night as members of the East Lothian Guitar Ensemble, but several of them were instrumental (and/or vocal) in many other ensembles this evening.

Here is a clip of us during our rehearsal this morning: pick-up-the-pieces

Music in prisons

One of the thorniest questions in any justice debate is “what is prison for?” Punishment? Rehabilitation? The protection of society? A mixture of the above and more? As far as punishment goes, the debate continues. Is simply being there the punishment? Is the prison simply the location where punishments (imposition of this – denial of that) are administered? The perspective of the victims of crime are often brought into the debate. Such a conversation recently unfolded on Radio 4’s Today on the subject of music in prisons (scroll down to 0743 – the time this item was broadcast).

The discussion was prompted by the installation of listening posts in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall where visitors can hear the compositions of offenders. Reporter, Nicola Stanbridge, discussed the varying points of view with Sara Lee (Projects Coordinator, Irene Taylor Trust “Music In Prisons”), Dr Loraine Gelsthorpe (University of Cambridge, Institute of Criminology) and a former prisoner. Needless to say, the conversations were punctuated by recordings of Johnny Cash from Folsom Prison.

Dr Gelsthorpe listed the rehabilitative benefits of involvement as including: “well-being, relatedness, confidence & learning.” These terms will surely resonate with anyone connected to the changes currently being wrought in Scottish education by A Curriculum for Excellence. Particularly withdrawn or troublesome prisoners, who had not previously taken part in education (in any sense that mainstream teaching would imply) were often targeted for this programme.

I looked in vain on the website of the Royal Festival Hall for a link to this project – but did stumble upon Art by Offenders (Koestler Exhibition).

I taught a guitar class in HM Prison Edinburgh (Saughton) in the late 80s. As far as I could make out (I was only there one evening per week) the most popular classes were Art, Music, Maths (numeracy) & Chess. These relatively informal classes ran alongside a more formal Open University programme.


Between Ourselves

Setting out for the day on Tuesday, I tuned into Radio 4’s Between Ourselves where Olivia O’Leary chaired a conversation between Tony Little, Etonian headteacher of Eton, and Michael Wilkins, headteacher of “turned around” Outwood Grange – a huge comprehensive school in Wakefield. Concerned that a fruitless comedy of awkwardness would ensue, I was surprised at the positive and resonant exchange which followed. In truth, I should have expected more, given that both are committed to ensuring the nourishment of those in their care. Interestingly, both felt that despite lengthy commitment to their establishments, they would soon be forgotten and “rightly so.” This Zen-like embrace of the inevitable closed a captivating 30 minutes. You can listen again here until Tue 21st Oct.

Maria Martinez Gabaldon & Robin Hiley

Former NBHS pupil, Robin Hiley – of The Simple Touch fame – popped into school today with posters for a song recital he is putting on – Sunday 28 September at 7:30 in Haddington’s Town House. Appearing along with Robin (baritone) will be Maria Martinez Gabaldon (soprano). They will be accompanied on the piano by former PT Music at Knox Academy, Fergus Malcolm. The programme includes:

A Shropshire LadGeorge Butterworth

Seven Spanish Folk SongsManuel de Falla

Solos & Duets from Mozart’s The Magic Flute & The Marriage of Figaro.

The concert is in aid of The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation and tickets (£6 & £4) will be available at the door – or in advance from Kesley’s Bookshop (Haddington tel. 01620 826725).