The Zimmers – what generation gap?

Posted by jerry on April 17th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Music, New media

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 🙂


Making Wooden Peg Stilts – new modification

Posted by jerry on April 15th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Woodwork

Many of you will be familiar with my peg stilts instructions. And the more my daughter and I use them, the more the design is being refined.


One of the weaker points of the design has always been the straps used to attach them to the legs. As velcro wears, it has become more and more necessary to augment the straps with ‘gaffa’ tape – you know, the stuff bands use, cloth adhesive tape.

Well that is about to change. The latest modification to the design will be revealed here first, then added to the existing stilt design.

The woodwork is just the same. Only the straps are different. And the knee pads. One of the issues with the existing knee pads is that the PVC pipe segment is of too narrow a radius if your legs have well developed musculature – so they can dig in uncomfortably. And the one thing you want is comfort in order to increase the safety of the stilts.

I was in Bunnings today and found some industrial knee-pads. Until now, we have used knee pads in addition to the stilt leg-cups. But I had an idea – why not attach the knee pads directly to the stilts and beef up the straps with non-slip tie-downs buckles.

I had previously solved the foot straps with these and now the time had come to do the same with the upper legs.

Here is the heel strap arrangement
heel straps

and the toe strap
stilts toe strap
stilts toe strap

I laid out the upper straps with the buckle forward of the knee pads, located the knee pad in position and drilled and screwed the knee pad in place through the straps

stilts knee pad
knee pad

So the upper straps now work this way
stilts upper straps
stilts upper straps

So the stilts are complete – and more secure than before. One of the joys of being chief engineer is that I get to test the toys to ensure they are safe 😉 And I gave them a fair workout for 20 minutes before declaring them safe for my daughter to test. The straps do not slip – and the straps are quickly adjusted for any slack – even while on board the stilts.

For Australian readers, the knee pads are called ‘Protector Multi Purpose Knee Pads – available from Bunnings Warehouse for about AUS$10.50

And the straps are Lion brand ‘Super Cam Buckle’ available in 500mm, 1 metre and 3 metre lengths. The straps are rated to 1000kg, and the metal buckles have spring-loaded teeth that bite harder the more you try to pull them apart – they do not slip. But the spring buckle allows quick release when you want to remove them.

And with the integral industrial knee pads they are more comfortable than before. Enjoy them – safely!


A busker’s life

Posted by jerry on April 14th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Music

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.


National Folk Festival 2007

Posted by jerry on April 10th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Music

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


The best blog gift ever :-)

Posted by jerry on April 3rd, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Music

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!