andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Tag Archives: Harky

Attack of the Killer Drones

Drones have been getting a bad press recently, and rightly so: but don’t worry, this isn’t about the type of drone it’ll soon be economically realistic to buy to send on CIA-style missions against the neighbour’s cat. No sirree Bob. The drones I’m talking about are of the musical variety.

There’s a strong tradition of droning in Scottish music of course: it’s an essential element of the bagpipes, as anyone who’s ever walked past a busker on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile can testify (incidentally, what was up with that on Saturday just past? There were, like, two of them doing a duet next to David Hume, and although I’m no expert, they were properly good? No Flower of Scotland or anything!)

Anyway, when I was starting to put together material for my forthcoming (at some point) solo album/vanity project, ‘Songs in a Scottish Accent,’ there were a few people at the top of my list of potential collaborators, and one of them was Craig ‘Harky’ Harkness. Apart from being – at various points – my unpaid (other than the occasional pint) sound and recording engineer, producer, mentor and provider of fun musical facts, Harky is a greatly underrated (especially by himself) musician and composer of interesting noises. One which I have still on my phone is literally called ‘Harky’s Drone-ilicious Comp’ (I think someone else named it for him, as he was too modest to call it anything, typically) which has featured in a fire safety film made by Fife students and now to be shown more widely.

When we first started batting ideas back and forward, Harky – perhaps because he knew of my liking for Kula Shaker – sent me this short piece which he’d put together on his phone, using a shruti box app and, I think, another synth app. The droning of the shruti box – an Indian instrument – the high, wailing, synth, and the positively hypnotic, weird beat he’d added to it, was intriguing to me, to say the least. I saw it as a perfect length for a short spoken word piece.

My more conventional musical tropes were then brought to bear on it. Layering on guitars and keyboard was easy enough – for those of you that are interested, I used my own, semi-acoustic De Ville for the distorted solo – amazing how a clean acoustic signal can be thoroughly dirtied up with the right software. I added a burst of bagpipe sample at the start, as a sort of hommage to my homeland drone. I also have some decent tabla samples, so I built them into a basic beat that complemented Harky’s original percussion. Then I was ready to put some words on it.

The first piece I’d had in mind, called coincidentally David Hume’s Blues, proved unsuitable. That was partly because I’d had so much fun with the distorted guitars I’d have had to shout half the story: but mainly because I couldn’t get the words right. The words I used instead had a strange provenance.

In April 2014, we went on one of our Spanish expeditions, taking in Granada, Ubeda, and Malaga. It was a great trip, but the experience was coloured by my state of mind at the time: my Dad had passed away in January of that year. The small notepad I’d forced myself to take with me, to write something – anything – for the first time in three months, felt like a burden rather than a source of pleasure. All the same, some disjointed thoughts, observations, and images, made their way in. I was under no illusion that any of it might be useable.

After the holiday, the notebook – one of these fake vintage ones you get, with a faux animal skin cover, and unbleached pages that are very pretty, but difficult to write on, especially in a moving bus – went into the bookcase, unread for a year. When I did dig it out, some of the words then got sewn together loosely: it took another year before I looked at them again, tightened them up, and began to see the patterns in them: the Moroccan street-hawker dodging the cops on the Street of the Catholic Kings; the Moorish ruler of the Alhambra, grieving for his kingdom; and, of course, my own sense of loss. The final version owes much to Jane McKie, my poetic mentor (like Harky, also unpaid).

So that’s how the words and music of ‘Leaving Granada’ came together. Hope you like it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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12 things I’ve learned (or relearned) this year

It’s been a bumpy 12 months, both for me personally, for many of my friends and colleagues, and perhaps most of all, for my country of origin. Which is not to say there’s not been a few good bits too.

 
January: Everything people say to you about losing a parent is true.

 
Statistically, it’s more than likely that your parents will die before you; all the same, you don’t understand how awful the reality is before it happens. Only other people that have experienced it can really know how you feel; however much all the kind words from everyone are a help. Life is never the same, though.

 
February: Music is a great healer.

 
I didn’t really know what to expect of a gig at the 02 Academy, Glasgow, featuring Foals and Cage the Elephant, having never been to the venue, and only had a hurried catch up on the main act. I certainly wasn’t expecting what might well have been The Greatest Gig Ever (although a subsequent outing to Temples in December ran it pretty damn close – see Daughter and Heiress’s Liquid Rooms review).

 
March: Collaboration really is the best policy.

 
Although I took a step back from Writers’ Bloc this year, there were still some really exciting and fruitful bits of partnership working, to use the cooncil terminology. Step forward, in no particular order, Gavin Inglis, Kelly Brooks, Halsted Bernard, Harky and Kenny Mackay… I hope to do much more of the same in the coming year, as well as with other long term collaborators like Mark Allan and Lara Matthews.

 
April: Until they find the lost race of six foot, red-bearded conquistadores, I’m always going to stand out in Spain.

 
Granada was gorgeous and Malaga, at the end of our Spanish trip this year, a real undiscovered gem of a place – those of you who only experience the airport are missing out on a great, lively place to spend a few days. In between these two cities, we went (at the suggestion of our Spanish cousin, Guillermo) to Ubeda, a smaller town heading up into the sierras and surrounded by olive-clad hills. It was lovely, and well worth a visit, but it was clear they’re not used to Vikings.

 
May: Exams are just as awful as they always were. Especially Maths.

 
Daughter & Heiress sat her National 5s in May – that’s O Grades, O Levels, Standard Grades, or something else to the rest of you. Despite being a member of the guinea pig generation for the new exams, she did really well; but although the new curriculum was sold as a clever way to extend the length of time the kids have to take in the Higher course (for non-Scots amongst you, they’re the ones you sit aged 16 or 17 that more or less dictate if you get into University) it looks like they’ll have exactly the same amount of time to struggle through as their parents did.

 
In other words, a few desultory weeks in June, and then the whole of fifth year when they’re not actually being tested to near-destruction. The difference being D & H is working a lot harder than I ever remember doing.

 
June: Guitars matter.

 
My post about the mysterious origins of my semi-acoustic garnered some interesting comments. Mind you, easily the top post in terms of hits I’ve ever done is a review of an acoustic guitar amp, so I’m not sure what that proves.

 
July: Being a Festival Dad isn’t all bad.

 
I blogged pretty extensively about our Latitude experience, so I won’t go on about it again; but now, as we approach the longest night of the winter, it’s just a happy blur of sunshine, hot weather, great music, spectacular lightning storms, and polite queues for drinking water. I’m reliably informed we’re going back next year.

 
August: The Fringe isn’t just for watching.

 
With one thing and another, I was late booking a couple of slots in the Free Fringe for Tribute to Venus Carmichael; and I confess to being a bit more nervous than usual. This was a good thing, because it made me practice every day for a fortnight. And practice makes much less imperfect.

 
September: You can breach the EU Working Time Regulations several times over and live to tell the tale.

 
At the end of a 25 hour shift of work on the administration of the indyref, I lay on the couch at home and watched the results coming in, eating cereal when my body clock didn’t know if it was Tuesday or a biscuit. A strange end to a seismic day.

 
What made me, as a Scot, proudest, wasn’t the 84% turnout – frankly, what on earth did the other 16% have on that day that was more important? But the fact that, in all the fevered atmosphere, hints, allegations and conspiracy theories, there was not one criticism of the 16 and 17 year olds who, voting for the first time, conducted themselves with every kind of decorum and seriousness at the polls when their elders were, in some cases, doing the opposite.

 
They and their English, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts won’t get a vote in May 2015 for the Westminster election. Can anyone explain to me why not?

 
October: Kinsale is a nice place to visit.

 
Fly to Cork, take a bus from the airport, and you’re there. Great food, music, Guinness, and craic. Thoroughly recommended.

 
November: You can totally book the Old Observatory on Calton Hill to stay in.

 
I know this because my sister did it for a Big Birthday celebration in November and it was absolutely fab. One of the best cityscape views in the world from every window; all mod cons, done tastefully to blend in with the historic building; it’s even well heated, somewhat to our surprise. The room which used to be the observation chamber has the most amazing acoustics of anywhere I’ve ever been. Some day, I’m going to do a gig there.

 
December: Edinburgh is the place to be for Xmas

 
We leave tomorrow. Byee!!

Next week, the Surrealist Year Ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

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11 Reasons why you should go to Stevenson Unbound

1. It’s in the back room of an Edinburgh pub, centrally located, with good transport links and disabled access. There will be lashings of lemonade readily available, as well as something stronger (in fact, you’re encouraged to drink more, because that way I get my deposit back).

 
2. It’s Robert Louis Stevenson’s 164th birthday – sort of. RLS Day is on Thursday 13th, but it’s chock full of events already (some, or all of which you should really go to see!) but I’ve moved this event to Saturday 15th, when you might not be at work.

 
3. It’s in the afternoon – 2 till 5 – so if it’s a rubbish day weather wise and you just want a quiet night in, you still can do that.

 
4. It features readings of Thrawn Janet and Markheim, two of RLS’s best supernatural short stories. He wrote a whole load of other stuff beyond Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Treasure Island, and Kidnapped, and these two chillers are up there with any of them.

 
5. This isn’t just any old pub. This is the White Horse, 266 Canongate, which is the kind of place RLS himself might well have frequented in his velvet-jacketed yoof. The back room is regularly used for Free Fringe events and is a great wee performance space.

 
6. The combination of RLS’s words, the low light, and stereo sound effects throughout will make this event something special. It’s the culmination of two years or so of my experimenting with music and sound in my spoken word shows, and with the help of my esteemed sound engineer, Harky, it’ll be unlike anything else you’ve been to.

 
7. Halstead Bernard is taking part. Need I say more?

 
8. The payment is an honesty bucket system – suggested payment if you’re fully waged is a fiver, but if you’re unwaged, or a student, or just staying for one segment, less is fine.

 
9. It’s in three parts. There will be decent breaks between the three for you to get a drink, come late, or leave early. Although I’m hoping you’ll stay for the whole thing, obvs.

 
10. I have a fuzz box (technically, a squarer pedal, assembled by the Redoubtable Mrs F, which is one of the reasons she became Mrs F) and, in the last segment, I’m gonna use it.

 
11. It’s on November 15th. Come on, what else are you going to do on the afternoon of November 15th – your Christmas shopping? I don’t think so!