Ses­sion shenaningas

Wel­come to a se­ries in which I’ll at­tempt to lift the heavy stone bear­ing the in­scrip­tion ‘ The Mu­sic Pro­fes­sion’ , and ex­pose the star­tled mu­sic- busi­ness ter­mites be­neath as they scut­tle rapidly away from the light.

Guitar Techniques - - Intro -

# 1: Mitch­somer Mur­ders

Play­ing the gui­tar well is one thing. Play­ing the gui­tar well ( or merely com­pe­tently) when faced with the chal­lenges that the real world of­ten throws at you is quite an­other. There are oc­ca­sions when one’s goal is merely to set sail in the Good Ship Fen­der, nav­i­gate a safe pas­sage through The Sea Of Frets and avoid ship­wreck. Or scurvy. You will not dis­cover strate­gies to deal ef­fec­tively with the events that fol­low in any mu­sic in­struc­tion man­ual, but a use­ful start­ing point might be the Self Help sec­tion at Water­stones. Or psy­chother­apy.

The Pro­logue

I’m booked to par­tic­i­pate in the record­ing of an episode of Mid­somer Mur­ders. This one is en­ti­tled ‘ The Bal­lad Of Mid­somer County’. To say that the TV se­ries is suc­cess­ful rates along­side un­der­state­ments like “Brian May has done okay”. This is Se­ries 17, Episode 102. Se­ries 1- 16 have been sold to 180 coun­tries. I as­sume that its world­wide pop­u­lar­ity is at least partly ex­plained by its gritty re­al­ism, in which three or four grue­some homi­cides oc­cur each week in but one sin­gle sleepy English vil­lage. Or it could be down to the groovy sig­na­ture tune fea­tur­ing the oboe.

Scene 1. May 9th. Barnes

9am. In­te­rior: the home of Jim Parker, four- time BAFTA award- win­ning TV com­poser. Also in at­ten­dance: di­rec­tor Renny Rye and ac­tresses Lu­cie Jones and Rakie Ay­ola. Ev­ery­one present is ei­ther beau­ti­ful, or in­tel­li­gent, or cre­ative – or some com­bi­na­tion of all three. Ex­cept me.

I have been fore­warned by JP that “it’s go­ing to be a bit rock ’ n’ roll at the meet­ing, so just go with it.” Over the course of the next three hours, I learn that my mis­sion is to ac­com­pany Rakie singing two tra­di­tional English folk songs. One song re­quires a gui­tar part from me for her to mime to on the day of lo­ca­tion film­ing, as well as a sec­ond part for me to over­dub. I’m pro­vided with a cou­ple of chord charts and we start to work out a form ( in­tro, verse, cho­rus, end­ing etc.), a style ( arpeg­gios? chords? both?), a tempo, a key and length for each tune. We play around with ( sorry, brain­storm) dif­fer­ent ap­proaches for a while. I de­cide to use a capo at the 4th fret, hav­ing con­cluded that it’s an ap­pro­pri­ate folk gui­tar de­vice to make the key of C# mi­nor sound au­then­tic. And, er…

Ev­ery­one present is ei­ther beau­ti­ful, or in­tel­li­gent, or cre­ative – or some com­bi­na­tion of all three. Ex­cept

playable. I al­ter­nate be­tween Span­ish and acous­tic gui­tars to add va­ri­ety.

Lu­cie’s Song

I am played a demo of the The Bal­lad Of Mid­somer County. It’s writ­ten by Seth Lakeman and very good it is, too. There is no writ­ten part. I re­pair to an­other room and at­tempt to tran­scribe it from an iPhone MP3 in ten min­utes. It sounds odd. Un­usual gui­tar tone. Some kind of open- voiced tun­ing. Prob­a­bly us­ing a capo. I re­turn to the room. I blun­der through my ver­sion of the demo with Lu­cie. It is greeted with luke­warm enthusiasm. “That’s fine for now but Seth is prob­a­bly go­ing to re­write it any­way in time for the record­ing ses­sion. Oh, by the way, we need a cou­ple of min­utes of in­stru­men­tal mu­sic as a con­trast to the songs. What have you got?”

Clearly, noth­ing! I sug­gest some­thing in the style of a rag. Four pairs of eyes ap­pear to bore into my very be­ing as I in­vent some­thing on the spot, in a state of pro­fes­sion­ally con­cealed panic. Renny likes it. “Good, we’ll use that”. Mitch’s Mid­somer Rag is born. And reg­is­tered with PRS .

It’s mid­day and I must away. Within two min­utes of de­par­ture, I can re­mem­ber noth­ing of what has just oc­curred. Or what needs to hap­pen next… Join me next time as the film­ing – and play­ing – heats up a notch or three!

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