A friend and student pointed me towards this short video on South London harp man Errol Linton (cheers Paddy).
It’s a great video and piece of history in it’s own right, but there’s a quote near the start which really resonates with me.
“I read in this blues harp book you’re supposed to start slowly … gradually it starts getting louder .. gradually it starts feeling like a part of your mouth.”
I remember the first few times I started to feel like it was me who had control of the harmonica rather than the harmonica having control of me. This was way before I started taking a more structured approach to learning. It was in my old damp, dingy room in South Leeds and I was probably a few scrumpy’s in.
I was playing a chordal rhythm, dropping a few melody notes in here and there and it was like the harmonica was suddenly sounding like I thought it should. I was doing it almost without thinking about it. Nothing fancy or complex mind, but the sound I was making suddenly sounded like actual honest-to-goodness harmonica playing and not just like a fat bloke huffing and puffing.
It was one of the great “ah-ha!” or breakthrough moments when I realised I might actually be able to do this.
The path to learning a skill of any sort is littered with moments like these. As a rule they tend to occur when you’ve been feeling like you’re stuck in your current skill set, like you’re not advancing and you’re on the verge of giving up the whole crazy venture as a dumb idea. It’s the kind of moment that can unleash a torrent of enthusiasm and – if you’re lucky – elevate your playing to a new level.
So, I guess what I’m saying is when you’re frustrated don’t give up hope. All players go through this process of advancement and then what feels like stagnation. The good news is that it’s usually just when you feel you can’t do any more that you make your most significant breakthroughs. And for those that really want to play, that’s one of the best feelings there is.
The incomparable Rick Estrin and the Nightcats (featuring Kid Anderson of Greaseland Studios fame on guitar) are doing a brisk UK tour in January. Rick is one of the finest living blues harmonica players and his band are as good as it gets too. I was really looking forward to the Selby gig (the only… Continue reading Rick Estrin 2019 UK tour
There’s something about this time of year that makes me want to listen to a lot of Jug Band music. Something to do with the dark nights and over-abundance of forced jollity and crass sentimentality I guess. Or maybe I’m just a grinch. In any case the desire to get warm, pour a large liquor,… Continue reading Noah Lewis, the Cure for the Winter Blues
There’s precious little Big Walter footage around and I must confess I’d never seen this before. Maybe not the greatest performance in the world but man it’s good to see Walter in his element. Looks like he’s really digging this, and getting the respect he deserves from a large audience. Very cool.
First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in March 2016, this is a cute little show about the harmonica. Obviously it’s aimed at a general audience rather than the hardcore harp nerd I’m sure you are, but it should be of interest to new players as well. There’s some good history stuff and contributions from Joe Filisko and David Barrett.
I’m ridiculously excited. Due to some fortunate circumstances my wife and I have the opportunity to visit San Francisco next June. A jaunt that would usually be way beyond our reach financially.
Cool in itself, but the icing on the cake is I’ve been able to book a three hour private harmonica lesson with my blues mentor David Barrett at The School of The Blues in San Jose.
It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I started his online course which taught me the skills I’m now sharing with you guys, and quite possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Not to mention the fact that I’ll get to check out the live music scene in San Francisco and San Jose.
Apologies for the bragging post but I needed to tell people. I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity, and of course to my amazing (and long suffering) wife for making it happen.
Enough of me gushing. Get some Barrett in your ears.
Two fantastic harmonica album releases today from two very different players. If you’ve spent any time at all with me talking harmonica you’ll know about my deep appreciation of Joe Filisko, his playing, promotion of pre-war blues styles and harmonica in general. Destination Unknown is the fourth album in partnership with guitarist Eric Noden. It’s… Continue reading Destination Bollywood
Back in 2010 (y’know, the olden days) Joe Filisko, David Barrett and others put together a concert charting the evolution of blues harmonica form the twenties to the naughties. I’m not sure why it’s not occurred to me before to recommend this to people who want to learn to play – and especially if the… Continue reading The History of Blues Harmonica Concert
This is hugely exciting. I’ve mentioned Grant Dermody here before. Easily one of my favourite living harmonica players. Primarily acoustic, his style is heavily reliant on tongue blocking techniques and a superb musicality. The man is good, and he’s playing a rare UK show in Nottingham on July 28th! I’m going to do my best… Continue reading Grant Dermody in the UK