Thursday, 22 August 2013

Bayan time (20): busy week

Detail from The 'Sham performance
Busy week musically: on Tuesday I played two spots at Matthews Hall for the Topsham Town Fayre Musical Extravaganza (as backing for the singer-guitarist John 'Wafty' Waft, and with The 'Sham, a band put together from regular TOPJAM members) - see the Exeter Express & Echo gallery - and the previous Sunday I was part of a small group providing music for a street picnic in Topsham.

It's a very good feeling. I've been playing bayan for around two-and-a-half years now, and feel I've overcome the performance anxiety that still dogged me a year ago; I can tell it's there at some level (I get very warm, and feel a little hyper after playing), but it doesn't seem to get as far as my fingers. It also feels good to be developing a distinct style and area of specialisation; Ben Beeson, who directed The Mysteries earlier this year, said I was good at "comping" - impromptu and appropriate accompaniment - and I'm enjoying developing this skill as well as solo playing. The 'Sham was an interesting line-up of acoustic guitars, bass, vocals, keyboard, accordion, cello and congas, playing original material by Dan Durdin.

The bayan's compressed right-hand scale enables very rich chord and melody playing, and I've increasingly found that for band work, it's easier to just play the right hand. This is partly because other people are doing bass and bass chords far more audibly, and partly because it's rather difficult to mike up the bass keyboard, which moves with the bellows. I went through a stage of angst, feeling it was an unskilled cop-out to play this way, but I was very encouraged by a spot of Googling and looking at YouTube - it finds plenty of other backing players, far better than me, doing exactly the same (watch the accordionist in Värttinä's Nahkaruoska - below -  who is not using his left hand at all). A static microphone on a stand picks up the right hand pretty well, though I'm investigating the idea of getting a dedicated accordion microphone, a three-element bar microphone that sticks with Velcro next to the grille. They do cost at least £80, however. Decisions ...

I admit, by the way, that it really tickles me being the bald-ish tattooed accordionist at the side of the band. I've never - in life in general - wanted to be at the front of things, but being distinctive and essential in the near background is very satisfying.

Check out the accordionist playing right hand only - clearly I'm not doing it wrong.

- Ray

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