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Monday, 20 February 2012

Three mildly dysfunctional musician/instrument relationships from the Frome festival

The first Frome folk festival happened at the weekend and was enlivened by - among many other things - some curious stories about dysfunctional relationships between musicians and their instruments.

First there was Tom Kitching, of Pilgrim's Way and Albireo, who is reputed to own the loudest fiddle in the world. "It was made by a fellow called Colin Cross and has more wood in it to vibrate than usual," he told me. "Mainly he takes commissions from classical musicians but mine is a classical reject because it stood out too much.

"The bloke who had it struggled to keep it in check because if you're an orchestral player you want to be on the same kind of noise levels as everyone else and this is a big, brash beast. Luckily I believe that you should play a fiddle in the same way that you would drive a railway spike." To amplify his meaning he mimed bringing an enormous mallet smashing down on a something with an impressive overarm action.

"Also, I believe you should judge a fiddler in the same way that they score Robot Wars: using style, control, damage and aggression as your criteria. I haven't named the fiddle though. That would be wrong, in the same way that renaming body parts is just wrong. Having said that, my car's called Trebevor. Like 'Trevor' but with an extra BE. The, um, the registration begins TREB." Oddly after the alacrity of the spike-driving mime, he looked a bit embarrassed explaining this.

Then Brendan Powers and Tim Edey played a set in the Cheese and Grain hall on Sunday morning - which looked lovely decked out in bunting. And Edey mentioned that his guitar had once exploded. I wasn't sure whether I'd heard that correctly.

"Yes, really. It exploded,"he confirmed later, unfolding a little morality tale about the dangers of not being kind to the things that you love. "I was in Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and I'd abused the guitar quite badly over the years - it was my old, nylon string job. There was an amazing guitarist called JP Cormier there and I was playing a set of bluegrass reels. Suddenly the area below the bridge burst outwards and part of it embedded itself in my arm. It made me bleed! JP just looked at me and said 'Man. Your guitar exploded'."

And finally, lest one might wrongly come to believe that only men are capable of having abusive relationships with inanimate objects, it turned out that Miranda Sykes - one third of Show of Hands - was once indirectly responsible for a piano keyboard being superglued shut.

"I'd gone home for Christmas and thought I'd have a bit of a play on the piano in the front room," she explained as she launched her new album on Sunday afternoon. "I thought I'd have a go at Walking in the air, since it was that time of year. But the lid wouldn't open. At first I thought it must be locked. So I asked mum and dad if they had the key and they said it wasn't locked. When I had a closer look I realised that someone had gone to all the trouble of supergluing the thing shut. No one would own up at the time, it was all very curious. And then just recently - many years later - the subject came up again and my little sister just said 'Oh yeah. That was me'. It turns out she really doesn't like Walking in the air."

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