La Banda Europa

Check out this wonderful craziness.

I met Jim Sutherland last week at a Guardian event in Edinburgh. A really interesting and modest guy with a great vision for this orchestra.

I particularly liked the ideas of the four Hurdy Gurdies that feature in his orchestra.

He brought along a Japanese Saw player (Su-a Lee) who performed ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow on the saw’. Cracking and really beautiful.

You can hear some of the music on their myspace site here. I urge you to do so because it is stunning. Beautiful. Magical.

And this is what his myspace site says about the orchestra.

La Banda Europa is an extraordinary 35 piece band of virtuoso musicians assembled from some of the finest musicians across Europe

The Hurdy Gurdies are amazing to look at, like Elizabethan ships, with a sound somewhere between the violin and the bagpipes. The nykelharpas are similar, having a strange, other-worldly sound to them.”

In 2006, composer, Jim Sutherland was awarded the Creative Scotland Prize for artists of distinction It is one of the richest arts awards to an individual in Europe….. The Award allowed him time to develop his ideas for an orchestra that could make a unique ‘sound of Europe.

“All in all we’ve got some incredible musicians, some of the very best in the world on their particular instruments.”…… …..“The Armenians play an ancient instrument called the duduk made from the wood of the apricot tree and which sounds like a woman singing alto.”

The whole thing was initially Inspired by Jim’s score for the BAFTA and Brittish Comedy Award winning film Festival when they famously flew the Drambuie Pipe band over to Seville to record Jim’s score with La Banda Tres Caidas, an Eighty piece Semana Santa band.

“Instruments like the ancient Celtic carnyx will grab the eye – it’s the only one of its kind in the world and was reconstructed from one found in bogland in Scotland. It’s a bronze war horn which was 6ft long and held vertically above the player’s head.”

Jim initially put the orchestra together to perform his score for ‘Before the Wolf’, a theatrically presented outdoor production. Niel Butler of UZ events raised the funds and facilitated the shows. These first performances were very successful and have lead to enquiries from event organisers and festivals throughout Europe.

“Bagpipes of 5 countries, Swedish nyckelharpas, , Armenian duduks, Turkish drums, trumpeters from Scotland and Serbia……..Many of the players in the Banda Europa are exciting composers in their own right.”.


An atheist was walking along a cliff edge when he slipped and fell to his almost certain death, but fortuitously he grabbed onto a branch sticking out from the cliff face. Having gathered his wits he immediately began screaming for help.

To no avail.

In a last ditch act of desperation he looked to the heavens and shrieked…

“is there anybody out there?

A voice boomed back…

“Yes! GOD!”

“Can you help me?” whimpered the aetheist.

“Of course, put your faith in me and let go of the branch. You will then fall into my protective arms.” responded God.

A long pause ensued, broken by the aetheist who then shrieked…

“Is there anybody else out there?”

The very best of Ethiopiques

Sometimes a record comes along that literally blows your mind.

This is it.

It’s a collection of the Ethiopian club music scene of Addis Ababa circa 1968 – 74. And it’s unique, hypnotic, sexy, trance-like because the rythms are so un-western.  Yet it adopts western influences of jazz and soul and meshes them with military precision (many of the artists are from the Ethiopian army bands) and African mystery.

It is actually, to die for.  OK, some tracks fail to quite mesh with my westernised ear – but not many.

Unquestionably my album of the year so far.

You can hear more (and read all about) here!

Needless to say, the kids hate it.

He’s at it again!

Great golf week for Tom.

First off he was playing at number three in the team match at the weekend against a six handicapper (Tom’s off 21) and they play off scratch in these matches. Nevertheless, he halved the match having missed a putt from a foot to win. Doh!

Then yesterday he won the first medal of the season (he won three last year at Ratho and three at Dundas, plus another two prizes). The good thing was this medal was also the qualifier for the Dunfermline Building Society sponsored SGU Scottish Junior Masters.

He might now be cut to 19. I’m 18. Yikes!

Michael Wills

I was extremely privileged to be invited to attend the Remembering Service for Michael Wills at The Apex Hotel in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket yesterday, along with Jeana. We knew Michael through his wife Elspeth who both Jeana and I worked with, and for, at different times in our lives.

Michael was, is, one of Edinburgh’s unsung heroes. Having retired from a distinguished career as a librarian at Edinburgh’s Heriot Watt University he took to retirement with relish.

Michael was a striking physical specimin. He suffered for many years from Ankylosing Spondylitis which may have been a consequence of a broken back many years ago. Whether or not this is the case I know not, but either way it meant he walked with a pronounced stoop. His gregarious nature and constant smile marked him out as different from ‘ordinary’ people. In that respect the photo above is very representative of him.

Michael was a true intellectual, but he was in no way elitist about this and this was reflected wonderfully in the unique Remembering Service which featured original poetry (the stunning ‘revising the Blue Guide to Scotland’ by Anna Crowe), Happy the Man by his wonderful wife of 39 years, Elspeth, and a poem written in his honour by his nephew Jonathon Wills.

But the readings from The Origin of the Species (First Edition – where there is no mention of the creation – Michael was a staunch aetheist) and The Song of Solomon (ironically perhaps – a bible story that Michael sent Elspeth as a love letter in his courting days) really added to the eclecticism of the day

A truly moving and beautiful ceremony – we were indeed glad to have had a small place in Elspeth and Michael’s lives.