BP : But that notes really important there. If you had to bend that all the
time, trying to get it accurately in pitch at a high speed
Its really hard.
Plus with the note built in, you can get do a lot more of these kinds of little trills and
decorations on it. So thats a tuning I tend to use for Irish music but not for Blues
or anything else, basically. It just sort of suits that style, and playing in straight
harp or third position or whatever.
PH : So, now, now we come to chromatic and
you also modify those. Is that tunings as well as instruments ?
BP : Yeah, lots of different tunings. And, I got quite a few different
instruments, different models.
The main ones are these modified CX-12s. I find the sound a wee bit
plasticky, a bit dull, so I drill some holes in the covers and put these metal covers
So, basically, you get a brighter sound. But the design of the CX-12 is
great. I love the mouthpiece. It's very ergonomic and very easy on your lips and they're
very easy to work on. You pull them apart in seconds.
Plus I make them half-valved. Same as my Blues harps. They're all half-valved.
PH : So, this is all valved on the blows ?
BP : Valved on the blows inside. But all the draws are unvalved so you can bend
each one, you know, a semi-tone.
PH : So, I mean, obviously, you're playing with so many tunings. How does your
mind adjust ?
BP : Yeah, good question. [Laughs.] What I tend to do is, say, two or three
tunings I can improvise in easily, that I'm sort of really familiar in terms of getting
around. But say for Irish music, this Paddy Richter one, I just tend to learn a tune and a
few variations. And that's it; I wouldn't use it for improvising. So, basically, I've got
specialist tunings for certain things and one or two tunings that I use for jamming.
PH : Now, there's this thing in Irish music of going from one song to the next
in the same song. Do you switch harps or do you stay on the same harp ?
BP : Um, you can switch harps but what I tend to do if, say if I'm constructing
a medley of tunes is Ill try to find three tunes that change keys but don't require
a change in harps. For example going from Dm to C to G. Theyre related keys, each
tune is totally in a different key but there isn't a lot of really radical changing.
Finding pentatonic tunes makes changing keys in a medley easier too.
PH : So, you don't have to think in a totally different way when switching from
one to the next.
BP: Well, your home scale and key does change, but not radically. If I wanted a
radical change, I would definitely switch harps, as then youd retain the easy
dexterity in the new key and be able to put in the appropriate trills and decorations.
That wouldnt be possible if you were having to do lots of bends or overblows just to
get the natural notes of the new scale.
PH : I imagine that Irish tunes, like Blues, have frequent keys
BP : Yeah, well, theyre fiddle keys, you know. Mostly like D, G, A. those
are the main onesthe majors. And the rest are the minors related to those: Bm, Em,
PH : When we talked earlier, you mentioned that you were playing in a sort of
jazzy band ?
BP : Yeah, PHB: Power, Haig and Bolten. Weve recorded an album, but the
project is on hold for the moment, for various reasons. Basically, its kind of like
a cross between jazz and folk or Celtic music, all original music. A crossover between
those two styles. Im interested in improvising and jazz improvisation but Im
certainly not up thereIve got a long way to go to really become very good at
it. But this is like coming from an area I knowthe Celtic musicand with
improvisation as well, I think weve got a really interesting sound.
PH : Any other current projects ?
BP : I played with a guy called Andrew White last year and early this year, and
we recorded an album in February called Live in Ireland. We did his and my original
stuff. He grew up in New Zealand as well. He's actually from Newcastle originally and he
plays some really nice original instrumental stuff, as well as being a good singer.
Hes now got a solo recording deal, and is in the middle of recording an album, so
the duo is pretty much defunct but Im glad we did the album; it has a good
At the Harmonica Summit in Minneapolis I played with a guitarist called Dean Magraw,
and that was amazing. Wed never met before but just clicked on a personal and
musical level. Hes the best guitarist Ive ever played with, and Ive
played with lots of good ones. Our concert was a blast, and many people said it was the
highlight of the festival for them. Were both really keen to work and record
together more, and are currently working to make that happen despite living on
different sides of the Atlantic.
What else? I went to Bulgaria in July 99, and did an album with some Bulgarian
musicians which came out really well. It hasnt been released yet, but hopefully some
kind of live project will emerge from that.
PH : Is that Bulgarian music ?
BP : Some of it is straight ahead Bulgarian and some of it is my tunes which
they play on and some of it os kind of stuff we composed when we were there together.
PH : Interesting. And you definitely gave up on Riverdance or
BP : Yeah, I've definitely finished with Riverdance. Yeah, that was a
good, regular earning patch for a few years but it did my head in after a while. I was
playing exactly the same thing every night good music, and very challenging
technically, but after a time I knew it backwards and just dreamed away on the gig.
PH : Yeah, I can imagine. It was scored.
BP : Yeah, very much. It's a real challenge to play. I mean the tunes
instance, I had to construct almost an entire set of harmonicas. One for each tune almost,
'cause the big leaps and jumps in the tunes were really not harmonica-friendly at all. So,
I found the best way to get around to play it really convincingly, you know, with swing
and soul or whatever, was to actually to do some very radical retunings.
PH : How did you get into that gig originally ? Did they call you because they
heard "New Irish Harmonica" ?
BP : That sort of did lead to it in a roundabout way, but, basically, the guy
who had the job is a button-box player, an Irish button-box player and he couldn't do the
London run. And we became friends because he was interested in the harmonica and the
relationship between the button-box and the harmonica.
So, you know, he just offered me the gig in London, which he couldn't do. And as things
went on, he just got less interested in doing it, and I got offered the contract. But it
wasn't designed for a harmonica player by any means. So, when I had to come and really
learn the tunes, it was pretty scary, especially sitting in front of three or four
thousand people. For the first month or two, I was really quaking in my seat but, after a
while, you can do it just like driving a car, you know, with your mind a million miles
PH : I heard that some of the guys in the orchestra used to go in local pubs or
whatever and do gigs at night ?
BP : Yeah, we did that a little bit. I mean certainly in the early days when
people were still enthusiastic. After a while, everyone just wanted to go back to the
hotel and relax
A lot of that sort of shut down after a while. People just get into
a kind of touring mode. But, yeah, in the early days when there was still a bit of
PH : It must have been quite fun then. How did locals react to it?
BP : They loved it ! I mean the pubs, you know, the pub owners loved it as well!
In Australia, for instance, we had to be careful because they were actually making quite a
bit of money out of us. They'd advertise "Riverdance musicians coming down on Tuesday
night". They were making lots of money and the company was getting a bit pissed off
It was huge in Australia and New Zealand. There's a big Irish immigrant
population there. But, yeah, it was good fun.
PH : Do you have any releases planned ? I mean, you have some stuff in the
BP : Yeah, well, this Bulgarian one is all finished, just needs mastering and
artwork, but we need to find the right deal first.
I've got an album of all original tunes, which I finished over the course of the
Riverdance show when I was just touring around then. Wherever we spent a bit of time, I
would do some recordings. Lots of good musicians on it. Thats now finished and
Im selling it from my website under the title Tanks Aloft though
I think that will change when it gets officially released later this year. People think
the name is too obscure.
I just released an album in May with a Blues player called Dave Peabody. He's an
English guitarist/Blues singer. We signed that to Indigo Records, which is a respected
British Blues label. I'm quite pleased with that. It was just done in two quick sessions,
direct to DAT. But it came out really good.
PH : So, quite a few things.
BP : Yeah, almost too many! Thats just albums: Im also very nearly
finished an instructional package called Play Irish Music on the Blues Harp,
which is a book, CD, and comes with two specially tuned Suzuki ProMasters as an option. I
already have quite a bit of interest in that from all over. Itll be available in
And the latest project is selling a range of custom chromatics for specialist use, ones
you cant buy in the shops. Im making a Richter tuned CX10 a cut down
CX12 with Hering reedplates. It is half valved, and is really airtight. Blows and bends as
easily as a blues harp, but of course has the slider too. Every blues harp player
whos tried the prototype wants one, so Im confident that will develop into
something. Im also making up specialist chromatics for playing Celtic music. I enjoy
customising harps almost as much as playing them, and its work I can do from home,
which is nice.
PH : Do you do a lot of session work as well ?
BP : Yeah, that's kind of my bread and butter here in London, you know. It's
kind of fun. I mean, it comes and goes. You get, you know, a really good patch and then
it's a bit quiet. But when you do get it, it pays well.
PH : So, film music mainly ?
BP : Yeah, there's been a lot of American movies being made over here recently,
you know. Pushing Tin was one I played on, with Kevin Kusack, and the latest Jackie
Chan movie called Shanghai Noon. I think its because they don't have to pay
the musicians residuals here in Britain. Whereas in America, every time a soundtrack's
played or whatever, the musicians get more money. So, I think that's one of the reasons.
And also TV jingles
PH : I imagine some of them are more interesting than others ?
BP : The film stuff tends to be, very much. Often the composers got an
idea in his mind of exactly what he wants. I just did a film soundtrack with this French
composer, Gabriel Yared. He had a very clear idea of what he wanted, which is good. He was
a real perfectionist about how much vibrato, how long you held a note, whether it tailed
off at the end or not. I actually like that because any musician, when he gets down to it,
is concerned about little details like that. And he wanted it played really straight, you
know. So, I had to get rid of a lot of the expression that I normally put into
itwhich is good discipline.
But then you get some other places and you go and they say they just want a few Blues
licks and they're happy with almost whatever you put down.
I like the more demanding ones better, in a way, 'cause that's just more challenging.
One film composer I like here is Anne Dudley, who did the Pushing Tin soundtrack.
Shes got great ideas, and grooves. I played on a new Hollywood she composed for
called Monkeybone, which looks good.
PH : Do theydo these guys actually know the specifics of the instrument or
do they just score something ?
BP : Most of them don't, no. That's where it comes in handy, playing different
harmonicas in different keys and tunings. You can give them the flavor that they want.
Whereas, say, if you just played one chromatic in C, there's no way you could really, you
know, give a good, you know, Irishy flavor in F# or something, or play a convincing delta
blues in E. So, you know, for me, in a commercial sense, it does help playing different
tunings and different harps. To give people what they want on the day.
PH : Tell us about the Sting thing. How was that ?
BP : That was just amazing. Basically, when I came here from New Zealand, I sent
out vast numbers of demo tapes to people. Didn't hear a thing back, you know. In New
Zealand, it's a small place and people are very friendly. So, even if someone's not
interested in what you've got to offer, they generally write you a letter and say,
"Thanks. It's not really our thing. Try Joe Blow down the road." In London, I
guess it's like musicians pouring in from all over the world and people are inundated and
they just can't be bothered. So, I didn't hear anything and it cost me quite a bit of
money sending this stuff out, you know. It was a bit of a bummer not hearing anything
I was getting quite discouraged, really, you know, sort of thinking of going back to
New Zealand. And then suddenly about nine months later, I get this call, "Sting wants
a chromatic harmonica player and he likes what he's heard of your demo" or whatever.
So, basically, that just led to that session.
I was only needed for a specific period of time to play on one track of the album. Then
there was a single that he played a harmonica on, just had some very average blues harp
that I had to mime for "Top of the Pops". I didnt like that too much, but
wasnt going to say no
But, yeah, it was quite a change of pace from getting despondent in a bed-set in
London. Suddenly kind of being around all these people with vast amounts of money
It was a good experience and it was good to go through it 'cause you tend to think all
your Christmases have come at once. But, basically, I was a craftsman who was needed for a
particular job and I did the job and then it was back to square one again. But I learned a
lot from doing it.
PH : Did it open some doors ?
BP : Yeah, sure. I was a hero when I went back to New Zealand, I can tell
New Zealand's got a sort of inferiority complex in some ways 'cause it's a small
country a long way away from anywhere. So, if any Kiwi does anything of any note, you
know, in the wider world, people blow it up out of proportionwhich is quite handy
when you're booking a tour. "Oh, YOU're the guy
PH : What made you come here in the first place ?
BP : Two reasons : I got married to an Englishwoman in New Zealand. She'd been
traveling around in Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand for a few years and sort of
wanted to return to be close to her parents. So, that was one reason.
The other one was musical. New Zealand has no real indigenous music of its own. The
Maori people had their own music but they don't know really what it sounded like 'cause it
was just obliterated by the colonial invasions. So all of our musical influences are
American or British or Irish, sometimes European. So I felt like it was time to get out
there and go back to the source. Ireland was one place I really wanted to go to. America
was another but I haven't really been to America much. I'd like to spend a bit more time
touring there, especially after the reception Dean and I got in Minneapolis.
Actually last year I went there too, doing an interesting project with Rick Epping. He
works for Hohner and I've known of Rick for years because he played in a band called
Pumpkin Head, which was an early kind of Irish fusion band, if you likefolk/pop
fusion. But hes Blues player but he was playing Irish music on the Blues harp back
in the '70's. I heard a couple of his tracks in New Zealand, and I really liked it. The
project is with him and another guy called Mick Kinsella, who's an outstanding player from
Ireland. He plays Irish music on the chromatic in the Eddie Clarke style, with the slide
reversed. But he's also a brilliant over-blower on Blues harpvery creative, you
know, a natural kind of musician. He's just finishing his first album at the moment.
Anyway, he, me, and Rick did a tour around Ireland in 97 with a guitarist, Martin
Dunlea. We called ourselves Triple Harp Bypass, but the name Iron Lung is preferred by
some. And we just enjoyed ourselves so much that we thought, well, we've got to do some
recording. So, we all went to Rick's place for a couple of weeks and recorded an album on
his gear. It's quite an interesting fusion because we're all interested in Celtic music
and Blues and sort of that, you know, the mixture. But we've all got totally different
approaches to it. We tend to use different harmonicas and we play different parts. It's a
huge sound, a lovely sound, 'cause you work out, you know, harmonies and all sorts of
things. We really enjoyed it and the audiences loved it when we did the tours.
PH : So, that's a yet another album.
BP : Thats true! We intend releasing it ourselves in a limited edition
initially, and hope to do some festivals later on.
PH : OK, well, good luck with that recording session and all the releases
planned, and keep us posted when Triple Harp Bypass is ready to come out !
BP : Sure will !