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Stomping Dave prt 2

Now a question about something that puzzles me – the fiddle tunes and I guess the banjo

tunes as well – in the genres in which you play there’s a harmonic similarity between a lot of the music –

as in Irish traditional music they often seem to flow one into the other – how do you go about

remembering all of the different tunes, especially as you seemed to start quite late on the



I recently attended Sore Fingers Summer School. My banjo tutor there Bob Carlin told a story someone

told him about how when you first listen to old-time music all the tunes sound the same. Then you start to

begin to learn the tunes and they all start to sound dramatically different, then when you have learnt a lot

of tunes they all start to sound the same again!


When I was starting out trying to make my way as a performer in the 1990s there was a vogue for Irish

theme pubs. So that was where the opportunities seemed to be. So to begin with I fell into playing a lot of

Irish stuff just to get some work, I was kinda of interested in Irish music but it’s always been the American

stuff that really thrilled me. In Doctor Stomp we nearly always included Irish material, but when I

re-branded to Stompin’ Dave I made a conscious decision to try to move away from the Irish music,

because I felt I was probably spreading myself to thin with all the different styles of American music I am

interested in as it was. At least I could then describe my music as American roots, as describing just what

I do has always been a problem.


By the way American roots is I suppose the best description of what I do because I cover quite a lot of the

quintessential American roots styles i.e. blues, bluegrass, old-time, jug music, and some gospel &

country. I don’t however play any Cajun, Zydeco or Native American Music and I play strictly vintage

country. It’s still a stupidity impossible task I’ve taken on. Not being American it’s impossible to

understand and get it all properly. But it fascinates me and I can’t seem to help myself. But then that’s me

- what other fool would try to play, sing and dance at the same time. It all adds up to a lot of humility on my

part which is part of the reason why I called my bluegrass CD Fake American Accent.

Personally when I am playing old-time music I don’t tend to like to string tunes together, as you say flow

one into the other“, you’ll notice on my old-time CD I don’t have any medleys. The classic old-time

performers very rarely recorded medleys. Ok, some like Eke Robertson did occasionally, but I think it was

a new thing that stringing tunes together became more the norm. Tommy Jarrell my big hero in the

old-time genre, to my knowledge never recorded any medleys.


Regarding remembering the tunes, there’s not an easy answer to that. There are certainly people who

know vastly more tunes than me. I’m not big on sessions. I’m more interested in learning a few tunes

really well than learning millions of tunes. Also I hadn’t had the advantage of been surrounded by banjo

music, as banjo pickers in say North Carolina have.


People don’t want to hear it but repeated listening to the music you want to learn is very important, and

I’m a big believer in breaking things down in small chunks, and learning tunes methodically with a lot of

repetition. I’m not a very natural learner of tunes; I have to force them into my brain by sheer will. I think

my talent lies more with my hopefully infectious enthusiasm, and love of the music. Improvisation comes

more naturally to me than learning material, in old-timey stuff the improvisation is very subtle.


I did take up banjo pretty late I suppose, I was 21. By then I already had a lot of experience playing guitar,

and then I was lucky enough to find a great teacher in London Pete Stanley. Whom I had lessons with as

part of my music degree.


Does the tuning of the fiddle vary much in those traditional tunes or is it standard tunings?

If non-standard then what sorts of variation apply?


There are many old-time fiddle tunings they include AEAE (Cross Tuning), ADAE, ADAD, DDAD, AEAC#,

as well as the standard GDAE. I’m sure there’s some I haven’t discovered yet too.


We note that you made the opportunity to study music a lot – in the course of your studies

did you cover much outside of the roots genres?


Yes I studied classical music; I did a BTEC in pop & jazz music. During college I was very interested

in free improvisation & modern jazz. Although blues was my always my first love, and I’ve never

strayed too far way. We also had a reggae and funk band. When I first left college I was playing a lot of

jazz guitar, and learnt quite a few Eddie Lang pieces.


Do you play classical violin?


No I don’t really play any classical music even though I have a straight music degree. I studied classical

music theory and history, but not the practical performance side of it. I’ve never really been interested in

actually playing classical violin. For the performance parts of my degree I majored in five string banjo,

until the last year when I decided I wanted the challenge of taking up old-time fiddle and doing my final

performances on that.


People often ask me “What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle?” I didn’t have a good answer to

that for years. Except maybe violin is for classical music. But some violinists would probably take

exception to that description. Fiddle is just a slang term for a violin I guess. But I always thought the

question always sounded like the good first line to a joke. The best I’ve come up with so far is that you

play violin with a serious look on your face, fiddle with a smile!


Can you comment on the problem of writing down traditional tunes in standard



I do read music and I find it useful. But there is a lot that is lost on the page.

As I said before actually listening to the music you want to learn is the most important thing by far for me.

Also there’s a massive jump between being able to sight read a fiddle tune so that it sounds o.k. and

being able to play it without the music. It’s the same difference to me, in say being able to type a story on

a typewriter whilst reading it out of the book, and being able to tell the story at will around a dark campfire.




In your band act you have a tremendous number of wires, leads and instruments to deal

with, when you add in the harmonica harness, boom stand and everything else there’s an awful lot to trip

you up – have you had any disasters or near misses?


I’ve made a fool of myself on many occasions. I am one of the clumsiest most heavy handed people on

the planet, a lot of people just turn up to watch me get confused, stutter, dribble, fall over, and break

things. My fiddle comes in for a lot of abuse, I’m always breaking bows spinning them, my violin bridge

has been known to fly off into the crowd, I’ve dropped my fiddle and broken it trying to jungle it, I’ve also

done this with my banjo at Glastonbury Festival.


I’m sure I have the record for the most broken strings ever, its rare a gig goes by when I don’t break a

string and I have been know to mend and break up to seven strings in an evening. I am forever

backwards and forward to repair shops with my instruments.


I’ve fallen off the stage before, whilst playing guitar behind my head. I’ve fallen off my dancing board. I

often perform with clothes badly adjusted, or on back to front. The taps have been know to fall of my

shoes during a gig, I’m forever stomping my shoe laces undone. I have got tangled and badly trapped by

vicious guitar straps, which also often fail me and my guitar goes crashing to the ground. This is most fun

with my steel guitar. I’ve had electric shocks running through my fingers because I’ve been wearing my

tap shoes outside.


Microphone stands seem to take a life of there own in my hands and just start drooping by themselves.

I’m quite often seen accidentally banging my head against the microphone. Picks often come flying off;

I’m forever losing my four capos, forgetting where I’ve put my instruments. Tuning is a nightmare

because my instruments can’t take the amount of giggling I partake in.


I recently left my banjo sitting in the middle of a car park. I once left my diary on top of the car and drove

off. I have run over my own fiddle. I have been known to forget to turn up with important instruments, like

my fiddle, or my guitar, or my shoes. I have left vitals pieces of PA at home, like the actual PA (once

without the audience even noticing.)


I have smashed lights on occasions, spilled countless pints. Recently I very foolishly and dangerously

wobbled Steve Knightly’s beautiful instruments with the vibrations of my foot stompin’, this caused me to

resolve that if I’m sharing a stage with other folks – to perform on the floor whenever possible. I

recently bounced a friend’s boron off the tarmac taking it out of the boot of the car. I

have been known to knock my keyboard off its stand to the floor. I

have very narrowly missed kicking children accidentally in the head, whilst tap dancing. And many other

foolish things that I don’t care to admit now.

What with all this chaos when something relatively small goes wrong like a broken string or a microphone

starts playing up, I can appear to taking it all in my stride like a pro, which happened with my first

appearance at The Boogaloo Blues Festival. The truth is that I’ve just come to accept, and expect my own

incompetence. I may not be getting many bookings after admitting all this, but I’d just like to say that

somehow things seem to work out o.k. people do go home entertained – one way or another.


I noticed in your electric blues playing you put in a few jazzy runs, flat 9ths, sharp and flat

fifths, etc. Are you going to explore jazz in the future and maybe step outside of the roots and blues



I have no plans to get back into playing jazz and step out outside the root & the blues which is my

true love. I have studied jazz and I enjoy listening to jazz, particularly Django Reinhardt and other guitar

driven jazz such as Charlie Christian. I did help a friend out at an informal jazz session recently, reading

basic charts, and it was fun.

>> Part 3


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