Monday, January 5, 2009

Beresford Green Speaks (Twelfth Fit)...

Here you are then - some more BLOG stuff.

Well I would do were it not so cold. To those who managed to leave their warm fireside on Friday 2ndJan to brave the freezing elements of the Regnum Club, I have only the warmest of feelings & I really do salute you. I counted 20 of us driven spirits anxious to start the New Year just as we left the old one; - with enthusiasm! Brenda! Are you listening?

A very fascinating piece of information nearly came to light on Friday despite the cold. Care of Mike & Bill1 we were to learn that Ralph McTell probably didn't write the original melody to "The Streets of London" having shared a Paris sewer / do I mean subway with another composer who also wrote it! Not finished yet because it would appear that neither of them actually wrote it. The whole idea was that of another "Third Man"

For me, playing the guitar has a great deal of habit attached to it. It's a dummy thing. At the very start I was taken by my mother's enthusiasm for The Harry Lime Theme, which I believe is more properly called "The Third Man Theme." I was about 6yrs old when I was in the Hounslow branch of British Home Stores with my mother. She heard it playing. {See - don't worry about the Coronation, Suez, or the Kennedy assassination, it's the Zither I remember!}. From this moment on these were the sounds that I wanted to make. No more crying, no more silly parental requests, no hunger for food, nor toys or even Rusk! My future was mapped out - well sort of.

There had been precious few new British records in that austere post war period. Mum rued the passing of the great dance band era, viewing all subsequent efforts as very sub-standard. On this occasion however, she was almost demented. "Oh listen to that sound. It is truly wonderful. If I had the money I would buy that. I'm going to ask them to play it again". She gave in and bought the 78 record after borrowing half the money (was the record 3/6d?) from my Grandma. I still have that record here. It was played at her funeral along with other favourites.

Of course I listened to what were then very strange tones of the German Zither. OK it was Austrian then. Actually I think it was the musician & composer Anton Karas that was Austrian. There was to be precious little new Zither music. Perhaps it was just too difficult, or the instruments unavailable. It was to be the guitar that took over & in reality, usurped it. Playing the strings so directly is a very different experience from other instruments. Unlike the piano, which uses hammers, it is so intimate. One is so much a part of it that the vibrations reach you through contact as well as via the auditory passages. The fingers are right there where the note is formed, able to alter it, will it, or stroke it into being. One can even mute it, truncate it, damp it or otherwise express the execution. Then there's that sound. Magnificent! I used to play, (can't quite do this anymore), with my ear actually on the side of the guitar just to hear more of the sound. In some more recent acoustic guitars, they have made another sound outlet on the side of the upper/smaller bout. This allows more sound to reach the ear of the player & it is said does no harm to overall sound quality.
Of course the Zither man used finger picks, just as so many guitarists use them, a plectrum, or their nails. By that means you trade off one thing for another. The plastic or metal gives a very staccato attack (beginning) to the sound, but it's much more difficult to exploit the volume dynamics unless you use plain fingers. By that I mean the mixture of the flesh & nails of the right hand.

Do you know how long it was before I actually saw a Zither being played live? A busker in Guildford in the 1980's. Forty years - that's how long! I was determined to remember how it worked, but I couldn't. I knew everything seemed to be the opposite of the guitar. I remembered banks of strings tuned to chord groups. Then there was a raised fingerboard with five strings (Anton seems to have six), which are stopped by thimbles/fingers/slide worn on the left hand. The RH thumb has a pick for the fingerboard, whilst the RH fingers produce the chord sounds. There are two YouTube videos. I think the sound on Anton's 1949 London B & W film has been overdubbed. It is too processed. Have a look at the 1982 colour version on YouTube. It has the whole tune. Can you see that Third Man?

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