Biscuit Band – Blog 5

Blog 5 – Hugh Nankivell – BSO Associate : Friday 20th May

All a bit sad at the end of the project, but at the same time a really lovely celebration and a chat later about finding a way to continue it in some way. Let’s hope so. I think this model of bringing together three different groups of local people in a creative group like this needs to be investigated further as there is such positive energy coming from everyone involved.

Today we had ten residents, including a new woman, Betty, who joined in very happily, eight elderly visitors from Buckfastleigh and Ashburton, several care home staff who sang and played with us at times, three musicians (Andy, Daniel and me), Suzy (of course) and then later on twelve family members from five different familes. So by the end the Biscuit Band had well over thirty members, a great BIG band.

Anne arrived with a complete new song, three verses and a chorus and 25 copies of it all ready to go. She presented it to me at 2.20pm with the session due to start at 2.30. So this was a great challenge; I knew I could not change any words at all and had to find a tune and chords and work out a little arrangement. With Daniel and Andy we made a version that seemed to go down well when we sang it at 3.35!  Actually I am still singing the chorus a day later, so, to my mind, it must be ok.

Anne explained that she could not sleep a few nights ago and so got up and started on this song, which then occupied her attention for a few days and she even phoned Suzy up at one point to check with her that it was alright. I love this little journey that Anne has come on, from having a little interview and an instant song made about her in week two, she has subsequently brought new verses along, contributed positively in the creative sessions and finally brought along a complete work.


verse 1
We like to walk in the countryside
Seeing all the foxgloves side by side
The honeysuckle smells oh so sweet
And all the daisies so small and neat
They’re there to admire and enjoy everyday
We stop just to smell them, then go on our way.

We live in the country
Peg out on a Monday,
Rest on a Sunday and
Hob Nob Club on Friday

verse 2
Another day we can go on the moors
Where we could roam for hours and hours
The ponies they are a joy to see
And the gorse and the heather looks just lovely

verse 3
We can go to the seaside on a sunny day
And watch the waves as they roll away
Have an ice cream, then go for a swim
Then build sandcastles till the light starts to dim.

We also added two new verses to ‘Our Furry Feathered Friends’; we played ‘Taverna several tmes through and were told very clearly by Margaret about the order of verses for My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean and we had a good chat about whether we should enter ‘The Voice’ or ‘Britains Got Talent’ or ‘X-Factor’ (unecided!) and would our costume be different kinds of biscuits? At that point one Mum revealed that she is a costume maker and would make them for us. Hooray.

At the end of the session we played pass-the-parcel (with chocolate and forfeits). Anne won the final prize – a pack of cards, Bill tried to open several layers, the youngest person there (aged four) got the forfeit of ‘tell us something you did when you were younger’ and after much thought she said ‘I used to sleep a lot.’  Everyone really enjoyed that measured response that relates to all of us. Juliette got the forfeit: ‘tell someone a secret’ and she decided to tell everyone clearly ‘I don’t like porridge’. Gladys told us without a doubt that ‘we are going to have a great summer’, when her forfeit asked her to tell us something about the future and the favourite song was, of course, what else but ‘The Quartermaster’s Stores’.

Finally we all sang a capella the song ‘We’ll Meet Again’, which was very moving for all of us, whether or not we knew the words.


BSO and the Isles of Scilly

BSO Associates – Patrick Bailey & Matt Harrison

This is our third visit to St Mary’s this academic year. The first visit was to the school and the second was much more focussed on music in the community and music-making beyond school for those students with an interest. This visit was designed very much as continuity to the second.

Saturday April 23

We are getting used to the plane journey now and this flight had the added bonus of not being accompanied by high winds meaning the view through the cockpit to the emerging island and its cliff-top runway was now only mildly disconcerting and not actually terrifying. Brilliantly, our request to the airport taxi driver is to take us to ‘Roz’s house’ (we don’t know the address)is all we need.

Our first visit is to a new venue – Park House residential home. Here we meet 6 residents and 2 carers and a few rounds of singing and story-telling (with soundtrack provided by the group) goes down well. Better than Matt’s trombone playing goes down with one noise-sensitive resident anyhow – must remember to pack the mute next time.

After that we go to the wonderful Five Islands School, our base for most of the workshops.

Advanced Instrumental group

The first group we meet are a combination of older students (secondary age) and some more confident adult musicians. We pick up where we left off on the last visit: we are writing a good piece using and challenging the instrumentalists. Memories are pretty sharp and the piece soon works its way back into life (it is not notated at the moment). We are able to incorporate a new flautist and also develop some of the material. The piece has legs but I think some notation will be good now to allow us to bridge the several-month gap prior to our next visit and allow us to compose more and revise less.

Grades 1- 3, young and old

In all the groups we are working with, we have people from different generations – it’s completely natural way of working in this close community. This was a new group and we worked on inventing some simple rhythms then, working in pairs, ‘tagged’ two rhythms together to create a longer rhythm. The pairs then added notes and we soon had 4 quite different ‘loops’. Some loops we expanded on – incorporating the whole group, adding harmonies/counterpoint etc – and others we left unadorned. The resulting piece, a kind of rondo, was very effective and all the players were involved as performers and composers.

Rusty Returners

A grand BSO tradition – given some extra spice by the fact that this group are learning one of the BBC Ten Pieces and are going to Truro to perform it alongside the BBC Concert Orchestra, live on Radio 3. No pressure.

We’ve downloaded every conceivable part from the Ten Pieces website and spend the first half hour sorting out individual needs – mostly combing out some of the knottier bits for slightly worried Rusties. We record the first run through. Rusty. A bit more re-arranging and some individual coaching and some group rehearsal, a huge improvement in a short space of time and definitely a very exciting prospect for all the players – we have returning tuba, saxes, flutes, bassoon, timpani and trumpets.

Folk Club

Our host, Roz (whose house all taxi drivers seem to know), runs a monthly folk night in the old town. We couldn’t go last time we were here but this time went along and heard some brilliant performances (including a discovery that our rusty bassoon player is a very good singer/guitarist). We had also come prepared and performed our version of the Cornish folk song, Nine Brave Boys and also led a slightly bemused audience in a quick workshop based on a simple shanty.

Sunday April 24

Brass lessons

20 years ago the music teacher on the island was a brass player. Subsequently, a lot of people, of the parents generation rather than grandparents, are lapsed brass players. On our last visit, in January, we spent a few hours unearthing all the old brass instruments from under the stage in the school and cleaning/applying valve oil to as many as we could get working. We then had a come and play session for lapsed parents and curious young people. Building on that, we offered some individual lessons this time around and, seeking a more permanent solution, also welcomed Sara Munns, head of brass for the Cornwall Music Service Trust via a skype link and some fancy kit which allows the teacher to select from three different camera angles – one is a close up of the embouchure, one closer on the hands and one looking at a full body length shot for posture and other. The lessons were really successful and there were a couple of very promising players. The aim is to start some kind of regular lessons using both the skype link and also our physical visits. Woodwind is very strong on the islands at the moment but the addition of some willing brass players will transform things like the wind band.

Family Orchestra

The weather this weekend has been glorious. We apply the sun cream and hold this session outside in the schools’ lovely, and acoustically-superb, courtyard. However, the weather is a double-edged sword as Sunday’s, it turns out, are often used for family boating and other sea-based activity and our Family Orchestra is definitely smaller than January – a cold, grey winter afternoon. Still, we revisit the piece we started last time and welcome some new faces including a dad who claimed he had no music in him at all but who ended the afternoon a lynch pin of the tuned percussion section playing with real confidence and taking all the relevant cues to start/stop. As is often the way, he surprised himself. Our piece is really beautiful and we have a couple of ‘smile’ moments (as one participant called them) as the group start to take real confidence in this way of making music and it starts to become instinctive as much as it is led.

Men’s singing group

We met these gentlemen (and one younger lad) last time and again worked with them on some basic techniques that they could think about in their more regular sessions – some breathing excercises, some part-singing in rounds. We had great success with a couple of lyric ballads including The Rose and members of the group were really taken by the idea of sustained singing – holding onto vowels as long as possible.

Another full weekend and, with our pilot year coming to a close, a real sense of where the visits can most work next year. We are grateful to our very generous hosts for the time they give our visits.

Buckfastleigh Biscuit Band

Hugh Nankivell – BSO Associate – 13 May 2016
Session 4

Lovely energy again today. We are really getting to know each other and enjoy each other’s company. Today we had Chris on trumpet, Daniel on guitar (and his dog Arthur) to add to the music and also Ben visited us from BSO and got to have a dance with Gladys!

We agreed that we had finished off our band song the previous week – with five verses, a chorus, a bridge and an instrumental section, this felt long enough! There was quite a campaign started to enter it for Eurovision, but we were a bit late for 2016, so perhaps next year!

Our instrumental playing got really good – with great precision in starting and stopping (listening and watching) and following changes. Our ‘Taverna’ piece had elements added at the start – a call and response introduction, and at the end – Rita suggesting that we go straight into ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’ from ‘My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean’! So now we are really building up our memories and the changes were working really well as the piece flowed from:

a dynamic intro to

  • the habanera then
  • the ‘ooh’ singing section
  • the ‘oompah oompah oom cha cha cha’ interlude straight into
  • ‘My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean’ (in the relative major!) and
  • ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’, before circling back round to the start again.

When the young(er) folk joined us later on they added some great energy to the playing and added to the tightness of the band and really enjoyed being taught the words to ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’. We had a good unresolved chat about why your legs should be sawn right off! Daniel commented that they don’t write songs like that any more!

In the break I had a chat with Belgian Juliette and this song emerged, with lovely contributions from Daniel and Chris. Juliette was happily tearful as we sang it to the group.

Cyril and Juliette

Cyril was in the RAF
In my home town of Ghent
I was a student nurse in Antwerp
My sister called me home, – so I went

She introduced us together
This is Cyril and this is Juliette
His name was not Romeo
But we exchanged addresses that very night

He wrote to me quite quickly
I was quite amazed
Me and my friends pooled our little English
And my reply, wended its way

chorus 1

Romeo and Juliet
A 400 year love story
Romeo and Juliet


chorus 2

Cyril and Juliette
A 40 year love story
Cyril and Juliette

Finally – inspired by the budgies in the room and Daniel’s dog Arthur, we made up a new funny/silly animal song – which was a call and response song and we had a great animal noises section! This was another mixed generation moment of everyone contributing and genuine communication with each other.

Our Furry Feathered Friends


Our Furry Feathered Friends
On us they do depend

verse 1

Budgies sings a merry tune
Doggie says woof woof
Cat meows up at the moon
And donkey bangs his hoof

verse 2

Rabbit’s got nice fluffy ears
Parrot goes caw caw
Snake slips and disappears
Chucks lay eggs on’t floor

Sounds Vital – Community Music Project

Sounds Vital is a community music project for instrumentalists and singers of any level of experience and interest based in Liskeard, Cornwall and is run by BSO Associate Patrick Bailey.

The group first met in the summer of 2015 as part of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s iOrchestra project. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra have since sponsored the group’s projects in the winter of 2015/16 (as part of a short BSO residency in Cornwall) and for our latest project in partnership with Loop the Loop – a Heritage Lottery funded project celebrating the small train line that runs from Liskeard down to Looe. Initially an industrial branch line linking the mining industry to the coast, the line then became much-used by day-trippers in the early part of the 20th century, taking people to the coast for the day. Saved from the Beeching cuts at the last minute, it continues to run through some very beautiful countryside to this day.

April 24
The group, about 20 members for this project, meet for a planning/inspiring meeting without the BSO leader – to generate ideas, talk around the subject and explore some musical material.

The project organiser had given them a video of various clips of steam and diesel trains in Cornwall but, sadly, all were minus sound so it was only the visual aspects that were of benefit.  They talked about that and also looked at key words that both the history and the video brought to mind, with a view to their informing any lyrics they might produce.

In the second half they explored the rhythms of train sounds (one member had taken some video of the local line to help, though many of the older people’s memories of the sounds of steam trains were still very strong). They reported that: “We were hoping to get people to explore how train rhythms could be varied and it was interesting that, in a large group, using percussion instruments most were able to vary a basic train rhythm and come up with some interesting alternatives, but when we worked in small groups, using their own instruments, they stuck rigidly to the basic train rhythm and, rather than getting the sense of train movement, they interpreted the idea very literally.”

They also generated some lyrics in a W H Auden ‘Night Mail’ style.

April 30
This was the first session for the BSO leader and we spent time listening the previous week’s ideas. We have some good blocks of sound in the group – 3 ukeleles; 3 guitars;  2 harps and a banjo; a group of singers with hand percussion and also with a tenor sax and a melodica. To get a sense of movement building up we gave each block of colour a major chord – guiatars had C,  Ukes – D, Sax/voices – E flat and harps/banjo – F#. Each group then composed a cumulative rhythm starting with one chord every eight beats then gradually building up to a running quaver-based rhythm. The superimposition of the chords gives some real interest to quite a formal structure and allows us to move the focus of the piece around the group very clearly.

The singers composed individual rhythms by imagining one, two and three-syllable words, quite unconnected to each other and mixing up nouns, adjectives etc with onomatopoeic sounds to generate a text-based collage which could convert to a percussion rhythm.

Based on a slightly complex mode suggested by the chords, we also wrote, as a group, a lyrical melody to act as a ‘head’ – each member of group adds a note at a time (a bit like a musical version of ‘my granny went to market’) though each member can, at any time, choose to repeat a line or an idea rather than add something new. The result was a very characterful and beautiful tune. The ukes/guitars used the C,D,Eb, F# chords to come up with a chord progression to accompany. F#, it turns out, is not the Uke’s favourite chord!

A nice light finish was provided by one of the Uke players who had written an entire piece since the first session – Toot, toot! – which we quickly arranged for the whole group.

May 8
A lot of re-visiting and polishing. We did a warm-up that really concentrated on ensemble/pulse/listening and that led straight into more work on the cumulative, layered rhythms. Good work, much better.

The singers want/need something more lyrical to sing and had written another set of words which we agreed we were going to set avoiding, at all costs, any sense of de-der-de-der-de-der-de-der Auden-style train recitative. In order to do this we had the idea of finding the word in each line that we would like to stress the most – never, or rarely, the first or second word. We found this really helpful and started to deliberately lengthen this word when we spoke the rhythm. We also ignored all the upbeat words (we can worry about them later):

(We’ll get on the) train and find our seats

(Thinking of) friends we’re going to meet

The underlined words start to become dotted crotchets and we are happy that we are avoiding the mechanized chanting.

Another member was keen to use a 5/4 time signature – quite common in Cornish folk music – and this was a surprisingly easy step to take. The guitars/ukes suggested a new chord sequence based on new chords (they were not allowed to use C, D, Eb or F#!) with a slower harmonic rhythm. We then encourage sax and recorder to improvise to the approximate rhythm of the words but set a rule that the movement from the dotted crotchet should be more down than up (although you are allowed to break the rule with good reason!). After a while two different melodies emerged and we selected the one that sat with the voices best.

It was a lovely and quite spontaneous process and had given us something really interesting (and contrasting) to work with next time….






Buckfastleigh Biscuit Band

Hugh Nankivell – BSO Associate – 6 May 2016
Session 3

It is only very occasionally that I have those moments where I feel like I am in a film, and I had one on Friday at the Biscuit Band. Billy and Martine were playing ‘Sway’ on guitar and fiddle and some of us (old and very young) were dancing and some of us singing and all of us smiling. I was dancing with Gladys, who always looks forward to a dance with us ‘younger’ men! Bill had requested that we open the door onto the patio and the sun was streaming in. Suddenly – at exactly the right moment – Andy walked in through the door playing his sax at exactly the right moment for a solo. It was magical.

There were also some very funny things this week, especially with Rita (the lovely lass who each week insists that we sing ‘Quartermaster’s Stores’). I was standing by her playing the accordion and she kept asking me where the sound was coming from, and it became a kind of joke. I was becoming a kind of ventriloquist accordion player!

The Buckfastleigh Biscuit Band is producing many special moments in the way that it is a very happy, creative, multi-generational and energisingly positive place to be.  We finished out theme song, we developed our instrumental ‘Taverna’ piece (and our playing got incrementally better) we welcomed new folks – both old and young – we had a lullaby story/song (about the ceramic dog called ‘spiderman’) and a new song for/with Peggy called ‘Pianos and Bombs’).

We finished our song today with a bridge and a final verse. Two interesting things about this process:

1) I suggested that we needed something other than a verse for the next section and we discussed the bridge/middle-eight of a song offering a diferent point of view and then came up with a very good section and a key change:


We meet on Friday
All nice and tidy
We meet all our friends
The fun never ends

We then sang it, and it was a bit slow and ‘mournful’ and so we had a few chats about this, and tried a few alternatives. Some of the group were really clear that it was not right and it took until we realised that it needed to be sung at the same tempo as the rest of the song for it to be a success. The relief on some of the participants faces as we found our way to the solution was really wonderful. They were completely investing in the song and did not want it to be wrong.

2) Anne came along with two new verses today, already written. This was great and she gave them to me on post-it notes. I felt immediately that one of them was exactly right for the final verse and so wrote it up on the board:

final verse

When we’re feeling rather low
Mum calls out – where shall we go?
There’s only one place that we know
Let’s all go off to the hob-nob show

What I really like about this is that Anne, who had a song written for/with her last week, had  taken on board the idea of writing songs and gone away and come back – unprompted – with a lovely ending which mentions the fact of the youngsters joining in with the oldsters, another example of the group realising its potential.

In the break I sat and chatted with Peggy and came up with a song called ‘Piano and Bombs’ and sang a quickly rehearsed version of it with Billy and Martine. I think I will work on this further, as I think there is real potential in it. It being a song about how Peggy’s Mum played the piano, but she never did because of moving about and being bombed in the war.

Finally we ended with a lullaby improvised song story. I sometimes use this approach when working with early years, and as we had a few very young children (some of whom were quite tired) it seemed appropriate for nearly 5pm on a Friday. I worried that it might be not applicable to the older folk, but they loved it – taking part, coming up with ideas, singing, acting (cleaning teeth, washing face, opening windows etc) and it made me realise that it is not always the nature of the material that is relevant to different age groups, but the way in which the group accepts that material and plays with it.

Such a pity that we only have two more Biscuit Band sessions to go!

Haytor View Early Years Music Project, Summer Term 2016 – Blog 11

Haytor View Early Years Music Project, Summer Term 2016 – Blog 11  – 27 April 2016

Hugh Nankivell – BSO Associate

My last session as part of the BSO/Ernest Cook Trust sessions with children at Haytor View, before we have our three sessions starting a family band – beginning next week.

Today my plan was to spend time one-to-one with children to see what emerged with a multi-track recording facility. I have done this before with Foundation stage children and it has produced some really interesting results. I record them playing some music and then, with them wearing headphones, we can record another layer (or more) on top of this, making an improvised multi-track recording. Today’s session is perhaps best described as ‘interestingly uneventful’.

I worked with six children for between five and twenty minutes each in a small room, away from the Foundation Stage. ‘J’ really took to it, adding 7 overdubs and wanting to develop them each time, but others seemed very bashful.

J’s piece was called – HOT DOG and featured the following instruments, recorded in the following order:


‘J’ chose the instruments he wanted to play and was very comfortable and confident when playing (although the headphones did ruffle his hairstyle a bit!) What was most interesting about this was: a) the general sense of a rhythmical connection between all seven parts (some really connected, others only loosely so) and the fact that the recordings got longer and longer and the last two much longer than the others. ‘J’ was getting used to the idea and enjoying playing and hearing himself back, and once he knew it was the last recording his playing went on for longer. This shows a developing self-confidence and I have experienced this before with another very creative child of the same age.

‘W’ didn’t say a word, ‘C’ wanted to get back to the classroom for a game he and a group were developing, ‘AL’ had a bad cough and didn’t want to wear the headphones (neither did ‘E’). ‘A’ sang her song from last week and we overdubbed a little, but she wasn’t really in the mood it seemed, and ‘E’ only wanted to play if I played with her.

I think that the reason that it was not as interesting as I hoped for was because this kind of session probably needs to come out of an activity in the classroom where interesting music is being developed and where we can take the ones who are developing it somewhere quiet to record that music. But this session was entirely about recording them individually and for most of them, there was no reference for this activity. A pity, but another learning curve for me. Also, our whole project this term has been about the outside, and learning in that very open environment and this was almost the polar opposite! So perhaps it was strange of me to end an outside and collaborative project with individuals in a small room!

So now I need to collate all the extraordinary music made inside and outside on this project (and make a map of where and when) and prepare for the new Haytor View Family Band.

Buckfastleigh Biscuit Band

Hugh Nankivell – BSO Associate – 29 April 2016
Session 2

Really great second session, with lots of smiles and laughter, energy and ideas, music and songs and a bit of dancing. Much the same structure as last week, with a few different folks, a new song, some more added to the old one, a new instrumental piece and a couple of different guest musicians. Today we had Andy on saxes and tin whistles and Daniel on guitar as well as Rachel and me.

We added new verses to our band anthem:
We all like dancing – doing a walz
We all like dancing – of your own choice
We all like rockin on a saturday night
We all like rockin – it feels just right

We all like parties – playing all the games
We all like parties – barbecues with flames
Pass the parcel – hide and seek
Pin the tail on the donkey – eating sweets

(Next week we are going to play pass the parcel – if one of us remembers to make one – ‘as long as it has forfeits in!’) So our band song is developing each week – perhaps next week a verse about gardening and outside activities!

In the break I had a chat with Anne and made up a new song with her and used her name as translated into music for the main bit of the melody. In my simple alphabet/music system Anne = AGGE, and so this became the start of a lovely melody which went: AGGE, ABBC, BAAF, AGGE. Anne is from Buckland in the Moor and the chorus for her song went:

I’m from Buckland in the moor
When I was growing up
There was always simething to do
When I was growing up.

It was great to sing this to all the group (young and old) and to see the expressions on the children’s faces as they looked at Anne.

We had a local older woman Mary join us this week who is always very chatty, positive and knowledgeable, (I met her on a previous project) and she was very excited about what the BSO would think of our band and whether we might get a record contract! This was ater we had developed a lovely improvsed/conducted instrumental/vocal piece called ‘Taverna’ (named by Mary) which had three parts in it: a habanera section, a vocal section and a cha cha cha. Next week we will play it again and add further sections to it.

The day after our session we were featured on BBC Radio Devon and there were interviews with Suzy, a young person, an older person and me! Juliet, one of Redmount’s residents said this when asked about it:

‘Oh we enjoyed it, we really enjoyed it this afternoon… we sang with a full voice… we enjoyed being with the children actually… it’s lovely to have young blood around the place.’

And when the interviewer then asked her about how good it is to mix the generations together Juliet replied: ‘Well it’s necessary here, we’re a bit isolated here, among older people all the time and  there isn’t much sense of humour…’

You can hear the programme here – listen from 1hr 52.50 to 1hr 56.10.

Really looking forward to next week.