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Patsy Seddon

Patsy Seddon helped create the harp duo Sileas and the band The Poozies. She talks about her work as a musician and teacher, and remembers contributing her Scottish harp or clarsach to one of the early albums of a rising singer/songwriter in 1983, Dougie MacLean. Their friendship and musical connection remain strong to this day.

This interview was recorded before a live audience in Pitlochry, Perthshire in 2007.

Fiona:

From the Festival Theatre in Pitlochry in Perthshire and a special welcome to Patsy Seddon who's joining me this afternoon. Thanks Patsy.

Patsy:

Thank you, Fiona.

Fiona:

We've met several times over the years, Patsy, and talked about your harp playing, and we'll go back to the early days and come right through. But maybe you can start just by telling us what you're doing here at the Festival.

Patsy:

Dougie (MacLean) invited me to work on more songs with him. I worked on a song with him about twenty five years ago and every time he gets me in we do that one song! And last year he said, do you know, it would be nice to do a few more than that. So, that's been the idea for this year. So, we're doing that tomorrow in Castle Menzies in Aberfeldy and we've chosen a few songs; ones that I thought would work well with the harp. So, let's hope that they do! Let's hope that you feel that tomorrow!

Fiona:


But when you took up harp, growing up in Edinburgh and training first on piano and fiddle, I think, and singing, there wouldn't have been that many people for you to be inspired by at that stage, I wouldn't have thought. I mean, when did the light bulb go on for you?

Patsy:

It was hearing Alison Kinnaird playing. And I think that's what happens to everybody. They maybe just hear one person play, and perhaps they've played other instruments that they've liked but, as you say, haven't quite had that light bulb experience. And you can see it in people. It's almost like falling in love, or something, because they go, I need to play that. That's what I want to do.

I saw Alison Kinnaird play. I was just very lucky that my parents would run ceilidhs which had dancing and they would find out which people locally could come in and maybe sing some songs, play the pipes, recite some poetry and they happened to hear about Alison. And she would come in and play a couple of pieces and that's how I got to hear her. And luckily she was teaching, and so I'm afraid it was just right place at the right time!

Fiona:

Yes. It was a great opportunity for you, because Alison herself, she had really been one of the first to bring this ancient repertoire to people again on the clarsach.

Patsy:

Yes. Alison learned at a time when it was very much used as an accompaniment for singing, and she decided to give it back its noble status really, as an instrument in its own right and delved into manuscripts and sources, and found tunes that would have been played and found out more about the history. But that was very influential because it, in a sense, encouraged people to start looking at it as an instrument and not just as a great accompaniment to singing, which it is, of course.

Fiona:

And she sort of explored that on her album "The Harp Key" when she brought you and Wendy Stewart in and the three of you played harp together to show the interplay that could be between three harps.

Patsy:

Yes, well that gave me the chance to work out little parts, which is one of the things that I enjoy about playing the harp. I love playing it with other people because it gives me the opportunity to work out harmonies or little rhythmic backings. If you're on your own you kind of have to keep the tune going.

Fiona:

The perfect friendship and musical partnership was destined to be between you and Mary MacMaster who you met at University.

Patsy:

Yes. Mary had had that eureka moment as well by hearing Alan Stivell play, and Alan Stivell played a metal strung harp, though I have to say that is not why she plays the metal strung harp. It's cause it was the cheapest one available at the time! But when we met it seemed to be a really nice combination, the two harps together. Lots of people told us that this worked really well, that they complimented each other. But we both had a lot of fun. Just playing together. She loves doing that backing thing. She's not that keen on being a soloist either. It was a fortunate chance that we were in pretty much the same course at the same University.

Fiona:

That was the beginning of Sileas...

Patsy:

Well after University we thought, until we get sensible jobs, this would be the chance to travel the world, and we were aware of the opportunities that we could have. And we'd got to know some of the promoters around. So, we just basically had to phone them up and say, do you fancy just having the two harps? And luckily they all said, oh yeah certainly! And that sort of spring boarded us into a career and that was about 22 years ago. So, the sensible job hasn't beckoned yet!

Fiona:

When you performed and recorded there was really a sense of four instruments all working, the two voices, the two harps, the interplay between all four, rather than just will I play harp, will I sing? You know, at times obviously you're playing instrumentals but then sometimes there will be some vocals throughout the instrumentals and there was a real sense of it all...

Patsy:

...all tying in.

Fiona:

... working together, yeah.

Patsy:

I'm glad you noticed that Fiona! Well, of course, we love the dance tunes on the harp. This was one of our challenges was to try and play the dance music almost up to the speed of the dancing, and almost up to the speed of what a fiddler might do. But of course, they can always overtake us, but it doesn't matter. We just give it more gas, you know! But we were also learning Gaelic dancing songs. There are a few in Scots but there are masses in Gaelic, so we were lucky to be learning those. And sometimes we would play the tune at the same time as singing the song and all sorts of different combinations like that.

Fiona:

And then you did something else that brought another dimension into your music, which was to introduce the Camac electro harp, which just brought a whole other kind of dimension and vibration into the music.

Patsy:

Well, I think we both were kind of closet bass players, rock and roll bass players, and Joel Garnier, who ran Camac Harps, he came to my flat with this odd looking contraption that looked a bit like a standard lamp with strings on it! And we said, what on earth is that? And he said, it's my prototype electric harp. Now, he was getting quite excited about the teaching possibilities of it, you know, having a lab of maybe eight harp players in a room, and the teacher has headphones on, like you do yourself right now, and you know, he cuts into each pupil. He had all sorts of technological reasons for developing it. But for us what was really striking, for some reason, was the quality of the bass sound. The first person that we had in mind was Mary's sister, who is a bass player. But she wasn't able to join us, so we thought, well let's try it on the harp for a while, and that's become kind of a trade mark for us.

Fiona:

Patsy Seddon is here with us at Perthshire Amber. We want to talk now about the event in 1990 that was the beginning of the band, The Poozies, into which you brought the two harps of Sileas with your Camac electro harp. Suddenly now we're in a line up; you've got voice, you've got fiddles, you've got accordion and a broader sort of palette of colours. And I read this wonderful quote actually, just very recently, I mean I've always felt that The Poozies ever since you formed, and right through in various different line ups there's always been just a great joy in the music, but I read this quote which said, “In a world wrapped in grey The Poozies are a giant splash of colour.” And I thought, yeah that sums it up too. Tell us about how the band first got together and than maybe give us a little bit of insight into what you were trying to put together with the sound of The Poozies.

Patsy:

Well, I think as you say, with Sileas we were very much focussing on Gaelic and Scottish music, and when we heard Sally Barker singing we just loved her ability at singing, her immense control over her voice of different tones and different styles of music that she can cover, that we hadn't really been trying up till that point, the Bluesier side of things. Yeah, we liked the different styles that she was able to cover. And then she came along and heard a Sileas gig, and she equally liked the slightly more modern slant that we were putting on things, plus of course, the electro harp. So we just made this rash decision to get together. I think she invited us to play on a track on her next album and that gave us the excuse to work together, and we enjoyed that so much that we just somehow decided to form a band that would enable us to widen our repertoire style really. And when she suggested an accordionist called Karen Tweed we were just horrified, absolutely horrified, and terrified. And we were terrified really because we thought the accordion would completely dominate the sound of the harps. But then, we didn't know Karen is both able to play really beefily but she can play very subtly as well. So once we did hear her we were just totally taken by that idea. And we were very friendly with a fiddler, Jenny Gardener, at the time, and she joined us. Jenny didn't stay with us very long. She had other things she wanted to do. So we pretty much went as a four-piece after that for many years. And it just gave us the chance to try all different types of music; Cajun style, country style, singer/songwriter-y style, whatever that is, you know.

Fiona:

And also bring a lot more harmonies into the mix as well, and to sort of...

Patsy:

...Oh, four part harmonies yes. We absolutely loved doing that.

Fiona:

So what are the next plans for The Poozies. That'll be going on twenty years that the band has been together - in just a very few years time.

Patsy:

Yes! We've got another album planned. I'm not sure if people really make albums any more, but we'll see how that goes. Or just track for track and hand them out for free or something. There's all sorts of different systems. But certainly, we're looking at different festivals next year. It's hard for us to travel too far at the moment, with all these babies around, but you know, we still enjoy playing together, and that's the main thing.

Fiona:

And Patsy, you've been doing a lot of teaching. I know that you're here at Perthshire Amber performing tomorrow with Dougie MacLean as a duo, but you've also been doing teaching here at festival, and you teach at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama, and in fact, helped pioneer the clarsach course for that traditional music degree.

Patsy:

Yes. They asked me to be the clarsach tutor when it started in 1996, and with a few gaps here and there I have been doing that. This year I'm kind of on the back burner because I'm pursuing a slightly different teaching which is "Kodaly" teaching. It's a kind of training for... well to start (children) as early as possible I'm working largely with seven year-old and upwards age group at the moment, which is musicality based on singing and with very much an emphasis on traditional folk music. So it's very relevant to what I do anyway. And it's a great way of getting kids involved in music and for them to learn about music without them really knowing that they're learning about it.

Fiona:

So there's a lot of games, and rhythm games, and clapping games.

Patsy:

Singing games, and rhymes, yes, that's its kind of subtle. So, that's been great. That's really fed into my harp teaching as well.

Fiona:


Well, we want to thank everyone for their input today, and we have Colleen and Terry McDermot from Corvallis, Oregon joining us here in Pitlochry today, and they were just wondering, Patsy, as we might imagine they would, what your plans are for travelling and playing again in the States.

Patsy:


Well, the problem with the States of course is all these babies and children who are all at school, so it is a bit tricky to tour the States. Mary and I toured the States a lot in the mid 80s – mid 90s and we had so much fun, so many good experiences, so many fabulous harp players there. Hated the flying, unfortunately. So, we thought it would be fun sometime to try that bus tour idea that you did some years ago. That would be quite good. Maybe all the babies could come then! But I know that's quite hard to organise. It's a bit of a shame if we don't get over there, cause there are so many harp players for us both to meet, who also might want to hear what we do.

Fiona:

I think both you and Mary have been responsible for creating loads and loads of harp players in the States, I'm sure you're aware. I mean, a lot of people will have heard the music of Sileas, and thought "well that's the kind of music that I would like to try to make, or be part of."

Patsy:


Yes certainly from a certain time, because we did tour several times a year at one point and did some major festivals like Vancouver for the last few years, so we might not have been forgotten!

Fiona:


Some people don't know whether you really exist! But she does. She's right here, and I'm here to prove it with her. Well, we have a small group of people who've been sitting here listening to me chat to Patsy here. We have Roy and Chris Splitcroft, who are from Cheshire in England, and they've come to Perthshire Amber for the first time this year, and thought that they would come and hear what Patsy had to say. They didn't have a particular question for Patsy, but did want to say hello to Ian and Chris Splitcroft, who live somewhere in America, we think somewhere right in the middle, perhaps the Midwest. Anyway, here's a big hello from Roy and Chris to Ian and Chris. It's not a very common name, so we think you will recognize yourselves, and hello from Perthshire.

And Patsy, you had someone you wanted to say hi to.

Patsy:

Oh yeah. That gave me the idea that I would like to say hello to someone in the States, and that's Barbara and Jack Yule, who live in Gardner, Colorado. They are very good friends. They used to live here. Barbara also runs a really great festival called the Spanish Peaks Celtic Festival in September every year. So, for anyone in that area, you should get down there. Check it on the web, and hello to them.

Fiona:

What a fabulous invitation for people to check out as well. I want to thank you Patsy for taking the time to chat...

Patsy:

...thank you, Fiona...

Fiona:

...and go over all that old terrain and give us a chance to understand a wee bit more about what's gone into your music through the years, and listen to it with you. Thanks for all you've done, and we'll catch up with you down the road. Great!

Thanks to Patsy and also to Jamie and Dougie MacLean for technical assistance.