What I’ve been up to…

Over the past couple of weeks, my harp quartet CLOUDS have been on tour all over Great Britain.

Of course I had to document the time some way or other, and here are a couple of videos showing a little bit of what we got up to while we were away:


But even though our tour is over, the concerts continue over the next month or so in Manchester. Here’s where you can see us:

Tuesday, June 27th at 7.30pm as past of Didsbury Arts Festival. More details here.

Tuesday, July 11th at 7.30pm in St. Ann’s Church, Manchester City Centre.

Thursday, August 3rd at 3.30pm in Manchester Central Library as part of Manchester Jazz Festival.

Sunday, August 6th at 3pm in the Whitworth Art Gallery. More details here.

Please do come along and say hello if you attend one of our concerts.

I also wanted to just say a massive ‘thank-you’ to everyone who supported us along the way on our recent tour. Our parents looked after us a lot and kept us well-fed (largely with garlic bread – my request) and the staff and teams at the various venues for welcoming us with open arms and encouraging the locals to get involved and support us.

And (I’ll try not to get emotional here) thanks to my fellow CLOUDS for being amazing and inspiring musicians and fierce friends. I love you all so much x x x

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December 2014 catch-up…

This post is a continuation from last week’s post in which I raked over the glowing embers of November 2014, I originally wanted to put November and December into one huge post but alas, there was just too much to put in! So here’s a run-down of December 2014.

The first gig of the month was a solo recital! Yay! This is what it’s all about: performing lovely repertoire for a large, appreciative audience. Many thanks to Philip Scowcroft at Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery for inviting me back to perform – I always have a lovely time. Thanks also for inviting me and Marten to do a joint recital next year – time to find some harp and piano repertoire, suggestions in the comments please!!

On December 5th I had a background gig at Manchester Art Gallery. Those of you who know Manchester will be aware that there is very little parking around there. Pretty much none in fact. So I thought it would be a clever idea to get an estate car taxi to take me there – what could possibly go wrong?

I called the taxi company at least twice during the day to check the booking, 5pm estate car taxi to the city centre. Emphasis on the estate car part. Five o’clock rolls around, no taxi. At quarter past my phone rings to let me know the taxi’s outside, so I trundle out with the harp and all my bags.

It’s not an estate car.

Cue one diva-strop.

Car goes away, angry phone call to Radio Cars, an estate finally arrives. I’m now behind schedule. Trying to hold it together.

I arrange with the driver that he’ll come and pick me up after I’ve finished playing so I don’t have to go through that again. I’ve been asked to play downstairs in the foyer. But all that happens is people come in, hang up their coats, and head off upstairs to the party.

I’m providing music for the hanging up of coats. This has to be a new low.

Fast forward to the end of my set. No taxi.

Cue another massive diva-strop (I’m getting good at these) and phone call to Radio Cars “Yes, it’s the lady with the harp” to request an estate asap.

Taxi turns up, it’s not an estate.

By now I’m rather upset, I finished playing an hour ago and have gone nowhere. Another strop, another phone call and the driver who stood me up sheepishly apologises for not showing up when he said he would, and takes me home, where a party is currently underway, that I am hosting, that I am also very very late for.

Time to start drinking.

Luckily, by comparison the next few days went very smoothly. An hour of background music in Middlewich for a community Christmas buffet-type-thing (I had a lot of the cakes, they were excellent). Then on the Sunday I had the first Ceremony of Carols of the year down in Wilmslow – conducted by Lloyd Buck.

Barnby C of Cs

The Ceremony of Carols is a very special piece – written by Benjamin Britten. I’m sure it is special to many harpists, it’s just for treble voices and harp – although it has been arranged for a full choir.

The following weekend also had engagements on both days, so I decided to get my first ever spray tan in preparation (even my winter foundation for very pasty skin is now looking quite orange on me – I need some sun asap) I went for the lightest tan you can have (they call it ‘Glow’) and yea, it was fun for a few days, until it started coming off. In patches. Starting with my hands. Bad times.


On Saturday 13th December I was playing for a wedding banquet, in a marquee. A marquee in December? Sounds crazy but was in fact surprisingly cosy. Who knew?

The following day  I headed over to attend York’s Annual Community Carol Concert. My dad has been conducting this event for decades. It usually attracts a crowd in the region of 1,500 and raises money for several good causes in and around York. They get a school band, a couple of school choirs, a church choir and a ‘novelty item’ (in 2013 it was my Harp Quartet CLOUDS) and we spend an afternoon together singing carols and being entertained by the wonderful Revd Andrew Foster. Father Christmas usually makes an appearance to hand out sweets. I honestly can’t say enough good things about this wonderful event. Long live YACCC!

Daddy Barbican

We are now half-way through the month, almost there. Believe it or not December 2014 was comparatively quiet for me… I’ve had much busier Christmas seasons – I’ve also had quieter ones where I’ve had to live on frozen vegetables with rice due to lack of money. 2014 was a very happy medium, except for the fact that I’m pretty sure I had a chest infection (or just the worst cough of my life) and sounded like I was dying for the whole month.

On Friday 19th December it was time to head over to York again for the Masonic Carol Service that I always play for – this time I brought my own page-turner with me. Doesn’t he scrub up well?

Marten and me at lodge

This is another lovely event that takes place every year. We have a small service of lessons and carols, then claim a glass of sherry or three and head downstairs for a Christmas Dinner with all the trimmings. Just what we need. The evening then always finishes with my parents reading from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It’s predictable, it’s the same every year, but we love it and for me this evening is what starts Christmas off.

Saturday, 20th December was my final gig of 2014, and it was a Ceremony of Carols (what else?) in Rochdale.

Cantare Programme

I also contributed to this concert by playing a solo, Marcel Samuel Rousseau’s Variations Pastorales sur un vieux noel. One of my favourite solo pieces, but sadly it’s christmassy so I can’t really perform it any other time of year. It was so lovely to work with Michael Betteridge for this gig – his energy is fantastic – I do hope I can work with him again soon *hint hint*.

So there you have it. I didn’t mean for this post to turn into a 1000+ words epic but there you go. The rest of December was spent either with my parents in York, or with my sister down in the Midlands, lots of food was eaten, lots of wine was tasted. All in all a lovely Christmas, and for that I am very thankful.

I hope you all also had wonderful Christmasses and New Years. How are those resolutions going? Next week I’ll be gauging the success (or otherwise) of mine. Eeek.

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Harps of a feather, pluck together.

Well it’s been a while since I’ve been able to post. I’ve been busy gallivanting around Great Britain on (mostly) harp related bits and bobs. There is a lot to report since my last update.

This post is becoming mammoth so I’m going to have to split it up into smaller sections…

Firstly, I got my photos back from my solo shoot with Julie Harris. I will be getting more from this shoot soon but I wanted to share the first two with you:

credit: Julie Harris
credit: Julie Harris
credit: Julie Harris
credit: Julie Harris

What other news is there… oh yes! My last blog post ‘How to make your grass greener’ has been featured on The Media Directory – don’t believe me? Check it out at http://www.themediadirectory.com/news?shownews=399

In terms of playing, a lot has been going on as well. A few Saturdays ago I had the pleasure of visiting my home city of York to play Sibelius’ First Symphony with York Guildhall Orchestra under Simon Wright. For once, there were two harps in the orchestra! Principle Harp was played by Georgina Wells – I’ve known Georgie since she tutored at a youth orchestra I used to attend so it is a real treat to play in orchestra with her. We had a great time:

The experience of playing in an orchestra is so different when you are not alone in your section. I am so used to being the only harpist that playing second harp actually brought a few challenges that I don’t usually experience. As well as watching the conductor, the music and, if I’m lucky, my hands – I also need to watch Georgina for important entries to make sure we play exactly together. I do not have enough eyes for this task!

Having said that, beefing up the harp section is so much fun – on my own, pretty much everything has to be at least mezzo forte to come across to an audience. With two harps, you can bring the music to life so much more. Even in piano passages, you can be confident that the harps will be heard. It’s great!

But away from the concert platform, having someone else in the section brings a social aspect to the day too. We chat about how we want to play certain sections, which chords to spread and which to leave straight, we help each other unpack and move harps. It becomes a team game. Harpists are often only in one or two pieces in a concert, so this means a large proportion of the day is spent alone. Now, I’m not about to start complaining about that, I happen to like my own company, thank you very much. But it makes a wonderful change to be part of a section – maybe go for a meal together in the break and share stories of bizarre gigs we’ve done, things we’d like to do etc.

So all in all, this was a lovely day, I’m playing in York again in early April and I’m looking forward to it already – or I will be, once I’ve learnt the notes.

Valentine’s Day. What’s the big deal? Restaurants are packed and more expensive than usual, everyone seems to feel this pressure to do something. I’m secretly glad I usually have a gig on this day. My boyfriend and I went for dinner the previous Tuesday to celebrate an anniversary. He proved the theory that the most exciting gifts come in little packages…

But anyway, I’m going off-topic. For Valentine’s Day I was booked to provide background music at The Florentine restaurant in Sheffield. I did not enjoy the drive there. I opted for Woodhead Pass as it’s a little less snakey than Snake Pass. However, once I got to Sheffield, my satnav took me up Hagg Hill. A word of advice – avoid this hill! I attempted it in second gear and immediately stalled. In the dark. A car behind me also turned onto the hill and followed me as I crawled up to the top, where I had to turn right.

The restaurant seemed really lovely. I was given a divine meal of beef with parsley risotto and goats cheese bonbons, and the staff were very friendly and helpful with the harp. I played for a couple of hours then drove back to Manchester. It is so interesting watching couples having dinner on Valentine’s Day. I saw at least one couple arguing. One woman was despairing because her man was so drunk. One couple brought two young loud toddlers to the restaurant (why??) and many couples were turned away because they hadn’t booked a table (rookie mistake on Valentine’s Day).

Personally I prefer to stay away from the expensive meals out on February 14th and cook something really nice with someone special, maybe get a nice bottle of wine, and just spend some time together… Cash definitely does not need to be splashed in order to incite romance.

But that’s just my opinion.

Well that’s it for this post but more will be coming soon! I’m not even close to being up to date with gig reports… As always, watch this space.

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CLOUDS Christmas Concerts

The last seven days have been devoted to my harp quartet CLOUDS. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we rehearsed in my living room (having four harps in one room is far from normal). We were rehearsing for four concerts that made up our mini Christmas Tour.

The music we play is written by fellow CLOUD Esther Swift. It’s got a lot of folk influence. Think folk mixed with Steve Reich mixed with a tiny sprinkling of dub. None of the music is written down, this means Esther teaches it to us by demonstrating and explaining. It also means we have to remember it from one tour to the next, the amazing thing is we manage it.

It all started when we were at music college together, the four of us (myself, Elfair Dyer, Rebecca Mills and Esther Swift) were put in orchestra together to play Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz. We had so much fun rehearsing together that when Esther mentioned that she’d written a piece for four harps we jumped at the chance to play more music together and it’s grown from there. I don’t think any of us (apart from Esther) had much experience with playing folk, learning by ear or improvising so for all of us it is a real learning experience and, personally, it has opened my eyes to new ways of learning music.

Bearing all of this in mind, it was fitting that the first concert of our tour was in the RNCM. The Studio Theatre to be exact:


The current members of the harp department came along to support, which was lovely! There was an interesting moment when an astrophysicist came up to us at the end to correct our definition of an Interstellar Cloud. But how amazing that he saw that one of our pieces was called Interstellar Cloud and that made him come along to hear us!

This gig went pretty smoothly, ignoring the fact that a certain CLOUD managed to leave her shoes at my flat and had to run back and get them five minutes before we were due to be onstage. Not looking at anyone in particular (Esther).

The following day Elfair, Esther and myself headed to Long Marston in North Yorkshire for our second gig. We spent the day making sure we could play our programme with just three of us and playing through extra duets that expanded the programme from the previous evening.

Long Marston is a really special church for me, my parents were married there, my dad still plays the organ there and I was also Christened there. Having said that, it is one of the coldest and most spidery churches I’ve ever been in. We were ready for mulled wine and mince pies in the interval!

On Saturday we were playing for a sell-out concert in All Saints Church in Brandsby. Rebecca joined us for the rehearsal beforehand but it soon became clear that she was too unwell to perform (if you’re reading this Bec, get well soon and I’m sending you lots of cuddles!) so we made a last minute decision to play our Long Marston trio programme again as we’d already prepared it. Coming from a city like Manchester, Brandsby feels so rural, no street lights meant we were wheeling our harps in complete darkness – interesting. Plus we had to get four harps home in three cars.

Saturday was a little bit stressful.

On Sunday, we were booked to play for York’s Annual Community Carol Concert. I’ve been going to this event practically every year of my life. My dad, John Warburton, is the Musical Director of the event. The three of us arrived really early to set up, tune, sort out microphones etc. We found our dressing room, had some lunch and got ready for the concert. Everyone had remembered their shoes, we were unstoppable.

The afternoon itself was lots of fun, community carols sung by an audience of over 1,400, two school choirs, the beautiful Rebecca Newman, a brass band and of course CLOUDS all contributed to a lovely afternoon of Christmassy joy.

And then it was time to say goodbye, Elfair, Esther and Rebecca, you are all legends and I love you. Can’t wait til the next tour!

For more information about CLOUDS visit www.cloudsharpquartet.com where there is a link to buy our CDs!

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Remembrance, York Minster and birthdays!

Last Saturday I was playing the Faure Requiem in York Minster with York Musical Society. I seem to be flitting over the Yorkshire/Lancashire border very regularly at the moment, but it’s lovely to get so many chances to visit York. I arrived just in time to nab the last parking space in the tiny Minster car park, and wheeled my harp into the building. York Minster is absolutely stunning, maybe I’m biased because I’ve grown up in this city, but I think it’s just gorgeous. It has a window the size of a tennis court!


Before the concert we had a few seconds of silence for Remembrance Day. The silence was so different from the ‘silence’ you usually get at a concert – there was no shuffling, no coughing, just heavy, thick, silence. In that huge space this was absolutely amazing. Before the concert I had gone for some food with my dad, and afterwards I gave him a lift back to his car. Now, I know the roads of York… I do, honestly! So I have no idea what possessed me to turn the wrong way down a one way street. It was only the beep of a taxi driver that alerted me to the situation. So I’m sorry ladies, but I did nothing for our reputation as competent drivers that night!

This was also the week of my birthday! I couldn’t help but think of that scene in Some like it Hot where Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) laments the fact that she’s turning twenty-five – ‘that’s a quarter of a century, makes a girl think’. I celebrated with a gorgeous meal out followed by some quiet drinks in town. The following day I went for a walk in Heaton Park, North Manchester. I’d never been before but it is lovely! All the people walking dogs made me really really want one of my own, one day! We got the perfect autumn day as well – sunny, and feeling crisp but not too cold. I couldn’t resist taking some snaps:



Next week is due to be another busy one, with gigs in Leeds and Nottingham. I have also added a new page to this website, ‘Upcoming Concerts’ – with details of where I’ll be playing over the next few months. Please also check out the updated site for my Harp Quartet CLOUDS as details are coming very soon of our exciting December concerts!

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Doncaster and Fairfax House

So after the last couple of posts were becoming dangerously philosophical, I thought today’s post should be more harp-related. I am writing from the waiting room where my car is undergoing its MOT. It was this time last year that my beloved ford died and I had to spend every penny I then had to get a new car. I’m hoping history doesn’t repeat itself today. I’m secretly cautiously optimistic.

My harp is very happy at the moment. Nicely busy without being too frantic (yet). A week last Wednesday I had a lunchtime recital in Doncaster’s Museum and Art Gallery, which went very well with a cosy audience of about forty (that’s forty people – I think their average age was somewhat older). They actually booked me for another recital in December 2014 so I must make a note of what I played to make sure I don’t play the same programme again. I thoroughly recommend the art gallery, I wish I’d had more time to look around but straight after the recital I was whisked away for coffee and crumpets at Woods Tea Rooms with the concert organiser – Philip Scowcroft.

Instead of returning to Manchester I decided to go and see my parents in York as I had a gig there a couple of days later. On Friday night I was booked to play 45 minutes of background music for a drinks reception in York’s Fairfax House. A beautiful Georgian house right in the city centre near Clifford’s Tower. As it happens, the guests were a quarter of an hour late so I only played for about half an hour. In any case, it was very well received. My playing was followed by a tour of the house, which I would also recommend if you are ever in the area.

Lastly, on the Sunday of last week I did something I hardly ever do. I played for free. Actually you can hardly call it a gig because I volunteered to play. The church choir that I sing with was performing Faure’s Requiem. I am completely in love with this piece so I asked if they wanted me to play the harp for it. If I was going to be there anyway I may as well bring my harp. Also it’s good practice for this Saturday’s gig, which is the same music, except this time in York Minster – exciting!

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RNLI Lifeboats

Last Sunday I was invited along to the Annual Presentation of Awards for the North Region and North Division of the RNLI at York Racecourse.

My Auntie Brenda had been invited because of the work she does raising money for this great cause, and her son, my cousin David, came as well as he volunteers as a crew member for his local lifeboat team.

I know my posts are usually about music, the harp, gigs etc. so I thought I’d write about something a bit different today.  The Awards Presentation happened either side of Afternoon Tea – involving scones, sandwiches and cakes!  Very English, exceedingly yummy!

We were shown a couple of films depicting dangerous rescues that have been undertaken – it’s so hard to believe that the vast majority of the amazing work these people do is voluntary!  They are literally saving lives.  Many people at Sunday’s event were receiving awards for their fundraising efforts over the years – my Auntie Brenda included.  It was really nice to be a part of the day – plus there were a few opportunities for the obligatory cardboard cut-out photographs…  We also noticed that, as people were receiving their award, the crown on the flag behind sits rather neatly on their head, and for that, I hope I am forgiven…



Anyway, it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon and catch up with some family.  A big Well Done to my Auntie Brenda, thoroughly deserved Bronze Badge from a very worthy cause.

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end of the week

Remember the post about how last week was really quiet?  This week has been the total opposite.

I’ve been to:

  • Harrogate
  • London
  • Stockport
  • Sheffield

and ended the week in my hometown of York.

The Stockport gig was fun.  Only instead of putting the church in my satnav I actually put the vicarage – so you can imagine my confusion upon arriving down a random street in suburban Stockport with no church in sight.

I swear I must be really thick to be able to get lost even with the assistance of my faithful tomtom.  I eventually found the church (maybe it was a miracle?) only to find there was one space in the whole car park – at the far end.  There was a line of cars jostling for it and the conductor – Jim Cooke – was standing in the space, reserving it for me.  How sweet!  I have no idea what I would have done had he not been there.  One of the basses from the choir very kindly paid for my parking as well, Stockport may not be the prettiest of places but it certainly was friendly.

The rep for the concert was Janáček’s arrangement of the Lord’s Prayer, and Howard Goodall’s Requiem (which, by the way, I’m also performing this coming Saturday in Harrogate – has everyone gone Goodall crazy?).  I had never played either of them and actually they are both beautiful pieces.  The arrangements were for harp, organ and choir.  I don’t envy the choir though some parts sounded challenging to say the least…

So that brings me to yesterday.  Mothering Sunday (Happy Mothers’ Day to my wonderful mummy).  I was playing in a retirement home called Brunswick Gardens in Sheffield for their Mothers’ Day Lunch.  A number of people came up and said they enjoyed my playing, and some even took my demo CD.  Upon hearing my rendition of the Welsh folk-song Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn a lady came up and requested a different folk-song, and I had to sheepishly say I didn’t know it.  How embarrassing.  Still, onwards and upwards.

As Sheffield is kind of in the middle of Manchester and York I decided to drive to York to see my parents, I went for a walk with my mum in the early evening sunshine and then, for some (rare) piano sight-reading practice, me and my dad worked our way through Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite for piano duo.  My skills are definitely getting a little rusty, I have now decided I’d like a piano with me in Manchester – the only question is how to get it there?

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