Buen Camino – memories of an inspirational trip

Spring progresses, but for reasons I’m sure I don’t need to go into humanity has ground to a shuddering halt. Obviously things are still happening, but definitely not life as we knew it up until now. Like most self-employed artists I suddenly have an alarmingly empty diary, and a lot more time to be spent at home composing, writing funding applications and learning new skills.

Like video editing for instance. My latest video (embedded at the end of this post) features an original composition called Buen Camino arranged for solo cittern, and this blog post explains some background to the piece and of how it came to be written.

I count myself lucky to live somewhere rural and quiet, and to have a fair bit of garden to look after. This is something I enjoy at the best of times, and right now it is frankly a life saver. The weather has also been gorgeous this last week, and as I’ve been getting beds ready for the year’s planting I’ve been remembering another charmed stretch of sun two springs ago in another green and wet corner of Europe.

Around this time in 2018 I took a trip to Porto in the north of Portugal, and then a train into Galicia to Vigo, in order to walk the last 100km of The Way of St. James, one of many ancient pilgrim routes towards Santiago de Compostela. The walk was beautiful, challenging and deeply satisfying in equal measure, and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone. It was also entirely dry for almost the whole time we were there, which for Galicia in April is pretty good luck I believe.

Making up the far northwestern fringe of the Iberian peninsula, and thus sticking into the Atlantic, Galicia is a place that has its fair share of weather, and in a way it occurred to me how much the geography felt like Devon and Cornwall, just on a larger scale (and perhaps a bit warmer). The region has a distinct Celtic identity, and this has of course found expression in the music. Along the way there was plenty to be heard on radios and in passing snippets of song, but at the end of the road in Santiago de Compostela there really was a lot, with sessions, buskers and processional music going on all over the city.

Unfortunately a cittern is a little difficult to carry for 100km on top of two weeks-worth of gear, so I had no instrument to sit in with at any sessions, but I did take plenty of field recordings, and tracked down some great source material in music shops. Upon our return I spent some time assimilating all of this new musical inspiration, and as well as learning plenty of Galician tunes, I have also taken to incorporating elements from that tradition into some of my own compositions.

The piece Buen Camino is a product of this time, the form of which is inspired by the Xota, a prominent type of dance tune in the Galician repertoire. It is named after the traditional pilgrim’s greeting (and parting) exchanged by walkers along The Way of St. James, wishing a good onward journey to those who they meet. I look forward to visiting Galicia again, this time with an instrument!

Buen Camino, composed and performed  by Louis Bingham (PRS, MCPS).

Recorded at the Barn Studio, Ashburton, with camera work, audio recording and mixing by Peter Bingham. Video editing by Louis Bingham.

Of Bare Roots, Buds and Buckthorn

4th March 2020 – New music inspired by and dedicated to the new growth of the season

Spring is just about here in Devon. It’s still raining and fairly cold a lot of the time, but the days are getting longer, the daffs are out and some buds are just starting to open. This then seems like an appropriate time to add my first post to this blog…

I have a lifelong interest in the natural world, and being in the open air working with plants is a joy and constant source of inspiration to me. At this time of year there begins a shift from dormancy towards growth, and it’s with this in mind that I’ve written and arranged some new music.

Inspired by two days (one dry, one very, very wet) spent planting bare root fruit trees and bushes, Of Bare Roots & Buckthorn is a pair of tunes arranged for cittern and guitar, and written in 5/4 time for the Kabm Pymp or Cornish five-step dance.

A key dance in the Nos Lowen repertory of Cornwall, the Kabm Pymp can be danced as a circle or serpent dance, and has become a popular vehicle for new compositions by current exponents of Cornish traditional music. I’m sure a few of these musicians will be playing for dances this weekend, as St. Piran’s day (Cornwall’s national day) is on the 5th. I’m hoping to make the trip down the peninsula for a dance myself.

In the video below there is a short clip of a group I taught dancing Kabm Pymp at the Tunelink TradFest, a day-long traditional music and dance event which took place in July 2019 at Ashburton Arts Centre. Skip to 2.15 for the Kabm Pymp.

With one bar of music corresponding to the entire set of steps, one upshot is that unlike set or ceilidh dances, tunes written for Kabm Pymp don’t have to conform to a specific structure when it comes to the number of bars. Although the two themes in Bare Roots & Buckthorn do follow a very straightforward AABB structure much like many jigs and reels from the Irish and Scottish traditions, I have written others which play with the possibilities of irregular structures a little more. This old track is a sketch of some ideas along those lines from a bout of composing around this time last year. There must be something about the spring that makes me want to write dance music…