'As always, it was sheer pleasure to observe Robin Hill's remarkable fluent technique: everything looks easy when he plays it.' Colin Cooper- Classical Guitar Magazine ----- 'Wonderful for their (Hill & Wiltschinsky) precision, touch and clarity of sound... refined virtuosity, the achievement of a long interpretive process.' Il Giornale D'Italia (Rome) ----- 'I loved your CD and thought your technique and performance were fabulous...' Rick Wakeman

Monday, September 29, 2008

I've Been Tagged

Yesterday I had a message over on Twitter from Paize_Fiddler.
I'd been tagged on his blog, 'Free Spirit'.

For those not familiar with tagging, you could read, 'What is a Blog Meme?' by Chris Garrett, or, 'Blog-Tag: A Game for a virtual Cocktail Party,' on The Jeff Pulver Blog, or even, '8 Random Facts About Me (tagging meme)', on James Cridland's blog.

My brief was, "to write six things about me personally, that my readers might not know", and then, 'tag' six other twitter/blogger friends and make them 'it'.

My initial reaction was mixed.
I was delighted to have been chosen from all the people out there in the blogosphere, but also concerned, as the message arrived in the frantic 24 hours that always occur prior to Robin going away for a concert.

So we used the journey to the airport constructively, to come up with my six, 'things about me'.

1) I have known Robin since I was 7 years old!!!

2) I completed writing a book a short time ago, (which has nothing to do with music...), and in the next few weeks will be ready to send it off and try my luck with an agent.

3) As a teenager I was asked to be the lead vocalist in a rock band. When I questioned the fact that they had never heard me sing, they said, "It doesn't matter no one will be able to hear you anyway!"

4) I have a degree in Psychology which has proved extremely helpful in understanding the mind of a musician....

5) At the age of 16 I took two jobs, whilst continuing to study, to pay for my first classical guitar. One in a shoe shop (which I hated) the other as a breakfast waitress, (I was terrible. I'm not good at early mornings, and kept dropping very hot boiled eggs into the laps of business men...)

6) In an ideal world I would have 4 dogs, a couple of horses and a few cats.

So there we are, my six things.
The next stage was to tag six more people.
This is the part that I have found most difficult.
Who do you choose?
All the people I know in the blogging/twittering world are all very busy.
Will they be pleased to be picked, or, annoyed at the intrusion.
I decided to go with my gut instinct.
Most people recognise that participating in such events only helps to promote their particular cause.

So, here they are:

1)Jessica Duchen. 'Jessica Duchen's Classical music blog'. Because I am a great admirer of her blog/books/articles and she is currently thinking about ways forward with her writing.

2)Solobasssteve. Steve Lawson, found on twitter here, or his website here. Because Steve is a prolific twitterer, web enthusiast and a consultant/thinker in social media, and I'm sure will have an opinion on the whole thing.

3)Audio aka Chris Hambly, and Chris's site here. Because Chris is a web developer and specializes in marketing, search optimisation etc. So should understand...

4) MadViolinist, Ben Clapton. Also a blogger friend, 'Top Left Hand Page'. Because Ben is currently running a really nice series on his blog, called, 'On This Day...' and it may help people to find it.

5) warofthewords. Naomi Fox. Because Naomi is in a very similar position to me, in that she spends a great deal of time promoting her husband's work, and I'm full of admiration at what she manages to achieve! Wire Duck Records.

6) aribadler. Ari also has a blog, 5 Ws, and is a former newspaper reporter and a media-relations professional, so maybe he can use the experience of tagging in one of his lectures.

So there we are.
The six people that I have now made 'it'.
I now have to go off and email them all, grovel a little, and hope that they see the positive side to the whole thing!
Hopefully they will link back if/when they accept the challenge so that we can gain a little insight into their approach.

Ohh, and by the time I finally get this post published, Robin should have arrived in Rome!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Week Flies By...

It has been rather a frustrating week.
We had all been looking forward to having Robin home, for a whole week, but also knew that it would be a busy one.
We hadn't counted on me taking a few days out to recuperate from a heavy cold, but it was a relief that Robin was around to shoulder some of the domestic responsibilities, whilst I felt sorry for myself.

We also hadn't expected a sick, and very vocal, cat.
Poor Ramsbottom was also unwell, requiring a visit to the vets (he protested all the way there) an injection, and a week's worth of tablets.
I now have mastered the art of medicating cats very well, and he is improving daily.

Then there was son number two's birthday party.
We, along with one of his friends parents, hosted a noisy and chaotic party for over 30, 5 and 6 year olds.
All went well, and was greatly enjoyed by all the young guests. I was informed by his teacher the next day that the whole class had been very quiet, and it would be lovely if we could tire them out in such a way more frequently...No chance.

Then of course his birthday itself.
I was just pleased that Robin was home for such a significant event.
Over the years he has missed many of these family occasions when away from home and it's hard for all concerned.

By this weekend, he then had two private functions to play at, whilst I prepared everything for another trip which starts tomorrow.
This week has gone all too quickly, but at least it is only 1 week away from home this time.
We have coped with much longer.

However, communication will be hampered, as Robin is without his computer.
It has been sent away for repair.
This has been very frustrating, as he has been unable to do any recording in his time at home, and also, will not have his Apple back until after this next trip....

But this is the reality of life as a musician.
When travelling extensively, time at home is precious, whatever is going on.
But after a week of chaos, illness, vocal cat, parties, etc. I think there's a small part of Robin that will sit on the plane tomorrow, put on his headphones, listen to some calming music, (without interruption), and feel that a week away from home may just be rather refreshing....

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Coosh Headphones - The Verdict

There's something quite exciting about receiving an item before it goes on general release.
So it was a great deal of pleasure that I opened a parcel from America which I knew would contain a brand new style of headphone.
My excitement turned to amusement when I discovered the headphones attached to a giant ear, with the message, "Hopefully you will have better luck trying to get them off your ear..."

10/10 for marketing so far.
Who has developed this new style headphone?

The claim, by Coosh, is that they have produced a, "comfortable and better sounding headphone and headset to hit the audio market for under $25."

So, what do they look like?
Well, exactly like this:

I received a white pair and immediately planned my approach.
First, I was to test them out.
Initially whilst sitting comfortably in an armchair, and then a more extreme test as I head banged along to Led Zeppelin's 'Black Dog', before commencing a break dance routine on the kitchen floor.
I must say, that the Coosh claim stood up to the challenge.
Not only did they stay on, but they also felt good.

The second part of the challenge had to wait until Robin's return from a concert tour.
I wanted him to listen with his highly critical musician's ears.
His first impressions were very good.
Comfortable to wear and a nice sound.

So we did a comparison test with two other makes.
Firstly, a top of the range, and highly expensive set of noise reduction headphones.
I must say that the noise reduction 'phones did win on sound quality.
But, when compared to a 'typical' ear bud style headphone, then Coosh can certainly hold there own, and the added comfort would make them our choice of headphones.

My only regret is that they didn't send me a pink set.
In this male orientated house I may have stood more of a chance of keeping hold of them.
And as far as the break dancing, well, unfortunately I didn't manage to get any footage of me spinning on the kitchen floor, but luckily, these guys saved me from having to perform a rerun and sustain any permanent damage:

To see the Massive Monkees put Coosh headphones through their paces, just watch this video....

coosh crash test #1

Friday, September 19, 2008

Robin Hill, his Hands and an Unknown Mozart Score

The current trip on the QM2 is nearly complete.
Robin actually performed his last concert on Wednesday.
It went very well and he must have been playing with his usual enthusiasm, as the piece of a table tennis ball that had been reinforcing his right thumbnail, managed to shatter!
It wasn't a problem though.
He had another piece prepared in his jacket pocket.

One of the differences when giving a concert at sea, rather than on land, is the access the audience has to the artist, for days after the event.
Robin is always very happy to talk to people, particularly about the guitar, which was highlighted recently when one guest said he'd, "Never met anyone that talked about an inanimate object with such passion"!!!

Robin also appreciates it when anyone takes the time to say how much they enjoyed his music.
This morning I think he had one of the more unusual compliments.
It occurred whilst selecting a croissant for breakfast.
A lady tapped him on the shoulder and told him how much she had enjoyed his concert.
She then went on to say, "I hope you don't mind me saying but you have very nice hands!"
Robin wasn't quite expecting this, all before his first coffee of the morning, and responded with, "Well, thank you very much."
It turned out the lady is an artist, that specialises in painting hands and feet, so had a professional interest.

I must say I agree with her, but I would add that Robin also has very distinctive hands.
Many years before we married, I heard the sound of the classical guitar coming from the television and dashed in to see who it was.
At that moment the camera was focused on the hands of the musician.
I studied the image and declared it to be Robin.
Sure enough, as the camera pulled back to reveal the performer, it was indeed him.
But that's enough about hands.

Robin has had plenty of time to relax since his concert. He has visited Gibraltar, is currently in Lisbon, and later today starts the journey back to Southampton, arriving on Sunday.

I however, have decided to visit my local library.
You never know what you might find.
It seems that a handwritten score by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has been discovered in France. Read about it here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Review: Robin Hill & Izzy Cooper

On the 28th August Robin and the soprano Izzy Cooper performed a concert in Spain, 'Viva La Classica'.
I mentioned how it had gone at the time, rather briefly, as I was in the process of retrieving my son before he became stranded, when his Dad flew off to another concert.
You can read the post here.

So I was very pleased, when yesterday I was notified about a review, written by Jack Troughton, in 'Round Town News'.
I was even happier when I read the first line, "The golden blend of Izzy Cooper's powerful voice and the glorious guitar playing of Robin Hill made Viva La Classica an enchanting success."

The programme was a varied one:

Act 1:

Les filles de Cadix - Leo Delibes
Siete Canciones Populares Espanolas - Manuel de Falla
Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 - Heitor Villa-Lobos

Un Dia de Noviembre - Leo Brouwer (solo - Robin Hill)
Recuerdos de la Alhambra - Francisco Tarrega (solo - Robin Hill)
Malaguena - trad arr.Hill (solo - Robin Hill)

En Aranjuez, con tu amor - Joaquin Rodrigo
Granada - Agustin Lara
Tu Quieres Volver - Gypsy Kings

Act 11:

Lascia Ch'io Pianga - George Frederic Handel
Plaisir D'Amour - Jean Paul Martini
Scarborough Fair - Simon and Garfunkel
Fields of Gold - Sting
Ave Maria - Charles Gounod

Tango en Skai - Roland Dyens (solo - Robin Hill)
Cavatina - Stanley Myres (solo - Robin Hill)
Asturias - Isaac Albeniz arr.Hill (solo - Robin Hill)

My love is like a red red rose - Robbie Burns
Somewhere over the rainbow - E Y Harburg & Harold Arlen
O Mio Babbino Caro - Giacomo Puccini
Imagine - John Lennon
Por ti Sere - Brendan Graham & Rolf Lovland

Here's a photo, courtesy of Round Town News, of Robin whilst performing one of the solo pieces.
The more observant amongst you will notice the lack of footstool. He is in fact, on this occasion, using a special cushion, designed to mould to the shape of the leg.

The review itself is a great one.
Izzy is described as a, "star", and Robin, "holds an audience spellbound", and one line I particularly like, " His fingers flew along the guitar's neck like the wings of a hummingbird."
But don't take my word for it. Follow the link and read it for yourself, "One Enchanted Evening".
Both Izzy and Robin are delighted at the reception they received, and have already been taking orders for the album they will be recording together.

My job, to find a time in their busy schedules to make that possible....and soon.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Richard Wright - Pink Floyd - My Thoughts

Like many people around the world I was shocked, and saddened, to hear yesterday of the death of Pink Floyd's Richard Wright. You can read David Gilmour's tribute here.

Richard Wright was one of the founder members of Pink Floyd and wrote, or contributed, to many of Floyd's classic tracks.

Music has the ability to evoke many memories, feelings and emotions.
For me, 'Dark Side of the Moon' is a seminal album, which has influenced me my entire life.

As a child I recall hearing this album drift up the stairs as my Dad listened, late at night, and then as a teenager, enjoying it with my friends.
It is a recording that we still listen too today.

Two of my favourite tracks on the album were written by Richard Wright.
The first, 'The Great Gig in the Sky', and also, 'Us and Them'.
It is actually with an ironic comfort that the opening words spoken on 'The Great Gig in the Sky', now come back to me:

"And I'm not frightened of dying. Anytime will do. I don't mind. Why should I be frightened of dying. There's no reason for it. You've gotta go sometime."

I hope that over the coming months Richard's family will gain comfort from the words he wrote back in 1973.
This track is incredible, and features the soaring voice of Clare Torry.
Rumour has it that she was given little information about the track, and just asked to improvise.
She recorded her part very quickly, and was in the process of apologising for her performance, when she was greeted by the stunned amazement of all present in the sound room.

Although Richard may have left us, his musical legacy will live on.
As I have already said, I learnt to love Pink Floyd through my Dad's influence.
When I told my 11 year old son about the sad news, his first reaction was to break into song, with the words, "The lunatic is on the grass," (Brain Damage).
So the baton has already been handed on.
Pink Floyd will be enjoyed for a long time to come, and are already contributing to the memories of the next generation.
What more could a musician ask?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bananas on the High Seas and Bottom E

When sitting amongst an audience, waiting for a concert to begin, have you ever thought about the musician you are about to watch and wondered what they are doing backstage?

Every artist has their own routine, but most will be warming up, and in Robin's case this means scales and arpeggios.
So I was quite surprised to receive this photograph, taken immediately before going on stage for his first concert on the QM2.

Yes, it is Robin brandishing a banana in rather a menacing fashion.
From experience I know that shortly after this picture was taken he will have eaten the banana.
As most will know, bananas are an excellent way of giving yourself an energy boost when you most need it.
Performing before an audience is both mentally and physically tiring when a soloist, (funnily enough Robin never feels like this when playing his electric guitar) so pre concert is the perfect time to boost those levels.

He's not precious about this.
He doesn't demand a dressing room full of bananas in various stages of ripeness so that he can select the perfect one. In fact on many occasions event organisers have commented on how self reliant and low maintenance he is!
It's just if he can, he will eat one.
Every little bit helps.

Writing this has also reminded me about fish.
From choice Robin always eats a good meal before a concert.
Some musicians don't. They wait and eat afterwards.
But Robin wouldn't entertain performing without a hearty meal.
His food of choice is fish.
To explain why, you can read an old post about fish being brain food for musicians, here.
For those interested in musicians and their brains, you can also read this post from 2007, 'Musicians Have Bigger Brains,' which I wrote after watching a particularly interesting programme.

The banana served him well and Robin went on to deliver a great concert.
Despite the incredibly rough sea, and many passengers feeling decidedly unwell, there was an excellent turnout and have been many nice comments since.
Robin was delighted to receive one in particular, "You play like a machine gun," and had obviously made quite an impression on this chap, as he remembered meeting Robin once before and went on to quote the time and place! (April 4th, New York, apparently)
It must be a very nice feeling to know that you have made such an impression on an individual that they remember the meeting so well.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Off Again...

I know that I have neglected the blog in the last few days, but hopefully you have been keeping up to date with Hillhouse proceedings through Twitter.
It has been busy here as Robin arrived home after a month away, but only for three days.
After such a lengthy separation (apart from my 2 hours in Alicante airport...) it is important to spend time together as a family, and simply enjoy a few precious days together.

Robin was amazed at how much son number two had grown in the four weeks since he'd seen him, and even more amazed at the progress he had made on the violin.
Do we have another budding musician in the family?
Only time will tell.
I'm just pleased that his enthusiasm for the instrument continues.

However, all too soon the alarm clock was ringing, and before we knew it we were on the road once again to the airport.

But it wasn't easy.
We had to leave the house by 6.30, as any later and the traffic would have been at a standstill.
We were lucky today.
We got there without any problems, said a quick goodbye, which caused much amusement to some passing air hostesses, and even made it back in time to sit down for half an hour before I had to take the children to school.

Although slightly delayed, Robin arrived at Heathrow along with his luggage, (which is always a relief), was met by a driver, and taken to Southampton.
He has now boarded Cunard's Queen Mary 2 which will be his home for the next 12 days.
Robin now has to prepare for a T.V. interview later today which will be broadcast tomorrow, plus his first concert, which is also tomorrow, the second one being next week.

One things for sure, the life of a musician is never dull!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Microphones and Hecklers

Judging by the title of this post you may be thinking that the concert yesterday didn't go too well.
Actually, it went very well indeed.
However, (I'm sure you can sense a but coming on), for the first two pieces the microphone wasn't working.
I don't know why, a sound check had been carried out earlier in the day.
So whilst Robin struggled on stage, behind the scenes chaos ensued, as the engineers tried to correct the problem.

Luckily Robin has a magnificent guitar.
On this trip he has taken his Miguel Rodriguez Churchdoor, which is a powerful instrument.
Also, Robin is known for his ability to create a huge sound.
So all was not lost.
The audience could hear, and, after the first two pieces the microphone was fixed.
Mind you, it isn't exactly conducive to relaxing 'into' ones concert...

Just as he recovered from this incident, a passing Spanish man, outside the theatre, shouted, "Concierto de Aranjuez," into the venue, before beating a hasty retreat.
As hecklers go, it could have been much worse!

But what should a musician do in this situation?
Ignore the interruption and pretend it never happened?
Stop playing and break into 'Concierto de Aranjuez' just to show he can?
Run outside and 'deal' with the perpetrator?

Well, as it happened Robin was about to introduce the next piece, through one of his now functioning microphones, so his reaction was to say, "No microphone and a heckler - this is not my day."

It was the right thing to do.
The audience were very amused, and he received a huge laugh.
I've always thought Robin has a secret desire to be a stand up comic.

But the serious point to all this is that being a musician is so much more than just producing the music.
Audiences want to be entertained.
Yes they have come to hear the music, but appearance, and stage presence, is so important.
You have to look in control, even if at times you don't particularly feel it.

Personally, I also feel that talking to the audience is vital.
It's such a great opportunity to engage them and pass on interesting information about the music they are about to hear.
This only enhances the whole experience.

But for many musicians this can be a huge ordeal. They are comfortable whilst playing their chosen instrument, but very uncomfortable with public speaking.

Fortunately, not Robin.
He has always talked to his audiences.
He feels that playing the notes is the difficult part, (and also the part he is so passionate about), so the speaking feels easy.
Having said that, all these years of experience have made a huge difference.
He has learnt what type of conversation people enjoy.
Like anything else, preparation is important.
You need to have thought about what you want to say before you go on stage. Not wait and hope inspiration strikes whilst under the blinding stage lights.
It won't, especially if you find the interaction with the audience difficult to start with.

However, you can't prepare for every eventuality, as Robin found out yesterday. That's where years of experience plays a very large role.
Assessing the situation, and making a split second decision on how to handle it, isn't always easy.

But judging from the comments Robin has been receiving since the concert, everyone was happy.
That's good news, as after all, it is why Robin's there.
To make music and to entertain.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Naked Wife and Everest...

Since I last posted, Robin has been to many places, and carried out the first of his two concerts on the Queen Victoria.
This took place on Sunday whilst cruising the Ionian Sea and all went very well.
There was a good, and extremely appreciative audience, many of whom have been passing on some very nice comments.

This is all very helpful for Robin.
Now he is in his 4th week away from home he is rather travel weary, so to know that your music has been appreciated really makes a great difference.

Since the concert he has been to Aghios (Crete), Izmir (Turkey), and today, Athens (Greece).
So whilst Robin called me from one sunny destination after another, I escaped the rain, by checking out the latest Google searches.
I must say there have been some particularly amusing ones recently.
Here are a few:

'My wife nude on the QM2' - I really would like to know more about this one. I assure you that Robin was in no way involved with this incident, but as he will be joining the QM2 very soon, I shall ask him to investigate!

'Julian Bream's wife' - Sorry, you got the wrong guitarist.

'Robin Hill private bank' - I wish....

'Plastic making machine of Robin' - We've had lots of merchandise over the years but I'm pretty sure we have never made plastic Robin figures.

'Robin Hill jean weeks' - Neither do we have a line of designer jeans.

'Robin Hill and Everest' - Yes, Robin has travelled to most parts of the globe, but he has never performed a concert on Everest. Now there's a thought...

'Downside to being a musician' - If you're even asking that question then music isn't for you...

'Can musicians have children' - err, yes. We have living proof on that one.

'Robin's dark side' - I didn't know he had one.

So there we are, just a few randomly selected and quirky Google searches that have amused me recently.
Meanwhile, back out at sea, Robin performs his last concert of this trip tomorrow. So he has been rehearsing all day in preparation.
At least he won't be suffering with cold hands in the Mediterranean climate.
On second thoughts, maybe Everest isn't such a good idea.