Tuesday, 30 December 2008


Hello again,
I've been thinking about music and health. You can often end up a little unhealthy as a result of music. It might be that you go to a festival and drink too much beer and eat at the Mexican stall for a week, it might be that you spend all your spare cash on travelling to gigs and can only afford to eat gruel for the rest of the year or it might be that you jump up and down too much at a concert and struggle to walk for a few days afterwards. These are all potential dangers to watch out for.
When we recorded the last Bellowhead album, we ate lots of microwave food and meals out. It didn't always work out too well.

Here's Brendan enjoying a microwave beef lasagne with a salad, topped off with a bag of cheese and onion crisps....mmmmm!

Eating out doesn't always guarantee a better quality meal either. Paul was loving his spaghetti bolognese!

Pete found some mushrooms behind a Travelodge...but nobody was brave enough to eat them!
Touring can be quite unhealthy too. Late nights, early mornings, travelling, service station food and perhaps a little beer or two of an evening do not help in the slightest. You know the food is bad if Justin can't eat it.
Squeezy John and Sam even resorted to eating lemons.

Don't get me wrong though, I'm not moaning, it's merely an observation that as a result of music, we don't always take care of ourselves. 
But it needn't be this way. On the last Bellowhead tour we ate well, stopping off at supermarkets to stock up on REAL food! 

Here's myself and Gideon enjoying a smoked salmon and cream cheese baguette with a little glass of Cote de Road on the tour bus.

I decided to continue this new healthy way of life and with the view that healthy musicians are happy musicians. When we arrived there was a toaster and a microwave...adequate but limited.

So I bought a few additions to the studio so that I could cook up a feast every day. 
A slow cooker, a toastie maker...
and best of all...a steamer! Real veg...woo!
So I've been hard at work in the kitchen...
...and look at the joy on their little faces!
Well fed musicians are happy musicians.
So this is my last blog for now, I'll be locked away in the studio for most of January.
I wish you all a healthy and happy 2009. See you at a Bellowhead gig somewhere soon. 
Don't read too much into this healthy blog though. Feel free to bring us treats. 
We like chocolate brownies and wine.

love Rachael xxx

Friday, 26 December 2008

Seasons Greetings

Hello again,
I was going to write to you over Christmas but I thought you might have something better to do than read the Bellowhead blog! But I'll fill you in on the last couple of days.
Twas the night before Christmas and in Newcastle town the Rachael McShane Band were still in the studio working hard! You might think I'm a little mean making my band work on Christmas eve...but I did provide everyone with party hats. Some members of the band were full of beans and festive joy...

...some members of the band were up for working hard

...and it was all too much for some people!

After the hard work was over I headed down the road to Yorshire to see my family. We sang a few local Christmas carols at a party...my favourite being While Shepherd's Watched to the tune of On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At. I think I may have been in trouble for singing "The angel of the Lord came down, the angel of the lord came down, baht his trousers on"...but it made me laugh. I like everyone getting together for a good old sing song at Christmas.
It was time to go to bed and hope that we'd been good and that Arfur would pay us a visit. He's called Arfur in my house as I thought his name was Arthur Christmas as a small child but couldn't say Arthur...of Father for that matter! Anyway, my Mum and Dad weren't sure if he would want brandy or whisky so we left both just in case, two mince pies for if he was really hungry and a carrot for Rudolph.

In the morning...he'd been! He must've been hungry as he'd eaten both mince pies, he obviously had a taste for brandy and whisky as both the drinks had gone and the carot was nibbled too! I hope you all had a lovely day.

I thought one day off was quite generous enough, so today (Boxing Day) we're back in the studio for more hard work. We've just realised that all the shops are shut because it's Boxing Day and all we have to eat is jelly beans and a chocolate orange, so if anyone feels like swinging by the studio with some dinner for us it'd be most welcome. Lots to do so I'd better get on!
Bye for now
Rachael x 

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

It's not cold up north today

It's been a lovely day up in Newcastle today, the sun was shining and it didn't feel Christmassy at all! I think the Bellowhead boys think I live at the North Pole. They keep asking me when I'm moving south and everytime we play anywhere north of the Watford Gap they all pipe up saying "It's cold up north"...well today IT WASN'T! :)
Today we moved into the recording studio...no more daylight for the Rachael McShane Band for a few weeks. We went in to get set up today and do a little rehearsing 
before the recording starts. My keyboard player JP was late so we had a little bet on what time he would arrive, with a £3 jackpot...woo! Playing in a folk band we can all afford to splash the cash. Drummer Adam was the winner and JP was overjoyed to discover he'd been the subject of a little game. However, Adam forgot to take his winnings so he will find himself a pound down and myself and bass player Jonathan are 50p up...good times! I get the feeling that it may be the first of many little bets on the reliability of JP! Anway we're all set up and ready to go now, we'll be back in there for more rehearsing tomorrow. No christmas parties for 
us tomorrow, but we might perhaps eat mince pies and wear party hats. 
That's all for today, we've got lots to do tomorrow so time for an early night I think. Sleep in heavenly peas. 
Love Rachael x

Monday, 22 December 2008

It's my turn

Well, I'm taking over from Gid so I'll be rambling on at you for a bit this week. I enjoyed hearing what Gid was up to in Japan, drinking Sake and playing tubas he can't afford...he might be on the other side of the world but nothing changes! Unfortunately not all of us have the luxury of time to go off gallivanting...some people have work to do! 
If nobody told you yet, the season of forced jollity, Christmas is upon us. I usually spend a fortnight eating and drinking too much, sitting about doing nothing and getting frustrated at sitting about doing nothing...but not this year! I decided it'd be a great time to start recording my solo album, so Christmas is officially cancelled for the Rachael McShane Band...sorry guys. 
I'm having a day off today though, getting a few things done, wrapping a few presents, writing a string arrangement, eating a truffle or two. My housemate is playing her Christmas Crooners CD...I think she's trying to get me in the spirit! I like to save the joy for Christmas day myself...although I'm having difficulty stopping myself from joining in with 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town'. Our upstairs neighbours don't seem to like it much, there has been some angry stamping and their Stereophonics tape was turned up a few notches.
I popped into the recording studio earlier to check all is OK for tomorrow. They had a couple of fellas in there recording a Christmas single and I was lucky enough to get a little bit of footage to share with you all. You can watch it here.
That's all from me for today, I shall be back tomorrow. Don't forget "he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake"
Love Rachael Scrooge-McShane x

Saturday, 13 December 2008

End of my Week Off

Dear Cecil,
It's been fun sharing my week off with you. It ended last night, when I played another gig with the mighty Shibusashirazu Orchestra, the world's most famous Japanese fisherman's band. I really hope this band will come to England again one day soon (they played Glastonbury a few years back). Until then you'll have to make do with YouTube.
I'll leave you with a couple of pictures of the band in action, taken on my phone. Katayama Hiroaki and Sato Han toot.
Sakamoto Hiromichi applies an angle grinder to the post of his 'cello.
Our dragon.
Toyo and Yamaguchi.
Toyo and Jellyfish.
Kito Akira and the dragon.
Nagoya audience.
Kobe audience.

And also some rather cool Father Christmas cakes I spotted at my local bakery. Merry Christmas and a Peaceful 2009! No doubt I'll be back blogging in due course, but until then, I pass on the baton to ......................

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Gid in Tuba Heaven

"Welcome Mr.Gideon Juckes" (!)
Dear Cecil,
I had a really eye-opening time at the Yamaha factory yesterday. I was lucky enough to be invited to the Yamaha factory in Saitama to have a tour and play their custom F Tuba, YFB-821, which I played in a shop last year, and completely fell in love with.
The Saitama factory specialises in horns and low brass, employs 249 people, and produces about 200 instruments a day. 70% of these are exported. Yamaha also has factories in Hamamatsu, China and the Philippines, making other wind instruments.
Previously, I didn't know alot about the manufacture of brass instruments, and generally presumed that all instruments are mechanically made, and that perhaps the custom made, high end ones are assembled by hand. I had a big surprise. The first thing that shocked me when we entered the Custom factory was that it was dead quiet. There are no machines in there. All of the piping on the custom horns and tubas is shaped by hand, so all you hear is the occasional tapping of a small hammer, smoothing out bends on bows and leadpipes. Then I was introduced to the custom tuba team. There were two of them! These two guys manufacture every single part of a tuba by hand, including all the braces and valve linkages, and piston and rotary valves. It takes them a month to make a tuba. Even the bell rim is hand-rolled. I had no idea of the amount of skill and hard work that goes into the process of custom building these instruments.
After that, we toured the main factory floor, where the other models are made. This was more as I expected, with furnaces and sanding robots, and rows of guys in masks buffing sousaphone parts, but I was still shocked to see the teams of people hand assembling valve blocks. Then we had a look at quality control, where the instruments are blown, and a machine checks them for leaks, which actually seemed like a pretty fun job. Everybody in the factory, although working very hard (they stopped for a ten-minute cigarette break, the only break in the 4 hours I was there), seemed to be in good humour, and I was amazed to learn that one of my heroes, Tora-San, actually used to work in the factory as a buffer, before he got famous. I also learnt that the first tuba I learnt on, back in Hastings in the late eighties, was built in this factory.
After a tea break, and a chat about Bellowhead (the staff had been checking us out on Youtube, prior to my visit, and loved the band!), I had a play on the instruments. This is the second tuba of this model that I've played, and it just reconfirmed to me that I need it in my life, big time! It was so easy to play, and I didn't have to fight it at all. This is a general characteristic of Yamaha instruments, but, unlike other Yamaha tubas I have played, this custom model had alot of character to it's sound, it really sang in the high register, and it's low-register was absolutely huge for such a small instrument.
So I left, kicking and screaming. Such a shame that this is really not a good moment to be spending pounds (an understatement, I'm currently saving up for a toffee crisp). Looks like I've got some waiting, and then some serious haggling to do!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

My Week Off-2

Dear Cecil,
Still enjoying my week off. Unfortunately the weather's taken a turn for the worse, but, on the bright side, it does make it feel a bit more Christmassy. I heard that the weather is being very festive back in Blighty, that nobody in the North is allowed to drive a car, and people are inviting local ducks into their kitchens, to get warm by the fire.
My gig with Ohta-San was really enjoyable.
I really hope we can start a regular project together, but he is the busiest man this side of Christendom (the East side), so we'll see. He started the second half by improvising in a Turkish "makam" (mode), where the second degree of the scale is 2/8's of a tone flat. This meant I had to do some quick impromptu plumbing of my tuba in order to stay on track. As the head of mine and Bugsy's University brass ensemble used to say, "squeeze and blow and put your faith in Boosey and Hawkes". They went out of business years ago, so I don't know where that leaves us.

Last night I put up my Christmas tree.Apartments in Tokyo are not on the large side, to put it mildly (they don't do high ceilings either. I've got the scars to show). So last year I bought a very small tree. It's cute, and it was fun decorating it, but I think I really need a bigger one. I don't know how you feel about it, but I'm definitely from the "real tree" school of thought. No idea where I'd find one in Japan though. I'll certainly miss my mum's tree this year, taking up three quarters of her living room...

After a few days of relaxation, I'm feeling much better. I can even look at alcohol without fainting, so there's real progress. In fact, my week off the booze is over tomorrow, and I've been eyeing these cheeky little (actually rather huge) bottles of sake, which I've recently picked up on my travels. In this first pic on the left, you can see, from left to right, a bottle from the Fukucho brewery in Hiroshima, and a bottle of dry sake from Yamanashi. The Yamanashi one looks really good, and I'm really looking forward to taking a massive chunk out of it in the near future. By the way, these kind of high quality sake are best drunk cold, and always with some thing to eat. The smaller bottle (75 cl) on the left is a very interesting one for me. Fukucho is not one of the most famous breweries, but I really like the taste. One of their sakes, "Cosmos" was recommended to me at my local drinking hole, and I loved it. 5 glasses later, I ended up chatting with the staff about that brewery. There are around 1,700 sake breweries in Japan. It turns out that the Toji (sake maker) of Fukucho is a woman, which is still very rare here. When I visited Hiroshima with Shibusashirazu last month, we met up with our friend Min-Min, who happens to work at an off-licence and knows an incredible amount about sake (although she herself doesn't drink- what gives?) So she recommended this sake from the same brewery. The Toji's name is Miho Imada. Miho means "rare rice". I heard the name was given to her by her Grandfather, a master brewer. Min-Min told her that an English guy was hunting down her sake, and I was chuffed to find out that apparently she was delighted. I doubt she was as delighted as I'll be when I hit that bottle!
Here's a couple more bottles, hanging around my house, staring at me with come hither looks. on the left is a carton of fairly cheap but good sake from the supermarket. Its name is "Yasashii sake", which means "kind, or gentle sake". It has a gentle taste, and looks after the drinker very well. On the right is a really amazingly tasty sake from Kyoto, called Miyakotsuru Junmai, which I bought when I was there last week with Cicala Mvta. My good friend Kita-San the trumpet-player got well aquainted with a bottle, and found ourselves in an extremely festive mood!

So, that's about all to report for today. My week off takes another exciting turn tomorrow, when I have the rare privilege of visiting the Yamaha factory to look at custom tubas. I know you must be dying of anticipation to hear all about that one (who in their right mind wouldn't be?), so I'll be sure to take lots of photos to share with you!!
Remember to wrap up warm,
Gid x

Sunday, 7 December 2008

My Week Off

My week off has ended up being quite eventful so far. Got a call from my old friend Nao, inviting me to the Japanese premiere of John Adams' latest opera," A Flowering Tree", which she had translated and was interpreting for. It's funny because not too long ago my friend Akiko invited me to see "Nixon in China", also by John Adams, at the English National Opera, when she was acting in it. Strange, these Japanese ladies inviting me to John Adams operas, out of the blue.
Anyway, I bumbled along and it was just amazing. It was a semi-staged version with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra and some mesmerising traditional Javanese dancers. It was at Suntory Hall, which is a really great concert hall. Unfortunately, photography isn't allowed, but, just for you, I did sneak a picture of the stage lights, which I thought were pretty cool. On the way home, I took in the Christmas lights. In Japan, Christmas is just another commercial holiday, on the run up to New Year, which is The Big One. Couples spend Christmas Eve together and give each other presents, but that's about it. But they do the lights and wall-to-wall Christmas music very well, which is getting me in the mood. Even though there's not a cloud in the sky here, while I write this, I'm listening to Bing Crosby "...and every mother's child is going to spy, to see if Reindeer really know how to fly". Tonight I'll be putting up my 2 foot plastic Christmas tree, and later this week I plan to ice my mum's legendary cake.
Tonight, another surprise on my week off, my friend and musical hero, Ohta Keisuke the violinist and singer, asked me to play a little duo improvised gig with him tonight. I quickly accepted, as, although a completely improvised tuba and violin duo is a nerve-racking prospect, playing with Ohta-San is like getting a masterclass in musicianship. I've dusted off my electronics, and I'm really looking forward to it.
For now, I'll leave you with some interesting things I've seen recently in Japan. Tara now,
Gid x
"Unagi Pie" This is a biscuit from Hamamatsu in Shizuoka. Made from butter, sugar, and powdered eel bones (I kid you not). It's actually delicious. I don't know if you can make out the writing "a snack for nights"? This is because apparently eel gives you strength, and is supposedly very good for your wife, if you catch my drift.
Yesterday's sunset.
The stage lights at Suntory Hall.
This was a cafe I found in Kyoto. It was just a normal, quite smart cafe inside, I was disappointed to discover!
Shop sign in Ikebukuro.Go figure.
One for Pete here. You too can dress like a mushroom.
Suntory Hall Christmas lights.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Music Cured My Scurvey

Dear Cecil,
Just got home from the 3rd tour of the month (some noisy folk band round England, followed by Shibusashirazu Orchestra and then Cicala Mvta  around Japan). All massive fun, but the experience has left me feeling more than a little bit broken. So, now safely back home in Tokyo, I've realised that this calls for a week of clean living, healthy food (Bellowhead's UK tour left me with a combination of scurvey and gout), and NO BOOZE! This is an unfortunate necessity. A necessity; due to an excess of good cheer and a lack of sleep over the last month on the road. Unfortunate; because my house is currently home to several incredible bottles of rare and delicious sake (more of which later). So, if you'll be so kind as to indulge me, I've decided to take this week easy, pottering around the neighbourhood, shopping and cooking, and sharing it with you.
First of all, I'd like to show something which I came across in my local supermarket. It's a piece of music on a loop next to the refrigerator where they sell "Yume Bento". This is a kind of packed lunch usually sold at train stations, which my supermarket currently has a promotion on. Check it out-

For some strange reason, that music made me feel much better.
Anyway, that's it for the moment, more soon. 
Oh, by the way, I do actually have my own blog here, which I write in from time to time.
Cheers then,