26 June 2014

Dublin in Old Time Herald - and more autoharps!

The BIB mentioned on 6 Mar. 2014 that The Old-Time Herald magazine had just published a long letter on old-time music in the Barcelona region; and the Herald asked readers outside the USA to write in, describing their own old-time scenes.

We're delighted to see that in the latest OTH Derek Copley of Dublin's Greasy Coat Stringband (also on Facebook) contributes an excellent account of the scene in Dublin, from the long-established Saturday Cobblestone session to the new series of 'Drunken Hiccups Sessions' on Mondays at Thomas House, which now has an Old Time Music Dublin Facebook page. Derek also mentions the corresponding sessions in Cork city and Tim Rogers & the Clew Bay Critters in Mayo. It's fair to say that there is still room for more extended accounts of the old-time music scenes in this island outside Dublin...
And following on from yesterday's BIB news on autoharp events - the new Old Time Herald includes a ten-page feature on Dr George F. Orthey of Orthey Instruments in Pennsylvania, who became a full-time luthier in 1982 and has made some 1,500 autoharps and over 2,000 other instruments. The photo (left) shows a spruce-top example of his Signature Super Star model. Dr Orthey's instruments incorporate many refinements of his own devising, but he writes: 'I give 100% credit for what I make, as far as sound is concerned, to the coaching of Mike Seeger.'

Eleven days ago we were walking to the Sunday lunchtime session at the Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival, where the Watery Hill Boys from Drogheda were playing with a PA. Jim McArdle's autoharp, ringing out like a piano, could be clearly heard a hundred yards away - and it turns out that his is an Orthey instrument. The photo below, from the WHB Facebook page, shows the band at Westport with Jim playing his Orthey. Thanks to Jim for this further information:

I bought a GDA Diatonic from George Orthey in 2008. At the time George corresponded in longhand, and I have a few of his detailed letters about the harp body, etc. He offers a number of body types: 'The Pop Stoneman' (from trees at the Stoneman homestead); 'The Carter Gold' - from a tree felled by Joe Carter; and 'George's Choice' - George's own selection of wood. The price at the time was $1,385 for the body and $250 for the bars.

I had purchased a CFG 'Desert Rose' Diatonic from Pete d'Aigle in about 2007 - again, it was custom-made.

The important thing for me is playability and staying in tune - last summer we were all over Ireland, up and down France and Spain, and my Orthey was in beautiful tune all the way. Even though my instrument has fine tuners, I never use them; the pegs are so good.

I would recommend
The autoharp owner's manual, compiled and published by Mary Lou Orthey in 2000 and still available. This book has many interesting articles, many by George Orthey and previously published in the Autoharp Quarterly. The Autoharp Quarterly is now an online magazine and is available on Pete d'Aigle's website. The Autoharpoholic (edited by Becky Blackley) ceased publication about 1999-2000, I would say.

My first autoharp was an old East German thing bought in the 1960s, which I used on Ragged but Right's 'You are my flower' recording of 1970. In the '70s I bought an Oscar Schmidt 'Appalachian' for £11 in the late lamented Dempsey's Music Salon at the top of Parnell Street
[Dublin]. I played it for years, but it was almost impossible to keep in tune and strings kept breaking.

Oscar Schmidt harps, reconditioned and set up with upgraded parts, are available from Pete d'Aigle.

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