Sunday, September 16, 2007

Formative Years

Hi guys

I’m Pete McLaren and here’s a little bit about what’s gone on in my life so far. I was born when my folks (Scottish father & Irish mother) lived on the south coast of England back in 1944. It was an austere period – one of the many – in Britain’s and, indeed, Europe’s history. WWII wasn’t yet over and my dad was a fighter pilot who flew Hawker Hurricanes hedgehopping over the south coast. Hedgehopping was an adrenaline pumping kind of flying during which the British hedgehoppers latched onto the German fighters that accompanied the bomber squadrons on their raids over Britain.

My old man (a very young man at the time) would select a German fighter and then keep it as long as possible, herding and shepherding it, over the countryside until the point came where the German pilot, his fuel running low, would have to make a run for it out over the English Channel. Then my Dad would try to shoot it down. He couldn’t shoot an enemy plane down over Britain as it did too much damage when it hit the deck. The German pilots knew that as long as they were over Britain they wouldn’t be shot down by the Brits and would hang on as long as they possibly could, flying low over the hedges in the hope of out-flying their pursuers. Sometimes they did and at others they weren’t so lucky, but many simply ran out of fuel and had to ditch into the channel. He told me that he and his fellow pilots weren’t so much interested in doing away with the pilot as costing Germany another hard-to-replace Messerschmitt.


The village I was born in – Dibden Purlieu - was near the sea and at the edge of the New Forest which was planted in the 1500s by Henry 8th and a few helpers to grow oak trees from which to make the English Navy’s warships. It’s a beautiful area I guess but I never felt that I wanted to be there. Early on at primary school we used to be visited by a man selling “savings stamps” every fortnight and, to keep us quiet while he was doing his business, he would bring a few copies of National Geographic for us to look at.

Those magazines used to fascinate me. I just couldn’t get enough of those wonderful pictures of the Rocky Mountains or places in China or Russia and people with different looking faces to the folks in our village. I was just crazy about pictures with palm trees; their trunks bending out over sandy beaches and bays of aquamarine coloured water stretching away into the distance.

Every summer the “onion Johnnies” came around our village on their bicycles. Onion Johnnies were French onion growers who had formed a syndicate and filled up a warehouse in Southampton with their onions. They’d ride around the villages in the New Forest selling them and the local ladies said they were the best onions money could buy. The onions were plaited and hung down from the handlebars almost to the ground. These French farmers could barely speak English and I was enthralled by their accents. I think the local housewives were fascinated by their accents, and possibly more, judging by the amount of time these guys seemed to spend in the houses selling their wares.



Then, in spring, the gypsies would visit for a month or so. They’d park all their gaily coloured wagons in Mullins Lane and their womenfolk would wander about Dibden Purlieu selling clothes pegs and other artefacts. Their men would buy any odds and ends of scrap metal, old car batteries & the like from houses all around. They had a reputation – deserved or not – for thieving and we kids weren’t allowed to associate with them. That made me all the more interested in these people and a school friend and I used to visit their camp regularly. We were well accepted and treated with nothing but kindness during these clandestine excursions. I remember once eating some cooked meat the gypsies gave us only to find out later that it was hedgehog. Patrick Bundy and I were horrified and thought we were going to die from hedgehog poisoning or some such dire malady.

But what I remember most about those times was the singing. Gypsy women would sing songs in Romany that we couldn’t understand. The songs were unusual and the closest I’ve heard to them since is “the Ballad of Matty Groves” in the version done by Fairport Convention in the 70s. They were sort of medieval and slightly Middle Eastern and I remember them being accompanied by a guy with a huge guitar like a cut down double bass. There was often a fiddle player and there was another stringed instrument that I didn’t know the name of too. Looking back on it I think it was probably akin to a lute but I couldn’t be sure of that.


Contact Pete

Email Pete: wapenshaw@hotmail.com

Phone Pete:

Australia: 0435 600 429
Thailand: 0855 721 452

First Job & Edith Piaf

My first job was working for Britain’s largest motor Museum, the Montagu Motor Museum, restoring veteran and vintage transport in all its many forms. We also had a racing program there which took me to France, Italy and Germany while I was still a teenager. This whetted my appetite for travel and imbued me with a wanderlust that never left me. I liked everything about being in different places. I loved the food, the countryside, the different architecture in the towns and, maybe above all, the music.

The first time I visited France on Museum business we stayed in Paris and I went along with the workshop foreman to a small bar somewhere in Monmartre and saw Edith Piaf. I was absolutely spellbound by that powerful but vulnerable sad voice. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before and nobody back home on our radio stations had ever played a sound anything remotely like that.

She was accompanied by a moustachioed, black bereted, accordion player with a typical blue and white, horizontal striped, wool knit top and some sort of a labourer’s cravat tied casually around his neck. I couldn’t stand accordions; they were what old people listened to. But here, in this dimly lit smoky setting, with Piaf’s nasally Gallic wailings, a shiver went up and down my spine that was semi orgasmic. That was the precursor to an interest in music that I know will never leave me until my dying day.


Email Pete: wapenshaw@hotmail.com

Phone Pete:
Australia: 0435 600 429
Thailand: 0855 721 452

First European Sojourn

Over the next 7 or so years my summer holidays were always spent grape picking in France, Spain, Italy or Portugal somewhere soaking up what I didn’t really realise was “the culture” and listening to different kinds of music. It was during a grape picking holiday travelling from France to Spain one year that I found myself in the Camarague and first encountered flamenco guitar players. There was a famous one called Manitas de Plata playing at a little village hall that my buddy and I went to see. I was blown away by the difference between his music and anything else I’d ever heard. Like Piaf, it was a brand new sound to me; one that I couldn’t have ever imagined up until that moment in my life.

By this time I was playing jazz harmonica a bit. I couldn’t get my head around flamenco on the harmonica but was into copying famous players like Larry Adler, Toots Theilmans and Max Geldray.


Email Pete: waenshaw@hotmail.com
Phone Pete: 61 3 9395 5854

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Turkey, Poland....

In 1969 I emigrated with my wife and kids to Australia where I spent 20 years, leaving in 1989 to go travelling with my new Polish wife. We sold all we had and took off on a great adventure. We lived for 2 years in a campervan touring Russia, Central & Eastern Europe, Turkey and parts of the Middle East. During this time we didn’t work much and our main income was from my playing harmonica in hotels and clubs with the locals.

I never could get my head around any Turkish or Arabic music but everybody I met wanted to play Western stuff. We lived in Bodrum, a resort town on the Aegean Sea, for a couple of years and I played in a cocktail bar called Beyaz Evi (White House) three nights a week for something like a year. Chromatic harmonica was a sound the locals hadn’t heard before and I found myself in demand for weddings and functions there.

Later we left Bodrum for Eceabat – a town on she shores of the Dardanelles - where we opened an Australian restaurant which did well for a while but we were just itching to get moving again – get more new experiences in.

We took a 4 month drive ending up in Warsaw where we had bought an apartment a few years previously. My mother-in-law had been living in it and the government offered to sell it to her at a ridiculously low price so we bough it for her. She had since died and the place was empty so we moved in and set up a life. There we met a Polish couple we’d known in Australia. The husband had been given a large golden handshake from his work in Australia and so they’d moved back to live like Kings. Their problem though, was that they were bored and they asked us to think of a business we could go into together.

We opened a greetings card business using stock foil prints of Catholic saints from the UK and made a killing with them. That was back in the early 90s but the firm “McLaren and Partners” is now the largest greetings card company in Poland. Life got to be a little too hectic. We were working long hours and I was playing twice a week in a Jazz club in the city so we sold up and moved to the north east of the country where we bought a farm and turned the farmhouse into a guest house. The area was in what used to be East Prussia and we lived in a tiny village there of only 30 dwellings on the edge of a huge forest inhabited by, among other creatures, raccoon dogs, European beavers and bison. It was good fun living there and in the winter I used to play in the pub in Gizycko. It was one of those places that was no great shakes as far as d├ęcor went but the atmosphere was great. Just about all Polish musicians like to be able to say they’ve played there and many of them would just drop in anytime and jam. It was just the coolest place I’ve played.


Email Pete: wapenshaw@hotmail.com

Phone Pete:
Australia: 0435 600 429
Thailand: 0855 721 452

Back In Australia

Back in Australia in 1997 I went to work as an art coordinator in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia at an Aboriginal ladies silk screen printing workshop. This was, without doubt, the most satisfying period of my life. It was also great fun. At weekends the women would take me out to their respective “country” and show me rock paintings; catch bush tucker and tell me something about their ancient creation myths. Sometimes the guys would take me fishing too. One day we caught a dugong in the boat just off Derby. It was huge and I worried that it would sink us.

That night about 60 Aboriginals and me – the only white person – had a great feast of dugong cooked in a pit wrapped in pandanus leaves. After a lot of dugong, and even more grog, was consumed I watched as first the women, and then the men, danced by the light of the fire under the clearest imaginable sky. With virtually no industry for a thousand or more kilometres in any direction the sky was so clear the stars seemed to be right there, close above my head, like they’d been painted on a sheet of glass just a couple of metres above me.


With the help of my good friend Willie Repetto I listened to the dirges, dronings and cacophony of their singing for at least an hour before I could actually make anything of it all. Then I slowly realised how circular it was. Willie played the didgeridoo on such occasions; his endless circular breathing, a counterpoint and compliment to their concept of time. Their's is a circular view – not linear like mine. Our time goes in a straight line but for Willie’s people it just keeps on coming around.

Email Pete: wapenshaw@hotmail.com

Phone Pete:
Australia: 0435 600 429
Thailand: 0855 721 452

Today

A while back I met the legendary Australian guitarist Tappy. We hit it off immediately His raw musical intelligence, savvy and insight plus his anticipatory skills made me keen to play with him. In 2007 we formed Protocol which is primarily a guitar and harmonica based duo. We do a range of stuff; American Songbook standards, a bit of blues, the odd bossa nova tune, throw in a bit of humour and we have ourselves a show. Tony does all the arrangements and production and what we have is a pretty tight little duo.




Email Pete: wapenshaw@hotmail.com

Phone Pete:
Australia: 0435 600 429
Thailand: 0855 721 452

Link to the Protocol Duo

Protocol: http://protocoloz.com

Tappy: http://therealtappy.blogspot.com