OK, I'll start the ball rolling. This might be a bit waffly, but please stay with me...
My first encounter with a gurdy was back in 1980! My fiancé (now husband), Robert, was morris dancing at an Inland Waterways rally somewhere near London and I went along too. It was a glorious, hot Summer day (I think it was August). There were 2 or 3 dance sessions, with decent gaps in between for people to relax, wander around the stalls, look at the boats, etc. Whilst wandering around we heard an amazing sound... yes, you've guessed it, it was a hurdy-gurdy. A young man (who we later found out was none other than Cliff Stapleton), was playing this gorgeous-sounding instrument. I remember turning to Robert and saying "I don't know what that is, but I want one!" I played guitar and a bit of banjo back then, but this was something so different, and I knew then it was for me.
There was no way that I could afford a gurdy back then. We got married the following year, bought a house and before long our first child came along, so I gave up work. My fascination for the instrument never dwindled and I joined the hurdy-gurdy society, avidly reading all the Sinfonie magazines, and still having never even touched a gurdy. We started going to the Blowout (Bagpipe Society annual gathering) in 1996 as Robert is as fascinated with bagpipes as I am with gurdies. This was the first time I had a close encounter with a gurdy. I stood at the back of Nigel Eaton's gurdy class and watched enthralled as he taught trompetting techniques that I could only dream of... I think it must have been 3 or 4 years later that I actually played a gurdy for the first time, when Cliff was running the workshop at the Blowout and had a spare instrument. That was it - I was in love without a doubt!
Fast forward to 2000. We decided to venture to St Chartier (we'd wanted to go for many years, but it usually clashes with Ely Folk Festival with which I was very involved for many years). I had in the back of my mind that I might find the gurdy of my dreams there...
Whilst wandering around the many stalls at the festival I spotted what might have been a bargain - a pretty lute-back gurdy for a very low price. I asked if I could play the instrument. Having only played one gurdy, once, (an Eaton), I had little with which to compare this instrument, but somehow it didn't feel 'right', and I decided to go away and think about it. As I was walking away, who should I bump into (almost literally) but Nigel Eaton himself. He jokingly (I think) asked if I'd found the right instrument yet (he knew I was looking), and I told him about the gurdy I'd seen. He offered to have a look at it for me, which was very nice of him, but when he played it he said that I shouldn't waste my money on it and gave me the best advice I have ever had "Never buy an instrument that will make you cry!" I was a little downhearted, but knew that Nigel was right. later, I was talking to someone who suggested that I go and look at Helmut Gotschy's stall. This I did, and I was soon 'playing' a Phoenix. Wow! What a difference from the other one. From the first note I knew that this instrument was right for me. It felt right and sounded right. A (slightly rotund) friend of mine says that round-fronted people shouldn't play round-backed instruments (although we both play Ovation guitars), and I admit that the lute-back I'd played in Cliff's workshop had felt rather big and awkward to play. The Phoenix, however, sat nicely on my lap and felt comfortable. After playing on it for 15 minutes my mind was made up and I placed an order there and then.
My Phoenix, (which I named Helga), arrived in January 2001.
I immediately booked some lessons with Mike Gilpin, and progressed quite quickly in that first year. Helga has proved to be a very reliable gurdy. The only problems I have had were when the keys started to stick. I tried the usual graphite trick, but that didn't seem to help and they seemed to be getting worse. I'm a bit of a coward when it comes to messing with instruments, so took her over to Mike's for his view. He carefully removed each key, scraped a tiny amount off each one and replaced them. Since then I have never had any trouble with keys sticking.
As a beginner instrument, I think the Phoenix is really excellent. The tone is nice and rounded and well-balanced. It holds its tune incredibly well. I've played in full sun in the middle of Summer and it stayed in tune (I got sunburnt though). I can leave it for several weeks (I'm ashamed to say) and it will still be pretty much in tune. I have GC tuning, but never use both bourdons (C and G) at the same time, as I find that too overpowering. There isn't a mouche, but I don't find that a problem, and there are no sympathetic strings. I play quite a lot of different styles of music - French, early music, English, as well as using it to accompany singing, which works well. Mine is the basic model, with no built-in pick-ups, so I have to play acoustic or use a microphone, but that's fine. My luxury item was the geared tuning pegs, which I really like.
14 Oct - Steve Tilston, Ely Folk Club
18 Nov - James Hickman and Dan Cassidy, Ely Folk Club
5 Dec - ColvinQuarmby, Arkenstall Village Centre, Haddenham, Cambs
9 Dec - Dave Swarbrick, Ely Folk Club