London Viola Player, Violinist & Arranger For Hire

East, West, North and New

Last week’s livestream partly represented a low-level frustration at performing programmes made up of Irish folk and what bits I can access / know / appreciate of the unaccompanied art-music viola repertoire. So it was the week I apologised for performing material from folk traditions I don’t know thoroughly enough to render it authentically, and branched out.

Northwards, to Scotland. The differences between Scottish and Irish (or indeed English) folk music are sometimes underrated, and indeed have become somewhat blurred by some aspects of the folk revival from the late 60s on. However, I took the stylistically easy and technically challenging way out by picking a J Scott Skinner violin solo, ‘The President’, that is really a light classical composition in classic variation form, fully notated and indicated for performance techniques, with only its melodic influences coming from the folk fiddle aspect of Scott Skinner’s artistic life (he was also a prizewinning dancer, dancing master and calisthenics teacher).

Eastwards, to mainland Europe. To a traditional south Italian mandolin tune, ‘La Zita Passa’, in one case – though I have no idea what a traditionalist would make of my solo rendition, with foot tambourine added and some harmony notes tucked in around the melody.

With rather more misgiving and a much more substantial disclaimer, to the less defined geography of klezmer, specifically a dance tune known (it’s more of a categorisation than a title) as ‘Vrashaver Freylekhs’. Sometimes the best response to not being able to perform traditional material authentically is to not try, and I transferred this to viola, added some rather robust drone notes and a few ‘turnaround’-type figures from accompanying parts in the very scratchy archive recording I got from Anna Lowenstein and, again, involved the foot tambourine. I do ask that you watch the livestream including the spoken preamble before entirely judging me for using the culture of a generally historically oppressed minority while belonging to almost all the privileged demographics – this is about 38 minutes in. (My livestreams remain permanently archived on Facebook and YouTube, and accessible for 2 weeks from live broadcast on Twitch.)

Westwards, and aware that this had potential to be the most controversial decision of all, to the USA and the well-known spiritual ‘Wade in the Water’. Without any hint of tongue near cheek (I actually toned down some aspects of how I’ve performed this at open mikes etc in the past to try and be more sure I wasn’t thought to be taking the mick) and definitely no attempted American accent, in fact a deliberate effort to avoid sliding towards one. Again I ask for my comments to be heard before complaining; this was the last number of the stream and introduced about 59 minutes from the start.

Finally, in no particular geographical direction from home and with no justifiable fears about authenticity of approach, to the rarely-represented category in my livestreams (or my performing life in general) of ‘original material’ – my second prelude for solo viola. Unsurprisingly, when I’m writing anything during lockdown it’s what I can perform myself, as no one else in this country has been getting together to play music until very recently …

Of course as I write this it’s Tuesday lunchtime and the next livestream is a little over 2 days away. I’m not going to give much away, but suffice to say it’s less of a breaking out of routine than last time, but still contains a couple of surprises! Please tune in at 8 on Thursday to find out exactly what I do – or indeed you just about still have time to send in requests and tune in to make sure I play them … and either way please tip generously!

a-1, a-2, a-1-4-5-and:

Before lockdown, I had played just a couple of pub gigs (including a memorably packed and steamy Christmas one for which knitted jumpers were both de rigueur and impractical!) as guest fiddle player with the 145s, a mostly soul and rock’n’roll-oriented covers band responding to demand by expanding into some Irish territory too.

So it was very gratifying for them to be the only act (so far) to actually offer to pay me to participate in a remote collaboration video performance. I’m sure we’ve all seen loads of these: the usual model is hundreds of instrumentalists and/or singers rendering an ‘epic’ version of a well-worn classic pop song (or occasionally Pachelbel’s Canon). For my money as a viewer / listener, the ones that are actually worth listening to have a small ensemble with distinct individual voices, ideally people who pre-lockdown have performed together in person; performing something musically interesting (the Swan Consort have done some superb one-to-a-part madrigals and similar for their YouTube channel which almost win me over to the format in general). As a performer, I view the usual ‘giving us a way to play together’ description as about as thin as gigs for exposure, though fair enough if amateurs enjoy making them; personally overdubbing to backing tracks is one of my least favourite ways of being a musician and I certainly won’t be doing any more of it for free, especially not when I have to be the sound engineer and cameraman too!

The 145s’ decision to represent their Irish repertoire with the medley they cooked up for live gigs, rather than a single song, was certainly no lazy or easy choice for remote multitracking: I reckon there to be three distinct tempo changes, one out-of-time section and one long accelerando. Without destroying the mystery of artistic production too much, this meant us individual musicians used a live performance as guide for several sections rather than a generated click track … and the live audio and video found their way back into the tail end of the final mix! I reckon the end result ticks my boxes above for a remote collaboration worth doing and worth watching, and is certainly fun (especially when the quality band dancing gets going!):

And now for something completely different… when we play in the Irish pubs around london we often swap the Sax for a…

Posted by The 145s on Monday, July 6, 2020

Enjoy! (and of course, let me know if you want to hire me for any others … )

Telemann, Yeats, non-Manx-speakers and a technical hitch

On Thursday I restarted my livestream series, now continuing weekly until further notice – hopefully when I’m doing so well from a resuscitated offline and recording music industry I feel I don’t need to play online for tips. Ha ha ha.

Anyway, they are back under way. And while I like to not give away everything I’m planning to play in advance, I have no problem giving it away in retrospect. So here’s what those who tuned in got:

The Tenpenny Bit / Life is All Chequered (Irish jigs)
The Gravel Walk (Irish reel)
The Road to Lisdoonvarna / The Battle of Aughrim (Irish tunes)
Speed the Plough / The Mason’s Apron / Devil’s Dream (English and Irish reels)
Telemann, Fantasia for solo violin #4 (transposed for viola)
O Kirree t’ou goll dy faagail mee (Manx song tune, reworked by me)
Hoffmeister, Etude for solo viola #2
The Sally Gardens (song, words by WB Yeats, paired with a traditional tune)
The Dashing White Sergeant / Petronella (English tunes)
Whiskey in the Jar
(and now you can see what most of the blog title refers to)

They had more options than ever before on where to tune in! After trialling a few platforms and considering a few more, I decided to have my cake and eat it by simulcasting to three: Facebook, Twitch and YouTube. And the tool I found (after consulting a friend when my first go turned out not to enable what I thought it had been recommended for!),, does an excellent job of taking the video feed to all three without needing triple the upload bandwidth, and of combining their respective chat functions into one window I can glance at between numbers without lots of swapping between tabs/windows. Unfortunately, I didn’t pay quite enough attention when first configuring it, and so Thursday’s stream went on default Facebook settings to my personal profile, visible only to my ‘friends’ in the technical sense, rather than to my ‘page’ for musical business purposes publicly visible. I have fixed that for next time, and also reposted the archived version of the stream video to the page with public visibility, so hopefully anyone who was regrettably forced to miss the live broadcast (narrowcast?) can catch up with the performance.

As indeed can you, if you didn’t see it at the time! The full video will remain permanently (as far as I’m aware) on my Facebook page and YouTube channel; it will also be up in my Twitch videos for a fortnight from when it was streamed (so that’s until a week Thursday). And just because you’re watching on catchup doesn’t mean I’ve stopped appealing for tips: if you enjoy anything you hear, is always open …

If, on the other hand, there is anything you specifically want to hear, I’m very happy to take advance requests so contact me with them (and then I’ll consider you obliged to watch the next stream to see me play it … ).

As I said, I don’t like to give away all the details in advance, and of course I might be forced to change most of my plans by a deluge of requests (ha … ha … ha). However, I can definitely say I will be premiering a new classical composition of mine this Thursday; and, barring other events, expanding my core folk base of Irish and some English material westwards, northwards and I suppose eastwards. Intrigued? Excited? Worried? Just want to hear more live music? Join me at 8pm on Thursday – this Thursday and indeed any following Thursday!

Can I fix it? Yes, I can …

… if it’s a musician you’re after, anyway, almost certainly.

Part of my ‘offer’ applying for freelance work almost as long as I’ve been working in music has been, when the ad makes it seem relevant, ‘and I should be able to get you some others if you still need more people’. More recently, this has enabled me to pull together groups where I’ve been hired as a musical director, or string sections if I’m writing string parts for overdubbing, and so on.

The logical next step, now running rather nicely with some ongoing clients, is to take a finder’s fee for connecting organisers with musicians I know will be suitable for projects I’m not involved with at all. So it seemed the right time to open this up as a service offered for hire by adding it to my website.

Now you (and your creative friends / contacts) don’t need a contact list as extensive as mine – you can commission me to do it instead!

Return of the Streamer

There was a pause in streaming activity for a while. Partly caused by ill health (it turned out to be shingles, with the worst of it on the left side of my neck; not ideal for holding a violin, viola or even a mandolin on a neckstrap!); partly by needing to think again about marketing and come up with an ongoing plan for making livestreams pay adequately to the amount of work involved. If you wonder how much that is, imagine being the sole performer, the venue and the promoter for a one-hour gig every week, with an audience who would be likely to reasonably complain if there was more than slow and occasional repetition of repertoire …

However, I’m very pleased to say that I’m restarting regular streams from this coming week. If you enjoy my music-making, please get Thursdays, 8-9pm (UK time) into your diaries, and take your pick of these locations:

(Or you could try all three on successive weeks and see which you find most congenial!) And ready your (presumably virtual) wallets to show your appreciation for the entertainment – I’ll be plugging but any method of transferring currency to me that you have will be very welcome.

If you have requests, now or at any time in future, please do send them in in advance or comment on a stream (for the following week – I’m afraid I’m unlikely to do real-time requests, sorry!).

Barring requests over the next few days, the bill of fare for this Thursday (2 July) will include some Telemann and Hoffmeister (solo viola music from opposite ends of the 18th century), traditional songs and dance tunes with mandolin, and of course foot-tapping British fiddle tunes similar to, but not including, these:

The Irish traditional jigs ‘Roaring Jelly’ (!) and ‘Morrison’s Jig’, from my third livestream.

See you there, or at least you’ll see me and I’ll see your comments!

For Folk’s Sake, Try Happy

Back in mid-February, when this seemed a perfectly normal thing to do and we didn’t know the world as we knew it was ending in weeks, I got up rather punctually in relation to when I’d got to bed after the previous night’s wedding gig and headed to a warehouse conversion near Stratford.

There to moonlight with Fraser Parry’s alt-indie-folk pocket orchestra Try Happy – Fraser being a pianist-singer-songwriter in this context, but also the cellist in the string section recording I had done for The Amazing Devil 6 months earlier. (The third member of that section, double bassist Jack Judd, both had recommended me for that session and is a Try Happy regular. Musical networking works sometimes.)

I don’t think I was actually asleep when this was taken, but I hadn’t got much sleep …

I was going to write an allusive, partly slightly ironic, purple paragraph seeking to capture Try Happy’s sound. But I don’t know why I’d bother, as the purpose of this day’s session was to record and film three live lounge-style tracks for the extensive video series produced and curated by the For Folk’s Sake brand. So you can listen, and indeed watch, for yourselves:

I believe the other two tracks will be posted in fullness of time, so do keep checking the For Folk’s Sake and Try Happy web presences for more material!

In the meantime, here’s to it being safe (and legal, but safe might well take longer) to get together in the same room and do things like this again soon – ideally even with a live audience …

Twists in the road

I was musically and audiovisually rather pleased with my third livestream, which went out on Tuesday but is still available to catch up:

The main change technically was a new, external camera (thanks again Dad!) which seems to deliver better resolution / picture quality and better automatic exposure control (meaning lighting is less of a worry) than using the one built into my laptop – and also meant I could have the computer screen where I could actually read, and so respond to, people’s comments during the gig!

Performance-wise, I think I had just got better into a groove of streamed performances and overcome some of the initial nerves. As well as doing a certain amount of honing the ordering of music over successive gigs (including believing in myself that I could swap straight from violin to viola and play in tune!).

All of this has been borne out by positive comments from the audience faithful who watched live and tipped. Unfortunately, they were few in number … rather fewer than they had been for the second stream a fortnight earlier … which was a lot fewer than the numbers for the first one a week before that.

This would put my livestreaming activity at a crossroads anyway. As it is, it’s on an enforced pause for entirely different reasons. What I mention in the broadcast as having just enough symptoms of covid-19 to take precautions, but more likely being an allergic reaction and a pulled muscle, hasn’t turned out to be any of those things. (Well, it’s still possible I strained a muscle in my neck 10 days ago.) The coronavirus test came back negative, and it was viral not an allergy; I actually have shingles. Which, at time of writing, is chiefly sufficiently painful and itchy, especially on the left side of my neck, for me not to contemplate another solo show and the practice necessary for one for a little while.

I’m not being entirely musically idle even in rest and recovery (if you include promotional work as musical), and I do intend to try streaming again when I can hold my instruments comfortably. But given the effort and stress involved (and I live in a houseshare remember, it does take a certain amount of negotiation and suppressed guilt to make noise and monopolise the internet upload bandwidth for purely self-imposed ‘work’), live streaming will definitely be ‘on notice’ to produce worthwhile income when I resume. So encourage your contacts to keep an eye on this blog and on my Facebook page, and when I resume broadcasting, to vote with their (e)wallets!


Big thank you to everyone* who tuned in to Martin Ash Music Lockdown Livestream 2 on Tuesday. I believe you can watch it back at until 2 weeks after it was ‘broadcast’.

(*except for someone using the username ‘arekkusuwow’ who was only interested as long as s/he could (implausibly) argue the stream was pre-recorded. I didn’t know livestream trolls were a thing … )

So here’s the next in the series!

This one will be on my YouTube channel,

This week’s programme includes jigs and reels, polkas, an old-time waltz, Bach and Telemann and an Americana folk-club singalong finale, so get it in your diaries, ready your PayPal accounts and see you there!

Plus advance notice: the plan for the Zoom and ReAttendance streams on 16 & 23 June, if I go ahead with doing them, is to give the passwords and also one request for the programme – can be anything you want to hear me do! – to everyone who sends £5 in advance with a covering message with their contact detail and request. You’ve got two more ‘virtual coins in the virtual violin case’ streams to gather inspiration, so get your thinking caps on!

Compose yourselves …

… because next week will give you not one, but two chances to experience my music-making (in very different forms) live online.

I’m thrilled and honoured that concert soloist Maria Marchant will be premiering my solo piano miniature ‘Andalusian Sheep Bells’ in her series 7 Notes in 7 Days at 7pm.

I could offer an explanation of the piece, but as I’ve just recorded an introductory video doing the same, I will make that an incentive for you to visit her Facebook page as linked above to save me repeating myself! The video should go live any minute now.

This is all the more exciting for me as I think it might be the first time any of my pieces has been played in public without me being one of the performers and indeed the organiser. I definitely feel like I’m joining the ‘real composers’ club!

The stream performance will take place at 7pm British Summer Time, this Monday (1 June), at – please do join us!

Meanwhile in more familiar territory, I will be carrying on from this week’s Twitch livestream as a solo performer to one on YouTube on Tuesday night. More about that in another post …