How many strings has your harp?
Updated: Nov 23
My first harp (1994) was a Paraguayan Harp. My mum bought it off a chemist on the falls road.
How that harp made it to Belfast is shrouded in mystery, it was fate. Its unique sound and deep base, formed my style. I sold that harp to Mairead Kelly in Cork, Ireland. I was ready for a lever harp. I ordered a 34 string banana Harp From German maker, Hans den Brock.
I met him at schiphol airport, Amsterdam and handed over a hard earned wad of gig cash. He took the cover off and played me a tune and we had a laugh as he said goodbuy to his creation.
Its first gig was in the police station of the red light district with Dan Donnelly, in Amsterdam! NO, we didnt get arrested. They just liked harp! In the end it became a stunt harp.....highly strung!
I work my harps hard. Circus, comedy, theatre, music, touring and travel - Working Class Harps!
Next Austrian fantasy harp from Norbert Maier.
Then came my experimental Europian phase....
I think it was a prototype carbon fibre that cracked and then another carbon fibre with more layers.
I was trying to get lighter but not compromise on sound. But carbon fibre was not for me!
I had been on a search to find what I already knew Paraguayan harps ROCK MY WORLD.....
The deep loud base and short attack that allows for a flamboyant style with many notes.
In 2010, I found Gustavo Arias company www.paraguayanharps.com
I was scrolling, all the choices, Different woods, Different shapes and styles
Gustavo Arias was brilliant at guiding me towards the harp that would suit my needs
My first was a rosewood stained 36 string of paraguayan cedar.
A stunning harp that when it arrived Immediatly inspired "The Hospital Song" and "It does not Rock!
I named it "Workhorse" Sometimes I had 3 gigs a day. It toured the world. The harp catipulted me into writing comedy again on the harp and kicked of 10 years of touring in the comedy circut in Ireland and UK.
Devistatingly, That harp smashed at The Strand Comedy Club at Edinburgh festival in 2016.
It fell off the stage at the Yurt when i was out selling my new CD "The Dangerous Harpist".
I took it to the orchestra building and they said "Don't wind gaffer tape around it".
I wound gaffer tape around it and managed another 23 shows..........Meanwhile
and hitched a lift back to Ireland
with Logy on fire
the really really tough circus guy!
I was trying to arrange childcare, socks and food, from a different country with a smashed harp and broken heart. Miserable and out of business for the next 6 months. I finished my festival run.
By the end the tuning was slipping. I cried. It was Zero Craic.
Gustavo helped me choose the woods for the replacement. The second order was placed. The smashed harp got rebuilt in carbon fibre by Dr Sam at harp hospital, which is Lagan Lutherie school now in Bangor. It became the stunt harp for the figurehead for Lagan Curraghs. Paddy Bloomer wielded me onto a metal pole. I wanted a photo, but i spent 8 hours sailing up and down the lagan playing harp as a celtic (jason and the argonoughts vibe) figurehead.
Dr Sam at Harp Hospital
(Lagan Lutherie School)
mends my harps.
A dangeorus harpist's life is tough on harps! He rolls his eyes when he sees me coming, he knows dangerous harping is a vocation.
Gustavo sent an email. The new harp was ready. I put the tracking link up on fb and lots of us watched the tracking of the harp on DHL from Paraguay as it made its long journey across the world.
When it arrived, myself and mum prized open the nails on the wooden case.
It was stunning. That first moment when you put your hands on a harp you have custom made, Then you find out what you have chosen.
I put a small speaker inside and played the harp my favourite music.
Then I began to play.....
The sound box opened up and still today, this is my favourite sounding harp.
Deep, warm tones and a beautiful resonance with a short attack and rich
even sound through the octaves. These harps are the same size as me and suit me perfectly.
To this day, I am glad the other one smashed. It forced my hand and made me buy another.
I joke that the leather case is the heavest handbag in Belfast.
I finally met Gustavo Arias in October 2023 when we attended the 16th harp festival in Assuncion along with Jakez Francois, President of Camac Harps. The legacy of Camac! World leaders in inovation and quality harps and the designer of the levers on my Paraguayan harp. I was in great company. The harp makers of the world are even more fantastical than the musicians. I was inspired at the percision and attention to detail. Listening to conversations on making, gave me fresh perspectives on playing. Finally after all these years I got to hear the Paraguayan masters play. It was mindblowing.
For this trip, I did not fly my harp back to its birthplace. It is too expensive to travel with my current harp to South America. I borrowed a 42 string called Thunder with no levers but an epic powerful sound. I composed and recorded on this beautiful harp.
I also played a revesed tuning 36 string Paraguan harp in the Bosque de Artists.
Gustavo and his team make every harp to order. I would love to see more of these harps in Ireland and UK. If you are a harpist do yourself a favour and check out the magnificant harps of www.paraguayanharps.com
Finding this site changed my life and every harp has brought something different to my journey.
Every harp quantum leaps my playing. To date of all the harps I ever owned
My current Paraguayan harp named "Harpula"is the favourite.