An evening with The Other Favorites.

This week I had the pleasure of seeing The Other Favorites play a gig in London, as part of their current USA, Europe and UK tour. So as an off-topic warning, this post is not about fountain pens but is to tell you about this remarkable duo, for the benefit of any yet to discover them.

The stage is set. Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, London 20 August 2019.

The Other Favorites are the American folk and bluegrass guitar duo, Josh Turner and Carson McKee. Currently both based in New York, they were friends in school and have been putting out music videos on YouTube since 2007. These, even the very early ones, show an astonishingly high standard of musicianship and include a wide range of pop and rock classic covers as well as some of their original songs.

I first stumbled across them on YouTube, about five months ago, where I had been watching finger-style guitarists Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins, Tommy Emmanuel and Richard Smith. Josh Turner, not to be confused with the country/gospel singer of the same name, has to date produced over 300 videos and attracted some 77 million views.

As happens with YouTube, it keeps plying me with more of their videos to watch. I have watched well over a hundred, many of them several times over.

Of course, there are plenty of good guitarists out there but what I find unique about Josh is his versatility. He is a multi-instrumentalist playing various types of guitars (folk, classical, electric, gypsy-jazz), banjo, mandolin, a lute, electric bass, drums and keyboard.

Secondly, he seems equally at home in a wide range of musical styles, from folk, pop, bluegrass, classic rock, Latin pop, jazz and swing, plus classical music for guitar. His videos feature many other musicians and singers too. And he has a very pleasant singing voice and a wide vocal range, such as on a cover of The Beach Boys’ Auld Lang Syne, where he sings all the parts. Other good examples of his video work are David Bowie’s Starman and Pink Floyd’s See Emily Play, on which he plays almost all the parts.

Combine all this virtuosity with a high technical ability at performing, recording, mixing, editing and producing and his natural ease and likeability on camera and you have a rare combination of talent and ability.

Carson McKee too has a great singing voice and is a superb acoustic rhythm guitar player and occasionally can be found on percussion. Josh and Carson’s voices blend really well together and their harmonies sometimes put me in mind of The Everley Brothers among others.

In May I discovered that The Other Favorites were playing in London, on 20 August at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush. I jumped on the tickets and was greatly looking forward to seeing them live, as I continued catching up on the videos. They are currently touring with Reina del Cid, a 31 year old American singer-songwriter guitar player and Toni Lindgren, guitarist who also have a huge following on YouTube for their regular videos on Sundays, called “Sunday Mornings with Reina del Cid.”

The concert did not disappoint. Bush Hall is a former dance hall dating from 1904 and made an ideal, intimate venue. I am guessing that the audience was of about 300. Sound levels were just right and I was sitting about six rows back, close enough to see their facial expressions.

Carson McKee, Reina del Cid, Josh Turner and Toni Lindgren

The show began with a set of nine songs from Reina del Cid and Toni Lindgren, joined on stage by Josh Turner for one song, to play electric bass, on Woolf. This was her song about Virginia Woolf of whom she was a big fan having read all her books and diaries.

Next Josh and Carson took to the stage. Their first song, “Angelina”, put down a marker of just what a high standard of guitar work we were in for. This was followed by “Solid Ground” memorable in their video for being recorded at the coast with surf crashing on the rocks right behind them. Next, Carson introduced “The ballad of John McCrae”, a murder ballad that he had written, explaining that the tradition for such songs had come to the States from the UK and that the juxtaposition of dark lyrics with jaunty melodies “tickled his funny bone”.

They then played another original, one of their earliest songs made together in 2007 called “Flawed recording”, the tune and lyrics of which stay with you.

Next they shifted gear to give a blistering performance of Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” equalling in my view, Richard Thompson’s own rendition when I saw him in London a year or so ago.

Then they played another of their originals, “The Levee”, another one which is enjoyable to watch on their videos on guitar and banjo with great playing and vocal harmonies.

Carson had learned to play guitar from his father and jammed at family get togethers with his father and uncles. Bob Dylan had been a big influence. They then played one of the favourite Dylan songs “Don’t think twice it’s alright”.

This was followed by a beautifully pure vocal harmony for the Irish song “The Parting Glass” with no instruments. Then, in another a change of pace they followed this with a rousing performance of Johnny Cash’s “Fulsome Prison Blues”, another of their covers which is a must-see on YouTube, for Carson’s spirited vocal delivery, Josh’s guitar solo and for the way they fall about laughing at the end.

At this point, they were joined on stage for the rest of the evening by Reina del Cid and Toni Lindgren to play as a foursome, adding two more acoustic guitars and female vocals which was a joy to behold. They sang “Morse Code”, a rather delicate and sad song that Reina and Josh had also recorded together for a YouTube video.

Josh released his first solo album, in April 2019 called As Good a Place as Any, with all songs written, produced, mixed and mastered himself, at home. (Just pause, and take that in). The next piece was “Nineteen and Aimless” which is the first track on his album.

The foursome then played Patsy Cline’s “Tennessee Waltz” followed by “The Weight” by The Band – making good use of the four voices for the cumulative rising harmonies in the chorus.

It was then almost time to end. They were brought back on stage to enthusiastic applause for an encore and played “Dooley”, which can also be seen on their videos followed by “Stuck in the middle with you” from Stealers Wheel.

It was a very impressive show. Given that they were well into an extensive tour, the show still seemed fresh and intimate and they were genuinely glad of their supporters here in London. I got to meet them all at the merch desk!

If you missed them this time, then Josh hopes to tour another show later in the year when he will perform the entirety of Paul Simon’s Graceland album. And meanwhile there are plentiful videos to catch up on as well as his solo album which can be heard on his web site.

Bath time for the Wing Sung 601A fountain pen.

It has been over a year since I bought my first Wing Sung 601, a clear demonstrator, in June 2018. I swiftly bought another in Lake Blue. They have both been inked ever since. My review of this inexpensive Chinese pen can be found here: Another look at the Wing Sung 601 fountain pen.

In December 2018 I added a pair of Wing Sung 601A pens, which looked similar on the outside, but had a totally different, large tubular nib unit, rather like a Sheaffer Triumph and with a large, cut ebonite feed. Again, these arrived in simple cardboard packaging and with a container of silicone grease. However there was one more welcome extra – a tubular plastic hexagonal wrench for the filling mechanism. This also fits the 601, making it very simple to remove and re-grease the plunger or diaphragm unit, on either version.

Credit is due to the informative Youtube reviews of these pens, in Pen Talk by Chrisrap52. I learned that there are different types of filling mechanism, although both are operated in the same way by unscrewing a blind cap and pressing on a sprung metal rod a few times, whilst holding the pen with the nib immersed in ink. I gather that the older versions of the 601 (first generation) have a soft rubber bladder inside. These can be identified by a metal conical finial on the cap. The second generation (which I am looking at today) have a hard rubber plunger inside and are identified by a plastic jewel finial in the cap.

As it was high time my 601A’s had a bath, I took the opportunity to try out the wrench and disassemble the pens for a clean. The nib section unscrews easily enough and there is a black rubber o-ring to help prevent leaks. The threads are quite fine and on reassembling, it helps to begin by turning gently in the wrong direction, to correctly align the threads.

The tubular nib unit of the Wing Sung 601A.

The filling mechanism, accessed by removing the blind cap, is unscrewed with the wrench. One was quite stiff the first time. The unit is then withdrawn from the back of the barrel.

Plunger unit, removed by means of the supplied hexagonal wrench.

The Chinese instruction sheet supplied with the pen does not discuss removing the filling mechanism, (despite providing a wrench for this purpose) but recommends leaving the nib unit to soak in water for 12 hours if changing ink colour and then flushing it with running water until the water runs clear.

After removing the filling mechanism, I was a little worried that I could not see a spring anywhere and feared that I might have lost it. However there is no need to worry as it is hidden underneath the rubber plug. You can find it by separating the two plugs with your finger nail. Once screwed in place on the barrel, you can press the plunger rod and feel the resistance of the spring. It works very well and serves to fill the pen within a few presses. The first generation (diaphragm) needed more presses, maybe 10, not that this was any hardship.

Black plastic wrench for removing filling mechanism.

According to the instructions, you immerse the nib in the ink, press the button and release, fairly quickly, within a second, and repeat about 5 – 6 times. On the last press, you keep the button pressed down while you withdraw the pen from the ink; let go of the button and then eject about 5 – 8 drops. Presumably this clears excess ink from the feed so that the pen does not leak or write too wet straight after filling.

The instructions also recommend keeping the pen filled, to guard against leaks from temperature or pressure changes.

The pen holds a whopping 2ml of ink which, combined with its fine nib, makes for long intervals between fills. The push on cap, makes a good seal and I have had no problems of hard starts or skips, even after months of infrequent use.

This is a very enjoyable pen to use and to tinker with. It is satisfying to be able to disassemble and clean the pen so easily, now with a wrench that is made for the job and to spread a little grease on the threads and plunger. I must admit though, that I still prefer the look of the 601 with its hooded nib to the 601A, even though in use, it is more difficult to see exactly where the nib point is. I also found that mine benefited from a little nib smoothing with micromesh, to turn it into a super smooth, wet fine. It is hard to beat one of these pens, for value for money.

A pair of Wing Sung 601A’s. Lake Blue and Beige Grey.