Michael Wright is a leading performer, historian and enthusiast of the jews-harp in the United Kingdom. Now living in France, his expertise with playing this melodic, uncommon, yet historically important musical instrument is stretching the repertoire to its limits, both as a folk accompaniment and as a classical centrepiece. His research into the social history of the instrument is ensuring that the full scope of the jews-harp contribution to trade and entertainment is recorded. And his enthusiasm and talent for performing well-known and seldom-heard songs, is helping secure Michael Wright recognition, not only in the UK, but internationally.
His workshops have been described as “fantastic!”, and he was called the “King of the Jew’s harpers” by John Campbell, while his playing on the ‘Des ‘n’ Mel Today’ TV programme was described as “amazing” by Des O’ Connor himself!
Michael Wright is a tradition bearer who was taught to play the jews-harp by his brother, John Wright, who himself was inspired by the recordings of the great Scottish player, Angus Lawrie of Oban. He has played at various folk festivals, from Sidmouth to Whitby, and at the National Folk Music Festival. He was a winner of the ‘Bob Bland Trophy’, competing at the prestigious Rothbury Gathering of 2003, and was the first player of the Jew’s harp to perform in concert at the Galpin Society and American Musical Instrument Society Annual Conference, August 2003. He formed the Islands of the North Atlantic Jew’s Harp Association (IoNAJHA) in 2006 to promote the Jew’s harp in England, Ireland, Scotland & Wales.
Michael also organised the first conference & concert dedicated to the jews-harp in Oxford, called ‘Oxford Firsts’, in April 2007, where he was the first performer in the UK of Albrechtsberger’s 1769 Concerto in D for Jew’s Harp and Orchestra.
In an official capacity, from 2003 to 2007 he was on the National Council of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), chair from 2006 to 2007. In 2006 Michael was elected to the Board of the International Jew’s Harp Society (IJHS), taking on the role of General Secretary in 2007. He is now the Editor of the Journal of the International Jew’s Harp Society.
ABOUT THE JEW’S HARP
Up to the beginning of the 20th century, the jews-harp was undoubtedly one of the most popular musical instruments around. Manufacturer evidence shows that literally hundreds of thousands were made each year in the UK and Europe, and literary references consistently note that every child had one.
‘Jeu trumpe’ and‘Jeu Harpes’ are the oldest name found so far for the musical instrument, which became known as the ‘trump’ in Scotland and Ireland, and jaws or juice harp in more recent times. Literary references are relatively rare, though ‘The Tongue of the Trump’ is a Scottish proverb – used by Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns, no less, describing the main or most active person in a group, a pertinent and accurate description of Michael Wright.
Today, however, knowledge of the Jew’s harp is limited, and misconceptions are rife. As a performer, researcher and teacher, Michael Wright is leading the resurgence of interest in this underrated musical instrument.
SELECTED PUBLICATIONS, WORKSHOPS, GUEST APPEARANCES
The Living Tradition – The Jews-Harp in the Tradition (2016)
Routledge – The Jews-Harp in Britain and Ireland (2015)
Galpin Society – The Jew’s Harp Trade in Colonial America (2011)
Folk Music Journal – The Jew’s Harp in the Law (November, 2007)Journal of the International Jew’s Harp Society
– Trump Trade in Britain – 1481-1864 (2007)
– Scattia Pensieri…An Essay of Derek H. Troman, 1953 (2007)
– The Birmingham – KwaZulu-Natal Connection (2007 with Angela Impey)
– Trump Manufacture in the West Midlands. Part One: 1800-1900 (2005)
– Food, Drink, and Jew’s Harps Revisited (2005)
– Jolly Companions Every One (2005)
– Jue Harpes & Jue Trumpes, 1481 (2004)
– Jews Trumps and their Valuation (2004)
– The Mystery of the Jew’s Harp and St Kilda (2004)
Folk Leads – Finds, folklore and the Jew’s harp (2005)
Silk Road Newsletter – The Search for the Origins of the Jew’s Harp (2004)
eds magazine – This insignificant instrument (2002)
The Living Tradition magazine – Jew’s Harp -The Fool’s Instruments (2000)Traditional Music Maker magazine – Jew’s harp – questions and answers (2000)
Papers & talks
Elphinstone Institute – Masters of Tradition (2015)
International Jew’s Harp Society Congress 7, Yakutsk – The jews-harp in Colonial America (2011)
Whitby Folk Week – Magic, Murder & Mayhem (August 2008)
Elphinstone Institute – The History of the Jew’s Harp in Scotland (October 2007)
International Council of Traditional Music Conference, Sheffield – Paper (August, 2005)
Bate Collection, Oxford – Illustrated lunchtime talk (May 2005)
Sheffield University Archaeological Society – Illustrated talk (September 2004)
Festival performances & workshops
International Jew’s Harp Society Congress 8, Taucha, Germany
International Jew’s Harp Society Congress 7, Yakutsk.
Whitby Folk Week, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011.
Oxford Firsts, Jew’s harp conference & concert, 2007
Keith Summer’s Festival, 2007
Oxford Folk Festival, 2007
Morpeth Gathering, 2002-2007
International Jew’s Harp Society Congress 5International Jew’s Harp Society Congress, Amsterdam, 2006
National Folk Music Festival, 2002, 2004
Sidmouth International Folk Festival, 2004
Warwick Folk Festival, 2004
Cleckheaton Folk Festival, 2004
Holmfirth Folk Festival, 2004
Ciderville Farm and Home Show 161, Knoxville, 2011. (@1.00.00)
Oxford Folk Festival fund-raiser, 2007, with other artists, including members of Fairport Convention
Pindrop, Oxford, 2006, 2008
Concert performance for the Galpin Society, the American Musical Instruments Society and the International Council of Museums international committee, Waltham College Chapel, Oxford, 2003
Rothbury Gathering, Northumberland, 2003
Winner of the ‘Bob Bland Trophy’
Oxford Folk Club, 2003, featured guest
BBC Radio Oxford, 2003, guest on the Dominic Cotter afternoon show
May 2003 – “Today with Des ‘n’ Mel’, Carlton TV, 2003, interview and performance with Des O’Connor
The Musical Traditions Club, London, 2003, guest
A recording with John, David and Lucy Wright as The Wright Family, recorded at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, 2008-2009. Available with ‘The Jews-Harp in Britain and Ireland’ (2015).
A Ground of His Own – Sam Lee. Nominated for the Mercury Award and BBC Folk Music Awards, 2014.
Michael Wright is available for performances, interviews, or participation in folk workshops. To book Michael, please contact:
3 Rue Saint Aignan, Brigne, 49700 France
Tel: 0044 (0)2 41 59 00 24
email: jewsharper @ btinternet.com