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Folk Music


Here are some interviews I did when I was writing for GI (along with a few sound-bites)…

Alec Finn (of Dé Dannan) (1991), with their version of Carrickfergus

Nick Reynolds (of The Kingston Trio) (1987)

Tom Dooley Play
Joan Baez Play

…and I also did one with Liam O’Flynn and Andy Irvine. Andy’s webmistress later e-mailed me and asked if she could put it on his website, so of course I said Yes. Here it is.

Liam O’Flynn and Andy Irvine (of Planxty) (1982)

LO’F on cranning Play
AI on Johnny Moynihan Play

Coming soon…

Marcel Dadi (1982)


Where I know the names of the performers (as in most cases here), the entries are in order of the name of the band (or the first performer’s surname). Otherwise (as, for example, with Abduction) the entry is ordered by title.


This is a Greek bouzouki duet from the late ’60s; I don’t know anything about it except the title, so if anyone knows who it’s by, please let me know.

I liked it so much I transcribed the whole thing—two bouzoukis, guitar chords and bass line. The original is in F, but I didn’t own a bouzouki at the time, so I transposed it for two mandolins to play in D, which I found easier. Both transcriptions are presented below.

In the F version, the original bass line (with only minor changes) and chords are playable on a single guitar, which is why the bass part is given in an (8vb) treble clef. In the D version, the original bass line would go down to low A, which requires a bass or bass guitar. (Of course, you can always capo the D version at 3 to make it easy for the guitarist.)

Abduction in F Abduction in D ? ? Play/Downloadsunk without trace


To fans of Irish music, Altan need no introduction. But this transcription comes from Mairéad and Frankie’s first album, before Altan formally existed per se. It is of the pair of reels that form track 1.

Reels from Ceol Aduaidh ? Buy CD Buy MP3

Bring Us In Good Ale

This is a very English song, but it is in many versions (for instance that of Tim and Maddy) sung to a minor tune, belying the cheerful lyrics.

As an alternative, some while ago I wrote an entirely new tune for it, with a major chorus; for those who may be interested, I present it here.

Since that time, people have come up with new verses for it, for instance:

Bring us in no Coke, for that hath aspartame/Nor bring us in no Pepsi, for that is just the same.

Bring us in no tofu, for therein is no taste/Nor bring us in no soy milk, for that is made of waste.

Bring Us In Good Ale ? ? ?

Kevin Burke & Mícheál Ó Domhnaill

Kevin & Mícheál’s 1982 concert is one of the greatest folk concerts on video; why it was never released on DVD passes my comprehension. But luckily some kind person has uploaded it to YouTube.

I present here a couple of the tune medleys. I haven’t attempted to transcribe Mícheál’s brilliant guitar work (although I notice he seems to be switching between standard tuning and DADGAD).

The YouTube pointers in the table are to the individual medleys; the complete concert is here.

The Pigeon on the Gate Set YouTube ? ?
The Reverend Brother’s Set YouTube ? ?

Dónal Clancy—Dog Rock

Right from the start Danú were one of my favourite Irish folk groups, and their live DVD in particular is superb.

As well as the main concert footage, it features interviews with all the individual members; and Dónal opens his with this engaging little piece in DADGAD tuning.

Its title is not announced; but when I asked him, he said it was Dog Rock, named after “a rock we used to fish off that is behind where I’m sitting on the DVD”.

Dog Rock (with tabs) ? Buy DVD ?

Robin and Barry Dransfield

recorded their first album, The Rout of the Blues, in 1970 and it immediately won Melody Maker’s Folk Album of the Year award. Unfortunately that, together with its successor (Lord of All I Behold) and dozens of other great albums of the British Folk Revival on the Leader and Trailer labels, later fell into the black hole of Dave Bulmer’s Celtic Music company (you can find a discussion of this saga here and a good catalogue of the Leader/Trailer albums here). Fortunately, an anthology of their music later appeared on the Free Reed label.

The piece presented here, I should say, is not really folk: it’s a piece of mock-mediæval music from The Rout of the Blues.

Tapestry YouTube Buy LP ?

The Dubliners

With the Chieftains, the Dubliners were both the most seminal and the longest-lasting of all the Irish groups of the Folk Revival. Combining both charismatic lead singers and brilliant instrumentalists, they took not only the folk world but, startlingly, even the English hit parade by storm.

Long, long ago, in a country far, far away, the Dubliners made their first LP; and Barney played two instrumentals (this was before John joined). And some record-company executive whose name is lost to history said “Tell me the names of these tunes, so that we may put them on the album cover.” And Barney said “The Swallow’s Tail Reel and The High Reel…”

And Barney continued “…and something-1 and something-2.

But the executive was not listening, for he thought he already had the names of the tunes, not realising that both were medleys: the first being a medley of The Swallow’s Tail Reel and The High Reel, and the second tune, a medley of something-1 and something-2. So the LP appeared, and the medley of The Swallow’s Tail Reel and The High Reel was labelled The Swallow’s Tail Reel, and the medley of something-1 and something-2 was labelled The High Reel. And every Dubliners anthology ever since has perpetuated this mislabelling.

So the crucial question is, what are something-1 and something-2? By the simple expedient of sight-reading straight through the reels in O’Neill’s Dance Music of Ireland (1,001 Gems), I was able to work out that something-2 is The Boyne Hunt; but nobody I’d ever met or corresponded with (and I know some real experts) knew what the first tune is. So I asked a mutual friend to ask Barney when next he saw him.

Which he did. You can see Barney’s correction of the title of my transcription on the Wikipedia page for the Dubliners’ eponymous first album.

The Maids of Castlebar is a bonus track on the digital reissue of that same first album, informatively labelled Insturmental (thanks to Alan Ng and irishtune.info for running that one down).

The listing of The Knights of St Patrick (in the Piper’s Chair set) as The Nights of St Patrick is of course simply mindless, as is that of Fermoy Lasses as Fairmoye Lasses (I think it was Melody Maker that first pointed out that record companies are run by people who hate music).

Off to California and The Plains of Boyle are a couple of hornpipes that I recorded in the ’70s, probably from the Beeb’s Folk on Friday or something similar. The Dubliners seem never to have committed them to record.

Hungry for Irish music and entranced by the brilliant performances, I transcribed nearly all the early Dubliners instrumentals in my own early days. Here they are. The ones labelled complete include all the variations.

Chief O’Neill’s Favo(u)rite YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
Colonel Fraser/O’Rourke’s Reel (complete) YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
The Cook in the Kitchen YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
The Cork Hornpipe (aka Harvest Home) YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
The Donegal Reel/The Longford Collector YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
Fermoy Lasses/Sporting Paddy (banjo) YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
Fermoy Lasses/Sporting Paddy (fiddle) YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
Flop-Eared Mule (aka Donkey Reel) YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
Four-Poster Bed/Colonel Rodney YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
“The High Reel” (complete) YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
The King of the Fairies YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
Kitty Come Down from Limerick (complete) YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
Last Night’s Fun/The Congress Reel YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
The Maids of Castlebar YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
The Mason’s Apron (complete) YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
My Love is in America YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
Off to California/The Plains of Boyle ? ? Play/Downloadsunk without trace
Paddy’s Gone to France/The Skylark YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
The Piper’s Chair Set (banjo) YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
The Piper’s Chair Set (fiddle) YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
The Queen of the Fair/The Tongs by the Fire YouTube Buy LP Buy MP3
The Snow on the Hills/The Salamanca Reel YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
The Scholar/The Teetotaller YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
The Sligo Maid/Colonel Rodney YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
The Swallow’s Tail/The High Reel (complete) YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
Within a Mile of Dublin YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3

The Halliard—Tae the Weavers Gin Ye Go

The Halliard were Nic Jones’s first folk group, the other members being Dave Moran (vocals) and Nigel Paterson (mandolin); and they were more than the sum of their parts. Dave was the archetypal extraverted front man, while Nigel sang the lower harmony in The Halliard’s vocal arrangements. The combination of Nic’s guitar & Nigel’s mandolin provided a complex but sympathetic accompaniment to their broadside ballads.

When the Halliard broke up, Nic (after a period of careful consideration) decided to go solo. And so I was fortunate enough to hear him regularly over a total period of about three years.

The thing that struck me most about Nic, almost from the beginning, was his startling originality. Week after week, there would beautiful new arrangements that I’d never heard before. Quite frequently, I would hear a song once, and the next time I heard it, it would have been completely rearranged (as for example with The Outlandish Knight, because the old version “was a bit outlandish”). Some of his performances that impressed themselves permanently on my memory seem never to have been caught on tape by anybody—for instance, Lucy Wan, accompanied in a similar fashion to Annan Water and amazingly beautiful.

Now the Halliard’s recordings have been, properly, rescued from oblivion (although some of Nic’s solo albums, amazingly, remain there). Among my favourites were always two instrumentals by Nic and Nigel that were true duets (rather than solos plus accompaniment). The first was Down in Yon Forest (or All the Bells of Paradise), which at one point (I remember) slid smoothly into bell-like harmonics from Nigel; and it seems to have sunk without trace. The second was Tae the Weavers Gin Ye Go, and it was (mercifully) included in their first (joint) album, The Halliard and Jon Raven (1968); their contribution has now been reissued (with additional new material), and is available from Nic and Julia’s website.

Tae the Weavers Gin Ye Go ? Buy CD ? Review of CD

The Johnstons

The Johnstons are seldom mentioned these days except as the starting-points for Paul Brady and Mick (then known as Mike) Moloney, but for my money they were one of the best groups ever for Irish traditional music. They understood their material perfectly, they were first rate instrumentally, and their harmonies were stunning—listen to Fuigfidh Mise ’n Baile Seo, for example.

The focus here, however, is on Mick, who was in the forefront of the next generation of tenor-banjo players after the Dubliners’ pioneer Barney McKenna.

The absolute pitches of some of the instrumentals are rather strange, whether one assumes GDAE tuning or CGDA. I’ve therefore standardised the transcriptions to the norm for GDAE.

The Kid on the Mountain, never identified by name on the album, is used as an interlude in Ian Campbell’s The Old Man’s Tale, on Colours of the Dawn. It is a slip jig, sometimes found in five parts, but here played in four.

For the rest, O’Carolan’s Concerto is on guitar, and The Kilfenora Jig (one of the most beautiful arrangements I’ve heard, incidentally) on mandolin: “It’s unusual to have an Irish jig with seven parts—five originally, with two more of another jig Is fearr port ná paidir (A Tune Is Better Than A Prayer) added on gradually by the musicians of the Kilfenora Ceílí Band until they became an integral part of the jig”.

The Johnstons’ albums are now conveniently available as threefers.

PDFApprox. PitchTranscription inVideoMediaDownload
The Fair-Haired Boy/Kiss the Maid Behind the Barrel/The Dawn G/C/C D/G/G ? Buy CD ?
Hand Me Down the Tackle/Jenny’s Welcome to Charlie B/B D/D YouTube Buy CD ?
Joseph’s Fancy/A Trip to Durrow G/G D/D YouTube Buy CD ?
The Kid on the Mountain Fm Em YouTube Buy CD ?
The Kilfenora Jig C# D ? Buy CD ?
The Nine Points of Roguery/The Humours of Tulla F/F D/D YouTube Buy CD ?
O’Carolan’s Concerto D C (capo 2) & D YouTube Buy CD ?

Nancy Kerr & James Fagan

Nancy and James form one of the best acts on the English folk scene. In particular, Nancy is an amazing fiddler, as shown in this piece. The original title, Reel du Pendu, is properly translated as The Hanged Man’s Reel, but is more often mondegreened into The Hangman’s Reel.

My transcription is taken from the CD, but the YouTube link is to a live performance. This piece is in “troll” tuning (AEAC#).

The Hanged Man’s Reel YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3

The King’s Head Tunebook

Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, the King’s Head pub in Campbell, California (now the Water Tower), hosted a fine folk-music session every week. The book was a collection of 101 tunes that I put together for new arrivals, in an attempt to mitigate the plethora of unfamiliar material they were confronted with.

For those interested, you can find the Tunebook here.

Mick Moloney

After leaving The Johnstons (q.v.) Mick, among other endeavours, pursued a Ph.D. in “folklore and folk life” from the University of Pennsylvania, subsequently continuing to tour, to record, and to teach.

The transcriptions presented here are from two of his early albums: …with Eugene O’Donnell and Strings Attached. (It’s interesting to compare Barney’s version of My Love is in America with the Dubliners (q.v.) to Mick’s, a generation later.)

West Limerick Medley YouTube Buy CD ?
My Love is in America YouTube Buy CD ?


While working in Antwerp in the late ’70s, I came across this song on Belgian radio that seemed to be in some dialect of French—which dialect, I didn’t then know.

But later the Internet came along. And taking a guess that it might be Provençal, I e-mailed the Partit Occitan, attaching an MP3 and asking if they could identify the language.

To my delight, I got an immediate response, identifying the band and the song, and giving the complete lyrics, with a translation into standard French. You can find a PDF of this document below.

Mont-Jòia seem to have been active in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and Discogs shows four albums from this period, on the Chant du Monde label. Unfortunately, none seem to have found they way on to CD; but you can find several of their songs on YouTube.

L’escòtish de Jòrji e Francesa (lyrics) ? Buy LP Play/Downloadsunk without trace

Brendan Mulvihill

is a fine Irish fiddle-player, carrying on the tradition of his father Martin.

The transcriptions below are from his 1979 album The Flax in Bloom. On most of this he is accompanied by Mick Moloney; but Crabs in the Skillet is a really imaginative set of solo variations on a 4-part jig, and I have written it out in full.

Crabs in the Skillet YouTube Buy CD ?
The Concertina Hornpipe/The Circus Hornpipe ? Buy CD ?

Gerry O’Connor

is a good exemplar of the modern tenor banjo style in folk music. The piece presented here is (in my opinion) one of his best, and also serves a fine exercise in cross-picking.

It’s played in CGDA (standard) tuning instead of the more usual GDAE (Irish); and since writing this out in staff notation would make it undecipherable for players using the latter, I’ve done this one in tab (which is of course the same for both tunings). But the chords (which are for the original for CGDA) will need transposing down a fourth for GDAE, unless you put a capo on the 5th fret.

O’Mahony’s Reel YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3

Tom Rustad

is a fine Norwegian accordion-player, and also plays (it says here) guitar, willow flute, jews harp and contrabass. These days (possibly to distinguish himself from another Tom Rustad?) he seems to go by Tom Willy Rustad.

This fine piece comes from his album Gatelangs med Ril & Reinlender, and is for two accordions and guitar (although the melodies should presumably be playable on any instrument with sufficient sustain).

The accompaniment is for fingerstyle guitar, and I have written out in full.

Fløttarvalsen YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3

Steeleye Span

The classic version of this 16th-century Christmas carol is of course by Steeleye Span, one of their (unfortunately few, especially in view of Maddy’s stunning voice) a cappella performances. The transcription here, however, for once isn’t mine—it’s the original. I haven’t checked to see if it’s exactly what Steeleye sing, but it certainly sounds like it.

Gaudete YouTube Buy CD ?

Swan Arcade

were an English, mostly a cappella group—although I first heard them in Belgium, where they were very popular.

This wonderful piece of apocalyptic raving comes from their 1976 album Matchless. I particularly like the graunch that comes (in the first verse) on the word roar.

Babylon Is Fallen YouTube Buy LP ?

Dave Swarbrick & Martin Carthy

It seems hard to remember now that no one in the Folk Revival of the ’60s (except The Dubliners) was yet playing jigs and reels, and traditional musicians’ performances were often ruined by clomping piano-drivers (Michael Coleman being the archetypal example). Swarbrick was like a breath of fresh air, and Rags, Reels and Airs in particular was a revelation. No one then sounded like Swarbrick… although this is no longer true, since he’s been a huge influence on many, not least Eliza Carthy!

The mandolin-playing is just as brilliant as the fiddle, and some of the best tunes are where they're double-tracked.

The Bottom of the Punchbowl Set YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3
The Leitrim Fancy Medley ? Buy CD Buy MP3
The Teetoller’s Medley YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3

June Tabor & Martin Simpson

Here’s an old English murder ballad, with a total body-count at the end to rival Shakespeare. This live version comes from one of the Beeb’s folk radio broadcasts of the ’70s, and is substantially different from the one recorded on An Echo of Hooves.

The format of the verses is extremely irregular, both June and Martin evincing (in addition to their musical talents) considerable feats of memory. In my transcription, I have labelled the two relevant parts of the staff notation A and B: in subsequent verses, the plain text is sung to A, and the italicised text to B.

Young Johnston ? ? Play/Downloadsunk without trace

John Taylor

Over a long and distinguished career, John has composed (and recorded) many fiddle tunes. He has now kindly made available for download both a book of the tunes and the recordings. To achieve this, right-click (or control-click) on a link and choose Save Link As… (or Download Linked File) from the pop-up menu.

JTunes ABC (zipped) Recordings (zipped)

The Young Tradition

and The Watersons were, with their a cappella harmonies, at the forefront of the English folk revival of the 1960s.This song, about the joys of life in the British Army, was originally on the YT’s Galleries album.

Ratcliff Highway YouTube Buy CD Buy MP3


Craobh Rua

The Kuumbwa Jazz Center, in the surfer’s paradise of Santa Cruz, has been (perhaps implausibly) one of the greatest venues for folk concerts I have ever been to; so when Craobh Rua (Irish for Red Branch) came there in 2001, we went.

In a word, they were terrific, and I immediately bought all their CDs to date.

This pithy explanation of the different types of Irish jig, from the piper, Patrick Davey, comes from that concert.

Irish Jigs Explained Play/Downloadsunk without trace

Mick Hanly

was one of the best Irish folk singers of the ’70s and ’80s, making fine solo albums in addition to a collaboration with Mícheál Ó Domhnaill and appearances with Andy Irvine and Liam O’Flynn in the Irish Folk Festivals.

But later, he decided to switch to writing and singing his own material. When that happened, he generously made available for free download MP3s of what in my view was his best solo album to that point: A Kiss in the Morning Earlysunk without trace, wherein he was aided by a star gallery of other musicians—Paddy Glackin, Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill (on the most wonderful-sounding harpsichord), Dónal Lunny, Rick Epping, Peter Brown and Matt Molloy.

This is where I obtained my copies, but now I can’t find them anywhere on the ’Net; so I present them here.

Cover of A Kiss in the Morning Early
Farewell Dearest Nancy Play/Download
The Merchant’s Daughter Play/Download
My Johnny Was a Shoemaker Play/Download
Song of Repentance Play/Download
Rosemary Fair Play/Download
A Kiss in the Morning Early Play/Download
An Tsean Bhean Bhocht Play/Download
The Verdant Braes of Skreen Play/Download
Cod Liver Oil Play/Download
The Reluctant Pirate Play/Download