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Folk Music


Here’s an interview I did when I was writing for GI…

Alec Finn (of Dé Dannan) (1991)

…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 (1982)

Coming soon…

Marcel Dadi (1982)

Nick Reynolds (of the Kingston Trio) (1987)


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.

It’s 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 ?

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 CD 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 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 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/Download
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 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 ? 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 ?

The King’s Head Tunebook

Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, the King’s Head pub in Campbell, California, 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. The majority were drawn from the repertoire of the fiddler John Taylor.

For those interested, you can find the Tunebook here.