Wednesday, 8 August 2007

One of THOSE tunes…

Preamble: While still primarily an observer in the trad. scene I’m reluctant to write an opinion piece. All I can say is if you have an alternate opinion, idea, review, proposal, etc., share it and I’ll publish it, I promise! That’s what this blog is supposed to be about. I can publish it anonymously if you fear the torch mob for espousing radical socio-musicological-political ideas! :)

You know them. The Kesh Jig, The Irish Washerwoman, Danny Boy, Dingle Regatta, and so on. Some sessions will play them, others won’t. Generally, they won’t. They’re too good for (or too tired of) THOSE tunes. It depends where you go.

I recently went to a session in Colorado Springs as I was in the area to see a very famous car race on a dramatic mountain road (the road starts at 7000 ft, and goes up another 7000 ft, not much for guardrails). Great people there, by the way. Naturally, I kept having the tune The Mountain Road in my head. It’s a fantastic reel. I mean, I really like this one. In Colorado Springs, situated next to the Front Range of the beautiful Rocky Mountains, you can forget it. I was a little surprised. I’ve read online that striking up the Dingle Regatta in the Kerry/Dingle region will get rolled eyes as well (in fact I got rolled eyes at an Ottawa session for suggesting it). Too bad, it’s actually a jolly fun three part tune. The Kesh Jig played anywhere near Sligo, same deal. A friend of a friend said he heard that Paddy Keenan played the Kesh Jig in a concert – the horror! Of course he played the Kesh Jig, have you heard the Bothy Band’s classic version? Why shouldn’t he play it, it’s a great jig! When you can play it like Paddy, you play it and don’t give a fiddler’s fart what anyone else thinks. I’ve deduced the rule is if the tune is really good, was popular, and from your area, forget it. When will we lose the St. Annes’s Reel? Some tunes are ‘worse’ than others for being rejected, and even I don’t want to hear Danny Boy more than once a year. At a fairly recent O’Connell’s session, well after the main session was over, a punter brought his girlfriend and wanted to hear Danny Boy. Upon initial rejection of the request I felt quite bad for the guy, sitting next to his girlfriend, who didn’t know it was one of THOSE tunes. One of the musicians bravely decided to play it and their smiles came back. It was a nice version, too. Good session PR. If you haven’t heard Shane MacGowan’s version of Danny Boy (or his gut wrenching Waltzing Matilda) you’re missing out. Very moving. At my recent house concert Don Kavanagh ‘bravely’ played The Irish Washerwoman on harmonica. Notably, he apologized before playing it. It’s a fairly tired, clichĂ©d, tune but when you can play it with life and energy like Don, you play it. If Don can play it that’s good enough for me. It was a real crowd pleaser.

I think in most cases tunes stand the test of time on their merits. For one, they’re still here. The onus may, therefore, be on the musician to play it such that it has its original life breathed into it. While avoiding garish embellishments, the dots on the page are only a guide to the main tune. Be brave. Play what’s good (but, please, attempt to maintain the one-Danny-Boy-maximum per year, preferably sometime in early March).


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