Celticsprite’s Blog


The Darker Side of Irish Jigs by Danny Carnahan
February 20, 2009, 6:03 pm
Filed under: Reviews on Celtic Tunes by Danny Carnahan

The Darker Side of Irish Jigs by Danny Carnahan. Article published in Mandolin Magazine.All rights reserved by the author and posted under his kind permission.
Click here for printable notation for “The Coleraine Jig” and here for accompaniment notation

On this article you will find also his comments about the difference between an Irish bouzouki and an octave mandolin or a cittern

I’ve always loved how the different scales and modes that Irish tunes are written in impart such dramatically different emotional potential to the melodies. It’s not as cut and dried as the classical distinction between “major” and “minor.”While you’ll sometimes find yourself playing in major and pure minor scales, more often you find Celtic traditional tunes in a slightly dark Mixolydian mode (really a major scale with a flatted seventh scale step) or a good and broody Dorian mode (a pure minor also with a flatted seventh scale step).The chordal accompanists among us can thank our lucky stars for this, since the flatted sevens open up juicy chordal possibilities and make these lovely, sometimes ancient, melodies that much more accessible to the modern ear.I find the Scottish pipe tunes with the most visceral rock ‘m’ roll drive are the melodies incorporating what some stodgy musicologist once called the “Scottish Thumbprint.” This is simply a two-bar figure establishing the tonic chord, then the same exact figure played a whole step lower, implying the flatted seven chord, then snapping back up again to the tonic to finish the phrase.Long before there were fretted instruments accompanying pipe tunes, this simple melodic device pulled away from the pipe drone to create tremendous tension and forward momentum. We of the multiple string persuasion can build on this tension to good advantage.While I plan to walk you through the “Scottish Thumbprint” later, I have another kind of tension in mind for this issue. While most Irish jigs and reels stick to a single mode, occasionally we find one that stretches the limits with accidentals and surprises, or even one that pops from one mode to another. One of my favorite examples of this latter kind of tune is The Coleraine Jig, a Northern Irish tune sportine a lilt and hopeful melancholy rarely achieved in Irish music.The Coleraine Jig is a pretty standard, two-part double jig that starts out in A minor, the chords toggling dramatically between the very minor tonic and very major E. But, the second part of the tune soars unexpectedly up to C, the relative major to A mnor, and suddenly we find that we’ve migrated from minor to Dorian mode, with a flatted seventh, allowing us an achingly beautiful chord progression from C to G to A minor to E. While these chords are being implied, the tune also indulges in that rare Irish flight of fancy: the four-note chromatic ascent. Very rare, indeed. But dark and gorgeous.The rest of the second part of the tune sneaks back to the original minor mode, with the momentary coloration of a passing F natural, giving the accompaniment a moment to drop in an exotic and mysterious D minor chord। Okay, so I don’t wax this poetic about too many Irish tunes. This is just one that I’ve considered at length and that never fails to move me.So how should we approach playing it? Because of the beauty of the melodic line, I try not to play Coleraine too fast. It’s definitely not a “bat-outta-hell” session tune. And, the standard default DOWN-up-down DOWN-up-down rhythmic picking pattern just won’t do it justice. I’d prefer to give the melody space and let it drive forward on its own, rather than being driven forward by insistent cascades of eighth notes. So try the accompaniment pattern shown here.The mando is ideal for delivering sharp and accurate note attacks, for ringing through the spaces, and for letting the chord voicings bloom under the melody line. Leaving space at the end of each bar is a good way not to get in the way of the melody and end up sounding too busy. And, brush the multi-course chords lightly and slowly, rather than chopping for a single unified attack.I think you’ll find that this is one of those tunes you can happily play eight or ten times through without getting tired of it. There’s so much going on in such a compact package.I’m often asked what’s the difference between an Irish bouzouki and an octave mandolin or a cittern. Some of the difference is in style, but some is in preferred tuning.When I found my baby—my short-necked, English-built octave mandolin—in Dublin in 1978, Irish bouzoukis were all the rage and mandolins were as rare as hen’s teeth. When I first noodled on the instrument I bought in the store, it was cross-tuned G-D-G-D. I quickly noticed that everybody else in the pub sessions around Ireland, whether they were playing real Greek bouzoukis or British flat-backed imitations, used this or similar drony cross-tuning.I found the cross-tuning way too limiting. Besides, I was playing fiddle, too, and found that my brain couldn’t cope with switchng between instruments with different fingerings. So I tuned my octave mando to fifths, an octave lower than a mandolin, and there it’s stayed for 22 years. I can still imitate the unison and very open drone effect popularize by masters like Alec Finn of De Denann. And then I can play unison melodies just to mix things up and keep the textures interesting.Still, you might want to experiment a little with alternate tunings, just for fun. The most common cross-tunings are G-D-G-D and A-E-A-E, though I regularly run into players who like to drop the E course down to D for some very nice effects.The term “cittern” is sometimes used to describe double-course instruments used in Irish music. I reserve the name “cittern” for instruments with more than four courses. English luthier Stefan Sobell popularized the 5-course cittern, usually with the fifth course tuned to a high A. This gave melody players easier fingerings for some of the hotter rave tunes that ventured into the statosphere. I tried the five-course instruments over the years, but always came back to my plain old octave mandolin. I found the fifth course just got in the way too often.So have fun with The Coleraine. And if you know of another dark and broody jigs that’s begging to be medleyed with it, I’d love to learn it.

Hereby, nice albums with great versions of The Coleraine Jig

Click here for printable notation for “The Coleraine Jig” and here for accompaniment notation

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The Darker Side of Irish Jigs by Danny Carnahan
February 20, 2009, 6:03 pm
Filed under: Reviews on Celtic Tunes by Danny Carnahan

The Darker Side of Irish Jigs by Danny Carnahan. Article published in Mandolin Magazine.All rights reserved by the author and posted under his kind permission.
Click here for printable notation for “The Coleraine Jig” and here for accompaniment notation

On this article you will find also his comments about the difference between an Irish bouzouki and an octave mandolin or a cittern

I’ve always loved how the different scales and modes that Irish tunes are written in impart such dramatically different emotional potential to the melodies. It’s not as cut and dried as the classical distinction between “major” and “minor.”While you’ll sometimes find yourself playing in major and pure minor scales, more often you find Celtic traditional tunes in a slightly dark Mixolydian mode (really a major scale with a flatted seventh scale step) or a good and broody Dorian mode (a pure minor also with a flatted seventh scale step).The chordal accompanists among us can thank our lucky stars for this, since the flatted sevens open up juicy chordal possibilities and make these lovely, sometimes ancient, melodies that much more accessible to the modern ear.I find the Scottish pipe tunes with the most visceral rock ‘m’ roll drive are the melodies incorporating what some stodgy musicologist once called the “Scottish Thumbprint.” This is simply a two-bar figure establishing the tonic chord, then the same exact figure played a whole step lower, implying the flatted seven chord, then snapping back up again to the tonic to finish the phrase.Long before there were fretted instruments accompanying pipe tunes, this simple melodic device pulled away from the pipe drone to create tremendous tension and forward momentum. We of the multiple string persuasion can build on this tension to good advantage.While I plan to walk you through the “Scottish Thumbprint” later, I have another kind of tension in mind for this issue. While most Irish jigs and reels stick to a single mode, occasionally we find one that stretches the limits with accidentals and surprises, or even one that pops from one mode to another. One of my favorite examples of this latter kind of tune is The Coleraine Jig, a Northern Irish tune sportine a lilt and hopeful melancholy rarely achieved in Irish music.The Coleraine Jig is a pretty standard, two-part double jig that starts out in A minor, the chords toggling dramatically between the very minor tonic and very major E. But, the second part of the tune soars unexpectedly up to C, the relative major to A mnor, and suddenly we find that we’ve migrated from minor to Dorian mode, with a flatted seventh, allowing us an achingly beautiful chord progression from C to G to A minor to E. While these chords are being implied, the tune also indulges in that rare Irish flight of fancy: the four-note chromatic ascent. Very rare, indeed. But dark and gorgeous.The rest of the second part of the tune sneaks back to the original minor mode, with the momentary coloration of a passing F natural, giving the accompaniment a moment to drop in an exotic and mysterious D minor chord। Okay, so I don’t wax this poetic about too many Irish tunes. This is just one that I’ve considered at length and that never fails to move me.So how should we approach playing it? Because of the beauty of the melodic line, I try not to play Coleraine too fast. It’s definitely not a “bat-outta-hell” session tune. And, the standard default DOWN-up-down DOWN-up-down rhythmic picking pattern just won’t do it justice. I’d prefer to give the melody space and let it drive forward on its own, rather than being driven forward by insistent cascades of eighth notes. So try the accompaniment pattern shown here.The mando is ideal for delivering sharp and accurate note attacks, for ringing through the spaces, and for letting the chord voicings bloom under the melody line. Leaving space at the end of each bar is a good way not to get in the way of the melody and end up sounding too busy. And, brush the multi-course chords lightly and slowly, rather than chopping for a single unified attack.I think you’ll find that this is one of those tunes you can happily play eight or ten times through without getting tired of it. There’s so much going on in such a compact package.I’m often asked what’s the difference between an Irish bouzouki and an octave mandolin or a cittern. Some of the difference is in style, but some is in preferred tuning.When I found my baby—my short-necked, English-built octave mandolin—in Dublin in 1978, Irish bouzoukis were all the rage and mandolins were as rare as hen’s teeth. When I first noodled on the instrument I bought in the store, it was cross-tuned G-D-G-D. I quickly noticed that everybody else in the pub sessions around Ireland, whether they were playing real Greek bouzoukis or British flat-backed imitations, used this or similar drony cross-tuning.I found the cross-tuning way too limiting. Besides, I was playing fiddle, too, and found that my brain couldn’t cope with switchng between instruments with different fingerings. So I tuned my octave mando to fifths, an octave lower than a mandolin, and there it’s stayed for 22 years. I can still imitate the unison and very open drone effect popularize by masters like Alec Finn of De Denann. And then I can play unison melodies just to mix things up and keep the textures interesting.Still, you might want to experiment a little with alternate tunings, just for fun. The most common cross-tunings are G-D-G-D and A-E-A-E, though I regularly run into players who like to drop the E course down to D for some very nice effects.The term “cittern” is sometimes used to describe double-course instruments used in Irish music. I reserve the name “cittern” for instruments with more than four courses. English luthier Stefan Sobell popularized the 5-course cittern, usually with the fifth course tuned to a high A. This gave melody players easier fingerings for some of the hotter rave tunes that ventured into the statosphere. I tried the five-course instruments over the years, but always came back to my plain old octave mandolin. I found the fifth course just got in the way too often.So have fun with The Coleraine. And if you know of another dark and broody jigs that’s begging to be medleyed with it, I’d love to learn it.

Hereby, nice albums with great versions of The Coleraine Jig

Click here for printable notation for “The Coleraine Jig” and here for accompaniment notation



The Darker Side of Irish Jigs by Danny Carnahan
February 20, 2009, 6:03 pm
Filed under: Reviews on Celtic Tunes by Danny Carnahan

The Darker Side of Irish Jigs by Danny Carnahan. Article published in Mandolin Magazine.All rights reserved by the author and posted under his kind permission.

Click here for printable notation for “The Coleraine Jig” and here for accompaniment notation


On this article you will find also his comments about the difference between an Irish bouzouki and an octave mandolin or a cittern

I’ve always loved how the different scales and modes that Irish tunes are written in impart such dramatically different emotional potential to the melodies. It’s not as cut and dried as the classical distinction between “major” and “minor.”While you’ll sometimes find yourself playing in major and pure minor scales, more often you find Celtic traditional tunes in a slightly dark Mixolydian mode (really a major scale with a flatted seventh scale step) or a good and broody Dorian mode (a pure minor also with a flatted seventh scale step).The chordal accompanists among us can thank our lucky stars for this, since the flatted sevens open up juicy chordal possibilities and make these lovely, sometimes ancient, melodies that much more accessible to the modern ear.I find the Scottish pipe tunes with the most visceral rock ‘m’ roll drive are the melodies incorporating what some stodgy musicologist once called the “Scottish Thumbprint.” This is simply a two-bar figure establishing the tonic chord, then the same exact figure played a whole step lower, implying the flatted seven chord, then snapping back up again to the tonic to finish the phrase.Long before there were fretted instruments accompanying pipe tunes, this simple melodic device pulled away from the pipe drone to create tremendous tension and forward momentum. We of the multiple string persuasion can build on this tension to good advantage.While I plan to walk you through the “Scottish Thumbprint” later, I have another kind of tension in mind for this issue. While most Irish jigs and reels stick to a single mode, occasionally we find one that stretches the limits with accidentals and surprises, or even one that pops from one mode to another. One of my favorite examples of this latter kind of tune is The Coleraine Jig, a Northern Irish tune sportine a lilt and hopeful melancholy rarely achieved in Irish music.The Coleraine Jig is a pretty standard, two-part double jig that starts out in A minor, the chords toggling dramatically between the very minor tonic and very major E. But, the second part of the tune soars unexpectedly up to C, the relative major to A mnor, and suddenly we find that we’ve migrated from minor to Dorian mode, with a flatted seventh, allowing us an achingly beautiful chord progression from C to G to A minor to E. While these chords are being implied, the tune also indulges in that rare Irish flight of fancy: the four-note chromatic ascent. Very rare, indeed. But dark and gorgeous.The rest of the second part of the tune sneaks back to the original minor mode, with the momentary coloration of a passing F natural, giving the accompaniment a moment to drop in an exotic and mysterious D minor chord। Okay, so I don’t wax this poetic about too many Irish tunes. This is just one that I’ve considered at length and that never fails to move me.So how should we approach playing it? Because of the beauty of the melodic line, I try not to play Coleraine too fast. It’s definitely not a “bat-outta-hell” session tune. And, the standard default DOWN-up-down DOWN-up-down rhythmic picking pattern just won’t do it justice. I’d prefer to give the melody space and let it drive forward on its own, rather than being driven forward by insistent cascades of eighth notes. So try the accompaniment pattern shown here.The mando is ideal for delivering sharp and accurate note attacks, for ringing through the spaces, and for letting the chord voicings bloom under the melody line. Leaving space at the end of each bar is a good way not to get in the way of the melody and end up sounding too busy. And, brush the multi-course chords lightly and slowly, rather than chopping for a single unified attack.I think you’ll find that this is one of those tunes you can happily play eight or ten times through without getting tired of it. There’s so much going on in such a compact package.I’m often asked what’s the difference between an Irish bouzouki and an octave mandolin or a cittern. Some of the difference is in style, but some is in preferred tuning.When I found my baby—my short-necked, English-built octave mandolin—in Dublin in 1978, Irish bouzoukis were all the rage and mandolins were as rare as hen’s teeth. When I first noodled on the instrument I bought in the store, it was cross-tuned G-D-G-D. I quickly noticed that everybody else in the pub sessions around Ireland, whether they were playing real Greek bouzoukis or British flat-backed imitations, used this or similar drony cross-tuning.I found the cross-tuning way too limiting. Besides, I was playing fiddle, too, and found that my brain couldn’t cope with switchng between instruments with different fingerings. So I tuned my octave mando to fifths, an octave lower than a mandolin, and there it’s stayed for 22 years. I can still imitate the unison and very open drone effect popularize by masters like Alec Finn of De Denann. And then I can play unison melodies just to mix things up and keep the textures interesting.Still, you might want to experiment a little with alternate tunings, just for fun. The most common cross-tunings are G-D-G-D and A-E-A-E, though I regularly run into players who like to drop the E course down to D for some very nice effects.The term “cittern” is sometimes used to describe double-course instruments used in Irish music. I reserve the name “cittern” for instruments with more than four courses. English luthier Stefan Sobell popularized the 5-course cittern, usually with the fifth course tuned to a high A. This gave melody players easier fingerings for some of the hotter rave tunes that ventured into the statosphere. I tried the five-course instruments over the years, but always came back to my plain old octave mandolin. I found the fifth course just got in the way too often.So have fun with The Coleraine. And if you know of another dark and broody jigs that’s begging to be medleyed with it, I’d love to learn it.

Hereby, nice albums with great versions of The Coleraine Jig

Click here for printable notation for “The Coleraine Jig” and here for accompaniment notation



Celtic Connections 2009 by Mike Wilson
February 17, 2009, 4:08 pm
Filed under: Reviews

Celtic Connections is Scotland’s premier winter music festival featuring artists from around the globe.It takes place in Glasgow every January, and now returns for a 16th year Article published by Mike Wilson on Green Man Review

All rights reserved by the author and posted under his kind permission.
Glasgow, UK (January 2009)
Friday 23rd January
Upon arrival at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, I was delighted to see an exhibition of photography by the Belgian photographer,
Lieve Boussouaw. Many will be familiar with the presence of Lieve and her camera at gigs and festivals all over Europe, and will likely be just as familiar with the stunning photographs that she takes. Lieve is a true artist, and it was a genuine pleasure to see her photographs printed on to large canvas, hanging on the walls of the concert hall, to be appreciated as works of art in their own right. The photographs were taken over the course of Lieve’s visits to Celtic Connections in 2007 and 2008, and hold within their images, stories of music, fun and friendship. The rich, matt black that featured heavily throughout the photographs, gave a real depth that made you feel as if you could walk right in to the picture and live the experience that it contained. Lieve’s photography has always captured much more than mere images, cannily homing in on the experience, or the feeling of being there — perfectly preserving the essence of an event, be it a seasoned performer on a large stage, or the reveries of an intimate late-night session.
Celtic Connections was to provide me with my first gig of 2009, and I’m happy to say that I wasn’t to be disappointed. Tonight I was bound for Glasgow’s Tron Theatre to see Debra Salem, followed by the night’s main act, Kathleen Boyle, accordion player with Dòchas and Cherish The Ladies, who has recently released her first solo album, An Cailín Rua.
Debra Salem is a singer in the truest sense of the word, whose approach to singing is very much an art form in itself. She doesn’t just carelessly trot out a melody, but really gets inside the song and inhabits every little corner of the story, fleshing out the characters of a song and the emotions contained therein. Salem’s vocal style leans heavily towards the jazz genre, improvising freely and flowing beautifully alongside her musical accompaniment. Tonight’s musical accompaniment came in the form of Phil Alexander on accordion and Kenny Irons on bass. That there was so little on stage, meant that each musician had to work extra hard to create a range of rhythms and textures, and all three rose to the challenge with great aplomb. Whilst Salem’s vocal delivery is very much jazz-oriented, she chooses from a broad range of material, instilling it with her jazz-hued sensibilities. One of the stand-out tracks for me was a wonderfully bouncy reading of the traditional folk ballad, “She’s Like A Swallow,” and the thought of Salem exploring this jazz/trad-folk fusion further is a mouthwatering proposition indeed. Salem’s own trio of love-related compositions were also enjoyable, none more so than her closing number, “There’s The Door,” a feisty rebuke to a deceitful former lover. Salem’s stories of real-life love sat well alongside a cover of Kate & Anna McGarrigle’s “Go Leave,” and ultimately I felt that it was Salem’s tacit link with the delicate details of every-day life that ensured she would immediately connect with tonight’s audience and quickly win their affections.
The main act tonight was
Kathleen Boyle, who received a rapturous welcome upon taking to the stage, for her home town gig. Boyle was accompanied by some of Scotland’s most formidable young traditional musicians, ensuring that this colourful set was destined for a heady climax. Shetland fiddler Jenna Reid, Ewan Robertson on guitar, and Martin O’Neill on bodhrán formed the core of the band, with a few very special guests to further augment the music. Boyle’s family links with County Donegal in Ireland provided for an enjoyable musical melting pot that took in the traditional music of both Scotland and Ireland. Robertson and O’Neill ensured that there was a strong and rhythmic heartbeat, whilst the fluid interplay between Reid’s fiddle and Boyle’s accordion provided the set’s most exhilarating moments. Former lead singer of Cherish The Ladies, Heidi Talbot, made an appearance to sing a typically lilting “The Banks of Red Roses,” and was also joined later by the current lead singer of Cherish The Ladies, Michelle Burke, on a pretty duet of “Fair And Tender Ladies.” Without a doubt, the star guest of the evening was Kathleen’s father, Hughie Boyle, who all but stole the show with his mischievous sense of humour and stories. However, it was Hughie’s musical contribution that impressed most — it was touching to see father and daughter side by side on stage, sharing tunes, probably just as they have for many years at home, but tonight receiving an ecstatic response from an appreciative audience. What an enthralling start to my gig calendar for 2009 — I left the Tron Theatre with a definite feeling of euphoria!
Highlights from Friday night’s festival club stage were the enigmatic
Casey Driessen, playing fiddle like his life depended on it, with a charisma and ferocity that leaves you totally in awe. Fribo delivered a vibrant set of their Nordic flavoured music, with Sarah-Jane Summers’ lively fiddle perfectly balanced by the crisp, haunting vocals of Anne Sofie Linge Valdal. The big surprise of the night for me, was when Norrie Maciver took to the stage with Ruari Sutherland, to combine Norrie’s Gaelic song with Ruari’s beatbox sounds, to stunning effect. I’ll stick my neck out here — I think Norrie Maciver is the best young, male Gaelic singer on the scene, and could easily appeal to a wider audience, particularly if he continues to show the same inventiveness as he did tonight. The rhythmic puirt-a-beul blended seamlessly with the beatboxing, to produce an exciting and contagious concoction that quickly brought the crowd to their feet!
Saturday 24th January
It was around Saturday lunchtime that I headed back to the Royal Concert Hall to sit in on one of
Chrissie Stewart’s workshops, Singin’ On Yer Mammy’s Knee, a workshop run for those who have or look after children, and dedicated to the singing of traditional Scottish children’s songs. I had previously interviewed Chrissie about her work with children’s songs, so I had a fair idea what she was about, and it was great fun to finally see her in action! Chrissie’s knack for keeping the children engaged involves lots of action songs, and it was heart warming to see the children’s little faces light up as they joined in with the actions or just bounced around! It’s also nice to see somebody involving children with traditional material from such an early age, and more importantly promoting activities that parents and children can enjoy together. I even had a little sing along myself to such cheery fair as “The Big Ship Sails,” “Three Craws,” or “The Herrins’ Heids,” remembering the words from Chrissie’s album, Bairns Kist, that has helped me out a few times when I’ve been home alone with my baby daughter!
Saturday evening saw a return to entertainment of a more mature nature, starting out in the sumptuous surrounds of the City Halls venue. Song writer
Dean Owens is a real class act. He took to the stage tonight with Kim Edgar on piano and Stuart Nisbet on guitar, all dressed in suits, looking every bit as sassy as Owens’ songs sounded. Given that his most recent album, Whisky Hearts, was recorded in Nashville, it came as no surprise that Owen’s songs carried a hint of country — think Ryan Adams, but much smoother. Country leanings aside, Owens’ introspective musings often recalled those of The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan, with Owens’ song “Raining In Glasgow” feeling particularly reminiscent of Buchanan’s “Tinseltown In The Rain,” though both written from different perspectives. The trio gave a great understated sound to material that really needed nothing more, as Owens’ lyrics were more than enough to engage the mind and sooth the soul.
I have been listening to
Kathy Mattea for quite a few years now, ever since I fell head-over-heels in love with her voice on the original television series of Transatlantic Sessions, back in 1994. Having had a prolific award-winning career in music in the 1980s and 1990s, Mattea has been relatively quiet of late. Last year saw her release a fairly low-profile project, Coal, being a very personal homage to the coal mining industries that have surrounded various aspects of Mattea’s life as she grew up in West Virginia. An abundance of critical acclaim was deservedly heaped upon Coal, and Mattea once again finds herself nominated for a Grammy award, and firmly back on the music radar. So, here I was sat in my seat waiting for Mattea to appear, with a feeling of anticipation, bordering on unease — would she live up to all my hopes tonight?
From the opening lines of “Dark As A Dungeon” any unease was immediately banished. Mattea’s voice was as rich and resonant as I had ever heard, and to witness her delivering these heartfelt lyrics against minimal accompaniment sent a very real shiver down my spine and had my eyes welling with tears. Mattea is the real deal. She always has been. Always has been much better than the big-haired country singer that the marketing folks would have us believe in the past. With Coal, Mattea has a brought together a set of material that is truly worthy of the genuine heart and soul that she packs in to her intense vocal performance.
Backed by a stripped-down three-piece acoustic band that included David Spicher on double bass, Bill Cooley on guitar, and Eamonn O’Rourke on mandolin and fiddle, Mattea was really able to lift her voice to the forefront of the mix, and it was an absolute joy to be able to hear her voice so clearly. The band were a formidable trio, bringing sturdy, old-timey, bluegrass melodies that provided both a sublime backdrop and also some ferociously exciting picking. In fact nobody seemed to be enjoying the band as much as Mattea herself, who seemed genuinely excited to be sharing the stage with them. In fact, Mattea seemed genuinely excited to be playing in Glasgow as part of the Celtic Connections festival, and had managed to catch a few gigs herself.
The audience were treated to a substantial selection of songs from Coal, along with some well-worn favourites. Songs such as Darrell Scott’s “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” offered a panoramic view of life within a mining community, whilst Hazel Dickens’ “Black Lung” gave a much more personal perspective, being a moving tribute to the brother she lost to the mining-related disease from which the song gets its title. Past hits “Love At The Five And Dime,” “Eighteen Wheels And A Dozen Roses” and the desolate “Where’ve You Been” proved popular with the audience, and sounded all the better for the band’s acoustic treatment.
Tonight, Kathy Mattea certainly reaffirmed her presence in my affections, and also her status as one of my heroes of song!
Next tonight, it was down a few flights of stairs and along the corridor to the cavernous Old Fruitmarket venue, to catch the vibrant and versatile
Salsa Celtica, a band whose fusion of traditional folk and salsa music is a firm festival favourite. Their concoction of Latin rhythms with traditional folk instruments is a heady brew: an array of exotic percussion lines up alongside a spirited brass section, with fiddle, banjo and bagpipes. I’ve seen Salsa Celtica before, and their skill for whipping an audience into a carnival-like dancing frenzy is a joyous sight, and tonight’s audience didn’t fail to disappoint in this regard. However, tonight’s gig was particularly special as the band were being joined on stage by Gaelic singers Julie Fowlis and Kathleen MacInnes, who entwined the rhythms of their Gaelic songs beautifully with the funky fusion of Salsa Celtica. It was great to see Julie and Kathleen enjoying the experience so much, liberated from the comparative sobriety of their regular material. The gig ended in exuberant style with the band, still playing, leading the audience out of the venue and into the street, where they continued playing to an ecstatic response from their adoring audience!
At tonight’s festival club I spent a good bit of time in Doris Rougvie’s House of Song — a quiet room set aside for people to gather and share a few songs. At least that’s the idea anyway, though it’s a pity that not all occupants of the room respected the singers and listeners, and allowed them to have some peace in this relatively small oasis of calm. Even the bar staff could do to learn a few manners! Tonight I heard some of the most beautiful songs — some that I’d never heard before, sung by singers I’d never heard before. Rougvie is the perfect host, ensuring everybody gets the chance to sing, and encouraging the shy or reticent! The majority of the people in the room are good, quiet listeners, who appreciate a good song. It’s a pity something can’t be done about the not-so-quiet minority.
Sunday 25th January
On what was a rather bleary-eyed Sunday morning, I headed back to the Royal Concert Hall for another of Chrissie Stewart’s workshops. This time, Chrissie was joined by her brother, Alpin Stewart, to deliver a waulking workshop that engaged sixteen enthusiastic adults around a table, learning about the different stages in the traditional preparation of urine-soaked tweed, and the traditional Gaelic songs that would have accompanied this task. Fortunately, for today’s workshop participants, the traditional urine was replaced by spring water! Witnessing the songs in this context lends an insight in to the robust, work-like rhythms that drive the melodies along. Chrissie and Alpin are both blessed with lovely singing voices, so to witness their voices alone was enjoyable, and both also demonstrated impressive knowledge of the history of the subject — which the workshop participants mined enthusiastically, though possibly as a distraction technique to avoid getting on with the actual waulking and singing!
The New Voices commissions always offer something special at Celtic Connections, and this afternoon’s performance from the fervent supporter of Gaelic song,
Griogair, was not to disappoint! Heavily influenced by traditional Gaelic song and poetry, Griogair has composed his own material, very much in the traditional style, but also very much addressing the issues facing a modern, Gaelic-speaking, rural community. Griogair’s impassioned vocal performance transcends any language barriers, and you were left in no doubt of his commitment and articulation. Griogair was accompanied by a fine group of young, traditional musicians playing fiddle, uilleann pipes, accordion and clarsach, and it was great to see these young musicians taking their tradition and using it to interpret their contemporary lives, through Griogair’s songs. With a burning pride for everything that surrounds him, Griogair is a real troubadour of a song writer — possibly the Steve Earle of Gaelic song!
My last gig of the weekend found me back in City Halls to hear the stalwart Perthshi
re singer-songwriter, Dougie MacLean. I’ve seen Dougie perform solo before tonight, but I’d never heard him perform with his band. I was a bit worried that a band might drown out Dougie’s gentle storytelling lyrics, but I was glad to hear that the musicians were the masters of understatement, faithfully recreating the wistful, ethereal sound that pervades much of Dougie’s recorded work. I had forgotten just how beautiful Dougie’s writing is, and tonight was a timely reminder, as Dougie sang such timeless classics as “Singing Land” and “This Love Will Carry,” not to mention his legendary anthem, “Caledonia.” Dougie was, as ever, very much at ease with his audience, and his generosity in encouraging the audience to sing along with all his songs brought a genuine warmth to the whole evening. I like the way that Dougie’s songs pick you up and place you in a gentler world, his affinity with nature and landscapes providing a vivid and overwhelming sense of escape.
Celtic Connections is without doubt one of the premier events on the European festival calendar। Festival director Donald Shaw and his team work tirelessly to put on a festival that continually manages to innovate and excite, across a broad range of musical genres that complement the native traditions. There is a slight danger however, that the festival forgets that at its heart and roots lie a body of individuals that could easily be alienated by the corporate feel that the festival has acquired — the very same people who are the lifeblood of Britain’s thriving folk music scene. There is still a need to engage with this community and embrace their contributions. One aspect of the festival that does manage to remain true to its folk roots is the legendary festival club, providing an informal opportunity to gather for a session or a song. It’s a real pity that this has to take place in such an awful venue, the Central Hotel. This once grand building is in a dilapidated state and is hardly a fitting venue for a festival of this calibre. Setting aside the state of the venue, the space available isn’t really fit for purpose either. If you arrive late and you want to listen to the music you first need to fight your way through a drunken mêlée, and even if you manage this you’re lucky to be able to hear any music above the riotous din! It’s not that I object to either form of enjoyment, but I feel that they need to find a more appropriate venue that allows all these things to take place without one impinging on the other. These are relatively minor gripes, however, and I don’t want them to detract too much from what is a fantastic event, of which Glasgow can be justifiably proud. Besides, it really is great to have a reason to look forward to January! [
Mike Wilson]


Celtic Connections 2009 by Mike Wilson
February 17, 2009, 4:08 pm
Filed under: Reviews

Celtic Connections is Scotland’s premier winter music festival featuring artists from around the globe.It takes place in Glasgow every January, and now returns for a 16th year Article published by Mike Wilson on Green Man Review

All rights reserved by the author and posted under his kind permission.
Glasgow, UK (January 2009)
Friday 23rd January
Upon arrival at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, I was delighted to see an exhibition of photography by the Belgian photographer,
Lieve Boussouaw. Many will be familiar with the presence of Lieve and her camera at gigs and festivals all over Europe, and will likely be just as familiar with the stunning photographs that she takes. Lieve is a true artist, and it was a genuine pleasure to see her photographs printed on to large canvas, hanging on the walls of the concert hall, to be appreciated as works of art in their own right. The photographs were taken over the course of Lieve’s visits to Celtic Connections in 2007 and 2008, and hold within their images, stories of music, fun and friendship. The rich, matt black that featured heavily throughout the photographs, gave a real depth that made you feel as if you could walk right in to the picture and live the experience that it contained. Lieve’s photography has always captured much more than mere images, cannily homing in on the experience, or the feeling of being there — perfectly preserving the essence of an event, be it a seasoned performer on a large stage, or the reveries of an intimate late-night session.
Celtic Connections was to provide me with my first gig of 2009, and I’m happy to say that I wasn’t to be disappointed. Tonight I was bound for Glasgow’s Tron Theatre to see Debra Salem, followed by the night’s main act, Kathleen Boyle, accordion player with Dòchas and Cherish The Ladies, who has recently released her first solo album, An Cailín Rua.
Debra Salem is a singer in the truest sense of the word, whose approach to singing is very much an art form in itself. She doesn’t just carelessly trot out a melody, but really gets inside the song and inhabits every little corner of the story, fleshing out the characters of a song and the emotions contained therein. Salem’s vocal style leans heavily towards the jazz genre, improvising freely and flowing beautifully alongside her musical accompaniment. Tonight’s musical accompaniment came in the form of Phil Alexander on accordion and Kenny Irons on bass. That there was so little on stage, meant that each musician had to work extra hard to create a range of rhythms and textures, and all three rose to the challenge with great aplomb. Whilst Salem’s vocal delivery is very much jazz-oriented, she chooses from a broad range of material, instilling it with her jazz-hued sensibilities. One of the stand-out tracks for me was a wonderfully bouncy reading of the traditional folk ballad, “She’s Like A Swallow,” and the thought of Salem exploring this jazz/trad-folk fusion further is a mouthwatering proposition indeed. Salem’s own trio of love-related compositions were also enjoyable, none more so than her closing number, “There’s The Door,” a feisty rebuke to a deceitful former lover. Salem’s stories of real-life love sat well alongside a cover of Kate & Anna McGarrigle’s “Go Leave,” and ultimately I felt that it was Salem’s tacit link with the delicate details of every-day life that ensured she would immediately connect with tonight’s audience and quickly win their affections.
The main act tonight was
Kathleen Boyle, who received a rapturous welcome upon taking to the stage, for her home town gig. Boyle was accompanied by some of Scotland’s most formidable young traditional musicians, ensuring that this colourful set was destined for a heady climax. Shetland fiddler Jenna Reid, Ewan Robertson on guitar, and Martin O’Neill on bodhrán formed the core of the band, with a few very special guests to further augment the music. Boyle’s family links with County Donegal in Ireland provided for an enjoyable musical melting pot that took in the traditional music of both Scotland and Ireland. Robertson and O’Neill ensured that there was a strong and rhythmic heartbeat, whilst the fluid interplay between Reid’s fiddle and Boyle’s accordion provided the set’s most exhilarating moments. Former lead singer of Cherish The Ladies, Heidi Talbot, made an appearance to sing a typically lilting “The Banks of Red Roses,” and was also joined later by the current lead singer of Cherish The Ladies, Michelle Burke, on a pretty duet of “Fair And Tender Ladies.” Without a doubt, the star guest of the evening was Kathleen’s father, Hughie Boyle, who all but stole the show with his mischievous sense of humour and stories. However, it was Hughie’s musical contribution that impressed most — it was touching to see father and daughter side by side on stage, sharing tunes, probably just as they have for many years at home, but tonight receiving an ecstatic response from an appreciative audience. What an enthralling start to my gig calendar for 2009 — I left the Tron Theatre with a definite feeling of euphoria!
Highlights from Friday night’s festival club stage were the enigmatic
Casey Driessen, playing fiddle like his life depended on it, with a charisma and ferocity that leaves you totally in awe. Fribo delivered a vibrant set of their Nordic flavoured music, with Sarah-Jane Summers’ lively fiddle perfectly balanced by the crisp, haunting vocals of Anne Sofie Linge Valdal. The big surprise of the night for me, was when Norrie Maciver took to the stage with Ruari Sutherland, to combine Norrie’s Gaelic song with Ruari’s beatbox sounds, to stunning effect. I’ll stick my neck out here — I think Norrie Maciver is the best young, male Gaelic singer on the scene, and could easily appeal to a wider audience, particularly if he continues to show the same inventiveness as he did tonight. The rhythmic puirt-a-beul blended seamlessly with the beatboxing, to produce an exciting and contagious concoction that quickly brought the crowd to their feet!
Saturday 24th January
It was around Saturday lunchtime that I headed back to the Royal Concert Hall to sit in on one of
Chrissie Stewart’s workshops, Singin’ On Yer Mammy’s Knee, a workshop run for those who have or look after children, and dedicated to the singing of traditional Scottish children’s songs. I had previously interviewed Chrissie about her work with children’s songs, so I had a fair idea what she was about, and it was great fun to finally see her in action! Chrissie’s knack for keeping the children engaged involves lots of action songs, and it was heart warming to see the children’s little faces light up as they joined in with the actions or just bounced around! It’s also nice to see somebody involving children with traditional material from such an early age, and more importantly promoting activities that parents and children can enjoy together. I even had a little sing along myself to such cheery fair as “The Big Ship Sails,” “Three Craws,” or “The Herrins’ Heids,” remembering the words from Chrissie’s album, Bairns Kist, that has helped me out a few times when I’ve been home alone with my baby daughter!
Saturday evening saw a return to entertainment of a more mature nature, starting out in the sumptuous surrounds of the City Halls venue. Song writer
Dean Owens is a real class act. He took to the stage tonight with Kim Edgar on piano and Stuart Nisbet on guitar, all dressed in suits, looking every bit as sassy as Owens’ songs sounded. Given that his most recent album, Whisky Hearts, was recorded in Nashville, it came as no surprise that Owen’s songs carried a hint of country — think Ryan Adams, but much smoother. Country leanings aside, Owens’ introspective musings often recalled those of The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan, with Owens’ song “Raining In Glasgow” feeling particularly reminiscent of Buchanan’s “Tinseltown In The Rain,” though both written from different perspectives. The trio gave a great understated sound to material that really needed nothing more, as Owens’ lyrics were more than enough to engage the mind and sooth the soul.
I have been listening to
Kathy Mattea for quite a few years now, ever since I fell head-over-heels in love with her voice on the original television series of Transatlantic Sessions, back in 1994. Having had a prolific award-winning career in music in the 1980s and 1990s, Mattea has been relatively quiet of late. Last year saw her release a fairly low-profile project, Coal, being a very personal homage to the coal mining industries that have surrounded various aspects of Mattea’s life as she grew up in West Virginia. An abundance of critical acclaim was deservedly heaped upon Coal, and Mattea once again finds herself nominated for a Grammy award, and firmly back on the music radar. So, here I was sat in my seat waiting for Mattea to appear, with a feeling of anticipation, bordering on unease — would she live up to all my hopes tonight?
From the opening lines of “Dark As A Dungeon” any unease was immediately banished. Mattea’s voice was as rich and resonant as I had ever heard, and to witness her delivering these heartfelt lyrics against minimal accompaniment sent a very real shiver down my spine and had my eyes welling with tears. Mattea is the real deal. She always has been. Always has been much better than the big-haired country singer that the marketing folks would have us believe in the past. With Coal, Mattea has a brought together a set of material that is truly worthy of the genuine heart and soul that she packs in to her intense vocal performance.
Backed by a stripped-down three-piece acoustic band that included David Spicher on double bass, Bill Cooley on guitar, and Eamonn O’Rourke on mandolin and fiddle, Mattea was really able to lift her voice to the forefront of the mix, and it was an absolute joy to be able to hear her voice so clearly. The band were a formidable trio, bringing sturdy, old-timey, bluegrass melodies that provided both a sublime backdrop and also some ferociously exciting picking. In fact nobody seemed to be enjoying the band as much as Mattea herself, who seemed genuinely excited to be sharing the stage with them. In fact, Mattea seemed genuinely excited to be playing in Glasgow as part of the Celtic Connections festival, and had managed to catch a few gigs herself.
The audience were treated to a substantial selection of songs from Coal, along with some well-worn favourites. Songs such as Darrell Scott’s “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” offered a panoramic view of life within a mining community, whilst Hazel Dickens’ “Black Lung” gave a much more personal perspective, being a moving tribute to the brother she lost to the mining-related disease from which the song gets its title. Past hits “Love At The Five And Dime,” “Eighteen Wheels And A Dozen Roses” and the desolate “Where’ve You Been” proved popular with the audience, and sounded all the better for the band’s acoustic treatment.
Tonight, Kathy Mattea certainly reaffirmed her presence in my affections, and also her status as one of my heroes of song!
Next tonight, it was down a few flights of stairs and along the corridor to the cavernous Old Fruitmarket venue, to catch the vibrant and versatile
Salsa Celtica, a band whose fusion of traditional folk and salsa music is a firm festival favourite. Their concoction of Latin rhythms with traditional folk instruments is a heady brew: an array of exotic percussion lines up alongside a spirited brass section, with fiddle, banjo and bagpipes. I’ve seen Salsa Celtica before, and their skill for whipping an audience into a carnival-like dancing frenzy is a joyous sight, and tonight’s audience didn’t fail to disappoint in this regard. However, tonight’s gig was particularly special as the band were being joined on stage by Gaelic singers Julie Fowlis and Kathleen MacInnes, who entwined the rhythms of their Gaelic songs beautifully with the funky fusion of Salsa Celtica. It was great to see Julie and Kathleen enjoying the experience so much, liberated from the comparative sobriety of their regular material. The gig ended in exuberant style with the band, still playing, leading the audience out of the venue and into the street, where they continued playing to an ecstatic response from their adoring audience!
At tonight’s festival club I spent a good bit of time in Doris Rougvie’s House of Song — a quiet room set aside for people to gather and share a few songs. At least that’s the idea anyway, though it’s a pity that not all occupants of the room respected the singers and listeners, and allowed them to have some peace in this relatively small oasis of calm. Even the bar staff could do to learn a few manners! Tonight I heard some of the most beautiful songs — some that I’d never heard before, sung by singers I’d never heard before. Rougvie is the perfect host, ensuring everybody gets the chance to sing, and encouraging the shy or reticent! The majority of the people in the room are good, quiet listeners, who appreciate a good song. It’s a pity something can’t be done about the not-so-quiet minority.
Sunday 25th January
On what was a rather bleary-eyed Sunday morning, I headed back to the Royal Concert Hall for another of Chrissie Stewart’s workshops. This time, Chrissie was joined by her brother, Alpin Stewart, to deliver a waulking workshop that engaged sixteen enthusiastic adults around a table, learning about the different stages in the traditional preparation of urine-soaked tweed, and the traditional Gaelic songs that would have accompanied this task. Fortunately, for today’s workshop participants, the traditional urine was replaced by spring water! Witnessing the songs in this context lends an insight in to the robust, work-like rhythms that drive the melodies along. Chrissie and Alpin are both blessed with lovely singing voices, so to witness their voices alone was enjoyable, and both also demonstrated impressive knowledge of the history of the subject — which the workshop participants mined enthusiastically, though possibly as a distraction technique to avoid getting on with the actual waulking and singing!
The New Voices commissions always offer something special at Celtic Connections, and this afternoon’s performance from the fervent supporter of Gaelic song,
Griogair, was not to disappoint! Heavily influenced by traditional Gaelic song and poetry, Griogair has composed his own material, very much in the traditional style, but also very much addressing the issues facing a modern, Gaelic-speaking, rural community. Griogair’s impassioned vocal performance transcends any language barriers, and you were left in no doubt of his commitment and articulation. Griogair was accompanied by a fine group of young, traditional musicians playing fiddle, uilleann pipes, accordion and clarsach, and it was great to see these young musicians taking their tradition and using it to interpret their contemporary lives, through Griogair’s songs. With a burning pride for everything that surrounds him, Griogair is a real troubadour of a song writer — possibly the Steve Earle of Gaelic song!
My last gig of the weekend found me back in City Halls to hear the stalwart Perthshi
re singer-songwriter, Dougie MacLean. I’ve seen Dougie perform solo before tonight, but I’d never heard him perform with his band. I was a bit worried that a band might drown out Dougie’s gentle storytelling lyrics, but I was glad to hear that the musicians were the masters of understatement, faithfully recreating the wistful, ethereal sound that pervades much of Dougie’s recorded work. I had forgotten just how beautiful Dougie’s writing is, and tonight was a timely reminder, as Dougie sang such timeless classics as “Singing Land” and “This Love Will Carry,” not to mention his legendary anthem, “Caledonia.” Dougie was, as ever, very much at ease with his audience, and his generosity in encouraging the audience to sing along with all his songs brought a genuine warmth to the whole evening. I like the way that Dougie’s songs pick you up and place you in a gentler world, his affinity with nature and landscapes providing a vivid and overwhelming sense of escape.
Celtic Connections is without doubt one of the premier events on the European festival calendar। Festival director Donald Shaw and his team work tirelessly to put on a festival that continually manages to innovate and excite, across a broad range of musical genres that complement the native traditions. There is a slight danger however, that the festival forgets that at its heart and roots lie a body of individuals that could easily be alienated by the corporate feel that the festival has acquired — the very same people who are the lifeblood of Britain’s thriving folk music scene. There is still a need to engage with this community and embrace their contributions. One aspect of the festival that does manage to remain true to its folk roots is the legendary festival club, providing an informal opportunity to gather for a session or a song. It’s a real pity that this has to take place in such an awful venue, the Central Hotel. This once grand building is in a dilapidated state and is hardly a fitting venue for a festival of this calibre. Setting aside the state of the venue, the space available isn’t really fit for purpose either. If you arrive late and you want to listen to the music you first need to fight your way through a drunken mêlée, and even if you manage this you’re lucky to be able to hear any music above the riotous din! It’s not that I object to either form of enjoyment, but I feel that they need to find a more appropriate venue that allows all these things to take place without one impinging on the other. These are relatively minor gripes, however, and I don’t want them to detract too much from what is a fantastic event, of which Glasgow can be justifiably proud. Besides, it really is great to have a reason to look forward to January! [
Mike Wilson]


How to Make an Irish Jig Sound Properly Irish By Danny Carnahan
February 13, 2009, 2:04 pm
Filed under: Reviews on Celtic Tunes by Danny Carnahan
How to Make an Irish Jig Sound Properly Irish By Danny Carnahan – Article published on the Mandolin Magazine. All rights reserved by the author and posted under his kind permission.
Click here for printable notation for “The Rambler” accompaniment
Last time I introduced you to some ways to pick out an Irish jig using a peppy little tune in A, “The Rambler,” as an example. The right hand picking pattern for 6/8 jig time, DOWN up down DOWN up down, is central to mastering the unique jiggy drive and preventing the tune from galumphing like a misbehaving horse.
This time I want to give some tips on accompanying “The Rambler” on mandolins or larger double-course instruments like my octave mandolin. These tips, of course, are transferable to any jig in any key.
When I sit down in a session to accompany someone else’s jigs I remember two beginning truths: (1) Less is more, and (2) The drone is the Celtic musician’s friend. I will often drone through a tune for the first full melodic cycle, just hitting the tonic with a gentle but insistent DOWN up down DOWN up down. If I don’t know the tune, it gives me a chance to figure out the tune’s shape, and whether the implied chordal possibilities are happy (arguing for 1-4-5 chords) or darker (arguing for a flatted 7 somewhere for dramatic effect). If I do know the tune, it’s still a nice way to build an ensemble arrangement politely while I work out what to do next.
So what do I mean by drone, exactly? In “The Rambler,” I can quickly hear that the tune is in a happy A, since both the first and second parts resolve to an A at the end. So I run up to the 7th fret on the D course and set up a unison A drone rhythm on both D and A courses [see Example 1]. I can quietly percolate under the melody all the way through the tune, regardless of the implied chord changes, and regardless of what others in the session might be doing. Always remember that drones have been part of Celtic music for a thousand years, and drones can be below, above, or woven into a melody. Part of what makes bagpipes so haunting is the way melodies pull away from the drones and then resolve back into harmonies or unisons. This same powerful tension and release can be achieved by droning on the mando.
So here I am, droning away under “The Rambler.” What next? First I remind myself that less is more in Irish jig and reel accompaniment. I don’t want to jump in and wail away at all four courses, necessarily. It’ll just tire me out and leave nowhere for the ensemble arrangement to go dynamically. So I think in terms of two or three courses at a time, moving up and down the range of the instrument. One favorite maneuver I use a lot is to start sliding up and down the D course, where I already have a finger on the 7th fret, giving me a strong unison A. By the time I’ve heard the tune through once, I figure I could probably use just A, D, and E chords and keep it interesting and appropriate. So just using the notes on the D course, I could play the open D, the E on the 2nd fret, and the A on the 7th to follow the root positions of the chord changes.
Maybe a little more interesting is to imply chords with other voicings. Example 2 shows one of many ideas for accompanying the first part of “The Rambler” using just the two middle courses. I stay on the A until following the melody down to the F#. Then, rather than tracking the melody on down a whole-step, I slide right back up to the unison A. I stay there until the eighth bar, when I sneak down to the G# for half a bar, resolving immediately to the A. Even though the 7th scale step is never used in the melody, the G# implies a strong E major 5 chord, which fits perfectly with the happy drive of the tune.
After this, I might build the second part of the tune by adding a sparkly open top course in my right hand picking pattern while moving from the 7th to the 12th frets on the D course [see Example 3]। Notice how the DOWN up down DOWN up down picking pattern is crucial to making this arpeggio sing without losing the forward jig drive.
Session tunes are always played at least a couple times through. I love sessions in which the players mess with the tunes four or five times before moving on into the medley, giving people a chance to experiment with different shadings, chord voicings, and even passing around the melodic spotlight. In your accompanist role, you can easily drone through a tune for starters, slowly break out of the drone by adding skeletal chordal motion on a second course, then play 3- or 4-course chords through the big finish.
Example 4 shows a slightly more balls-out driving accompaniment you can go into after the ideas in Examples 2 and 3. Moving from the mando’s high register to the low register totally changes the character of your accompanying drive and can be incredibly satisfying for everybody involved. Use the accompaniment in Example 4 for a gutsy groove in the first part of the tune. Then switch to the higher voicing in Example 3 to give high contrast to the second part of the tune. Then mix and match as the spirit moves you.
It’s not uncommon in sessions to medley together an A major tune and an A minor or modal tune. If the session launches into the next tune and you can’t immediately intuit whether it’s major, minor, or modal, simply stick to the unison A until likely chordal candidates reveal themselves. Minor and modal tunes give you a chance to pull against your own drone with a flatted 7th added to your picking drive. Take the 3-course picking pattern established in Example 2 and toggle from the 7th to the 5th frets and back again. What you’re hearing now is a hypnotic rock-n-roll chord change that, if not overused, can really add some lovely dark coloration to your chordal accompaniment.
Next time I’ll teach you a really dark and plaintive tune called “The Coleraine Jig.” It includes some uncommon chromatic movement and suggests a slightly different approach to accompaniment. Till then, good luck with your jig driving.[Click
here for printable notation for “The Rambler” accompaniment]


How to Make an Irish Jig Sound Properly Irish By Danny Carnahan
February 13, 2009, 2:04 pm
Filed under: Reviews on Celtic Tunes by Danny Carnahan
How to Make an Irish Jig Sound Properly Irish By Danny Carnahan – Article published on the Mandolin Magazine. All rights reserved by the author and posted under his kind permission.
Click here for printable notation for “The Rambler” accompaniment
Last time I introduced you to some ways to pick out an Irish jig using a peppy little tune in A, “The Rambler,” as an example. The right hand picking pattern for 6/8 jig time, DOWN up down DOWN up down, is central to mastering the unique jiggy drive and preventing the tune from galumphing like a misbehaving horse.
This time I want to give some tips on accompanying “The Rambler” on mandolins or larger double-course instruments like my octave mandolin. These tips, of course, are transferable to any jig in any key.
When I sit down in a session to accompany someone else’s jigs I remember two beginning truths: (1) Less is more, and (2) The drone is the Celtic musician’s friend. I will often drone through a tune for the first full melodic cycle, just hitting the tonic with a gentle but insistent DOWN up down DOWN up down. If I don’t know the tune, it gives me a chance to figure out the tune’s shape, and whether the implied chordal possibilities are happy (arguing for 1-4-5 chords) or darker (arguing for a flatted 7 somewhere for dramatic effect). If I do know the tune, it’s still a nice way to build an ensemble arrangement politely while I work out what to do next.
So what do I mean by drone, exactly? In “The Rambler,” I can quickly hear that the tune is in a happy A, since both the first and second parts resolve to an A at the end. So I run up to the 7th fret on the D course and set up a unison A drone rhythm on both D and A courses [see Example 1]. I can quietly percolate under the melody all the way through the tune, regardless of the implied chord changes, and regardless of what others in the session might be doing. Always remember that drones have been part of Celtic music for a thousand years, and drones can be below, above, or woven into a melody. Part of what makes bagpipes so haunting is the way melodies pull away from the drones and then resolve back into harmonies or unisons. This same powerful tension and release can be achieved by droning on the mando.
So here I am, droning away under “The Rambler.” What next? First I remind myself that less is more in Irish jig and reel accompaniment. I don’t want to jump in and wail away at all four courses, necessarily. It’ll just tire me out and leave nowhere for the ensemble arrangement to go dynamically. So I think in terms of two or three courses at a time, moving up and down the range of the instrument. One favorite maneuver I use a lot is to start sliding up and down the D course, where I already have a finger on the 7th fret, giving me a strong unison A. By the time I’ve heard the tune through once, I figure I could probably use just A, D, and E chords and keep it interesting and appropriate. So just using the notes on the D course, I could play the open D, the E on the 2nd fret, and the A on the 7th to follow the root positions of the chord changes.
Maybe a little more interesting is to imply chords with other voicings. Example 2 shows one of many ideas for accompanying the first part of “The Rambler” using just the two middle courses. I stay on the A until following the melody down to the F#. Then, rather than tracking the melody on down a whole-step, I slide right back up to the unison A. I stay there until the eighth bar, when I sneak down to the G# for half a bar, resolving immediately to the A. Even though the 7th scale step is never used in the melody, the G# implies a strong E major 5 chord, which fits perfectly with the happy drive of the tune.
After this, I might build the second part of the tune by adding a sparkly open top course in my right hand picking pattern while moving from the 7th to the 12th frets on the D course [see Example 3]। Notice how the DOWN up down DOWN up down picking pattern is crucial to making this arpeggio sing without losing the forward jig drive.
Session tunes are always played at least a couple times through. I love sessions in which the players mess with the tunes four or five times before moving on into the medley, giving people a chance to experiment with different shadings, chord voicings, and even passing around the melodic spotlight. In your accompanist role, you can easily drone through a tune for starters, slowly break out of the drone by adding skeletal chordal motion on a second course, then play 3- or 4-course chords through the big finish.
Example 4 shows a slightly more balls-out driving accompaniment you can go into after the ideas in Examples 2 and 3. Moving from the mando’s high register to the low register totally changes the character of your accompanying drive and can be incredibly satisfying for everybody involved. Use the accompaniment in Example 4 for a gutsy groove in the first part of the tune. Then switch to the higher voicing in Example 3 to give high contrast to the second part of the tune. Then mix and match as the spirit moves you.
It’s not uncommon in sessions to medley together an A major tune and an A minor or modal tune. If the session launches into the next tune and you can’t immediately intuit whether it’s major, minor, or modal, simply stick to the unison A until likely chordal candidates reveal themselves. Minor and modal tunes give you a chance to pull against your own drone with a flatted 7th added to your picking drive. Take the 3-course picking pattern established in Example 2 and toggle from the 7th to the 5th frets and back again. What you’re hearing now is a hypnotic rock-n-roll chord change that, if not overused, can really add some lovely dark coloration to your chordal accompaniment.
Next time I’ll teach you a really dark and plaintive tune called “The Coleraine Jig.” It includes some uncommon chromatic movement and suggests a slightly different approach to accompaniment. Till then, good luck with your jig driving.[Click
here for printable notation for “The Rambler” accompaniment]