Celticsprite’s Blog

"I Know My Love"-Keeping a Sweet Irish Song Sweet by Danny Carnahan.
July 30, 2009, 7:27 pm
Filed under: Reviews, Reviews on Celtic Tunes by Danny Carnahan

“Keeping a Sweet Irish Song Sweet” by Danny Carnahan has been previously published on the Mandolin Magazine, and posted under his kind permission. All rights reserved by the author.

Quotations from Celtic Sprite: You may listen to a very nice version of this song on the album “Journeys of the Heart” by Danny Carnahan and Robin Petrie. Click here for further information on the album or here if you wish to order a copy .

[Click here for printable notation for “I Know My Love”]

A few words about the lyrics and origin of the song. “I Know My Love” dates from right about the turn of the 20th century and is set in Cork City, in the south of Ireland. The Mardyke Walk, mentioned in the second verse, was a street near the docks, heavily populated by sailors and drunks and ladies of the evening. It has long since been torn down and gentrified. And the term “quare girl” may raise a few eyebrows nowadays but simply means “any old available floozy” in the good old, folky sense. Finally, the fact that the whole song is a paean to entrenched gender inequality… well, that’s folk music, friends, and I say enjoy the song anyway.

Lyrics to “I Know My Love”

I know my love by his way of walkin’
And I know my love by his way of talkin’
And I know my love by his jacket blue
And if my love leaves me what will I do?


And still she cried, I love him the best
And the troubled mind, sure, will know no rest
And still she cried, Bonny boys are few
And if my love leaves me what will I do?
There is a dance hall in the Mardyke
And it’s there my love he goes every night
And he sits the quare girl down on his knee
And now don’t you know how it troubles me
If my love knew I could weave and spin
And if my love knew I could wash and wring

I would make a coat of the finest kind
But the want of money left me behind
I know my love he’s a handsome rover
And he’s bound to roam the whole world over
And in dear old Ireland no longer tarry
And an English girl he’ll be sure to marry

[repeat first verse]

When I first got my octave mandolin in Dublin, I toggled back and forth between my zeal to learn all the jigs and reels ever written and my equal zeal to learn how to accompany all those lovely Celtic ballads I heard in the pubs night after night. Being more of a guitarist than a mandolinist at the time, I approached my new instrumental love object as a sort of mutant guitar. By this I mean that my chordal shapes and ideas didn’t tend to be expanded versions of bluegrass and swing mandolin chords. Rather, I borrowed my guitar technique even so far as using my thumb to bar the G and D courses or mute the G course while fumbling for plausible fingerings for modal-sounding chord voicings.

I don’t regret this introduction to Celtic mando. I don’t necessarily recommend it, of course, either. The larger members of the mando family benefit equally from mandolin and guitar sensibilities when it comes to finding the unique strengths of the instruments and making them do what neither little mandolins nor guitars have done. Whichever angle you come in on, there’s a huge tonal and harmonic pallette to explore.

One of the strengths of which the Celtic octave mandolin can boast is its ability to provide gentle, insistent propulsion of a song in the form of continuous eighth notes played on one or two courses, often the more resonant lower courses, while tracking the sung melody and implying the chord changes with the subtlest of arpeggio hints. Andy Irvine’s work with Planxty is replete with good examples and well worth detailed exploration and close study.

Andy was one of my strongest influences while I was first learning the Celtic ropes. One of the first Irish songs I learned, “I Know My Love” rolls along in a very Irvine-like manner, though I first learned it from the playing of a County Cork bouzouki player named Jimmy Crowley. It’s still one of my favorite songs and one my romantically-inclined wife insists I sing whenever she’s in the audience. I’ll show it to you here and try to explain how the subtleties of stress and dynamics pull all the pieces of the song together while revelling in its essential Irishness.

I mentioned the way Celtic mando can propel a song. A steady down-up-down-up picking pattern is necessary, with even emphasis on downs and ups and no strong pulse points either on the down beats or back beats. To set up a song like “I Know My Love” in the key of D, I’ll often set the tempo with eighth notes in groups of four, picked down-up-down-up, two open D’s and two open A’s, over and over again until I’m ready to launch into the melody. Try it and try to keep the dynamics absolutely flat. It’s so simple it might fox you at first, but it’s a good little meditation to get you into the tune.

“I Know My Love” is mostly in 12, which translates into a slow three with the eighth notes burbling along quietly. There are a few crooked bars in the sections connecting the verses. You’ll want to emphasize the 1 beats through the connecting passages more strongly than anywhere else in the arrangement. This gives the crooked connectors a dynamic lift and a momentary bit of contrast.

When you start picking out “I Know My Love” simply play through the melody as sung before worrying about any accompaniment or rhythmic fills. It’s a simple, catchy melody, with the chorus being really a continuation of each verse. Once you’ve got the melody under your fingers, play it through again while filling in all the eighth notes. In other words, quarter notes will be a pair of down-up picks, a half note will be two pairs. There will be no spaces at all. And you’ll notice that every note in the melody will be started on a down stroke.

As you play this version of the song through a few times, emphasize the melody notes while trying to keep all the filler eighths even and consistent. It’s this feel that you’ll want to maintain when adding all the double-stops and arpeggios in the final notation provided here.

If you’re working out this arrangement on a small mandolin, you have several fingering options for the A-modal chord (first appearing at the 5th eighth note in the third bar of the verse) with the G and D courses stopped on the 2nd fret. Personally, I’d just barre with my index finger. On my larger mando, I stop the D course with my index finger and the G course with my thumb. I also shift up to catch several of the hard-to-reach notes including the C# in the 3rd and 5th bars of the verse and the unison A on the D course in the 6th bar. For the C# I use my ring finger, since that’s what I’m using to finger the B immediately preceding it. Similarly, I use my second finger to slide up to unison A because that’s the finger I use to play the F# immediately preceding it. I have to shift, since my scale length is too far to reach with my pinky. But even if you have big enough hands to reach the unison A, for instance, slide up into it anyway, since that helps with the feel of the arrangement.

n its final form, this arrangement sets down a bed of steady eighth notes, with just a few little gaps as noted, and a simple melody line laid down over it and emphasized with just the slightest increase of pick attack and volume. Try to let each melody note ring as long as it can in the chord. In other words, even though the note may be indicated by an eighth note in the notation, you want the ringing notes to play off the steady rhythm, softening the flow and bringing out the lyricism of the melody. It will take plenty of repitition to make it work, but once mastered, you’ve got a technique that can be used to arrange hundreds of Celtic songs and ballads with the open-stringed, understated chord implications that Celtic mando does so well.

When I perform “I Know My Love” I play through the verse and chorus once instrumentally, then play the first and second verses back to back. I end the second verse with the crooked connecting section, then play the verse instrumentally again, followed by verses three and four. Then another crooked connector, another instrumental verse, a reprise of the first verse, and ending right at the end of the chorus with the tiniest of ritards.

Suggested Albums: Lauren MacColl – "Strewn With Ribbons" by Lori Gordon
July 29, 2009, 12:58 pm
Filed under: Reviews, Suggested Albums

This reviewLori Gordon is also published on Folking.com. Posted under kind permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Scottish fiddler Lauren MacColl’s sophomore release, Strewn With Ribbons, is an eleven-track collection of original compositions and traditional tunes from the Highland Collections. Lauren is soundly supported by band members Barry Reid on guitar and Mhairi Hall on piano, with guest appearances by Donald Shaw on accordion and harmonium, Su-a Lee on cello, and Chris Stout on viola.

The album opens with “Oigfhear A Chuil Duinn (Young Man of the Brown Hair),” which is the surprise track of the album. It begins with Lauren’s characteristic crystalline playing, but as it moves into the driving “Poolachrie,” the style becomes grittier and more impassioned, to fantastic effect.

Lauren delivers brilliantly energetic performances on the strathspeys, reels and jigs found here, especially on “The Prophet,” “Happy Hours,” and “Highland Wedding,” but the true gems of this album are the slow airs. There are few Highland fiddlers who do them better. Not only is her playing exquisitely poignant, but the arrangements give Strewn With Ribbons a depth and maturity that are simply stunning.

The sonorous tones of Su-a Lee’s cello on “‘S Trom Trom A Tha Mi (Sad, Sad Am I)” provide a perfect counterpoint to the melancholy of Lauren’s fiddle, while the achingly beautiful “Lament for Mr. Thomas Grant, of Glen Elgin” features a tender interplay between fiddle and viola. The album closes with the mournful “Hugh Allan,” performed solely by Lauren. The stark emotion of the piece lingers long after the music ends.

Strewn With Ribbons is a gorgeous journey from start to finish. Do yourself a favor and get a copy.

Quotations from Celtic Sprite

Lauren performs reguarly with her trio ‘The MacCollective’, an all-highland outfit who take old melodies and make them their own. A shared respect for tradition coupled with innovative forsight, the band formed the core sound for the new release ‘Strewn with Ribbons’ (MBR2CD).

The MacCollective are:
Lauren MacColl (fiddle) | Barry Reid (guitar) | Mhairi Hall (piano)

To get more acquainted about Lauren activities you may join her at:


Faerie Lore: Fairy Music
July 27, 2009, 7:38 pm
Filed under: Celtic Culture, Faerie Lore, Fairy Music
Posted from the book “Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland” by Lady Francesca Speranza Wilde (1887) (Obtain this full work and many more backups by clicking here!)

Fairy Music
THE evil influence of the fairy glance does not kill, but it throws the object into a death-like trance, in which the real body is carried off to some fairy mansion, while a log of wood, or some ugly, deformed creature is left in its place, clothed with the shadow of the stolen form. Young women, remarkable for beauty, young men, and handsome children, are the chief victims of the fairy stroke. The girls are wedded to fairy chiefs, and the young men to fairy queens; and if the mortal children do not turn out well, they are sent back, and others carried off in their place. It is sometimes possible, by the spells of a powerful fairy-man, to bring back a living being from Fairy-land. But they are never quite the same after. They have always a spirit-look, especially if they have listened to the fairy music. For the fairy music is soft and low and plaintive, with a fatal charm for mortal ears.
One day a gentleman entered a cabin in the County Clare, and saw a young girl about twenty seated by the fire, chanting a melancholy song, without settled words or music. On inquiry he was told she had once heard the fairy harp, and those who hear it lose all memory of love or hate, and forget all things, and never more have any other sound in their ears save the soft music of the fairy harp, and when the spell is broken, they die.
It is remarkable that the Irish national airs–plaintive, beautiful, and unutterably pathetic–should so perfectly express the spirit of the Céol-Sidhe (the fairy music), as it haunts the fancy of the people and mingles with all their traditions of the spirit world. Wild and capricious as the fairy nature, these delicate harmonies, with their mystic, mournful rhythm, seem to touch the deepest chords of feeling, or to fill the sunshine with laughter, according to the mood of the players; but, above all things, Irish music is the utterance of a Divine sorrow; not stormy or passionate, but like that of an exiled spirit, yearning and wistful, vague and unresting; ever seeking the unattainable, ever shadowed, as it were, with memories of some lost good, or some dim foreboding of a coming fate–emotions that seem to find their truest expression in the sweet, sad, lingering wail of the pathetic minor in a genuine Irish air. There is a beautiful phrase in one of the ancient manuscripts descriptive of the wonderful power of Irish music over the sensitive human organization: “Wounded men were soothed when they heard it, and slept; and women in travail forgot their pains.” There are legends concerning the subtle charm of the fairy music and dance, when the mortal under their influence seems to move through the air with “the naked, fleshless feet of the spirit,” and is lulled by the ecstasy of the cadence into forgetfulness of all things, and sometimes into the sleep of death.

Celtic Cookery: To Boil Potatoes (a genuine Irish Receipt dated on 1845 )
July 23, 2009, 6:21 pm
Filed under: Celtic Cookery, Celtic Culture
Excerpted form the book “Modern Cookery, in All Its Branches: Reduced to a System of Easy Practice, for the Use of Private Families : in a Series of Receipts, which Have Been Strictly Tested, and are Given with the Most Minute Exactness : to which are Added Directions for Carving, Garnishing, and Setting Out the Table …” by Eliza Acton, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, Lea and Blanchard, 1845. Posted by kind permission of Conrad Bladey . All rights reserved.

Potatoes, to boil well together, should be all of the same sort, and as nearly equal in size as may be. Wash off the mould, and scrub them very clean with a hard brush, but neither scoop nor apply a knife to them in any way, even to clear the eyes.* Rinse them well, and arrange them compactly in a saucepan, so that they may not lie loose in the water, and that a small quantity may suffice to cover them. Pour this in cold, and when it boils, throw in about a large -teaspoonful of salt to the quart, and simmer the potatoes until they are nearly done, but for the last two or three minutes let them boil rapidly. When they are tender quite through, which may he known by probing them with a fork, pour all the water from them immediately, lift the lid of the saucepan to allow the steam to escape, and place them on a trevet, high over the fire, or by the side of it, until the moisture has entirely evaporated; then peel, and send them to table as quickly as possible, either in a hot napkin, or in a dish, of which the cover is so placed that the steam can pass off. There should be no delay in serving them after they are once taken from the fire: Irish families usually prefer them served in their skins. Some kinds will be done in twenty minutes, others in less than three quarters of an hour. We are informed that ” the best potatoes are those which average from five to six to the pound, with few eyes,

” Because,” in the words of our clever Irish correspondent, ” the water through these parts is then admitted into the very heart of the vegetable; and the latent heat, after cooking, is not sufficient to throw it off: this renders the potatoes very unwholesome.” but those pretty deep, and equally distributed over the surface.” We cannot ourselves vouch for the correctness of the assertion, but we think it may be relied -on 20 minutes to 1 hour or more.

– The water in which they are boiled should barely cover the potatoes.

A quote from Celtic Sprite: It is renowned that “potatoes” were brought to Europe by Spanish colons from America, and became the basis of many receipts in Galicia and Asturias in Spain.

As receipts are part of tradition, music itself takes part of it too! I would like to share with you this lovely irish reel as featured on “O’Neill’s Music of Ireland” – a classic collection of Celtic session tunes. There are 1850 tunes in the collection!

Feel free to play it after, during, or before the boiling!

A tribute to Mícheál Ó’Domhnaill
July 21, 2009, 6:21 pm
Filed under: Influential Musicians

Mícheál Ó’Domhnaill (1952-2006)

This is a humble remembrance of a sorrowful departure.

In the month of July his body left this world but his music and soul is still present in between us, alive and influencial as always has been.

The Irish Times report – July 10th 2006

A tribute to Mícheál Ó’Domhnaill
July 21, 2009, 6:21 pm
Filed under: Influential Musicians

Mícheál Ó’Domhnaill (1952-2006)

This is a humble remembrance of a sorrowful departure.

In the month of July his body left this world but his music and soul is still present in between us, alive and influencial as always has been.

The Irish Times report – July 10th 2006

Lyricism of tunes: "The Shapes of Things" by Danny Carnahan
July 20, 2009, 5:11 pm
Filed under: Reviews, Reviews on Celtic Tunes by Danny Carnahan
“The Shapes of Things” by Danny Carnahan This article was previously issued on The Mandolin Magazine. All rights reserved by the author and published under his kind permission.

[Click here for printable notation for “Cliffs of Mostar” and click here for “Tobin’s Jig.”] A nice recording of the tune is featured on the “Wake the Dead” first album.

When I trot out a new Celtic tune for a student, I try to get them to listen through the tune a few times before ever trying to play along. What I want the student to hear is the shape of the tune, which is a very different idea from the melody. In fact, there are some Celtic tunes that I’d swear have no melody at all, though they surely have a shape. Here’s what I mean by shape and why I find it such a useful learning device.

A Celtic tune’s shape is a combination of the key the tune is in, the mode or scale the tune occupies, the chord progression the tune implies, the underlying rhythm, and finally the notes used to sew all the other elements together. If you try to read a transcribed tune as simply a succession of notes, you will certainly miss the lyricism of the tune and, if it’s a particular “notey” or complicated tune, you will probably find the work both difficult and unsatisfying.

So back to the idea of absorbing a tune’s shape first. While there are thousands of tunes in the Celtic tradition, there are major constraints holding all these tunes’s possibilities in check, allowing you to get a jump on learning them easily.

First and simplest is the key a tune is in. Celtic dance tunes are almost all written in only six keys: Am, A, Bm, D, Em and G. When you listen to a new tune, first identify where the tonic is and start physically fingering the scale of that key. The next thing you’ll notice is the scale or mode of tune. Again, you have a mercifully short list of options to choose from: major (or ionian mode), minor (or aeolian mode), dorian mode, or mixolydian mode. Listen first for where the third scale step falls. If the interval between the first and third scale steps is a major third, then your mode is either major or mixolydian, your two happy-sounding scales. If the interval is a minor third, you choose between minor and dorian mode.

So now that you know the scale, run up and down the scale in first position. Now listen through the tune again and this time listen for implied chord changes. Again, you’ll have a short list of likely options. We’ll leave alternate and jazzy chord opportunities for a future column and stick to the simplest and historically most common choices. In major- or happy-sounding tunes, chances are you can start with nothing more exotic than 1, 4 and 5 chords. In minor- or darker-sounding tunes, you can add a flatted 7 to the 1, 4 and 5 as your best options. There are some popular session tunes that are played with the chordal instruments toggling exclusively between 1 and 7.

Once you’ve got a good little chord progression going that tracks the tune well, you’ve got a huge amount of information about that tune. Celtic tunes tend to be assembled out of bits of ascending and descending scales and arpeggios running up, down, or every which way. A perfect example is “Tobin’s Jig.” Click here for printable notation for the first half to show you how obviously the tune’s arpeggiated shape telegraphs the chords.

The underlying rhythmic logic is the next thing to focus on consciously. If you’ve puzzled out plausible chords for a tune, you’ve already noticed something about the rhythm. The chords tend to shift on strong pulses. This usually means the 1 beat, whether you’re in 6/8 jig time or 4/4 reel time. Busier chord changes will probably happen at the halfway points in bars; the 4 beat in jigs or the 3 beat in reels. While this might sound obvious, consciously noting how often the implied chords change will speed up your learning the tune accurately, because the chords will almost certainly be touched on by one or more melody notes. And more often than not, whole phrases will be built around nothing more complex than the arpeggios of the chords.

So now you’ve listened through the tune two or three times and noted different parts of its shape. Now it should be considerably easier to fill in the notes. You now have an idea what register the tune occupies, whether it starts high and runs down, starts low and runs up, or sports one or more repetitive melodic elements.

I encourage students to play their way into a new tune at a comfortable, slow pace, but maintaining the beat and the rhythm. While I play the tune, the students start by comping on the tonic until they can maintain the rhythmic pulse while running through the simple chord changes. Then we keep playing while phrases and notes start to make enough sense to pick out. Often, the ends of phrases are the first to come clear, especially how they resolve to the tonic. Then, the way the end of a phrase ratchets back into the beginning of the next phrase will become apparent.

I wait until the underlying shape of the tune has been internalized before going back and filling in the notes from start to finish. I find that this method increases the chance of remembering the tune later and gives a much more complete understanding of the tune, both by itself and how it might work with other tunes. Tunes in different keys and from different places and times can share underlying shapes and end up working beautifully together in medleys. You want examples? I say start thinking about the shapes of the tunes you already know and see how quickly you start making connections!

There are a couple of extremely cool things you’ll discover when you start thinking about the shapes of tunes. First, you’ll begin to play the tunes with a little more freedom, finding ways to step outside melodically and chordally, because you’ll always know where you are in relation to the tune’s basic shape. You can indulge in brief flights of fancy, inverting or extending arpeggios, or shifting octaves. It’s not unlike a jazz musician knowing the “head” of a tune and knowing that all sorts of individual inspiration is allowed if you can just manage to get back to the head in the end. That level of improvisation is rare in Celtic music, but even a few unexpected notes can spice up a tune, both for you and for your audience. And operating confidently within the shape, you can be sure that when you step out, you won’t also be stepping on others playing along in the session.

The other cool thing you’ll discover is that you can jettison one aspect of a tune’s shape entirely while the tune stays recognizable. Obviously, the most common way to do this is to throw out the obvious chords and come up with brand new ones, playing with relative majors and minors, or refusing to resolve to the tonic or a dozen other ideas.

Another aspect you can jettison is the underlying pulse, replacing it with another. Now, this is rarer and probably for good reason. It doesn’t always work. Still, reels can sometimes be turned into jigs and vice versa. The Irish flute master Cathal McConnell, for example, plays “The Gravel Walks” as a jig. Over the years I’ve gone a little further in my efforts to spice up tunes.

When I was working with mandolinist Paul Kotapish on arrangements for our first CD, “Wake the Dead“, we were noodling around on the jig, “The Cliffs of Moher.” Then, for reasons that remain unclear, we started messing around in a Balkan time signature: 7/4. “The Cliffs of Moher” just started to unwind under our fingers in 7/4. The tune felt so natural, yet brand-spanking new, making us grin like idiots as we played it about ten times in a row. When we stopped, we agreed that the shape of the tune just perfectly lent itself to what amounted to adding one beat per bar, while keeping the melody almost unchanged and leaving the pulse points also mostly intact.

Here’s “The Cliffs of Moher” (renamed “The Cliffs of Mostar”) as it appears on “Wake the Dead.” Over the years I’ve indulged in jigs in 7/4 and reels in 10/4. Whenever I do I’m reminded of how elastic some Celtic tunes can be and how, by acknowledging the shape of a tune and then stretching it carefully in one direction or another, you can breathe new life and enjoyment into it.

[Click here for printable notation for “Cliffs of Mostar”]