Celticsprite’s Blog

>California Coast Music Camp: Songwriting & Guitar Fingerpicking Lessons by Danny Carnahan
May 13, 2011, 4:41 pm
Filed under: Reviews on Celtic Tunes by Danny Carnahan


California Coast Music Camp has already scheduled it’s dates and rates for the 2011 Edition.
My partner reviewer and celtic musician Danny Carnahan will be giving once again two classes on it’s first week: from July 10th thru July 16th

Danny Carnahan has been recording Celtic and his own original songs for over 30 years, playing octave mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and singing. He performs most often with the popular septet Wake the Dead. He has taught performance and songwriting in community colleges and at music camps for 25 years, writes for music magazines, and has published a book of Irish Songs for Guitar and two musical murder mysteries.

  • Songwriting (all levels)

Whether you’ve never written a thing or have a hundred songs under your belt, this class will help kick-start creativity and open up new ways to find your songs and wrestle them into singable shape. We will write and collaborate every day, exploring the joys of lyrics, melody, form, and how to put them all together. Try your hand at the world’s most gratifying and noncompetitive art form.

  • Guitar Fingerpicking (level 2)

Fingerpick without fear! If you have fingers you can fingerpick. We’ll learn some of the most popular and sneakily powerful picking patterns that will set you up for a lifetime of fun. Learn how fingerpicking can help you change chords more cleanly. Build confidence in all the most useful keys. Learn new tunes and possibly new ways to play your favorites. This is all about pickin’ and grinnin’. . . bring your own grin.

Explanation of class levels

PDF of 2011 brochure

Classes and teachers are subject to change.




>Mick Fitzgerald: "An Appreciation" by Danny Carnahan
April 1, 2011, 5:34 pm
Filed under: Reviews on Celtic Tunes by Danny Carnahan


This article was previously published on Danny Carnahan‘s Official Website and posted under his kind permission. All rights reserved by the author.

If anyone ever asked me to name the person most responsible for whatever success I have enjoyed in my musical career, I would have to name Mick Fitzgerald.

I first encountered Mick in 1978 during an extended visit to Ireland, performing onstage at Slattery’s Bar with his band Tipsy Sailor. Mick was singing and playing guitar and bodhran, Kieran Halpin singing and playing guitar, Johnny Keenan playing whistle, and Fiaich O’Brun playing bouzouki. In that instant I knew that I wanted to be doing exactly what they were doing. I decided to befriend them and within 24 hours Mick, Kieran, Robin and I were sitting around at Kieran’s sister’s flat, drinking Guinness and singing.
In one afternoon, having known me for only a few hours, Mick dumped over 20 original songs onto my tape recorder. Two original Mick songs and five other Tipsy Sailor arrangements, brazenly cribbed, became much of the early Caswell Carnahan repertoire and a large part of our first album. Mick’s tremendous songwriting talent, combined with the energy and confidence of his performances with Kieran and crew showed me what was possible to do with Celtic music but that had never been done yet out in California. Critics called Caswell Carnahan a ground-breaking band in the Celtic explosion of the ‘80s, but that was only because they had never heard the real thing in Dublin.

Over the years, I have recorded six of Mick’s songs on four different albums: “Rathdrum Fair,” “Breton Air,” “Brightened in the Morning,” “All Our Trades Have Gone,” “Summer Nights,” and “The Black Dodder.” Another great Mick song, “The Only Stranger,” is set for inclusion on my next album, whenever that happens. I happily proselytize Mick’s songs to other performers wherever I go, encouraging them to arrange, perform, and record them. My favorite Mick cover to date is the lovely June Tabor’s smoldering take on “All Our Trades Are Gone,” on her 1992 CD “Angel Tiger” (Green Linnet GLCD 3074).

Mick’s own discography is sparse, to say the least. until recently the only LP I had featuring Mick was the 1983 Wild Geese album “In Full Flight” (German release on Joke Records JLP215). The Wild Geese lineup at that time included guitarist/singer Manus Lunny and fiddler/banjo whiz Gerry O’Connor, two tremendously talented musicians whose careers took off in the ‘90s. It’s a very spotty record, running from gorgeous to embarrassing, but worth a listen if you can find it.

Happily, in 2003 Mick released his first solo CD, “Light Sleeper” (Mogg Records, distributed by Claddagh). Backed by a spare trio and several guests including fiddler Maurice Lennon, Mick includes a couple of early classics like “Rathdrum Fair” as well as new songs like “Ballad of Capel Street” that rival his best work. Click here to order a CD from Claddagh. U.S. distribution is still pending.

Mick still lives in Dublin and continues to write songs and sing in the clubs. In about 2002 he landed a bit part in an Irish movie called “How Harry Became a Tree,” starring Colm Meany and Adrian Dunbar. If it ever finds US distribution, look for Mick as one of the exceedingly seedy-looking musicians. As he says: “Damn typecasting!” Mick is increasingly active in the theatre these days and you can find out more about his recent roles on his new website.

If you are interested in performing or recording any of Mick’s songs or would like more information about Mick, please feel free to mail me to : dannycarnahan@earthlink.net

>"Triplets, Anyone? " by Danny Carnahan
March 1, 2011, 4:41 pm
Filed under: Reviews on Celtic Tunes by Danny Carnahan

>This article was previously published on Mandolin Magazine by Danny Carnahan and posted under his kind permission. All rights reserved by the author.

You may listen to a cute version of the tune on the album “Pilgirm’s Road” by the contemporary Celtic folk band “Aisling” from central Ohio, USA.

[Click here for Pg. 1 and here for Pg. 2 of printable notation for “Spirit of the House”]

In one of my first columns, in a fit of honesty, I admitted that Celtic-style picked triplets are so hard to play clearly that I usually avoid them. I occasionally find this fact embarrasing two decades into my performing and teaching career. I cover my technical shortcoming with sneaky little pull-off and pick combinations that seem to do the job. But the crisp triple-pick ornaments? I remain in awe of the players who make them look and sound easy.

So I thought this time I’d try to deconstruct these triplets in a way that you determined and nimble-knuckled students of the genre might find helpful. As an exercise, I chose a nifty dark and rolling reel called “Spirit of the House,” which was written by Missouri fiddler Becky Pringle. It’s chock full of triplet opportunities as we’ll see shortly. But first a little about the mando whiz who first taught me the tune.

Gerald Trimble, an astonishingly gifted double-course player from Kansas City, was one of the Celtic players I first tried to cop triplets from. Now retired from the Celtic scene, he used to play a gigantic custom-made 10-string John Monteleone cittern with string guages roughly the same as a set of medium-guage guitar strings. And yet, Gerald could play distinct triplets on any course pretty much anywhere in a tune. He used a thick, rounded pick and would sort of pinch it between thumb and index finger when digging into a triplet.

I first got to spend some quality time with Gerald during a summer some years ago in Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe attracted musicians from all over and we’d play in the pubs and restaurants and friends’ apartments and on park benches around the clock. I don’t remember getting much sleep that summer. I’d sit with my face not a foot from Gerald’s right hand and watch his muscles articulate and I never could figure out what he was doing that I wasn’t doing. He was very patient with me.

Theoretically, I came away with the idea that economy of motion was crucial. One doesn’t want to flail the wrist around when ornamenting fast Celtic jigs and reels. In fact, Gerald seemed to use almost no wrist articulation when digging into a triplet. He’d pinch the pick in toward his palm ever so slightly just as he went for the first down stroke. It was beautiful.

So gearing down to dead slow, I’ve tried to master the triplet strokes. Clearly it’s more common to start a triplet on a down stroke. Of course, this means that the note following the triplet will, often as not, want to be an up stroke, which can present emphasis problems. But, like most musical problems, there is more than one solution.

“Spirit of the House” starts off in A-modal, then moves to D-modal for the B part, staying there to the bitter end, till you start up again and launch back into A-modal on the next time through. Very satisfying indeed. And though the synchopated style notated here encourages a generally swingy back-beat for this tune, be sure when you get to the B part to nail the one beats in the first, third, and fifth bars good and hard.

I’ve written the A part out here without the usual repeat so I can indicate two different ways to pick the triplets. The first eight bars I’ll indicate the separate strokes used by Gerald Trimble and the second eight bars I’ll indicate the way I play them using hammer-ons and pull-offs. Follow your bliss. Likely as not, you’ll come up with a third path that will get the job done.

You’ll notice that in order to articulate three notes in the G-course triplets in the Repeat A section (first and fifth bars), I had to hammer-on a different note from the one played in the first A part. It goes by so quickly, though, that it serves more of a rhythmic than a melodic purpose. I’m able, however, to play identical-shaped ascending and descending triplets in the fourth and eighth bars with the help of hammer-ons and pull-offs.

In each case here, my trick is to pick the first note of the triplet with a down-stroke, then either hammer-on or pull-off the second note, then pick the third note with an up-stroke while simultaneously either pulling off or hammering on, depending on whether it’s ascending or descending. This double-whammy, emphasizing with both right and left hands on the third note of the triplet, gives it a little extra something that keeps it sparkling.

“Spirit of the House” is an underappreciated gem of a tune. It’s a killer session tune that medleys just as nicely into another dark A-modal reel or something in a bright D-major. And when you play it, send warm thoughts to Becky Pringle and Gerald Trimble and the rest of the fine musicians who helped make Kansas City a rich if unlikely hotbed of Celtic revival throughout this last generation.

[Click here for Pg. 1 and here for Pg. 2 of printable notation for “Spirit of the House”]

>"A Sweet Song For Spring" – The Rambler from Clare – by Danny Carnahan
February 17, 2011, 7:18 pm
Filed under: Reviews on Celtic Tunes by Danny Carnahan


This article was previously published on Mandolin Magazine by Danny Carnahan and posted under his kind permission. All rights reserved by the author.
You may find a cute version of this song on the album “Two for The Road” by Danny Carnahan & Robin Petrie.

[Click here for Pg. 1 and here for Pg. 2 of printable notation for “Rambler From Clare”]

A Sweet Song for Spring

Sitting and plunking on my octave mandolin recently on a gray Sunday afternoon, I found myself playing a song I hadn’t played in years, its sweet Irish melancholy just welling up perfectly to capture the mood of the day. “The Rambler From Clare” is a song I first learned in my early days in Dublin, when everything was new and exciting and I just couldn’t learn songs fast enough. I heard Kieran Halpin sing it, accompanying himself on guitar at the now-legendary Slattery’s Bar, and instantly fell in love with it.

Now, I’m a great believer in using the mando for more than just picking tunes or chording along in sessions. Mandolins, octave mandolins, mandolas, and all the Celtic variants from bouzoukis to citterns to blarges, are also ideal for accompanying songs. The chord voicings and inversions are very different from those you get with a guitar, however you choose to tune it. And whether you chord with 3 or 4 courses or arpeggiate, you find lovely open string suspensions with mandos that somehow fit Irish songs perfectly.

This being said, Celtic mandos are entirely underutilised for song settings, in my humble opinion. There are, of course, a few double-course giants in the field of Celtic song. If you’re looking for both repertoire and inspiration, you can’t beat “Rock & More Roses” by Pat Kilbride, or nearly anything by Brian McNeill. But there’s always room for more and I’m still waiting for the mando-Hendrix of the next generation to make him- or herself known.

I recently included a guitar transcription of “The Rambler From Clare” in my book, “Irish Songs For Guitar,” published by Hal Leonard. But as nice as it sounds with simple guitar accompaniment, I find the song comes to life in a different way when played on mando. There’s a rolling quality to the rhythm that draws the story out with exceptional ease, clarity, and emotion. When you work out the transcription here, be sure to keep your tempo nice and easy. After all, you’re telling a story of a young man’s resistance to authority and the power of Irish family ties in times of trouble.

For those scholars among you who like to research song lyrics, you’ll find a definitive version of this song in Colm O Lochlainn’s 1965 collection, “More Irish Street Ballads.” In the published version, there are several more verses than are commonly sung in the pubs today. I keep the story short, entirely omitting the love interest, Sally Magee, and concentrating on the more cinematic plot points of boy-gets-arrested, boy-gets-sprung-from-jail, and boy-escapes-to-Australia.
As for the techniques I use to play this song, I try to keep things very simple, indeed. I often use my thumb to cover both G and D courses when brushing the full A-modal chord, but not all the time. I’ve indicated in the notation which places I bar both courses, and which places I only bar the G course, stopping the D course with my index finger.

The only really odd fingering is the B-modal chord in the phrases between the verses. I bar the bottom two courses on the 4th fret with my thumb and the top two courses on the 2nd fret with my index finger. This may be cruel and unusual for those of you with very long scale lengths, though regular mandolins might present easier ways to hit the notes. My fingerings are 25-year-old artifacts dating back to my first flailings on my octave mandolin, borrowing chops as necessary from guitar and with little or no conscious acknowledgement of mandolin fingerings. So good luck finding a comfy way to play it. And when in doubt, leave strings open and brush those suspensions with deliberate gusto.

My arrangement of this song is simple. I toggle between two instrumental passages linking the verses, without adding extra bars or vamps or anything. You can play either or both and mix and match as you like. To finish the song, I simply indulge in a slight ritard and end it on the last sung syllable. “The Rambler From Clare” could provide a welcome emotional shift in any pub session, or just a quiet respite from the frantic jigs and reels and a chance to get yourself another pint.

[Click here for Pg. 1 and here for Pg. 2 of printable notation for “Rambler From Clare”]

“The Rambler from Clare

— lyrics from Colm O’Loughlin’s “More Irish Street Ballads.”

The first of my courtships that was ever made known
I straight made my way to the County Tyrone
And there among the fair maids, they used me well there
And they called me the stranger and the Rambler from Clare

Twas then I enlisted in the town of Fermoy
But with so many masters I could not comply
I deserted next morning, the truth I declare
And for Limerick town started the Rambler from Clare

When like a deserter my case to bewail
I was captured and taken to the town of Rathkeale
Then off to headquarters I had to repair
And in the black hole lay the Rambler from Clare

I took off my hat and I made a low bow
In hopes that the colonel would pardon me now
The pardon he gave me was hard and severe
Twas, Bind him, confine him for ninety-nine years

My poor, innocent mother got a woeful surprise
And my loving brother, his shouts reached the skies
Brave boys, said my father, Your arms now prepare
And bring me my darlin’, the Rambler from Clare

It was then they assembled in a harmonious band
With their guns on their shoulders they were ten thousand strong
The firing began with the boys in the rear
And they broke the jail doors and took the Rambler from Clare

Now I’ve got the title of a United Man
I cannot go home to my own native land
So off to America I now must repair
And leave all my friends in the sweet County Clare

>Suggested Albums for folk band versions of "Thomas the Rhymer" and "Tam Lin"

>FairyLore concerning the Otherworld have always nurtured the folk music ballads, and the characters of Tam Lin and Thomas Rhymer are not excluded.

In the case of Tam Lin I gladly recommend versions from Fairport Convention‘s “Liege and Lief“, featuring the vocals of Sandy Denny w/ arrangement of “Tam Lin” by Dave Swarbrick, and from Steeleye Span’s “Tonight’s the Night,” featuring a rocking version by Maddy Prior.

Regarding “Thomas The Rhymer” I recomend once again the work of Steeleye Span – they have recorded two different versions for the “Now We Are Six album“, and Re-recorded (differently) for “Present–The Very Best of Steeleye Span” album.

There is a cute rendering of this ballad under the name of “True Thomas” by my friend Danny Carnahan on his solo album w/Robin Petrie “Journeys of the Heart“.

Hereby a quotation of his booklet liner notes and own version for the lyrics:

” I wrote this song around a very old Child ballad based on the 13th century legend of Thomas Rymer of Ercildoun. Thomas was said to have visited the land of Faery and returned with the gift of prophesy and a tongue that could not lie. Most recent versions of the ballad leave off at the point where Thomas is taken to the other world, but one 14th century version in Middle English recounts what happened afterwards and how Thomas returned to earth. I based my lyrics on this older story.”

True Thomas

(from “Journeys of the Heart”)

Thomas lay upon the grassy banks
And beheld a lady gay
Come riding o’er so brisk and bold
All on the ferny brae

And her skirt was of the silk so green
And her cloak the velvet fine
And at each toss her horse’s mane
Rang fifty bells and nine

And Thomas did salute her,
Bowing down upon his knee
And he’s said, ‘Well met, enchanting one,
You’re the flow’r of this country’

And as he’s gazed upon her
Oh, so blind with love was he
That he has kissed her ruby lips
All ‘neath the Eildon Tree

‘Oh, now you’ve kissed me, Thomas
You must ride away with me
To serve my will for seven years
Whate’er your chance may be’

And she’s mounted up her snow-white steed
And pulled Thomas up behind
And aye, each time her bridle rang
They flew swift as the wind

And on they road and farther on
Till they spied a garden green
And she’s said, ‘Light down, dear Thomas
For we near my fair country

And take this bread and wine
And lay your head down on my knee
For when your fill you’ve eaten
I will show you fairlies three

See the narrow road to Paradise
How it winds through thorn and tree
The broad road leads to the gates of Hell
Though fair it seems to be

But see you not yon farther road
Winding round the lily lea
That is the road to my fair land
Whence you must go with me

But hold your tongue, dear Thomas
And answer only unto me
For should you speak unto another
Your own home you ne’er will see’

When Thomas came into the hall
Oh, a well-bred man was he
They asked him questions one and all
But not one word spoke he

It’s of woven clouds she’s made the roof
And of flowered vines the walls
And jewels did shower down as rain
That night among them all

And each day brought Thomas wonders
Never seen be mortal eye
And each night brought Thomas wonders
As next the lady he did lie

But she’s rose and said, ‘Dear Thomas,
Now it’s time you were away.
For seven years have passed and gone
Though it seems but seven days’

‘If it’s seven years, my lady,
Since my face on earth was seen,
Pray give to me some token
That I may prove where I have been’

And it’s on they rode and farther on
To the Huntley Banks rode she
And she set him down upon the ground
Beside the Eildon Tree

‘As you’d have a token , Thomas,
A rare token shall it be,
For the gift I give you, Thomas,
Is a tongue that cannot lie’

But he’s cried, ‘I pray you, lady,
And give not this gift to me,
For how may I counsel prince or lord
Or court a fair lady?’

‘Be careful in your silence
As you’re careful what you say,
May your truth outlive them all,’ she said
As she turned and rode away

© 1984 Danny Carnahan/Post-Trad Music