Feed on

This setting of the popular song air is the tune that James Morrison and McKenna place before the more commonly played "Trippin' on the Mountain".

It makes for a nice dance tune, and McKenna achieves a really solid tone and a nice buoyant rhythmic momentum that brings it out well.

In the clip below I play a bit of the sort breath articulation that I used, and then I play the melody.

There are a couple of nice turns that are a little different from the standard song version such as the first few notes of the first part and McKenna's hopping down to the B from the high Es in the 2nd and 6th bars of the second part.





The current series of posts on the music of Fermanagh/Belfast fluter and composer James McMahon draws to a close with this beautiful reel. The notes on the tune in CRÉ vol. IV read:

"172. Iníon Mhic Aonghusa: Miss McGuinness (Donnelly II). From James McMahon, County Fermanagh. This is not the usual reel of the same title [for which see CRÉ I 121]."

It's been interesting and fun to consider some of the transcriptions of James' tunes over the last few weeks. His music certainly deserves attention if these transcriptions are any indication of his musicality... So, "many thanks!" and "good luck!" to James McMahon. I'm sure we'll all meet again somewhere on the meandering byways of Irish music's rattle bag of repertory.

I think It's nearly time to turn the attention back to Mr. McKenna.




The translated notes from CRÉ vol. IV for this James McMahon tune read:

"58. Na Beacha sa Chrann Silíní: Bees in the Cherry Tree (Donnelly II). Single jig. This tune is from James McMahon, County Fermanagh."

...it's a nice single jig and is well suited to the flute.


The notes on this tune in CRÉ vol. 4 are translated by Paul de Grae as:

"25. An Fhliúit Eabhair: The Ivory Flute (Donnelly II). Composed by James McMahon, County Fermanagh."

It's a pleasant jig to play on the flute.

I didn't have and ivory one to hand, so I lashed it out on a wooden E flat, just for a change.



This is the first tune from James McMahon that was collected from Liam Donnelly and appears in Breathnach/Small's 'Ceol Rince na hÉireann, volume 4'.

The notes, as kindly translated from the Gaelic by Paul De Grae, read:

James McMahon, a musician [flute] from County Fermanagh, composed this. Liam Donnelly was the scribe, a fiddler born in County Tyrone who greatly helped Breandán Breathnach in his work collecting dance music. Donnelly spent his life working in Belfast, and was living in County Antrim at the time of his death in 1992.

...it's an elegant 'notey' jig that just keeps moving.

One wonders if James actually played the low C# (not to mention the first note, the low A, which is well beyond the flute's range!) as it appears in the transcription. It would have been unusual enough for a traditional player to use the low C# key (we more often just bump up to the C# an octave up as this is much handier): The transcription may reflect the fact that the tune was collected from Donnelly, a fiddler, who would have found the low C# much more accessible.

...In the rendition below I add in a few minor variations such as cuts and the odd triplet.


Well, Irish music wouldn't be what it is if we errant practitioners were not prepared to follow the byways and grassy boreens of what its multifarious selection box puts up to us...

For that reason, and in celebration of one of our largely unsung pioneers and heroes (he composed 'The Banshee' reel, for jaysus sake!), I'll be doing a short series of posts on the tunes of Fermanagh-born, Belfast-based fluter James McMahon (1893-1977). James played music in Belfast before the era of the popular resurgence of traditional music in the city, and across Ireland.

A number of James' compositions and tune versions were collected by Brendán Breathnach and are included in Breathnach's posthumous collection 'Ceol Rince na hÉireann 4', as compiled by Jackie Small. The tunes were collected indirectly by Breathnach from fiddler Liam Donnelly. The translated notes of CRÉ IV state this of Donnelly:

Liam Donnelly was the scribe, a fiddler born in County Tyrone who greatly helped Breandán Breathnach in his work collecting dance music. Donnelly spent his life working in Belfast, and was living in County Antrim at the time of his death in 1992.

Over the next few weeks I'll record some of these collected tunes and post them up here with notes from CRÉ. There are, as of yet, no known recordings of James' flute playing; so my recordings of his tunes will just be interpretations from the Breathnach/Donnelly transcriptions.

If you have any info on James McMahon that you'd like to share you can join a Facebook group set up for this purpose:


... Here we go on another wee adventure now. ;-)





John McKenna was quite fond of putting slip jigs after jigs on his recordings. Unfortunately, the change in phrasing from double jig to slip jig on this track completely throws an already struggling piano accompanist. The piano's ham-fisted sonic and rhythmic brutality renders the melody quite hard to follow, which is a pity, because it's a nice tune with some unusual features... and this from someone who is very used to 'unhearing' ropey accompaniment on old recordings.

McKenna plays this on an F flute with a remarkably clear and focused tone. He gets a great pace and emphasis going despite the piano's best efforts to rugby tackle him to the floor of the studio and jump on his ear.

He's doing some interesting things on the low G 'rolls' of the second part: Sometimes he sounds like he's playing a short roll, then it sounds like he's articulating the G notes with his breath and tapping out a grace note or two for a different effect.

In the clip below I play a bit of the rhythmic pulse of slip jig rhythm and phrasing as it might be used in the first part of this tune,then I play 

the melody slowly and up to speed.

The double jig on this track is a very nice setting of the common tune 'Behind the Haystack' but with only 2 parts and in G. He has some great turns in it.

The slip jig is one of the lesser know McKenna tunes however. I've never met anyone else who plays it.




To shake things up a bit I've decided to break from the running order of the CDs and hop forward to a few of the less well known McKenna tunes.

This track is a duet with banjoist Michael Gaffney.

McKenna's playing of this reel does not display the more energetic/emphatic rhythmic drive and pace of some other reel tracks; he goes for a relatively laid back bouncy momentum here but turns on some nice choppy articulation in places, particularly at the downward run at the end of the first phrase of the first part where he's varying the melody by alternating bouncing up to A notes while bumping the lower notes up to the second octave.

His rolls are very nicely articulated with pushes from the breath.

Another nice touch is the shneaky triplet on the E he slips in on the last run of the second part. Doing things with the E is all the talk here in drug-crazed pre-Paddy's Day Ireland at the moment.

I play the sort of breath emphasis employed, then the basic melody slowed down, and then I play both speeded up.

I got a bit excited by revisiting this tune, so my attempt at it below is quite a bit more boisterous than McKenna's fine take on it. It's a tasty one on the flute!




This is a lovely version of the famous reel.

McKenna hits on a great melodic take on it with some very nice rhythmic 'flutey' devices in the second part where he's hoping between low Bs and second octave notes. He's also playing very fast while maintaining a great pattern of articulation that carries it all along. His rolls are brilliantly articulated and percussive.

Clearly, this version is different than the session-grade standard as, among other features, it doesn't go to the long F sharp at the start of the second part thereby bringing it into the key of D major. In this way it is similar to a few of the old piping versions as played by Seamus Ennis and Tommy Reck.

Going from the F sharps to the high A in the fourth bar of the second part is nice and distinctive, as is his hopping the last runs of the first and second parts up to the high octave. There's a wealth of great melodic intelligence and experience in his couple of minute's music.

In the clip below I play the sort of pulse McKenna employs to lay down the rhythm, then I play an approximation of the basic melody slowly then speeded up. Again, bear in mind that I tend to play more emphatically and with a different tone from McKenna in this regard.



As for the first polka of this set, in the clip below I play the sort of rhythmic pulse pattern that McKenna employs to get his distinctive rhythm going through the melody as it might be done for the first part of this tune.

In the second bar of the second part we can hear how he pulses through the long, high F sharp. The effect is almost like a triplet in places, and he brings this out further on occasion with a tap of the finger.

- Older Posts »