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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.

 

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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.

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(Above: John McKenna's flute as recently worked on by Hammy Hamilton)

 

This is McKenna's version of the jig commonly called The Butcher's March.

This setting is very nice indeed and makes for more dynamic playing than the popular session version, particularly in the second part. The EF#G in the second bar of the second part is lovely, as is the fact that McKenna is playing it in the low octave in the first phrase and then bumping it up to the high octave when it repeats in the next phrase.

The first part is melodically more interesting than the standard setting to my ear. The F# to the G in the fourth bar is great, as is the DC#B A. of the sixth bar.

Needless to say the brilliant, seemingly effortless articulation is carried over from the first tune. My effort is a bit edgy by comparison... horses for courses!

In the clip below I start by playing slowly more-or-less what McKenna is doing melodically, then I play it up to speed, and then to finish I play an example of the sort of breath pattern I used to put a bit of welly into it.

Regards,

Harry.

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[Track numbers refer to the new Double CD of John McKenna's complete recordings. The cover above is of a previous audio cassette format release of a selection of his recorded output] 

This is McKenna's two part version of the jig commonly called The Wandering Minstrel. Packie Duignan played it like this, and this is the way it's still played in South Roscommon and Leitrim.

A few things I note here are:

1) McKenna's bottom D - he gets a great tone out of it even though he's hitting it with really fast articulations: If you want to improve your tone all over then just learn to do that (it takes time, focus and plenty of playing).

2) He's doing something odd on the high F sharp of the first bar of the second part and its repeats: a contemporary player might be inclined to put in a roll there, but McKenna is articulating the F notes and separating the last two with a grace note (sounds like a tap to me). He's varying it too, so it's not always exactly the same, but whatever it is it seems to rely on his articulation from the breath. I try it on the recording but don't achieve the fluency McKenna did it with.

3) From the start of the third time round of the tune he starts to put in a nice little variation on the first bars of the first part: ADD BAF# becomes DF#F# BAF. I do this going into the second time round of the tune in the recording below.

4) He's playing a VERY throat-articulated jig rhythm; very crisp and pronounced and precise. He's also doing it EXTREMELY FAST and with uncanny fluency: it never sounds forced from McKenna. This is not at all easy to do and is the hallmark of a very accomplished player (particularly in that the listener might not even realise he's doing much... a good indication of mastery).

Again, I've played the tune slow with some bit of the breath pulse rhythm through it, then I play it faster a couple of times, and then I play the rhythmic pulses on their own on the note A. When I speed up I'm playing the pulses as I'd employ them for the first part of this jig.

Regards,

Harry.

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The Connaughtman’s Rambles (Jig).

This is a take on Séamus Ennis' take on the famous old session staple so beloved by as many Connemara box and melodeon players. I learned it from some old tape... that I can't find at the moment. Most of my recordings are still in boxes somewhere between here (Cark!) and Roscommon.

Apart form the different second part (is it an improvement?... I don't think so, but I like the 'difference' of it as an alternative), Ennis does the nice thing in the first part where he drops down to the G, somewhat like the lovely twist he puts into the first part of his version of The Boys of Blue Hill.

Regards,

H.

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Don't be deceived by the frivolous title: This is actually a serious jig! ...And contrary to popular belief it is NOT a Limerick tune.

Matt Molloy recorded it brilliantly in E minor on his eponymous LP, but I've been enjoying playing around with it on the chanter in A minor fingering. It's basically a jig version of the reel Castle Kelly.

There are various stories about what the title means which involve the stabbing of witches and wizened crones so as to break their enchantments; and I was once informed that it refers to the old method of slaughtering pigs.

Be careful out there.

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The Blooming Meadows (Jig).

Some of the sharper points among you might have noticed that I had previously recorded the last tune on the C pipes... ahem... I'm surprised I got this far without unnoticed duplicates actually.

This old piping jig was played by several of the greats including Rowsome and Ennis. It seems more than casually related to The Braes of Busby in its tripartite melodic structure... hmmmmm...

I like the second part which sort of demands plaintive colouring of the long high G at the start of the phrases. Ennis in particular made a nice job of that.

Two settings of this one appear in O'Neill under the title above.

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When Sick is it Tea You Want? (Jig)

Here's an old jig that has become popular on the pipes in no small part due to Séamus Ennis' playing of it.

It appears in O'Neill and can be traced in written collections back to the late 18th Century under interesting titles such as 'Go to the Devil and Shake Yourself' and 'The One-legged Man'.

It's a memorable tune with a distinctive turn in the second part.

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The Banks of Lough Gowna (Jig)

I was reminded of this one the other day after hearing Pat Mitchell playing a rousing rendition of it based on Bobby Casey's version.

Casey's take on it is very similar to the one included in The Dance Music of Willie Clancy. The popular session setting is pitched up a tone in B minor.

There's a lot of music in it; and it's one I'll be playing more of so as to settle on a good, rounded version.

Lough Gowna is a freshwater lake on the River Erne system. It's situated between counties Longford and Cavan.

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The Lark’s March (Double Jig)

Here's a nice piping jig that I've been meaning to go at. This was played by several pipers, but is likely most connected now with Seamus Ennis who employed it in his telling of the story of a piping competition between the world's two greatest pipers (...both pipers had exhausted their repertoires and had matched each other tune for tune all through the night. As the sun came up one of them spied a lark and was inspired to compose this tune on the spot - it won him the competition).

You can hear a recording of Ennis playing the tune HERE.

...He has some brilliant clipped articulation and rhythmic effects going on in it, apart from it being a great piping setting of the tune (watch your dentures when it comes to the final flourish though!)

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