I’ve been very lucky to have some great friends to play with over the years and especially in Sheffield. Some of these friends came up trumps with some fabulous music in May and June. We were also joined by some of the Birmingham trad massive, Oisín Cooke and Sean Stapleton.
Thank you to everyone who has participated so far. Some great music was added on the Whitby Folk Week Facebook Community Page from China, England and Wales. Take a look if you get a chance.
July #Tunesday will come from Asturias……. feel free to record and add your own…….
Over Easter 2016, 10 distance learning music students came from across Europe, North Africa and the USA came to The University of Sheffield Music Department to take part in a residential for the M.A.’s in World Music and Music of the British Isles. Participants come from a variety of backgrounds but with a shared interest in what FRoots Magazine so aptly describes as ‘local music from around the world’. It’s an opportunity for students to meet each other, have face to face contact with lecturers and get hands on experience in playing music or an instrument that maybe somewhat different from their own specialism.
I was asked to provide a workshop on Traditional Irish Music on the Tin Whistle. Apart from one Irish musician, the musicians had little or no experience of playing Irish music and all were more or less starting learning from scratch. It was a great advantage that they were talented musicians in their own field. A big focus was learning by ear, that is learning without the use of written notation. For most Traditional Irish musicians this is a skill developed early on in the learning process but for others used to staff notation in particularly classically trained musicians, this is quite a challenge. The students took the task with gusto, covering the basic scales of D and G, cultural and geographical contexts, ornamentation (Cuts, taps, rolls and crans) and the importance of posture and relaxation when playing. We covered several lessons’ worth of information in 2 hours, learned the first part of the Mountains of Pomeroy March played on very challenging Clarke’s Whistle’s and by request, I played a couple of tunes on my flute form Asturias and Ireland. The students were a great group of people to work with and a good bit of laughter was had as well as a couple of beers in the bar afterwards. I want to thank them for tackling the task with such great spirit and at the end of the session they made a lovely sound.
I was inspired to teach a march by two things recently. Firstly discussing the flute band tradition in Dingle, Ireland with Dr Aoife Granville and the recent use of marshal music as part of the Centenary Celebrations of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. The Mountain’s of Pomeroy was part of the first March set I learned from Marian Flannery (Egan) at St Wilfrid’s Comhaltas Branch in Hulme, Manchester during the 1970’s. I still love playing a March when I’m playing with The Leeds Céilí Band.
Here’s the March we were learning and below is a list of references I mentioned during the presentation. There’s also further information on Sligo style music in some of my previous blogs.
I was delighted to be asked to deliver a workshop on Traditional Irish Music with the University of Sheffield Folk Group. They were specifically interested in me sharing some of my knowledge and perspective on Sligo style flute playing, the style that I was I taught by Marian Flannery (Egan) in 1970’s Manchester. I had an hour to work with a group of very talented musicians, but musicians not too familiar with the technicalities of Traditional Irish Music. To explain Sligo style (if there is an exact defined style?) is a big task and our session could only ever be a drop in a large ocean.
The Folk Group meet at the Bath Hotel in Sheffield every week and play a variety of styles of folk music on a number of different instruments. They are mixture of undergraduate, postgraduate and staff. All were welcoming and keen for some hands on learning rather than a lecture. I gave a little outline of my learning and influences including my flute hero Roger Sherlock:
I talked about some different perspectives on style ranging from Séamus Tansey and his highly ornate music through to players such as Sherlock, who had a little more space in their playing. We talked about rhythm and the concept of a pulse in the music (there’s a PhD in there for someone). The video below demonstrates, in a humorous and perhaps extreme way, the differing schools of thought on what is ‘authentic’.
I handed out a Clarke’s Tin Whistle to each of the participants. They’re easy to get the hang of, six finger holes and blow in the end. We did a quick run through of the scale of D and focused the rest of the session on basic techniques (cuts, taps, rolls, breath control) and learning a tune by ear. I won’t go into detail here about technique. There are some great on-line resources on technique. I would also recommend Hammy Hamilton’s ‘The Irish Flute Players Handbook’. If you are a University of Sheffield library member, I’ve ordered the book and it should be available in the next couple of weeks. You can also order a copy direct from Hammy. It has a wealth of historical context, an accompanying CD and tunes for you to learn.
Within the hour the group managed to learn the first part of the Jig, ‘The Whistling Banshee’ by ‘ear’ (listening without notation) and add a couple of ornaments to the tune. Here are slow and correct tempo versions of the tune:
As I explained to the group, it’s hard to pin down an exact version of the tune and as you will see even more difficult to agreement on the name of the tune. If you do need to refer to notation, www.thesession.org is a great resource for different versions of the tune in ABC and staff notation (the dots). Here’s a link to The Whistling Banshee/ Lilting Banshee/ Paddy Macs on The Session:
The University of Sheffield Folk Group have an ambitious programme of worshops ahead with the likes of Nancy Kerr, Fay Hield (founder of the group) and Jon Boden (Bellowhead) amongst others. Keep an eye out for them gigging near you some time soon. Thank you to them all for asking me to work with them.
My next workshop is later this month with the students on the MA in Music of the British Isles at the University of Sheffield.
If you would like me to deliver a workshop for you, in English or Spanish, get in contact with me: email@example.com and check out my ‘traddad for hire’ section on here.
I am delighted to be shortlisted for the Seán Ó Riada Gold Medal Competition in Cork on Friday 5th February 2016. I’ll be competing with 14 other flute and tinwhistle players performing two pieces of Traditional Irish Music each on the night. The emphasis is on the spirit and feel of the music rather than technical excellence alone.
Photo: Diane Cusack.
The medal has been designed by Cashel goldsmith Pádraig Ó Mathúna and features an engraving of Sean Ó Riada on one side, and a representation of the poem Dán Aimhirgín (Song of Amergin) on the other. The medal consists of 2 silver plates back to back, and following the competition on Friday Pádraig will engrave the winners name and the year into the medal, and it will then be coated in gold
Peadar Ó Riada explains:
‘In their search for the gold medalist, the adjudicators will be looking for a musician who has technical proficiency on the instrument, has a musicality in their playing, and a variety in their choice of 5 pieces that illustrate the broad range of rhythms and melody in traditional Gaelic music. They will also be looking for the character found in music from musicians whose life experience and witness grows with age and which invests their music. As Irish music is an art form and requires creative input from the musician, this character is of great importance and should be real rather then faked or imitated from other great musicians. In other words, the adjudicators would rather purchase a recording of, say, Micho Russel, Packie Duignan, Willy Clancey, Denis Murphy, Lad O Beirne, Jamsie Byrne, Seamus Ennis, Joe Cooley, Johnny Leary, Mrs Elizabeth Crotty or Turlough O Caralon or any modern day super harp player say rather then listen to hundreds of imitations. The adjudicators wish the to hear the musician’s own character in their playing – without exaggeration.. This would suggest that whilst technique is important, age and experience is equally so’.
I heartily agree with this sentiment and look forward to celebrating Irish Traditional Music with the other participants in a weekend of music.
You can listen on line from 7pm at:
or watch at:
I’ll let you know how I get on.
As part of the weekend there is a Musicians’ Convention on Saturday 6 February in the Rochestown Park Hotel. The convention is ‘intended to help and advise traditional musicians on a host of subjects. It will run from 2 pm to 5 pm, with speakers from the music industry giving talks on funding opportunities, publicity, insurance, copyright, marketing and publishing, amongst other topics. Speakers will include representatives from IMRO, the Arts Council and Gael Linn, and entry is €5. Musicians interested should register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org’.
A few months ago I was asked by my good friend Sally Smith to help promote The Whitby Folk Week by ‘curating’ a series of videos,posted monthly on their Facebook page, of musicians playing tunes that you might hear at Whitby Folk Week. The ‘not for profit’ Folk Week happens towards the end of August every year when the small Yorkshire seaside town is filled with folk enthusiasts playing tunes, dancing folk dances, telling stories, singing songs, attending concerts and catching up with fellow folkies.
I’m fairly new to Folk Week. It has always been a time of year where I was in Ireland for the All Ireland Fleadh or walking in the mountains of Asturias. My wife’s family have been attending and performing for much of the 50 years it has been running and so when we had family it became part of my tradition, largely carrying dance kitbags for my wife and pushing the children around in the buggy. I love the relaxed atmosphere of the town, Silver Street Fish and Chips, ice-cream at the sea front and sitting watching the North Sea from a beach hut.
A couple of years ago I was asked to run a Trad Irish Flute workshop, which I really enjoyed and last year I got time to get out in the evening to a few of the Irish pub sessions. The highlight of the sessions for me was a tune at The Granby Hotel organised by Whitby bon vivant and bodhrán player extrordinaire, Mr Tommy Randall. It was first time Irish music had been played in there in 35 years. A change of regime and the energy of Tommy, created something special. I hope to keep some of the spirit of that going the videos as well as highlight other styles of music on offer such as English Dance Music and Eurosession.
Production standards are sometimes less than Hollywood standards, as I juggle work, playing, looking after my children and studying. But I’m slowly getting better at it and learning. By the time summer comes they could by looking swish. I hope to catch you for a tune along the way and if you want to add a video of you playing a tune please feel free.
Here’s some of the previous videos and look out for other monthly offerings such as: ‘Toesday’ – Dance videos, Pic-Tures-Day – Archive pictures, Troubaday – Songs and when there’s an extra Tuesday in the month there’s a surprise.
Tunesday is first Tuesday of the month: href=”https://www.facebook.com/groups/129958666651/?fref=ts”>
Further details of the Folkweek:
Mike Walsh playing The Beautiful Goldfinch Waltz (written by Marcus Hernon):
Mike Walsh playing The Killavil Jig:
Ciarán Boyle & Mike Walsh playing a festive Willie Coleman’s Jig at Flynn’s Pub, Sheffield. December 2015.
John Garner plays two French tunes:
Brogan McAuliffe & Mike Walsh playing ‘Trip to Birmingham’ by Josie McDermott, recording at The University of Sheffield Sound House. January 2016.
I’ll post further videos when I get permission and/or receive links.
Walking down from dropping my daughter at Nursery is a rare occasion for me to day dream. Red and brown autumnal leaves crunch under foot and a first trace of winter breath sneaks out in front of me in the foggy Sheffield air. My son has fallen asleep on my back and my mind wanders back to my solo visit to the All Ireland Fleadh in Sligo this summer. This was the last time I had a stretch of time without the family, time to indulge in watching and listening and playing as little or as much as I like.
Sligo 2014 was much more hectic, with family in tow and two competitions to deal with. The journey there and back with the children was great fun but I didn’t enjoy the Fleadh itself. No sessions, off to bed straight after the Senior Band competition and the early Monday morning train back to Sheffield.
2015 was different. A walk in the rain to the the train Station. My bag packed with a great Ethnomusicology book to read again (May It Fill Your Soul: Experiencing Bulgarian Music by Timothy Rice, University of Chicago Press, 1994), some craft ales from Sean at Beer Central, bread from the Forge Bakehouse Sheffield, smoked bacon from Konrad Kempka, my flute and some glitter of course.
Train and boat are my favourite way of travelling. Head down if you are feeling anti-social or chin up if you want to discover. My first discovery was on the train was a man in a gimp suit. I’ll save you the pain of a picture. His suit was plastic and had to avoid radiators and open flames.
14 hours after leaving Sheffield I jumped off the train at Carrick-on- Shannon, County Leitrim, to stay for the first couple of nights with my cousin and catch up with relatives. It’s a quick train ride from there to Sligo Town and I wanted to get some decent rest before the Band Final on the Sunday night and the ensuing madness.
The Senior Céilí Band Competition is the final competition of the Fleadh. It’s a hot ticket with people queuing from 5 a.m. of the morning of the competition to get their tickets. The couple of days leading up to competition revolve round grabbing practices when ever you can, where ever you. 250,000 people pack into a small town for 4 days. There’s not much room.
Leeds Céilí Band practices were held in the glamorous surrounds of an open air archway which was an entrance to a pub car park.
Our band comprises of Drums, Piano, 2 flutes, 3 fiddles, a banjo and a button accordion. Most members come from Leeds with a couple of blow-ins from Sheffield via Manchester and Liverpool. Qualification for the Fleadh requires success in Regional and Provincial (All Britain) competitions.
There are few rules for the competition apart from maximum number of members and type of repertoire. Four sets of tunes are allowed. We chose to play a March, Hornpipe, 2 Jigs and 2 Reels.
Tunes are learned in a mixture of ways. Some learn by ear, some learn by written music. We practiced in sub groups (e.g. flutes & fiddles separate) and then as a complete band. Band members come from a mixture of backgrounds including learning through Comhaltas as children, coming through the Folk scene and Rock/Country music. Our music is directed by Michael Tennyson, a great Piano Accordion and Piano player from Leeds.
After a slight uniform malfunction last year, this year I was ready and in full attire a good few hours before the competition. I had a little bit of blue glitter on just to bring a bit of sparkle to the event and played plenty during the day to get my flute warmed up. My flute is made by George Ormiston, a world class craftsman. But anything made of wood can subject to a change in environment and so it’s important to warm up.
The Band Competition was held at the Sligo IT Arena. 1500 seats, cameras, lights and 15 bands from Ireland, USA, Scotland and England competing for honours. The talk around the town was that the Sligo band the Knocknashee were favourites, but in reality the adjudicators do their own thing and I’m not sure they get swayed by hype.
A big issue for me is nerves. I’ve really worked had to develop techniques to manage them. I’ve learned a great deal from ‘The Inner Game of Music’ by Barry Green. As well as practice, much of performance is about conquering how your mind works.
We arrive at the Arena and are guided into the first band room. This is a military precision exercise with so many musicians and equipment in one place. I look out and see this….. no I’m horizontal, I just can’t work out how to flip this picture 90″.
Next move is into the changing rooms… no pictures there. You don’t want to see Leeds Céilí Band half dressed. That would certainly be niche. Warmed up and in a semblance of tuneage we’re led into the back stage area. I’m congratulated by the crew for having proper trousers on this year. Two sets of ten chairs are lined up opposite each other for the two bands waiting. One band comes off to the left of the stage another band goes onto the right. Very smooth. It’s our time now. We head on to the stage. It’s hot and the crowd are chattering about the previous band, the great and the good are lined up on the front row and the adjudicators lie somewhere beyond in the dark of the audience. I take a breath, smile and relax. I don’t think I can do this next year so I decide to really savour the moment.
Our drummer Tim checks if everyone is ready. we’ve checked our tuning, a tap of the block and the march introduction swirls us into readiness, the pulse becomes part of us and we become one great Céilí music machine. The Thatch Hornpipe next, three vamps on the piano to set us off. Remember the variations, keep the tuning in the high notes, relax. Two taps for the jigs. Bunch of Roses in G minor for a start. This has pushed me musically. So that’s what those shiny keys are for.
One tap, are you ready? Two taps and we’re off with the reels. It feels great…
It’s all done now. We head to the Green Room and watch some of the other bands. We know we won’t get placed but revel in the best Leeds Céilí Band performance in years.
Two days of tunes ensue. We are looked after royally by the landlords of the pubs in which we play and by our hosts. A great fleadh. Thank you Sligo. The slow train home to Sheffield suits my weary but happy head.
Going away with family, partners, children or even friends can be challenging. Balancing needs, wants, energy levels and concentration spans mixed in with the first few days of unwinding coils bouncing around a rented flat could have been difficult. We had the added flavour of me wondering whether I would be allowed to get on with my field work and my wife having an international conservation ecology conference she had been heavily involved with organizing, at the other end of our time away. Suffice to say we didn’t kill each other. The children don’t make allowances for what I’ve set out to do. One example would be while trying to write and layout this post Osgur decided to roll around our lovely white sheeted bed and cover it in poo. Please excuse the layout.
Back to Gijón….The Spanish lessons seemed to be working, (although the Asturian accent is a challenge that I’ve still yet to get my head round) and with time on my hands and sleeping children I headed into Gijón to meet up with an old Camino de Santiago friend.
I walked along the Camino route into town following the blue and gold conch shell Camino signs. As I passed the Gijón Dock yard I was drawn in by the noise coming from behind the 20 foot high walls covered in graffiti. I knew this was called Semana Negra but thought it was just a fairground. It was much more than this, it was a real sensory overload. I discovered something different every few metres.
Central to this Fiesta is a literary festival and book fair. I didn’t spend too much time in the literary events as I found it difficult to keep up with what was being said and many of the events were packed to the exits. Everything from left wing and Asturian nationalist politics through to thriller and fantasy fiction was covered. I bought a copy of an Asturian-Castillian Dictionary and got myself a beer and started to take in the countless food stalls. Meat was big here.
An essential part of Semana Negra is political protest. Protest is a hot topic in Spain at the moment as in 2015 the PP Government introduced punitive anti-protest laws. There was a protest about protesting in the middle of the fair.
Following the protest around the site I came across a side stage surrounded by Cider bars and roasting ribs. Cider, or ‘Sidre’ is the ‘national’ drink of Asturias. Un-carbonated, it’s poured from a height to give it a bit of life. The last two centimeters, the sediment at the bottom of the glass, are thrown away.
Familiar Asturian tunes were blasting out from the P.A. system. I chatted to the soundman and the group that night were Degañan’s featuring the great piper and flute player Dani Alvarez. I was familiar with Dani’s playing (see Corquieu) and it was a great start to my Asturian flute odyssey. The male singer was particularly powerfimpressive. More music to follow up.
We returned the following night with families. More food, bouncing on trampolines for Celeste, more Sidre, meeting up with fellow PhD Asturian Folk Student Llorián García and watching in awe as the legendary Ambás and friends kept a crowd dancing for three hours with songs accompanied by panderu (Asturian hand drum) and percussion using olive oil tins.
By a circuitous route I finally had my ethics permission through and I was almost ready start work. My PhD supervisior, Simon Keegan-Phipps has written a blog post which more or less sums up the problems I had to deal with when applying for ethical clearance, differing professional backgrounds, value sets and perspectives on what maybe ethical… I’ll leave you with Simon’s thoughts…. I will have to return to this subject and the ‘informants’ I spoke to after I have had time to reflect on how my first field visit went.