Thursday, March 17, 2016

St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

This year, to supply you with Irish music on the one day of the year when it is on demand, I will show you a few videos that illustrate the influence America has played on traditional Irish music today.

Most of the earliest commercial recordings were actually made in America by Irish immigrants. Perhaps the most famous of these musicians was Michael Coleman, a fiddler born in Killavil, Co. Sligo who came to New York City in 1914. He soon found work as a professional player in vaudeville shows, and picked up many tunes that he recorded in a traditional style but to our ears today sound unmistakably like rag-time. Many of Coleman's records were sent back to Ireland, where young musicians were so enthralled that they copied his music note for note. Even today, musicians throughout the Irish diaspora will play sets that were first popularized  by Coleman.

One of those sets is of two reels: Bonnie Kate & Jenny's Chickens:



But, he could also play more graceful waltzes popular with the American crowds he played for:




Coleman's influence on the world of Irish music was so strong, not just because of his records, but also because of the fiddlers he taught. One of the most prominent of those students was Andy McGann, who recorded a number of albums in the 1970's, and who has a remarkably similar style as Coleman:



And that New York-Sligo fiddle style is still alive today, particularly in the playing of Brian Conway, who is shown here doing his own rendition of Bonnie Kate & Jenny's Chickens (with a third reel added to the set):



Another well-known musician who emigrated to New York around the same time was the Leitrim-born flute player John McKenna, who also recorded in the 1920's and 1930's. Here he is playing a polka with a distinct American flavor, "Tripping to the Well."




Finally, this old-time, rag-time-influenced style of Irish music has been making a comeback in recent years, after being going underground for a while in the folk revival of the 1970's. One of the positive aspects of this comeback (in my opinion) is that musicians are starting to dust off a lot of the old polkas and barndances that were nearly forgotten in the 1970's when a lot of bands pumped out only reels and jigs. A little rhythmic variety never hurt anybody!

Here is one new band, Morga, who can put on a great show (as I saw in Chicago last summer), playing a polka from the Roaring Twenties called "Fitzmaurice's Flight":



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