Who makes the best session / band players ?

Who makes the best session / band players ?

I’ve been pondering this one for a while. So I’ll light the blue touch paper and stand well back.

Who make the best session players? dedicated "sessionistas" or soloists ?

Who make the best band players? soloists or sessionistas ?

Is there such a thing as an all rounder ?

Answers on a postcard please………………….

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What’s a sessionista?

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A sessionista is the Latin-American sister of one of those guys who makes your coffee…….

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My view:
Depends. On loads of factors.
But why try to pigeonhole people?

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Anyone who listens.

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The best session players have nice/fun personalities and are not so eccentric that they’re weird. Musical ability/knowledge is a nice plus.

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"The best session players have nice/fun personalities and are not so eccentric that they’re weird."

So, according to definition.reference.com, eccentric, but not "unearthly, uncanny, bizarre or fantastical." :-)

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>>You mean barista?

No, they work in law courts.

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i thought that was a solicita

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Generally speaking, clever, witty, tuned-in, socially aware folks whom I would naturally gravitate towards anyways make the most enjoyable session mates. At least for me.

A boorish eejit outside the pub is usually also a boorish eejit inside the pub.

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Good sessionista: someone who has no ego to massage and is happy being part of the crowd.

Good band member: the opposite.

Oops, just indicted myself… :-P

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A good session player being equated with one in the "crowd"? egads! That whole wall of sound thing is over-rated.

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Ian, I would disagree and suggest that the best band members also put the ‘team’ before their own ego. My favorite bands are made up of people who work together well, which is also the folks that are best in a session.

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Yes I agree, Al. I was just being flippant ;-)

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Who makes the best session / band players ?

People who ‘don’t’ spend half an hour chatting between tunes. Can’t stand that, I’m there to play if I know the tunes or listen to someone else play if I don’t know the tunes.

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In both cases, I’d rather play with people whose playing I enjoy and whose company I enjoy, not necessarily in that order.

The difference is that a session is a conversation, a band is theater. In a conversation, you basically want people you enjoy talking to - people with interesting and amusing things to say who put in their bit but don’t dominate the floor, people you enjoy spending a few hours with. When you’re putting on a play, you want people who you enjoy spending time with, because you’re going to spend a lot of time with them, but more importantly you’re looking for people who can bring something to the table. In addition, you have to decide whether you’re putting on Hamlet or a set of improvised one-acts, and whether you have a director or you’re some sort of headless collective, and you have to make sure everyone’s on the same page with that.

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Half an hour’s a bit much, Free Reed, but I’d rather have some conversation, and not just tunes upon tunes upon tunes. One of my per peeves has got to be the player who can’t let a silence sit, but has to jump in on the tails of any set.

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Well it sometimes seems like half an hour….but you know what I mean.

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Much as I malign the pointlessness of having a huge library of tunes in your head, such people are good to have in sessions … just so long as it’s not them starting all the sets.

I think that how you go about starting sets is parramount. First of all, you have to think, "what do the people here know?". Secondly, and much less frequentlly than the first, "what would people here like to know". What you should never do is, "What do I know?"

And in a band you need two kinds of people. talented and arrogant front men, and talented and timmid back line. It’s a balance of the two. Too much either way and it won’t work.

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"what would people here like to know"
I like that, llig.

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There’s never a need for a ‘timid backline’ . Not in music, politics religion, business,war or life in general. I find the ‘timid backline’ to be the cause of dissatisfaction in most endeavers. Timidity is overrated. Always striving to be best, but knowing when you’re not, works well in sessions and bands.

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You tell ‘em, shanty! ;-)

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Maybe timmid is not the right word, maybe be I mean simply not arrogant. But they must be able to deal with arrogant people.

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I really liked Michael’s post, especially about sessions.

I was in a group (not trad) years ago while at uni that was a bit of an epic fail because we had too many people who wanted to be in change and not enough who were happy to be told what to do and just get on with it. I’m sure the band-by-committee works well somewhere, with some people, but not with that particular lot.

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*in charge

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Probably a leader who knows how to listen and therefore knows when to take a step back…

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I’m interested in the fine line between arrogance and charisma. I think that bands as a collective can have and need some form of collective charisma, the Bothy Band had it for sure. But what is more usual is for a band to thrive on the charisma of one or two front guys - the Beatles and The Stones are the best examples.

I think that charisma is probably merely arrogance backed up by skill, creativity, intelligence, and a certain amount of social awareness (though a little less of that than is needed by normal people). And that arrogance is merely wannabe charisma, but lacking in the skill and creativity etc.

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Well said Michael about starting sets.

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And somewhere in the mix, you may well need a skilled diplomat from time to time…knowing where to pull people in, and where to give them some line…

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Not to pick on drummers, but, as an example -
do you want a bodhran player around who wants to play along on everything? Or thinks he/she should? Waltzes, airs, I mean everything? I have met a few. I found it rather unpleasant.

In a band, I agree with Sunnybear, but perhaps apply it to the whole band.

You do what works for the band, even if it does not include you.
As in sitting back, or sitting it out sometimes.

Not easy.

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Sitting out? Of course it’s easy

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Anyway, the one thing you don’t want in your band is a feckin bodhran player.

You can have bodhran in your arrangements, of course. The thing often works very well in a band/performance thing. But all the rest of you should be doin that bit, take turns. It’s not like it takes more than 10 mins to learn.

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Especially don’t want an uncharismatic, non talented arrogant bodhran player!

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Unfortunatly, shanty, all bodhran players are uncharismatic, non talented and arrogant.

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How’s the weather over there Michael? It’s all rainy and depressing here too. hope you get better soon.

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Hic up

… Back to the question:

"Who makes the best session / band players ?"

Hands up anyone who agrees that the word "bodhran" has any place in the answer to either of these questions?

(hands of bodhran players don’t count …. of course)

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llig,

Getting bodhran players to raise their hands, fantastic idea.. good thinking

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In our band, I am kind of that backline kind of guy, never sing alone as the lead singer, but sing with others on melody and harmony, playing whistle, accordion, harmonica, guitar, whatever the piece we are playing might call for to fill out the sound. Kind of the musical equivalent of what in US baseball would be called a utility infielder.

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It’s easier to say who makes the worst session/band players.
People who are aggressively bad and can’t be convinced they are.
Also — (does this apply to Trad bands?) — people who *keep
turning up their amps*!

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>>I’m interested in the fine line between arrogance and charisma

Where does that leave Kathryn Tickell, Julie Fowlis, Sharon Shannon and even Michael McGoldrick?

Charisma yes (well, maybe not in MIke’s case - much of the time he just looks awkward…), but I have never detected an ounce of ego, let alone arrogance in their performances.

One of the things that I dislike about Lunasa is their quite aggressive promotion of the band on merchandise, personalities etc.

One of the most appealing things about this music for me, is that even many of the guys at the top haven’t lost sight that it’s about the music, not the ‘personalities’.

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You should be glad that the people you like to hear rate their own playing enough for them to get on a stage and in a recording studio so that they can sell it to you.

That makes it sound like I’m dissing it, but I’m not, of course. The best musicians are the ones who are so charismatic that their arrogance is completely subsumed by their skill, generosity and lack of ego. (it’s still there, mind, it’s just undetectable). I can’t speak for the first three you mentioned, But I’d say this describes the likes of McGoldrick.

Now, if the likes of McGoldrick were able to let out their belief in their own abilities (i.e. show a little arrogance) they’d be better performers. Not necessarily better musicians, but better performers. - though it’s likely that they are not really interested in that.

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Llig:

"Sitting out? Of course it’s easy"

I do not think so, at the least not for everyone, based upon observation.

I believe many wannabees feel insecure about being "left out", be it a band or a session. At a session, they can be seen doodling along on tunes they do not yet know. In a band, it would be doing whatever does not really work, with them in the mix.

Of course, that might mean they should not be in a band or at a session.
:-/

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Just because a lot of people seem unable to do something, doesn’t mean it’s difficult.

The easiest thing to learn about playing music is also the most important thing to learn about playing music, learning to listen.

And I’m constantly amazed that this fact is not more widely known. It reinforces my cynicism

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Llig, I have a theory that this unwillingness to listen comes from the fact that some people don’t like the music enough to want to listen to it closely. A lot of people are attracted to the music because of its social value as a community or group activity - something which many think is lacking in our modern "me-me-me", materialistic society. Basically, they go for a bit of harmless fun. They don’t realise that their playing in the session might not be fun for the others present. I really think that they often don’t even listen to recordings at home, so they never pick up the nuances of the music and haven’t listened to it closely enough to realise that there are nuances to pick up. It’s amazing that the beauty of this music can pass people by, even among people who’ve spent years going to sessions. It’s a bit like going to the best restaurant in town and sitting down, talking to the waiters and looking at the menu but never ordering any food…

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Or it’s probably like always ordering the same dish and taking one mouthful and spitting it back out, not realising you have to taste it and swallow it.

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And then when you advise them that it’s actually much better for everyone (including the people sitting at your table who have had to watch you spit food out onto your plate) if you taste and swallow the food, they look at you like you’re mad and tell you they’re insulted!

For the people who are trying to enjoy their meal, what do they do about the idiot spitting their food out? Do they just try and ignore it or do they tell the person they’re an idiot or take them aside and gently explain to them the obvious (and risk getting their head bitten off)? Hmmmm…

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Just drag that metaphor out, Dow. :P

Good insightful post, though. I think for a lot of people it has nothing to do with the music — it’s about the herd mentality, participating in the musical process. Have you ever spooked a herd of horses or cattle? The whole bloody lot of them take off. People in sessions don’t like being left behind, like a cow or horse who can’t take off with the herd, especially in a social situation they are quite insecure about from the outset.

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hmmm, reinforces my cynicism further.

The vast majority of people, of course, don’t like music at all. Hence the existence of pop music. But at least the average person who likes pop music is a normal average person … what we get is the feckin weirdo who wants to be part of some sort of alternative fashion clique. I hate ‘em … the feckers

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The player who listens.

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Michael’s back again I see. Not seen you around for awhile…

Anyway, somebody cheerful would be a bonus to all this.

How long before Jeremy takes this one down then?

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Plays well with others.

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>>Not necessarily better musicians, but better performers. - though it’s likely that they are not really interested in that.

I like it that way. Even at my level, the motivation is nothing to do with performing and everything to do with playing music for people. Not at all the same thing. It is the music that should come across, not the performer.

I have found it quite difficult with the band members to make them sit out - there seems to be a mentality of ‘everyone should be playing all the time’.

Llig - alternative fashion clique people go for folk, or Celtic Music, not trad….. don’t they?

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Sessions attract weirdos like midges to your campsite.

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Ian, I don’t know if you are aware of the thousands and thousands of words wasted here on the definition of the word "performance", but even I, the staunchest defender of the concept of "non-performance music", cannot squeeze a gnat’s chuff between any definitions of "performance" and "playing music for people".

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yes

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But back to the original question……..
……..it’s the combination of a deep understanding of the reasons for being there, coupled with a broad empathy with the surrounding musicians.
I feel better for that.

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All in tht emind, Llig. To me ‘performance’ implies a) conscious showmanship b) the focus being as much on the personalities as the music and c) a different relationship between the performer and the audience.

A humble ("ever so ‘umble") wish to play one’s music for people, and perhaos to enjoy the atmosphere of doing so in certain settings, is IMHO rather different from wishing to strut one’s stuff through the medium of music.

Looking at many of the clips of people playing this music, even up to festival level, they noticeably lack any showmanship whatsoever.

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Well yes, thats what a festival audience expects with this music…

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Ian, whether you are performing this music, playing it in a no-performance situation, dancing to it or merely listening to it, It’s very important to be conscious of personalities.

The music IS the player’s personality. To play it IS to display one’s personality. It’s the difference between a person’s music and feckin midi file.

You could say that all the best players put their personalities into their music, but I don’t think this quite gets to the heart of it. The music IS the expression of one’s self. You can’t split it.

So when you present this music to people, you are presenting yourself. You need to loose your nonsensical idea of the music being somehow an abstract thing that exists seperate from yourself, not least because one can never be anywhere near a decent player with that attitude. Embrace it, BE the music.

For nine hundren years have I trained bla bla bla

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" not least because one can never be anywhere near a decent player with that attitude."

That sounds like I meant that if you have that attitude, decent players will always have a kind of exclusion zone around them. What I meant was, that if you have that attitude, you will never become a decent play.

… hang on though … actually, both meanings are relevant.

Do … or do not … there is no try.

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I like this line of thinking, Llig, and wonder about how it applies to how we share the music as individuals.

Obviously, as an extension of one’s personality, you will play well with others or you will not.

Ego would be a factor in whether you tend to dominate or compliment other musicians you play with.
Humility would, I presume, be a part of the ability to play what the others are playing, not what you had in mind.

Trying to lead or trying to follow, or trying to do neither - looking for balance. Resonating with each other through sharing music?

Time.
Back to my work.
Good thread, all.

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O.K. - I see your point - and I respect the passion ;-) I don’t even disagree, but…

In which case, should I conclude that only certain personality types are going to make a success of playing this music, no matter what the context?

It’s a serious question, because maybe those of us with more restrained (English ;-) ) personality types may never be able to let the music fly? Maybe we should be playing Baroque instead? Serious question, because as you know, my own music has been criticised for being too restrained - personality issue? (I’m still working on it, but you can’t *force* a lack of restraint!)

When I listen to other people playing, I want to be aware of the music first and foremost, and yes of course I can see that that will involve the personality of the player(s). What I don’t want, and thankfully mostly don’t get, is someone whose main purpose is to prance around flaunting their outsized ego at the expense of the music, which as you said, is what pop music is for.

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…or maybe for restrained personalities, it is their alter ego that does the palying? I think that is true with me. Could that work? :-)

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We share music as individuals in the same same way we share any other kind of banter. You get on with people who have a similar sense of humor ect, music is no different. That’s what’s great about playing in a session. It’s just being yourself, with your mates, who are being themselves.

Playing on a stage is fundamentally different, you have to present your music, which means presenting yourself. The skill, of course, is to make feel like it’s a conversation. This means opening yourself up, eye contact ect. It’s all illusion that some people just seem to have a skill for, but it can be learned.

Martin Hayes is very good at this. He casts the illusion of intimacy, Very clever

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I don’t think that having your alter ego play your music would be helpful at all. Batman may well make a great metal lead guitarist, but for this music, I think I’d rather go to hear Bruce Wane.

If you are going to be at all successful in communicating your music to an audience, you have to be yourself.

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But as Tarantino cleverly points out at the end of Kill Bill Vol II, of all the super heros, Superman is the only one where he is himself as the hero, Clark Kent is Superman’s alter ego.

It’s because we are not superman, that creating a stage persona will fail.

Be yourself

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Llig- again I agree with what you are saying. Perhaps I read too much into your use of the word ‘arrogance’ some posts back.

I haven’t seen her live, but from what I can see, Ms. Fowlis is one of the most unaffected ‘performers’ around. And she normally goes down well simply for what a ‘nice’ person she is. Maybe it is all a front and she is really a nasty piece of work, but I doubt it. The same could probably be said for Kathryn Tickell.

So stage persona can take many forms. While I will have to get over the stage fright again when we start giging, luckily, my day-job does help rather well on the inter-personal bit… but I won’t be doing the heavy metal bit.

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>>It’s just being yourself, with your mates, who are being themselves.

I also think you might be making some assumptions about the nature of sessions here. Without wishing to dis the people I play with in any sense at all, the real choice open to me is: play at the one easily available Irish session - or don’t play. Friendships are being made, but it’s a lot less personal than you imply.

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Arrogance drove me to the dictionary, but nitpicking is pointless. How about "overt self-confidence" as opposed to "quiet self-confidence" (instead of timid) ?

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Fair enough - we can spend all day splitting hairs of definitions. At the end of the day, we all know what we like.

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I don’t think that good performers conceal their self confidence. It’s back to the word charisma. Charismatic people don’t conceal their self confidence any more than overtly arrogant people do.

We like to see self confidence in a performer, it puts us at ease. If we can’t see/hear their confidence it becomes awkward and we start to do strange things like feel sorry for them. You don’t pay money to feel sorry for someone.

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I’ve always found that splitting hairs on definitions is by far the best way of distilling what you actually think about something, and what something actually means. If we don’t split hairs on definitions, we end up appearing to be agreeing with one another where in fact, there’s been no meaningful communication at all.

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I’m remembering back to a particular performance by my favorite diddley musician. It must have been 25 years ago, or more, I was young, but already a fan. I’d just watched moving hearts play to a joyous crowd of thousands on a lovely sunny late afternoon. I was stood about 10 yards from the front of the pyramid stage at Glastonbury.

Moving Hearts were great, so much energy, big sound, very exciting, crowd jumping around like crazy, it was great.

Then The Chieftains came on and and there was a bit of deflation as they sat down in their semicircle and diddled away, I think the whole crowd was a bit bored, there was certainly an increase in background murmur.

But then something truly amazing happened, just one unassuming bloke in a sweatshirt and jeans walked on his own right up to a microphone at the front middle of the stage and blew 10,000 pairs of socks off with nothing more than an old wooden flute and a charismatic self confidence the size of a planet.

He played The Bush In Bloom, Drogheda Bay and Jenny’s Chickens. 10,000 people didn’t breath for three minutes.

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llig - I can’t believed you missed the whole "emo" business, and the sentitive whinger-songwriter scene as well.

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This is an interesting topic!

In my experience all musicians fall into two basic categories:
1. ‘Soloists’, virtuosi, single (or small range of similar instrument) specialists (e.g. pipe players, Middle Eastern aerophones, certain percussionists, Gamelan experts, bloody BLooZ lead six string devil botherers with all the obsolete beige American amps, pork pie hats and semi-akoostik Gibsons ), singers, and so forth
2. Arrangers, composers, conductors, producers, ‘jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none multi-instrumentalists*, the back room boys, the geezer who works out the chords to the covers, backers (bass players, polite vamping piano blokes) et cetera

There is of course a degree of cross over but bands need both types.
There is the old joke that goes: Why do you need a bass player in the group? So someone can translate what the lead six string devil botherer is saying to the drummer.
All combos need a bit of both. You need the blokes who are brilliant at doing the flash stuff up front but you also need someone who understands the overall structure of the material and grasps the musicology, understanding the key or mode and shape of the tune or piece. Imagine Cream without Jack Bruce, the Chieftains without Derek Bell, the Beatles without George Martin, the early Wailers without Lee Perry. This is why there is so much trouble with backers in this music at sessions. Nearly everyone at a session is potentially a ‘1’ above, only backers really fall into ‘2’!

* here I am referring to the (Chas Smash/ Bez) bloke in a typical band of bass, singer, drums and six string devil who plays a bit of keyboards, harmonica, backing vocals, toasting & rapping, percussion, a bit of dancing (?!) and the maybe the occasional slice of fiddle or slide six string devil and probably fronts up the chat and wotteffah.

I agree with Llig…

Semantics are indeed important. No point arguing about X if A thinks it’s Y and B thinks it’s Q.

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Yep couldn’t agree more.

With the proviso that nearly everyone in nearly all sessions are 2s, and very poor 2s at that.

And seeings as most diddley bands are really just session mates, nearly all diddley bands are nearly all very poor 2s.

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I dissagree.
I think most players at sessions are 1’s. They are mainly soloists and tune players. They think they are vituosi (or aspire to it), they do not think they are arrangers, backers or theory boys (2’s).

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I think you mean all diddley bands are very poor 1’s.

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A session consisting of five six string devil botherers, 4 goat bashers, a dancer, a singer and a piano player that knows two tune on the whistle would be one of 2’s.

Perhaps there should be A and B’s as well:

A= musicians who are upfront
B= musicians who are quiet

So 1A is a loud mouthy fiddler, 1B is a laconic unexcitable box player, 2A is a bloke who makes it clear to everyone that he wants to ‘sort out the chords’ and a 2B is silent bodhran player (they do exist!).

And we could use alpha and beta to indicate musical abillity.
We can categorize all session goers using this model…

Are you a 1A alpha, 1 B alpha, 1 A beta, 1 B beta, 2 A alpha, 2 A alpha, 2 B alpha, 2 B beta?

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>>We like to see self confidence in a performer, it puts us at ease. If we can’t see/hear their confidence it becomes awkward and we start to do strange things like feel sorry for them

Well since you put it like that, yes absolutely.

>>splitting hairs on definitions is by far the best way of distilling what you actually think about something, and what something actually means

With you again, but when I prolong discussions on here by trying to do precisely that, I normally get shouted at :-)

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>>A= musicians who are upfront
B= musicians who are quiet

…and I suspect they might also have very different motives for wanting to be in the band in the first place…

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What I meant when I said that nearly everyone in nearly all sessions are 2s was that although they are playing tunes, they are really only accompanying the other people who are playing tunes. Take the others away and they are like fish out of water. Put the others back and they just tread water.

Treading water is such a common thing with players of this music.

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Interesting stuff this, I’m glad I asked the question now.

Of course, you die-hard sessionistas possibly don’t care much a about the group dynamics of formal bands. In addition, there is probably enough in an accomplished soloist to be a man (or woman) for all seasons (or is that sessions?)

The interesting thing is that you have brought loads to this that I had never even considered. Thank you all for your contributions. I’m learning here. Keep going……….

Ian - thinking about you and your band - has this made you think as the thread has progressed ?

I have always been more of a "band" kind of chap than a session man. I also aspire to be as good as I can be, which I suppose gives me a soloist mentality. But hey, ITM is all my kind of music in all its shades and glory. I don’t think there are any losers.

The truth is, of course, that I am rubbish at all of it, but I am enthusiastic !!

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Orme - it certainly has, thanks - and they are due here in about five minutes…

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Make ‘em have it Ian !!!

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(some hours later…) Five people: banjo, flute, guitar, mandolin/bouzouki, pipes. And the flute player brought his Northumbrian pipes too :-)

Just need a good fiddler now.

Fabulous.

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off topic really! but…
I was just reading here and I am just back from a most enjoyable session myself!

Cheers!