Rock on Tommy!

Rock on Tommy!

TOMMY POTTS – the only true Fiddling ‘GENIUS’ of Irish Traditional Music?

I caught a little bit of an interview of a Jazz Musician (Violinist) this afternoon, on Lyric FM, who described Tommy Potts as a true musical genius & the closest thing to Jazz that Irish Traditional Music has ever produced!

Now I know we hear a lot of talk of Jazz, when certain modern groups are talked about, but perhaps, if they’re going for a Jazzy sound they need to encorporate some of Tommy’s ‘licks’ in their music!

Tommy has been described as:

"In a class all by himself."
&
“Tommy Potts, heir to over a century of family music, was one of the most innovative and inventive Irish fiddlers. He constantly re-interpreted his music, extending its horizons until the tunes were created anew.”

… & Frankie Gavin said:

“ ….. the other player who most inspired me was the late Tommy Potts.
His mind was amazing and the way he played a tune was like nothing I’d heard before.
I showed up at his house once, and of course he didn’t know me from Adam.
But right out he asked if I wanted to hear a tune.
He set me down in his sitting room and went and got his fiddle and played for half and hour.
I cried the entire time because the music was so powerful and so emotive.
I can’t copy Tommy Potts, although I’d like to.
I think his musical brain was extraordinary."

http://www.irishfiddle.com/frankie_gavin_interview.html

& even our own ‘Mad Baloney’ here, said of him:

“Tommy Potts is one of those people who sits on that blurry line between genius & nut-job.”

https://thesession.org/recordings/289

So what do you think?
Was he the purest genius ITM has ever seen, or did he, in your opinion - ‘push the envelope’ just a little too far & was he in fact sitting so far ‘out the box’ that he clearly lost his way?

Has anyone here ever dared to mimic his playing?

Do you enjoy listening to his playing or do you prefer not to?

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Too whacko for my taste I’m afraid. But each to their own. Isn’t Niall Keegan greatly infuenced by Tam the Bam? Have to say I could listen to Keegan more than Potts. Sorry lads. That’s just me.

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You’ve got me looking forward to hearing him play sometime soon!

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I love that liffey banks album.

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When listening to Tommy P, I’m reminded of what Mark Twain said about Wagner.

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My untrained ear can’t tell the difference between this and most fiddlers I have heard. It is certainly a lot better than Gerry O’Connor, now that is far out, in his "cajun" style.

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Maybe all the fiddlers I know have been influenced by him. "Donegal Style" would fit.

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There’s a view of Tommy Potts which, erroneously as far as I’m concerned, suggests that he mainly looked outside the tradition for inspiration. Contrastingly, I’d counter that his music explored his own imagination and that it was his oft-quoted belief in the ‘hidden note’ which inspired further investigation. (Tommy reckoned that his interest in an oft-played tune could be revived by hearing another musician play a subtle alteration in a melody which suggested new possibilities for his own playing of said tune).

However, there’s another point to make. Thanks to a number of archive recordings, there’s clearly evidence that at least several other fiddlers of Tommy’s generation were not following CCÉ guidelines and it’s possible that he might have heard them.

I’m thinking of Ellen Galvin of Galway (please contact me off-list if you’d like a copy of her wonderful music), the Rainey Brothers (available from http://www.paveepoint.ie) or the Dohertys and Néillidh Boyle of Donegal.

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Re: Rock on Tommy!

"My untrained ear"!?!?!?! Some of you might like to see young Bliss playing by ear, when he was just four years old!

Sure it was obvious, even then, that he had a natural talent for percussion!

“… He does it all by ear”:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5V5ZekeevBM


" …. can’t tell the difference between this and most fiddlers I have heard."
Bliss, apart from his spell-binding variations, I am atracted to that very lonesome feel he gets to his music.
The guy being interviewed on the radio today pointed out that he lost some very good friends in a tragic accident at work & there are some who believe this had a strong bearing on the way he played his music, after that.

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It’s the first time I’ve heard him, although I’ve heard him talked about a lot. I can hear echoes of many other fiddlers in his playing - or rather, in retrospect, those fiddlers have echoes of Potts in their playing. These include Tommy Peoples and Sean Casey.

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!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Geoff, what an alarming thought - "Thanks to a number of archive recordings, there’s clearly evidence that at least several other fiddlers of Tommy’s generation were not following CCÉ guidelines and it’s possible that he might have heard them."

Are you implying that without the influence of the mighty CCE, Ireland may well now be ‘polluted’ by loads of brilliant fiddle players with an ability to think for themselves & the freedom to develop amazing & very personal, distinctive styles of their own?

I suppose you believe that much more of the old regional styles would have survived for longer, too?

Quick - grab that false beard & head for the hills ………….

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"When listening to Tommy P, I’m reminded of what Mark Twain said about Wagner."

> if you’re referring to the quote I think you are (the snappy, famous one about the music being better than it sounds), then you’re not quoting Twain at all but BIll Nye, a newspaper buddy of his. Twain was quoting Nye when he said that.

And Tommy Potts blows my mind, hands down. Well, rather, he lets my mind work in the normal way once through, and then twists it up so I can’t remember what it was I started thinking about, and I start bumping into things.

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I was listening to the JK ensemble as well this afternoon and what your man said about Potts was pretty much spot on.

And Ellen Galvin was from Moyasta, Co Clare (although born in Kilmihil)

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Thanks kilfarboy - so I wasn’t hallucinating after all!

Nice to know there’s another Lyric FM listener here, who obviously shares my ‘good taste’ in radio stations! 🙂

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Tommy Potts was amazing! I have a recording of a particularly nice introduction that Ciarán MacMathuna gave before playing Tommy’s version of My Love is in Amerikay on Mo Cheol Thú: "…and hear he is enjoying each little nuance of his own ex tempore vaguaries…" And so he did.

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Yes, I enjoy the recording of his which I’ve got. Blessed is a country that has players like him who express and transcend the tradition at the same time.

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Three things about Tommy Potts:

1. Personally, I’m inclined to think of him as the avant-garde of Irish music, contradiction in terms though that is. There is something new in his playing every time you listen to him.

2. He profoundly inspired some of the best Irish fiddlers who played with him and after him—-for that alone, his influence on Irish music is immense.

3. My (Irish) fiddle teacher, who comes from a traditional musical family and started playing when he was six, listened to the Liffey Banks cd I lent him and told me he thinks Tommy Potts sounds like Martin Hayes. How’s THAT for a mind-blowing concept?!

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Well Martin Hayes recorded Potts’ development of the Star of Munster almost by the note and quotes him aming the prime influences. It’s a bit liek saying Martin Rochford sounds like Martin Hayes, yeah right.

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#24 ~ by royal proxy from Ptarmigan… It was this or be hung on words… 🙁

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Aye ‘c’, it’s not the first time I’ve been told I’m ‘well hung’, or was it that I should be well & truly hung!

Anyway, don’t think you can come crawling back here now, at this late stage in the game & think it’ll gain you any extra brownie points. You couldn’t contribute to this thread when it really mattered to me, could you, so just go & catch yourself another croc & leave me here, alone, with my box of tissues.

…….. & before you get the wrong idea from that, I mean I’m ‘sobbing’ into them!

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Thanks for posting this ptarmigan, sorry I didn’t get here sooner please don’t shout at me. I had only ever heard the name Tommy Potts before and now, thanks to you ( and Slaintes link above), I have another few cd’s to collect. I love his playing, so fluid, a whole new outlook on the tradition for me. It’s threads like this that keep me coming back to this site. Cheers.

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Ptarmy, what did I have to write to suggest that my tongue might be living on an outcrop several yards from my cheek? 🙂

And, whoops, I do know that Ellen Galvin came from Moyasta, but suffered a brain-fingers lacuna when typing my last message.

Sure, there’s always been plenty of ‘off-the-wall’ music out there - as there should be in any vibrant culture. The point which I clumsily failed to make is that Tommy Potts deliberately decided to climb that wall. I believe that Néilldih Boyle did that too, but other musicians such as Ellen Galvin, the Raineys and (though I’m not convinced about Frank Cassidy), definitely the Ó Beirne brothers from Kilcar came from a musically crooked still to which the ‘standard’ way of playing the fiddle bore no relevance. I also reckon that Danny Meehan fits into that category.

As for Martin Hayes sounding like Tommy Potts, well Martin has the ability to sound like any fiddler he chooses. A key point, though, is the prevalence of tune settings in flat keys such as Eb in East Clare and their relation to the piping tradition.

Having seen Martin play on several occasions I wouldn’t regard his music as improvisational, but exploratory. It’s like a road map of Ireland and if Martin wants to travel from one tune to another there are plenty of by-roads offering a diversion. In other words, he doesn’t always choose the National Routes, but looks for picturesque excursions. Some work, but others don’t.

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I know Geoff, I just thought I’d stir things up - for a change!

"It’s threads like this that keep me coming back to this site. Cheers." - whispering … Ah flossie, you say the sweetest things!

It is indeed, such a pity that there was so little of his playing, recorded.

Re: Rock on Tommy!

Geoff there’s an amount of the chicken and egg matter in East Clare, Tommy Potts visited often enough and he does seem to have freed up a few people exploring different keys, notably Paddy Canny but even Joe Ryan from the West acknowledges Potts as one who steered him in new directions.

I am most familiar with Martin Rochford’s music and he liked what he called the ‘darker’ keys and it’s safe to say most of Martin Hayes’ ‘Lonesome Touch’ sound comes directly from Rochford’s music (and he’d be the first to acknowledge that).

As far as the connection with piping goes, when Rochford and Paddy Donohue took up the pipes there was simply no piping in East Clare and hadn’t been for a long time so if there’s an obvious connection between fiddle and piping Rochford would be the one to look at. If you do you’ll see that his fiddle version of for example My Love is in America approached the tune fro ma very different angle than his piping version. On the fiddle he drew it very much towards the minor mode not at all dissimilar to what Potts did while on the pipes he would have been closer to Felix Doran.

I recorded him playing Julia Delaney once, which is most wellknown in it’s form as developed by Potts. Rochford played the first part similar to the ‘usual’ version we know but played a completely (and in my opinion nicer) turn to the tune.

While I don’t think Potts brought the idea of exploring the keys to East Clare as a novelty, I do think there was a bit more interaction and exchange of ideas there, a two way traffic.

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