Trends in Session Tunes

Trends in Session Tunes

Is it just me, or do other people notice how some tunes come into fashion, while other ones are left behind, then 5-10 years later they start getting popular again?

Might be something to do with the hottest tunes on Lunasa’s or Altan’s or whoever’s latest release, or maybe one or two get disseminated after people come back from the Fleadh or the Willie Clancy week.

And how does this sit with peoples’ perceptions of the Music being Traditional (assuming they agree with my observation)?


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If some particular tunes get too popular, many people start to hate them.
Do you still play Kesh jig and Butterfly in the session even without beginners?

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ok kesh jig might be fallen back, but butterfly still is a session favourite ( nowadays not played the usual galopping howdown but in a manner and style listeners are able to imagine some butterfly flying over summer meadows…)

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Each place is different. In this area here (US Midwest), you get Kesh fairly regularly, but i’ve never heard the Butterfly done in a session.

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Of course - XY and maybe even Z coordinates must have a bearing as well as T.

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How about Morrison’s Jig? It’s a nice tune, but it is always the foreign (non-Irish) players who start to play it.

Z axis and Morrison’s

That’s to indicate when the player has slid under the table?

I learned Morrison’s from a bona-fide Irish born potato-fed button box player. πŸ™‚ It goes well with Kesh. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

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Danny, what are some trendy tunes currently being played in your session(s)?? I would love to know. Actually I would love to hear from anyone on this question.


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Z- Axis

Glauber - that’s one way of looking at it! - which I quite like. But I wsa thinking more of somewhere like the Crane bar in Galway City which used to have sessions both upstairs and downstairs.

Joyce - I’ll get back to you on that one later, as I have an eleven year old breathing down my neck, wanting to get on line……


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Here in KY we do both, although Kesh is sort of a fallback, "ohmigod, I was going to throw a jig in here and am clueless!" thing (like Saddle The Pony or Connaughtman’s).

I’m about sick to death of the Butterfly, whether it’s flitting, flying, or flopping about stylewise. But I seem to be in the minority. We’ve also been doing Morrison’s for years, but for some reason that one seems easier to freshen up.

Lately we’ve been on a program where we try to do something new every week. The last few months have yielded (this is only what I can remember): Paddy’s Return To Scotland, The Old Copper Plate, Molloy’s Reel, The Yellow Tinker, The Humours of Ennistymon, The Handsome Young Maidens, Monaghan Jig, Dinky’s Dorian, The Shetland Fiddler, The Milliner’s Daughter, The Golden Keyboard, Tommy Peoples’ Jig, some tune from ‘The Northern Fiddler’, a set of three polkas starting with Din Tarrant’s; Dr. O’Neill’s, The Flowing Bowl, The Guns of The Magnificent Seven, Kerfunten Jig, Touch Me If You Dare, The Earl’s Chair, The Coachman’s Whip, I Buried My Wife/Andy DeJarlis/Up Leitrim, etc.

It definitely keeps things lively!


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I was at the Herschell Arms yesterday, (There were 5 flutes there, in a session of about 12 souls, but I digress). And the Butterfly was played, so it must be cool to play it. But it’s definitely played more a la Martin Hayes these days. I mean people don’t play it as a slip jig, more just a listening piece. I don’t like it meself - but I do like Morrisons, it’s like the definitive eminor jig, well that and Whelan’s, Oh and the Rollicking Boys of Tandernagee … and the Basket of Turf. Oh well - any tune in that eminory mode is ok with me.
But to take the original point… people pick up tunes or the idea of playing tunes from records and or other people and they spread like wildfire. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard someone play a great tune, which no-one joins in with. I rush off, learn the tune, think up some brilliant set for it to go into, go off to some other session, and before I get to play it, some other so and so beats me to it, with a completely different set; AND everyone else at the set knows it!
Explain that…

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Be careful with the Butterfly. Play it once too often and you may set off a hurricane on the other side of the world.

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Wow! Ottery - That’s a graphic description of what I meant. Ever heard of the Hundredth Monkey story? - must be Morphic Resonance finally reaching The Music and sessions.

Cat - I like your choice of tunes - and again… there you go! - I thought I might be out on a limb with this thread but I’m beginning to feel vindicated… a fair number of those you’ve listed there, are ones which I consider "newer" session tunes - I’ll explain in a second….

Joyce - although this thread is called "Trends in Session Tunes", in my lexicon, "Trends" as a signifier could be equated to "Trends in Teapot Technology", that’s all - doesn’t necessarily mean the tunes are "trendy" - God forbid! - but I do know what you’re asking.

OK, even with that preface out of the way, I’m slightly conscious that there’ll be someone out there who’ll say - "Eddie Kelly’s? that old thing still knocking about, is it?"
(Which is what Eddie Kelly said to Kane O’Rourke after he played it in front of the said composer! - true.)

To add to cat’s and ottery’s list:
Set: Dublin Reel/Monaghan Twig/Convenience Reel.
Set: The Curlew/The wind that shakes the barley/Steampacket.
Set: Con Cassidy’s/The Mist-Covered Mountain/Tatter Jack Walsh.
Set: The Honeybee (H/P)/Marco Pollier’s (Reel). - actually, I have to admit, I haven’t heard anyone except Luke Daniels play Marco’s and my version is way down the list by comparison, but for any competent box players out there, try those together, they fit like a dream.

Does anyone play The Acrobat (H/P)?

The (second) Pigeon on the Gate - if that’s the right name (Frankie Gavin’s first solo album). - also Ryan’s (2nd) off of that album.

Tom Bhette’s Waltz.

The Bluebell Polka - much maligned, but the classic example of something that is so twee, to the extent that I’m assured it’s a favourite of the Bier Kellers (no offence Germans, Austrians and Swiss reading this - just that at one point in its life that tune acquired that kind of international status).
Now it’s come back as a fun, infectious, knees up tune, that everybody denies they know but can’t help tapping the feet to. I thought it was just me - I picked up a cassette of Will Starr, classic Scottish box player, of the kilted variety, I got that tune off it, started doing it, and whoosh! it’s all over the place! No way it’s down to me, it’s a case of, you buy a purple Skoda, thinking your unique, then next day, allofasudden!! you see all these purple Skodas everywhere.

It’s true, you don’t hear the Kesh, the Butterfly, The Wise Maid, The Maid Behind the Bar so much as before, but I wish they could be exorcised completely from our sesh, always coming back to haunt us as they do.
Also, as a whistle/flute player I have made a deliberate point of stubbornly refusing to learn The Lonesome Boatman - isn’t that an old Song, anyway, Fear an Bhata?
So, some of those tunes above are different from the ones I heard in sessions around 10-15 years ago. Also I’m glad, from what I hear, there is much more variety played in sessions now. There’s reels, reels, the odd jig set, some H/Ps, waltzes, slow airs, now it’s also respectable to play polkas slides and Schottisches. Someone came to a session I know recently and led Nine! - I counted - straight sets of reels - he would have won Wimbledon had he a tennis racket.
But normally, in that sesh, the mix is raahther more eclectic, as per above.


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Marco’s - now there’s a tune. Jerry and I play The Silver Spire + Marco’s. I think we got Marco’s from a Four Men and a Dog Album. I think they played The Wise Maid and Marco’s as a set. This is not a clever idea, unless you’re very clever, because the beginnings are too similar, and you don’t know which tune you’re in half the time!
And the purple Skoda thing happens so often that you start to think - "Maybe there is a God".
I took a lady in our village who plays fiddle to a regular session I attend in Oxford about a month ago. As we were leaving, she got chatting to another flute player, and, amazingly, it turned out she comes from the same (remote) highland village (Scottish, that is) as his wife. Last week, I took her back to the same session, where she met our resident star fiddler, who was not there the previous time. It transpires that she knows his sister! They hadn’t spoken for a decade, and she spent half the session running up his mobile phone bill, talking to her old mate. She comes from the same village as well!
Scotland must be a very small place, or I’m going to have my cynical misbelief in the paranormal sorely tested…

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Love Trevors butterfly entry!

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I think tune trends go in cycles. Every so often a good tune will become fashionable again, usually because the superstars of the day have recorded it on their new CDs with an original setting, unusual arrangement or as part of a set with some new tunes.

Miss Monaghan’s an example. Fairly standard, well-known tune. I always knew it as one of John McSherry’s party pieces. He recorded it with Coolfin and then all of a sudden loads of pipers are playing it. I went to see Steve Cooney give an accompaniment workshop last year and he played a few interesting chords to "The Earl’s Chair". I love playing that tune now, as I imagine him playing along every time I hear it. Well we can all dream…

Someone mentioned the Flutter-By earlier. I personally can’t stand that tune. Strangely though I don’t mind the Lonesome Boatman (loan us some blow, man). I think it’s because the Lonesome Boatman has fallen out of favour so much that I rarely hear it these days.

Anyway that’s my tuppence worth


Re: Da Da Diddle Diddle Ey Dum

Yes, we play the acrobat hp - its Northumbrian and I play accordion, so its easy.

We also play Morrisons, but only as the last tune in a set - what jig can you follow it with??

Around my way, EVERYONE plays John Ryans’ to death, if I start with Dennis Murphy’s, people will play along, but no-one knows


Context is everything.

Those of us who have only a few tunes probably have within that repertoire tunes which irritate those with larger, more varied and potentially more interesting mental tunebooks.

And yup … I’m one of those annoying people who play The Kesh and The Maid Behind The Bar within my limited and slowly growing (painfully slowly growing, almost to the point of receding) list of available tunes.

However … in my defence, I’d ask people to consider Paddy Keenan’s playing of "The Maid" both on his solo "Poirt an Phiobaire" album and his contribution to The Celtic Jazz Collective’s album on Mapleshade.

Sure, the tune is a hackneyed one, but Keenan approaches it from, as ever, an individual and daring angle!

And again, last time I saw Keenan at Hammersmith, he announced that he was going to play Harvest Home. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in the room who questioned the wisdom of such a proposal. However … the proof of the pudding was in it’s eating and - to continue this metaphor which I wish I hadn’t started - there wasn’t so much as a crumb left on the plate when he’d finished!

Personally, I can listen to just about any classic tunes played reasonably well (or if badly, at least with good faith!). And I get a buzz out of players like Danny bringing along a few novel tidbits to spice up the mix. What does Jeremy say in his introduction to this site … something about the mix of the well-known and the unfamiliar being the hallmark of a good session!?

However … got to keep adding to the old repertoire … if I can find time!


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Hey Aidan, I recently saw Paddy Keenan live as well, and he played Harvest Home, that time too—only he said he was going to play a tune called "Meadow Daisies" or something like that. Then he launched into Harvest Home, and you could hear the whole audience, of all levels of playing and non-players alike involuntarily murmuring to themselves in recognition, "oh, uh-huh!" when the tune started up. It was kind of funny. He did a good job of it, too.

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There’s nothing wrong with TMBTB. It’s one of the few tunes that non-player’s seem to know the name of - and that’s because they like it…

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Aw shucks, Aidan. You’re raising expectations way beyond what I could ever possibly deliver.
Shame the adherents to the local laws down here don’t share your opinion.
Don’t they call TMBTB The Barmaid in Scotland? Although I’ve never heard it being referred to thus.
Ottery - Sure you’re not thinking of the Sally Gardens? No idea how many times that’s been requested at sessions.
Geoff - I’ve heard The Cliffs of Moher follow Morrison’s - but that’s not ‘trendy.’


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What a great discussion!

I totally agree people gravitate toward certain things from recordings — I know I do. I mean, how can you not like most of the tunes on most ‘successful’ (i.e., have sold a copy or two) recordings? Certain things will resonate differently with different people, but overall, artists are going for mass appeal, because the goal *is* to sell at least a few records. So. The artist/band has to like a tune to want to record it, the producer has to agree a tune will enhance a recording’s buyability, and we listeners have to like a tune enough to go ahead and plunk down our hard-earned for the disc, let alone wanting to learn its music for ourselves.

I also figure a lot of these artists have incredibly vast repertoires simply by virtue of who they are …. they’ve been playing, and working hard at it, all their lives. So for my learning, I personally choose to trust their taste, wisdom and experience in at least some of my tune selections. I figure I may as well learn from the best, and it’s so fun to hear how different players approach the same tunes.

So there it is.

You know, I think the trick is trying to make the most of whatever tune you’re handed. In a recent workshop John Skelton (the great House Band flute player), said that the goal of good ITM is to make you *feel* something — in most cases, like a bit of a dance. He also said he believes it’s about the music, not the musicians — i.e., when the music’s well-played, your response should be "What a great tune!" and NOT "What a great player!" (i.e., truly great players are the ones who make the tunes shine)

So as much as I hate the dratted Butterfly, I guess my job shall be to continue trying to make it the best I can, since so many people so obviously like it. We do take solos on it, if that helps anyone …. and (ironically?), it does get more fun when you build thru it, work a bit of a transition, and then sail into Morrison’s or Kid on the Mountain.

Incidentally, we just dredged up The Wise Maid; it’s pretty cool bookended by The Musical Priest and The Piper’s Despair.

— cat.

PS. Polkas, etc.

For a way around the 42-Pound Check gap, we’ve had good luck with Denis Murphy’s/ /Maggie In The Wood/one of The Ballydesmonds, I think/John Ryan’s.

We do Tom Bhety’s/Bigby’s/Whatever That Guy’s Name Is Waltz, too. Nice tune.

Another point …

Another point which has probably been made thousands of times before and probably by many better able to articulate it than I …

I think it’s important that sessions (or for that matter reccordings) feature a fair smattering of well-known tunes because it’s the well-known, well-loved and stood-the-test-of-time tunes that contribute to the "bonding" aspect of traditional music. The spark of recognition; the sense of common purpose; the feeling that we’re all part of a community of players with links to each other, and through each other to the dim and distant past. (Hope that doesn’t sound too Waltons-ish … I’m no fan of whimsy!)

Wilful obscurantism can be just as criminal as trotting out the old standards and doggedly limiting the repertoire.

The best players walk the fine line with poise and grace. Take Paul McGrattan’s new release, "Keelwest". A lot of tunes that have become a bit shelf-dusty get an airing, the odd new composition but pride of place goes to a set of session classics "The Lark On The Strand/The Geese In The Bog/The Eavesdropper" …

At the end of the day, what matters is that the music connects with the players and with those who are there to enjoy our music.

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I always worry if someone asks for the Sally Gardens that they might be thinking of the song - then we play the reel and they think we’ve got the tune wrong!

Re: The Bluebell

As a mid-continental I’m not offended if you associate the Bluebell Polka with beer kellers. It sounds right for an oompah band. Personally, I’ ve spent a hundred times more hours in english and irish pubs than in beer kellers with brass bands so I can’t really tell you what they play.
We could make a list of irish (?) tunes that have continental feel, and to me Harvest Home is one, just like Soldier’s Joy.

Have you heard it say, Danny, that the scots are to the United Kingdom what the bavarians are to Germany? πŸ˜‰

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Kuec - No, I can’t say I have, but conversely, I’ve always regarded Bavaria in a similar light to Scotland. So, are Austria and Switzerland sort of Central-European Irelands, or is that stretching the analogy beyond breaking point!?!?
Ottery - a box player round here, joined by myself, used to play both Sally’s as a set. I suspect the reel is a pumped-up version of the old air.
Aidan - you can read this upon your return from the sesh, which I couldn’t get out to, ya jammy git - I kind of agree, it’s nice to polish up the usual familiar ornaments and put them out on display again, but isn’t it also important, nay, almost a duty, for the most adept exponents of our craft, to be doing a fair amount of time disenterring, piecing together, polishing up and putting on display forgotten gems for the present-day Tuath to get in touch with their great-great-great grandparents’ vibe? On a rudimentary level I attempt to do just that, thus trying to break out of the trend thing wot this thread is about - and I’m sure there’s a lot of heads on this site trying to do the same, eg, Conan.
John Offord - English fiddle player - been along to the Woodman several times, also I used to do a session/gig thing with him in Greenwich, years ago - does a great job of doing exactly that for English music, and has published 2 volumes to date, of compilations of English tunes. English music was in such a state of disrepair, but due to the efforts of enthusiasts like John, it’s starting to bloom again, and lovely stuff much of it is too - and that coming from a Scotsman!
I quite like the notion that session tunes come in and out of fashion (it’s not my notion - you talk to most players who’ve been around a while and they’ll say the same) because it proves that The Music is a living, scraggily, amoeboid entity, with pseudopodia reaching out, then pulling back, going somewhere, not sure where, but who cares, at least it’s going…unlike museum-piece music that people need dots to play and even then sounds like daeth het up. (correct Doric spelling, daeth het up).

Right. That’s me finished rambling on.


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The discussion drifted off a bit but i thought demonstrated some kind of collective conscience (shared knowledge) but some have more than others. The trends can then become the ebb and flow of our collective conscience . It reminded me of something my wife told me about ‘The celestine prophecy’.

The tunes are never trendy, hearing them played is coincidental.

It was beautiful day here today. I sat in my back garden in the sun playing my mandolin, in a very unfasionable kind of way! It didnt spoil things.

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Every time I think about playing The Banshee, I think, no I’m sick of that tune, but then when it does get played, it almost always gets a round of applause from the punters. Is it because they know it? Is it because they like it? Can’t figure that one out.

In the line of "played to death and then no one would play it and now it’s new again," Father Kelly’s is coming back, I think, or so somebody told me.


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You always were a bit of a hippy on the side, Bouzy….at least that’s a better starting point than a Drum boy, only saw the light through athletics and traditional music, squeezing in a wee bit of science on the way. I got only so far down that URL of yer Good Lady’s… jeez do they go on a bit! I did, previously on this thread, touch on the 100th monkey and morphic resonance - morphogenetic fields as proposed by Rupert Sheldrake (He’s no fae the Drum or the Ardoyne) is another one of those neo-mystical cluster of ideas.
Could be up in Glasgow just after Easter - we could do trendy tunes!
‘ll keep ye posted.


The banshee

You just think you’re sick of it, Zeen. Your playing of it is probably so automatic and jaded it comes out effortlessly, hence sounds so cool and easy and fluid, I bet, and that’s why they love it.
Anyway, long time - are you in Ireland or what?


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No, California — I’m here for my sister’s wedding. Drove out, which was kind of fun, actually. (Anyone in the Bay Area wanting to get together to play? Mike? You around?) Today we went shopping for fabric for her wedding dress, tomorrow I’ll measure her and draft the pattern. Previous to that, I was buried in stepdancing solo costumes for two weeks. πŸ™‚ The usual story.

Actually, vis a vis The Banshee, I usually concentrate on the feel of the thing, so that *could* be it, except that even if I’m sitting at the bar, the round of applause still gets had, so I truly do think it’s the tune itself. Heh. Unlike Father Kelly’s, which always strikes me as a rather horsey-ducky kind of tune. It certainly doesn’t get the sort of reaction Banshee does.

Another that gets a lot of applause is Reedy’s. I don’t know about why that one does, either.


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Danny, It would be great to see you back up here. Look forward to it, keep me posted, off list.

Hey Zina, I was in San Fran last summer and was very impressed with ‘the Lark in the Morning’ What a shop!!! How come here in the heart of Celtic land we have nothing similar? I think Glasgow has only one dedicated folk instrument shop. The reason? - Well, non of these bloody tunes are trendy or fasionable. Obviously there are different levels of trendy and with respect to market forces I guess we dont need to worry about Trad. Music EVER becoming trendy!!.

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Lark in the Morning — isn’t that a dreadfully expensive shop? Someone said, anyway. We do do retail up rather brown in the States. Be happy you don’t live in a place that can produce retail as demographically targeted entertainment. *grin*


P.S. Guilty Secrets

I harbor a secret liking for The Maid Behind the Bar. And I love playing Otter’s Holt. And Sligo Maid. What the hell, I even like Silver Spear. And Wise Maid, too.

Hell, I’m not sure that there’s one specific tune that I really don’t like, just ones that I don’t really know well enough to like or have simply overplayed and need to give a rest before I rediscover them.

But polkas still send me to the bar after three or four of them. πŸ™‚

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‘The tunes are never trendy, hearing them played is coincidental…’ That’s brilliant, I love it! It was my thoughts when I started the serendipity thread, without having read that quote first…. how wonderful bouzy! Thanks!

Zina, I think Lark is worth a looksee, but you’ll want to keep your wallet at home. Have a great time in San Francisco! I was supposed to visit in March, but had to postpone til summer or later…

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In my experience, the most REQUESTED tunes in sessions are:

If you’re a banjo or mandolin player, The Mason’s Apron & Duelling Banjos (Don’t they realize that a *duel* requires two participants - and,if it’s in an irish musician’s repertoire, it’s only there for the money).

If you’re a flute or whistle player, The Lonesome Boatman.

For any musician (regardless of whether you sing or not), The Fields of Athenry.

Last Sundy night I was at a session in North London, where a certain well pickled regular requested The Boys of Ballysodare and The Humours of Tulla some seven or eight times. We played them form him after about the second time, but he either didn’t notice or cleas forgot and he continued to request them for the rest of the night.

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Geoff: Another standard you could throw in after Morrison’s is Sweet Biddy Daly (A). This is widely practiced at the Dub Folk Pub in Oslo.