Irish Piccolo?

Irish Piccolo?

Can anyone tell me what exactly is meant by irish piccolo? Is is a classical piccolo played in the traditional style or a fife? Thanks, Mark.

Re: Irish Piccolo?

I assume John Doonan’s piccolo was of the old simple-system type that Classical musicians played before the current Boehm system became practically universal for flutes and piccolos used by Classical musicians (which was a pretty long time ago, now).

Symple-system flutes, conversely, are vastly the instrument of choice for Irish flute players: unlike on the Boehm, the bulk of the repertoire can be played on open holes, enabling fluidity in the music. Some simple-system flutes around are real c19 survivors, others are the work of contemporary makers.

All this goes for piccoloes, too - but it remains a very rarely used instrument in trad, as far as I see.

I don’t know when something stops being a piccolo and becomes a fife. I suspect there is a bit of difference in the fingering, but am not certain of this.

I’ve never heard of an instrument called the Irish Piccolo - that moniker must just mean, ‘Something someone happens to use for playing Irish music’.

Re: Irish Piccolo?

I’ve been testing out Doug Tipple’s prototype PVC piccolo for the past month or so. Its pretty nice if you already have a strong flute embrochure, can be played in tune and at a reasonably tasteful volume. Still feels a bit odd playing it in a session context. I used to have a Skip Healy keyless piccolo that was wonderful.

Re: Irish Piccolo?

Looks from Terry McGee’s site that a piccolo has a conical bore and a fife has cylindrical? Anyway he makes a nice, simple-system piccolo that would be my idea of an "Irish piccolo".
http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/piccolos.html

Re: Irish Piccolo?

I have boxes full of old simple system piccolos. Here’s a pic of most of them: http://forums.chiffandfipple.com/viewtopic.php?p=937443#p937443

"Irish Piccolo" is just the piccolo equivalent of "Irish flute," which simply means conical bore wooden simple system flute. I own a few "fifes" of the same design, conical/wooden/simple, pitched in B/Bb. They work the same as the others. The cylindrical bore wood fifes are an older instrument and are fingered differently in spots, they rarely have keys too, whereas the old conical fifes almost had them.

You hear piccolos on some of the old 78s of groups like Dan Sullivan’s Shamrock Band. Here’s Paddy Finlay on the piccolo in duet with Michael Coleman: http://www.archive.org/details/MichaelColemanandPaddyFinlayOldManDillonKerrigansFancy

I like the piccolo a lot. Whistles, feh. Seamus Tansey has a picc they tell me. They’re hard to get working properly though, and many of my antiques play a bit flat of modern D.

Re: Irish Piccolo?

Do people just want to explore these little niches for the sake of it? If so, fair enough, no harm done. I’ve been in a session with a flute player playing piccolo, and although he was good, very good in fact, my honest opinion is, why bother? You already have the whistle in upper D. The whistle has a sweeter tone than the piccolo. The piccolo is quite harsh, and after a while could get on yer nerves. Yes it does cut through the mushy sound of congealed bodhráns guitars and banjos that most sessions are clogged up with, but in itself, the piccolo screeches, so presents its own problems. Purely my opinion.

Re: Irish Piccolo?

It’s possible to play the piccolo so it doesn’t screech.

Re: Irish Piccolo?

The German style piccolos had smaller holes and thus a sweeter quieter sound than the larger holed English models which evolved into the Boehm picc. I have examples of both and prefer the smaller holed jobs - it is an in-your-ear instrument. They have a unique sound compared to the whistle, which everyone plays. I haven’t played a whistle in ages. Most of my piccolos only cost me about $50, too.

Also the keys are handy for the odd semitone. Here’s some of my reel playing: http://www.box.net/files#/files/0/f/0/1/f_438638941

Re: Irish Piccolo?

Irish Piccolo = mostly out of tune. Good luck!

Re: Irish Piccolo?

John Doonan (who was a very fine musician, btw) used to play his piccolo a lot for Irish dancers and - I’m pretty sure - for ceilidhs. Very audible and definite, his piccolo suited these.

Re: Irish Piccolo?

I got Billy Miller’s bamboo piccolo a couple of months ago, and am now getting used to it. Still struggling with it, I enjoy playing it a lot especially in a big session.

My idea was that I could improve my embouchure by playing the piccolo, and it in fact works. I find it easier to play the flute now.

Re: Irish Piccolo?

https://thesession.org/recordings/1315
John Doonan, whom I was lucky enough to meet on the several occasions when he played at Aberdeen folk clubs in the 1970s, played a "simple-system" piccollo, which he used to play a lot for Irish competition dances in and around the North-East of England. The piccollo was his instrument of choice because of its’ volume, and it could be heard over the "battering" of hard-shoe set dancers. His son Mick also played piccollo. There are very few other piccollo players I can think of since, but Gordon Tyrell from Leeds certainly used to play one, and recorded a couple of his own polkas on picollo - I’ve posted them here and will provide the links below. I’ve a feeling Harry Bradley recorded a piccollo track a few years back, but that could be wrong. I’ve had one myself for years, but could never make anything of it.

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Spelling……………

"Piccolo" and "Tyrrall" - sorry………………

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Re: Irish Piccolo?

A man called Billy Ballantyne who lived in rural Northumberland used to play one. Recordings of his playing exist, and I think can be found on the FARNE website (FARNE = Folk Archive Resource North East).

Pipers apart, there was no wind tradition to speak of in Northumberland before the revival. Billy was exceptional here.

Re: Irish Piccolo?

Recently got hold of a copy of ‘The Fluters of Old Erin’. There’s loads of brilliant piccolo playing on it. I have been inspired to dust off my old simple system piccolo and have a go. It’s really hard to control. My friends may be relieved to know that I won’t be playing in public until I’ve really got to grips with it! And I think that should apply to everyone who has one. Check out the aforementioned CD for some fine playing.

Re: Irish Piccolo?

I’ve seen a reasonable number of piccolos played at fleadhanna down the years. Usually flute-players sneaking under the bar of the "miscellaneous" competition rather than dedicated players though. To my ears it is ok in small doses but I’d much rather here a flute or a whistle most of the time (But then I feel much the same way about low whistles which do pretty much the opposite from a piccolo ie take the whistkle into flute territory). Nice for a bit of occasional variety at a session.

- Chris

Re: Irish Piccolo?

I read that Billy Ballantyne played home made whistles, actually. Lovely music.

Harry Bradley only recorded fifing, I think. Likely he owns one of these squeaky piccs though. Eddie Cahill recorded some wonderful piccoloing on the John Vesey Sligo Fiddler record.

Re: Irish Piccolo?

Actually quite like the John Donnan recording which I’ve just listened to. But in the same room as the player I’ve generally prefered flute or whistle to piccolo. Then again I’ve usually been listening to folk that were primarily Whistle- or flute-players moonlighting.

- chris

Re: Irish Piccolo?

Just in case: that’s "in the same room as _a_ player".

And not: "in the same room as John Doonan" (whose name I managed to mispell above)

Re: Irish Piccolo?

Dia dhuit! G’day!

I play piccolo, not so often out here in Tassie. There are all these Saturn 5B rocket whistles which, when not tuned in, are so harsh on the ear that it makes not for a good session; excruciating might be a fair description. It is the same with loud whistles which some seem to prefer. If out of tune their volume does not assist a session.
A Belfast friend of mine asked only recentlywhy I didn’t play when the others were not going so well and I replied that one "in tune whistle/piccolo only compounds the tuning and makes for more noise than music".

All the best

Brian x

Re: Irish Piccolo?

Also, I should add that I played with J D and had wonderful times and tunes, likewise some of the family, rich music indeed.
For those interested I also have an "alto" piccolo, key Bb. It is NOT a fife, but a proper piccolo. It has a really fruity voice, rich sonorous in lower range and bright in upper register.

All the best

Brian x

Re: Irish Piccolo?

Billy Ballantyne’s son Bob (think I have that the right way round) also played the piccolo. He emigrated to Australia, where in the early 1980s I was introduced to him by Geoff Wooff, who had "discovered" him and got him playing again. If he is still alive he’d be a very good age now.

Re: Irish Piccolo?

Ah yes, jeeves tones, I play with a lady from Victoria who has played on a recording with him. She says how lovley and bright his music is!

all the best

Brian x

Re: Irish Piccolo?

Ooops…lovely!

B x