pianos at sessions

pianos at sessions

Hey guys, so I noticed something while in Chicago. There seems to be a lot more piano playing at sessions there (at least the few I’ve been to in Chicago) than I’m used to, possibly because the bars actually *have* pianos, but is there anywhere else that this is particularly common? I’ve never noticed it much anywhere else, including Ireland, but then in Ireland I was only in Clare and Galway.

Just curious!

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I’ve been to a few sessions in Ireland where people have brought full size keyboards along to provide a piano backing. Usually I’m not a big fan as they tend to sound a bit lumpen. However there’s a friend of mine called Francis Ward who bucks the trend and has really made me reconsider my notion of the suitability of piano backing. He used to play in and around Belfast but I think he’s studying down in Galway or Cork on one of those Traditional Music degrees.
Fra if you’re on the site hope you’re keeping well.

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It’s not very common in Irish music, I think. Mind you, some bands like Cherish the Ladies(Donna Long) use keyboards. However, you’ll quite often come across this in Scottish sessions—especially with Shetland music—Violet Tulloch is the most well known, having accopmanied the likes of Aly Bain and Willie Hunter. Also, you keyboard players in many Scottish bands—-Phil Cunningham in Silly Wizard(while not playing accordian, whistle and everything else, Alan Reid in Battlefield Band, Donald Shaw in Capercaillie, Andy Munro in Blazing Fiddles, and Andy Munro in almost every other Scottish band. 🙂
I should mention Beryl Marriot too. She’s from Chester and plays Irish, Scots, and other trad music on piano/keyboards. Check out her excellent album "Weave the Mirror".

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wasn’t i only tellin’ ye back there last summer about gettin’ Michael O’ Suillebhain’s piana up ta Dublin without it’s cover, Bedad.
Yep There’s a grand session in a pub on the square in Westport (No, not Matt’s) where everyone brings a piana. (Well, maybe it’s permanently parked there)

Joe

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I know in Philly, there’s a lady who brings a keyboard to sessions, but she’s really the only keyboardist that I know of in Philly. In Baltimore, there is a piano (albeit old and deteriorating) in J. Patrick’s, and quite frequently, there is somebody playing it at sessions.

Jason

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i dunno about electric in sessions Doesnt it sound a bit metallic.. (yes, dear, I have metal on the brain) its really hard to get a good percussive thump out of them ..I am surprised there are not more pianos around in Europe.. what happened, did they all get destroyed during the arrival of moderntimes (as in postwar).. probably lots of pianos in houses though huh? we havent many bar pianos here either,, but I think we will see a resurgence …….phomeowners are busy getting rid of old pianos to make room for their 500 inch TV screens. so maybe the smart bar owners will snap them up., ah.. but then you get all those nostalgic sauced up patrons playin Stairway to Heaven, I mean Heart of Soul all night long and driving away the rest of the clientele……(oh god what a snobby thing to say!)

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You get that in The Royal Oak in Edinburgh but the clientele are usually too drunk to move or be driven away. Oh, what a bitchy think to say. 🙂

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Sorry. Lots of typos today. I’m not drunk myself. Honest. 🙂

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You get some pianos occasionally in sessions in Scotland. There is one in the Taybank hotel in Dunkeld, for example. Although I find it quite difficult to listen to on CDs or in concerts, I was surprised that when I was last at the session there I was playing with a piano backing for the first time and, although it caused me to change the way I usually play, it was actually quite a good laugh. I think it helped that the pianist a) seemed to know the tunes because he included occasional melodic runs with ornaments, b) because he avoided the usual um cha um cha methodology and c) his chord selection was unusual, but first rate.

I’m sure Pete Quinn must have an outlet of his musical expression in some of the London pubs too.

Personally, I think I prefer sessions sans piano……

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You’re right, though, Jamie, it does change you how play unless you often play with a piano accompaniment — sort of bouncy and off-beaty and all. I haven’t really noticed that keyboards lend a metallic sound, just depends on how good the amp and speaker setup is, I’d guess.

Francis Ward, Francis Ward…where have I heard that name before?

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Well all Cape Breton music is, is fiddles and pianos.

Johnathan

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hey, john, don’t you mean "andy thorburn" rather than "andy munro"?

personally, i love playing with a good piano player. i’ve had some roarin’ good times playing with john sikorski on skye and in edinburgh. but i guess the trad music i was brought up with always had a piano in there, so i guess it’s not surprising i like it.

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I was going to mention the piano at the Taybank in Dunkeld but Jamie beat me to it. There’s a piano player from upper Donside who lives in Edinburgh, er, think his name is Jim, who turns up at the Colqhounnie Hotel in Strathdon during the Lonach who is excellent, jamie has described his style down to a T so perhaps it was him in the Taybank. Since they took away the piano at the Colqhounnie, he brings his digital gig piano and amp.

It seems very natural in Scottish music, and probably more traditional than guitars! Shetland style guitar comping is pretty similar to piano with moving bass.

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Do your homework. Check out two great Irish backing pianists: Felix Dolan and Charlie Lennon.

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Thank you for the instruction, kris. :-p This IS part of the homework, thanks.

P.s.

And whether pianos are within the tradition wasn’t my question. I asked if pianos are common in sessions anywhere, because I haven’t heard them out and about. (If pianos can be said to get out and about. Except for Joe’s.)

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Zina, my comment wasn’t aimed at you, personally, nor meant to put anybody down - or for that matter alter the direction of the thread by much. Just sensed that some of the contributors might not be aware of the potential of the piano in an Irish trad. setting.
No offence meant, honest!

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There’s one at the Monday session I go to, but it seems the session leaders (facilitators / enablers / organizers / random inoffensive term) carefully arrange themselves in front of it to hide the fact from would be noodlers. They part like curtains when they spot somebody who can actually *play* the thing, but still the odd would-be accompanist manages tp push in there to plink plonk away. It’s a horrible "crack" sealant in the wrong hands, but the couple of folks that know the tunes are brilliant.

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to, not tp.

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Sorry, Kris, that came out snippier than I thought — I was in a hurry (well, I’m still in a hurry) and frustrated from the day — no offense meant, none taken!

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Yes, Rog. You’re right. I was half asleep earlier after an afternoon nap on the couch ! Andy Munro plays drums, guitar, and is also Mr Boom, as you’ll probably know. It is , of course, Andy Thorburn who plays with Blazing Fiddles and every other band in the North of Scotland. Night, night! zzzzz

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Piano is not my forte.

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I LOVE the Royal Oak

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my sis takes her keyboard downstairs in the oak and gets a few funny looks from the regulars: till she starts to play….

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Come on now, The Oak is a bit sad isn’t it? OK for late drinks, that’s about it really.

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Oh, Michael.

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I’m in Edinburgh at the mo. Was in Sandy Bell’s last night without an instrument - quel dommage! Anyway, coming back Sunday evening and heading home Tuesday, so I aim to check out SB’s one more time as well as the Central. I heard about the Oak last night - someone said the music was good but the regulars (as in boozers) can be a tad scary for the uninitiated. Maybe Michael has a point?

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Doh! you’ll miss tuesdy evening, the best for unadulterated Irish diddley

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michael i run the session on a wed night with ian (in the oak) now so its all changed!!! its packed! and good craic

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I didn’t know that pianos were allowed in Chicago. i was told there was a piano bar there.

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Some of the regulars in all the Edinburgh pubs can be a bit scary but mostly they’re quite harmless-even in the Royal Oak where you get an even bigger share of headcases. The management used to be even scarier. I don’t care much for The Oak myself. It always used to be a hit or miss for half decent music but there might be the odd good session from time to time.
Bell’s and the Central Bar are both good bets, Conan. There used to to be a good session in The White Hart on a Monday too with a lot of Scottish music. There’s usually tunes in Bell’s in the afternoon at weekends too.

John

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NEVER go to the White Hart, John the management are terrible people. they dont care about the music they just want a band to be wallpaper to advertise the pub, they treat the sessioners terribly! i had a bad experience when i did the session in there and one of my friends just had a run in with them too. not nice folks

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Ok. It was about a year ago when I looked in there and it seemed quite lively. Marieke was there plus a few good fiddlers and some of the Malinky crew. Maybe , it’s not so good now.

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Every (Irish) bar in Chicago I went into had a piano, Joe…no one played the one at Celtic Crossroads, though, during Larry Nugent’s session.

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re: homework doing. ooh, don’t forget Maureen Glynn. Awe-inspiring piano player. Check out the Fort at Kincora with her and Martin Connolly. There are a batch of piano players in the Bronx being raised in the enviable Glynn tradition.

As a piano player, I’ve found session playing in and around my hometown cumbersome and awkward. I love to play in ceili bands, but lugging pianos into sessions gets you the odd dirty look once in a while. And volume issues, since it’s electric. But mine has weighted keys and an nice piano-ey sound. I’ve found that the people who have been most encouraging and appreciative of the piano in sessions were people visiting from Ireland.

In any case, I’m on to the flute now as it’s much smaller and people are nicer to you.

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LOL dances — actually, what I’m listening to right now, Sos gave me a copy of Brendan Bulger’s CD, which has Kathleen Gavin playing piano on it (and of course Marty Fahy on the box), heard her stuff? — lovely playing.

Now, I fear to post this, not wanting to raise the usual firestorm when the Dread Name arises, but the viewpoint has been forwarded to me that piano playing tends to be more common around the Comhaltas crowd. (Spare us all the diatribes against Comhaltas, please, you Comhaltas haters. No, really. Please.) The theory being that as Comhaltas advances a more "traditional" sound, the piano is more common where they have a high membership. Anyone think that this theory has any weight?

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I have’nt seen any piano’s at sessions but i automatically do not buy any trad cd if it has any piano on it. I detest Cd’s with piano mixed with fiddle, banjo etc. Sorry any piano players, just my opinion.

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No need to get so "upright" -sorry, "uptight" about it all. 🙂

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by the way, earlier when I referred to tiny glynnites in the Bronx, I really meant Brooklyn. Bah.

I’ll check out Kathleen Gavin. The thing I really enjoy about Glynn’s playing is that it’s not a straightforward ceili band style (which could be Comhaltas’ problem?). Her style seems perfectly in keeping with the tradition while adding an extra nuance and gentleness that you can’t achieve being the rhythm box of a ceili band. It makes for lovely duets with the box.

Donna Long I’m not as fond of. Maybe it’s her jazz background, but her playing seems too poppy to me.

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Em says she (Donna Long) was playing the fiddle at last night’s session, and sounded lovely!

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I have played at kitchen sessions here in Idaho where we really had a good time with a piano in the mix- we start trying to Cape Bretonify the tunes, and it can be fun, what we call kitchen tunes. However, after 4-5 tunes it’s nice to give the piano a rest, and change the mix. Have also been in one session where a fellow got on the piano and there was nothing to do but wait it out.
My personal feeling is that piano is alright if practiced in moderation. But who plays Irish music and practices moderation? George

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Well I’m a trad piano player. I play in the fleadh cheoil etc. I have rarely played in a session here in Ireland where there hasn’t been a piano player or keyboard player. I find that the piano can give the session a lot of "lift" and "life" which can add greatly to the music. I also play fiddle but I simply love to play the right hand melody and vary different styles of left hand on piano. Accompanying in a session can also be great fun and you can experiment with different chords. (I wouldnt advise you go too mad if there are a lot of "mature" musicians because they wont always appreciate your individualistic style.)
Carrie*

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Zina, I think you hit the nail on the head (or at least somewhere close) in your first post. Piano playing in sessions was more common here (pubs where I’ve been in GB) when pubs *had* pianos - and in-tune pianos, rather than kn*ck*red ones.

Re the Comhaltas thing, I think it depends. I’ve found there’s a correlation between places where people actually know how to dance to the music and piano playing in sessions, whether or not they’re Comhaltas members.

PS I’m not mature, just old 🙂

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The comhaltas receitals in pre the all Ireland fleadh were inundated with way too much piano accompanying. They stopped short of killing Brendan McGlinchey with it…. …….but only just….

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I already tried something like that, Jim, but nobody laughed. 🙂

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I laughed! I laughed! Sheeeesh…*snort* I just didn’t POST it, fer catssake!

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Good piano playing really adds umph to the session. Examples here would be the Cross Keys near Portglenone where Jeannie McGrath vamps a mean set of ivories, and Johny Joe’s in Cushendall with either Ciaran or Owen on the keyboard. Unfortunately there are fewer good players about than was once the case and the old piano has become a bit of a wallflower in modern trad.

Ahh for the good oul days in the Pure Drop folk club half way up Divis mountain with me rattling away on the flute to Gerry Maguire’s shit hot playing on the upright in the old Green Briar with the thump thump thump of the disco upstairs coming down through the ceiling. Those were the days!

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Here in Cape Breton, you’ll be hard pressed to find a session that doesn’t have a piano. That’s what great and unique about Cape Breton celtic music. I can definitely understand how some people have mentioned that the piano is nice in moderation. In Cape Breton it is becoming more and more of a soloist instrument as many people are releasing solo piano albums. In sessions here, it almost sounds bare without the piano as we have become so used to it. Personally, I love it. It’s another aspect of celtic music that makes if even more unique. Being at sessions without piano though is often a nice change as well!

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If you’re using an electric piano you may have to be careful where you put the speaker. It’s possible that a bodhrán being played too close to a speaker could play some interesting anti-phase tricks with it and mute its response spectacularly. Now there’s a thought … 🙂
Something very like this happened once when we were rehearsing in a church for a chamber orchestra concert, and we had a keyboard pretending to be a harpsichord. We couldn’t understand why it was completely inaudible most of the time when the orchestra was playing. Eventually I spotted the problem: the speakers were next to the cellos, and the cello bass notes were in anti-phase with the speaker cones and stopping them from vibrating. Relocating the speakers to another part of the orchestra well away from the cellos and violas solved the problem, and the concert later went without a hitch.
Trevor

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Jamie mentioned Pete Quinn earlier - he’s a great keyboard player. He struts his stuff with the London Lasses (and Pete Quinn) and if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the Black Horse in London on a Sunday night you’ll catch him playing. His wife Karen Ryan, who runs the session, is also an exceptional fiddle player.

I think this has been mentioned before but wasn’t the advent of piano playing in Irish music to do with the fact that when the first 78s came out in the States with Coleman, Morrison et al, the producers wouldn’t allow unaccompanied fiddle? So they stipulated that a piano player had to accompany.

Just to change the subject for a sec, thanks for the info Michael G, Mike V and JohnJ. Had a blast last night at Sandy Bells and the Central. Eamonn Coyne and Leo McCann in particular were in top form but you guys in Edinburgh are a talented bunch. Might try to catch another tune or two tonight.

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Breandan, do you remember the saying "lend us yer begs fer the ‘Briar"? :¬)

Didn’t know they once had a session there.

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I can’t believe it, a thread on Piano accompaniment & nobody named the master - Father Seamus Quinn!! You need to get out more!

Breandan, worst session I think I ever had up here was one night in Joe’s, when I was sat 2 feet from Dominic & we fiddled at each other, but had to watch each others fingers to know where we were in the tune!!
Why, because in the front room with us were three Burtton Boxes, one Piano Box & someone knocking seven bells out of the Piano!
I’ve not been back!