playing irish music fast in london sessions

playing irish music fast in london sessions

there are loads of sessions in London where the musicians are playing at at a very fast tempo in the all Ireland competitions if you play fast you will get marked down seven points some judges will disqualify the musician. In the world dancing championship if you play fast for a set dance. the judges won’t be happy about it.
Martin Hayes is an example of great Irish traditional fiddle music he plays lovely Clare style music

Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

That’s a fair point Michael, although I’ve seen Martin play at a fair old whack at times. I think the best players can play fast, and make it look easy, but with less talented players it’s a train wreck.
Competitions are a different ball game, some of the people who play competitions are not happy in the chaos of a (beer driven) session.

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They are not playing for a competition or for dancers and they can play as fast as they like.

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I wonder if all the players involved in high speed tempo sessions are actually enjoying the experience? On the face of it, you would imagine that the answer would be yes, as otherwise a collective decision would be made to slow down. Wouldn’t it ??

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@Alistair "and they can play as fast as they like"
Surely you mean "may play as fast as they like"

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I think walking pace is fast enough .

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I usually play half-fast.

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What possible enjoyment can be got from playing tunes, especially reels at 100 mph. Horrible to listen to and for the uneducated Non Trad ear it must be a nightmare…………

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It’s all relative. If you can play fast and the tune doesn’t suffer for it, rip away. I’ve heard reels played at a nice and easy pace and it’s wonderful. There’s room in between the notes to let the melody breathe and you can really feel the pulse and lift of the melody. I’ve also heard reels shredded at a blistering speeds and they can sound wonderful too. Some specific melodies seem, at least to my ears, to want a certain pace. Trip to Durrow for example feels like it wants to lope along at a relaxed pace. However, tunes like Down the Broom or Sweeny’s Buttermilk or Sporting Paddy want to go full throttle. They practically beg for it. Same with jigs. I don’t want to hurry on my "Trip to Athlone." I want to take in the sights along the way. But Walls of Liscarroll? I want that sucker up on two wheels going around the turns, peddle to the metal. My point is speed may not be the issue as much as the tune and the player’s interpretation of it.

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That’s funny - I always find the Trip to Durrow wants to be a relatively fast journey, and the broom likes to be put down gently with a bit of a swing.

Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

Colman - you make a good point - melodies strike people differently. Both of those tunes were introduced to me by very good players and their interpretations of them stuck with me. So that’s how I hear them now.

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Pretty sure the only reason players play wickedly fast is because they are virtuoso players and they are enjoying themselves immensely.

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Yep its dance music…..

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"the broom likes to be put down gently with a bit of a swing."

Yeah, that’s what she said.

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^^ Don’t get me started on swinging hornpipes…

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Are hornpipes the only thing you’re swinging?

Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

Dia dhuit a Mick, mo chara!

Great to see your post! Only 5 hours ago took your name in vain when speaking, more importantly, PLAYING, with Kenny from this site!

I don’t think the ‘fast’ issue applies to London only, sometimes enthusiasm takes over, and sometimes a lack of feeling for ‘pace’. There is a certain feel for a pulse which carries all with them, and quite often, unknowingly, it might seem a lot slower than that which is played.

Having stated that, you are absolutely right in your comments about dance tempo.

Keep safe and well and best wishes from both Kenny and myself in Hobart!

Wow! This is what makes The Session.org so good-the number of people who drop in by knowing that we have a session; Kenny just rocked up because he knew I’d be here! So many visit us here because of Jeremy’s facility for session information.

All the best

Brian x

Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

Hi,

I’m a newbie to flute, and have really enjoyed listening to a wealth of traditional music over the last year. I still kinda have an ‘audience member’s ear, and am slowly developing a ‘player’s ear’.

From my perspective, I tend to dislike breakneck speed as a listener. I do some art in my spare time also, and in that, it’s as much about what isn’t painted as it is about what is painted. Certain parts of a canvas need to be left fairly blank, to give the eye time to rest, and I think that in music it’s the same for the ear - sometimes a less lively spot in a tune can accentuate the liveliness better in an adjacent phrase in the tune, and make the whole tune better for it. I know that when I listen to some of the greats on flute, you do hear a few notes here and there being left ‘hanging’ for a while, even in a fast reel or jig. I’ve particularly noticed that a nice slur to a note in a fast reel or jig, just to pull the pace back a little, can be very effective.

I guess if you are playing for others, I think it’s good to give the tune a bit of breathing space, but if you are playing for yourself, you can pretty much do what you like. Of course take all this with a pinch of salt, as I’m so inexperienced.

Mark.

Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

I think that this is definitely not "one size fits all" music. There are so many ways to play it, and it’s important to find musicians with a similar approach to it. And it’s frustrating to be with folks who want to play faster or slower than you. It’s like the joke about driving: those who go faster than you are jerks and those who go slower than you are idiots. Me, I like playing moderately to a slowish dance pace (not the modern Commission tempos). I’m not sure of bpms or even how to accurately talk about them, but at a ceili I will hear other players with metronomes on their phones say 115 which is about my top end for playing comfortably, and the dancers seem content.

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joe fidkid said what had to be said: "this is definitely not "one size fits all" music".

Perfectly stated. Thanks.

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It must be to do with the London sessions you’ve been to, Mick.
Down here in the back o’ beyond of South East London the sessions I’ve been to, the tunes are played as steady as anywhere else. In fact I for one like to be able to savour each note so try to play nice and steady…but I am often accused of going too fast!
BTW, having seen some of your Youtube vids I have to say you’re no slouch yourself!
Maybe the kids at the sessions you’ve been to, find out who you are, and try to prove themselves by thinking that playing fast is the way to impress you! 🙂
Get yourself down to The Ivy House in Nunhead SE15 and we’ll treat you right.

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Play faster!

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I remember an interesting scene at Gaelic Roots at Boston College many years ago. The teachers Ceilidh which featured Seamus Connelly, Joe Burke and Jimmy Noonan and others were just beginning to play and a young dancer, aged about 12 years old, stepped towards the stage and with her arms extended lifted her fingers to advise the players to play faster - needless to say the elite players did not agree with her!

Tuney

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Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

That’s just the guitar player playing 4/4 and not 2/2 , not so fast at all from the fiddler, not compared to Irish music anyhow.

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The ‘really fast treble reel’…

Was it a reel? I’m sorry, is it me? I sort of guessed what the tune might be but really it was just a jumble of noise. Horrible. Horrible. Horrible.

Don’t ask me what I really think as it is unprintable and Jeremy would fire me…

Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

yes its fast - is there actually a tune in there somewhere? I really don’t enjoy this kind of thing - theres this
point where a performance stops being exciting or virtuosic and just becomes a stupid noise. I rest my case.

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I agree lads, in fact it makes a good point… Fast does not equal better. That’s one of the perils of being a professional musician.

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I’ll just add my too cents in. Sessions usually have a leader or group of leaders, so they usually call the shots on tempo, however, the main rule to remember is whatever the tempo the leader of a set starts, stick with it, if you don’t like, i.e. grumbling or snarky remarks "can" be used to great effect if the tempo is terrible, and if its just a terrible session, leave. That said, i’m really going to stick my neck out here in light of previous "swing" remarks made. Lift and swing is a fine line. I also dance and I find the best tunes esp reels have a delicate to moderate swing to give it that lift that will get me to put my instrument down and step it out. Think NY, Sligo style. Some of the best and inspiring sessions i have sat in were at the Catskills Irish Arts Week.

Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

rinceaceol,

Please do not assert something which isn’t a universal truth.

Many sessions in Ireland, including several ones local to me, do not have leaders.

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Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

Some sessions may not have session leaders. But every tune or set has a leader, and rince2ceol’s rules still apply.

Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

Be less pedantic cancran.

Usually the person who starts the tune decides the speed.
So if the same set is started by different folk every week it might be faster or slower or just the same.

Re: playing irish music… ‘Please do not assert something which isn’t a universal truth.’

Define many. While I appreciate the fact there are sessions not based on hierarchy, or a very light touch from the most experienced musicians, it does seem like something "too good to true".

;)

Welcome back!

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Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

I understand cancran’s point. There’s certainly a difference in having a leader who sets the general pace for a session and playing at the tempo with which an individual starts any one set. This thread is about sessions that are overall fast-paced on all the sets. And on that point, I am with David Levine and fidkid. Find the session that suits your liking and ability.

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I stand corrected.
This is too good to be true.

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Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

Then there was the big piper - you would know his name, but I don’t - who was asked by some smartass why he played so fast - his answer: "Because I bloody well can!"

Playing Irish music in London

Michael Moriarty, have you met *any* musicians in London who you appreciate playing music with, or not?

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Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

Michael said at the start that: "Martin Hayes is an example of great Irish traditional fiddle music he plays lovely Clare style music."

Is it true that Martin Hayes’ style is typical of musicians in Clare? I notice that the liner notes say something like that, but I know that liner notes may or may not be accurate. I’m not familiar with other Irish musicians who play anywhere close to as slow, lyrical and "swung" as Hayes does. Kevin Burke swings, but not nearly as much.

Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

In a solo or duo performance, Martin Hayes plays his own personal style and it ranges from slow and milking every note, to much faster sometimes. That’s only one aspect of his playing though. He plays at an appropriate tempo for dancers in The Tulla Céilí Band, and at a good clip in a pub session like this one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EelRwZM-MEw

Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

thanks conical, that’s a fine session with the reels played just right - loping along at their natural pace rather
than rushing along breathlessly. I noticed what appeared to someone frailing a banjo, dunno if that had something to do with the tempo?

Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

I think there’s a limit to how fast you can play before "lift", "lilt" and "swing" become indiscernible. They surely all depend on some kind of emphasis, accentuation, syncopation… and you simply can’t do that at super-high speed. I’m frequently baffled by the alleged lift and lilt and swing that’s supposedly abundant in a performance that to me sounds rather mechanistic , like a player-piano.

That said, there is something thrilling in hearing someone play very very fast: the speed alone can make you want to dance. But just because dancers are enjoying dancing to something very fast, doesn’t mean we have to pretend it’s by definition got loads of lilt and swing to it: it might just simply mean it’s fun to dance to, just like the martial, pounding doof-doof-doof of 140bpm techno music.

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"it might just simply mean it’s fun to dance to"

Surely everybody here could agree that we wouldn’t want that! 😉

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@ Tom Stermitz — I’d hesitate to use the word ‘typical’ for anything when referring to all the musicians in county Clare, but some well-known Clare players that often take a walking pace with the tunes, as Martin does, include Mary MacNamara, Micho Russell, Pat O’Connor And Eoghan O’Sullivan. Just the first few that come to mind that I’ve been listening to lately. And of course for every one of those, you could name a brilliant faster player too. MacDara Ó Raghallaigh, anyone?

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"That said, there is something thrilling in hearing someone play very very fast: the speed alone can make you want to dance."

Or stop you wanting to dance. Watch Will Evans’ clip above to see what happens as the pace increases - the dancers give up and just stand and clap, then eventually even the clapping disintegrates.

Speed is exciting and can really wake the audience up, but it has to be used in very small doses. If you stay above a comfortable dancing/foot tapping tempo for any length of time the audience (and musicians) very quickly get tired and bored. A session that plays consistently too fast is every bit as bad as one that plays consistently too slow.

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Whoops Ó Raghallaigh isn’t from Clare. He’s still pretty good though. 🙂

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"for every one of those, you could name a brilliant faster player too. MacDara Ó Raghallaigh, anyone?"
Not much faster though! I can’t say I’d ever think of him as being a fast player. I only know his ‘Ego Trip’ album, so maybe there’s a whole other side to him I’m unaware of, but he generally plays at a medium-to-slow pace on that. (And it’s a live album too, a situation you’d expect most players to speed up in…)

Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

Sessions around London are strong and we’ll established. There are many very good players indeed, many ordinary open sessions boasting players of semi-legendary status and also acknowledged up-&-coming young Turks! With such a resource of talent, virtuosity is plainly widespread and a set or two that would give the Ramones a run for their money tempo-wise is just part of the fun. I think everyone playing supersonic sets are aware of the fact and often jokingly comment about a set ‘breaking the speed limit’! I have sat in sessions with Mr Moriarty and he can play as fast as anyone else!

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Variety is the spice of life. The same tunes can be played in so many different ways, at different speeds with different amounts of lift and swing and still be beautiful either way. Played slow, it may give you a sense of beauty, sorrow or deeper meaning - played fast it may be exhilarating and feel like a rollercoaster ride pulling you in fun and unexpected directions.

As a player, I tend to prefer fast - like hang on and see if this next curve will actually throw us all off this time fast. But riding rollercoasters all night can get boring too. So let’s go over to the ferris wheel and take in the view, and then maybe hit the haunted house too… The thing is, we’re all here together, so let’s have fun!

The absolute best music to play is where everybody is in the groove, and no matter what speed, lift, swing, or type of tune, the music flows more effortlessly than usual. But make sure you’re tall enough to ride the ride! If you don’t like playing fast because you can’t do it, then sit that one out and let the people that can do it and make it sound good have their fun. 🙂

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I agree completely-

The concept that sessions must tie their speed to what a competition dancer can dance to is really absurd - no?

For sure there are people who can murder a tune with speed, but if you can’t appreciate a blistering fast reel then, sadly, you’re missing out on what this music can offer - surely.

It is furthermore possible to dance to any speed of music if we’re not penned in by tight restrictions - enjoyable for sure! I’m sure people have been playing fast since this tradition began, because it’s authentically enjoyable to many.

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What is time?

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Isn’t ‘fast’ a bit meaningless without a bpm measurement?

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Yes, it is.
Fast.
Slow.
All vague terms but most (another one) can usually (again) cope with them.
There is a point where fast is faster than fast enough and is heading towards too fast.
We’ve all been there, most of us don’t need b.p.m..

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Damn it Jim, measurements are for scientists. We are artistic creators, not theoretical physicists.

At what time did time go fast? I’m very confused by these concepts. What is the bpm of a supersonic set? Numerical and or otherwise binary syncrtization of tune sets? What happened to the sake of old decency?

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OK, I’ll check Amazon for the Amazing Speeder Upper 🙂

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We’ll I got roughly 127 for the first clip 142 for the second and the third blew it up 🙂

I was just curious .
Sounds like an interesting app Jim
I’m very much in agreement with the reverend above, its all about the groove.
. Too much of the slow playing all night is just dull, too fast is exciting but , depending on skill and instrument can be off putting , though the punters generally prefer it dynamic and exciting , which generally means fast .

A healthy mix to give contrast with the odd ballad and air , just keep them short lads and occasional 😎 nothing worse than a blinding set of tunes followed by 15 verses of an obscure song , which then encourages someone else to sing another even more obscure 32 verse straight after , while all the playrs are raring to go but too polite to tell the drunk singing through his pint to drink it and shut it . How to knock the stuffing out of a session in 47 verses.
ok glad i got that off my chest 🙂

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What is "time is relative?" Is it actually pretty slow but some think it is pretty fast? Is the term hyper-loopy?

🙂

Re: playing irish music fast in london sessions

Professor Moriarty is quite right about London sessions being generally too fast. Rasher’s head begins to spin when he hears the breakneck speed merchants who dominate most London sessions. He has to bring ear plugs to avoid getting a headache.

Six weeks holiday in Ireland with your own instrument, e.g. up a mountain in Kerry, would be a suggestion for some peace and tranquility. Preferably make and drink you own poitin there to have the real craic, instead of trying to play with the stony-faced London wizz-kids who won’t even exchange a warm word with you between the sets.

Professor Moriarty himself was famous in the glory days of Irish music in Dublin in the seventies, playing beautiful flute and whistle with the Pavees, Luke Kelly, Seamus Ennis and the Keenan family in O’Donoghue’s in Merrion Row, Dublin, Slattery’s in Capel Street and other famous Dublin trad pubs. Rasher wishes those days would return and come to London.

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[*Sounds like an interesting app Jim *]

Will, not sure if the little joke passed you there, or whether you were just carrying it on 🙂 …

Anyway, the "Amazing Speeder Upper" was just something I found funny. Controversial ex-member Michael Gill mentioned it quite cynically in relation to players who played too slowly (he mentioned Martin Hayes). I did get the cynicism, of course, but I just thought it was really funny in the context of discussing session tune tempos.

Is it true that the London Irish sessions are different in that they have that ‘London’ off-the-beat swing?

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Just carrying it on jim. Was funny. , worth milking for a few more laughs 🙂 IMO the stony faced speed freaks probably are…. If you get my meaning … 😎 it surely isn’t the Guinness .

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Is it true that London swings like a pendulum do?