Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

I noticed, that many of the popular tunes, that are often played at various sessions, are also recorded on old Bothy Band, Dubliners, etc. recordings.
So I was wondering, if those tunes (Kesh Jig, King of the Fairies..these really popular ones) became popular because they where promoted through the recordings of those first famous Irish bands, or if they already had been "mainstream" in Ireland, even before these first big successful recordings.
But it might probably be quiet difficult to determine, which tunes where played most frequently a 100 years ago…

Have there even been any tunes played frequently through all of Ireland in times before recordings and radio?

Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

I don’t know about Ireland, but if what happened there parallels Scotland, then many of the tunes popular today would have been popular for the last couple of hundred years, and would have been popular across the whole country, not just locally. A lot of the ‘standard’ tunes played in Scottish sessions today turn up repeatedly in old written sources spanning the whole country (and some from England) and more than 250 years.

Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

Some popular tunes that everyone seems to know are not popularly recorded. In that list, I would include

Road to Lisdoonvarna
Banish Misfortune
Morrison’s Jig
Jig of Slurs
Athole Highlanders

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Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

Maybe not so much the first one but the others have been recorded to death!

Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

Road to Lisdoonvarna (reel) - 64 recordings in the database here.
Banish Misfortune (jig) - 105.
Morrison’s - 126.
Jig of Slurs - 55.
The Atholl Highlanders (jig) - 73.

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Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

Well, you could get a rough idea by looking at older collections of sheet music like O’Neill’s Music of Ireland (1903) and his Dance Music of Ireland (1907), along with other sources. Then correlate that to something like Dow’s List, or thesession.org’s Popular Tunes list: https://thesession.org/tunes/popular?page=1

Of the "top 20" in that Popular Tunes list, the following are in O’Neill’s two collections — Drowsy Maggie, Banish Misfortune, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Out on the Ocean, The Musical Priest, The Harvest Home, The Kid on the Mountain, and The Blarney Pilgrim. With publication dates of 1903 and 1907 for the collections, you’d have to assume that at least some of these tunes were being actively played in the latter half of the 1800’s.

Of course we can’t say for sure how popular those specific tunes were in O’Neill’s circle of expat Irish musicians. Maybe they groaned when someone started Drowsy Maggie too. :) Maybe their favorite tunes haven’t remained popular in the modern session scene. Still, I recognize quite a few other tunes in the O’Neill collections that are played in sessions in my area.

Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

Who is playing all the "other" tunes in O’Neill’s? At a guess, I’d say there maybe 200-300 being played now, and of course I could be totally wrong.

Who is playing the other 700?

Slight thread tangent, sorry.

Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

"Who is playing the other 700?"

I don’t know precisely who is playing them, but I would guess that there are people playing those tunes simply *because* they are not being played by anyone else. Some players make a point of searching through collections and rediscovering ‘dormant’ tunes.

Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

Gonzo,

I was looking for the jig RTL not the reel. I spot-checked the database by looking at Banish Misfortune and saw only three entries. One was a band by that name, not the tune. What were you looking at?

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Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

"At a guess, I’d say there maybe 200-300 being played now"

Why guess? With some time to fill before tonight’s session, I’ve just taken as a sample the first 100 tunes in O’Neill’s 1001.

I’ve heard versions of at least 64 of them played around here in the last while….

And at the other end of the book, 22 of the 30 set dances still appear reasonably often.

No way of telling the OP whether they’ve all been consistently played throughout the last 100 years, but we have a partial snapshot at either end.

Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

Thanks, Gonzo. I was looking under Recordings, not Tunes. The numbers are obviously there, so I stand corrected. I doubt any of the folks I’ve played with have heard these recordings, but I can’t say they don’t exist.

I know RTL as a single jig.

Thanks, again.

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Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

So, you can learn a lot about this sort of thing by checking out http://www.irishtune.info — while that database does not have the quantity of listings here, it also has much less noise, as Alan Ng takes care to link things by actual tune rather than by name. And he has dates for albums, and displays them in order.

If you check there, you can see, for instance, The Kesh: https://www.irishtune.info/tune/1022/
He lists sixteen recordings, and the first is in 1974. He also lists versions of it in printed materials going back to O’Neill’s, though having checked them a few months ago, I can tell you that none of them are exactly what we think of as The Kesh today.

King of the Fairies, on the other hand, was recorded back in 1938.

Looking at other tunes at the top of The Session’s popularity list:
Drowsy Maggie, first recording 1919.
The Butterfly, 1971
Cooley’s, 1958
Morrison’s, 1941
Silver Spear, 1949
Maid Behind the Bar, 1920
The Banshee, 1975
Banish Misfortune, 1957
The Wind That Shakes the Barley, 1917

Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

https://picosong.com/wV3z4/
Paddy Killoran Pride of Erin Orchestra
Though he calls the Kesh “the Rambler.”

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Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

These tunes were apparently popular enough to be mentioned in the 1861 poem "The Dance at Marley":

Off She Goes
The Rocky Road [to Dublin?]
The Tipsy House
Miss McLeod
The Devil’s Dream
Jig Polthogue
The Wind that Shakes the Barley
The First o’May
The Garran Bwee
Tatther Jack Welsh
The River Lee
Follow Me Up to Carlow

Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

In the interests of accuracy, "The Boys Of The Lough" recorded "The Banshee" in 1973 on their first album, 2 years before "The Bothy Band" in 1975, although they titled it "MacMahon’s", after it’s composer.

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Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

Popularity (at sessions) isn’t quite the same list as most recorded (by professional musicians). For sessions there is certainly a core of probably 150-200 tunes which a proficient player might reasonably expect to be able to play >75% of.

We could probably identify that core repertoire relatively easily and most of the tunes mentioned already would fall into that group. I don’t expect that the core list changes significantly over the decades unless there is a notable recording which becomes widely popular which propels a tune into the popular list.

If we take TheSession Tunebooks as an indication of popularity… and it is probably another reasonable proxy then the following shows the relative popularity of the top tunes in each type by the numbers of tunes

Type TuneCnt Tunebook Avg
Reel 50 1548
Jig 50 1231
Hornpipe 30 667
Slip Jig 30 627
Polka 30 451
Waltz 40 434
Slide 30 290
Barndance 30 211
Strathspey 30 161
Mazurka 20 105
Grand Total 340 678.3

Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

dunnp, that’s crazy — great find! The Coleman one ("Kerrigan’s") is one of the proto-Keshes from O’Neill’s, but the Killoran one sure sounds like the modern Kesh to me. I think I have a pretty solid collection of Sligo recordings, but as far as I can tell neither of those cuts is on any compilation album I’ve got. And I don’t associate the tune with later Sligo musicians the way so many Coleman and Killoran tunes are.

Actually, just looking, the only thing I have tagged "Kesh" from a Sligo musician in my collection is an old Martin Wynne recording — and on listening, it’s the "Kerrigan’s" variant. Huh.

Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

The popularity of specific tunes seems to ebb and flood over time. People play the heck out of them, get sick of them, stop playing them for years, and then someone says, "remember those old tunes we used to love?" and they start playing them again. Since youngsters tend to rebel against their parent’s music, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone found that in many cases, tune popularity skips a generation. Recently, it seems to me that groups go out of their way to play the less familiar tunes when they record. And sometimes, those tunes get picked up, and become popular in sessions.

Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

"He lists sixteen recordings, and the first is in 1974." That site certainly needs updating, then. Piper Patrick Fitzpatrick recorded the Kesh before Killoran too, calling it the Comedy Maid, I transcribed that for this site. I think his record came out in 1919.

That 1861 poem lists a lot of the warhorses from a century ago, with some odd titles I don’t recognize which were probably local songs. Throw in stuff like the Connaughtman’s Rambles and you’re in business. Listening to every 78 I can find over the years and reading about music in the old days, you just get a sense of what people were playing back then. Haste to the Wedding, Father O’Flynn aka Top of Cork Road. Polkas like My Love is But a Lassie or the Rakes of Mallow. But no Morrison’s Jig, the Butterfly, the Silver Spear. Maid Behind the Bar, yes. Teetotaler’s Reel.

Re: Have the popular tunes “always” been so popular?

I remember reading that Shandon Bells was the "Kesh" of the 1900s. I think it was in one of the books on the history of Irish music.

It is difficult to over-emphasize the impact of the recording industry, especially Coleman. Those tunes became instantly popular. There is a bit of a chicken and the egg effect. Were tunes recorded because they were popular, or were tunes popular because they were recorded? Although I am sure Kevin Reitman is correct when he points out certain titles were very commonly recorded and would have been widely known.