The Londonderry Air.

The Londonderry Air.

I recently started working as a caregiver for seniors, and when playing music for one of my clients, I was asked if I knew the “Londonderry Air”. I had never heard of this air, but when they started singing it, it sounded familiar. So as I’m home getting ready to study it, I see that it’s actually “Danny Boy”.

Now, I never learned Danny Boy, because I’ve always heard it’s one of those overplayed/over-requested tunes; And even for my piano repertoire, I’ve always steered clear of music that was known to be overplayed/over-requested, until I came across them naturally. Because of this, I don’t even listen to them until I come across them in the wild; Either by hearing them somewhere, or by someone bringing it to my attention by request.

Well now the time has come for me to learn the “Londonderry Air”. It sounded familiar when my clients started singing it because just several months ago, after all of these years of my playing Irish music, someone finally requested it by it’s other name. Danny Boy. It’s quite the melody. I was thoroughly taken by it.

My question is, does anyone know of any traditional recordings of the tune, especially on Uilleann Pipes, Harp, Concertinas, etc. Or maybe even a folky rendition of the song, rather than all of the “Celtic” style versions I’m finding?

Re: The Londonderry Air.

Hi Jerone, good to see you posting again!
The song is called Danny Boy. It’s sung to the tune known as The Derry Air. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding lots of versions online.
Alex.

Re: The Londonderry Air.

We know it as ‘the London Bottom’! The London Derrière.
We recently performed ensemble with the line up of musical saw, nose flute, Swannee whistle, glockenspiel and Stylophone. Unfortunately our Theremin player was absent.

Re: The Londonderry Air.

There are four traditional Irish Airs about the emotional and religious longing for a missing Theramin.

Over-played/over-requested tunes? Nah….

The criterion is poorly played - not over-played.

A tune is played - and requested - a lot because it offers something to people.

Re: The Londonderry Air.

Just to add, without wanting to stir anything up, Derry and Londonderry are the same place - there’s differences of opinion involved Jerone!
Alex.

Re: The Londonderry Air.

People get tired of hearing the same tune over and over, no matter how well it’s played (YMMV) - so, yeah, "overplayed" is the criterion Jerone referred to. Of course, "overplayed" is relative - a tune may be "overplayed" in one time and place, and seldom, if ever, heard in another.

Re: The Londonderry Air.

No, over-played is one criterion, poorly played is another. I kind of like that recording by Christy Moore - but I would tire of it if I heard it every day. And if I kept hearing other variations or deconstructions, I imagine I would soon tire of them. YMMV.

Re: The Londonderry Air.

The lyricist who wrote the words to the air was Fred Weatherly. I believe his other claim to fame was that he was the first ever coxswain used in the Oxford-Cambridge boat race.
My favourite version of the tune was by jazz guitarist Ted Greene who sounded like a trio rather than a single guitarist. He truly was a remarkable musician:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ujO7qpoK40

I have to point out that despite what you hear there is only one instrument being played, no bass guitar, and no overdubbing.

Re: The Londonderry Air.

Wiki has this, very interesting

In 1974, Hugh Shields found a traditional song which was very similar to Gilchrist’s modified version of Londonderry Air… Aisling an Óigfhir (The Young Man’s Dream) which had been transcribed by Edward Bunting in 1792 based on a performance by harper Donnchadh Ó Hámsaigh (Denis Hempson) at the Belfast Harp Festival, and the tune would later become well known far outside of Ireland as The Last Rose of Summer. Bunting published it in 1796.

So you can call it Aisling an Óigfhir when you play it, and feel much better.

Re: The Londonderry Air.

Except for the fact it’s Christy Moore himself I’m not feeling much from that particular recording.
YMMV

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Re: The Londonderry Air.

For some reason nobody has mentioned pedal steel guitar! This tune has long been a standard in the steel repertoire and there are a lot of examples on youtube. But if it sounds cool on Theremin (take your word for it) why not steel? How about the setting from Sarah Jory, as played on January 2017 in Armagh whilst supporting the Bellamy Brothers. See
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SGIGzRKa5U

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Re: The Londonderry Air.

Thank you everyone, for the responses and resources.

Re: The Londonderry Air.

Very gratified to see the shout-out to the very much missed Ted Greene. 🙂

Re: The Londonderry Air.

"The criterion is poorly played - not over-played.

A tune is played - and requested - a lot because it offers something to people."

Or, as in many cases, because it’s the only "Irish" song they can think of to ask for…

Re: The Londonderry Air.

Again, it’s relative: if you’re going to "Irish" venues and events all the time, and you keep hearing it, you may consider it ‘over-played’ - if you have only a few such experiences in the course of a lifetime, you may welcome that tune every time.

Re: The Londonderry Air.

In my personal (& local) experience I doubt we have ever played the tune "Derry Air" in a session.
I’ve played it alone because it is a tune I’ve heard all my life. The song "Danny Boy" hasn’t been part of our sessions but it has definitely been requested with gigs. One example was a birthday party for a woman
in elder care. Her family requested we play and sing it. We obliged (they had cake and wine, etc. & we weren’t there to ‘explain’ Irish music to them…) However the accordion player, who was to sing it, really didn’t want to. He sort of resolved his issue by having everybody in the room join in. He wasn’t going to sing "Danny Boy" without making every last person complicit. We did; everyone of us. And we drank.

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Re: The Londonderry Air.

It’s one of those songs that can be done well, or totally murdered, especially if the singer can’t reach that last high note. And it means a lot to a lot of people, so it may get requested for parties, weddings, funerals, etc. And the air was used as the N Ireland victory tune at the Commonwealth Games.
I found a different set of words in an old song book - "In Derry Vale" - same tune, written by W.G Rothery, probably later than the Weatherley "Danny Boy": must say that I much prefer the former to the latter:

IN DERRY VALE W.G. ROTHERY
In Derry Vale, beside the singing river
So oft I strayed, ah, many years ago
And culled at morn, the golden gilded daffodillies
That came with spring to set the world aglow
Oh, Derry Vale, my thoughts are ever turning
To your broad stream and fairy circled lea
For your green isles my exiled heart is yearning
So far away, far, far across the sea

In Derry Vale, amid the Foyle’s dark waters
The salmon leap above the surging weir
The seabirds call; I still can hear them calling
In night’s long dreams of those who are so dear.
Oh, tarrying years, fly faster, ever faster
I long to see the vale beloved so well
I long to know that I am not forgotten
And there at home in tranquil peace to dwell.

There are various YouTubes of it in this version.
Also more than one set of hymn words to the same tune!

Re: The Londonderry Air.

We were doing a St. Patrick’s pub gig a few years back, and, on our break, a woman asked for Danny Boy. My music-partner tried to weasel around it by hinting that Danny Boy was beyond our capabilities and working the chat in another direction - he asked what brought her to this particular pub, and she replied, "I’m the owner" - at which he brought the chat back around to Danny Boy, and assured her that we would be overjoyed to perform this particular favourite of ours and hers …..

Re: The Londonderry Air.

He-he! Hope you got a free drink for that, meself!