default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

When I was young and playing in sessions around the UK (say, from about the Moon Landing to the fall of the Berlin wall) you could really notice that certain UK cities had default ‘playing speeds’ in the way that their Irish sessions worked. I wonder whether this has continued into the present or whether we have less of a ‘default speed’ by region. I’d be interested in other people’s experience of this. I have played around quite a few UK Irish music areas (most northern cities, London, East of England, Scotland a bit)

What I noticed when young was that the speed always seemed to be highest in Liverpool (and note that this was before Bothy Band/De Danaan etc had any effect on playing speed). Leeds, by contrast, seemed a much more measured pace; Manchester somewhere in between.

My perception now is that there is a bit more diversity on how fast people play within a geographic region. For players in other parts of the world I’m sure there are different rules/habits but would be interested to know if for example US players have ‘default’ ideas about how fast people will play in eg New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco.

PS I’m not saying any particular speed is wrong - they can all sound great - but my preference would always be for starting a reel in the 90-100 bpm range. I just prefer that sound.

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

I have not been to sessions in many cities, but I did play at a lot of sessions in London. I found that the speed varied a lot, depending on who was leading the session. I would say that the South London sessions I went to tended, on average, to be faster than North London ones – but I didn’t go to all that many south of the river, and those I did frequent happened to be run by faster players. There were some fast ones north of the river as well – and probably some slower ones south of the river that I never discovered.

I might be somewhat relevant that the large and long-established North London Irish community seems to have particularly strong connections with Clare and Galway – and one of the most influential teachers in the area, the late Brendan Mulkere, was a Clare man (although he had pupils travelling from all parts of the city, such was his draw).

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

Different people play different tunes at different speeds on different occasions in different locations all the time! There’s no ‘default speed’!!!

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

My experience is, it depends on who starts the set.

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Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

I remember visiting Sam Murray in Belfast in 2002 and attending his favoured session. After attending 32 sessions in 64 days in 5 countries (US, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland), I can report that the Belfast session was the fastest I’ve encountered. London and Washington were pretty fast too. Is it a Capital City thing?

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

hard to be more vague than “in London they play pretty fast”, “in New York they play even faster” and “I prefer it slower”.

for $3.99, buy the “liveBPM” app (NFI!), measure and report playing speeds in numbers:
https://apps.apple.com/us/app/livebpm-beat-detector/id554766778
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.DanielBach.liveBPM&hl=en_CA&gl=US

the app is a digital “music speedometer”, the inverse of a metronome. (no, it does not issue speeding tickets!)

it works reliably for “count of 2” tunes (reels, polkas, marches), but can be off by 2/3 (or 3/2, whatever) for “count of 3” tunes (jigs, slip-jigs, 3/2’s and waltzes).

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

Capital city? Yes, I’d see some mileage in that. “Come to the big city, country mouse, and see how fast we play here!” But, counter to that, I visited a few Dublin sessions in about the year 2000 and they were very steady paced (Cobblestone and a couple of other places; also played at the Brazen Head a few years prior to that). But then I also noticed a very steady pace in sessions in West Clare)

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

Ailin: “My experience is, it depends on who starts the set.”

That can be the case in some sessions but it depends on the dynamic of the session. Some sessions are very ‘democratic’, irrespective of whether or not there is a nominal leader. But in those where there is a more pro-active leader (or leaders), that starts most of the tunes, that tends to set the general tempo of the session. When other musicians do start a set, it is often at a similar sort of tempo - either because they are following suit or getting into the general mood of the session, or perhaps because the session attracts musicians that like to play at that tempo.

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

“Is it a Capital City thing?”

Of which country is Belfast the Capital City?

(Apologies, I couldn’t resist it)

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

When I visited the Isle of Man, the sessions were fast and furious in Douglas.
🙂

(Seriously though, I like Manx tunes)

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

@Terry - in relation to your visit to Belfast, I seem to recall you mentioning the phrase “Belfast turbo-diddle”. 🙂
I’m curious as to how your trip to Scotland went at that time.

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Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

My very general impression is that in Ireland, north is faster, and south and west is slower and maybe more swing on the reels. I welcome correction on this! But if there’s some truth in it, would it be fair to say that the parts of the UK that are closer to the north of Ireland (Liverpool, eastern Scotland etc) might have more of that faster northern influence?

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

I’d have thought that Western Scotland was a little closer to Ireland both in terms of distance and musical styles.
😉

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

There are many variables. I’ve played in sessions that were generally a lot slower than my preference, others with a perfect mix of slow/medium/fast, others a bit fast… The location has had little to do with this.

See also the current thread about sessions in Glasgow, and for that matter what to do if your whistle isn’t the best weapon for the current tune.

mandocello8 wrote:
“or $3.99, buy the ”liveBPM“ app (NFI!), measure and report playing speeds in numbers”

Yeah, or a tuner, and then report how the pitch varies from town to town… 😉

Or Tunepal, and then report exactly which tunes were played at the session. NB: it doesn’t work in sessions with a lot of newly written material - those tunes aren’t available in Tunepal… 😉

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

@johnny jay, oops, yes…

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

jeff_lindqvist: and when you set up the BPM meter we will need a comparison of start speed (x) and finishing speed (y), expressed as a percentage of X (therefore: y minus x over x times 100). Highest value wins

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

You’re right. A great number of sets are similar to cassettes which take a few seconds to get up to speed.

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

To my mind it’s more about people than cities, and to a certain extent, “familiarity breeds speed”, i.e. the better known a tune is, the faster it gets played. My heart sinks sometimes: not because I can’t keep up, but when beautiful tunes get ruined by excessive speed.

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

I’ve played in sessions in the US, Canada, and Ireland, none in the UK, but I’d be surprised if those in the UK were much different in terms of tempo. I can’t imagine that all the sessions in a major city would be pegged at the same pace. Or even that a single session would confine itself to a narrow tempo all night, week after week.

The pace varies, depending on who shows up on a given night, the mood they’re in, the energy (or lack thereof) in the pub, the specific tunes that bubble up.

Sure, some sessions develop a taste for speed while others are accustomed to playing at more of a lope. But even these often mix it up a bit.

My favorite kind of session plays a wide range of tempos, intentionally, partly to include learners, partly to let hot shots rip out a few reels, but mostly giving the tunes their due. Some tunes, like Down the Broom, come alive at a brisk pace. Others, say, Paddy O’Brien’s reel Iniscealtra or Michael Rooney’s slip Gort na Mona, really shine at an easy sashay. I enjoy it when people are in touch with the mood of the music they play and have enough experience to know what works. (Sure, some tunes work well either slow or fast and anywhere in between. Much depends on the skill of the player(s).)

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Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

Kenny: in relation to your visit to Belfast, I seem to recall you mentioning the phrase “Belfast turbo-diddle”. 🙂

It was actually “Belfast Power-diddle”. I’d met Sam Murray the evening before, but he didn’t then show up at the session at the Duke of York. I went to his workshop next morning and he asked how the session was. I commented that it was “very fast and furious”, and he responded with: “Ah, Belfast Power-diddle.”

Kenny: I’m curious as to how your trip to Scotland went at that time.

I flew out to Edinburgh next morning after visiting Sam, and spent the next four days there, mostly holed up in the Edinburgh University flute collection with Arnold Myers and visiting American MMus student Kelly White. Kelly was working on her thesis on Boosey & Co, which she then kindly sent me. Went to a session in The Central and to sessions at Sandy Bells (of course!) a few times. Nice sessions, not too fast apart from a few young bucks pushing well beyond their ability. It was ever thus! (Gulp. Perhaps you were one of them?)

After Edinburgh, a lightning trip to Glasgow to get a copy of a manuscript by the 19th century flute maker Siccama I couldn’t find anywhere else in the world! Squeezed in one session at the Lois Mor, but I don’t remember much about it. Then off to High Peaks (near Manchester) in England next morning. So not as much time in Scotland as I would have liked.

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

Thanks for your reply, Terry, I’m glad you had a fruitful visit to Scotland. I don’t think I could truthfully have been described as “a young buck” in 2002. 🙂 It wisnae me !

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Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

Hmmm. I took trips overseas in 1974, 1988 and 2002. Or every 14 years. That means I’m now 6 years overdue. Be afraid. Be very afraid…..

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

On the contrary, Terry, you’d be very welcome. You might also be surprised to find how many more flute players there are in Scotland compared to your last visit. The flute still has a long way to go before it has the prominence in the tradition as in Ireland, though we’re working on it.
I know of at least one Terry McGee flute within a 10 mile radius of me at the moment.

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Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

“I know of at least one Terry McGee flute within a 10 mile radius of me at the moment.”
It’s a worry, isn’t it. Is nowhere safe from this fiend?

Interesting about the recent spread of flutes in Scotland. I recently had an on-line chat with a youngish Scots flute player in Perth, Australia, so you’ve hit export mode!

It would be a good topic for a thesis or even an article or online discussion to explore. What were the influences, who were the influencers, what were the challenges, will we see variants of the Irish flute to suit Scottish music better, etc, etc? (And what would those variants be likely to address?)

And is it just the Scottish mainland affected, or has the scourge reached the Islands? When can we expect to hear from “Da forty fluters”?

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

One thing I’d wonder is, anecdotally at least, it seems like A major is a bit more common in Scottish music. Obviously some of it has a flat 7 if it’s a pipe tune, but that also means a decent number of G#s flying around the place as well. Are keyless flutes then much less common among Scottish players, are there workarounds, or are there enough non-G# tunes out there to not make keyless flutes a problem?

I suppose this would also fit under the question about what whistle players do when they can’t play a tune!

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

That reminds me that, some years ago, someone did an analysis of tunes (perhaps on this site?) to identify the proportions of tunes in various keys. I wonder if you could filter out just the Scottish tunes for such an analysis? I don’t suppose so.

I wonder too how many “Irish flute” players in Scotland only play Irish music, how many only play Scottish music, and how many include both?

Hmmm, we’ll have the bones of this thesis fleshed out in a few days….

Re: default speed of tunes in sessions in different cities in UK

“That reminds me that, some years ago, someone did an analysis of tunes (perhaps on this site?) to identify the proportions of tunes in various keys.”

This?
Some music theory help - https://thesession.org/discussions/43565#comment870548

“FWIW, I just analyzed Norbeck’s Reels (1548 of them), and the numbers aren’t too much off of my analysis of the archive here. As my intuition would have suggested, the Mixolydian is a higher percentage. But it looks like this:(…)”

I remember an old discussion on IRTRAD-L about keys and percentages.

Rick Gagne had some information to share (nearly 22 years ago - 20 April, 2000). Excerpt:
"Several days ago I promised to dig up a count of common keys and
key changes in sets of Irish tunes, compiled some time ago for an
e************** course taught by Dr. Ruth Stone at Indiana
University. Found at last!

# OF TUNES IN EACH KEY IN
DIFFERENT POSITIONS IN SET
key first mid last tot % popular example

a 23 14 35 72 10% Mason’s Apron
am 28 28 30 86 12% Star of Munster
bm 4 1 6 11 2% Musical Priest
c 4 2 2 8 1% Fishermans Lilt 1st
d 97 45 89 231 32% Wise Maid
dm 7 4 3 14 2% Julia Delaney
e 2 0 2 4 1% Caliope House
em 26 18 22 66 9% Cooley’s
f 1 1 3 5 1% Humours of Westport
g 72 30 67 169 23% Kesh Jig
gm 0 1 0 1 0% Eileen Curran
multi 23 13 28 64 9% Pinch of Snuff

tot 287 157 287 731"

(Source: https://listserv.heanet.ie/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0004&L=IRTRAD-L&P=562287 )

Same topic, now about sequences (as in key of first tune followed by what):
https://listserv.heanet.ie/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0004&L=IRTRAD-L&P=726075

Interval and scale info:
https://listserv.heanet.ie/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0004&L=IRTRAD-L&P=619433