“Whistle O’er The Lave O’t” ~ Alex Green, whistle
Ross Records, 2001
Turriff, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
This was recieved as a gift… :-/ ? ~ more later…?
Apologies to Mr. Green ~
This is difficult, this being a gift, and I don’t like commenting unless I can do so favourably, but this will not start that way. First, I do not recommend this recording to fledgling whistle players. The technique is, how to put it, ‘naive’, meaning not ‘mature’, and overly melodramatic, (sentimental???) It has that ring of someone who started with the recorder or the silver flute in school and never made it past those preconceptions and that usually poor and incomplete introductory training (without private lessons) to true understanding… What does the general school teacher know about the music anyway, eh? God bless them, it’s a hard job and so much is expected of them. I will fully admit my biases, and the first that made me cringe was the REVERB. Why must some people think it is good to sound like you’re playing in a tiled lavatory or a stairwell? So I have to get past that first.
The lack of understanding of this player doesn’t end with the music here, I also believe it show a lack of understanding of the instrument and it’s history. My problem has never been with the recorder or silver flute, but with the technique usually associated with them. An example of that technique, and some folks like it, where ‘classical’ training meets tin whistle, and it is not being given in comparison with the artist on this CD, is James Galway ~ and for a narrower example, the way he plays "The Belfast Hornpipe". While some may like it, I can’t stand it. It sets me on edge. I feel he butchers it. So maybe now you’ll understand where I’m going with this. What are some of the elements of such a ‘classically influenced’ technique ~ trills, running trills, and tonguing a thing to death, chopping the hell out of it with excessive use of the tongue, like a bodhran player with only one way of beating his drum. Vibrato is another, but fortunately this CD hasn’t much. With this recording the tongue is repetitive and rather than used for interest is everywhere and non-stop. It chops the music up, as does also the use of trills and slurs. That is probably what gets me most, those damned trills, everywhere. So, another bias admitted to. I just don’t think they fit the music.
I’m alright with the choice to use or incorporate rolls or not into you playing, some folks do and some folks don’t. That’s cool, but the general treatment of the tunes here, meaning the choices of decoration, just don’t feel right. That’s my perspective on it, and I fully admit it is coloured ~ coloured by a hell of a lot of careful and appreciative listening, etc… I do have my favourite whistlers, including someone who uses the tongue like the bellows of a concertina, with variety and interest ~ Micho Russell, God bless his soul… The list could be endless, Mary Bergin is there and many more, recorded and not. I have also heard some really fine Scottish players too. This guy’s OK, and he is probably a nice and generous soul, but I woudn’t want to see his style taken as the way to go, or to see it spread…
Alright, having been wordier on a recording here than ever before, guilt, setting all my biases aside, it is an enjoyable mix of tunes, a nice variety. One thing I can’t understand is how he can refer to track 21 as "Cape Breton Jigs". It ain’t there in the versions or the technique. But, again, putting aside my hate of abused reverb and those damned trills, and the clumsy tonguing ~ I enjoy the mix of tunes and it has its jolly qualities. I wouldn’t have purchased this myself, but I’m glad I’ve gotten it as a gift. It is a pleasant enough listen, in small bits, but there are many other recordings of the whistle I’d choose first, including those I’ve purchased as gifts for others… Actually, I think he might do a better job on hornpipes than Mr. Galway does? But there’s no way I’m going to subject myself to that again anytime soon to make a fair comparison…
Hey, in favour of the recording, trying to forget those irritating bits, in his own fashion he can play the whistle, if more like a school recorder, and I have gotten some smiles from it. :-/
Recommended compilations ~ the whistle:
Here are some excellent compilations of different players I recommend ~
"The Totally Traditional Tin Whistle Tape"
"Fluters Of Old Erin: Flute, Piccolo And Whistle Recordings Of The 1920’s And 30’s"
There are also many solo recordings I would also recommend, by artists like Micho Russell, & the Russell family, Josie McDermott (whistle & flute), Mary Bergin, Donncha O’Briain, Sean Ryan, Vinnie Kilduff, and for that closely related bigger cousin there’s the flute playing of John McKenna, the Broderick brothers, Desi Wilkinson, Frankie Kennedy (Altan), Billy Clifford (Sliabh Luachra) and many others… Here and there you’ll also find a track by Festy Conlon or John Doonan too, well worth a listen…
Aye Ceol, I used to see & hear Alex at festivals around Scotland in the early 70s, when I was just getting interested in actually learning to play Trad & by that stage I was already familiar, 1st hand, with the Irish style of playing the Tin Whistle, so I just assumed that this was some sort of Scottish style.
Then I heard Kenny Hadden playing! Fine Flute player that Kenny is, I just wish he would get the finger out & make a *Scottish Music on the Tin Whistle* CD! ;-)
There are loads of brilliant pipers throughout Scotland who can fairly knock out amazing tunes on a Whistle, but I always get the feeling that their Piping ornamentation inevitably colours their style, while Kenny just has a brilliant but much more natural Whistley way with a Scottish tune. Now admittedly his style of playing owes a lot to his Irish musical influences, but I do believe more Scottish musicians should hear it, for his playing has none of the harsh monotony which, I seem to remember for me, characterised Alex Green’s style.
So if ever there was to be such a thing as a Scottish style of Whistle playing, then I wouldn’t steer people in the direction of an Alex Green recording. I’d say, go & listen to Kenny Hadden, ……… for me he has it nailed.
I’ve heard some find whistle and flute playing out of Scotland, but I’m that removed from it I can’t list any names right now. Where is Kenny when I need him ~ in Australia!
If you haven’t access to a good teacher or some decent recordings of Scottish flute or whistle, and here my biases will be showing through again, get, as one option, some recordings from Cape Breton or Prince Edward Island, their take on Scottish Music, or source tracks from Donegal or Fermanagh (Frankie Kennedy of Altan fame is a fine wind player for ear training), and emulate what you hear with your whistle or flute. Exercise your ears, and you could give Alex Green a listen too for comparison… The bubble, humour and uniqueness of Micho Russell’s whistle playing is in great part due to him having learned his music from a source other than another whistle player ~ from his concertina playing mother, and he emulating the tina with his whistle…
Alex Green: Get Real
Congratulations Ceolachan: your comments about Alex Green and his album are the most sanctimonious and pompous I’ve read in quite some time. Truly, truly irritating.
Stick to your ivory tower and your glorious isolation and let the rest of us enjoy some genuine, heartfelt and powerful traditional music. Alex lives and breathes the music he plays and is the real deal, not some clasically trained automaton.
Take it easy…
"Ceolachan" is perfectly entitled to his opinion, as are you. I don’t agree with all he said above, and will add some comments in due course. It would be more constructive of you to tell us why you think he’s wrong, and what you yourself find appealing in Alex’s playing instead of resorting to cheap abuse.
Kenny is right - it was only an opinion, there is no need to get mean about it.
Hey Kenny - pity we didnt get to have a tune and the national - I was really looking forward to it!
Wish I had read this sooner…
My own feelings are that ceolachan is mostly dead on assessing this recording. I was very sorry to had spent money on it. My taste differs a little from ceolachan so I didn’t mind the reverb or (some of) the trills. Re: trills, the first time I met whistle demi-god Sean Potts he said to me that he missed hearing whistle players these days using that ornamentation and thought it sort of a sad thing. I only very occasionally use them myself. I like ceolachan’s use of the word “naïve” describing Green’s technique. No doubt about it Mr. Green is very good at the way he plays. But I think he sounds like a cheesy recorder player. A good example of ceolachan’s observation of Green’s “overly melodramatic” is the horrible rendition of one of my favorites, ‘Hector the Hero’. It’s a shame no other better Scottish whistle players (Phil Cunningham, Billy Ross, Robin Williamson, etc.) haven’t done a recording of all Scottish tunes on whistle. Alex Green plays with great heart but my ears don’t hear much soul.
‘trills’ have their history and their use, including amongst whistle players on early recordings and with ceili bands, for example ‘The McCusker Brothers’. I’m not against the use and do not deny it’s history, but, like anything, it can be excessive, over done, abused. Some folks like that school recorder sound, which isn’t limited to this music. Each to his own choosing. This I found as I’d said, irritating, personally. I’m also no great fan of the generally plodding and syrupy interpretations common amongst RSCDS recordings, though there are some of those old master I do like quite a lot. Having given this time ~ I stand by my comments above. I don’t doubt he might be a really nice person, but I don’t like his whistle playing or his interpretations of the music ~ at all… As mentioned by Feadan, "Hector the Hero" as OTT, in my opinion…
Re-evaluating Alex Green and my own comments ~ :-/
My comments having been at the root at bonafide’s personal attack above, "Get Real" I felt that anything that vitriolic requires me to escape my "glorious isolation" and descend from my "ivory tower", setting my "sanctimonious and pompous" tendencies aside to reconsider in greater care what I’d said that brought that on, and to give dear Alex Green and his music some repeat attentive listening. Interesting the handle ~ ‘bonafide’, but this isn’t about the alias as much as whatever sparks I’d sent out to cause the stink of that bit of out of control flame. But I do understand someone feeling the need to rise to the defense of something they obviously hold in high regard ~ "the real deal" ~ "genuine, heartfelt and powerful traditional music"… Hmmmm…
Sorry, musn’t give in to the potential to flame back…
I had a long drive to do, mostly on motorway, but some circuitous maneuvering too, and I decided to take ol’ Alex with me. I’m glad to say, if not clear previously, it brought a smile. That’s a good thing, considering what folks are like on the motorways over here in the early morning and during the rush, and not forgetting tractors and big vehicles and 4-wheeled wide-shouldered gas guzzling monstrosities that create middle lanes that aren’t there and threaten to tear your wing mirrors off. So, to be able to raise a smile in all this is a compliment to Mr. Green and his take on playing the whistle. I also don’t smile if I’m not getting some kind of enjoyment out of listening to it. I think I’ve said this previously, if you check out the conclusion to my first response. And as a smile was raised, it is also obvious there was some enjoyment had. To be more specific, I don’t generally comment on recordings I see absolutely no value in. And if my distaste for it is considerable, to the point that I think the CD would make a better bird chaser in a garden, why bother being excessively negative. But, that said, I can see how someone might choose to read the previous comment from ‘the dark side’, draw light sabers and check your colour…
I quite like Alex’s simple take onthe whistle, and yes, as said, it makes me smile. It doesn’t make me angry. I will admit that I sometimes let ‘reverb’ and ‘vibrato’ get the better of my, reaction wise, meaning a negative response. Most folks will admit to some things that can wind them up. So, taking a deep breath, deciding not to let any of that colour my appreciation and response too much, I have listened to Alex Green’s CD "Whistle O’er the Lave O’t" several times this morning ~ in generally irritating circumstances, and it helped me weather the rude unsignaled cuts in front, being between huge lorries on narrow lanes, being pushed into the curb by the 4-wheeled ‘family’ SUVs. I was calmer than usual in that situation. Yes, I like Alex’s basic ways, and I see some charm there. It raised a smile, but it didn’t excite me or create a full out chuckle or raise any other emotions. I love "Hector", and it usually does make me contemplative, but not Alex’s take on it. Yes, I enjoyed the listen, but I did before. No, I wouldn’t recommend it, but I don’t think it’s a total loss if you invest in a copy. What it doesn’t do that is an important part of my listening, something that tells me I’m really getting into it, it doesn’t tickle the feet, not a twitch. It doesn’t move me that far, an important ‘step’ that confirms the ‘tradition’ and the ‘dance’ in a thing to me, like feeling emotions over the air "Hector the Hero". Yes, it does something for me, the smile, but no further.
Re-evaluating what I’d said before, I don’t see much I’d change, except a recent bit that could be misconstrued. Alex DOES NOT really overdo the trills, in my restimation, though I might not care for where he does them, or some of the use of chest vibrato, but that’s me speaking an opinion, something lacking in the personal attack ‘bonafide’ enjoyed above. But I can imagine now, having read my own righting from ‘the dark side’, my responsibility in winding the poor sod up and causing them to lose it so embarrasingly. I’ve been there myself, usually, as here, rising to the defense of others.
It still sounds like the result of school recorder playing, in my personal opinion, but while it does nothing for the feet, I get enough enjoyment out of it that it raises a smile. A smile is valued very highly in this house…
Damn, I left the key to my ivory tower on the Victrola back up in the observatory… I really don’t feel like trying to climb this stonework. I think I’ll just find some grass and play tunes till the need for sleep overcomes me… ;-)
~ having read my own righting from ‘the dark side’ ~ now laughing ~ not ‘righting’ but ‘writing’…
Now to rebalance myself with other music of Scottish and Irish persuasions…
Here’s some Scottish whistling and singing I recommend without reservation ~
Recommendations continued ~
“Breabach: The Big Spree” https://thesession.org/recordings/display/2964
Curious that the member who flamed here, ‘bonefide’, #47093, has only existed once, May 22nd 2008, to leave comment here and nevermore… :-/
Nicely done Kenny, and enjoyed, appreciated…
Aberdeen whistle player Scott Williams: march/strathspey/reel
If I had known how bad Alex Green is on the whistle I would never have spent so much time enjoying his music.
Scott Williams - Aberdeen whistle player - update 17/06/15
Aberdeen whistle-player Scott Williams plays a March/Strathspey/Reel selection.
Tunes are "Murdo MacKenzie of Torridon / no name / Major Manson". Scott played in sessions in Aberdeen in the mid-late1980s. He also played Highland bagpipes, flute and piano. His style is very close to Alex Green’s.
"Murdo MacKenzie" was composed by Bobby MacLeod.
Gan Ainm Strathspey?
"Major David Manson" was composed by P.M. Peter MacLeod.
Gan Ainm Strathspey?
The unknown Strathspey is "Aspin Bank" by John MacPhedran, which can be found in ‘Master Method for Highland Bagpipe’ (Jas Robertson and Donald Shaw Ramsay, 1953).
Thanks Nigel, appreciated…
Re: Whistle O’er The Lave O’t
Very sad to report that Scottish whistle player Alex Green passed away yesterday [ 22.12.2017 ].
Alex was a good friend and musical inspiration to me and many others over the years, and certainly one of the pioneers and strongest advocates for the playing and acceptance of the tin whistle as a serious instrument in Scottish traditional music.
All the more remarkable when you consider that he lost 2 fingers in an accident at an early age, and yet persevered to become such a capable musician.
I posted a few examples of his unique style of playing on "Youtube" some time back - here they are here :
My condolences to his family and the many musical friends whom enjoyed his company and music over the years.
May he rest in peace.
Thanks Kenny, much appreciated… I continue to enjoy giving his way with the music a listen and a go…