The Legacy Of Michael Coleman

By Michael Coleman

Six comments

“The Legacy Of Michael Coleman” ~ LP & cassette

Shanachie Records, 33002, 1976

Scratchy, but that’s the nature of old 78s, and if you process them too much to remove the rough bits you can end up damaging the thing you hope to preserve. While I have the commercial cassette on hand, we don’t have our vinyl here, so I don’t know if Shanachie produced decent notes for this compilation. The cassette is lacking anything other than an incomplete track list. I’ve tried to fill in the blanks but have left some of the titles, making sure they link through to the transcriptions here on site. As one example, a jig listed as “Dougherty’s” is better known as “Up Sligo” or “The Trip to Sligo”.

I hadn’t bothered to check to see if this was here, taking it for granted until I started transcribing something from it for someone, and found this was missing.

As I understand it, the compilation “The Enduring Magic of Michael Coleman” took tracks from this collection and “The Classic Recordings of Michael Coleman”:

As I understand it, the compilation “The Enduring Magic of Michael Coleman” (#) took tracks from this collection and “The Classic Recordings of Michael Coleman”

However, while I was told that, there are only four tracks in agreement here - 6 (4), 9 (19), 10 (15) & 12 (14)

& 8 with “The Classic Recordings”…

“The Legacy Of Michael Coleman” ~ LP & cassette

An inconsiderate habit with some recording companies was to leave the liner notes for recordings off or sparse on the cassettes sold. I have both the cassettes and the LPs for many and hope to add the notes for those that missed them in purchasing this as a cassette - starting with ~

SIDE A = tracks 1 - 6

SIDE B = tracks 7 - 12

The piccolo on “Lord MacDonald’s is most likely being played by Paddy Finlay. The second fiddle on ”Miss Ramsey’s“ is most likely being played by Tom or James Gannon. The performance used here of ”Trim the Velvet" is not the one that commonly appeared, but a rare second take (made at the same recording session in which Coleman’s playing is noticeably stronger. - Rob Fleder ?

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Many thanks to James Hunt, Richard Cosgrove and Paddy Reynolds for their considerate help.

“The Legacy of Michael Coleman” ~ Note on the back of the LP, written by Rob Fleder

The tangible mementos of Michael Coleman’s career consist of some eighty-odd recorded performances, almost all of them remarkable for their forcefulness of execution and dramatic conception. His greater legacy to posterity is the impact of these records, both the manner of performance and repertoire, an impact which has been ever increasing in the years since his death. He left his mark not only on fiddlers, but on flutists, accordionists, pipers, - - indeed, upon all performers of Irish dance music. Whenever and wherever skilled Irish musicians gather, the “session” inevitably evokes a comparison to some aspect of Coleman’s playing, even among traditional players whose heritage may have little to do with the master’s Sligo style. Today, some thirty years after his death, Coleman is universally regarded as the dean of Irish fiddlers. It is not simply that Coleman played with intelligence and vigor: in Coleman came a happy conjunction of artistry and invention and an apparent love for the traditional which speaks to all ears familiar with the broad brogue of Ireland’s tunes.

Coleman’s influence has enjoyed a parallel strength on both sides of the Atlantic: although his commercial performances were waxed in the United States, his stamp is equally upon music here and in the mother country. The rapt attention given Coleman’s performances was immediate upon the release of his first records: Irish musicians awaited lessons from the newest disc of the fiddlers’ favorite son, eager for the arrival of boats freighted with American cargo.

Coleman was to the musical manor born. The thatched roofed Coleman cottage was situated at a crossroads, and “Coleman’s Cross” became a place of congregation for local musicians. Traveling players frequented the home, brought there by the lilting strains apparent even to the roadway. An aged Sligo resident today recalls that musical activity was there so abundant that some doggerel dubbed the house “Jamesie Coleman’s Musical Hall.” Additionally his father, James Coleman, was an extraordinarily deft fiddler with a bow hand technique much like Michael’s.

Thus it was at “Jamesie Coleman’s Musical Hall” that Michael Coleman first heard those musicians who would give shape to his playing. There were musicians like John Price who always ceased playing punctually at ten to ten, which hour became known as “Johnny Price’s time;” the Brennan brothers, Martin and Richard, fiddlers both, of whom Richard Brennan was given mention on one Coleman recording, “Richard Brennan’s Favorite,” and Martin Brennan (a local schoolteacher and maker of sundials) was a talented composer in the traditional vein who reputedly penned the second tune of the “Crowley’s Reels” medley recorded by Coleman; and John Gorman, the famous piper of Roscommon. Even the celebrated traveling fiddler Kippeen Scanlon stopped at Coleman’s Cross. Surely the two most powerful influences on Coleman were Phillip O’Beirne, his first teacher, and John Dowd. Dowd was much appreciated by Coleman and it may be that he instructed his student in the flat scales (Dowd’s Favorite is a piece set in two flats). Tom Gannon also was a great influence, and he and Michael recorded a fiddle duet, “Prohibition Reel.”

Coleman’s sound was rootedly traditional. The stylistic traits peculiar to his playing were individually found among the musicians of Killavil, his native district in County Sligo. Coleman borrowed freely and elaborated on what he found, so that the final product was a stylistic amalgam of popular playing and personal fancy, unmistakably the playing of a Sligo fiddler yet appreciably novel in a way that has excited later generations just as it astonished its first audiences. The earlier Sligo sound embellished the tunes with less ornamentation than Coleman was to employ. While the use of the triplet figure was in Sligo not uncommon, Coleman - - apparently following the example of Phillip O’Beirne - - continually executed the triplet with staccato bow strokes, a departure from the local style. Coleman, like others in the area, characteristically ornamented tunes with the “roll” or “turn” figure so common to Baroque music. Generally Coleman bowed with a fluent legato bow stroke; his hornpipes, however, are played with a determined staccato accent which recalls Scottish styles and may betray that influence.

The feature which perhaps most distinguished Coleman’s sound from the prior generation was a more profuse employment of ornamentation to give shape to and explain the tunes. Coleman did not, as so many do today, render the tune to accommodate his style. Rather his style and approach was a pointed effort to trace the contours of the piece and to provoke sense and savour from the musical line. Indeed the chief credit to Coleman’s genius lies in the fact that he recorded so many tunes and in each rendition displayed a profound understanding of what the tune had to say.

Coleman played his tunes with a dexterity and fluency of execution which reveal him to be a technician of the first rank. What established him as the foremost Irish fiddler is the extraordinarily broad tone and authoritative drive, characteristics which distinguish the intrinsically ‘musical\ artist from the icy virtuoso. Apparently Coleman found his musical voice early in life, since stylistically his playing never changed over the entire course of his recording career. Indeed, the only alteration evident in the chronology of his recordings is a decrease in the extent of melodic variation toward the very end of his phonographic career.

Coleman imitators abound today, and it is not difficult to locate musicians who can faithfully reproduce Coleman’s melodies note-for-note. What they fail to reproduce is the resonance of Coleman’s musical personality in those tunes, and their frequently mechanical renditions fall far short of the Sligo fiddler’s spirited approach. Michael Coleman played with his heart in the music, not as if he were doing a chore. Ireland’s music beguiled Coleman, and that and that he could convey that powerful wonder to us is sufficient testimony to his artistic achievement. His performances haunt all those who have heard them; his memory persists even among those without access to the old records; his traces are left among players who never encountered his recordings. If ever a musician deservedly enjoyed the appellation “legend” it is the premier Irish fiddler Michael Coleman.

~ Rob Fleder