Edel Fox and Neill Byrne–Definitely Not Bored and Definitely Not “Whoever”

(If the title of this post confuses you–read to the end. All shall be revealed. And–this is a long one–be sure to click the link to continue reading.)

In the world of Irish traditional music, there aren’t the sort of performers that the rest of the world would consider “superstars”, the way you’d think of Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, or Neil Diamond as such. (or maybe YOU wouldn’t!) The world of ITM is much less assuming that that. The musicians who play the music are for the most part seemingly not in it for the money, or fame, but rather for the “craic agus comhluadar,” or “good times and good friends,” and foremost for the music itself.

edel and neill

Neill and Edel play blazing tunes!

So the world may not consider Edel Fox and Neill Byrne superstars, but they may have something that many so-called superstars do not have–a true and deep connection to music itself. They may for the most part be playing the compositions of others, but the depth of emotion and expression that they elicit from these often simple jigs and reels is on par with or surpassing so much of the original expression I have heard. To be able to squeeze the humanity and feeling from a simple tune is part of what Irish musicianship is all about, and Edel Fox and Neill Byrne do it so well that the result was easily visible on the faces of all who were in attendance at the house concert they put on in Fairfield, CT this past Friday, August 16th. Feet were tapping and ears were buzzing, and we all took something really amazing home with us as well.

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“When the Cat’s Away, The Mice will Play,” and Names from a Hat

ImageAs you may know if you’re on the mailing list or a member of the Facebook group, at the last session we managed to have a great time reviewing and playing many of the tunes we have learned so far without any anchor present!  I am so proud of all of us–going out on out own like that without anyone holding our hands! Now, this is NOT to belittle the anchors and all they do for us–au contraire, mes amis, we wouldn’t be here without them . So a great big thanks to all you anchors!


NOW, we had so much fun doing this anchor-less session, and we gained so much from playing the tunes with each other, that we’ve decided to actually schedule anchor-less sessions once every couple of months, or whenever there’s no available anchor!

Also, you all may remember that I came up with that brilliant idea whereby each of us would come up with a set, using only the tunes we have learned at the session Then, at each meeting we would randomly pick a name “from a hat” as it were, and that person would lead us in their set. Well, this past session, we collectively came up with a way to make this a little easier on everyone. Here’s the run-down of the new scheme:

  • We will all come up with a good set. Remember–keep the tune type consistent (no reels and jigs in the same set) and try to make the key change interesting too.
  • We will choose a person randomly. This will be the session before that person will lead us in the set.
  • The Chosen One will inform us (via email, through me, on the Facebook group) of what the tunes are once they are certain of their choices.
  • We will all practice these tunes specifically in preparation for the Chosen One’s moment of glory.
  • At the next session, the Chosen One will lead us all in the set, and ONWARD INTO GLORY!


This way we are at least practiced up on the tunes in question. That should make the leader’s job even easier, and make the tunes sound better.

Practice Tip–Use a Metronome

ImageI know the thought of using a  metronome for Irish trad probably elicits any number of reactions from any number of people, but hear me out. Today I did just that. I’m learning a fairly difficult tune–Cooley’s reel–and wanting to do more than just play the notes. I’d like a few well-placed cuts and rolls, cranns and chords in there too. The metronome I used is an app for Android phones called Mobile Metronome–it’s free from the Android market and does what you need it too.

I started at 80 beats per minute (bpm). That was way too fast, so I took it down to 75. Still a bit brisk. Down to 70 bpm–AHA! perfect. Easy to keep up, easy to throw in a few “ornaments” as some call the twiddly bits that make Irish music sound Irishy. The hard part was sticking to the beat, but tapping my foot along really helped in that regard.

So after about 30 minutes of playing along with 70 bpm I bumped it up to 75. Hey–no problem. I actually was easily able to keep up, put in my ornaments, and keep tapping my foot along. Fifteen minutes later and I was playing at 80 bpm. Then, just for laughs, I tried it without the clicker AS FAST AS I COULD. I actually was playing it at nearly dance speed with some issues, but one of them was NOT continuity–I was able to keep playing, tapping my foot, adding ornaments. Buried under the other instruments in a session you’d probably not know I was messing up a bunch!

So, now that I made you read all that, the short of it is that practicing to a metronome for one hour can really improve your timing, continuity, and fluidity. Start slow enough that you are not making many mistakes and work your way up. Strive for accuracy right from the start, and keep playing the tune through over and over again (as Corey suggested last session). And make sure you TAP YOUR FOOT, because you’ll want to be doing this ANYTIME you play–with or without the metronome. Do this a few times  each week and the benefits will move from the short term to the long term!

“Kitty Lie Over” = “The Frost is All Over”?

Last session, we were taught a tune called “Kitty Lie Over” by our esteemed anchor–a lovely jaunty jig that has a nice turn and a bit of an unexpected bit in the B2 part. Now, I was a bit confused when I searched my tunepal application on my android phone  (www.tunepal.org) for “Kitty Lie Over” and came up with nothing at all, especially since the app uses multiple databases in its searches. But a youtube search did not fail me. The words “kitty lie over” are part of the lyric to the song “The Frost is All Over,” played wonderfully in the following video by the fabulous band The Chieftains.

What would you do if the kettle boiled over?
What would I do but to fill it again
What would you do if the cows eat the clover?
What would I do but to set it again
The praties are dug and the frost is all over
Kitty lie over close to the wall
How would you like to be married to a solider?
Kitty lie over close to the wall

What would you do if you married a solider?
What would I do only follow his gun
What would you do if he died on the ocean?
What would I do only marry again
The praties all boil and the herrings are roasted
Kitty lie over close to the wall
You to be drunk and I to be sober
Kitty lie over close to the wall

What would you do if the kettle boiled over?
What would I do but to fill it again
What would you do if the cows eat the clover?
What would I do but to set it again
The praties are dug and the frost is all over
Kitty lie over close to the wall
How would you like to be married to a solider?
Kitty lie over close to the wall

Traditional Singer Mossie Scanlon, 4:00 PM, August 3rd, 2013

At the Worcester Hibernian Cultural Centre:

Direct from Co. Kery comes singer Mossie Scanlon, a celebrated performer, teacher, and keeper of an ancient singing tradition.

Muiris “Mossie” Scanlon grew up between the sacred Mount Brandon and the ocean in the heart of the Dingle Gaeltacht (Irish speaking region). After a brief career in the Irish Naval Service, he spent time working and living in England before settling in Australia where he worked and raised his family.

A co-founder of the Irish Language Association of Australia, he is a respected Irish language enthusiast and promoter as well as an author and singer.

Cian O Morain is one of the new generation of Irish musicians. Also hailing from the Dingle peninsula he grew up surrounded by music and song and from a young age developed a passion for Irish culture and tradition. He is a multi-instrumentalist, playing low whistles, guitar and uilleann pipes.

Regina Delaney is an Irish harper, singer, and dancer. She plays traditional Irish music on the harp and sings in Irish and English. Regina sings in the sean nos style and also accompanies herself on the harp.

Saturday, August 3 at 4:00 pm in the Galway Room (lower floor)

Tickets :$10

More Information : Contact Helen Foley at 508-799-7775 or htfoley@charter.net