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Prehistoric Music > Folk Music Revival

Carl Spitzweg ,Der arme Poet', 'Unquestionably, the musical soul of America is in its folk music, not in its academic music', Charles Seeger wrote in 1938, 'and only in its popular music to the extent popular music has borrowed, stolen and manhandled folk.' A decade later his son Pete and buddies Woody and Cisco served as introduction for many into the world of folk music. Ten years further on it is proclaimed: 'Has your appetite for music been curbed by calypso, jaded by jazz or reined by rock 'n' roll? If so, tuck your guitar under your arm and drop by for a refreshing evening of just plain old folk songs.'

R.D. Cohen gives us the story of the folk music revival and its link to U.S. American society and politics in the era from 1940 to 1970. The Rainbow Quest - actually the title of a Pete Seeger (-> FW#29) TV show - is a quest from folk music as non-commercial people's music (I like that definition) to the urban revival when folk music is leaving the imprint of its big country boots on the night life of New York (-> FW#25, FW#30). The author is aware that those searching for traditional forces and styles could have either politically conservative or radical leanings. The former belonged to the evolutionist wing of folklorist scholarship, those who believed that folk songs belonged to an early stage of cultural development that required respect and preservation. But more important is the link between folk music and radical left-wing politics, already underway with the scholars and song collectors prior to the revival.

Lawrence Gellert's collecting was overtly political. Having moved to North Carolina, Gellert became acquainted with his black neighbors and began making blues field recordings in 1924. He gained the confidence of black prisoners and sharecroppers and gathered a large number of unaccompanied hollers and group work songs that often contained strong social commentary. These songs are still in the making, he explained in the Preface [of 'Negro Songs of Protest' in 1936]. Never sung twice quite in the same way, new verses are constantly improvised, the text doggerel, nonsense, bawdy or protest, depending upon the mood of the singers or whether whites are within earshot. The progressives subscribed to what could be called the functionalist approach to folk music, the view that folk songs might have not only an ancient lineage but a dynamic present; they could serve practical purposes, energizing the folk to struggle against racism and oppression.
After the World War hillbilly discs became more popular than ever before, reaching the northern cities. In 1949 Pete Seeger's quartet The Weavers became the prototype for a host of folk groups soon to follow. Rainbow Quest - The Folk Music Revival and American Society, 1940-1970 Their name came from a 19th-century play by German writer Gerhart Hauptmann.
Pursuing popular recognition, the Weavers seemingly compromised both their artistic and political integrity. First, they temporarily abandoned their overt Left politics, at least in their songs. 'Tzena, Tzena' shot up the pop charts, peaking at number two. 'Goodnight, Irene' promptly followd suit, skyrocketing to number one; it remained popular for twenty-five weeks. There were also problems with the Weavers' musical rectitude. Their experience and inclination stressed a simple acoustic acompaniment, led by Seeger's banjo and [Fred] Hellerman's guitar, and straightforward arrangements. Nothing fancy, no horns or strings, and certainly no orchestrated backup. But they soon found themselves backed by Terry Gilkyson [-> FW#29] with Vic Schoen's Orchestra [and others]. In their live performances the Weavers stuck with their usual format, and their concerts also included a wider variety of songs, including some with political content, such as Spanish Civil War tunes.
The Weavers temporarily occupied an awkward musical niche, bringing a sweetened, compromised folk music to a national audience. They created a professional, polished prototype of subsequent trios and quartets. [Lee] Hays proudly boasted, Songs like ours getting on the Hit Parade broke down the barriers between country and pop. 'Time' pontificated, Professional folk singing in the U.S. is mostly the province of a few long-haired purists who rarely get a hearing outside the clubs and recital halls where their small but fervent public gathers. Four high-spirited folksters known as the Weavers had succeeded in shouting, twanging and crooning folk singing out of its clistered corner into the commercial big time.
Meanwhile, North Korea invaded South Korea, the Rosenbergs were arrested for atomic espionage, and Senator McCarthy started his anticommunist crusade: Basically, the schools and students that support 'causes' support folk music. Find a campus that breeds Freedom Riders, anti-Birch demonstrators, and anti-bomb societies, and you'll find a folk group.

Folk music's left-wing touch influenced even the press and the record companies to substitute country for folk in labeling rural-sounding music. Since there was hardly work to be had, The Weavers disbanded. Belafonte became the King of Calypso, and kids took up skiffle for a while (-> FW#24).

In September 1958 a new trio appeared at the Berkeley Little Theatre, attracting a middling crowd. The Kingston Trio - Bob Shane, Dave Guard, and Nick Reynolds - had formed the year before. Guard first heard Pete Seeger in a Weavers concert in San Francisco in 1957 and immediately took to the banjo, learning from Seeger's 'How to Play the 5-String Banjo'. The trio's slick, popular approach, and even the Weavers, the trio's prototypes, could hardly claim rustic authenticity, and each sought commercial success. The Kingston Trio just became more popular. Before Christmas 'Tom Dooley' hit number one. Hanged Man in Hit Tune, 'Life' headlined: An old folk song imploring a gay blade headed for the gallows to hang his head in shame before the hangman fitted it through a noose. The original Tom Dula's life had little romance and less pathos. The sensational murder trial in 1867 took place in Wilkes County, North Carolina, where Dula, not quite twenty years old, was accused of the murder of Laura Foster. Perhaps he blamed Laura for giving him a veneral disease , or perhaps he had gotten her pregnant.
The public erroneously connected 'Tom Dooley' with Thomas A. Dooley, the Navy doctor recently in the news for his missionary and medical roles in Vietnam and Laos, helping fan the flames of Catholic anticommunism. Thus accidentally the trio reaped the fruits of anticommunism while they drew inspiration and songs from the Weavers. During their first four years they had a dozen bestselling albums. In its zeal to reap quick rewards before the craze died, Capitol [Records] forced the group to release three albums per year, which quickly depleted their stock of songs and their fervor. Publicity centered as much on the trio's physical image and domestic lifestyle as on their folksy, upbeat musical appeal. They had the perfect combination of charm, wealth, security, and modesty. Rockless, roll-less, and rich, 'Time' proclaimed. A refreshing alternative to the scruffy, rebellious, lewd rock and roll singers.
Folk music grabbed the attention of the baby boom generation and the youth market. In 1959 the first Newport Folk Festival was being held, the most ambitious folk song fest since Joshua's army sang down the walls of Jericho. It had something for everyone, city billy and hillbilly, and when Pete Seeger, singing 'Darlin' Cory', stepped into the swirling mist to open the first concert, it was as though by some magic we were witnessing the birth of our folk music revival. Newport witnessed the folk craze 1963-64, spearheaded by Dylan and colleagues such as Anderson (-> FW#14, FW#26), Paxton (-> FW#20, FW#24, FW#28) and Van Ronk (see CD review), when folk venues like the Bitter End (-> FW#26) sprang up all over the place. Newport witnessed Dylan plugging in the electric guitar, and shortly afterwards musicians were even abandoning folk rock for a combination of LSD and rock music, performing for crowds of stoned, painted, feather-bedecked young people.

In the late 1960s folk music was no longer booming, but it had become a standard part of the popular-music diet. 'Time' magazine covered the new generation of songwriters: Traditional folk singers have usually been purveyors of a musical heritage, chroniclers of their time, protesters against injustice. But today's troubadours are turning away from protest. Their gaze is shifting from the world around them to the realms within. The piece mentioned Janis Ian (-> FW#28) and Arlo Guthrie (-> FW#21).

Being a professor of history, Cohen is interested in understanding the revival, because it can tell much about the nature of society, culture, politics, and economics during the middle decades of the twentieth century. He is checking the various locations where things happened, place by place, year by year, name by name - to find the gold at the end of the rainbow. So the most quoted in the book's index are no musicians but one Izzy Young and one Irwin Silber. And now, find out yourself!

Let's go up the country! Fiddlin' Way Out Yonder chronicles the life of the probably most well-known senior and non-commercial old-time fiddler from West Virginia. It is a biography that probably stands for many old-time musicians. Fiddlin' Way Out Yonder - The Life and Music of Melvin Wine

Melvin Wine has always lived near Burnsville in northern Braxton County. Braxton County is located in the center of West Virginia on the western slope of the Allegheny Mountains. Nineteenth-century industrialization with its railroads, good roads, and commerce, largely avoided the rugged terrain of the Appalachian region. The relative inaccessibilty did create an environment where traditions could develop and mesh over many generations without frequent influence from outside the region.
Ancestors of the Wine family were from Germany [-> FW#26]. Melvin Playford Wine was born April 20, 1909. Education was not easy to obtain when Melvin was a boy. Melvin never learned to read. Much of his childhhod was spent helping his father and mother manage their small farm. Early in his childhood, Melvin showed a special interest in musical traditions and gatherings, which surrounded him in his home and community. The fiddling tradition in his family goes back to Melvin's great-grandfather, Smithy Wine (1829-1909). When Melvin was about fourteen years old, he and [his banjo-playing brother] Clarence were invited by the owner of the movie theater at Burnsville to perform for the audiences while the movie reels were being changed. On one occasion, the movie theater owner decided to organize a fiddle competition. We went down to play. It wasn't no judges, just the people judged, you know. My dad got second place and I got first place. And he got five dollars worth of tickets and I got a five-dollar bill. That didn't suit him very well, of course. Clarence and Melvin began performing often at dances.
Throughout his career as a coal miner, Melvin and [his wife] Etta were involved in farming, raising cattle, cutting some timber, and raising [ten] children. Melvin continued to supplement his coal mining earnings by playing for square dances at dance halls. In his opinion, the presence of alcohol was a principal factor in determining the atmosphere at a dance. There were people in the community who were excessive drinkers and were inclined to cause trouble. I've seen people fight, cuss, use God's name in vain, and drinking, and I've seen people killed at them. He eventually began to feel uneasy and suspicious, especially as he began to contemplate religion more. As the depression of the 1930s and its emotional affects lingered on, the dances became more and more troubled. Melvin increasingly viewed dancing, drinking, and fiddle playing as being intertwined, and he became disillusioned with fiddle playing. That caused him to turn more to religion and to quit playing fiddle for a period of time. Melvin was saved in 1938 and he changed his life dramatically.
However, giving up music fits in a wider picture:
The Great Depression changed the general mood of people to one of seriousness and sorrow, and community dances were becoming increasingly scarce. Radios were being purchased by more and more people, and newer musical styles were becoming popular. The popularity of old-time fiddle music was declining.
Around 1957 Melvin began playing the fiddle again.
In 1950, West Virginia University English professor and folk song researcher Patrick W. Gainer organized the first West Virginia State Folk Festival in Glenville. The festival, which continues as an annual event today, supplied an arena in which fiddle playing was viewed as an honorable and desirable skill. Around 1957 [Melvin] decided to go, along with his fiddle, to see what the event was about. The festival supplied Melvin with an alcohol-free arena where his music was valued. Melvin was encouraged to continue to play fiddle by people who heard him at Glenville. By 1970, Melvin was starting to become a familiar participant at festivals. His slow return to fiddling coincided with the heyday of the folk music revival that brought large numbers of young people to the festivals. Many of these enthusiasts were attempting to learn fiddle tunes from the senior fiddlers who attended the festival. Melvin received the National Heritage Fellowship award in 1991. The attention has bolstered Melvin's enthusiasm for fiddling, but it has not changed his life substantially, because the attention has rarely included monetary rewards. He continues to work on the farm. Melvin continues to raise cattle with the help of his sons, but the low price of beef makes him want to quit raising cattle. He lives largely off the Social Security benefits.
Melvin Wine passed away in March 2003. Fortunatly, the book was written when Melvin was still alive, so the author could draw from interviews with the man himself. The book, deriving from a Ph.D. study, contains a chronological review of Melvin's life, the region and its music, plus an analysis of Melvin's tunes, style and techniques as well as transcriptions of ten of his tunes.

However, while trying to penetrate Melvin's life, the approach sometimes seems to naive to me. Or what shall I think about statements like: he values his community and roots deeply, but he enjoys traveling; or: he remembers tunes well, but he often forgets titles.

Melvin used to tell a story about his great-grandfather and the fiddle tune 'Soldier's Joy' (-> FW#27): During the Civil War, the soldiers

learned he could play a fiddle, and they told him, said, well, when we get back home, said, we're going to have a square dance at your house, stag dance, you know, just the soldiers. And he said, If you know a tune that you don't know any name for, said, we'll name it. So he played a tune, and they called it the 'Soldier's Joy.'
Unfortunatly, the story cannot be true since the tune had been already printed under that title in the late 1700s. Well, here's an opportunity now to have a look at some tune books.

While Melvin played for square dances, people in New England prefer the contra dance (the partners facing each other -> FW#27, FW#30). The Fiddler's Throne - Selected Tunes for Contra Dances There is a different fiddle style as well, though there is some common repertoire in both West Virginia and New Hampshire comparing the tunes Melvin had and browsing through contra fiddler and piano player Randy Miller's collections of contra music: e.g. I could figure out the reel 'Green Fields of America' (-> FW#24, FW#29), 'Fisher's Hornpipe' (-> FW#23), and 'Walk Chalk Chicken with a Necktie On' which is closely related to 'Farewell to Whiskey' (-> FW#19, FW#22).

Contra music use whatever kind of tune: There were no ethnic boundaries. So long as the tempo was quick enough and the rhythm well suited, our tunes ranged from French Canadian to British Isles to ancient Macedonian Greek. New England Fiddler's Repertoire is restricted to the classic Irish, British and French-Canadian repertoire: 168 fiddle tunes that made the trip from Britain and Ireland to America (e.g. compare George Deacon's 'John Clare and the Folk Tradition', -> FW#24, with Ken Perlman's 'Clawhammer Banjo', -> FW#30), be it the jig 'Haste To The Wedding' (-> FW#20, FW#25, FW#29) or the 'Money Musk' reel (-> FW#23, FW#27), or contra dance standards such as the 'Chorus Jig' (-> FW#27), 'Growling Old Man And Grumbling Old Woman' (-> FW#19, FW#23, FW#27, FW#30) and 'O'Donal Abu' (-> FW#27, FW#30). The volume had been first published in 1983, the revised edition is easier to read (the 1983 edition was hand-written), and chords have been added. The standard contra repertoire, still helpful to keep the music alive and going.

The Fiddler's Throne is expanding the classic contra repertoire with 375 jigs, reels, hornpipes, marches, and waltzes, based on Randy Miller's collecting trips over the years. New England Fiddler's Repertoire Also included are more than 20 tunes from the manuscript of New Hampshire fiddler John Taggart (1854-1943); two tunes that are based on themes in Handel's 'Arrival of the Queen of Sheba'; a good measure of tunes is only recently composed: e.g. Liz Carroll (-> FW#24), Richie Dwyer (-> FW#29), Jerry Holland (-> FW#3), Josephine Keegan (-> FW#25), Maurice Lennon (-> FW#23), the Beatons (-> FW#28), and Randy Miller himself.

Patrick Steinbach is the son of an Irish mother and a German jazz musician from Hamburg. He specialised himself in teaching and passing on traditional Irish music and wrote several books about the subject, especially for guitar players. His Irish Reel Book covers 250 classic Irish tunes, including an 18 track CD, from the slip jig 'A Fig For A Kiss' (-> FW#21, FW#20, FW#30) to the reel 'Within A Mile of Dublin' (-> FW#19, FW#21, FW#25). Some Carolan pieces (-> FW#20), even flings, plus the melodies of some well-known folk songs (however, I think 'Lifeboat Mona' had been written by Peggy Seeger). The tunes have chords added, and the volume includes finger charts for guitar (standard tuning), mandolin and tin whistle. The accompanying text is both in English and German, including an introduction to the music, some history (though I personally doubt some of his notes), advices on playing with a band and in an informal session.

While Steinbach explores rather common ground, Máire McDonnell Garvey leads you off the beaten track. Irish Reel Book Máire and her musician friends (including bouzouki player Niall O Callanain -> FW#26) delved deep into history in two previous books before: 'Mid-Connacht' is a history of the Slieve Lugha area; 'A Traditional Music Journey 1600-2000' connects the tradition in Mayo with South Armagh. Cómhrá na dTonn - The Conversation of the Waves is the name of a CD as well as a companion book where the story of each of the 32 tunes is narrated with more extensive notes than would fit in any CD booklet. The hornpipe 'Comhra na dTonn' comes from the James Morrison legacy:

Our first research is on James Morrison, the great Sligo fiddle player born in Drumfin. When visiting Martin Quigley (a nephew of Morrison) some time ago, it was interesting to see the milestone at the gate of Morrison's old home. Today the milestone has been incorporated into a memorial to James Morrison a few hundred yards from his home. (This is the name of one of his reels.) It would appear that the light in the west disappeared into the twilight when James Morrison and the well-known good musicians left Ireland in the early nineteen hundreds. In the early thirties Morrison moved to Manhattan and started to teach the Bronx. He was featured on Judge Gustin's Monday night Irish Hour Radio show. It was when these records came from the States that the light shone in the west again and the demand for traditional music increased.
A true story from Co. Sligo was believed by all in my young days. Down at a little fishing village, Aughris, along the Atlantic coast in north Sligo there is a causeway of giant stones. When the weather gets rough the waves from the Atlantic roll in and go under the cliffs at Aughris. There is a tremendous roar as this is happening. It can be heard for a thirty-mile radius in Co. Sligo and north Roscommon. Older people said in awe Do you hear the Comhra dTonn? And men, women and children saving their hay made a mad dash to get finished before the heavy showers fell.
The musical journey turns south: The Conversation of the Waves
For over thirty years we have listened to talk about 'MacDonnell's March' or 'Allisdrum's Lament' [-> FW#27]. We found out there are thirteen parts in this lament. Each part has a reason for being there. When played correctly it brings a vivid picture to your mind. It commemorated the death of Alistair or Alexander MacDonnell, son of Coll Kittogh or Left handed Coll, a famous warrior whose name found it's way into a poem of Milton's. The young Colkitto rivalled his father in military fame. The tradition of his strength and valour has been handed down to the present day in the Highlands of Scotland and in the Glens of Antrim. Lord Inchiquin inflicted a dreadful defeat on the [Catholic Irish] Confederates at Cnoc na nDos near Mallow, Co. Cork [in 1647]. MacDonnell and his people held their ground till they were cut to pieces. It is said that none escaped. These are the thirteen parts in this piece of music.
The Trumpet calls the men to battle.
Awaiting the order before the battle.
Alistair calling out looking for support.
Marching on the battle field.
Awaiting the order for the battle.
Strike and slash, strike and slash and leave no one alive.
Now they were all dead but a single man who was wounded and Alistair went through the slaughter to see if there was any man alive who would raise his hand against him and there was no one. Then he took his horse to the stream to get a drink and stooping down on the shoulder of the horse the wounded man (enemy) made a vigorous thrust in Alistair's back and he fell back dead.
His mother The Munster Woman weeping.
His nurse, The Leinster Woman weeping.
His wife, The Ulster Woman weeping.
Church Hill [Cnocan an Teumpuill]. Jig in three parts.
Máire discovered the two most important men of the Wexford area. It was P.J. McCall who composed the famous 1798 rebel ballads and Arthur Darley put the music to them, 'Boolavogue' is featured here (-> FW#7, FW#13). He was also the composer of 'Arthur Darley's' aka the 'Swedish Jig' (-> FW#30). However, Wexford is most famous for its mumming tradition, four sets are featured that were collected by Darley and McCall.
Mumming is an ancient custom, probably from the time of the Romans. It is not unlike the medieval and miracle plays performed in England, Scotland and Wales from the 12th century. The plays were more or less a competition between good and evil. St. George versus the Dragon, and St. George versus Napoleon. When they were performed in Ireland it became St. Patrick versus St. George. The number playing was generally twelve and each character had a historical name. As the mumming went on one actor after another stood out and said his piece, who he was, why they had come together and whether they were on the side of good or evil. Each carried a short wooden sword, and at the end of the performance did a magnificent sword dance.
Eventually, we're crossing the sea for Scotland. William Marshall wrote the strathspey 'Duke of Gordon's Rant' that evolved into 'Lord Gordon's Reel' (-> FW#26, FW#28). Rather curiously, the original 1780 version had three parts, Chief O'Neill printed two, whereas Michael Coleman's 1920 recording had five.
William Marshall was born at the old town of Fochabers, Banffshire, in 1748. Still at the age of twelve he was employed by the Duke of Gordon and rose to be butler and house-steward. He became skilled in mechanics, was a good mathematician, an able astronomer, a fairly good architect, and a famous composer of Scottish melodies. Next to Scott Skinner (who composed the 'Mathematician' -> FW#22) with six hundred tunes this makes him Scotland's second most prolific composer of national airs. [Robert] Burns declared Marshall to be the first composer of Strathspey of the age. When the Duke of Gordon and the Marquis of Huntley were setting out on a continental tour, the elder and younger members of the family were in tears. Marshall was standing by and took up his violin immediately and produced 'The Marquis of Huntly's Farewell' [-> FW#24]. Another fine air of Marshall's is 'Mrs. Hamilton of Wishaw'. Burns wrote the words of 'My love is like a Red, Red Rose' to that air [-> FW#10].
Marshall died in 1833 at the age of eighty-five. He said at one time that all the tunes could be played and that performers who complained, must learn to play better, as he did not write music for bunglers.

Prehistoric Music of Ireland - Bronze Horn in Session Prehistoric Music of Ireland - Trumpa & Didgeridoo

Having arrived in Ireland, we only need to go back in time for two millennia. A couple of years ago, I visited the heritage centre of Eamain Macha (Navan Fort), Northern Ireland, where once a famous prehistoric palace was situated. I heard that the centre doesn't exist anymore and that's a pity, because I vividly recall the display of an iron age trumpet that had been found in nearby Loughnashade lake and is believed to have been deposited around 50 BC. You could press a button and find out what it sounded like - that is of a similar nature to the Australian Aboriginal didgeridoo.

Simon O'Dwyer writes in Prehistoric Music of Ireland:

The outer conical quarter circle tube is very similar to instruments that were being made by the Etruscans in the preceding centuries while the circular plate at the end is decorated with an ornate lotus flower design that clearly had its origins in the La Tene area of Southern Switzerland. Traditionally the Loughnashade trumpet has always been displayed with the two-quarter circles attached to form a semi-circular or C position. When the first exact reproduction was completed in 1999, it became apparent very quickly that the C position presented major problems to the person trying to play the instrument. The C playing position did not feel right either from a functional or aesthetic point of view.
The assembly that worked best was when one-quarter circle was turned through 180° relative to the other. The two halves then formed a perfect 'S' shape, proving a most comfortable way to play. The weight is distributed evenly down the length. If trumpas led armies into battle, then what better way to achieve volume and visual power than to have a line of circular plates held 2m over the heads of the marching soldiers and 4m above ground level blaring out a mean and intimidating sound. An Iron Age sheet bronze instrument that was played throughout Western Europe, known as the carnyx used this exact principle. If a continuous low note is blown by using circular breathing and the air pressure is varied from soft to very strong, a deep evil undulating droning can be produced.
One function in an upright S position is that playing of a fanfare in the presence of royalty or during ceremonial occasions. The large diameter tube '2cm' and the open mouthpiece allows a player to produce both melody notes and the single fundamental with harmonic and overtone colouration. It is undoubtedly not a coincidence that the trumpa was designed to play a full harmonic series, based on B flat, smoothly, with the flat 7th and all the other normal characteristics. This is a perfect tuning to allow a fanfare to be played. Thus, far from being a simple tube 2m long with a decorated disc at the end, the Loughnashade trumpa has proven to be a many faceted and versatile musical instrument. An instrument that can intimidate, embolden, inspire, enlighten and entertain must point to the presence of a rich and varied musical tradition in the Middle Iron Age of Ireland.
In the mid 1990s Simon O'Dwyer set out to research, make replicas and learn how to play Irish prehistoric musical instruments. With astonishing results. Simon claims: Their level of expertise was at the cutting edge of the technology of that time. Prehistoric Music of Ireland It might be compared with the most advanced computer chip or spacecraft engine today. Is it not remarkable that such high levels of achievement were realized in the pursuit of good musical instruments?

This fascinating time travel is featuring not only iron age trumpets, but bronze age horns and the characteristical Irish frame drum.

The bodhran or deafener, Ireland's distinctive percussion drum, probably originates from this time. Essentially the bodhran is a narrow, wooden circular frame which has an animal skin stretched taut across one side. Variations occur throughout prehistory and history around the world. In Ireland it is thought that the bodhran also functioned as a tray ro winnow grain. A handful of flayed ears and chaff was tossed into the frame and then flipped up into the wind so that the chaff blew away and the heavier grain fell back onto the skin. This action, performed repeatedly, would produce a simple rhythm. There may have been specific winnowing songs, sung to the drumming of the grain.
I recall a busker and singer in the London underground, his only instrument being a tray and his change.

Since a large ceremonial wooden building and musical instruments occurred together beside the remains of the Emain Macha palace, Simon is fond of speculating about Irish stone forts:

Along the Western seabord there is a series of great circular stone structures. Most are thought to date to the Middle Iron Age, 500 to 100 BC. Because of the massive stone construction and the existence of only one entrance portal, these buildings are thought to have been used as defensive fortifications. Certain problems immediately arise with such a scenario. None of the buildings have a water source inside them.
Perhaps the building served an entirely different function. It is possible that a stone structure of similar size could also have had a thatched roof. In this instance what had appeared to be a circular walled fortification becomes the remaining ruin of a great building. The distinctive stepped terracing on the inside wall could be explained as being designed to facilitate a large crowd of spectators. Ceremonies could have taken place without being subject to the uncertainty of the weather. With such thick walls and dense roof, no sounds from outside would penetrate and even a large crowd would be able to hear the spoken word or instruments being played. Ceremonies of a religious or royal nature could be conducted, as well as concerts.
The legendary story 'Tain Bo Fraich', dealing with events that occurred about 70 BC, but written down in the 8th century, introduces us to prehistoric music:
The detailed description of the concert played by the three harpists is told in excellent detail. The seven trumpeters first lead a ceremonial procession to the palace. Then they play a tune as part of the healing of their master. There is a clear reference to their use in war as [Queen] Medb specifically mentions musicians when she suggests that warriors join her for a raid. Of further interest is the description of the processional singing by the 50 women of the Sidhe. The story appears to suggest that the Sidhe, rather than being supernatural, underworld fairies, were probably a particular clan that specialised in music, poetry and theatrical performance. The most accomplished artists would have been celebrities, well paid to give concerts or participate in ceremonies. Their leader was so wealthy that she was able to equip her nephew in a lavish fashion befitting a Prince out to woo the daughter of the King and Queen of Connaught.
Thanks to Simon & Co, prehistoric times will no longer be as silent as it once was: a couple of CDs featuring prehistoric instruments and their sounds are available;
Bill Whelan (-> FW#6) composed a piece for bronze horn and the National Symphony Orchestra. But one may only speculate if any of those tunes played in prehistoric times had found its way down through the ages into modern day repertoire.

Now, stop that and let us turn to the weirdo-folky-never-heard-of-it journalism of Belfast authors and music journalists Trevor Hodgett and Colin Harper (the latter worked on the Janet Holmes solo album -> FW#29).

Davy Graham Horslips Sweeney's Men
Left to right: Davy Graham / Horslips / Sweeney's Men

Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History is aimed at shining a light on the Dark Ages of the 1960s folk, blues and rock scene in Ireland: Before the iPod, the internet and bedroom recordings studios, there was a thriving and varied music scene that was rarely recorded. A group of overworked, underpaid and innovative musicians were exploring new styles of music and performance and emerging from the shadow of Ireland's showband era. Their patchwork history of Irish music, most pieces had been published in newspapers and magazines before (spanning 1975-2004), is a great book that should be on everybody's drawing table. I enjoyed almost any page.

To a great extent this book came into being as a meaningful refuge for the story of Sweeneye's Men. Largely unnoticed at the time, Sweeneye's Men would become the wellspring of the entire British folk-rock movement and the Irish revival of the 1970s. Drawing uniquely from hillbilly music, the English folk revival and the then still cobwebbed Irish tradition, all glued together with bohemian zest, these were precisely the sort of people the conservative forces of Catholic Ireland were trying to hold at bay. The originals were Andy Irvine [-> FW#23], Johnny Moynihan - reputedly the first person to play a note in O'Donoghue's, on a tin whistle that was swiftly trousered before the landlady could identify and eject the perpetrator - and Joe Dolan. The showband craze was at its peak in 1966, with literally hundreds of mohair-suited, brass-sectioned ensembles of young men pumping out UK pop covers, Fifties rock 'n' roll. By May '67 [the Capitol Showband's 'Black Velvet Band'] was rubbing shoulders with a bona fide Sweeneye's Men single: out of nowhere, 'Old Maid in the Garret', a rumbustious old music-hall number reworked by Andy hit number six. Bizarrely, Sweeneye's Men were now stars.
But now Dolan was rolling out. There's a war on - I've got to go to Israel. This thing is bigger than Sweeneye's Men: I've gotta go. What became known as the Six Day War had just begun. Legend has it that Dolan arrived on the seventh day. Terry Woods was now the only option. I brought a twelve-string into the group so we all had double-stringed instruments. Amidst all this uncertainty, the LP had finally slipped out. Capturing the dust-bowl-Celtic-hillbilly magic of the classic line-up it would be a blueprint for every British and Irish progressive folk act of note for years to come. 'Willie O'Winsbury' alone, now a standard in itself, had been serendipitously created by Irvine through accidentally cross-referring unrelated words and tune in a folksong manuscript, while other songs and tunes on the album would be subsequently plundered and revamped by the likes of Pentangle and Horslips.
Andy's replacement was Ireland's hottest electric guitarist, Henry McCullough. The group, perhaps unfortunatly, was staying at London's Madison Hotel, along with various other acts including Joe Cocker. Someone told Henry that Joe needed a guitarist and feet became itchy. With [Cocker] he became the only Irishman to play at the Woodstock Festival. Sweeneye's Men swiftly recruiting one Al O'Donnell - a popular Dublin-based solo artist with a sweet tenor voice and a penchant for lengthy Scottish ballads - in other words, wholly unsuitable. Johnny said, Well, even if Beethoven wanted to join the band it wouldn't work - there isn't any band!
But the tale has a truly bizarre coda: Ashley Hutchings , godfather of British folk-rock, had just left the critically and commercially successful Fairport Convention [-> FW#23]. His plan? To join Sweeneye's Men. In truth it was Sweeneye's Men that Ashley wanted to reconstitute as the core of [Steeleye Span] [-> FW#25]. So then Tim Hart and Maddy Prior [-> FW#21] were approached. You could say that it was a mistake, says Hutchings, on Irvine's declining to join. It would have been a monster band. As Maddy Prior views it all now: The five of us rehearsed in the country for three months, made 'Hark! The Village Wait' and promptly split. Yet Steeleye Span did indeed continue and then becoming, as members came and went, to all intents and purposes Maddy Prior's band.
Sweeneye's Men never entered the consciousness of these later generations, but they were the start of it all.
The book's story continues, featuring even some Brits that were somehow connected to Irish music (however vaguely). Irish Folk, Trad & Blues - A Secret History Davey Graham was the very architect of the instrumental guitar music and inventor of DADGAD tuning: That was the moment life got interesting (Martin Carthy -> FW#18).
While Archie Fisher is largely responsible for the tuning entering the Scottish traditional world, Micheal O Domhnaill appears to have been its source within Irish music. O Domhnaill discovered the tuning in 1970 on the back of a Bert Jansch record, when sharing a flat in Dublin with fellow Skara Brae member, Daithi Sproule [-> FW#5]. Graham's invention was probably dominant among accompanists of the instrumental tradition during the Eighties and early Nineties and still remains the obvious tuning for an solo guitarist wishing to play jigs and reels.
The 1970s brought Planxty (-> FW#30), the Beatles of the modern Celtic-music movement, the Bothy Band (-> FW#30), godfathers of every Irish trad band to come, Clannad (-> FW#6, FW#30) that got the Irish language into the UK charts, and the trad-based, harmony-laden, pop-folk sound of Stockton's Wing (-> FW#23, FW#24). Celtic rockers Horslips only recently re-recorded some of their songs:
There is no denying the Horslips legend within Ireland: their best-known Celtic rock anthems are still covered by bar bands, while increasingly their music is being used in TV advertising and even as a backing track for the 1998 Irish World Cup squad's single. We started as an experimental unit, says Eamon Carr, the group's drummer and lyricist. Jim Lockhart had come to the poetry readings that I had and would produce his tin whistle and play 'Blue Rondo A La Turk' and 'Take Five' on it and I remember thinking, That's very interesting. He knew his jigs and reels, too. By 1972 the creatively stifling Irish showband era was waning, Horslips' debut built on foundations laid by Sweeneye's Men five years earlier to bring an awareness of long-neglected Irish traditional music to a generation of young people raised on rock, if largely starved of local access to it.
The debut single 'Johnny's Wedding' - a rocked-up trad tune - was a surprise Irish-chart hit. The first single created a demand. The second single was a folk song that Barry [Devlin] had learned called 'Green Gravel' and we were delighted with this because it was the root of 'St James Infirmary Blues'. The seminal first album 'Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part' would prove the first of a sterling run of albums to explore the than uncharted territory between British progressive rock, Irish traditional music and Irish mythology - with a healthy dose self-deprecating wit and absurd stage wear. The packaging for that first album was as extraordinary as the music - a die-cut octagonal design with a lavish booklet, which Charles [O'Connor] had created. The sleeves cost as much as the production of the record. It was basically a homage to his concertina.
Horslips became not only an indigenous answer to the likes of Fairport Convention in Britain, but massively popular on a mainstream level. Taking its title from a twelfth-century manuscript which documented/mythologised the settlement of Ireland, 'The Book of Invasions' would be their masterpiece. Richly impressionistic, by turns wistful and epic, this was an epochal moment for Irish rock. Dealing with Irish myths was firstly a useful device and secondly helped us, and our audience, to explore our own identity. We started out just mucking around playing gigs in pubs, and somehow we became a people's band. Shortly after 'Invasions' the group succumbed to the black hole of breaking America and split in 1980. A few years later, U2 - with promo videos directed by Horslips' Barry Devlin - succeeded in that task, while all things Celtic went on to become a huge international industry.
Not all the albums may be essential but some are and the rest, at the very least, are splendidly entertaining period pieces. And as for that name - well, you try saying Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse after a few whiskeys...
I mentioned only some of the folkies featured in this book, not the rock 'n' roll side of things: Van, Rory, ...

Ear & Eye - Maroccan Gimbri Player Ear & Eye - Norwegian Hardanger Fiddler

Let us go back in time again at last. And in space. Christoph Wagner is collecting historical postcards and 78 rpm records since a decade.

I spent much of the early 1990s rummaging through junk shops and flea markets, researching the history of the accordion [-> FW#21]. It was here that I became aware of the crucial importance of the picture postcard as a historical source. Occasionally musicians were featured on postcards if they fitted the picturesque ambience the tourists boards wanted to promote: the Alphorn player on the glacier of Grindelwald, bagpipe players and hurdy-gurdy musicians in the Auvergne or a group of Geisha musicians in a Japanese teahouse.
Ear & Eye - Encounters with World Music is a journey around the world in 70 postcards from the first three decades of the 20th century. Though the pictures speak for themselves, 38 essays, both in German and English, comment, explain and muse about the depicted scenes. Besides these silent witnesses a companion CD features 24 recordings from 1912 to 1940 (including Scottish fiddler James Scott Skinner -> FW#25).

Wagner wished to received texts telling us about a particular card, but also something about the author and his musical preferences. Ear & Eye - Encounters with World Music Most authors are classical and jazz musicians, though there's also Runrig's (-> FW#6, FW#10, FW#24) Malcolm Jones (-> FW#17), mandolin player Simon Mayor (-> FW#30), folk singer and dulcimer player Charlotte Greig, as well as Stuart Brotman, bass player with the klezmer group Brave Old World (-> FW#2).

Guitar player Justin Adams, he played with Billy Bragg (-> FW#13, FW#23) and Sinead O'Connor (-> FW#24) and currently performs with Robert Plant (-> Festival in the Desert DVD review in this FW issue), follows 'The Route of Trance' (here ab abbreviated version):

Three gut strings, a hide-covered wooden soundbox, a broom handle for a neck. Wild tassles, a strap so the player can dance while he strums, and a tin protuberance studded with metal jangles that add a fuzzy resonance to the tone, a magic bass banjo strummed by a North African John Lee Hooker. When I first heard a gimbri played on a street in Marrakesh, I felt like I was hearing the cornerstone of Rock and Roll. A five note scale, with a circular rhythm, made patterns which were smple but elusive. A half whispered voice was hypnotic. Gnawi, descendants of slaves brought from West Africa to Morocco. They maintain a distinct culture, and in most modern Moroccan cities there are troupes of Gnawa musicians who have two specialities. The first is a festive, daytime, street music with drumming and acrobatics. The second brings this ancient guitar to the fore.
Travelling recently in the Sahara, with Tuareg musicians who play the gimbri's little brother instrument, the tehardant or ngoni, it was blindingly clear to see the route tat these instruments and their trance music took across the Atlantic to the Mississippi Delta and elsewhere. When the baby of the Blues, Rock and Roll, took the white Western world by storm, what really happened was that the potency of the musical secrets of the Maalems and Griots of Africa, after enduring centuries of trial, won the soul of a generation whose own music had become run by intellect and sentiment.
Mike Adcock, founder member of Accordions Go Crazy, found his musical home in Norway:
The occasion is a wedding in Norheimsund in Hardanger, in the west of Norway. Leading the procession is the speleman, playing the instrument that takes its name from the same region, the Hardanger fiddle. He is doubtless playing one of the many beautiful wedding marches to be found in Norway and later he will stand alone playng for the guests as they dance, the music hypnotic and strange and extraordinary. The Hardanger fiddle is generally thought of as Norway's national instrument, yet it was once treated with suspicion: the devil's instrument which tempted men away from the work to be done and from the path of righteousness.
I have been visiting Norway regularly for about twenty-five years. I bought an LP of Hardanger fiddle music and liked the sound, the sympathetic strings givng the instrument a haunting resonance, but found the music impenetrable. On a visit to the Telemark festival I heard fiddlers playing in concert and for dancing: in particular for the almost unwordly springar with its three uneven beats, marked out by the speleman stamping his foot, providing a reference point for himself and the dancers. On my LP the foot-stamping was missing: classically-weaned record producers thought it crude and used to discourage it.
The music is mostly for dancing but there is a brooding, introspective quality which suggests an agenda going beyond the merely functional. It is this expressive aspect that has really drwan me to the music and which has, in turn, influenced my own. I have also been affected by the way the music is structured. Instead of taking a strophic, verse form, a hardingfel piece willintroduce a short, repeated motif which is then developed. Other melodic themes follow, each in turn coming in and out of focus. The music has an organic, asymmetrical quality which has evolved through improvisation.
At the very end, I'd like to recount a story told by Turkish flautist Kudsi Erguner:
There was no specific Sufi music, only music favoured by the Sufis, in which they tried to find a deep joy. Music should make you aware of the presence of God. It's a medium to connect with the spiritual world, to find God in ecstasy. But there are also devoted Muslims who think music is something bad, that should not exist at all. Rumi's son said to those people: When I hear the ney flute I am filled with joy, because it sounds as if the door of paradise is opening. The devoted Muslims said: Why can't we hear that sound? Rumi's son replied: You can hear it, but not when the door of paradise is closing...

Beisswenger, D. Fiddling Way Out Yonder - The Life and Music of Melvin Wine. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 2002, ISBN 1-57806-441-4, 230pp, US$40.00.
Cohen, R.D. Rainbow Quest - The Folk Music Revival & American Society, 1940–1970. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 2002, ISBN 1-55849-348-4, 365pp, US$24.95.
Harper, C., & T. Hodgett. Irish Folk, Trad & Blues - A Secret History. Collins Press, Cork, 2004, ISBN 1-903464-45-5, 422pp, €25.00.
McDonnell Garvey, M. Cómhrá na dTonn - The Conversation of the Waves. Dublin, 2004, ISBN 0-9545324-0-6, 128pp, €35.00 (including CD) (
Miller, R. The Fiddler's Throne - Selected Tunes for Contra Dances, Sessions, and House Parties. Fiddlecase Books, Alstead, NH, 2004, 245pp, US$25.00.
Miller, R. New England Fiddler's Repertoire. Fiddlecase Books, Alstead, NH, 2003, 96pp, US$20.00.
O'Dwyer, S. Prehistoric Music of Ireland. Tempus, Stroud, 2004, ISBN 0-7524-3129-3, 160pp, UKŁ19,99.
Steinbach, P., Irish Reel Book - 250 Irish Tunes for Flute, Violin, Banjo, Mandolin, Guitar and All Other Melody Instruments. Ama, Brühl, 2004, ISBN 3-89922-23-4, 180pp, €24,95 (including CD).
Wagner, C., Ear & Eye - Encounters with World Music. Schott/edition neue zeitschrift für musik, Mainz, 2004, ISBN 3-7957-0482-0, 187pp, €29,90 (including CD).

T:-)M's Night Shift (FW#30)
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