Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Strumstick In Folk Music - Review

No a lot of folk musicians will even of heard of the Strumstick. The one featured here is the 4 string instrument. There's another that only has 3 strings and is even easier to to play. The Strumstick hasn't been embraced by musicians as much as it should be. The 4 string model is played the very same as a guitar. It's mainly used to strum hence the name ''Strumstick'' . The only difference between a 4 string model and a guitar is that the two top strings are not on the strumstick. The A and E strings are left out. You wouldn't think when playing chords on such an instrument with two of the strings missing that the chords played would actually sound right, well they do. The only thing you hear that is missing when strummed is the lack of bass.

The sound itself is much like a mandolin. There are several ways it can be tuned, you could tune it like a mandolin / tenor banjo even. The beauty of this instrument is haw easy it is to play and that's one of the reasons it was developed in the first instance. It's an ideal way to start learning your first stringed instrument or if you found learning the guitar a bit too much and gave up. If you already play guitar then switching to a 4 string Strumstick will be a piece of cake as they say. For example to play a G chords all you need is one finger, the D is made the same as the guitar and so is the A chord and so on.

When playing with a group of musicians such as a session the sound made by the Strumstick will complement the sound made by the other instruments in the group. You'll get some strange looks when you first take the Strumstick into a ''session like'' gathering. Everybody that plays guitar will want to give it a try. It's best to play it with a strap as you'll need to support, whereas playing a guitar you have plenty of space in the body of the instrument for your arm to support the guitar while playing. The widest part of the body of the strumstick is only 6 inches which makes it one of the slimmest stringed musical instruments. If using a capo the same techniques apply as if it was a guitar. I can't see any reason why the easy to play / great sounding Strumstick should not be included into folk music. Have a look at the photo, compared to the guitar it's really small. This small youtube video is only an example of the sound and how easy it is to play.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Wolfe Tones To Retire

Brian Warfield announced recently in his Newsletter that The Wolfe Tones would retire from 2014 after 50 years as the most successful ballad group ever. This is another blow to the music scene around the world. They could not continue forever, we all knew that, but when the news came from Brian it was a shock nonetheless. Just like The Dubliner's and The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem The 'tones are an institution in Ireland. Not too many bands keep it together for 50 years without some members being replaced over time. When Derek left the group some years ago all The Wolfe Tones fans assumed he would be replaced by an similar kind of musician, someone who played mandolin. It never happened. This in my opinion was a mistake. The reason I say this is because the Wolfe Tones had a unique sound unlike any other ballad group in the world. Their albums up until Derek left had that raw unblemished sound in every recording. After Derek left a more synthesized sound crept into their music. I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to folk and ballads and The Wolfe Tones were also traditionalist up until this parting of the ways. Even during their live shows they used backing tracks. Using backing tracks to me is a sin. All that was needed to capture the sound they once had was to bring in a mandolin player and hold on to their unique sound.
Some people don't mind the new sound, I'm talking about those who on the odd occastion go to see a show just because the 'tones are playing nearby, but for the die hard real fans this new sound was not what they wanted to hear. Don't fix it if it wasn't broke to begin with. Don't get me wrong, I still go to watch the Wolfe Tones and enjoy the show.
With The Dubliner's retiring this year and The Tones next year who have we got left ? there is not many groups about playing ballads that can replace these institutions. The Irish Brigade continue to do gigs but on a smaller scale than they used to. Charlie And The Bhoy's are not as well known in Ireland as they are in Scotland except those who follow Celtic Football Club. There are a few other groups like The Druids who do their best but who is going to write the new songs that need to be written ?. Brian Warfield from The Wolfe Tones is one of the finest song writers in Ireland and has written over 200 songs and stories. This man will be truly missed when the lads retire. He has highlighted the injustices in Irish society for nearly 50 years and in his own words being knocked and ridiculed for highlighting theses injustices by begrudgers at every hand's turn.

I have seen and heard The Wolfe Tones songs being banned from the national airwaves in Ireland. It was 1982, the British government send their navy to the Malvinas [ Falkland ] to retake the islands from the Argentine Army. Derek Warfield saw an opportunity here to write a song, and out came Admiral William Brown as a single. The song reached No 1 in the charts, along came the top 20 on the radio on Sunday. When it came to playing Admiral William Brown the D.J. read out the usual statement ''Under Section 31 Of The Broadcasting Act R.T.E. is forbidden To Play The No 1 Song In Ireland'' This act was brought in by Fianna Fáil, the so called ''Republican Party'' . But this ban didn't matter too much as the song was bought by the public in big numbers. The song itself is true in it's content but that didn't stop the ban. This was pure censorship of The Wolfe Tones by the state. The section 31 act is long gone but Admiral William Brown has still not being played on the radio. The Wolfe Tones begrudgers are still operation in high places to this day,,,,,,,,,to be continued.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Country Music Section Is Doing Well

It was while watching a T.V. show on TG4 that the idea came to me to start a new Country Music section on the site. The programme was Glór Tíre which showcases a few new contestant every week who are introduced by a big name Country Singer from Ireland each week. It's a sort of talent contest to promote new blood into the world of Country Music in Ireland. Also the big name bands preform their hit songs. It came to me that nobody was providing the lyrics and chords to these songs on the internet, so I gave it a go.I continue to get help from a friend, Angela for the chords. I'm not the biggest country music fan in the world but would watch and learn. Even the lyrics to these big hit songs were not on the net so I set about writing them down myself as I did with most of the early stuff already on the site. I got a lot of help from Angela from Germany who doesn't really mind these songs and actually likes quiet a few. I was very surprised how well these songs were known around the world, especially in America, Canada and the U.K. Some of the newer singers who came on the scene in the past 6 years or so are making a good living here in Ireland from singing country songs, some of which they wrote themselves. Derek Ryan and Nathan Carter are the two big new names in Country Music in Ireland today. The new brand of country singer is not afraid to experiment with using alternative musical instruments not normally used in country music. Declan Ryan is a good example, he recently added a new tin whistle player to his band. This makes for a whole new sound and gives a sort of mixture between country and folk. I hope to ad to this section in the future.

Blogger Is Better Than Facebook

I started this blog back in 2007 hoping to engage more with the visitors to the site. I never really gave it much of a chance to develop so this is attempt No. 2. It was around the same time Facebook came along and I thought Facebook would be better, how wrong I was. The format of facebook is not suited to engaging with people. When you post a bit of info on facebook, in a matter of a few minutes the post is gone down the page and soon goes out of sight, that's the wat they work it. If you have a rake of ''So Called Friends'' then when they post something it gets added to your wall/page. Now that's not very suited to someone who for example is trying to promote a new song they just wrote. Another part of the Facebook generation is how addictive it becomes if you let it get hold of you. Thankfully I didn't but many did get addicted. In my local we now have a ''Facebook Free Zone'' as the problem was so bad. With Blogger you are set free from all the restrictions that Facebook puts on your page. Anything you can do on Facebook you can do better on Blogger, post photos, videos, write comments, follow other people's blogs, in fact you create a whole website using blogger as the interface is so easy to use.

A Few Surprises In The Top 100 Songs

A lot of the regulars to the site will have noticed that I recently compiled a list of the top 100 Irish songs of all time. The top 30 songs in the list contained very few surprises except for Sweet Carnlough Bay, hot that song slipped in there I'll never know. In the second part of the list from 31 to 68 there were some here I thought would actually be higher up the list. Songs like ''A Song For Ireland'' at No. 48. I would have thought it was top 20 material at least. In general it's a very good list of songs. Don't forget that this list is not the top 100 Irish songs that are liked by people living in Ireland but rather a list of Irish folk songs that are the most popular all over the world. A pleasant surprise for me anyway was the amount of rebel songs in the list. I was happy to see that these songs are being kept alive around the world. I know that if you asked one hundred people to name their favourite 100 songs you would get 100 different lists. Everybody's different a some songs mean more to some people than others, it may remind them of a place in time that they were happy or sad or for 100 other reasons as to why you fall in love with a nice piece of writing.
Off the top of my head, here's a few of my favourites in no particular order.

Joe McDonnell
Grace Jim McCann Version
Michael -Johnny McEvoy
Michael Collins - Wolfe Tones
The Parting Glass-Pogues Version
A Song For The Fox-The Furies
Long Before Your Time J.McEvoy
Let The People Sing
Thousands Are Sailing - Pogues
The Ferryman - Dublin City Ramblers
Bold Robert Emmet, Dublin City Ramblers Version
Boolavogue - Brian Roebuck Version
Slievenamon- Old Wolfe Tone Version
Where My Eileen Is Waiting-Johnny McEvoy Version
Come Out Ye Black And Tans-Wolfe Tones
The Rare Auld Times-Ronnie Drew Version
For Ireland I'd Not Tell Her Name. The Tones
Freemantle Bay By Justice
Kevin Barry - Wolfe Tones Version
Gallipili By The Fureys
Uncil Nobby's Steamboat-Wolfe Tones
Sean South
Boolavogue, Brian Roebuck Version
Shanagolden By Paddy Day
Red Is The Rose, Every Version
The Galway Races-Pogues Version, This is part of a medley
A Pair Of Brown Eyes - Pogues
The Old Bog Road J.McEvoy version
The Old Man - The Fureys Bros. And Davie Arthur Version.
Irish Soldier Laddie By Barleycorn
The Cocky Farmer-Ronnie Drew
Fergal O'Hanlon-Declan Hunt
The Bold Fenian Men By Dublin City Ramblers
The Foggy Dew
Avondale By Mary Black
Come By The Hills
Bring Them Home-Dublin City Ramblers
Night Visiting Song by Luke Kelly
Merry Ploughboy - Ronnie Drew Version

If you have't already seen the top 100 Irish folk songs of all time, head over to Martin Dardis site and go to most popular. See the link in on the right nav.

So How Are The Welsh Songs Doing ?

The Welsh section on the site was not my idea but Marc's. He discovered that nobody was providing the chords to the traditional welsh songs I usually don't start a new section until I have sufficient content for a page. This is usually about 10 songs. It wasn't long before Marc sent the first batch to get me started, that section now has 37 songs added to date. It was a slow burner at first but has now taken off and doing quiet well considering all the songs are in a minority language with less native Welsh people speaking their native tongue than for example the Irish Gaelic. In general the songs in this section get about 100 hits per day, but that figure is climbing week by week.Having these Welsh songs on the site is a way of promoting the language through song and story. So for example if someone comes looking for the chords to Colon Lan which is one of the more popular one's they will hopefully drift into the Welsh section and discover a whole raft of songs they may find interesting and learn a new one.