The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #47624 Message #2728462
Posted By: Steve Shaw
21-Sep-09 - 07:55 PM
Thread Name: How to play the 'Blues Harp'
Subject: RE: How to play the 'Blues Harp'
I have never claimed any tune to be from any particular nation. I leave that kind of scholarship to those who would rather do scholarship than play tunes, frankly. Now I like the Murphys and all harmonica players of Irish have much to thank them for (and I do have ~that~ recording), but, equally, there is much that is not ideal. For a start (hobby hoss comin' up...), in their recording, as with those of several other harmonica luminaries who turn their hands to Irish, the harmonica is the point of the thing rather than the tunes. There is the struggle to show that harmonica decorations can be right up there with fiddle-flute-pipes ornamentations, and instruments are frequently grievously modified to achieve this. The upshot is recordings in which painfully unauthentic rolls and cuts are all too prominent, and this makes for tedious listening. I acknowledge the vital importance of ornamentation in Irish, but I contend that the humble (ha!), unmodified blues harp (well, Paddified at any rate) has a good natural range of ornamentation available to a reasonably skilled player. Just think of all those wonderful tremolo players (Noel Battle for one - ten times All-Ireland chap...how many times did you say that Mr Murphy won it? Heheh!) They don't bend or have buttons or play massively-tweaked harps but they play the tunes wonderfully authentically and their all-too-few recordings are a pleasure for repeated listening.
Vamping accompaniment is available to tongue-blockers, but not all harmonica players use that technique. Will Atkinson was a wonderful exponent of it. But with the best will in the world (no pun intended), the chords available are strictly limited, and all too often the vamping sounds miserably out of tune. Whatever you say (and I take it you're a sessiondotorg man here in disguise whom I've occasionally sparred with), Michael is dead right when he asserts that the absolute heart of Irish is the melody. The tune. All chordal or rhythmic accompaniment is strictly optional. I'm not against it and I love all my Bothy Band recordings and the rest. But the chords are optional. The lyricism of Irish tunes is more than enough to allow them to stand up alone for themselves. That's probably how it was anyway until the era of those exiles in America with their awful piano accompanists, then the age of sessions and supergroups. Listen to a bit of pure drop. Yep, the world moves on, but at least you'll convince yourself of the essentially melodic nature of Irish music.
And I'm not patronisng and I'm a harmonica player. You do have to wonder...