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Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo

matt milton 27 Aug 09 - 06:54 AM
Leadfingers 27 Aug 09 - 08:38 AM
matt milton 27 Aug 09 - 09:05 AM
Desert Dancer 27 Aug 09 - 11:40 AM
matt milton 27 Aug 09 - 12:21 PM
Leadfingers 27 Aug 09 - 01:52 PM
Les in Chorlton 27 Aug 09 - 02:19 PM
GUEST 27 Aug 09 - 06:48 PM
Jack Campin 27 Aug 09 - 07:43 PM
GUEST,BanjoRay 27 Aug 09 - 08:59 PM
Will Fly 28 Aug 09 - 05:49 AM
matt milton 28 Aug 09 - 07:32 AM
GUEST,Russ 28 Aug 09 - 10:16 AM
matt milton 28 Aug 09 - 01:25 PM
GUEST,Russ 28 Aug 09 - 09:17 PM
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Subject: Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo
From: matt milton
Date: 27 Aug 09 - 06:54 AM

This is a recently published book of banjo tablature by Kyle Datesman. Here's the link:

http://www.melbay.com/product.asp?ProductID=96574BCD

I bought this because the content looked largely unfamiliar to me, and there were some enticing tune titles. The blurb promised some unusual key signatures and modes. I liked the fact that it gives several tunes in more than one key, and that it tells you which mode every tune is in. I've had it about a week, and I'm learning a few tunes from it. It's an eccentric book in many ways, and I find certain aspects of it utterly baffling.

For one thing, the title is a bit of a misnomer. I hear little that isn't Irish in these melodies. The repertoire is predominantly fiddle tunes, jigs and hornpipes. It's fundamentally Irish-American in character, with plenty of repertoire from the US of A.

For another, I'm really curious to know where on earth Kyle Datesman has found all this material. His introductions discuss certain details of the melodies in quirky and interesting fashion, but he never mentions sources.

I wouldn't care, only many of these tunes bear no relation whatsoever to tunes I'd associate with them. There's a "Sail Away Ladies", a "Wind That Shakes The Barley" and a "St Annes Reel" that I've never heard before. They're not simply variations on a theme: they're completely different tunes. I'm no expert, and this may well be ignorance on my part, but I've had a quick browse on Spotify and emusic and listened to plenty of different performances of these tunes. None of them come close to what's tabbed in this book. In the case of "Wind that Shakes the Barley" there's a further anomaly: he gives the tune in two different keys, yet the second arrangement is almost an entirely different tune.

I keep experiencing a nagging scepticism to how much of the author's own composerly predilections have slipped in. There are a lot of dischords and whole-tone progressions. And the majority of the tunes have a peculiar resistance to resolving themselves in conventional ways – phrases end on strange notes of the scale, and do so too often to ascribe it to a tab typo.

A good example is a beautiful tune called 'Ebenezer'. It has some gorgeous discordant intervals that bring to mind both Joplin rags and Ravel. It doesn't sound like anything I've heard from any British traditions, or indeed from any old modal mountain tunes. Does anybody know this tune? Where's it from?

The closest thing I've heard to this material is the banjo playing of Dan Levenson. He has an album calld Barenaked Banjos, that sounds similar. ('Betsey Likens' being a good case in point.) I can hear some echoes of this stuff in some of Andy Irvine & Paul Brady's playing too.

The book comes with an accompanying CD, which isn't all that helpful: it sounds like it was dashed off quick, and it's pretty messy. There are no dynamics to the playing and quite a few other open strings ring out sympathetically, making it very hard to get a sense
of the song's mode and mood. (He even - I think - hits the odd neighbouring string once or twice.)

All that said, this is in some ways the most facinating banjo book I've ever bought. It's got my fingers negotiating some very odd stretches. Datesman loves these descending runs that are often chromatic or whole-tone, which have you splaying your fingers in spidery stances up the neck. In the short time I've had it, I've grown much more practised at flea-like springs across strings and frets. These tunes really favour – in fact demand – taking brave liberties with the pace and the dynamics. You get a lot of mileage out of letting certain notes sustain over the next.

Anyway, I'd really appreciate it if any banjo pickers on here, or any experts in this repertoire could check out the link and tell me a bit more about these tunes. On the Mel Bay site, you can look at a few sample pages.


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Subject: RE: Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo
From: Leadfingers
Date: 27 Aug 09 - 08:38 AM

Loos Interesting ! - Clicky


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Subject: RE: Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo
From: matt milton
Date: 27 Aug 09 - 09:05 AM

Yeah, it's definitely interesting, and it's got a lot of tunes in it (around 80?) that it's safe to say you won't know - at least not in the unusual way they're arranged in this book.

On the website, if you click 'Samples' you'll be able to see the tab he gives for Paddy on the Turnpike, Fischer's Hornpipe, Betsy Likens, Loch Lomond Hornpipe, Frypan Hornpipe, and Frost And Snow.

I'd love to know whether I'm right in thinking these are highly unusual, perhaps even 'spurious' (from an 'authenticity' point of view, that is) arrangements. I don't mind, because I'm enjoying playing these tunes. But I'd just like to know how much I'm playing 'Kyle Datesman' music.


For the record, these are the tunes the book provides tab for.

8th of January ; Backstep Cindy ; Balley Desmond Polka ; Barlow Knife ; Betsy Likens ; Bill Cheatam ; Billy in the Lowground ; Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine (1) ; Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine (2) ; Bonaparte's Retreat ; Caledonia ; Chinkapion Pie ; Cold Frosty Morning ; Cotton Eyed Joe ; Cumberland Gap ; Dance All Night ; Devilish Mary ; Ducks on the Mill Pond ; Ducks on the Pond ; Ebenezer ; Faust Knight ; Fiddler's Dram ; Fischer's Hornpipe ; Forked Deer ; Fort Smith ; Fortune ; Frost and Snow ; Frypan Hornpipe ; Green Willis ; Hawks and Eagles ; Highway to Limerick ; Ida Red ; Jay Bird ; Jenny Picking Cockles ; Jimmy Sutton/Old Jim Sutton ; John Lover's Gone ; Johnson's Boys ; Katy Hill ; Kitchen Girl ; Lady Montgomery ; Last of the Callahan ; Lazy Farmer ; Leather Britches ; Liberty ; Little Widow ; Loch Lomand Hornpipe ; Miller's Reel ; Miss McLeod's Reel ; Money Musk ; Morpath's Rant ; Mountain Goat Hornpipe ; Nancy Ann ; Nancy Rowland ; Old Jawbone ; Old Molly Hare ; Paddy on the Turnpike ; Pocono Hornpipe ; Pretty Little Pink ; Quincy Dillon's High C ; Rambler's Hornpipe ; Red Fox ; Red Rocking Chair ; Red Winged Blackbird ; Sail Away Ladies ; Salt Creek ; Shaving a Dead Reaujaques ; Shooting Creek ; Soldier's Joy ; Spirits of the Morning ; St. Anne's Reel ; Staten Island Hornpipe ; Stife's Hornpipe ; Tater Patch ; Taylor's Twist ; Temperance Reel ; The Linnett ; The Staghorn ; Tying a Knot in the Devil's Tail ; Untitled Hornpipe ; Waterloo Hornpipe ; West Folk Girls ; Wild Horse at Stoney Point ; Wind that Shakes the Barley


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Subject: RE: Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 27 Aug 09 - 11:40 AM

From what I can see from the information that Mel Bay provides online and a book I have, Kyle Datesman doesn't seem to be a folk or bluegrass banjo player, so he doesn't come to the music with that sensibility.

I have a book of his called "Classical Banjo" published in 1995. Under "About the Author" it says he "has been playing banjo for well over 15 years. Having acquired a taste for Renaissance Lute music, he decided during the 1980's [i.e., about 15 years before the publication] to arrange these pieces for 5-string banjo. Kyle has since purchased a Lute and has been concentrating on playing that." In the Mel Bay online bio, it says that he purchased a lute and tuned it similar to a five-string banjo.

I assume this order of proceeding was because he could get a banjo more cheaply than a lute, or he already had the banjo and it took a long time to afford a lute -- he does seem to be a low-income, follow-your-muse type, from the Mel Bay bio!

For this Mel Bay book, we're now up to "over 30 years" of playing.

Despite his training and interest in history (a master's degree in comparative world history and expertise in early firearms), historical authenticity or honing to tradition doesn't seem to be what he's about for banjo or lute.

And, the Fisher of Fisher's Hornpipe is not "Fischer".

But, I offer the above as information, and not to suggest that there's nothing interesting or useful to be learned about playing from his books.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo
From: matt milton
Date: 27 Aug 09 - 12:21 PM

yes, I too don't mean to suggest the guy's slipshod in any way. I have his classical banjo book - I've played a couple from there. It's another good purchase and it was one reason why I was looking forward to this British Isles book. I think he played banjo (and bluegrass banjo at that) a good while before picking up the lute.   

He talks in his intro to the book about spending a lot of time "rummaging through the sheet music bins" in search of arcane banjo music, and the book is peppered with things like "it took me a long time to learn this tune" or "this was the first tune I ever learned" , which makes it all the more frustrating: you keeping thinking 'yes but FROM WHERE?!'


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Subject: RE: Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo
From: Leadfingers
Date: 27 Aug 09 - 01:52 PM

Rule ONE ! ALWAYS quote your sources !!


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Subject: RE: Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo
From: Les in Chorlton
Date: 27 Aug 09 - 02:19 PM

Isn't "Mel Bay" some giant organisation that endlessly packages and repackages music regardless of scholarship or anything else much?

I wouldn't be at all surprised to find a copy of "The Mel Bay Collection of Authentic Celtic Hits from the Shows collected in Appalachia an arranged for Hurdy Gurdy and Japanese Nose Flute" based on the work of Alan Lomax.

Cheers

L in C


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Subject: RE: Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo
From: GUEST
Date: 27 Aug 09 - 06:48 PM

I dunno - I've bought quite a few Mel Bay books, and found em all useful so far. Probably because I've normally had a quick look inside them first. There's a guy called Dix Bruce who's written some fun mandolin repertoire books for them, while Fred Socolow's banjo tab book of ragtime and blues stuff is well worth the money. I'd say they've got just as good a strike rate as Oak Publications, who do similar stuff. I might see if I can get in touch with Mr Datesman.


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Subject: RE: Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo
From: Jack Campin
Date: 27 Aug 09 - 07:43 PM

Ebenezer is a Welsh hymn. Google "ebenezer hymn tune".


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Subject: RE: Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo
From: GUEST,BanjoRay
Date: 27 Aug 09 - 08:59 PM

Ebenezer is also an American Old Time tune. Around 50 of the titles correspond with those of Old time tunes that I know or have played along with some time or other, and many of those titles as far as I know are NOT British tunes.
The impression I get is of strange classic banjo arrangements of mostly American tunes.
Ray


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Subject: RE: Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo
From: Will Fly
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 05:49 AM

Here's an entry for Ebenezer from the Fiddler's Tunebook website:

EBENEZER. AKA and see "West Virginia Farewell," "West Viginia Highway." Old‑Time, Breakdown. USA; West Virginia, southwestern Virginia. G Major. Standard tuning. AABB. The tune is not widespread, according to Alan Jabbour, found only in western Virginia and parts of West Virginia. Most modern "revival" versions seem to stem from West Virginia fiddler Franklin George's version, popularized by fiddler and violin-maker Armin Barnett, as well as George Wilson and Allan Block. A version of "Ebenezer" was recorded by fiddler Kahle Brewer of Galax, Va., in the 1920's (Victor 20237), and another by Ernest Stoneman on 78 RPM, although they both issued it under the title "West Virginia Highway." Galax fiddler Uncle Charlie Higgins called it "West Virginia Farewell." Glen Lyn, Virginia fiddler Henry Reed recorded it for Alan Jabbour twice in the 1960's—although he did not have a name for it the first time, on the second occasion he called it "Alabama Gals Give the Fiddler a Dram" (AFS 13037a22). Bob Buckingham remarks that a neighbor and fiddler, Bob Hill plays "Ebenezer," and told him that his father had played it when Bob was young in Chillhowie, Virginia, calling it "Professor Wise." "Ebenezer" was played by "all the old timers" in the key of 'F', according to Kerry Blech, and cites F. Rafe Brady, "one of the survivors, (who) played it on his Heritage LP Cherokee Rose" (Fiddle-L 11.23.05).

***

Jabbour remarks that The Hollow Rock String Band (of which he was a member) learned Henry Reed's version, but played and recorded it under the Brewer/Stoneman title "West Virginia Highway." The tune has the feel of a country rag, in Jabbour's opinion, and shares some melodic content with the late-19th century popular song "Climbing Up the Golden Stairs." Sources for notated versions: Charlie Higgins, Frank George, Kahle Brewer [Krassen]; Nelson Gage [Spandaro]; Fuzzy Mountain String Band (Durham, N.C., who learned the tune from Frank George {W.Va.} and Henry Reed {Glen Lyn, Va.} via Alan Jabbour) [Kaufman]; Bill Christopherson & Alan Kaufman [Phillips]. AABB. Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; pg. 98. Kaufman (Beginning Old Time Fiddle), 1977; pg. 58. Krassen (Appalachian Fiddle), 1973; pg. 63. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; pg. 79. Spandaro (10 Cents a Dance), 1980; pg. 29. Justice JLP 1002, Franklin George – "31st Annual Old Fiddlers' Convention, Galax, Virginia" (1966). Rounder 0010, "Fuzzy Mountain String Band" (1972). Bradley, Thompson, and Jabbour‑ "Sandy's Fancy." Rounder 02144, "Ernest V. Stoneman and the Blue Ridge Corn Shuckers" (appears as "West Virginia Highway"). Victor 20237 (78 RPM), Kahle Brewer (appears as "West Virginia Highway"). CD, Alan Jabbour, James Reed, Bertram Levy – "A Henry Reed Reunion" (2002).

X:1
T:Ebenezer
L:1/8
M:4/4
K:G
Bc | dBdB G2Bc | dBdB G2Bc | d2g2 f2g2 | a3b a2AB |
cBAG F2AB | cBAG F2AB | gfed BAFD | G3FG2 :|
|: Bc | d2g2 gfg2 | b2ba b2ef | g2 g2 g2 g2 | b2ba b2g2 |
agbg ageg | agbg agef | gfed BAFD | G3F G2 :|


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Subject: RE: Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo
From: matt milton
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 07:32 AM

hmmm, thanks.

"The tune has the feel of a country rag, in Jabbour's opinion, and shares some melodic content with the late-19th century popular song "Climbing Up the Golden Stairs."

That description of 'Ebenezer' does indeed sound about right as far as a description of what you get if you play the tab in this book, if you were to add in a little modal mystery spookiness too, and a hint of 20th century classical music.

"The impression I get is of strange classic banjo arrangements of mostly American tunes"

yeah I'd say that about sums it up. Only the title does have one thing going for it: these arrangements do have an unmistakeably musty ancient Irish sort of 'monastic' feel to them.

I'll try to post a recording at some point once I've got one or two down pat


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Subject: RE: Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 10:16 AM

Matt,

I am curious.

When you learn these tunes, who will you play them with?

Russ (Permanent GUEST and banjo player who likes to jam)


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Subject: RE: Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo
From: matt milton
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 01:25 PM

I'm not up to speed on banjo to jam with other people yet. Because I'm fundamentally a fingerstyle guitar player I'm finding the right-hand styles quite tricky - had the banjo about 6 months. I'm basically learning tab from books and painstakingly teaching my right-hand NOT to do all the things it keeps wanting to do from years of guitar picking.

I don't often jam anyway - I used to play fiddle in a bluegrass/country band called Rod Stern & His Raging Fingers – but these days I predominantly play solo, and if I'm playing banjo in public I play songs rather than instrumentals. That's partly why I started asking about this book: I know there are lyrics that are associated with some of the pieces in this book, and I'd like to sing some of them, but I suspect I'd have to come up with [wholly] new tunes to fit them to Mr Datesman's arrangements. Not sure how I feel about that.

...as opposed to a lovely quirky tab arrangment of Rakes of Mallow I found in a 1960s Barry Kornfield book I bought from a charity shop a few months ago: it's always nice when you find a tune you really like and, through the marvels of the Internet, find it even has some hell-raising boisterous lyrics to go with it...


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Subject: RE: Review: Music of the British Isles for Banjo
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 28 Aug 09 - 09:17 PM

Matt,

Hmmmm....
Former guitar finger picker.
Wants to accompany singing.

Do you own any Charlie Poole recordings?

Russ (Permanent GUEST and frailer)


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