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info: Dublin Fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988)

keberoxu 06 May 16 - 06:30 PM
keberoxu 06 May 16 - 06:42 PM
keberoxu 06 May 16 - 06:56 PM
GUEST 06 May 16 - 06:59 PM
An Pluiméir Ceolmhar 06 May 16 - 07:14 PM
keberoxu 06 May 16 - 07:31 PM
keberoxu 06 May 16 - 08:14 PM
GUEST,Peter Laban 07 May 16 - 12:41 PM
GUEST,Peter Laban 07 May 16 - 12:49 PM
GUEST,Peter Laban 07 May 16 - 12:58 PM
GUEST,Kilty 07 May 16 - 02:42 PM
GUEST,Peter Laban 07 May 16 - 02:57 PM
GUEST,Peter Laban 07 May 16 - 03:01 PM
keberoxu 07 May 16 - 03:58 PM
GUEST,Peter Laban 07 May 16 - 04:10 PM
GUEST,Peter Laban 07 May 16 - 04:20 PM
GUEST,Peter Laban 08 May 16 - 04:11 AM
keberoxu 19 Aug 16 - 04:28 PM
GUEST,Peter Laban 20 Aug 16 - 03:11 AM
GUEST,Peter Laban 20 Aug 16 - 03:15 AM
keberoxu 28 Aug 16 - 05:25 PM
GUEST,keberoxu 28 Aug 16 - 05:50 PM
GUEST,keberoxu 28 Aug 16 - 07:39 PM
matt milton 29 Aug 16 - 06:19 PM
GUEST,Peter Laban 30 Aug 16 - 08:02 AM
GUEST,Peter Laban 11 Sep 16 - 11:02 AM
keberoxu 11 Sep 16 - 02:13 PM
GUEST,Peter Laban 11 Sep 16 - 02:40 PM
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Subject: Tommie Potts
From: keberoxu
Date: 06 May 16 - 06:30 PM

Tommie Potts died before the Mudcat Café came to be. (1912 - 1988)

This Dubliner's name caught my attention recently, because I was reading about Irish traditional music and musicians; and what is striking about a fiddler who went to his reward over twenty-five years ago, is that other musicians are passionate and ardent about his work. This is a man who avoided public exposure, and had to be approached respectfully and with care if he was to respond at all; and those who speak of him agree that he lived for music.

The comments I will quote here, date from 1996 actually, from the 1996 Crossroads Conference in Dublin at the Temple Bar Music Centre. Everybody else is welcome to weigh in with posts to this thread.

Ronan Browne, piper:
Tommie Potts to me was one of the most amazing musicians that ever lived and probably ever will, and people say he was ahead of his time, he was misunderstood, not recognized -- and he was all of those things;
but what it was about Tommie was that he understood -- to me -- he understood the background of Irish music completely, but he also understood classical music and jazz....

Davy Spillane, piper:
The musicians who had a huge effect on me were Johnny Doran and Tommie Potts. Well, Tommie just knocked me out -- I couldn't really describe him....but what astounded me is that everybody put it down so badly around traditional circles; I couldn't believe it. But a lot of people who put it down, I hear them playing very much in his style now -- about fifteen years later -- it's amazing: the ferocious Tommie Potts influence breaking out all of a sudden.

The preceding comments were quoted at the Conference from the television series "River of Sound," Hummingbird Productions.


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Subject: RE: Tommie Potts
From: keberoxu
Date: 06 May 16 - 06:42 PM

And, from a Conference presenter:

Caoimhin Mac Aoidh, fiddler:
One of the greatest pleasures I have derived from traditional music is having known and held several lengthy conversations with Tommie. From these once emerged a statement that he only wanted one thing back from that which he lovingly invested into the music -- a one-year honorary position in an Irish university music faculty. He was copiously qualified, and prepared to invest large amounts of time in giving lectures and tutorials. Despite my attempts to bring about this situation, no university in this country saw fit to even answer my letters of proposal, even though I am either a graduate or a fellow of each of the NUI institutions. One of the golden educational opportunities of this century was fecklessly squandered, and we in the tradition and academia in Ireland have only ourselves to blame.

page 109,
The Critical Role of Education in the Development of Traditional Music in the Republic of Ireland
© Caoimhin Mac Aoidh, author, and the Crossroad Conference, 1999


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Subject: RE: Tommie Potts
From: keberoxu
Date: 06 May 16 - 06:56 PM

The highly opinionated Tony MacMahon:

What I am saying is this: before anyone sits down to [innovate upon] a piece of music or a song that carries the footprint of generations, that person should have the integrity to let his or her life press down into that rich soil of tradition, down through the layers of loam of the Irish experience, and it is only in honourable interaction with that soil and only out of the depths of that personal experience that true innovation can be created. This was part of the achievement of the late Tommie Potts of Dublin. He was one of the great innovators, but to define his art in terms of the innovation he brought to a small part of his repertoire is to misunderstand the main message of his music, which was the expression of an almost unbearable mix of emotions and passion. It was rooted in the old piping tradition, nurtured by extremes of grappling with the trials of existence, and grown out of an artistry that was marked by extremes of taste, discernment, and tenderness. Of all the musicians and singers I've ever met, his was the only music that could skewer its way into the inner soul of the listener and burn his footprint into it forever.

Potts' playing of the common march-air "Billy Byrne of Ballymanus" was remarkable [long-playing album, 'The Liffey Banks,' solo violin, Tommie Potts, 1972]. This is a tune from many an afternoon field of dancing competitions, spilt ice-cream, screaming babies, and out-of-tune pipe bands. It's a tune so hackneyed that I've never heard it played by any solo performer or group; yet Potts could redeem, redefine, and adorn even a tune so forlorn, so buried in bad associations that nobody would ever think of playing it. His recording of it gives only a hint, and a vague hint at that, of his greatness. Even though it captured only an echo of his unique voice -- he shunned recording and publicity, and was a highly nervous man -- it nevertheless sets a headline in internal innovation that is characterised by an exquisite sense of taste and discernment, an imagination and a tenderness beyond words.

Page 119,
Music of the Powerful and Majestic Past
© Tony Mac Mahon, author, and the Crossroads Conference, 1999


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Subject: RE: Tommie Potts
From: GUEST
Date: 06 May 16 - 06:59 PM

Without Tommy Potts there probably wouldn't have been a Martin Hayes.


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Subject: RE: Tommie Potts
From: An Pluiméir Ceolmhar
Date: 06 May 16 - 07:14 PM

That guest was me, didn't realise I was discookied.

Seán Potts said that Tommy was a most melancholic man, probably depressed: as he played in his living room, the tears would roll down his cheeks till there were two pools of water on the carpet!

I was fortunate to hear him play live a couple of times - mainly at Éigse na Tríonóide in the early 1970s. His take on the tunes is quirky but very moving.

I don't know if Martin Hayes cites Tommy as an influence, but I find it hard to imagine he wasn't influenced by Tommy.


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Subject: RE: Tommie Potts
From: keberoxu
Date: 06 May 16 - 07:31 PM

The Crossroad Conference proceedings -- conference in 1996, proceedings copyrighted and printed in 1999 -- include a contribution from Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, whose Ph.D. thesis in Social Anthropology, from Queens University Belfast, researched Tommie Potts and his music, and was completed one year before Potts' death.

Ó Súilleabháin's biographical sketch of Potts includes these sentences.

"In 1935, at the age of twenty-three, he joined the Dublin Fire Brigade as a full-time fireman, a career which he was to follow for eleven years. The outbreak of the war, however, in 1939 caused the reintroduction of longer working hours, and he made his final switch in jobs in 1946, at the age of thirty-four, when he moved to the Rent Collection Office of Dublin Corporation. The move from Fireman to Rent Collection Officer, however, was also occasioned by a traumatic incident where several of his fellow workers died in an explosion in a Dublin chemical factory, which attracted national headlines. I believe that the post-traumatic stress caused by this incident stayed with Tommie Potts for the remainder of his life, and may well have affected the intense deepening of the nature of his musical expression. It may be no coincidence that it was in the decade immediately following this trauma that he embarked on a systematic exploration of aspects of his music which led directly to the development of his uniquely innovative style."

page 177,
Crossroads or twin track? Innovation and tradition in Irish traditional music
© Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, author, and the Crossroads Conference, 1996
Proceedings published in Dublin: Whinstone Music, 1999


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Subject: RE: Tommie Potts
From: keberoxu
Date: 06 May 16 - 08:14 PM

"The Butterfly," a track from "The Liffey Banks" 1972 LP, has been asked about here at the Mudcat Café. In fact, a "Celtic Music" thread from before 2000 carries a couple of posts which use computer programs to attempt to submit "The Butterfly" here. I don't see it in Digital Traditions however.


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Subject: RE: Tommie Potts
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 07 May 16 - 12:41 PM

I don't know if Martin Hayes cites Tommy as an influence, but I find it hard to imagine he wasn't influenced by Tommy.


He does. And if he didn't the setting of the Star of Munster on his first solo recording would speak volumes : it very closely follows Potts' 'developments' of the tune.

As far as I remember Hayes recalls Potts' visits to East Clare and the impressions they lefty on him. Paddy Canny (martin's uncle by marriage)also played a lot of tunes that show the hand of Potss. The setting of Garret Barry's on the Gael Linn 78s is an obvious one but there are many other.

More footprints of Potts in East Clare are to be found in a lovely version of Julia Delaney (Potts is responsible for the Dm version the Borhy Band made popular) that Martin Rochford played for me on the fiddle in 1989. The firs part is as usual but he has a beautiful and distinctly different turn to the tune.


I am, by the way, trying to chase up a composition of his 'The Loom' which I heard Liam O Connor (who in many ways is very strongly influenced by Potts) play last summer. Lovely tune.


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Subject: RE: Tommie Potts
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 07 May 16 - 12:49 PM

I should probably have added to that, that without Martin Rochford's fiddle playing the music of martin Hayes would have been even more unthinkable. But that's, perhaps, for another day.


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Subject: RE: Tommie Potts
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 07 May 16 - 12:58 PM

There was a recording issued, five to eight years ago of archive recordings by a Leitrim fiddleplayer. I can't think of his name (I don't think it was Joe Liddy but maybe it was). Anyhow there was one track I heard on the interwebs, recorded during the 1940s, that was both in sound and setting uncannily similar to Potts' playing. I never quite managed to work out the connection but I always lived under the impression Potts' music developed only later into the form we now know.


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Subject: RE: Tommie Potts
From: GUEST,Kilty
Date: 07 May 16 - 02:42 PM

John Gordon perhaps, Peter?


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Subject: RE: Tommie Potts
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 07 May 16 - 02:57 PM

I don't think so, pretty sure it was a Leitrim man. I'll have to think a bit harder, it may come to me.


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Subject: RE: Tommie Potts
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 07 May 16 - 03:01 PM

The brain kicked in : it was Joe 'Lackey' Gallagher.

The first tune in this set is so like Potts had it, there must be a connection or other. The other tunes are not like him at all though.


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Subject: info: Tommie Potts
From: keberoxu
Date: 07 May 16 - 03:58 PM

There is now a compact disc from RTÉ titled "Tommie Potts -- Traditional Fiddle Music from Dublin." Recent issue, within the last ten years. Some of it from broadcasts; a few tracks are interview/spoken word rather than music. This is sound, not video/DVD. Including the interview/spoken voice parts, a total of 47 tracks. Anyone listen to this already?


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Subject: RE: info: Dublin Fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988)
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 07 May 16 - 04:10 PM

Anyone listen to this already?

It's been around for a few years, since his centenary in 2012 in fact. See here.

Both Peter O'Loughlin and Seán Potts had been working on compiling collections of recordings of Tommy Potts for near on two decades and much of the material has been bouncing around among musicians. eventually RTE released this material. The RTE CD is a lovely collection.

FWIW, you'll find more of his playing on the lp 'The Gathering', from the eighties.


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Subject: RE: info: Dublin Fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988)
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 07 May 16 - 04:20 PM

You may also want to track down the TG4 documentary Cerbh É Tommy Potts ? in which Paddy Glackin looks (as per the title) into who Tommy Potts was. Very much worth a look too.

The article 'Traditional Ears' : Perception and Analysis in Irish Traditional Music by Micheál Ó' Súilleabháin in 'Essays in honour of Tom Munnelly' (publ OAC, 2007) deals with Potts as well and is a good read.


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Subject: RE: info: Dublin Fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988)
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 08 May 16 - 04:11 AM

Late last night I realised I was conflating a few Micheál Ó' Súilleabháin's articles in my mind and one of them, one I was thinking of but didn't mention, was published elsewhere. Here it is:


A Litany of the Saints: Musical Quotations and Influences in the Music of Tommie Potts :


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Subject: RE: info: Dublin Fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988)
From: keberoxu
Date: 19 Aug 16 - 04:28 PM

This YouTube clip is from some documentary -- perhaps the more knowledgeable of you can identify it.

In this clip of a minute or so, Martin Hayes speaks of being very young when Tommie Potts brought his fiddle and did a show-and-tell of how never to play a tune the same way twice. The video within the clip combines Martin Hayes, in color, in an on-camera interview, with Tommie Potts, black and white, playing the fiddle on camera.

Martin Hayes on Tommie Potts


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Subject: RE: info: Dublin Fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988)
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 20 Aug 16 - 03:11 AM

The footage of Potts is from the cache of videos filmed by Micheál Ó' Súilleabháin, in preparation for his thesis about Potts. I seem to remember they met and and filmed at Glenstal Abbey. The setting is described in (one of) the articles I mentioned above.


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Subject: RE: info: Dublin Fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988)
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 20 Aug 16 - 03:15 AM

Another thing I mentioned above:

[i]I am, by the way, trying to chase up a composition of his 'The Loom' which I heard Liam O Connor (who in many ways is very strongly influenced by Potts) play last summer. Lovely tune. [/i]

I am happy to report I managed to record Liam O'Connor playing that particular Potts composition. Magic. Ofcourse LO'C can 'do Potts' better than anyone when he wants to, to an uncanny degree sometimes.


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Subject: RE: info: Dublin Fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988)
From: keberoxu
Date: 28 Aug 16 - 05:25 PM

Reading Micheál Ó Súilleabháin on the subject of Potts needs to be done carefully, it appears to me. Documentation and references are one thing, every possible care has been taken on that level. What brings me up short are some of the author's more subjective opinions and assertions about Potts. So much is made of "isolation."

Ó Súilleabháin has a point to make, of course. His account of Potts' having to be coaxed, invitation upon invitation, to permit an approach and personal contact, speaks for itself.

But there is more to Tommie Potts than his retreat from commercial public exposure. Otherwise his one commercial recorded album, The Liffey Banks, would not have been taken to the collective bosom of traditional musicians regardless of whether they play fiddles or pipes. Potts was certainly plugged in to SOMETHING, and it is that connection, as much as or more than the factor of isolation, that separates him from other musicians. I will concede, however, that it is not easy to articulate said SOMETHING. What does everyone else say?


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Subject: RE: info: Dublin Fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988)
From: GUEST,keberoxu
Date: 28 Aug 16 - 05:50 PM

from The Gathering, if the link will work:
using one traditional song as a point of departure.

Spailpín a Rúin


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Subject: RE: info: Dublin Fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988)
From: GUEST,keberoxu
Date: 28 Aug 16 - 07:39 PM

If this works, you get a 30-second video clip.

"Humours of Scariff"


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Subject: RE: info: Dublin Fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988)
From: matt milton
Date: 29 Aug 16 - 06:19 PM

"But there is more to Tommie Potts than his retreat from commercial public exposure. Otherwise his one commercial recorded album, The Liffey Banks, would not have been taken to the collective bosom of traditional musicians regardless of whether they play fiddles or pipes. Potts was certainly plugged in to SOMETHING, and it is that connection, as much as or more than the factor of isolation, that separates him from other musicians."

For me, hearing the RTE Tommie Potts album lifted the veil quite considerably. Just hearing him play many more tunes... many of them are played a lot more straight than his playing on The Liffey Banks.

Also, it was only in the last year that I heard Sean Keane's 70s solo fiddle album album 'Gusty's Frolics'. It struck me as very Tommy Pottsish at moments - not so much that Keane was being literally influenced by Potts' playing, more just hearing another instance of someone unafraid of breaking stylistic rules, unafraid of introducing idiosyncratic violin techniques from classical music etc etc.

The more I listen to Irish traditional music, the less and less strange Potts sounds.


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Subject: RE: info: Dublin Fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988)
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 30 Aug 16 - 08:02 AM

'The more I listen to Irish traditional music, the less and less strange Potts sounds.'

Not quite sure what you considered 'strange' in Potts' playing but to my ear he was traveling a road distinctly his own. But by now many of his stylistic devices have entered the 'mainstream' if you like. But whenever they occur, it's Potts' influence you're hearing.

And that's from Paddy Canny's playing from the late fifties (the Gael Linn 78rpm of Garrett Barry's jig) right up to Liam O'Connor's music today (and many others as well).


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Subject: RE: info: Dublin Fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988)
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 11 Sep 16 - 11:02 AM

That Martin Hayes bit mentioned earlier is from a documentary The Gloaming, as it happens.


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Subject: RE: info: Dublin Fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988)
From: keberoxu
Date: 11 Sep 16 - 02:13 PM

Many thanks, Mr. Laban, for answering my question from the August 16 post, much appreciated.


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Subject: RE: info: Dublin Fiddler Tommie Potts (1912-1988)
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 11 Sep 16 - 02:40 PM

Took a while but I got there eventually. '#'#'#


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