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Concertina For Campfires, Pop-Music Singalongs


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Last night my neighbors held an "indoor camping" party, due to the weather not cooperating with their plans to fire up the grill outside. So we sat in a circle around a guitar amplifier piled with Christmas lights as a bonfire/"ampli-fire" and had beers and s'mores. Two of the guys hauled out guitars, so I walked down the hall back to my apartment and brought back my Elise duet concertina, and for the next few hours we played pop songs for the increasingly tipsy crowd to sing along with.

 

I've messed with arranging basic currently popular music on concertina, but hadn't really used it in a pop-music session yet, and it came off surprisingly well. Not that it was unduly demanding, a lot of this stuff is just 3 to 4 chords and in a limited number of keys. The Elise handles F/C/G/D just fine, though one tune in Emaj I had to work around the lack of a D♭. I'm not a strong concertinist, so I started with a base of just 2-finger root-fifth (no 3rds) chords on one hand or the other, and would vary that up by mixing up low and high tones (I on left hand, I-V on right hand, etc), or doing arpeggios or riffs within the chord of the moment. Then a few solos on the easier pieces.

 

We covered both some classic rock and some recent tunes: Wouldn't It Be Nice (Beach Boys), With a Little Help from My Friends (Beatles), Every Rose Has Its Thorn (Poison, 1988), Free Fallin' (Tom Petty, 1989), Somebody I Used to Know (Gotye, 2011), and Call Me Maybe (Carly Ray Jepsen, 2012). Of the tunes, I'd say Free Fallin' and Somebody were the best served by concertina, particularly the latter with all the blippy little arpeggios in the background being almost perfect on the keys. A few songs just didn't fit well, so I switched to a Hare Krishna double-headed drum for All My Lovin' and a few others.

 

 

Anyone else had good experiences using concertina for singlongs of post-WWII music? I'm certainly more of a folk player overall, but there are plenty of modern songs that sound good on acoustic/trad instruments; I think I'm slightly on the younger side for this board (early 30s) and so I figured folks might enjoy hearing about the concertina's enduring applicability.

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Funny you should ask; only a couple of weeks ago my wife and I went to the monthly 'Uke Night' at the local music venue. Sal had shown some interest and I bought her a ukelele for Valentine's day, as you do.

 

I took the 46 just in case, and ended up being dragged up on stage 'guesting' with a regular band consisting of 2 ukes and a bass player. We did Blitzkrieg Bop (Ramones) Folsom County Gaol (Cash) Pay Me My Money Down (supposedly by Springstein but it sounds very trad) and something else that so impressed me I've forgotten it. It's the first time I've stood in front of an audience in a band and thrashed out music with venom for some years, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. They took my number and said they'd be summoning me for the next rehearsal; I'm now awaiting the call. (It's as bad as teenage dating this sort of stuff.)

 

It was cruelty to small squeezeboxes though. I could barely hear myself and the resultant brutal playing has left some of the brass reeds of the 46 out of tune; it's not exactly the machine for the job; too delicate. I need another small duet, please Mum; a nasty raucous Lachenal I think...

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On a more serious note ,perhaps this is what the Concertina needs from a stand point of survival . It would appear that certain instruments thrive because they have been absorbed into a popular culture . In the case of the Concertina we can see that the Anglo is in a healthy state due to the Morris and Irish music genres. Perhaps a solid entry into current popular musics could save the Duets from extinction. After all it is only the recent introduction of the Hayden keyboard that is keeping the making of any Duet Concertinas in regular production.

 

That so many Maccanns were made during the first half of the 20th Century is due to the Gramophone records of people like Alexander Prince . Prince's output was, to a large extent, popular music of the period.

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...Pay Me My Money Down (supposedly by Springstein but it sounds very trad)...

 

Definitely traditional, though the way Springsteen styles it is rather different from the originals (yes, plural), and at least one of his verses -- referring to "Mr. Gates" -- obviously wasn't current when it was collected in the early 1940s. (I believe there was a similar reference to a different very rich man of the time.)

 

Versions were collected from both stevedores and fishermen in different parts of Georgia (the USA state). First popularized by the Weavers in the mid-1950s, later recorded by the Kingston Trio and various others -- including Jerry Garcia -- long before Springsteen did his version. Not knocking Springsteen, by any means. It's a fine song, and he brought it once more to the attention of the singing public.

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Anyone else had good experiences using concertina for singlongs of post-WWII music?

In the summer of 1994 on the 25th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, a bunch of us got together at Pinewoods Camp in Plymouth, Massachusetts (me on my Hayden concertina) and recreated the festival (after a fashion ;) ).

 

[edited for clarity]

Edited by David Barnert
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I've been using my EC for years in our neighborhood's monthly song sessions. The sessions are open to anyone willing to play an instrument (any instrument, including triangle, kazoo or comb-and-tissue), or sing a song, or just listen. Anywhere from 12 to 20 people gather in a willing host's house and make music from 7 to 9:30 pm, followed by an hour or so of refreshments and blather. Choice of music - which could be a group song (accompanied or a capella), a solo party piece, an instrumental, whatever - is passed around the room, one by one in turn, so everyone participates. We use the book 'Rise Up Singing' as a song resource, but people also bring printouts of other songs they want to introduce.

 

Instruments have included guitar, mandolin, ukelele, banjo, fiddle, accordion, autoharp, string bass, piano, harmonica, electric bass, clarinet, oboe, saxophone and cello. Guitars, of course, dominate. The quality of playing ranges from rank beginner to professional, and that also goes for the singing. Newcomers and beginners are especially encouraged, and many have become stalwarts over time. Some people bring music they're still working on, and even if they only get partway through before falling apart, their efforts are appreciated.

 

Musical genres at these sessions can be anything - classical, jazz, klezmer, folk, pop, golden oldies, you name it. Even new songs by local composers, several of whom are pretty good. It is seldom that I get through a session without hearing something new and interesting.

 

Does this sound like chaos and cacophony? Well, sometimes it is. Sometimes it is comical. And sometimes it is beautiful, wondrous, inspiring. There are only two requirements: to share music with neighbors, and enjoy it.

 

So where does the EC play a role? 'Rise Up Singing' only has lyrics and guitar chords, and sometimes people aren't quite certain of the melody, so the EC often helps get a song started. Other than that, I play an occasional party piece or newly discovered (to me) melody, or duets with other instruments (guitar, banjo or clarinet), or do a little bit of accompaniment when appropriate, or music bridges between song verses. But often I just put the squeezebox aside and enjoy the singing.

 

We've been doing these sessions for about five years now, taking it in turns to be hosts, and everyone looks forward to them. It is the most friendly, tolerant, and delightful group of people, and a monthly reminder that making music is a natural part of everyone's life.

Edited by yankeeclipper
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On a more serious note ,perhaps this is what the Concertina needs from a stand point of survival .

 

I'd agree, particularly since Duet isn't anywhere as ensconced in a genre as Anglo is in ITM, and English has somehow worked itself a niche in the Folk Revival along with its literally "traditional" use as a Classical instrument. There's no particular reason concertinas in general, much less Duets, have to be consigned purely to the folk category. I play and listen to a lot of folk, no knock there, but concertina has tone and character that could fit a number of places.

 

All these definitions get pretty blurry: if we play an 80s metal song with fiddle and concertina, is it a "folk cover" or just an acoustic cover that happens to use less-common instruments? At what point do Beatles songs officially cross the line from popular music into folk, given how ensconced they are in oral culture as singalong tunes? One of my favorite "folk" songs, "Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still" was originally no more folk than anything making the Top 40 this week, given that it was written by a specific composer and lyricist, published commercially, and presumably to people at the time had no "traditional" implications at all:

 

m8zdw7.jpg

 

Setting aside philosophy about folk vs. popular music (as fascinating as I find the topic), there are plenty of places where concertina just has a good sound. Accordion (mostly piano in the use, some CBA in Europe) shows up with a number of bands to this day to good effect. For example, I think concertina would've sounded better on Nirvana's 1994 "Unplugged" album; here's a

that I think would've sounded better with the cleaner sound of concertina.

 

Glancing around YouTube, I'm only seeing two Duet concertina tracks of post-WWII popular music:

  • (Louis Armstrong, 1967)
  • (Earth, a Seattle "doom drone", 1993)

 

I need to get less lazy and try to do a few covers of recent songs I like, I've got a few in mind released in the last five years.

Edited by MatthewVanitas
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One of my Anglo concertina students was insistent that she sing and play this song as her first effort: Move Along by the American Rejects.

 

Actually, if a solo concertina singer plays just the chords and rhythm it sounds pretty good. Not quite like the original but really quite listenable.

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Folsom County Gaol (Cash)

The correctional institution is Folsom State Prison (in Folsom, Sacramento County, California) and song is actually called "Folsom Prison Blues," thereby sidestepping the whole jail/gaol issue.

Pay Me My Money Down (supposedly by Springstein but it sounds very trad)

Springsteen (and you accuse Johnny Cash and Mike Franch of not being able to spell properly? I'm shocked. Shocked, I say :D) recorded this on his The Seeger Sessions album, which consists of many songs, most of them traditional, that Pete Seeger had sung. Seeger was, of course, one of the Weavers, whom Jim Lucas mentions as having made the song popular in the 50s--I expect he's performed it since then, too.

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Pay Me My Money Down (supposedly by Springstein but it sounds very trad)

Springsteen (and you accuse Johnny Cash and Mike Franch of not being able to spell properly? I'm shocked. Shocked, I say :D)

 

 

I was of course using his proper family name, rather than the Anglicised version created by some pen pusher on Ellis Island...
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All you'd need is to learn some chord shapes - the main three chord tricks. Get some busker's books and give some of your favourites a try. Either that or learn the tune, or the guitar solo even. :)

 

Pop music is only recent folk music.

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I was of course using his proper family name, rather than the Anglicised version created by some pen pusher on Ellis Island...

That's a good answer--but apparently his background is Dutch, not German, so the "steen" predates his ancestors' arrival in the US (I didn't research enough to see if there's anything online about whether his family descended from a New Amsterdam colonist or arrived more recently). In other news, apparently I enjoy nitpicking this sort of thing far too much to avoid contributing to thread drift...

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(I didn't research enough to see if there's anything online about whether his family descended from a New Amsterdam colonist or arrived more recently). In other news, apparently I enjoy nitpicking this sort of thing far too much to avoid contributing to thread drift...

In that case, you might want to spell it "Nieuw Amsterdam." ;)

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...Pay Me My Money Down (supposedly by Springstein but it sounds very trad)...

 

Definitely traditional, though the way Springsteen styles it is rather different from the originals (yes, plural), and at least one of his verses -- referring to "Mr. Gates" -- obviously wasn't current when it was collected in the early 1940s. (I believe there was a similar reference to a different very rich man of the time.)

 

Versions were collected from both stevedores and fishermen in different parts of Georgia (the USA state). First popularized by the Weavers in the mid-1950s, later recorded by the Kingston Trio and various others -- including Jerry Garcia -- long before Springsteen did his version. Not knocking Springsteen, by any means. It's a fine song, and he brought it once more to the attention of the singing public.

 

Another striking coincidence: Firstly I had to learn the expression of "down payment" jobwise, which reminded my of "Down Payment Blues" from (early) AC/DC and, of course, of the Sea Shanty "Pay me my money down" (having sung and played this quite some times), On the next morning they played Springsteen's version (which I hadn't been aware of before) on the radio - and today I stumble over this thread... :)

 

Springsteen does the song in a Cajun/Zydeko way, which is kind of reviving it in my ears. At least in Germany you hear it too often from "Shanty Choirs" making up for late and gone "Männergesangsverein"... :o

 

BTW, I use to play Beatles stuff (will try on "When I'm 64", thanks for the hint!), Joni MItchell songs (such as Circle Game) a.s.f. on the EC...

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