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I'm working through Paul Hardy's Session Tunebook and loving it!  The Blackthorn Stick and Off to California are among some of the tunes I"m trying to commit to memory.  I'm going to be in England for three weeks this fall and wondering if I will be good on my English concertina to sit in on some sessions.  

 

So, this question comes to mind: What ten tunes are most commonly played in sessions that I should have in my fingers and by memory?  

This may be an oversimplified question as I imagine "favorite tunes" are very much a local matter.

 

Still, I would love to hear your opinions.

 

 

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Posted (edited)

Hi, albeit not being an accomplished session player myself, one main difficulty springs to my mind immediately:

 

There are tunes that are much loved for a reason but unfortunately not every session is welcoming one‘s introducing a couple of these well-known pieces...

 

Of course it depends, and I hopefully you‘re lucky enough to find appropriate sessions... (but still, it might be up to you leading those tunes).

 

That said I can only confirm that Off to California appears to be very well-suited for session playing IMO...

 

Best wishes - 🐺

 

 

Edited by Wolf Molkentin
typo

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Posted (edited)
36 minutes ago, McDouglas said:

I'm working through Paul Hardy's Session Tunebook and loving it!  The Blackthorn Stick and Off to California are among some of the tunes I"m trying to commit to memory.  I'm going to be in England for three weeks this fall and wondering if I will be good on my English concertina to sit in on some sessions.  

 

So, this question comes to mind: What ten tunes are most commonly played in sessions that I should have in my fingers and by memory?  

This may be an oversimplified question as I imagine "favorite tunes" are very much a local matter.

 

Still, I would love to hear your opinions.

 

 

 

It varies a lot from session to session. I was at three in England last summer and the variety of tunes was considerable.  I know a lot of English tunes, but most of the tunes we played were unfamiliar to me.  Which was great - I came home with a long list of new favorites.

 

One piece of advice: listen first, get a sense of the tenor of the session.  The sessions I attended were all very much focused on English music - which is what I wanted - and two different players told me they aren't real happy with visiting Americans who seem to want to play Irish.  There are Irish sessions for those inclined in that direction.

 

That said, at ever session, someone would ask me to play something quintessentially American  ("Play one of those Appalachian tunes," I heard a few times).

 

Given your locale, I have a suggestion: Yellow Rose of Texas! (The oldtime dance version, not the sung one)

Edited by Jim Besser

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I can only agree with what's been written before - I'm a member of three session groups, and there is hardly any overlap in Repertoire and favs. One is focussed on bal folk (a lot of French, particularly Breton), one on English, Scandinavian and a little German, and the third one on international folk from practically everywhere in the world. If I look back on how the one I've attended the longest has evolved, I find that the standard repertoire from, say, four years ago was fairly different from today's. So every particluar tune I could list right now would be nothing but a snapshot irrelevant in space and time...

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Chosing 10 is hard - as people have said the tunes being played at sessions varies with geography and moment in time. My Basic Tunebook has popular 60 session tunes, that would be a good core (although I'd like to hear suggestions of the form: We never play X, you should substitute Y).

 

If I really had to name 10 that you could start anywhere and people would join in, I'd perhaps go for:

Bear Dance
Blackthorn Stick
Davy Davy Knick Knack
Egan’s Polka
Galopede
Harvest Home
Horse’s Brawl
Jimmy Allen
Navvie on the Line
Off to California
The Oyster Girl
Soldier’s Joy
Speed the Plough

 

Yes, I know that's 13, but I was never very good at arithmetic!

 

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Jimmy/Jamie Allen is at least a - lovely! - tune where nearly everybody could join in... thanks to Alistair Anderson.

 

and as to the Irish, I love to play/lead some O‘Carolan tunes, mostly Sí Beag Sí Mór, followed by Planxty Irwin and maybe finally Fanny Power - which has been tolerated both at some Irish and non-Irish sessions... 😎

 

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Thank you all for this guidance.  I do understand it is best not to insert myself into a local session.  And truth is, I would mostly like to listen and learn.  I have a good friend, a mandolin player, who was telling me the other day about an amazing experience in Edinburgh once where he showed up with his instrument and just lingered on the edges of the session.  The leader was quite hospitable and invited him to sit in - and it turned out to be an incredible evening.  However, he tried it again later at another pub and it just didn't work.  Sometimes, magic happens, I suppose.

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On my first couple visits to Sheffield, I recorded sessions on my phone so I could learn what seemed to be "the normal Sheffield local session tunes" for my next visit. When I returned after another six months, I found the repertoire - at the very same session! - was completely different. Part of this was down to the earlier sessions being melodeon-heavy (and chock-full of John Spiers and Andy Cutting material) and the later sessions being fiddle-heavy (and ... not), but a larger part of it (I learned with still more years of visiting / living in Sheffield and going to the same sessions there) is that tunes really go in and out of fashion in a big way. Whatever was on the latest Leveret album, or whatever Topette uploaded to Youtube last month, will be really hot for a while, and then nobody wants to play it again for a year. But then, everybody knows it and it's fine to bring it up again after a while. While tunes that would make most "top ten English session tunes" lists (eg, Speed the Plough) pretty much never seemed to get played at that session unless they were started and very quickly turned into parodies of themselves as a big in-joke.

 

So I guess my advice is, listen to the stuff on English albums that were super-popular from about ~5-10 years ago and learn some stuff from there. Like, pretty much anything off New Anything (Leveret) or Tunes (Spiers & Boden) are likely to be known by many people and yet are probably old enough that they haven't been played at every session for the past three months.... But better still, just be prepared to sit back, follow, and learn new tunes, and, yeah, if you get asked "lead something from back home", have a good 'un or two of those in your pocket that are easy for everyone to pick up or groove on. The overall English session vibe, if there is one, is "tunes where you can improvise around the melody" 🙂

 

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Posted (edited)

Seesions in England tend to be separated by genre.  Commonly, you will find:

 

  • Irish sessions are usually pretty much exclusively irish music.  Some can be very specific about playing only "their" version of a tune in a "correct" style an on acceptable instruments (and may not regard EC, as opposed to Anglo, a proper instrument for playing Irish), others are more flexible. 
  • English music sessions, which usually also admit some European tunes, especially French and Scandinavian, but Irish tunes are generally not welcome (partly because there are plenty of pure Irish sessions, and partly as a reaction to the previous dominance of Irish sessions before English music was rediscovered). They may have a regional focus, particularly in areas such as Northumberland and East Anglia which have strong regional traditions.
  • You may also find "Euro" sessions which focus on European and in particular bal-style music.  You may also come across other genre-specific sessions, and of course there are also some very general sessions where anything goes.

 

Even within these genres, there is considerable variation in repertoire.  The standard tunes from one session may be unknown in another session only a few miles away.  To the extent that there is a common repertoire these tend to be the ones which are so overdone that no one wants to play them.  The list Paul Hardy gives above certainly contains tunes that most people will know, but they're not ones I hear often at sessions I go to (but at other sessions it may be different).  However most sessions are tolerant of inexperienced players, up to a point, and if you start one of these people will usually join in.

 

Edit: you may also come across "slow sessions", which are aimed at less experienced and less confident players, where you are more likely to come across these tunes and where they played slower than full session speed.  Even if this description does not apply to you as a player, these may be your best chance of coming across the repertoire you are learning from books.

 

Many sessions are now publicised on the internet (but beware, the information may be out of date) so try to find out beforehand what sort of music is played.  I'm sure the session etiquette guidelines are no different to where you usually play.  I think Wayman's advice is sound, and you may find people are more interested to hear one of your local tunes.

 

The real skill to playing in sessions is learning to play by ear, then you can join in tunes you haven't learned beforehand and maybe have never heard before.

Edited by hjcjones

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I should add that the sessions I've attended during several UK visits have been incredibly welcoming.  The important thing is to understand what kind of session it is, and to know that before you jump in.

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37 minutes ago, Jim Besser said:

I should add that the sessions I've attended during several UK visits have been incredibly welcoming.  The important thing is to understand what kind of session it is, and to know that before you jump in.

 

I guess it’s just that so many UK people use to be extremely welcoming 🌞

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Do you know what area(s) you are intending to visit yet ... ?    Might help with making local suggestions ......

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Posted (edited)

For a different session format consider each player featured once  'round the horn.  See  Jeff and Ilean's session ; "Brilliancy" on Utube.  Brings those old favorites back to life!  Adds a little nudge to play out as well.

 

Edited by wunks
addition

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To AndrewCollins question about areas: my trip plan is still a work in progress.  I'll be in Cambridge for two weeks but will definitely take the train to London.  Maybe in Edinburgh/Glasgow for a week but that's tentative.  I plan to be in the UK from October 8-29 this fall.  

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London & Glasgow / Edinburgh are definitely not my areas of expertise - but for Cambridge, I'd look at Paul Hardy's list since he lives around there. 

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