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The Bee's Proverbial Knees

To Buy or not to Buy

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I've been strongly considering an Anglo-concertina for a while now because I absolutely love Irish folk, specifically stuff from the folk revival period. Recently, as the entire world has gone on lock down, I've been considering a banjo as well. I need some help deciding here. My one concern with the concertina is that all the music I can find is very traditional folk. The "more modern" stuff that I really like (Rising of the Moon, etc.) seems to be much less common on the concertina. Am I just looking in the wrong places?

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What  instruments do you  already  play  ?     

 

From  you suggestion   ' the rising of the Moon'   one might think  you are into  songs  and  might choose  an  instrument for  song accompaniment.

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I agree with Geoff. The instrument that I have been using for decades, in a group and solo, for songs like "Rising of the Moon" or "Roddy McCorley" is the banjo - but the 5-string, not the tenor! Think Luke Kelly and Tommy Makem!

You can play jigs and reels on the Anglo concertina or the tenor banjo (though to my taste, the fiddle beats them all), and they can sound quite nice, if done well - but what stirs the blood is the ballads, whether they be of Love or War. And for those, you need a 5-string banjo!

 

Just the opinion of an old Irish emigrant ...

 

Cheers,

John

 

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Posted (edited)

But don't forget that both Tommy Makem, and Louis Killen, played 5-string banjo and English concertina with the Clancy Brothers...

 

Edited by Stephen Chambers

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I'm just intrigued by your idea of "more modern" stuff.  "The Rising of the Moon" dates from the mid-1860s.  The better-known version of "Roddy McCorley" was written in 1898. How old do you want it to be?

 

In ITM the concertina is played as a single-note melody instrument with just occasional chord embellishment, but this style isn't very well suited to accompanying songs.  However there are other styles of playing for song accompaniment which use chords.  Perhaps not very authentic, but  the same could probably be said for banjo as an accompanying instrument. However many great folk revival bands aren't worried about sounding authentic.

 

If in doubt, get both!  But if you have to make a choice. think about what has inspired you to want to play these instruments.  Which musicians most attract you and make you want to play like them?  Don't choose an instrument just because it seems "Irish" if you're inspired by something different.

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I can't actually think of a lot of Irish singers backed by concertina, Bertram Levy sat in on some Frank Harte recordings, as did Alf Edwards see :

 

 

I am note sure it works very well but YMMV, as they say.  There's probably a whole rake of bands I am not aware of using the concertina.

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Posted (edited)
On 3/24/2020 at 3:33 AM, Stephen Chambers said:

But don't forget that both Tommy Makem, and Louis Killen, played 5-string banjo and English concertina with the Clancy Brothers...

 

 

For that matter Terry Woods, of the Pogues, also plays 5-string banjo and English concertna, as well as  the mandolin and cittern, acoustic and electric guitar, and mandola.

 

And Charles O'Connor of Horslips played fiddle, mandolin, and English concertina with them - a manipulated photograph of which was used as the octagonal album cover for their first LP, Happy to Meet - Sorry to Part, in 1972.

 

 

In fact it was the English concertina, not the Anglo, that was the instrument of choice for Irish folk/folk rock musicians from the folk revival period...

 

 

 

 

Edited by Stephen Chambers
Edited to add YouTube clip.

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Chicago has a mighty concertina session tradition with John Williams as one of the central figures in both performance and session music.  While I have seen lots of concertinas in sessions I have only ever seen one English in my 30 years of sessioning in this neck of the woods.   And that player years ago borrowed my anglo to advance his Irish Traditional music playing.   As for banjos, while there is one fellow that plays the 5 string in town, the tenor is the go to banjo for session or performance.  I know at least one player that plays 5 string and tenor as well as mandolin and guitar as a professional musician.  He always plays tenor at Irish sessions when he plays banjo.

 

While there are some great performers playing 5 string banjo currently as well as the players mentioned above, they are  still the exception for session playing or singing accompaniment  at least around here.  I think I saw a video of Winnie Horan playing a 5 string a couple of years ago, but I don't actually remember. I was researching 5 string banjo in Ireland for my 5 string playing session mate some years ago and discovered that the 5 string as well as the 8 string were played widely in Ireland in the 1800s and the turn of the century but the tenor gradually took over.  This may have been an availability trend since tenor banjos were used in English and music hall music so they may have just been around.  Mick Maloney wrote a bit of a history of the banjo in Irish music I read some time ago. Most modern Irish session playing centers around a particular flat picking style that plays the melody as well as provides a foundational rhythm.  While most 5 string player use finger picks or a clawhammer style that other session players sometime find disconcerting. Those styles sort of flow rather than rat-ta-ta-tat or da dee da dum as it were.

 

If you are trying to accompany yourself singing you could play banjo or guitar or concertina.  We have a great bohran player here in town that accompanies himself on bohran for that matter.   LOL

 

There are a couple of questions you might consider as you think about an  instrument.  Will you be playing mostly alone or try to play with others in a session scene?   If you are playing on your own, the instrument you pick will just need to be the one you are most attracted to.

 

The next question is how many dollars will you ultimately have to spend on an instrument.   You can get an excellent banjo for less half the price of an excellent concertina.  Concertinas are amazing.  But they are also mechanical marvels that take a lot of time and skill to produce.  Even the cheapest anglos that you will grow out of in a couple of years will  cost  $500.  While good antique english concertinas may cost less because there is a smaller market for them.  So there is that.

 

Have I confused you enough?  I toss out all that info since I as a newbie flailed around quite a bit trying to find out what I wanted to play and how.  More information back in the day would have been welcome.   I really am not trying to drive you insane. :)

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Sounds like the OP needs one of these.

 

 

Concertina-Guitar.jpg

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13 hours ago, LateToTheGame said:

Chicago has a mighty concertina session tradition with John Williams as one of the central figures in both performance and session music.  While I have seen lots of concertinas in sessions I have only ever seen one English in my 30 years of sessioning in this neck of the woods.   And that player years ago borrowed my anglo to advance his Irish Traditional music playing.   As for banjos, while there is one fellow that plays the 5 string in town, the tenor is the go to banjo for session or performance.  I know at least one player that plays 5 string and tenor as well as mandolin and guitar as a professional musician.  He always plays tenor at Irish sessions when he plays banjo.

 

Yes, but here in Ireland there's a big differentiation made between "traditional music" (which is what you are describing) and "folk music"/"the folk revival"/"ballads" - they're not the same scenes at all, though they can overlap, whilst what The Bee's Proverbial Knees is describing is the latter.

 

And the banjo type favoured by the likes of Tommy Makem, Luke Kelly, Lou Killen et al. was the long-neck, 25-fret, Pete Seeger-style 5-string, with open back and played in the old frailing manner - not the bluegrass 5-string banjo style you're describing.

 

Meanwhile, the Anglo concertina has only risen to such dizzying heights in Irish music in my lifetime. It used to be played almost entirely by a small number of players in Co. Clare, where there have also been English concertinas played...

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1 minute ago, Stephen Chambers said:

 

Yes, but here in Ireland there's a big differentiation made between "traditional music" (which is what you are describing) and "folk music"/"the folk revival"/"ballads" - they're not the same scenes at all, though they can overlap, whilst what The Bee's Proverbial Knees is describing is the latter.

 

And the banjo type favoured by the likes of Tommy Makem, Luke Kelly, Lou Killen et al. was the long-neck, 25-fret, Pete Seeger-style 5-string, with open back and played in the old frailing manner - not the bluegrass 5-string banjo style you're describing.

 

Meanwhile, the Anglo concertina has only risen to such dizzying heights in Irish music in my lifetime. It used to be played almost entirely by a small number of players in Co. Clare, where there have also been English concertinas played...

 

 

True.  And Clare has an out sized influence in the Chicago scene.   You are right about the folk revival being different than the  ITM folks, but I thought I'd just add a bunch of info. In the eighties I thought I was more interested in the folk revival style as I had an interest and backgound in 5 string and guitar, but ITM just sort of grabbed me at one point.   I think, here, it is the lively community of superb musicians that are willing to sit down and play with us mere mortals.  LOL

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I ended up pulling the trigger and ordering a 30 key anglo. It's gonna be here tomorrow and I'm excited! Picked up @gcoover's intro book tonight so I can get started tomorrow. I was wondering if there is a spot on this forum or elsewhwre on the internet to find sheet music and stuff. I can't seem to find Rising of the moon (or wearing of the green, or whatever). I really appreciate everyone's input, I'm very excited to get started! 

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The most widely used format for sharing folk tunes is ABC. This is a text based method of representing music. There are free programs and online converters which will turn it into conventional notation, let you transpose into other keys, or play it back.

 

If you Google a tune title and add "abc" eg search for "rising of the moon abc" you should get some results. A website called The Session focuses on Irish music and has a large collection of tunes.

 

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