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Rhomylly

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Do you all find a basic familiarity of Irish history helpful when playing Irish music?

 

I am much more familiar with English folk music, having grown up with it (in Kentucky, of all places), and really have not had a need to know English history. 1066, Magna Carta, World Wars I and II pretty much covers the basics, musically speaking.

 

But to give an example: I first heard the English version of "Foggy Dew" probably around 1983 or so, on John Roberts and Tony Barrand's Dark Ships in the Forest Album. Which is one of my favorite albums still.

 

So I never understood why Sinead O'Connor sounded so angry singing "Foggy Dew" on the Chieftans' Long Black Veil Album. After all, according to John and Tony, it's a simple love/seduction song, right? Okay, I admit I didn't listen to the words very carefully until about 3 years of album ownership. My bad.

 

Then I figured out it wasn't a love/seduction song and realized I had no idea what the heck the Easter Uprising WAS, other than something to do with the opening of the film Michael Collins (which I have seen twice and had to have someone explain what was going on the whole time. Both viewings.)

 

Clearly, a degree in Irish History would be helpful here.

 

I posted basically this question on a celtic music forum, and got the following list of historic terms/figures I probably should know as a public performer of mostly-not-Clancy-Brothers Irish music:

 

Brian Boru, Oliver Cromwell, King Billy, King James, Elizabeth I, the Plantations, the battle of the Boyne, Penal Laws and the Treaty of Limerick. Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen rebellion of 1798. Robert Emmet and the rebellion of 1803. The Fenian rebellion of 1848. The Great Famine of 1845-49 and Trevellian. Robert Peel. Daniel O'Connell and Catholic Emancipation. Coffin Ships. Parnell, Kitty O'Shea and Home Rule. The Easter Rising of 1916 and Patrick Pearse. Joe Plunkett and Grace Gifford. The Battle of Kinsale and the Flight of the Earls. The Wild Geese. Drogheada and Skibbereen. The War of Independence from 1918-1921 and Michael Collins. The Black and Tans. The Civil War and Eamon DeValera. The IRA and Sean South, Bobby Sands and virtually anyone who ever went on hunger strike. Going "on the blanket". H-Blocks. Derry's role in Irish history from King James onward.

 

I can vaguely identify about 1/4 of this and how it specifically relates to Irish history.

 

What do you all think?

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Well, let's see. The catholic Irish have very mixed feelings about the English, with some reason. The English really like the Irish (in much the same way that they really like the Scots, who also have mixed feelings about the English) but really wish that the Northern Ireland problem would just go away without anyone being hurt. Nobody in England knows what the protestant Irish think, except it seems to involve an awful lot of shouting.

 

From which you can see that the average Englishman doesn't have that much grasp of Irish history either, despite being the cause of much of it. Maybe that's why we play the music too fast.

 

Chris

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Do you all find a basic familiarity of Irish history helpful when playing Irish music?

Mostly, no.

 

Does knowing about the English Civil War (yes, they had one, too) help your singing of Beatles songs, or even your singing of the stuff John & Tony do, or your playing of Morris dance and Playford tunes? Does knowing about the Trail of Tears make you a better bluegrass musician? Probably not.

 

If you sing a song that tells a story, some people -- including you -- may want to know where the story comes from or what it refers to. But the only place where that's crucial is if you're singing about current events, particularly contemporary politics. E.g., if you're going to sing Irish rebel songs, you probably ought to have some idea how different people will react to them, and why. But if you're going to stick to songs about love, drink, humor, and hard work, you don't need to be either a history professor or an IRA publicist.

 

You may want to know more Irish history for your own understanding, but if anybody gives you a hard time for not knowing particular historical details, then they're there to pick a fight, not to listen to your music.

 

On the other hand, it does help to be aware that two songs with the same name don't necessarily have the same words or even general meaning... as with the two "Foggy Dews".

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I've often felt a bit out-of-place or odd when I'm around a group that has a strong ethnic/political/religious/whatever inclination dominating their music or creativity. (So, uh, that would mean I've felt that way most of my life....heheh.... :D )

 

However, nor do I want to live in some clinical 'utopia' or whatever with that sensation that we're all 'one' but somebody lurking around is really still the secret boss....I'd rather put up with peoples' off-centeredness and idiosyncrasies and have them be human.

 

I used to regret not being part of any particular group that could loudly and proudly proclaim its solidarity and historical clout, but now it just doesn't bother me anymore. In fact, I usually recoil from those people that grab me into their group and try to make me feel like I'm one of them -- or those people that 'assign' me to a group! History is HISTORY. We live in the here-and-now.

 

Regarding the question, though, I can see where it certainly helps to know the background of a politically-based song (or, to even know that it IS a political song). Usually, if I like a song and want to sing it, I do research its background (unless it's quite obvious or simple).

 

It's true that politically-motivated people do use music and performance as a means of publicizing their views. I guess if I found myself in a group of musicians that said they did 'Irish' or 'French' or 'Gospel' or Whatever music and it turned out that it wasn't mainly for the love and appreciation of the music but for military actions, I'd be....outta there!

 

As for history as a subject of study, well, I really regret that no one ever made it interesting to me while I was in school. I do enjoy historical novels, sometimes, though, especially if I feel I can identify with the hero(ine). Also, it's really interesting to find odd bits here and there in old scrapbooks, documents, etc., and obscure things about people and places.

 

For instance, I happen to have a hand-written letter, sealing wax and all, by the 'Swedish Nightingale' Jenny Lind. (It's a thank-you note to a patron, etc..) Things like that are soooooo coooool!!! :)

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IMHO getting wrapped up in the history too much does a disservice to the music. The Foggy Dewis a nice melody. Getting "angry" demeans the inherent quality of the music and alienates a certain segment of the listening audience. Love the music for its inherent musical qualities, not for its dubious political motives. Granted, my interest is in melody, and as such the names of the tunes are only really relevant as an aid to remembering them.

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For instance, I happen to have a hand-written letter, sealing wax and all, by the 'Swedish Nightingale' Jenny Lind.  (It's a thank-you note to a patron, etc..)  Things like that are soooooo coooool!!!  :)

I am sizeably impressed! Given the amount of time I have spent playing the Jenny Lind Polka ...

 

Chris

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So I never understood why Sinead O'Connor sounded so angry singing "Foggy Dew" on the Chieftans' Long Black Veil Album. ...

 

Then I figured out it wasn't a love/seduction song and realized I had no idea what the heck the Easter Uprising WAS...

As Frank said above Love the music for its inherent musical qualities, not for its dubious political motives. I don't know what axe SO'C was trying to grind here, but 'The Foggy Dew' was being sung at least 100 years before the Easter Uprising (John Bell of Newcastle, MSS at Kings College, c.1810). Be very suspicious of the motives of these kind of people!

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Granted, my interest is in melody, and as such the names of the tunes are only really relevant as an aid to remembering them.

Being concerned about the historical "meaning" of tune names is a bit obsessive, in my opinion. A single tune may often have more than one name, and the same name may be applied to more than one tune. The song tune commonly known today as "Rosin the Beau" has had many other sets of lyrics, and it was so popular during one 19th-century US presidential race that there were more than 100 sets of campaign song lyrics put to it, supporting and criticizing both major candidates. (As a different sort of example, I have in my possession two published tune books which contain two tunes -- among others, -- which are identical... except for having opposite names.)

 

Song lyrics that tell a story are something different, something a non-singer shouldn't have to worry about. If you're going to sing about Bobby Sands, you should probably know who he was, and what he did, and why... because some folks alive today remember him and the "war" he "fought" is still not over. Some Americans are also still sensitive about songs from the Vietnam War ("Draft Dodger Rag", "Green Berets", "Penny Evans", ...). But that can be carried too far. Contemporary singers don't have to worry about which side of the American Revolutionary War ("the unpleasantness with the colonies" to some Brits) their audience members' ancestors fought on.

 

I find it a little curious, though, that Rhomylly noticed Sinéad O'Connor's anger, but apparently didn't take a hint from the very different tune that the words might also be different.

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I don't know what axe SO'C was trying to grind here,...

Apparently not.

 

...but 'The Foggy Dew' was being sung at least 100 years before the Easter Uprising (John Bell of Newcastle, MSS at Kings College, c.1810).

I expect that John Bell's "Foggy Dew" is the English folk song "of love and seduction", which is completely different from the Irish song of the same name. That one is about the Easter Uprising, and doesn't even share a similar tune. (I'll bet that somewhere there is also another Wes Williams, who doesn't even play concertina. ;))

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I'll bet that somewhere there is also another Wes Williams, who doesn't even play concertina.

I can confirm there is. Suspecting there wasn't, I wrote to ask Wes if he was the same Wes Williams I was at school with, and I learned he was not (and he didn't mean that he had changed since then...)

 

On topic, I observe that Flanders and Swann once sang about the Doggy, Doggy Few.

 

I also observe that one's appreciation of Coope, Boyes and Simpson (which is already high) is enhanced by a knowledge of the relevant aspects of recent British history.

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I posted basically this question on a celtic music forum, and got the following list of historic terms/figures I probably should know as a public performer of mostly-not-Clancy-Brothers Irish music:

 

Brian Boru, Oliver Cromwell, King Billy, King James, Elizabeth I, the Plantations, the battle of the Boyne, Penal Laws and the Treaty of Limerick. Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen rebellion of 1798. Robert Emmet and the rebellion of 1803. The Fenian rebellion of 1848. The Great Famine of 1845-49 and Trevellian. Robert Peel. Daniel O'Connell and Catholic Emancipation. Coffin Ships. Parnell, Kitty O'Shea and Home Rule. The Easter Rising of 1916 and Patrick Pearse. Joe Plunkett and Grace Gifford. The Battle of Kinsale and the Flight of the Earls. The Wild Geese. Drogheada and Skibbereen. The War of Independence from 1918-1921 and Michael Collins. The Black and Tans. The Civil War and Eamon DeValera. The IRA and Sean South, Bobby Sands and virtually anyone who ever went on hunger strike. Going "on the blanket". H-Blocks. Derry's role in Irish history from King James onward.

 

I can vaguely identify about 1/4 of this and how it specifically relates to Irish history.

 

What do you all think?

I think that whoever prepared that list is obsessed with political and military (including guerilla) battles and with prominent public figures and public display. It is a very narrow-minded list.

 

I see no mention of the social elements -- The Famine (why potatoes?), Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal", multiple waves of emigration (not just during The Famine), the large number of Irish employed in the British military and merchant marine (what percentage or Liverpool's population has no Irish blood?), hiring fairs, dancing masters, hedge schools, the loss of the Irish fishing industry, Aran sweaters, the status of the Bards, etc. -- which are at least as much a part of Irish history as are the IRA, the Black and Tans, H block, and the Good Friday Agreement.

 

If you are going to sing about a particular battle, then you may find it useful to learn a bit about it, even though for many singers it's enough to know that in a long, ongoing struggle, somebody took the trouble to write a song about a particular incident. (How famous would "The Valley of Knockanure" be if it weren't for the song? Frankly, I don't know.)

 

But you certainly shouldn't need to discuss -- or even be able to discuss -- Irish political history in order to sing such songs as "Reynardine", "Star of the County Down", "Maid of Ballyhooley", "Johnny Jump Up", "The Sick Note", "The Rocks of Bawn", "Spansil Hill", "Rocky Road to Dublin", "Banks of Newfoundland", "Lakes of Ponchartrain", or even "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye".

 

On the other hand, if you've become interested in Irish history for its own sake, I definitely recommend that you get a broad picture, and not restrict yourself to the struggle against English rule. There's more to Ireland than that.

 

... E.g., the music. :)

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On topic, I observe that Flanders and Swann once sang about the Doggy, Doggy Few.

 

I've also heard a version (probably not by F and S) called the Doggy, Doggy, Doo.

It's definitely not political either.

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On topic, I observe that Flanders and Swann once sang about the Doggy, Doggy Few.
I've also heard a version (probably not by F and S) called the Doggy, Doggy, Doo.

It's definitely not political either.

Show's how little you know about history. ;)

The debate (eventually lost by the doggy-dooers) leading up to New York City enacting their "pooper-scooper" law was both very passionate and very political. :o

Not particularly Irish, though.

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The debate (eventually lost by the doggy-dooers) leading up to New York City enacting their "pooper-scooper" law was both very passionate and very political

 

Ah yes, indeed the 'pooper-scooper' requirement is active in the UK too (one of the reasons I don't own a dog!). The song, however, is one of love found and lost and is not about the rights and wrongs of doggy doings.

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Do you all find a basic familiarity of Irish history helpful when playing Irish music?

 

Playing the music or singing the songs? There is a difference. I think some history

helps if only that it can try and put is into the mindset of the people who invented the stuff :). But that history is very different than the social and political history that

might be useful if you are singing songs.

 

But to give an example: I first heard the English version of "Foggy Dew" probably around 1983 or so, on John Roberts and Tony Barrand's Dark Ships in the Forest Album. Which is one of my favorite albums still.

 

So I never understood why Sinead O'Connor sounded so angry singing "Foggy Dew" on the Chieftans' Long Black Veil Album. After all, according to John and Tony, it's a simple love/seduction song, right? Okay, I admit I didn't listen to the words very carefully until about 3 years of album ownership. My bad.

 

Well in part I think it is fair to say that Sinead O'Connor always projects a fair bit of

anger when she sings. I think she cultivates it as part of her stage image. Frankly it has always annoyed the crap out of me since it makes her come of as seeming holier than thou.

 

Then I figured out it wasn't a love/seduction song and realized I had no idea what the heck the Easter Uprising WAS, other than something to do with the opening of the film Michael Collins (which I have seen twice and had to have someone explain what was going on the whole time. Both viewings.)

 

Clearly, a degree in Irish History would be helpful here.

 

Maybe not a degree, but certainly one or two survey courses :)

 

I posted basically this question on a celtic music forum, and got the following list of historic terms/figures I probably should know as a public performer of mostly-not-Clancy-Brothers Irish music:

 

Brian Boru, Oliver Cromwell, King Billy, King James, Elizabeth I, the Plantations, the battle of the Boyne, Penal Laws and the Treaty of Limerick. Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen rebellion of 1798. Robert Emmet and the rebellion of 1803. The Fenian rebellion of 1848. The Great Famine of 1845-49 and Trevellian. Robert Peel. Daniel O'Connell and Catholic Emancipation. Coffin Ships. Parnell, Kitty O'Shea and Home Rule. The Easter Rising of 1916 and Patrick Pearse. Joe Plunkett and Grace Gifford. The Battle of Kinsale and the Flight of the Earls. The Wild Geese. Drogheada and Skibbereen. The War of Independence from 1918-1921 and Michael Collins. The Black and Tans. The Civil War and Eamon DeValera. The IRA and Sean South, Bobby Sands and virtually anyone who ever went on hunger strike. Going "on the blanket". H-Blocks. Derry's role in Irish history from King James onward.

 

I can vaguely identify about 1/4 of this and how it specifically relates to Irish history.

 

What do you all think?

 

Well the specifics are nice if you are singing songs about those particular subjects; of course in some cases you may not know the specific subject until you learn the basics of Irish History. However, in most cases, it is probably enough to know that they are basically repeating the same basic story of Irish resist English in some fashion, English come down hard and Irish end up either dead or exiled. We tend not to sing of our victories that much :).

 

--

Bill

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Songs and slow-airs maybe, but you dont need to have driven a shovel in a turf field to be able to play Irish jigs, reels and polkas with some feeling.

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I don't know what axe SO'C was trying to grind here,...

Apparently not.

Oh, foroverly pedantic Jim:

Rhomylly connected the two versions as being one in the first post of this thread. (Oh no she didn't - oh yes she did- but please! lets not get into that waste of bandwidth - that's how I read it). I once got a tape of SO'C from a charity shop, but couldn't stand more than couple of minutes of it, although I tried hard, so will happily admit to knowing SFA about her, and I bow to your vastly superior knowledge of this screaming angst stuff. You are also not the James/Jim Lucas I went to school with (but if you were, it might explain a lot :blink: )

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I expect that John Bell's "Foggy Dew" is the English folk song "of love and seduction", which is completely different from the Irish song of the same name.  That one is about the Easter Uprising, and doesn't even share a similar tune. 

John Bell's is the "love and seduction", but "completely different from the Irish song of the same name" it isn't. My memory may be fading, but I was sure I'd heard Irish 'Foggy Dews' in the same genre, back when SO'C was still screaming at nuns from her cradle . Turns out this song is well known in England and Ireland, even recorded by Irish tenor John McCormack in 1913 as part of an "Irish" song series (3 years prior to the Easter Uprising). Lots more info here and here for starters for any poor old geezers as confused as I am.

 

Point of order:

Does Jim's response as quoted in my previous message above say 9:16am and my original say 10:02am to any of you? Is this a time warp? Wonder what'll happen with this message?

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