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Recorded Music

Jack Zuraw

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I didn't get it, but...


I was lucky enough to hear John Kelly, sr. in Clare in 1985 and meet him in Dublin in 1987, through the kindness of Noel Hill who arranged a couple of small sessions where the two of them played some lovely music with Frank Hogan and others. I'm sure many Forum contributors will have colorful stories about this great musician and his music.


One of his sons, James Kelly, lives near me in Florida and (again) as many of you will know is one of the finest fiddle players to be heard today. He also plays the concertina but may not admit it!


I have admired John Kelly sr. and his music since I first heard it, and sincerely hope that the price fetched by this out-of-print LP will help to encourage Free Reed to release it in full. When last I pleaded with Neil Wayne to do so, he only had plans to include some tracks on a "various artists" compilation.



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For those of you enjoying the earthy, rhythmic, expressive, and influential music of John Kelly,sr,



My experience in watching him play ( and listening closely to his recorded legacy) is that when playing the concertina he never touched a button in the third row. If he ever did so, he clearly did not need to do so to make a lot of music. He had an aluminum-ended Crabb 31 key C/G instrument, but the Free Reed record also featured him playing instruments in other keys and pitches, including some lovely work on 2-row german concertina (s?) and a low-keyed London made instrument in original temperament ( I think, a high-pitch Bb/F Jeffries). His use of major thirds in the left hand would sound much harsher on equal-tempered instruments.


He favored the keys of C and G major, D minor and A minor (dorian mode, really), and "inflected" tunes in G with both F natural and F# -- on a C/G, and the keys corresponding to these if playing on a different instrument. In fact, offhand I can't think of any tunes he played in any other keys, but likely there were some. (Omitting here his beautiful fiddle playing in every traditional key).


There is a story told about the great jazz pianist Art Tatum. Supposedly he was in a bar in New Orleans, after hours, listening to an older man playing piano. Tatum recalled, "He played all night and all he played was the blues in C. But after listening and listening I decided that, if I could, I would trade everything I could do to be able to play the blues in C like that." If you ever listen to Art Tatum, you'll know how high a compliment that was.


Here in North America, where very few people grow up playing the concertina, as John Kelly did, most of us who play it start late in life as well-educated adults with strong opinions and a lot of information in our heads. I often hear these relative late-comers to the concertina express the notion that a 2 row instrument is too limited for them to fool with. But if they could get half the music out of their three-row (and larger) concertinas that John Kelly drew from two rows of his, I would say they had really accomplished something. I would trade everything I can do on the concertina to be able to play in three or four keys as well as John Kelly did. May he rest in peace, and may his music continue to delight us.



Edited by Paul Groff
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Here is a post from Shay Fogary that he meant to put here but sent to me in error. - Ken


I can add to Paul Groffs comments on John Kelly snr. I've no doubt that James Kelly could knock out a tune on the concertina and I'd love to hear him play. Must try to get someone to persuade him to play when he's home next.


As for John Snr his Crabb No 18230 was made in 1967 and is now owned by John jnr whose daughters play concertina.


John had a great style and no one at the time played like him. A friend of mine Gene Anderson took up concertina around the time John and Joe Ryan used to play in ODonoughues Pub. He has a s close a style of playing to John as you'd hear, an amazing poppy, stacatto lively sound. Probably developed as John used to play with the middle of the bellows across the knee and of course from the two row German which John probably grew up with playing for dancing


John and Joe use to hold court in O'Ds on Merrion Row- birthplace of the Dubliners- every Fri and Sat. When Paddy O Dnoghue sold to Dessie Hynes the relationship between new owner and established players diminished. So John and Joe took themselves off to the Four Seasons pub in Capel Street at the corner with Bolton Street and coincidentally next door to John's shop which was called the Horse Shoe and across the road from where he lived. So it became a handy place to play. What sessions there were there. I recall being thrilled the first time I heard Jackie Daly play there it was electrifying. Of course it became a calling shop for all the great names over the years. Think of a player from the 70s early 80s and they would have been in the Four Seasons at some time. Joe Burke, Mairtin Byrnes, Bobby Casey, Tommy McCarthy, Noel Hill etc. Anyone who came to town would head there to listen or join in.


Nice to have the RTE Ceolnet link. By the way I have a tape of John's LP and the music is wonderful both on fiddle and tina.


Shay Fogary

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  • 1 month later...
60 bucks?!  My copy of this could be worth 60 bucks?!!


I'd better listen to it again... and make sure I learn all the tunes.  :)


Have you learned them this good yet: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewI...1&category=1075 ?



...re-release...  When last I pleaded with Neil Wayne to do so, he only had plans to include some tracks on a "various artists" compilation.

Maybe this will help get copies of all the FREE REED albums circulating...


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If anyone would like to know of recordings of John Kelly that I believe are still in print there are 4 tracks on OSSIAN PUBLICATIONS "Folk Music and Dances of Ireland" (which is supposed to accompany the book).


Three tracks are fiddle and one is the concertina.



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