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The Bass And Irish Trad.


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Hello all,

I have a friend who brings a stand-up bass to session; and recently a young lady has brought an acoustic bass which she sometimes plays through an amp. Now the first person, the stand-up bass, assures me that the first picture in existance of a session (Irish) shows a bass player (stand-up) in situ. Do bass players, either kind, have claim on being trad instruments?

 

 

Alan.

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What on earth is a 'trad instrument'? The music is traditional, the instruments don't matter. If you want provenance then Hedgehog Pie were using an acoustic bass guitar in the 1970's and around the same time the awesome Danny Thompson was playing Victoria the String Bass alongside Bert Janch and John Renbourn in Pentangle, not exactly trad folk I know but folk genre nonetheless.

 

When I saw Eliza Carthy a few months ago one of the band was playing a Tuba for goodness sake! I wouldn't worry about it too much to be honest, as long as the music is good and the playing is of an acceptable standard that's all that matters really. I'd love to see an oboe player and a bassoonist wander into a session and start knocking out hornpipes. :)

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I have a friend who brings a stand-up bass to session; and recently a young lady has brought an acoustic bass which she sometimes plays through an amp. ... Do bass players, either kind, have claim on being trad instruments?

Is "trad" the same as traditional? The bass is certainly traditional in bluegrass and jazz sessions, but I presume you're asking specifically about Irish. I would say that while basses are far from common in sessions, they would be found occasionally, and I think it's unlikely that a good player would be sent away from a session by players who grew up in the tradition. Ceili bands often have a bass -- usually electric, these days, -- and while that's not exactly a session, it's certainly part of the Irish musical tradition. (In my own opinion, anything amplified would be blasphemy in a session, but I'll bet there are sessions -- maybe even many of them -- where amplified guitars and such are accepted.

 

My guess is that if there's a local bass player who wants to play the local traditional music -- as opposed to trying to replace it with C&W, -- then (s)he would probably be welcome.

 

Now the first person, the stand-up bass, assures me that the first picture in existance of a session (Irish) shows a bass player (stand-up) in situ.

"The first picture in existance of a session (Irish)..."? That's quite a claim! When is it from, I wonder? For that matter, how does your friend define "session"? In my limited experience, today's "session" culture is a far cry from even the pub sessions in Irish communities before music became "Celtic", while (at least until recently) gatherings of musicians in people's homes were a far more common tradition, even before the invention of photography.

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Unfortunately, I haven't got the source material with me, but I think if one takes a purist stance (which I hope we don't - see later), there's not much evidence for bands in traditional music at all before the 1930s, and by extension, the use of basses, string or brass as part of the folk "orchestra" is probably a modern phenomenon.

 

In Scottish music (thinking Jimmy Shand here, but also going back to Bob Smith from the Topic records of the "Ideal Band") and in Irish music as represented by the Tulla or Kilfenora Ceili bands, the string bass and other instruments are certainly there, but how traditional are they? Sean O'Riada and Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin both used full orchestras to bring a new interpretation to traditional music - the music is traditional and at least the violins were traditional instruments but the interpretations are clearly not. Does it detract from the music? No, but they are for different purposes.

 

Brass bands certainly played traditional music, and Hardy and others cite church bands as playing for country dancing - if a serpent and a clarinet can be used in such a traditional band, then why not a tuba or a string bass or a saxophone? The saxophone and the concertina weren't invented until the mid 19th century - does this make them inferior as traditional instruments? Why is one regarded as traditional and the other not? Traditional musicians in the 19th century and before probably had limited acess to a wide range of instruments. If they had access to and could afford the saxophone, they probably would have played it.

 

My personal view as a tuba player of many years sitting is that as long as the noise one makes is complementary to the tune and its purpose (to encourage the dancers or to stir the emotions in an air) then it's valid. I think it's the style of playing and the approach to the music which determines whether one views it as traditional or not. If you compare Yehudi Menuhin, Stephane Grappelli and Ali Bain - all play fiddle and have played in each others' idiom (maybe not Grappelli and Bain). It's fairly easy to determine which one is classically trained, which one plays jazz and which one traditional music by the control, the swing and the emphasis; the fiddle is still a traditional instrument.

 

I hope this doesn't lead us to a debate as to when traditional music ended - that we decide there's a cut-off point somewhere in 1880 something which dictates that only those tunes, instruments and styles before that can be traditional. For me, tradition has to be living and therefore evolving. The electric guitar is a traditional instrument in the right hands!

 

Alex West

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The bass does indeed have a place in trad, but it is hard to play in such a setting. I have seen a number of ceili bands use one to great effect. It gives the music a driving quality. Is her acoustic bass too loud through her amp? You might suggest playing it unplugged. Otherwise, if her technique is good, it has a place.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Hello all,

I have a friend who brings a stand-up bass to session; and recently a young lady has brought an acoustic bass which she sometimes plays through an amp. Now the first person, the stand-up bass, assures me that the first picture in existance of a session (Irish) shows a bass player (stand-up) in situ. Do bass players, either kind, have claim on being trad instruments?

 

 

Alan.

 

I have read that there are only 3 ITM (Irish Traditional Music) instruments: Whistle, Bodhran, and Harp.

 

Not being 400 years old, despite popular belief, I have no way of knowing if this is true. I had also read that O'Carolans' music was some of the only Irish music preserved from for lack of a better term "early period". Since he was harpist, there might some truth to that.

 

I have never actaully been to a real "ITM" session, but rather numerous "Celtic" festivals where just about anything goes from Ocarina to Didgeridoo.

 

I have never once seen a Harp player with a band, though never without a Bodhran, and often with whistle.

 

Banjos, Bouzoukis, Guitars, Mandolins, Fiddles, Accordions, Timbales, Tambourines, Djembe, BagPipes, Whistles, Flutes, Recorders, Full Drum Kits, Keyboards...

 

 

I'm picturing Brian Boru's March on Kazoo quintet: mason jar percussion and jackass jaw rattles, someday I'll pull out the ol Kazoo at a session and have a go at it.

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I'm picturing Brian Boru's March on Kazoo quintet: mason jar percussion and jackass jaw rattles, someday I'll pull out the ol Kazoo at a session and have a go at it.

 

If you really want to be original and steer the waters, bring that good old Theremin.

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I'm picturing Brian Boru's March on Kazoo quintet: mason jar percussion and jackass jaw rattles, someday I'll pull out the ol Kazoo at a session and have a go at it.

 

If you really want to be original and steer the waters, bring that good old Theremin.

Thererin, surely. ;)

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ha, spotting the thread title, i thought the topic was bass embellishments in irish concertina playing.

 

currently, the hot trends in irish concertina embellishment are at an absurd juncture wherein loud, melody-obscuring accordion-or-ceili-piano-esque bass effects, such as super-loud & frequent full chords, and/or super-loud & frequent double stops, are very "in." this is hilarious, because said trendy concertina bass embellishments are as loud and often louder than accordion bass effects, and it is a given in irish accordion aesthetics that rackety accordion bass chords or double stops are tasteless & a menace to society outside a ceili or a raucous party azmophere. so we are at a funny moment where loud accordion bass noise will get you cast out of the city by villagers bearing torches, but loud concertina bass noise gets you a Genius Grant.

 

that is my two cents on the "bass" question. :)

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I have never once seen a Harp player with a band, though never without a Bodhran, and often with whistle.

 

Banjos, Bouzoukis, Guitars, Mandolins, Fiddles, Accordions, Timbales, Tambourines, Djembe, BagPipes, Whistles, Flutes, Recorders, Full Drum Kits, Keyboards...

 

Maybe even a concertina.... :P

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I have read that there are only 3 ITM (Irish Traditional Music) instruments: Whistle, Bodhran, and Harp.

 

I'd have to disagree with you on the bodhran, which, although traditionally associated with the Wren Boys on St Stephen's Day, has only been used in ITM since the 1950s.

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Hello all,

I have a friend who brings a stand-up bass to session; and recently a young lady has brought an acoustic bass which she sometimes plays through an amp. Now the first person, the stand-up bass, assures me that the first picture in existance of a session (Irish) shows a bass player (stand-up) in situ. Do bass players, either kind, have claim on being trad instruments?

 

 

Alan.

At the Goderich weekend last summer there were a number of sessions ongoing in the pub (different rooms. We had a rocking English session going on upstairs and spanish session in the main bar. There was an Irish session in the side bar. We had an absolutely superb stand-up bass player in our session who eventually decided to wander and see what was going on at the other sessions. As she carried her bass into the Irish session room a little woman with a fiddle looked up at her and said "you can't bring that in here it's not in the idiom". I'll leave you to draw conclusions ;)

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A saying springs to mind here, something about glasshouses and stones.... After all the concertina has only been around for 170 years or so, so could be dismissed as not being traditional by purists (of which I am not one).

 

To second what many have already said, its how its played that matters, not what it is. Would a traditional piano be acceptable at a session?, if so, why not an electric (ie amplified) piano. Similarly, why would an acoustic bass be acceptable, but not an electric bass.

 

Clive

 

Edited to add: Actually, to be fair, I've just read the thread again, and I don't think anyone here is throwing stones themselves.

Edited by Clive Thorne
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Guest Peter Laban

You know it's extremely tiring to hear people come up with stuff like 'if we REALLY look at it only a whistle can be traditional'.

 

It is rubbish and betrays either a neglect or a lack of understanding what 'traditional' means. Traditional is what is accepted as such by the wider community of traditional musicians (which includes all musicians who are accepted by their peers as part of the community, not necessarily anyone who owns an instrument).

 

As such I don't think the bass could really be seen as a 'traditional' instrument (it's lack of ability in playing melody disqualifies it I suppose) but basses are not without precedent (Angela Merry playing the 'Bass Fiddle' in the Laichtin Naofa Ceiliband for example, or Paul O Driscoll in more modern times) and to be honest I have not ever seen one turned away just for the reason of it been out of place (a local bass player used to turn up at session regularly and was a welcome guest).

 

I have seen Geraldine Cotter, Ita Crehan, Padraic O Reilly, George Byrt and others turn up locally with electric keyboards without anyone thinking anything of it. Nobody would argue those are 'traditional instruments' per se but that doesn't mean they don't have a place.

 

In other words, this is a bit of a non issue.

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You know it's extremely tiring to hear people come up with stuff like 'if we REALLY look at it only a whistle can be traditional'.

 

I have seen Geraldine Cotter, Ita Crehan, Padraic O Reilly, George Byrt and others turn up locally with electric keyboards without anyone thinking anything of it. Nobody would argue those are 'traditional instruments' per se but that doesn't mean they don't have a place.

 

In other words, this is a bit of a non issue.

Absolutely. I think it is more of an elitist attitude that seems to have developed in the Toronto Irish scene. It would be interesting to know if it exists elsewhere.

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You know it's extremely tiring to hear people come up with stuff like 'if we REALLY look at it only a whistle can be traditional'.

 

 

Traditional? Perhaps the only things that count as traditional are the whistle from a pair of pursed lips, another band/tribe member humming for harmony and for rhythm: the clapping of hands and tapping of feet. All else is modern equipment.

 

r

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