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  1. #1
    Lewis's Avatar
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    Banjo Music

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    This is a big community, and there's almost certainly someone here who can help me with this.

    I am, I admit, not very musical. My sisters had all their grades on the piano and other instruments besides, but I was always fingers and thumbs and couldn't even keep in time -- or even always stay in tune when I tried to sing. (I can, though, remember and recognise stuff I've heard and more so than some musical people I know.)



    Anyway, I was playing around in iTunes and found this:

    https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/ban...348400325?mt=2

    There's a tune there I've heard before and always liked -- number 33 "Maid Behind The Bar".

    It's an Irish tune, and so it owes its origin to the Irish genius. And it would ill become me not to recognise the Irish genius, since I'm English, so they're our near neighbours, and besides were trying to civilise us when we were swinging in the trees. LOL. Cuthbert, the patron saint of Northern England, was trained by the Irish:

    "Cuthbert of Lindisfarne"

    But ... when I've heard Irish musicians pay this they seem to go hell-for-leather and it seems to be mostly about virtuosity.

    But this rendering seems to have a different character to me. Would I be right in thinking these are probably American musicians and that this style of playing is American and owes something to Jazz? This version also seems to have a lot of "warmth" to me. I particularly like the way at around 02:04 the backing musicians come more into the foreground and the banjo player -- I don't know how to put this -- seems to be playing around doing different things "behind" them and gradually coming into the foreground again. It really seems very beautiful to me. Astonishing that someone should have put that up as a podcast on iTunes for nothing, wanting no payment.

    Any comments? Any links to pieces on YouTube, suggestions of CDs worth having, or anything?

  2. #2
    pamola10's Avatar
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    No musicologist here, but that's a lovely bit and nicely done. American or not....do you know Bela Fleck and the Flecktones? If you like banjo and jazz, that's a place to look.

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    This is pretty much what I can relate to banjo music;


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    This is up my alley. I played Irish traditional for a while and now I play oldtime.

    You're right that Irish is really virtuostic and really fast. Old-time tends to have a lot fewer notes but can be just as fast. Easier to play with less notes. We also share some of the same tunes but they sound a lot different. Old time is more twangy or something plus we often retune the instruments for certain tunes. Irish musicians never retune.

    Irish banjo is usually a tenor banjo which is different from the kind of banjos they use in old-time, which are also different sometimes from the kind of banjos they use in bluegrass. That version of Maid Behind the Bar is definitely a tenor banjo. It's definitely Irish, but the traditional part has been morphed into something more original maybe with a tad of American-style flair here and there, but it's not old-time, not at all.

    Anyway, that's nice music for sure. Thanks for pointing me to it. An Irish group that I really like that I can actually play some of their tunes is Altan.
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  5. #5
    Lewis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pamola10 View Post
    ....do you know Bela Fleck and the Flecktones? If you like banjo and jazz, that's a place to look.
    No, I don't. I'll see if I can find some of theirs. Thanks.

  6. #6
    Lewis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes View Post
    This is up my alley. I played Irish traditional for a while and now I play oldtime.
    Thanks for the response.

    You're right that Irish is really virtuostic and really fast. Old-time tends to have a lot fewer notes but can be just as fast. Easier to play with less notes. We also share some of the same tunes but they sound a lot different. Old time is more twangy or something ....
    This is just it: it's possible to hear these differences sometimes but not to put it in words.

    ... plus we often retune the instruments for certain tunes. Irish musicians never retune.
    Ah, the only CD I actually have of banjo music is one that turned up some years ago in a little shop that specialized in classical but took some other stuff, too. (I think the internet killed that kind of place.) That CD is called High Atmosphere -- old recordings made in the Appalachians (this will ring a bell with Gorbag LOL) and some of those pieces have unusual tuning I believe. (I say I believe: technically speaking, I'm at sea with music, as I said.)

    Irish banjo is usually a tenor banjo which is different from the kind of banjos they use in old-time, which are also different sometimes from the kind of banjos they use in bluegrass. That version of Maid Behind the Bar is definitely a tenor banjo. It's definitely Irish, but the traditional part has been morphed into something more original maybe with a tad of American-style flair here and there, but it's not old-time, not at all.
    Yeah, he starts off paying the tune in a fairy straightforward way, but when you get to about 0:37 he starts doing something that sounds more jazz-like to me. it's almost as if he's playing around -- "ragging" it. I'm fishing in the dark, but I think this kind of thing might be owing to the black influence in America? In Britain we have the term "rag week" when students run a little wild, while collecting for good causes. It's another use of the same word. There's a note of the inversion of authority there. I understand that some black musicians would do this with pieces of music that had cultural prestige, and this playing around was a way of cocking a snook at the privileged and their tastes ... but in a lighthearted not a nasty way and doubtless with a real understanding of what the original composer had been trying to do.

    It seems to me that while that's played very tightly and skilfully by the musicians, there's a iight-heartedness and playfulness there, too. I think there's something I can only describe as "warmth", too. I was thinking there might be something "American" about those characteristics ... but maybe not.

    Anyway, that's nice music for sure. Thanks for pointing me to it. An Irish group that I really like that I can actually play some of their tunes is Altan.
    Thanks. Will look out for them.

  7. #7
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    yeah. +1 on bela fleck and the flecktones. bela is an insanely talented musician
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  8. #8
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    All that music gets morphed together nowadays. Jazz influence gets in there, American influence gets in there.

    Another thing with old Appalachian music is sometimes they include "modal tunes". All tunes are modal, but in this case the term means it has that lonesome sound. It's usually a type of minor key with a limited scale. If you had an Appalachian dulcimer you'd tune it DAC (or equivalent) to play those lonesome tunes.
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  9. #9
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    Well, Lewis, you may not consider yourself musical, but you've got an ear for great music.

    That podcast of 100 tunes isn't exactly a podcast, it's the top 100 most popular tunes in the Irish/Celtic music section on the Banjo Hangout. These are tunes that members of the banjo hangout have posted for others to enjoy, for free. I've been a member there since 2001 - it still remains my favorite place on the internet

    The banjo player on that tune is Dave Hum and he's actually playing a 5 string resonator banjo (most commonly used for bluegrass). For the last couple of years before his death (in November 2012), Dave would frequently post his youtube clips on the banjo hangout of himself busking in the streets of England (which he'd apparently been doing most of his life). Many of his fellow banjoists came to look forward to what he would put up next, because his style was so unique and wonderful. This was how I first learned of him.

    And there's good reason you have difficulty pigeonholing his sound. As is evident from his bio, Dave had a rich musical background, and played 3 finger style bluegrass banjo for many years. A few years ago he lost some of the use of his right hand (his picking hand) due to complications from multiple myeloma, and so had to reinvent a way to play the instrument using what function he still had in his right hand. He ended up developing his own 2 finger style of playing (a style much more common in the pre-bluegrass Appalachian south) that was still influenced by his bluegrass playing days, using banjo tunings typically heard in American old-time music (like gCGCD used for Maid Behind the Bar), playing music from the Celtic, American old-time and bluegrass traditions (of which there is a lot of overlap), undoubtedly informed by a lifetime of experiences with multiple instruments and genres, and an obvious gift for melody. The result, as you can hear, was magic.

    Do yourself a favor and head over to his website to check out his many youtube videos of him busking in the streets of England (including this one). As good as it gets.

    Sure is a small world sometimes.

    sbhikes - nice to see another old-time enthusiast around here! I run a site for old-time musicians you might be interested in checking out.
    Last edited by jturk; 10-17-2013 at 07:28 PM.

  10. #10
    Lewis's Avatar
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    Thank you. :-)

    Dave Hum seems really accomplished & with a very varied background.

    I thought that Hunter's Purse in the "Top 100" sounded like Dave, too. I tried googling "hunter's purse" and sure enough one of the top hits was the same track with Dave playing it on YouTube.

    If I'm not mistaken that will be him again on Tam Lin. There are some really interesting things going on in that. If my ears don't deceive there's a mandolin in that one, too -- there's a kind of "sweetness" in the sound that contrasts nicely with the harder banjo sound. From what's said on the website it sounds like Dave plays ALL the instruments. What an extraordinary man!

    I'll look into getting some of his stuff on CD or as a download.

    Shame about the poor man's hands, given what they must have meant to him. A Paleo Diet might have helped him too, if he'd only known, I guess.

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