Irish music? need help for st. pattis gig

Discussion in 'Recordings [BG]' started by basss, Mar 10, 2003.

  1. basss

    basss Supporting Member

    Aug 27, 2001
    I got a gig on St. Patrick's day playing traditional irish music: gigues, reels etc. Never done this before. I need to listen to some of this music to get an idea of what to play. Any suggestions?
  2. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    Well, take this for what it's worth, but .... I spent about 7-8 years playing in kind of a Celtic rootsy rock R&B inflected band that did about half trad and half original. I had the same problem that you mentioned when I started out. Part of the problem is that bass is not a trad instrument, so there aren't established ways of doing things as there are with fiddle, flute, accordion, etc. Another part is that many of the best accompanists on guitar or Irish bouzouki, such as John Doyle or Pat Kilbride, will spontaneously reharmonize tunes on the fly, so you have to pay attention. The whole basis of Irish trad music is the melody, not the chord progression, and these melodies can often be supported by a lot of different harmonic approaches. Another complicating factor is that although the form if the tune is sometimes quite obvious, sometimes it's kind of unclear. Tunes can have two parts (usually 8 bar phrases), three parts, or even four or five, and in some, the parts sound pretty similar and it's only a few details that distinguish them. Also, sometimes (maybe most times) each part is repeated, and sometimes it's not. So it can be easy to lose your place.

    So, a few recommendations:

    1. Listen to and play off the melody.

    2. Listen to what the harmony instrument(s) is doing, especially if the player has more experience with this music than you. Maybe ask him/her to play through the tune once or twice with a melody player before you step in. I've found that charting in this setting is pretty hit-and-miss; a lot of the folks don't like to do it, or don't do it that accurately, or do it and then play something different from what they jotted down. There's no substitute for hearing what's really going on.

    3. Try to get the form of the tune down if you can. It really helps if, say, the fiddle player can tell you, this is a two part tune with each part repeating, or this is a five part tune with none of the parts repeating, or whatever.

    4. Tune in to the basic rhythmic feels. Reels are quick-to-fast 4/4, jigs are 12/8 (except for the relatively rare slip jigs, which are 9/8), hornpipes are somewhat slower 4/4/, typically swung a bit, and polkas are, well, polkas.

    5. A lot of instrumental tunes are done in "sets," where several different tunes, often in different keys, are strung one after another in a single piece. You can and usually do plan these sets out, but be aware that when a trad player starts burning, they occasionally start pulling tunes out of their hat that weren't discussed or rehearsed. Don't worry about that too much if it happens; the basic harmonies of the tunes are fairly simple, so it isn't too hard to locate the key center of a new tune and play at least something that will fit. Cozy up to the guitar/keyboard player and see what they're doing; that always helps.

    Hope this helps. It's not really as complicated as I may have made it sound. The main thing is to pay attention--listen, listen, listen!--and have fun. I dunno how much you can generalize from my experience, but I felt that I played the music better once I had got familiar with the melodies and stopped worrying about how I was "suppsoed to" play the tunes--because there is no real "supposed to" for Irish bass players! Not compared to fiddle, flute, accordion, etc.

    For some ideas, you might want to listen to Trevor Hutchinson of Sharon Shannon's band. Or, if I may toot my own horn a little, my band did two indie albums that might still be available, under the name Kips Bay Ceili Band or just Kips Bay.
  3. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    All that and I didn't quite answer your question, did I? Most of the best trad groups don't have bass players, but you could try listening to, among others, Moving Hearts, Solas, Deanta, John Whelan, Eileen Ivers, Cherish the Ladies, Seamus Connolly, Matt Molloy, the Chieftains, the Bothy Band, Planxty, Jerry O'Sullivan.
  4. My favorite Irish songs include...
    Finnegan's Wake
    Four Green Fields
    A Jug of Punch
    Whiskey in the Jar
    Spancil Hill

    I found a great CD called "Irish Drinking Songs" which features music by The Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners. Good stuff...find it in the world music section under "Ireland" or "Celtic".
  5. basss

    basss Supporting Member

    Aug 27, 2001
    Wow thanks Richard that does help a lot! Its gonna be sort of a pick up band. We may do one rehearsal so it's not gonna be any kind of polished thing. I figured I would just have to listen as you said and from my limited experience with this music the harmonies seemed fairly simple. I should be allright. I'll check out the music you recommended. Thanks again -you too Bassline1414.
  6. Murf


    Mar 28, 2001
    Wow! I must say this is the BEST description of Irish trad music I've ever read...nice one.

    By the way if it helps any, think root fifth root as much as possible and WATCH OUT FOR THE CHANGES also some of the rhytm patterns can get quite syncopated your best bet here is to stick with the guitarist (depending of course on the guitarist being a good trad player);)

    If you want to hear some unorthodox bass playing as regards Trad, check out Bakithi Kumalos work with Eileen Ivers on the crossing the bridge album.

    best of luck.

    btw, I'm playing an Irish music festival in Prague on Paddys weekend..weird thing is they only want us to play rock music!!???
  7. Cultman


    Mar 11, 2003
    I used to play Celtic music quite a bit. Still own my bouzouki, wooden flute and Highland pipes!

    I have TONS of sheet music if you need any.

    Contact me at I'll digi cam some for you and email - if you've got some general tunes you need.