Raleigh, NC Irish Sessions

Raleigh, NC Irish Sessions


Mandolins were abundant at these sessions.

This Summer I spent a good deal of time in “the Triangle”, woodshedding some tunes everyone should know and even writing a couple more. Living in Durham, NC for the Summer,  I was missing my musical creative outlets back home in Asheville, so I sought out some local Irish Trad Sessions. This led me to two sessions in Raleigh and one in Morrisville, NC. Luckily, the reputation of being a session player from Asheville only slightly preceded me.

Tir Na Nog –  Raleigh, NC

My first stop of the Summer was to attend the Sunday session at Tir Na Nog in Raleigh. It was a wide open session, with a great deal more of variety than I was used to.  It was also the last session they were to have. It turns out I showed up on the last day of business for Tir Na Nog. Which was a shame really, because it was a lovely place with a wonderful hostess/owner.  The session itself was a little less structured than I’m used to. And there were even some classic rock songs sung with sincerity towards the end. I got to play my favorite Choice Wife/Gallagher’s Frolic set and so it was lots of fun nonetheless.

It was at this session, that I was reminded how reputations can influence expectations for the good or the bad. I showed up early to meet the session leader.  There were a few folks who also showed up early. I brought my octave mandolin with me, which travels in a guitar shaped case. The first expression I got when they saw my guitar shaped case, seemed to say, “Great, another guitar player” as if they had seen their share of sessions with multiple guitarists. (Those of you who have also experienced that, might understand how much of a headache that can be.)

Asheville Reputation!

Then after exchanging names and before I could ask about the standard session

My travel companions on this trip included my Rozawood Octave Mandolin and my Deering Tenor Banjo.

etiquette here, they asked where I was from.  So I told them.  Then everyone was silent a moment longer than necessary, and someone said, “Oh, you’re from the Jack of the Wood aren’t you?” And I knew exactly what that statement implied.


So I had to laugh good naturedly and said, “Yes, I am from the Jack of the Wood session in Asheville.” and with a wink said, “But I also play well with others and would rather have a good time, making friends, than fret over musical purity.” We all laughed out loud and it was then clear we understood each other, and went on to make great music.

The Stag’s Head –  Raleigh, NC

The next session I was able to attend was at the Stag’s Head, also in Raleigh, down the street from Tir Na Nog. This is a glorious session. It’s on a large stage! The stage doesn’t matter, but the amount of room each player has on that stage is fantastic. (Remember, I play at the Jack of the Wood often, where sometimes 18 people try to fit on a stage built for an acoustic singer/songwriter duo.) The players range in skill level, but they all get along nicely and play beautifully.



The Stag’s Head Irish Trad Session in Raliegh, NC

Alan, the accordion, concertina and whistle player can mesmerize you with his tunes. His whistle playing in particular, I could listen to for hours, so sweet and full of the spirit of what I imagine Irish music to be. Every other player too adds a nice touch to the group.  This session is a bit tighter, and I did not experience anything other than Irish music here.  The session at the Stag’s Head occurs on Sunday at 2 PM as of this writing.  It’s worth checking out, and does seem to be an open session. Meaning, there aren’t any obvious restrictions on who can play and who can’t.

Trali – Morrisville, NC

In Morrisville, NC there is an Irish Pub called Trali. I’m assuming this is a chain as I’ve seen them other places and this was the second one I encountered while in “the Triangle”. This session is a semi-closed session.  It seems to be you should probably know someone who already plays in the session, and you should be able to play a lot of tunes, keep a steady tempo, and not try to play when you don’t know the tunes.

Luckily, one of the players, Scott (a fantastic flute player), told me about this session.  He said he’d put in a good word for me with the session leader, whom I then corresponded with electronically. She said I was vouched for, and so welcome to attend, and then she asked if I played with the earlier session or the later session at Jack of the Wood.

This gave me pause.  Some of you who have been to the JOW sessions know there is an interesting culture between the earlier and later sessions. The earlier session is a rocking good time, but sometimes (not often these days) the tempo shifts or we get a brand new player who means well, but derails things a little. The later session is “a full-bore, you better be damned good, or we’ll ask you to leave” kind of a session. That can be intimidating, and not a lot of fun for folks who may be decent at their instrument, want to have a good time, and aren’t expecting to get ignored or told to leave because there is someone better in the audience who wants a seat.

So what was she asking?  Did she think the earlier session was sloppy?  Did she think the later session was too stressful?  Did she wonder if I was laid back like the earlier session?  Was she asking me if I was good enough to play with the later session? Who knows really? Musicians are a peculiar bunch (myself included). Sometimes people hold on to grudges.  Sometimes people maintain high standards at the expense of joyfulness… it goes on…so…

I decided to quit over thinking it and tell her the truth. I said, I personally really enjoy playing with both sessions for different reasons.  I have and can play in both sessions, but to be honest prefer the more laid back approach of the earlier session. That seemed to be the right answer, and so she gave me the time and day to show up.


A lovely time at Trali in Morrisville, NC

And this session was also glorious. Everyone was friendly, the musicianship was stellar, and there was plenty of room. (Can you tell, I like my space?) We sat around two tables pushed together, the waitress brought us beer, and we went around the circle each picking sets to play as we would. If you get a chance to listen to or be invited to play at the Trali session, I’d highly recommend it.


I was asked to attend a home session in between Stag’s Head and Trali. That was an excellent welcoming group of people made up from all the different sessions I had visited. And overall, my experience of the Irish Trad sessions in Raleigh and Morrisville were fantastic and just what I needed while away from the cool (because it’s hot as hell here!) Mist Covered Mountains of Asheville.


Farewell to Whalley Range

I’ve recently been turned on to a great tune called Farewell to Whalley Range.

See the mandolin tablature and standard notation here:  Farewell to Whalley Range

See the video of the tune being played by its composer below…

We played it during the last session in Marshall this past Tuesday.

Note the photo from the session…Notice Tim…guitarist/bazouki player for the band Noonday Feast (see: http://www.noondayfeast.com).

Tuesday night session in Marshall, NC at Goodstuff.  With Tim Potts of Noonday Feast playing guitar.

Tuesday night session in Marshall, NC at Goodstuff. With Tim Potts of Noonday Feast playing guitar.

Here is a clip of Dónal Lunny & Michael McGoldrick to play along with.

Farewell to Erin & Teampall An Ghleanntain

A new session started up in Marshall, NC.  I think its on every Tuesday.  You might want to call Good Stuff in Marshall to find out.  That is where it’s hosted.

I heard two great tunes my last time out.  Here are the tabs.

Farewell to Erin Mandolin Tablature and Standard Notation.

and another

Teampall An Ghleanntain Mandolin Tablature and Standard Notation.


Here is the Bothy Band playing Farewell to Erin


and here is Elly Marshall, David Surette and Owen Marshall starting off a set with Teampall An Ghleanntain.

Last Night at the Swannanoa Gathering

Had an excellent time jamming at the Swannanoa Gathering last night.  Got to see some old friends, meet some folks who read this blog (That was fun!).  Before I knew it, I looked at the clock and it was 12:58 in the morning!

Stu (octave and mandolin player) pulled out Devanney’s Goat, which I learned with him in David Surrette’s class two years ago (and promptly forgot the week after).  He’s inspired me to learn it and commit it to memory this time.  I’ll have it for next year Stu!

Anyway, looking forward to more playing with new and old friends this week.  In the meantime, here is a recording of two tunes that are great paired together.  It’s just the octave mandolin and a metronome.  Enjoy!

PS- If you read this blog often, send me a note and I’d like to find you on Facebook.  I enjoy meeting people who benefit from this little project.  Thanks for all your support.

Return from Fingal Counter Melody

Celtic Week is here!  In honor of this noble week I’ve been playing around with some recordings and tab to post.

So far, I’ve got a counter melody for Return from Fingal.

Here it is…

Return from Fingal Melody

This counter melody was composed by Jim Magill.  His wife, Beth, and I played a little gig in Hendersonville a month or so back, and she played this lovely counter melody on her flute while I played the tune on mandolin.  Before she packed up to attend the Swannanoa Gathering, I was able to get a copy of the music to tab out.  Ideally, I aim to create a recording of both these parts for the youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/ashevillemandolin.

Jack of the Wood July 7th, 2013 -- Irish Session

Jack of the Wood July 7th, 2013 — Irish Session — Sean, Ryan, Billy, Doug, Lynn, & Shannon

I have also been working on a recording of Na Ceannabhain Bhana/The Black Rogue/The Noon Day Feast .

So far I’ve got an octave mandolin track and a mandolin track.  Once, I get it tightened up and a backing track I’ll post it.

All three of these tune can be found in the Asheville Celtic Mandolin Collection.

Asheville Celtic Mandolin Collection

Asheville Celtic Mandolin Collection


Jigs from the FireStorm Cafe 2012 Imbolc Celebration

Last night we had an energetic, inspiring and moving evening of music at the Firestorm Cafe Imbolc Celebration.

The following recordings are from the performance.  Some of the photos are from the performance. Others are from sessions throughout the year.  The Rose in the Heather Set has photos from last night, for the most part.

I am definitely inspired to get back to learning new tunes, and perfecting technique!

Jack of The Wood Asheville NC Sunday Session

A videographer showed up on Sunday and decided he wanted to record some tunes.  He happened to get a recording of Dinny O’brien’s and Islay Ranter’s Reel from the earlier session, and a song from the later session.

Notice the lighting.  We did happen to have a number of mandolin family instruments at the first session.  Most of which were playing during those tunes.


Chord Scales to Accompany Irish Dance Music

Well…it’s official.  I’ve joined a band.  So far we have a whistle/flute player, a bodhran player, and myself on Octave and standard mandolin.  We’re working on our first recording, and creating a web site, and currently have 3 under the radar shows lined up here in Asheville.  As I was preparing for our recording and practice session later today, I began researching chord theory to accompany some of the tunes the flute player is interested in playing.  I stumbled upon this great resource.


The theory will apply to your mandolin, bazouki or octave mandolin accompaniment too.

“Chord Scales” and accompanying Irish dance music.

Ceilidh - Irish Music is Meant for Dancing, and a good backup to the melody can be fantastic done right.

by Han Speek © 1996

I – Which Scales Are Relevant ?

[You ‘d better believe this. To prove it, one would have to collect numerous Irish trad. dance tunes and classify them according to the scales they use. This is a huge task. Breandan Breathnach is one who performed such a task, resulting in his 3-part tune collection “Ceol Rince na hEirann”. He also published an analysis of Irish trad. music, in which he presents this classification of the scales used. I have used his work as one of my starting points.]

According to Breandan Breathnach in his “Folk Music & Dances of Ireland” there are only two major scales relevant to Irish folk music: the Dmajor scale and the Gmajor scale. Both of these scales fit naturally on the whistle/flute/pipes in D. [Note: Most Irish musicians who play an instrument in a different key than D still tend to think about it (and talk about it) as if it were in D. But the accompanists will have to transpose in such a case. Guitar/bouzouki players will usually resort to using a capo.]

         I  II III IV V  VI VII I
Dmajor:  D  E  F#  G  A  B  C#  d

Gmajor:  G  A  B   C  D  E  F#  g

By repeatedly applying a process that Breathnach calls “inversion”, which simply means detaching the first note from the scale, and appending it (actually, it’s octave higher equivalent) to the end of the scale, 7 alternate scales can be derived from this major scale: the “modal” or church music scales. Of these “modal” scales (again according to Breathnach) only 3 are relevant for Irish folk music: the ones based on the 2nd, 5th and 6th note of the major (or Ionian, as it is called in church music) scale, resulting respectively in Dorian, Mixolydian and Aeolian scales.

Scales based on Dmajor:
D major/D Ionian: D  E  F#  G  A  B  C#  d
E Dorian:            E  F#  G  A  B  C#  d  e
A Mixolydian:                  A  B  C#  d  e  f#  g  a
B Natural minor/Aeolian:          B  C#  d  e  f#  g  a  b

Scales based on Gmajor:
G major/G Ionian: G  A  B  C  D  E  F#  g
A Dorian:            A  B  C  D  E  F#  g  a
D Mixolydian:                 D  E  F#  g  a  b  c  d
E Natural minor/Aeolian:         E  F#  g  a  b  c  d  e

These 8 scales are the basis for Irish folk/dance music, and will lead us to deriving the appropriate chords for providing backup for this type of music. [Note: occasionally you will come across a tune in Amajor, a key which is not listed here. I’ve heard a theory (I think it was Arty McGlynn who told me this) that these tunes are not originally Irish, but imported from Scotland. The ideas presented here do not apply to such tunes – these can be dealt with using ordinary “Western art music” chord theory.]

II – From Scales To Chords.

Generally speaking, a chord is formed for any note in a scale by stacking 2 3rd intervals on top of it:

  1. pick a note (any note) in the scale (call it the “root”).
  2. skip the next note in the scale
  3. use the next note (call it 3rd)
  4. skip another
  5. use the next (3rd of the “3rd”, but 5th of our “root”)

(If you run into the end of the scale, then treat it like the snake that bit it’s own tail – continue counting at the start of the scale. Mind the octave note; it should be discarded in this case.) This way you can derive the basic triad for each chord.

For the Dmajor scale it would result in:

root: D  E  F# G  A  B  C# 
3rd : F# G  A  B  C# D  E
5th : A  B  C# D  E  F# G

(The same method can be applied to the other 7 scales. The results of that will be presented later. For now, we will continue the discussion, looking only at the Dmajor scale, since this is probably the most familiar to everyone.)

So far, making the step from scale to the elementary triads doesn’t differ from what the chord theory for “Western art music” also teaches us.

The next step would be to analyze, and name, the chords we have found. We used 3rd intervals to build these triads, and there are 2 kinds of 3rd intervals: major 3rd (skip 3 positions on guitar/bouzouki fretboard: D – F#) and minor 3rd (skip 2 positions on fretboard: E – G). A chord with a minor 3rd between root and 3rd is called a “minor” chord.

chord on D :  D   major 3rd  F#  minor 3rd  A   : Dmajor
chord on E :  E   minor 3rd  G   major 3rd  B   : Eminor
chord on F#:  F#  minor 3rd  A   major 3rd  C#  : F#minor
chord on G :  G   major 3rd  B   minor 3rd  D   : Gmajor
chord on A :  A   major 3rd  C#  minor 3rd  E   : Amajor
chord on B :  B   minor 3rd  D   major 3rd  F#  : Bminor
chord on C#:  C#  minor 3rd  E   minor 3rd  G   : Edim (2 minor 3rds stacked
is called a "diminished" chord in Western art music)

Here we encounter our first difference between “Western art music” theory, and what applies to Irish dance music accompaniment: “diminished” chords are _NOT_ used. So instead of the G in the chord on C#, we use the next note in the scale: A, which is 2 _major_ 3rd’s away from C#. This results in:


chord on C#:  C#  minor 3rd  E
                ----- our new note -----   A   : A/C#, 1st inversion of Amajor

[Note: An inversion of a chord can be obtained by applying the same circular shift as we used to get the derived scales from the major scale to the 3 notes that form the basic triad of a chord. The first shift results in a chord with the same 3 notes, but the 3rd as the root note – “1st inversion”; the second shift gives us the 5th as the root note – “2nd inversion”.]

III – Extending on the basic triads.

Since on both guitar and bouzouki (piano is a different case altogether) it is possible to play more than 3 notes simultaneously, our next step could be to see which notes might be added to the basic triads we have just derived.

Note doubling.

The simplest way to extend on the basic triad is note doubling: adding a note already present in the chord, either in the same octave or in a higher/lower octave than what we already have. Example: the D chord can be played as D – F# -A – D, or D – F# – A – F#, or even D – F# – A – F# – D (if you can find a fingering for this). This doubling of notes doesn’t change the name of the chord, since we still only use notes of the basic triad.

The 7th note.

Another likely note to add to a chord is the 7th step of the scale. Since we found our triads by stacking 3rd intervals, you might be tempted to find out what happens if you stack another 3rd. If you do so, you will have added a 7th – and it works. But the resulting chord’s use in Irish trad. music is not so frequent as it is in classical, pop, or for instance American folk music. In fact, there are only 2 chords in the chord scale where this 7th note isn’t obtrusive: the II and the V position of the chord scale. In all other positions of the scale it tends to stand out – it adds a jazzy flavour to the chord that often violates the character of the music.<.br> Applied to the II chord in the scale this adds to the chord the note which is the root note of the scale. This is something that works out quite pleasing for the other chords in our chord scale as well, and brings us close to a concept that is native to Irish music: droning, i.e. having one tone (usually the root) continuously present behind the actual tune. This is quite common practice in accompanying Irish music, no matter on what instrument, and is one of the reasons why open guitar tunings are so popular for backing up this type of music – the open strings are usually tuned to convenient drone notes.

IV – “Will-do” Chords

Up to now we ‘ve gone strictly “by the book”, so to speak. Everything I said up to now is thoroughly documented in literature. Now we’ve come to the point where we will leave this path, and introduce a concept that make life a lot easier. One thing you will probably have noticed about Irish dance music is that it’s usually played rather fast. And reading the above you will have thought: I won’t have time to change chords so often and so fast. Not to worry – most musicians, even the pro’s, don’t. Often they will substitute the theoretically correct chord with something that’s easier to change to, or even the chord they were already holding down, with a suitable bass note to create the impression that they were using the proper chord progression. These chords I have, just for ease of discussion, named “will-do” chords, because they “will do” the job of an other chord with a lot less work. One very frequently used example of this would be the 1st inversion of D, the D/F#, which is almost always used in the place of an F#m in the D scale. Similarly, the G/B can be used instead of the Bm. Some people, including Arty McGlynn, will often even use a D chord with an E bass instead of an Em, something that wouldn’t make sense normally (how’s that for a chord – D, E and F# together in one chord. Try naming this one :-)), but in places where you’re just “passing thru'” the Em chord in a chord progression, it works. And it’s a lot easier (especially if you’re using DADGAD) than trying to quickly change from fingering a D chord to an Em.

V – The Most Useful Chord Scales.

[Note: the indicated 7ths (between brackets) are optional]

Dmajor chord scale:
root: D   E   F#  G   A   B   C# 
3rd : F#  G   A   B   C#  D   E
5th : A   B   C#  D   E   F#  A
7th :    (D)         (G)

Name: D   Em  F#m G   A   Bm  A/C#
          (7)        (7)

E Dorian chord scale:
root: E   F#   G   A   B   C#   D
3rd : G   A    B   C#  D   E    F#  
5th : B   C#   D   E   F#  A    A
7th :    (E)          (A)

Name: Em  F#m  G   A   Bm  A/C# D
          (7)          (7)

A Mixolydian chord scale:
root: A   B   C#   D   E   F#  G
3rd : C#  D   E    F#  G   A   B
5th : E   F#  A    A   B   C#  D
7th :    (A)          (D)

Name: A   Bm  A/C# D   Em  F#m G
          (7)          (7)

B Natural minor/Aeolian chord scale:
root: B   C#   D   E   F#  G   A
3rd : D   E    F#  G   A   B   C#
5th : F#  A    A   B   C#  D   E
7th :    (B)          (E)

Name: Bm  A/C# D   Em  F#m G   A
          (+B)         (7)

G major/G Ionian chord scale:
root: G   A   B   C   D   E   F#
3rd : B   C   D   E   F#  G   A
5th : D   E   F#  G   A   B   D
7th :    (G)         (C)

Name: G   Am  Bm  C   D   Em  D/F#
          (7)         (7)

A Dorian chord scale:
root: A   B   C   D   E   F#   G
3rd : C   D   E   F#  G   A    B
5th : E   F#  G   A   B   D    D
7th :    (A)         (D)

Name: Am  Bm  C   D   Em  D/F# G
          (7)         (7)

D Mixolydian chord scale:
root: D   E   F#   G   A   B   C
3rd : F#  G   A    B   C   D   E
5th : A   B   D    D   E   F#  G
7th :    (D)          (G)

Name: D   Em  D/F# G   Am  Bm  C
          (7)          (7)

E Natural minor/Aeolian chord scale:
root: E   F#   G   A   B   C   D
3rd : G   A    B   C   D   E   F#
5th : B   D    D   E   F#  G   A
7th :    (E)          (A)

Name: Em  D/F# G   Am  Bm  C   D
          (+E)         (7)

[Since many players I've met find Em hard to deal with in DADGAD, an option
would be to capo at 2nd fret, and play Dm. But then you would need a scale for
Dm. Here it is.]
D Natural minor/Aeolian chord scale:
root: D   E    F   G   A   Bb  C 
3rd : F   G    A   Bb  C   D   E
5th : A   C    C   D   E   F   G
7th :    (D)          (G)

Name: Dm  C/E  F   Gm  Am  Bb  C
          (+D)         (7)

[This one shouldn't be here, really, since it's derived from the scale of C.
But I've come across it a couple of times, mostly for Irish tunes that were
arranged by American musicians. So it may be handy to have available.]
D Dorian chord scale:
root: D   E   F   G   A   B    C 
3rd : F   G   A   B   C   D    E
5th : A   B   C   D   E   G    G
7th :    (D)         (G)

Name: Dm  Em  F   G   Am  G/B  C
          (7)         (7)

Old Bush and the Maple Leaf

Two nights ago, at the White Horse in Black Mountain, NC, we played these two tunes together.  The Old Bush and The Maple Leaf.

(Ye) Old Bush <–tab

The Maple Leaf <–tab

For you guitar flatpickers, here are those same tunes tabbed out in standard tuning and DADGAD.

(Ye) Old Bush Standard Guitar     The Maple Leaf Guitar

(Ye) Old BushDADGAD    The Maple Leaf DADGAD

While I’ve always found the “chopped off head” youtube videos kind of strange, this is the best one I could find at the time for The Maple Leaf.

Celtic Week 2011

Trip to Breakfast on Monday Morning

The Swannanoa Gathering Celtic Week 2011 began with 4 classes: Session guitar 1, with David Surette; Mandolin 2, with David Surette; Session Guitar 2, with John Doyle; Bazouki, with Eamon O’Leary.  I made it through all of the first day, missed first period on the second day, decided to scratch the Bazouki class on the third day, and made it to all three classes today.  The brain is awash with musical, guitar, and mandolin knowledge, and I am looking forward to letting it sink in tonight, during the all night jam sessions.

David’s classes are excellent.  He is a knowledgeable patient and easy-to-follow teacher. He’s also very good about staying after class to answer questions and a joy to chat with after a late night jam.  Today he obligingly gave me some ideas on how to play some interesting chordal backup to Peter Byrne’s Fancy, and Creeping Docken.  (I’ll post those tabs soon, since they are my favorite, and they turn up a lot on this site!)  Coincidentally, during the session guitar 2 class, John Doyle, decided to also pull out Peter Byrne’s Fancy and give us a nice run through of some rhythmic grooves.  (If you see me tonight at the jam sessions, and you want to play those tunes, pull me aside.  I’m all for it.)

D Chord Family Substitutions from David Surrette's Guitar Session 1 Class

John’s class started out great. He went over his basic techniques, in regards to how to use your arm and not your wrist, and also how you keep your arm swinging in time, non-stop, and use more accents on volume to get different rhythmic patterns.  I’m trying out his advise for a .73 mm dunlop nylon pick (yuck), and it’s working so far, but we’ll see if I stick with it.

Eamon’s class was good, but I had already had enough to absorb from those first three classes, that getting into bazouki was just too much for my brain at present.  Besides, I want to become a better rhythmic player anyway, and he’s very good on timing, but his initial approach was a bit more melodic.

Last night was a night of rest, so skipped the jamming.  But Thursday…I’m rested, revved up and ready to go.  Tonight’s forecast:

Scattered thunderstorms this evening followed by a few showers overnight. Low 66F. Winds ENE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40%.

Good thing there are tents!

Tuesday Night Early Evening