Page last updated 14 September 2021
Since I first started playing Irish music, I’ve been drawn to writing my own compositions. It’s a risky endeavour. Irish traditional music is – as the name would imply – a fairly conservative medium. The vast majority of those who play the tunes are interested in keeping “the canon” (albeit a pretty big canon!) alive. So sometimes those who write tunes in keeping with the idioms come in for a bit of criticism – the implication being that there are hundreds of tunes out there that we could be learning, instead of cluttering up the airspace with unnecessary new additions.
I have a certain amount of sympathy with that position. And yet … sometimes when I’m playing the mandolin, the germ of a tune simply comes to me unbidden and I find myself nurturing it for a bit until I’m happy that I’ve got something which is genuinely “new” (although true to the tradition) and of a reasonable quality (a tune I’d be happy to share in a simpatico session).
And so, as this site develops, I’d like to share some of those tunes with you. With some of the stories that lie behind them. If you like them, let me know. If you don’t like them, let me know. If you think they deviate too far from the acceptable boundaries of the tradition, let me know. If you think they’re too similar to tunes which are already in circulation, let me know (see, for example, my “stop press” about The Cocky Hornpipe and The Cocky March below). If you’d like to incorporate them into your repertoire, let me know…
Added 14 September 2021. I’ve been playing a lot of jigs lately. I’ve recently picked up a few that I’ve been drilling into my head and into my fingers and it’s clearly triggered some connections in my brain. In an idle moment, the germ of this tune came to me. I call it The Bittersweet Jig because, to my ear, the second part of the tune has a melancholy feel which contrasts with the bright feel of the first part… Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing The Bittersweet Jig on my Falder mandolin.
Added 11 September 2021. A few months ago I wrote a reel called Dan Molloy’s (see here). The name was a portmanteau tribute to two fellow mandolinists who have been a great support to me in my musical endeavours with their kind words and warm thoughts over the past few years, Dan Forney and Lawrence Molloy. A few days ago I was “messing about” with the reel and it occurred to me that it was one of those reels which might easily transition to a jig. And so, here is Dan Molloy’s Jig. Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing Dan Molloy’s Jig on my Falder mandolin. Listen to me playing Dan Molloy’s Jig on my Ashbury AT-40 tenor guitar.
Added 4 July 2021. The title of this march in A Dorian will strike a chord with anyone who has read Flann O’Brien’s work of genius “The Third Policeman”. (And if you haven’t read it yet, I’d urge you to do so. And I’m jealous of the treat that lies in store for you.) Hot off the press – The March Of The One-Legged Men – written and recorded in 2 versions this morning. Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing The March Of The One-Legged Men on my G&O #34 mandolin. Listen to me playing The March Of The One-Legged Men on my Ashbury AT-40 tenor guitar. ABC below:
Added 1 July 2021. I’ve just finished reading a lovely, thought-provoking book called “The Gospel Of The Eels” by Patrik Svensson. And then this polka came to me. The title seemed obvious. The Elver. Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing The Elver on my G&O #34 mandolin. Listen to me playing The Elver on my Ashbury AT-40 tenor guitar. ABC below.
Added 23 May 2021. On 8 May 2021 I added a reel which I’d written, called Dan Molloy’s. The name was a mash-up of the names of two fellow mandolinists who have been very kind supporters of my musical efforts since I started this website and its complementary YouTube channel and was written as a tribute to both. One of the gents in question is Dan Forney (the “Dan” of the title) who plays mandolin and guitar. Dan emailed me shortly after receiving the tune to say that he would learn it and, true to his word, he did! He has posted two versions of his playing the tune on YouTube. Listen to Dan Forney playing Dan Molloy’s on mandolin. Listen to Dan Forney playing Dan Molloy’s on guitar. Dan Forney’s YouTube channel.
I found myself with a little free time on my hands and so, with Dan’s permission, I grabbed the audio from his guitar rendition of the tune and added some of my mandolin playing over the top. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, musical collaborations are possible even when thousands of miles and around 80 billion billion gallons of water (thanks, Google!) separate the players! Listen to Dan Forney (guitar) and Aidan Crossey (mandolin) play Dan Molloy’s.
Added 22 May 2021. The Hovering Dewdrop. Picture the scene… A beautiful summer dawn, the buzz of insects as I stroll through a misty meadow. A rose-tinted sky, the promise of warmth and the bluest of mantles to shroud the world and all its creatures. My eyes light upon a glint in the pure crystal perfection of a drop of dew, clinging precariously to a blade of grass and the title for a tune comes to me. Idyllic, yeah? Sadly, I’m going to burst your bubble. This tune was named after a parish priest when I was growing up. A man who braved the elements when visitying his elderly parishioners and as a result often suffered the scourge of a runny nose when entering the wamth of inddors from the bitter cold of outside. As a child I was fascinated by the dewdrop which formed at the tip of his nose and watched and waited – part-anxious, part-amused – for he and it to part company. Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing the tune on my G&O #34 mandolin. ABC below…
Added 19 May 2021. A reel which I wrote and recorded yesterday while it was still very fresh in my mind. The Look-See Reel. A “look-see” is a phrase which people used when and where I was growing to refer to a “visual examination”… For example, “Give me a look-see at thon mandolin!” or “I can’t get my head round thon tune at all; give me a look-see at the tab to see if I can make head or tail out of it!”. Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing The Look-See Reel on my G&O #34 mandolin. ABC below:
Added 19 May 2021. My trawl through an archive of tunes which I wrote quite some time ago continues. If I’m being perfectly honest, a lot of tunes I wrote back at the beginning of the 2000s don’t stand the test of time. However a few still have some merit – sometimes being improved immensely by the tweak of just one phrase.
The Leaky Currach is a jig in D Major whose name was inspired by an episode when on holiday with my family in Achill Island, Co Mayo back in the mid-1970s. My father had borrowed a currach (the traditional rowing boat of the west coast of Ireland) so that we could do a spot of fishing in Dugort Bay, near to a few caves which are home to a colony of seals but also a fishing spot which tended to yield a few decent catches. However it soon became apparent that the currach wasn’t quite watertight and therefore I spent the afternoon bailing it out. So much for a quiet afternoon fishing! Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me play The Leaky Currach on my G&O #34 mandolin. ABC below:
The Distant Steeple is a jig in A Major which I was very pleasantly surprised to rediscover. It’s a bit of a workout, covering all four strings and since A Major is one of the lesser-used keys in Irish Traditional Music, you may want to take a slow run-up to this one until your fingers become used to patterns which you may not use very often… The name is inspired by the view from the window of my parents’ room when I was growing up. On the near horizon is the steeple of St Peter’s church in Lurgan. Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me play The Distant Steeple on my G&O #34 mandolin. ABC below:
The Giving Hand is a slide in D Major. The title is inspired by one of Brendan Behan’s favourite sayings, “May the giving hand never falter!”. Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me play The Giving Hand on my G&O #34 mandolin. ABC below:
Added 17 May 2021. One of the first reels I composed was named in memory of my paternal grandfather John Crossey. Granda John was the father of 12 children. 4 of his sons and one of his daughters died before him, as did his wife Josie while still a relatively young woman. The weight of grief must have been staggering and yet he bore life’s trials with a stoicism and grace that is a lesson to everyone who knew him. A great man for the music I remember the odd occasion after my father died when he would take me out for the afternoon on a Sunday to pubs just across the border and encourage me to sing a few songs. (I didn’t play the tunes at that point…) He had a heart and soul of pure, solid gold. The world was a better place for his presence; a colder and harder place when he took his leave. At times of doubt and turmoil, when hard decisions need to be made, I often ask myself “what would John Crossey do?”. There’s an old cliché – “there’ll never be his likes again”. In John Crossey’s case the cliché is spot-on.
As for the tune. Well, I almost wish I’d waited until I’d written a better tune before I gave this reel its name. There are a lot of stock phrases – in the first part in particular. However the second part is a little more inventive (and also deceptively tricky to play). I like to think that if I had been able to play the tunes while he was still alive and we had found ourselves on a random Sunday in Omeath or Carlingford or Castleblaney – escaping the dull and dry strictures of a Northern Ireland “Lord’s Day” – he’d have appreciated the tune!
Added 17 May 2021. One of the jigs I wrote in my first flush of composing tunes was a 3-parter called Beef To The Heel. The title comes from a phrase used back in Ireland to describe someone who is, shall we say, a little “sturdy”. He or she is “beef to the heel, like a Mullingar heifer”. Many years ago I ran a website called Pay The Reckoning. I was originally intending to call the site “Beef To The Heel” but was dissuaded by a friend who suggested the phrase was too obscure and wold have very little resonance outside Ireland. Hmmm. I often wish I’d followed my gut instinct on that one!
Added 17 May 2021. I’ve been revisiting some tunes which I wrote back in the early to mid-2000s and in amongst the dross (what was I thinking!) I’ve found a clutch of tunes which – to my surprise – I’ve found myself quite enjoying. I hope to set them out in tablature and record sound files for them over the course of the next little while in the hope that you, too, might get some pleasure from playing them.
The first of today’s crop is a reel in A Dorian called The Streets Of Paradise. The title comes from – of all things – a monologue at the start of a song called One By One by a band called Ruefrex, one of the many punk bands from Northern Ireland who recorded for the Good Vibrations label run by Terri Hooley during the late 1970s/early 1980s. The monologue goes (if my memory serves me right – it was a long time ago) – “Shall we sit down together for a while?/Here on the hillside/Where we can look down on the city in the sunset/So old, so sick with memories/Old women – some, they say, are damned/But you, I know, will walk the streets of paradise/The old woman said “No”.”
Added 15 May 2021. Every small town has its legendary characters and when I was growing up, my hometown of Lurgan in County Armagh boasted several, one of whom was The Liar Kelly. He was a man not to be believed. One of his boasts was of a greyhound he once favoured. So fast was said dog that the owner had no qualms about entering her in a big race, even though she was heavily pregnant. Halfway through the race, the inevitable happened and she had to stop running in order to give birth to her litter. Four fine pups. And despite the pause, mother went on to win the race comfortably. Her litter finished second, third, fourth and fifth! This jig is written in memory of The Liar Kelly and characters like him who now seem, sadly, to be far fewer in number than in the days of my childhood… Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing the tune on my G&O #34 mandolin.
Added 14 May 2021. Is Bridget Mary? The title of this tune started out as an in-joke. I wrote it in 2004 at a time when I was in the first flush of getting to grips with this music and I spent a lot of time on various internet forums discussing and disputing. (I think most of us have wised up a lot since then as we’ve seen how those sorts of discussion forums can be quite toxic and so we tend to be less “controversial”, more guarded in our online interactions. Less than 20 years ago and it already seems like a more innocent time!)
In one of those discussions, I was talking about how to my mind there is a striking similarity between the death scene in the Cuchulainn myth and the death scene in the Jesus story. The aloneness at the end – Jesus deserted by his followers; Cuchulainn lured into an ambush, his powers having been depleted by having been tricked into breaking his taboos. Erect, facing outward – Jesus nailed to a cross; Cuchulainn tied to a stone so he could look his enemies in the eye. I was musing whether the Cuchulainn death scene might have had the same emotional resonance in pre-Christian times as the death scene in the New Testament? Someone weighed in with the observation that all mythologies and the stories underpinning religions have features in common and indeed “newer” religions often tend to absorb elements of previous religions in order to appear more relevant. In that case, I mused, is Bridget Mary?
One of my friends immediately said “That’s a tune title, if ever I heard one.” And having thrown down the gauntlet, I set about trying to write a tune which fitted the title. (The only time, to my memory, I’ve ever attempted to write a tune to order.) I mentioned below that when I’m writing a tune, I often hear “in my mind’s ear” the melody being played by an instrument other than my mandolin. In this case I heard this tune being played on the low whistle… I can hear it yet. Slowly and mournfully… and then picking up a little bit of pace on each repeat but never accelerating beyond a speed at which the plaintive quality of the tune is lost. And it’s interesting how an in-joke has given rise to a tune for which, after almost 20 years, I still have a fondness.
Added 13 May 2021. We all have our ways of expressing our emotions and for me, they often emerge in moments when I am alone with one of my instruments.
This tune, The Innocents’ Jig, was written, on11 May 2021 when a coroner ruled that the victims of the Ballymurphy Masscare, some 50 years earlier, were in the coroner’s words and contrary to official statements which have been regurgitated ever since, “entirely innocent of wrongdoing”.
There will be lots of words spoken and written about this verdict in the days and weeks to come and many of them by people who are wiser and more eloquent than myself. So, I’ll let the music do the talking for me and I’ll talk a little bit about the music below.
When I’m writing tunes, I sometimes have the sound of another instrument in my head as I write. In this case, I could hear in my mind’s ear this tune being carried by a piper – at maybe three quarters of the speed at which I play it in this video, to allow some of the longer notes to sound to best effect. My recording is a mere sketch. I don’t have access to sophisticated recording and mixing equipment and wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway… but I hope that the small bit of layering in the repeat shows that the tune is one which can be built on by accommodating a range of instrumental voices and that, hopefully, it’s a worthy tribute to the innocent people who died in this horrific spree. And indeed to all innocent people everywhere who have lost their lives in violent ends.
Added 13 May 2021. A small little tiny wee thing of a reel and yet it’s been 20 years in the making. I first wrote this tune back in 2001 in the key of D Major. I picked it up from an old notebook today and started to play it and found it rather too “squeaky” for my present-day ear. And so I wondered what it would sound like moved down to G. Much better! The Kesh Hill is one of the two hills that rise up from an otherwise fairly level road that runs from Lurgan through to Derrymacash where I was born. (“The Kesh” or “The Cash” is a nickname for Derrymacash. The other hill is commonly known as Wolf’s Island Hill.) Mandolin tab and sheet music available here. Listen to me playing the tune on my G&O #34 mandolin here. ABC below.
Added 8 May 2021. I wrote, tabbed and recorded this tune this morning as a tribute to two fellow mandolinists who have been incredibly supportive of my mandolinery both at this website and at my YouTube channel. I’ll not name them to spare their blushes but the title of this reel in A Dorian – Dan Molloy’s – is a mash-up of their monikers… So, many thanks, fellows. Your warm words and many kindnesses are much appreciated. Mandolin tab and sheet music available here. Listen to me playing the tune with a repeat on my G&O #34 mandolin. Listen to me playing the tune (no repeat) on my Kentucky KM1000 mandolin. Listen to me playing the tune (no repeat) on my Ashbury AT-40 Tenor Guitar. ABC below.
Added 6 May 2021. A few weeks ago I was building a “structure” in my back garden – basically four upright two-metre high fence posts to allow me to drape some camouflage netting on top to create some dappled shade in the seating area. (Last year we had some fierce warm days and there was nowhere to escape from the sun. As luck would have it, the past month has been “foundering” and although the weather has been dry and quite sunny, the temperature has remained stubbornly at the “brrrrrrr” end of the thermometer.) Anyway, as I was erecting said structure, enjoying a moment of appearing to know what I’m doing with a selection of power tools and big lumps of wood (sorry, it’s a primal urge with we middle-aged men!), a neighbour observed my labours and asked, “Are you building a pagoda?”. She meant “pergola”, of course. But although her malapropism was fairly obvious, the question still tickled (tickles) me. I was working on a reel at the time which was still unfinished and “gan ainm”. When I eventually finished the tune, the name was inevitable. So here it is. The Pagoda. Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing the tune on my G&O #34 mandolin here. ABC below.
Added 5 May 2021. I’m surfing a creative wave at the moment. It’s been brought on by acquiring a new tenor guitar and somehow the difference and difficulty in navigating the bigger scale of what I jokingly call “an maindilín mór” (literally “the big mandolin”) has opened up possibilities that I may have glossed over in the past. Well, that and the fact that I have a lot of time on my hands and I rarely have a moment when I’m not playing one of my instruments. The following tune suggested itself last night while I was busying myself with my tenor guitar. I’d had a bit of an unsettling moment a little while earlier and I was a bit agitated. I often find that I’m at my most creative when there’s a disturbance in the force. This took me some time to get to the point where I was happy to say that it was finished and I believe that it may be among the most satisfying tunes I have written to date. (Certainly by the time I had finished it my earlier agitation had gone…)
That’s a lot of preamble. Sorry! The tune is a hornpipe in G Major called The Seven Derries. It sounds very traditional but I’ve searched all over the internet to make sure that I’m not plagiarising something which has already been written (see my notes on The Cocky Hornpipe/The Cocky March below) and I’m pleased to say that apart from one or two stock phrases which effectively define the tune as a hornpipe, most of the phrases are pretty unique.
As for the title. It refers to the area on the southern shores of Lough Neagh where I grew up, also known as The Montiaighs or The Montiaghs. (Pronouned “mon-chees” and an anglicisation of the original Irish name “Mona Tí”, literally “home of the peat”.) The Montiaghs comprises a number of “townlands” which are named after the oak forests which used to cover this part of County Armagh (“doire” in Irish, which becomes “derry” when anglicised is the term for an oak wood). So, I lived in Derrymacash (“McCash’s Oak Wood”) just up the way from Derryadd (“High Oak Wood”) and a few miles from Derrytrasna (“The Oak Wood At The Crossroads”) and so on… Derryloiste, Derrycrow, Derryinver and Derrytagh make up the remainder of Seven Derries.
So, here’s the tune. I hope you find it as worthy of inclusion here as I do. The playing is a little bit clunky – I recorded this very quickly after writing it and I find it takes time for a tune to become fluent. I may post later versions here in due course; for the moment I’m simply excited to get this tune “out there”! Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing the tune on my Ashbury AT-40 tenor guitar here. Listen to me playing the tune on my G&O #34 mandolin here. Added 11 May 2021. For a bit of fun I recorded the tune on my 1950’s Ukrainian 4-string domra. Listen here. ABC below:
Added 2 May 2021. Out of the same burst of creativity which gave birth to The Kindness Of Strangers (see below), came this new jig. I have to say that it’s one of those tunes whose first few bars just “wrote themselves” and I then spent a pleasant/frustrating (delete as appropriate) half hour or so using that as a foundation for the remainder of the tune. I drafted two or three separate versions before deciding that the version here is the keeper. Named Miss Benson’s Fancy as a tribute to my partner’s long-time best friend who is one of the most warm-hearted, funny, immensely likeable people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. She’s incredibly supportive of my efforts as well and this tune is a way of saying thanks to her for her warm words about my musical endeavours. Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing the tune on my G&O #34 mandolin. Added 11 May 2021. Listen to the tune on my 1950s Ukrainian 4-string domra. ABC below.
Added 2 May 2021. A new mazurka. I have a great fondness for cinderella tune forms such as the mazurka and during the course of an idle hour yesterday, this tune started to form itself out of phrases which I was toying with. Immediately I started to work on structuring them, transcribing and – eventually – recording my playing of the tune. The mazurka is called The Kindness Of Strangers in tribute to the many people who have been in contact with me since I began work on this website and the accompanying Twitter page, YouTube channel, etc. So much goodwill and support! It’s been genuinely quite touching. So, this one’s for you… Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing the tune on my G&O #34 mandolin. Added 11 May 2021. Listen to the tune on my 1950s Ukrainian 4-string domra. ABC below.
Added 23 April 2021. A hornpipe which I wrote a few years ago. Called The Leap Of Faith. It’s been a while since I played this and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I still got a kick out of it. Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing the tune on my G&O #34 mandolin.
Added 9 April 2021. I came across a jig I wrote many years ago which I had completely forgotten about. I called it The Accidental Jig because I didn’t set out deliberately to write a tune. It just emerged as I was playing around aimlessly. As, indeed, do most of the tunes I’ve composed so I suppose they could all be called “accidental”. Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing the tune on my Kentucky KM1000 mandolin…
Added 26 March 2021. I was a little surprised a few days ago to receive an email out of the blue from a contact who tells me that one of my jigs – The Singing Cement Mixer – is regularly played at his local session in The States. (Or rather was played as the session, like virtually all sessions worldwide, is now on pause awaiting the return to “normal life”.) Someone picked it up from tablature that I posted at The Mandolin Cafe very very many years ago and it kind of became a fixture there. He asked what the title means. Well… When I was growing up a local lad was wheeled out to sing at church events and social functions. He was a hefty lump of a fellow (you wouldn’t want him on your knee for long!). He had a great soprano voice, to be fair to him, but his choice of material was a bit on the “tura lura” spectrum and, kids being kids, on account of his build and his tendency to warble in public he earned the nickname “The Singing Cement Mixer”. I;d forgotten all about him until a conversation with a friend reminded me and we had a good laugh about the aptness and yet surrealism of his alias. It was too good an image to remain confined simply to local kids’ folklore from the distant past so when I wrote this jig, I felt the urge to “immortalise” the nickname…. Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing the tune on my Kentucky KM1000 mandolin.
Added 10 February 2021. Finalised and recorded today, 10 February 2021. The Carousel Hornpipe. I’m indebted to John Cradden of thecelticmandolin.co.uk for helping me to come up with the title for this. I sent John a copy of the hornpipe in its “working title” format and he suggested it had a fairground feel. That got my mind racing and the “carousel” moniker came to me in a flash. I think it really suits this quite complex hornpipe. Interesting to compare just how much my compositions have developed by contrasting this tune with Gerry Crossey’s hornpipe below which is a much simpler tune (but no less of a “keeper” for that). Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing the tune on my G&O #34 mandolin.
Added 10 February 2021. Gerry Crossey’s Hornpipe. This was probably the first tune I ever wrote and I dedicated it to my late father, Gerry Crossey. It’s an incredibly simple tune but I find it very catchy and it’s been embedded in my tune memory ever since I wrote it. I recorded it in February 2021 on my G&O #34 mandolin. It’s interesting to compare it with the most recent tune I wrote – The Carousel Hornpipe – which I will also post here today. Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing the tune on my G&O #34 mandolin.
Added 7 February 2021. The Orchard County Polka. This came to me today out of the blue. It’s named The Orchard County after my home county of Armagh. Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing the tune on my G&O #34 mandolin.
STOP PRESS: 16 April 2021. An email from an acquaintance suggested that I have a listen to a barndance called “If There Weren’t Any Women In The World” as part 1 of that tune sounds very like my “cocky” tune. He was absolutely right… In my defence, “If There Weren’t Any Women In The World” is not a tune which I was familiar with and which (at the time of writing) I don’t consider to be part of my repertoire. However it’s quite possible that I have heard it at some stage and subconsciously the tune seeped into my mind. It just goes to show that “writing” tunes in traditional styles is a perilous business. I’m going to let The Cocky March and The Cocky Hornpipe stand because I think the second part is sufficiently different from “If There Weren’t Any Women In The World” to create clear blue water between the tunes. However as penance I will learn, tab and record “If There Weren’t…” and I’ll not be playing the cocky tune in either its hornpipe or march versions in public from this point onwards.
Added 5 February 2021. The Cocky Hornpipe. In G Major. This is one of those tunes which I can’t be sure I actually composed or whether, in fact, it’s a tune I’ve dredged up from my memory and haven’t been able to place. It arrived with me one night as I was sitting around noodling and took very little time to “fall into place”. It has quite a Scottish feel to me (and in fact I first thought of it as fling – but it seems to slot quite well into sets with other hornpipes which I play). And why “cocky”? Well, there’s a certain swagger to this tune, in particular to the cheeky sharp “c” in the 4th bar of the 1st and 2nd parts. It’s also got a structure which I quite like in that the last 4 bars of the 2nd part mirror the last 4 bars of the 1st part; there’s something about the symmetry of tunes like which appeals to me. (Or maybe I’m just lazy – fewer phrases to learn! 🙂 ). Mandolin tab and sheet music here. Listen to me playing the tune on my G&O #34 mandolin.
Added 5 February 2021. The Cocky March. A 4/4 march in G Major. Some hornpipes lend themselves very readily to being converted to 4/4 marches. (On the “learn some tunes” page, I’ve posted an example of The Showman’s Fancy played as a march.) The Cocky Hornpipe is one of those tunes which, with a slightly different accentuation, transitions to a march very easily. The only real change, apart from the stress on individual notes is to change the last bar of each part. In the hornpipe version the final bar of each part would read in abc as G2FG G2; in the march version I’ve notated/tabbed the final bar of each part as G2GG G2. In my playing I don’t stress quite as many of the phrases as in the notation – I’ll leave it up to you, if you like the tune, to decide just how far you want to accentuate every one of the phrases in march rhythm… Mandolin tab and sheet music available here. Listen to me playing the tune on my Eastman MD304 mandolin.
Added 26 January 2021. The Dabchick – a jig in G Major. A tune I wrote in the early 2000s. “Dabchick” is a colloquial name for the small waterfowl called the little grebe. I grew up not far from Lough Neagh and dabchicks were a common sight during my childhood. Mandolin and sheet music available here. Listen to me playing the tune in January 2021 on my G&O #34 mandolin.
Added 19 January 2021. The Top Of The Tree – a reel in A Major. Another “rescued” tune which I came across in an old notebook as I was clearing out. I tweaked a few of the phrases but essentially the heart of the tune remains as it was when I wrote it. I keep thinking as I play it that it’s quite close to a slide… Who knows what was going through my head when I wrote it and what I was listening to which may have unconsciously inspired it? Mandolin tab and sheet music available here. Listen to me playing the tune in January 2021 on my G&O #34 mandolin. ABC file below.
Added 17 January 2021. Another of the tunes which I’ve “rescued” from a pile that I was convinced would no longer be worth playing. Bat Fowling is a jig in D Major whose name refers to the practice carried out by a small handful of people in the part of the world in which I grew up of capturing live birds at night in their nests or roosts by means of startling them with a torch. A tad non-green and yet it developed in those who practised the art a deep feeling and knowledge of birds’ habits, etc. After 1969, when it would not have been safe to be creeping about the fields at night with a torch for fear of running into an army patrol, the practice just about died out… Mandolin tab and sheet music available here. Listen to me playing the tune in January 2021 on my G&O #34 here. ABC file below.
Added 12 January 2021. The Minaun Jig. Another tune which I have resurrected from the pile of tunes that I composed in the early 2000s. I originally wrote this in A and when I started playing it through after many years I found that I liked the melody but the fingering was a little tricky in places. So I dropped the tune down into G as an experiment and I believe it works a lot better. Certainly the fingering on mandolin is a lot less challenging. The jig’s named after a beautiful hill and cliffs in Achill Island – The Minaun Heights/Minaun Cliffs – which formed the backdrop to many a visit there over the years. A picture of said vista follows – proof, if proof is needed, that they are indeed a magnificent sight. Mandolin tab and sheet music available here. Listen to me playing the tune here. The abc file follows:
Added 11 January 2021. Farewell To The White Horse. Yet another tune which I’ve trawled up from those that I wrote over the years. This was written in 2006 and commemorates the passing of the great sessions that used to be held at The White Horse in Bethnal Green, East London. As is so often tragically the case, this boozer has now closed its doors. But in the early 2000s it hosted some great all-night sessions on a Wednesday through to daylight on Thursday where I learned many a new tune and made many a good friend. Glory days, indeed! Mandolin tab and sheet music available here. Listen to me playing the tune in 2021 on my G&O #34 mandolin. The abc file follows:
Added 7 January 2021. The Crabbit Childer. I’m continuing my trawl through tunes I have composed over the years and this is one which surprised me. In my opinion it’s worth saving – hence today’s recording. I can’t remember what exactly was going on in my life on the day in 2001 when I named this jig. However it’s a safe bet to say that I was exasperated by either my own son and his friends or perhaps by the offspring of family or friends because the title is dialect from my part of Northern Ireland for “bad-tempered children”. When playing it through I have decided to change bar 2 of the second part from “efe efe” to “efA efA” – it seemed to me to be better and more logical fit. As always, I’m very interested to hear what people think of these self-composed tunes so don’t hesitate to get in touch via the contact me page. Listen to me playing the tune on my G&O #34 mandolin. Mandolin tablature and sheet music available here.
Added 6 January 2021. Arthur John Donnelly. Way back when – 1999?, 2000? – I was busily writing tune after tune. I have been revisiting some of them in recent days and while a lot of the tunes are a bit “meh”, I’ve found myself thinking that one or two are worth recording. One of these is the jig Arthur John Donnelly – named after my maternal grandfather. It’s a jig in the “Kitty Lie Over” family. Incidentally, Josephine Keegan of South Armagh – a renowned composer, musician, accompanist and tune collector – published this tune in her book “A Drop In The Ocean”. So I suppose it has the imprimatur of one of the giants of the tradition. Listen to me playing the tune here on the G&O #34 mandolin which has been kindly gifted to me by Michael Gregory. Mandolin tablature and sheet music available here.
Added 29 November 2020. The Tiny Butler. My little nephew, Louis, now 6 years old has always been very independently-minded and loves to be “busy”. To the extent that if there’s a job to be done, Louis is quick to volunteer. Anyone need a cup of tea? A few biscuits? Plates need clearing away and stacking the dishwasher? Ferrying cooked food from the barbecue back into the house and raw food from the house out to the barbecue? Louis’s the man for the job. Hence the affectionate nickname, “The Tiny Butler”. This polka in D Major is a tribute to his energy, his competence beyond his years and his funny little ways! Listen to me playing the tune here. Mandolin tablature and sheet music available here. ABC available here. Added 11 May. Listen to me playing the tune on my 1950s Ukrainian 4-string domra.
Added 28 October 2020. One Tree Hill. The “nucleus” of this tune occurred to me after a damp, autumnal walk around One Tree Hill not far from where I live in South East London. Hence the name of this little reel. On a fine, sunny day the views across to the city are amazing. One of my friends raves about this tune (and coincidentally One Tree Hill happens to be one of his favourite spots for a stroll). (I was thinking of renaming the tune Gerard’s Favourite in his honour…) He’s a bodhrán player and looking forward to some sort of re-opening so that he and I and a few others can manage a few tunes together again. In the meantime, I recorded the tune again today on tenor guitar with “bodhrán metronome” set at 80 bpm. I’ve paired it with a lovely mesmeric reel, Lilies Of The Field, which was brought to my attention by Michael Gregory. Listen to me playing One Tree Hill/The Lilies Of The Field on my Ashbury AT-40 with bodhrán metronome backing here. 6 June 2021. I’ve re-recorded the tune in two separate versions – mandolin and tenor guitar – and I’ve corrected a slight error in the tablature. Mandolin tablature available here. Listen to me playing One Tree Hill on my G&O #34 mandolin. Listen to me playing the tune on my Ashbury AT-40 tenor guitar.
Added 13 October 2020. The Perils Of Wisdom. A barndance in G. A little knowledge, they say, is a dangerous thing. Hence pearls of wisdom can become perils of wisdom. Mandolin tablature and sheet music available here. ABC available here. 12 June 2021. Improved sound files added. Listen to me playing The Perils Of Wisdom on my G&O #34 mandolin. Listen to me playing The Perils Of Wisdom on my Ashbury AT-40 tenor guitar.
Added 11 October 2020. The Girls Of Hackney. This jig is dedicated to Cathy (fiddle) and Mary (flute) Gillard, who I first met many years ago in the company of their brother John (fiddle) at the late-lamented sessions at The White Horse in Bethnal Green. Through the years we’ve shared many a tune and many an hour’s crack. When the world comes out of its current state of paralysis and we’ve managed to live more easily with the coronavirus pandemic, Cathy and Mary are among the first people I hanker to play a tune or two with. Mandolin tablature available here. Sheet music available here. ABC available here. 12 June 2021. Improved sound files added. Listen to me playing The Girls Of Hackney on my G&O #34 mandolin. Listen to me playing The Girls Of Hackney on my Ashbury AT-40 tenor guitar.
Added 9 August 2020. The Parakeet. There’s a piece in the “random thoughts” section of this site about how I came to name this reel. I’ve since tinkered with the tune and I now play the last bar slightly differently to the way I first composed it. Listen to me playing the tune here. Mandolin tablature and sheet music available here. ABC available here. 20 July 2021. Alternate recordings made in July 2021. Listen to me playing The Parakeet on my G&O #34 mandolin. Listen to me playing The Parakeet on my Ashbury AT-40 tenor guitar.
Added 27 June 2020. Benedict’s Rambles. I composed this jig in 2001 when my son, Benedict, was 2 years old. At the time I said that although he hadn’t rambled far yet, I hoped he would experience the world once he became independent. It’s fair to say that he has, indeed, rambled a fair bit already and hopefully many more rambles lie ahead! Listen to me playing the tune here. Mandolin tablature available here. ABC file available here. Updated sound file, January 2021, played on my G&O #34 mandolin. 20 July 2021. New sound files added. I’ve been playing around with this tune lately and some of the phrases I now play differ from those in the version that I originally composed. Listen to me playing Benedict’s Rambles on my G&O #34 mandolin in July 2021. Listen to me playing Benedict’s Rambles on my Kentucky KM-1000 mandolin in July 2021. Revised mandolin tablature, July 2021.
Added 26 June 2020. Michael Gregory’s. I named this tune in honour of Michael Gregory, of Grand Forks, North Dakota, who has been a good friend, a contributor to this website and one of its loudest cheerleaders. Michael and I were emailing each other about various matters when this tune “materialised”. It’s got a lot in common with A Tune For Fee – below – transposed into D. But after the first few bars it goes off in another direction. Like A Tune For Fee, I’m not sure which genre of tunes it fits into. Again I’ve called it a slow reel but I wouldn’t bet the farm on that particular classification! I hope you enjoy it and when you listen to it – or when you play it yourself – think fond thoughts of a fellow mandolin player from North Dakota who has nurtured an abiding love for “the tunes” and has given many mandolin players – myself included – unstinting, generous support! Listen to me playing the tune on octave mandola here. Mandolin tablature and sheet music available here. A midi version of the bare bones of the tune here. Listen to me playing the tune on my Ashbury AT-40 Tenor Guitar here (recorded 27 April 2021).
Added 18th April 2020. A Tune For Fee (slow reel). Well, I call this a slow reel. It’s a slowish tune in 4/4 and it’s not a hornpipe, strathspey or a barndance. So, I suppose by process of elimination, that it’s a reel! This tune arrived pretty much perfectly-formed and I named it after my partner, Fee, because it shares many of her qualities. Gentle, beautiful, calming and – as I said above – perfectly formed. She is and will forever be the centre of my universe and since I reckon this may be the best tune I have ever written and probably the best I’ll ever write, it’s fitting that I named it in her honour. Listen to me playing the tune on octave mandola here. Mandolin tablature available here. It’s set out in sheet music here. An early recording of this tune played on a heavily distorted electric guitar tuned DGGDAE. A midi-to-mp3 version of the bare bones of the tune can be found here. Yet another version of this tune – this time with my G&O #34 taking the melody and my KM1000 playing a countermelody, recorded 6 March 2021. On 26 April 2021 I got my hands on an Ashbury AT-40 tenor guitar. It’s pretty much the bottom of the range as far as Asbury’s tenor guitars go but it has some features which recommend it. Firstly it’s been built with GDAE tuning in mind – most tenor guitars have been built to handle CGDA tuning as standard and therefore they often require some modifications to the nut and sometimes the bridge and the neck to accommodate the heavier strings required for GDAE tuning. Secondly, it’s very affordable. List price, new – £199. I’ve had more expensive tenor guitars before (I’ve had more expensive nights out!) and I’m not sure that I’m a good enough player to warrant a premier league instrument. And finally the finish is absolutely impeccable. Often the finish on budget instruments can be very rough – in this case the attention to detail is quite remarkable. Negative points? Well, the neck is a lot chunkier than most tenor guitars. Not so chunky as to be unplayable but playing jigs and reels at session speed might pose a challenge. (That said, I’m more and more inclined these days to play tunes at quite a slow pace, so perhaps this won’t be such a challenge after all.) And the other big negative that I’ve noticed so far is that the “e” string is much louder than its neighbours. This could be because the guitar comes strung with a “13” as standard. When I change the strings, I’ll aim for a set which contains an “11” and see how that pans out. Anyway – one of the first tunes I play on any new instrument is “A Tune For Fee” and here’s a new version recorded on the AT-40 this morning, 27 April 2021. Listen to A Tune For Fee on Aidan’s Ashbury AT-40.
Added 9th January 2020. Farewell To The Bay (waltz). I named this waltz in recognition of my mother’s and her parent’s move from The Bay area of Derryveen to Derrymacash in the 1960s. Although only a few miles, the move marked a big change in their lives. Listen to me playing the tune here. Mandolin tablature available here. The tune is set out in abc format here. Sheet music available here.
Added 9th January 2020. The Spoils Of Victory (hornpipe). I wrote this hornpipe in 2002, to celebrate Armagh (my home county) winning the All-Ireland Gaelic Football Championship. I originally posted the abc to thesession.org website. I revisited the tune a few days ago and I was unhappy with the triplets I’d written in the first instance (X:1 in the link which follows). So I tweaked bar 4 in the first and second parts (X:2) and I think the end result is far more pleasing to the ear. (Well – to my ear, in any event.) Listen to me playing the tune. Mandolin tablature available here. The tune is set in abc format (X:2) here. Sheet music available here.
Update 22 November 2020 – I’ve been playing around with The Spoils Of Victory for a while now and I have come up with a new setting for the second part which I think works really well. Mandolin tablature for the new setting. Hear me play the new setting on my G&O #34.
Added 8th January 2020. The Long Haul (mazurka). I wrote this mazurka back in 2003/2004. A long time ago. It was named after an inaugural session in a local pub which started early and went on into the wee hours of the following day. All good crack – but a long haul. Listen to me playing the tune. Mandolin tablature available here. The tune is set out in abc format here. Sheet music available here. Updated sound file, January 2021, played on my G&O #34 mandolin.
Added 7th January 2020. The Hooded Man (jig). This tune is dedicated to my uncle who passed away recently. A solid man. Listen to me playing the tune. Mandolin tablature available here. The tune is set out in abc format here. Sheet music available here. 26 July 2021. A new sound file; listen to me playing the tune on my G&O #34 mandolin.
Added 7th January 2020. Joe Crilly’s Jig. Joe Crilly – actor, playwright and social catalyst – grew up in Derryadd, close to where I, too, grew up. He moved to London a few years before I did and we were close friends for many years, sharing many an adventure and misadventure along the way. Tragically, Joe took his life some years back and I feel his loss constantly. This jig is a tribute to a much-missed companion. Listen to me playing the tune. Mandolin tablature available here. The tune is set out in abc format here. Sheet music available here. Listen to a new version recorded January 2021 on my G&O #34 using a Zoom H1n digital recorder.
Added 7th January 2020. McQuillan’s Hill (barndance). One of Joe Crilly’s (see above) most acclaimed plays was “On McQuillan’s Hill”. I wrote this barndance shortly after Joe died and named it “McQuillan’s Hill” as a further tribute. The jaunty nature of the piece is a mirror opposite of the grief I was feeling at the time at the loss of a great friend and a force of nature. Listen to me playing the tune. Mandolin tablature available here. The tune is set out in abc format here. Sheet music available here. Listen to a new version recorded January 2021 on my G&O #34 using a Zoom H1n digital recorder.
Added 7th January 2020. Cardiac Hill (jig). My mother owns a mobile home in Downings, County Donegal. The site commands great views but there’s a price to pay for those views in the form of a very steep section on the way in from Downings town. One of my relatives named this stretch of road “Cardiac Hill” and I thought the name was appropriate for this jig in A Major. Listen to me playing the tune. Mandolin tablature available here. The tune is set out in abc format here. Sheet music available here. Listen to a new version recorded January 2021 on my G&O #34 using a Zoom H1n digital recorder.