Page last updated 20 January 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. If you’d like to incorporate them into your repertoire, let me know…
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 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. Listen to me playing the tune here. Mandolin tablature available here. Sheet music available here. ABC available here.
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. Listen to me playing the tune here. Mandolin tablature and sheet music available here. ABC available here.
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. Listen to me playing the tune here. Mandolin tablature available here. Sheet music available here. ABC available here.
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.
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.
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.
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. And finally, a midi-to-mp3 version of the bare bones of the tune can be found here.
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.
Added 7th January 2020. The Hooded Man (jig). This tune is dedicated to my uncle, Gerry McKerr, 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.
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.