Page last updated 18 April 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 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 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. Updated sound file, January 2021, played on my G&O #34 mandolin.
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. 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.
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, 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.