Oldtime Records: Vol 1. U.S. Recordings - Traditional Irish Recordings from the 1920s and 1930s - comments

Anthology of folk artists singing and playing mainly traditional material.

Essay and notes by Gerry Clarke & Emmett Gill.

So first of all a sea chantey (often spelled shanty) is a work song that was sung the ol' ships in the day. Rhythmically they matched the activity speed of these men hauling on lines. Many of them are really filthy. Many are very beautiful. They aren't really sung these days because modern day rigging doesn't really need a lot of people working in the same rhythm for long periods of time. A sea song is a song about a life at sea from a narrative or personal point of view. A pirate ballad is a song telling a tale of pirates. I knew none of this when Brett Gurewitz and Andy Kaulkin asked me if I wanted to produce an album of sea chanteys for Anti/Epitaph. Without thinking, I immediately said yes - it had instant appeal for me as I knew absolutely nothing about the subject and the potential for failure was huge. Actually, I did have a starting point. And it was "Blood Red Roses".

track 1
Barn Dance Medley (instr)
Louis E Quinn & James O'Beirne (fiddles), Patrick Lynch (accordion), unknown piano, guitar
Perfect 11357, recorded NY, Dec, 1934

This band is led by Louis Quinn, who along with fellow band member James "Lad" O'Beirne, was a leading exponent of the "New York-Sligo" fiddle style. The best of Irish fiddling combines here with pulsing American dance band rhythm, to form a hot combination for the dance halls of 1930's New York. The first and final tunes on this side were recorded by Michael Coleman as "James Gannon's Barndances".

track 2
Rakes of Kildare (instr)
Joe Flanagan (accordion), Mike Flanagan (banjo), Louis Flanagan (guitar).
Vocalion 14704, recorded NY, September 1923

Probably the most prolific recording artists of the 78 era, the Flanagans were of Waterford origin and were versatile performers equally at home with vocals, instrumentals, or comedy skits. This side very representative of the earliest phase of their recording career. This track features all three brothers; Louis Flanagan on twin neck guitar did not appear on the later sides. The first jig is often associated with John Kimmel and the second is the universally known "Irish Washerwoman".

track 3
The Girl I Left Behind Me
Joe and Mike Flanagan (vocals), unknown orchestra
Columbia 33295, recorded NY, February 1928.

In the post 1925 electrical recording era, the Flanagans began to perform more elaborate and commercial pieces along with their traditional tunes. This vocal features both Mike and Joe. The patriotic lyrics of the repeated last verse are notable. This fruitful session of February 1928 also produced probably the Flanagan's best known side "Molly-O", a song that enjoyed a celebrated revival in the 1980's with the Galway based group De Dannan.

track 4
Reels of Mullinvate
John McKenna (whistle), Michael Gaffney (banjo-mandolin, lilting), unknown pianist.
Gennett 5686, recorded NY, Jan 19, 1925. 

Leitrim-born John McKenna is widely regarded as the foremost flute-player of the golden inter-war era. McKenna is joined on banjo-mandolin by Michael Gaffney. The pair recorded together for over a decade and this side is from the early part of their partnership. The record is unusual, with McKenna performing on whistle, rather than flute, the two well known reels "The Fermoy Lasses" and "The Duke of Leinster".

track 5
Sarsfield Lilt
Joe Flanagan (accordion), Mike Flanagan (banjo)
Columbia 33249, Recorded NY, January 1928

This duet of banjo and accordion is a fine example of Mike and Joe Flanagan at their most dynamic. These three jigs are well recorded and the absence of piano accompaniment exposes the punchy nature of the brothers' music.

track 6
The Merry Harriers; Old Maids of Galway
Martin Beirne (pipes),  John Mulvihill (fiddle), John Griffin or James Darcy (flute), Billy McElligott (accordion), Alex Brown (piano), unknown drummer.
Columbia 33556, recorded NY , Nov 10, 1936.

Roscommon piper Martin Beirne led this band which recorded in both 1936 and 1938. This side is probably the band's recording debut, the first take of the first side of their first Columbia session. The band had a very strong line-up, with a number of members making solo or duet recordings. The frantic pace allows the band to fit in three reels: "The Merry Harriers", "The Old Maids of Galway" and "The Boy in the Gap".

track 7
The Heathr'y Breeze
Peter James Conlan (accordion), James J Garry (piano)
Okey 4321, recorded NY, ca April 1921.

One of the earliest Irish born recording artists to record Irish traditional music in the United state. PJ Conlon is also one of the greatest and most under valued artists in the tradition. PJ recorded for several labels from 1917 through to 1929, although the bulk of his output is on acoustic, pre 1025 disks. Although this side comprises of a single tune, a deft touch and lots of improvisation proves that music on the simple ten key melodeon could be much more than the functional music for dancing often associated with that instrument.

track 8
The Barmaids; The Milliner's Daughter
James Darcy (flute), John Mulvihill (fiddle), prob Alex Brown (piano)
Columbia 33557, recorded NY, Nov 10, 1936.

This spirited fiddle and flute duet was the next item recorded in the Martin Beirne session. After the first frantic set of reels (track 6) there was no let up as these members of Martin Beirne's band play more of the same energetic music with driving piano. The first reel is better known today as "Kiss the Maid Behind the Barrel".

track 9
You Can't Keep a Good Man Down
Mike Flanagan (vocal), unknown orchestra.
Columbia 33263. recorded NY, ca May 1928.

The Flanagans were equally happy to comment on Irish or American affairs. In 1928, Al Smith was Democratic candidate for President. Smith's campaign song was "Sidewalks of New York", a song the Flanagans had recorded earlier that year. It features in the chorus here.

track 10
Apples in Winter; Friar's Breeches
James Morrison (fiddle), Arthur P McKenna (piano).
Gennett 5304, recorded NY, Nov 3, 1923.

This rare side was recorded by Sligo fiddle master James Morrison on the Gennett label. The sound quality is less than we may have hoped for here, but rarity and content beg inclusion.

track 11
The Drummer Boy
Probably Edward Lee (piano), prob John McCormick or John Kennedy (fiddle), unknown banjo.
Columbia 33379, recorded NY, November 1929.

It is probable that the Philadelphia-based Four Provinces, led by Ed Lee, were the first Irish band to record. A north of Ireland style is easily discernable from the band. They recorded a wide variety of tune types, and their repertoire included flings, highland schottisches and strathspeys.

track 12
Down the Broom; The Gatehouse Maid
Paddy Killoran (fiddle), unknown piano.
Decca 12145, recorded NY, Nov 18, 1937

Paddy Killoran, along with Michael Coleman and James Morrison, constitutes the well-known triumvirate of Sligo fiddlers from this era. This solo side was recorded during a period when Killoran had been recording mainly with his band. The pairing of tunes here is often heard in Irish sessions today.

track 13
Stack of Barley Medley
Louis E Quinn & James O'Beirne (fiddles), Patrick Lynch (accordion), unknown piano, guitar.
Perfect 11357, recorded NY, Dec 15, 1934

Two well-known hornpipes "The Friendly Visit" and "The Stack of Barley". These tunes appear to be moved up a full tone from their regular setting, to the key of A.

track 14
Cherish the Ladies
Paddy Killoran and Paddy Sweeney (fiddles), prob Ed. Tucker (pisno), unknown accordion, sax and banjo.
Crown 3296, recorded NY, March 3, 1932.

Paddy Killoran and his band feature here on the Crown Depression era label. This is one of the earliest incarnations of Paddy Killoran's band and appears to feature the C melody sax, an instrument unusual in Irish music. The personnel line-up includes Paddy Sweeney, another iconic Sligo fiddle master. This setting of Cherish the Ladies is rarely heard, varying greatly from the better known O'Neill's or Michael Coleman version. Paddy Killoran was later sought out by the Decca company in 1934and was that company's choice for first release in its Irish ethnic 12000 series. Killoran made many sides in various musical combinations for the Decca label, between October 1934 and his final appearance on Decca 12220 in June of 1939.

track 15
Pigeon on the Gate
Hugh Gillespie (fiddle), Jack McKenna (guitar).
Decca 12213, recorded NY, June 27, 1939.

Donegal native Hugh Gillespie immigrated to the US in 1928 and recorded three sessions for Decca in the summers of 1937, 1938 and 1939. This recording is taken from the last of the three sessions. Although a pupil (and friend) of Michael Coleman, there is much in Gillespie's music that marks it as his own. When speaking with Jackie Small for RTE (Irish National Radio) in the 1980's Gillespie commented " ... you were making a whole lot of records and though nothing of it. Now someone makes a record, holy heavens you'd think they went to the stars! We just made records and that's all. Same as played in the dance hall, there was no big deal about it". Most of Hugh Gillespie's Decca output was re-released on a fine Topic LP in the late 1970s.

track 16
Innisfair Special (incl "Rakes of Marlow")
Unknown fiddle, accordion, banjo and piano.
Columbia 33415, recorded NY, February 1930.

Very little is known about the Innisfail Orchestra, who recorded four sides for Columbia in Feb 1930. The line-up and sound is very similar to James Morrison's band who had visited the Columbia studio for the first time two months earlier. The approach here is markedly different. The Innisfail Orchestra incorporate strong swing elements into their music: one of the selections here, being a very flamboyant interpretation of the well known "Rakes of Marlow". As far as we know, the "Innisfail" (a mythical place name) was a dance hall where Morrison did occasionally play. Also of note, perhaps, is the fact that one of the tunes from James Morrison's  very last recording session of April 14, 1936 is prophetically entitled "Adieu to Innisfail" and was released on Columbia 33554.

track 17
Sweet Biddy Daly
Unknown accordion, fiddle and piano.
Columbia 33517, recorded NY, March 1932.

One of the later bands to record on the Columbia label and occasionally featuring the banjo, very little is known about this group. It is unusual for the piano to solo in recordings of this period. This band also also appears as "O'Brien's Dublin Orchestra" on the Joe Davis label of the 1940's.

track 18
Pat O'Hara
Frank Quinn (vocal and fiddle), Ed Geoghegan (piano).
Columbia 33283, recorded NY July 1928.

One of the most prolific and versatile artists of the era, "Patrolman Quinn" recorded song and recitation, comic skit, accordion, fiddle and clarinet performances. Here is a typical rambunctious song from Frank's huge repertoire.

track 19
Bells of Athenry/ The Wicklow Hornpipe
Mike Flanagan (banjo), unknown guitar.
Columbia 33263, recorded NY, May 1928.

This is great banjo from Mike Flanagan and includes an unusual, flamboyant setting of "The Wicklow Hornpipe".

track 20
Irish Reels (The Sligo Maid/ The Maid Behind The Bar/ The Fermoy Lasses)
Tom Ennis (uilleannn pipes), unknown piano.
Silvertone 1270, recorded NY, March 1920.

Tom Ennis provides a link between Francis O.Neill's turn of the century Chicago and the New York scene of the 1920's. haunting ballad of the 19th century whaling ships. As well as being musical, sailors often displayed great poetic ability as in the lyrics of this powerful song.

track 21
Medley of Jigs (Father O'Flynn/ The Irish Washerwoman/ Haste to the Wedding)
K Scanlon (fiddle), Mel Bernard (piano).
Diva 2867-G, recorded NY, March 5, 1929

This is a very ornate technically accomplished recording of some very common tunes: "Father O'Flynn", "The Irish Washwoman" and "Haste to the Wedding". It is one of the great mystery records in Irish music. Just who is it, really? This perhaps a musical tribute to Kip, Kipeen , Scanlon, an influential South Sligo fiddler who spent time in Scotland. He was slightly older than, and would have been an influence on, the Sligo masters. Kip Scanlon is not known to have travelled to America. Our collective opinion is that fiddler on this record is actually James Morrison.

track 22
My Wild Irish Rose
Richard Greene, violin; Jack Shit: [Val McCallum, guitar; Pete Thomas, drums; Davey Fallagher, bass, Neil Larsen, accordion]

The beautiful American song was originally used by river boatmen and voyagers on the Ohio an Missouri rivers. It became a popular capstan chantey among deep water sailors. Shenandoah is said to have been a chief of the Oneida tribe.

Last updated on 11/03/2007