Bidh Eoin: mouth music on flute and whistle

Boat in Fisherrow HarbourThe Improvers class resumed this week with a lively piece of music from the Western Isles via Northern Ireland.

Bidh Eoin (Eoin’s Boat) is a piece of port a beul (mouth music) that I first came across on one of a series of landmark recordings of Scottish Music that were produced by The School of Scottish Studies, originally on vinyl. Consisting of field recordings, they showcase a variety of different types of traditional music to be found in Scotland. Volume 2 is Music from the Western Isles and features waukling songs, psalms and mouth music. Bidh Eoin appears there as Seallaibh Curaigh Eoghainn (Look at Ewen’s Coracle) as sung by Mrs Annie Arnott. Puirt à beul (plural) are songs for dancing to, often when no instruments are available. The emphasis is more on the rhythm and less on the meaning of the words. There are some recordings of people singing Bidh Eoin on YouTube.

This was recorded by Belfast flute player Desi Wilkinson on The Three Piece Flute and is part of a set that includes a Highland — a type of tune found in the north of Ireland that is directly related to the Scottish strathspey — which we will look at next time. Desi Wilkinson was the first person I heard play Scottish tunes on the flute and his work with the band Cran also explores the two traditions.

Update: Here’s a video of Desi Wilkinson with fiddler Gerry O’Connor and Brendan Hearty on guitar playing Bidh Eoin as part of the Steeple Sessions concerts. The following tune is Casey’s Pig, a version of The Duke of Gordon’s Birthday, written by William Marshall. Thanks to Stirling-based flute player Ian Stevens for the link.

The written and recorded resources for this tune can be found on the Resources page for the class

Photo of a boat in Fisherrow harbour, East Lothian (c) Gordon Turnbull.