Scotch Mary and Peter Pan

A danger of running an event on the third weekend of the month is that eventually you get to December and meet Christmas head-on. When that happens, it’s hard to know what to expect. So when Kenny Hadden said he would come down that weekend, I jumped at the chance to get him to also do some teaching alongside me and it became something bigger than usual.

Flutes at The Dalriada: (l-r) John Corbett, Malcolm Reavell, Sean Paul Newman, Kenny Hadden, John Crawford. (c) Gordon Turnbull

John Crawford and Malcolm Reavell were also there, also from Aberdeen, and we went for a flutey session afterwards at The Dalriada with Sean Paul Newman welcoming as usual and providing accompaniment. Later that evening Sharon Creasey came along with Cathal McConnell  to play at The Captain’s Bar. All in all a bit of a mini flute festival.

Sharon Creasey and Cathal McConnell at The Captain’s Bar, Edinburgh

The workshop began with a slow tune to warm up: Caol Muile (The Sound of Mull), the air to a Gaelic song (Youtube link to a version sung at Plockton School). I have a version with some harmony parts and added another myself, so we had some fun trying them out. Grace notes and breathing came up as we added expression.

I followed this up with a reel that seems to be from Donegal and presented problems in pinning down a definitive version. We had one for the day and Kenny and I also had some variations. Scotch Mary can be found in various collections and with various titles. Irish Molly is one, Ireland Green is a title given by PJ Hayes and Martin Hayes too. Flute players John Skelton and Kieran O’Hare recorded it on whistles on their great CD Double Barrelled (link has a clip of the music).

The tune actually exists in three main versions, as two parts: A+B, B+C or three parts: A+B+C. To confuse things, the A and C parts are similar, there are different changes in other versions and key shifts too. The version I taught includes elements of these. Here’s a closely related Donegal version on Youtube played by Paddy, Seamus and Kevin Glackin. It’s the second tune in the set.

Kenny Hadden with others walking and feeling the rhythm while playing at the December FluteFling workshop.

Kenny took over after the break and kept the festive theme by teaching and sharing some tunes by Johnny Cunningham that were originally for a musical theatre performance on Peter Pan. Johnny and brother Phil studied at local Portobello High School so it was doubly apt for the location.

The first tune, Two is the Beginning of the End, not only had a strange title, but was in an enigmatic scale that served as a useful warm-up piece to get the ears tuned in. As it has actually been a good while since I found myself learning a tune by ear in a workshop, it was good to have the tables turned and be reminded of the experience.

The second tune Kenny introduced was more traditional, but recorded by Johnny Cunningham. The Celtic Society’s Quickstep (music and background can be round at the Traditional Tune Archive) is a dance tune first published in Kerr’s Merrie Melodies of the 1880s, but in existence since at least 1820. A delightful tune with some interesting jumps and straightforward runs that can be played with some bounce. It doesn’t seem to be played very much and could benefit from more exposure.

Resources for the tunes are to be found on the resources page for 2017. Two is the Beginning of the End doesn’t feature for copyright reasons, but those who attended will have something to work with. I will add The Celtic Society’s Quickstep very shortly.

Here’s Johnny’s version of The Celtic Society’s Quickstep, as recorded on Fair Warning:

Kenny has a YouTube channel with some rare archive video and TV footage, particularly of music from Scotland, that is worth exploring.

Finally, a wee plug for the Scottish Flute channel on YouTube, which has evolved out of the FluteFling workshops and sessions. Set up and run by volunteers and supporters in the Aberdeen area, there is some footage from the Aberdeen weekend in November and more can expected both from the archive and as more events occur.


Northeast flute gathering success

Davy Maguire with Claire Hawes and Martin MacDonald, headlining the FluteFling Aberdeen concert. Photo (c) John Crawford, used with permission.

First FluteFling Aberdeen weekend fuels appetite for more

Gordon Turnbull with Kenny Hadden

The first weekend of November saw Scottish traditional flute players gather together for the first FluteFling Aberdeen weekend. The event was supported by Tasgadh funding and saw 16 people attend the workshops with others also attending the Saturday night concert and weekend sessions.

Davy Maguire (c) John Crawford

Davy Maguire came over from Belfast and Sharon Creasey from Dumbarton, to teach, perform and encourage others as part of the ongoing Scottish traditional flute revival. Workshop students came from Aberdeen, Stonehaven, Brechin, Stirling and Edinburgh and local tutor and FluteFling colleague Kenny Hadden, assisted by Gordon Turnbull, ensured everything ran smoothly, from sessions to workshop and concert. The event took place almost exactly 16 years after the original one in 2001 that has inspired four years of FluteFling weekends.

An underlying theme connected the music of Northern Ireland with that of Scotland as Sharon’s extensive knowledge of the music of County Fermanagh complemented Davy’s own experience as a musician and flute teacher. The overlapping blends between strathspeys, highlands and barndances dance forms apparent to all and as tunes were shared over the weekend, the variations that emerged seemed to endlessly stimulate the recollection of others.

Friday saw people gather for tunes in The Blue Lamp, which was also the centre of Saturday evening’s activities and a supporter of the weekend’s events.

Saturday workshop

Davy Maguire explaining a finer point of technique (c) Gordon Turnbull

At the Saturday workshop, Davy Maguire taught a Scottish jig, a Highland from Donegal (which one of the Aberdeen students identified as a strathspey originally from Orkney), and a reel composed by Shetland fiddler Tom Anderson. Sharon Creasey taught 4 tunes — a 6/8 pipe march from the Willie Ross collection of 1875, a reel by Scott Skinner, a jig from the Northumberland tradition, and a jig from Co. Donegal. The afternoon ended with a question and answer session led by Davy, which rounded up the loose threads from the day.

Sharon Creasey demonstrates My Love is the Fair Lad #fluteflingaberdeen

A post shared by Gordon Turnbull (@gordontheflow) on

The selection of tunes was fairly wide-ranging, and quite challenging, but the students enjoyed being pushed a bit in their abilities, and also the variety of tunes which were taught and demonstrated. The high standard of the teaching and levels of encouragement from the tutors was commented upon by several.

Saturday concert and session

The Aberdeen Traditional Flute Players led by Kenny Hadden (c) Gordon Turnbull

The Saturday concert upstairs at The Blue Lamp opened with the Aberdeen Traditional Flute Players playing some tune selections. The ensemble was led by Kenny Hadden and comprised of people who have attended his flute classes at Scottish Culture and Tradition (SCAT) in Aberdeen. They were ably accompanied by Claire Hawes (bodhrán) and Martin MacDonald (guitar), who also accompanied others throughout the evening. Watch out for more from the flute group in the future and thanks to Claire and Martin for their support too. Kenny, hard working all weekend, went on to perform a solo set and was joined by John Crawford for a flute duet.

Malcolm and Janice Reavell (c) John Crawford

Local flute player and composer Malcolm Reavell followed, with Janice Reavell on guitar, playing a fine set of rare tunes and some of his own compositions. Gordon Turnbull played a mixture of traditional tunes as well as music by contemporary Scottish composers such as Dougie MacLean and Freeland Barbour.

Sharon Creasey demonstrated the suitability and versatility of the classical Boehm system keyed flute for both Scottish and Irish traditional music, playing tunes in the keys of F and G minor as well as the more common keys. Davy Maguire ended the two-hour concert with inspirational solo sets of flute music mainly from the Northern counties of Ireland.

Sharon Creasey with Claire Hawes and Martin MacDonald (c) John Crawford

Gordon Turnbull (c) John Crawford

A member of the audience remarked on the variety of flute styles being performed, a comment which echoed similar observations at Edinburgh performances. This response highlights one of the reasons for events like this — to hear and pick up on different ideas to take away to your own music. For traditional flute players, who are relatively thin on the ground in Scotland, the opportunity to come together with like-minded musicians is a key motive behind FluteFling events.

Sunday farewell session

Flute session conversations (c) Gordon Turnbull

Just as Saturday evening ended with another fine session and a chance for everyone to be involved and share their tunes and music together, Sunday lunchtime picked up the threads and the tunes and conversations continued where they left off.

This time in the snug of Ma Cameron’s with its fine acoustics, people shared tunes, ideas and tried out different flutes. Making connections and arrangements before having to head home.

Davy and Alice in Ma Cameron’s, Aberdeen

The Sunday sessions are always more relaxed and often sees the emergence of rare musical gems that have surfaced over the weekend.

Thanks again to everyone involved for their hospitality and time. Thanks too to Tasgadh, for helping to fund the event — a memorable weekend to fire everyone up over the winter.

FluteFling weekends 2018

FluteFling Aberdeen will return next year, but before then, the FluteFling Edinburgh weekend will celebrate its 5th year in 2018 and plans are being laid for that already.

There was also enthusiastic discussion of events in other locations and we will also explore those possibilities.

Another Donegal Highland

Last night the Improvers and Beyond class learned Charlie O’Neill’s No.2, the third and final tune of a set comprising a strathspey and two Donegal highlands. The other tunes are Bidh Eoin and Charlie O’Neill’s No. 1.

The version of the tune I play has come from the playing of regular musical partner Cathy Sharp in Edinburgh sessions and it is a little different from ones I have come across online. Versions have been recorded by Altan and by Cran, that I am aware of. Cran call it Charlie O’Neill’s and I have added the number to distinguish it from the other Charlie O’Neill’s we learned. It may be that both tunes are also known by other titles.

See the Resources page for the music.

Cathy learned it in Donegal, where there are many fiddle workshops and events that reflect the dominance of the instrument in that area. Flutes barely feature at all, although the late Frankie Kennedy was part of Altan for many years and has a festival in his honour.

The Donegal highland is related to the music of Scotland, in particular that of the west coast, where that have been strong cultural links over the centuries. If you’re looking around for examples of Donegal music, this site makes a good introduction and there is a good Wikipedia overview as well.

Photo of James Byrne in Glencolmcille by Rik Walton, some rights reserved.


Music from the Western Isles and beyond

At last week’s class we discussed some aspects of Gaelic Mouth Music, psalm singing and Cape Breton fiddling in relation to some of the tunes we have been learning. This quick follow-up post is to share some related links.

Gaelic psalm singing

  • For some background on this unique singing style, there is an introduction at the Education Scotland website:

    Each line of the psalm is ‘put out’ by the precentor or leader. The congregation then joins in gradually and slowly sings those words, but with varying degrees of ornamentation and at varying speeds. Although each singer is singing the same tune, the effect is of a continuous sound with different chordal effects being created. This is known as heterophony.

    Although the music sounds very complicated, the roots of the melodies being sung lie in straightforward Scottish metrical psalm tunes.

  • Gaelic psalms at Back Free Church, Isle Of Lewis- 20/21/oct/2003:
  • The clip is from the church in this recording, Salm vol 2 which the text in the link describes as:

    the congregation singing unrehearsed, unaccompanied Psalms with various precentors.

    This is traditional Gaelic psalm singing in the style of free heterophony – precentor-led singing with the congregation following through. Various precentors lead a large congregation in the most popular psalms.

  • The many field recordings at Tobar an Dualchais/ Kist o Riches website includes this anonymous recording of Salm 133.

Mouth Music

  • We have looked at music associated with Mouth Music a little before. Here’s an example in strathspey time, similar to the Bidh Eoin and the Donegal Highlands we are looking at. Air Do Shlàinte Mhàiri an Dotair is sung by Annie Arnott and was recorded by the great archivist Hamish Henderson.

Cape Breton fiddle

    • We talked about the relationship between the fiddle styles of Cape Breton, the west of Scotland and the type of swing we are trying to put into our playing as flute players. I mentioned Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald as someone to look out for and there are some related clips on Youtube, but it can also be seen in the opening strathspey by left-handed fiddler  Kimberly Fraser  in this set, accompanied by Mark Simos on guitar.


  • Here’s a clip of Duncan Chisolm to compare, playing a strathspey followed by Scottish and Irish reels:


  • And here are some links to Donegal. First some fine fiddling from Glencolmcille. The tunes are Casey’s Pig (The Duke of Gordon’s Birthday) and Miss McLeod of Raasay:
  • Here’s a Highland being danced:


  • Here’s a clip of flute player Calum Stewart astonishing performance of James Scott Skinner’s astonishing variations on Tullochgorum.

Photo from the Western Isles (CC) Kristian Dela Cour.