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Danny Boy
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Author:  westonm [ Thu Jan 11, 2018 12:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Danny Boy

So I set for myself a list of easily recognizable tunes that I wanted to learn before a given date. Among this is Londonberry Air.

I was listening to the Clancey Brothers which I really enjoyed, and couldn't find a recording of them doing it. Then I tried to find some done by other famous Irish singers. It almost seems like a lot of them I can only assume deliberately avoided it. To me as an American it seems to be the most easily recognizably Irish song in the world.

Does anyone know the reason why this is? Do the Irish themselves not really like the song? Or do people think it's "overdone"?

Author:  benhall.1 [ Thu Jan 11, 2018 1:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Danny Boy

westonm wrote:
So I set for myself a list of easily recognizable tunes that I wanted to learn before a given date. Among this is Londonberry Air.

I was listening to the Clancey Brothers which I really enjoyed, and couldn't find a recording of them doing it. Then I tried to find some done by other famous Irish singers. It almost seems like a lot of them I can only assume deliberately avoided it. To me as an American it seems to be the most easily recognizably Irish song in the world.

Does anyone know the reason why this is? Do the Irish themselves not really like the song? Or do people think it's "overdone"?

I'll chip in ... but with some trepidation ...

Amongst some Irish people, the term "Londonderry Air" is anathema. To them, "The Derry Air" would be preferable, despite its unfortunate similarity in sound to a body part. There is also a group of people for whom not calling it the "Londonderry Air" is an issue.

Then there's "Danny Boy", the song itself. The words were written by Frederick Weatherly, who was English. He wrote the words in 1910 - pretty recent compared with stuff normally associated with traditional music. He wrote it to a different melody, but it fitted the Londonderry Air, so he put it to that later, and it became popular, especially in America.

In other words, the song isn't especially Irish, although the tune is. The song (if you take it as an integral whole, including the lyrics) isn't traditional. Also, for some of the more serious Irish singers (or singers of Irish songs) it comes across perhaps as too twee; a bit "cod Irish".

Now, personally, I love the tune. The words seem pretty much fake, as far as I'm concerned - I think I read somewhere that Weatherly had never actually been to Ireland, but I may have got that wrong. The lyrics certainly don't sound convincingly Irish-influenced to me. Yet strangely, I do like the words. They don't conjure up any image of Ireland for me, because they seem at odds with the Ireland I know (coming from Wales, like). They seem more Scottish to me, but not quite Scottish either.

Maybe some or all of the above is why it might be avoided by Irish singers, although, to be honest, I wasn't aware that it was avoided.

Author:  Peter Duggan [ Thu Jan 11, 2018 1:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Danny Boy

benhall.1 wrote:
They seem more Scottish to me, but not quite Scottish either.

Not at all Scottish to me, Ben, though I'd agree with just about everything else you said!

Quote:
Maybe some or all of the above is why it might be avoided by Irish singers, although, to be honest, I wasn't aware that it was avoided.

Interesting that Sean Tyrrell's recorded it instrumentally as 'The Derry Air' (on 'Walker of the Snow') and vocally as 'Danny Boy' (on 'Moonlight On Galway Bay', which might be pitched at a different market?). How do I know this? Simply because I was Googling 'Walker of the Snow', which I loved in his earlier performance on Davy Spillane's 'Shadow Hunter'!

Author:  benhall.1 [ Thu Jan 11, 2018 2:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Danny Boy

Peter Duggan wrote:
benhall.1 wrote:
They seem more Scottish to me, but not quite Scottish either.

Not at all Scottish to me, Ben, though I'd agree with just about everything else you said!


Yes. I only meant to imply something relatively more than another thing, if you see what I mean. Maybe that word "quite" wasn't quite strong enough ...

:)

Author:  Nanohedron [ Thu Jan 11, 2018 2:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Danny Boy

Peter Duggan wrote:
benhall.1 wrote:
They seem more Scottish to me, but not quite Scottish either.

Not at all Scottish to me, Ben, though I'd agree with just about everything else you said!

Well, you're a Scot, Peter, so in this case your informed opinion doesn't count. :wink:

Some of those lyrics do give me the same impression as Ben; "From glen to glen, and down the mountainside," for example, sounds as romantically cliché-Scottish as you could ask for, at least to a Yank. And the only pipes that do any calling outdoors are the Great Pipes, wouldn't you say? Those are perennially associated with the Scots even though the Irish play them. Of course there's "And kneel and say an Avé there for me" to whiplash us back into the intended context, but by then it's a bit late. The rest could be anyone's sugary blubbering. Now flame me. :twisted:

I know a fellow who had a policy about performing the song when requested: He'd refuse unless the requesters had recently lost someone close. A bit heavy-handed - and morbid - but it satisfied him as a way to minimize singing it. For a time I adopted the same policy myself, but it was only briefly; in the end, imperiously putting requirements on the audience seemed rather a bit much when I could simply put on an innocent face and say I never learned it. Not that that ever fooled anyone. And requiring grief for a song? Just didn't seem right. But I was egalitarian about it; there was one time a requester's dog had died, and that was good enough for me. Not being a singer, I could only play the air on the flute, but there wasn't a dry eye in the house. :wink:

But we Yanks love the song soooo much. I was playing a hardcore Trad gig with the same abovementioned fellow and someone else, when a very drunk woman wobbled up to us and and said, "Do you know 'Danny Boy'? You know: (and then boisterously, with conducting motions to the tune of O Holy Night) 'Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling...'", at which point of course her rendition fell off the tracks, and she confusedly packed it in and wobbled off again. It was hilarious, but we kept our composure for good manners' sake. I don't remember if we ever did perform it in the end, but I'm assuming we didn't; after the state of that performance, one couldn't be sure it would even sink in that we were in fact playing the song she'd asked for.

Or maybe we said we already had. :twisted:

westonm wrote:
Or do people think it's "overdone"?

In the States, at least, I think that's exactly the case. Which is ironic, because as you say, it seems as if no one does it! There are, I think, roughly two contexts for the issue: Those who are there foremost to entertain, and those for whom the tradition has a value that risks being cheapened by falling back on timeworn popular chestnuts. The latter bunch, obviously, are less likely to perform it.

Still and all, any Trad performer is probably going to have it in their pocket anyway. Just in case. :wink:

Author:  s1m0n [ Thu Jan 11, 2018 4:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Danny Boy

If you're a gigging Irish musician, you get really tired of drunks yelling "Danny Boy" from the audience between every song/tune. It's the only 'irish' tune they know, and they don't really know it, either. Even worse are the ones who want you to play it so they can sing it.

However, there are a lot of folks playing ITM who have never been in this situation, but who have learned, and adopted, the horror of DB from gigging musicians they know who have. It's become a shared value in ITM. If you play ITM and want to be seen as in-the-know, that's how you're supposed to react.

However, there's one indisputable truth about songs and tunes that are overplayed: they get that way by being really, really good, or (for overplayed novice tunes) by being good despite their simplicity.

So if you like the Derrière and want to play it, go ahead. If you play for friends and family who aren't inculcated in fashionable ITM community values, play it for them. It's a smashing tune. Just be aware that if you trot it out at a session, you might see some lip-curls from people who feel obliged to sneer.

~~

Particularly in America, folk music is seen as an inclusive, democratic, anything-goes endeavour. Within ITM, this is FAR from the case. "Community values" are policed rigorously by self-appointed folk-police. Contempt and/or shunning are the weapons of choice.

To some extent, this is a good thing. It's the reason that ITM remains a thing distinct in itself, rather than dissolving into the amorphous mass of folkish music in popular music, as so many other traditions have done. However, it can be off-putting for newbies, who don't understand why the best pure melody in what appears to be the tradition is somehow off limits.

Author:  Nanohedron [ Thu Jan 11, 2018 4:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Danny Boy

s1m0n wrote:
If you're a gigging Irish musician, you get really tired of drunks yelling "Danny Boy"...

Yeah, it got old. But I liked it when some wag would yell out "Free Bird!", because then I could reply, "Here's your free bird," and give him the finger. Jovially, of course. :twisted:

Author:  bigsciota [ Thu Jan 11, 2018 5:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Danny Boy

benhall.1 wrote:
The words were written by Frederick Weatherly, who was English. He wrote the words in 1910 - pretty recent compared with stuff normally associated with traditional music.


I agree with most of what's been said here, but I would like to quibble a little bit with this. While a lot of people do think of trad as being a fairly old genre, 1910 would predate quite a few tunes and songs that are readily accepted as "traditional." I'd go so far as to argue that the genre as it stands today is by and large a product of the first half of the 20th century, not the 18th/19th centuries as many people would place it.

Author:  Nanohedron [ Thu Jan 11, 2018 5:28 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Danny Boy

bigsciota wrote:
I'd go so far as to argue that the genre as it stands today is by and large a product of the first half of the 20th century, not the 18th/19th centuries as many people would place it.

Considering the emotional investment some have in the Tradition's age, that's a brave statement that might raise some hackles. :wink:

What I find reassuring is that there seems to be no lack of new composition and the experimentation that goes with it to see what sticks. That tells me the Tradition, however old it is or isn't, is alive and well.

Author:  Nanohedron [ Thu Jan 11, 2018 6:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Danny Boy

I just remembered that the fellow I mentioned also eventually dropped his ghoulish requirement for singing Danny Boy. Instead he went to, "No, I don't know it, but I've got one that's just as good!" The guy could schmooze, that's for sure.

Author:  s1m0n [ Thu Jan 11, 2018 6:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Danny Boy

Someone on this board once posted that he had a 3 position policy for DB requests. If the requestor was female and cute, he might (rarely) sing it straight. If just a drunk (of any gender) he'd refuse, and sometimes for people who were neither, he'd sing one verse and chorus using only the words "O Danny Boy".

Author:  bigsciota [ Thu Jan 11, 2018 7:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Danny Boy

Nanohedron wrote:
Considering the emotional investment some have in the Tradition's age, that's a brave statement that might raise some hackles. :wink:


Oh, I know. It amuses me when, sitting at a pub session with people on bouzouki, banjo, B/C accordion, and pipes in D, playing polkas and singing "The Auld Triangle" or "Sean South," people will wax on about the antiquity of the music...

Author:  s1m0n [ Thu Jan 11, 2018 7:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Danny Boy

bigsciota wrote:
While a lot of people do think of trad as being a fairly old genre, 1910 would predate quite a few tunes and songs that are readily accepted as "traditional."


I think there's a difference between songs that have either arisen within the tradition (Roisin Dubh), or come from outside and have been embraced (The Lakes of Pontchartrain) by trad artists. Danny Boy is neither. To the extent that traditional musicians resent it, it's because it has largely been imposed on the tradition by outsiders. There's a reason that the OP can't find a landmark recording by a famous trad artist: there isn't one. It's popularity came from touring professional "Irish Tenors" like John McCormack, as well as by Edwardian "parlour" musicians playing and singing from published sheet music around the drawing room piano. This is not traditional music. Not since 1910. Not ever. Lots of older songs than this aren't part of the tradition because they're not part of the tradition, not because of their age.

In short, the repertoire of the great Irish tenors isn't seen by the tradition as being part of the tradition, despite the fact outsiders see them as the same thing, and despite the fact that the tenors did take some songs from the tradition. Plenty came from elsewhere - art songs, Tin Pan Alley, music hall, victorian schmaltz - and aren't traditional at all. The Irish Tenor thing was about a style, not about content.

Author:  Nanohedron [ Thu Jan 11, 2018 7:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Danny Boy

s1m0n wrote:
There's a reason that the OP can't find a landmark recording by a famous trad artist: there isn't one.

Ah, but there's me. Well, I didn't sing it, but I arranged it. It started out just as you'd expect, all schoolboy-sweet, when at "gone", it launched into a 12/8 doo-wop torch song for the rest of it. At the risk of hubris I can say it was a crowd-pleaser, and fun to play into the bargain. As far as I know no one else had done it before, so, yeah. Landmark. It's on a CD somewhere... :wink:

Author:  Steve Bliven [ Thu Jan 11, 2018 7:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Danny Boy

bigsciota wrote:
I agree with most of what's been said here, but I would like to quibble a little bit with this. While a lot of people do think of trad as being a fairly old genre, 1910 would predate quite a few tunes and songs that are readily accepted as "traditional." I'd go so far as to argue that the genre as it stands today is by and large a product of the first half of the 20th century, not the 18th/19th centuries as many people would place it.

Alert, alert, heretic loose in aisle 3!!! :P

(It's those central Massachusetts Irish....)

Best wishes.

Steve

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