This is not just a review; it is a story.
There is a long version to the story of the Davy Spillane Low D, and there is a short version.
The short version: I have a Davy Spillane Low D. Yes, it exists. It looks a lot like a Howard Low D. It's not a very good whistle.
No, this is not it.
To tell the longer version, I'll have to reach back a bit in history... whistle history and whistle mystery. Yes, mystery surrounds the Davy Spillane low D
. In pictures and videos of his famous Riverdance performances, Spillane plays a whistle that looks remarkably like an Overton. But Spillane apparently has repeatedly insisted that he does not play an Overton low D, but a whistle that he himself made. Thing is no one has ever seen this Spillane Low D, nor is there anyone known to have been able to order one from Spillane, although Spillane advertised these whistles at various times. And Spillane is known to own a big-hole Overton low D.
On the chiffboard meantime, the Davy Spillane low D took on mythical status and reports of it were treated as apocryphal. There were jokes, unpleasant (and I daresay unfair) remarks were passed, there was an air of indignation, and whistlers from Utah offered advice on customer relations for whistle makers. A "professional" MUSICIAN from Illinois started channelling Spillane, or claimed to do so anyway. A normal day on chiff & fipple, in short.
Here is a selected chronicle of the more recent history: An early inqury
(with a remarkably perceptive response by Zubivka); the announcement of the plastic-head Spillanes
is met with skepticism; Spillane sighted playing an Overton
; further speculation and all that
; the plot thickens
; renewed attempts
by Bloomfield. I gave up on pooling funds since I was not hearing back from Spillane. Then, in early 2005, I did hear back. I sent the money, and the whistle was shipped
Davy Spillane Low D. (click here to enlarge)
The Spillane low D that finally surfaced is a "Howard" style low D (aluminium tube with plastic head) not an "Overton" style low D (all aluminium). Before I get into reviewing the whistle, I would just like to make the following comment on the mystery surrounding the Spillane low D. If I were in Spillane's role of fame and glory, I would not want be associated with a particular whistle, unless I really endorsed it, or made money from it. I shouldn't wonder that Spillane hasn't in the past had a whistle pushed on him, only to hear the maker then claim that "Spillane plays XYZ whistles." Even if that wasn't the case, as Davy Spillane I'd be careful and generally shy about confirming rumors that I play this or that instrument. Fun to speculate about mystery whistles, of course, but I never quite understood why people would get so upset with Spillane (if you do understand, please don't try to explain it to me; I've heard it).
Alba low D, blue new-style Howard low D, Spillane low D, recent Overton low D. (click here to enlarge)
Now on to the review proper.
The Spillane has a pleasant, slightly breathy sound. It is on the quiet side. I've recorded a couple of clips, to give an impression. Here is a jig, The Blooming Meadows
(you'll forgive my playing). What I hope is apparent is that the tuning is fairly good (the low E and to a lesser extent the high e are slightly sharp). I don't think the whistle is well balanced: the bottom end is weak compared to the upper octave, and in order to blow the second octave in tune, you are blowing quite a bit harder and the whistle is quite a bit louder. In fact, the low E and D are weak and fragile, and break or flip easily.
In terms of backpressure, the Spillane requires a bit but not much: More than my Alba or Howard, less than my Overton. It would be a pleasant enough whistle to play if it weren't prone to clogging. That's a fixable problem, of course, and the soap trick should do it. But without that, I found myself clearing the windway frequently and when playing a set of tunes, the clogging made the tone thinner and more fragile after a while.
Here is a comparison: Another jig, Garrett Barry's
, played first on the Spillane, then on a Colin-Goldie Overton, finally on a new-style Howard. It's all subjective, of course, but to my ear the Spillane doesn't have the Cosmic tone of the Overton, but is similar to the Howard, if not as forceful. And to round things out, here is a slow air played on the Spillane, By the Side of the Rock
(from A Dossan of Heather
The Spillane low D is not particularly well made. The aluminium tube is brushed, but the finish doesn't look professional. That doesn't bother me much; it does bother me, though, that there is residue stuck inside some of the tone-holes. The tube inside the head was obviously cut with a tube cutter, and there are sharp and uneven edges. The head is made from injection-molded plastic. The mold is misaligned, giving a ring just at the edge of the windway (a bit like the Kerry heads). The Spillane has a narrow beak, which makes it remarkably comfortable to play.
Davy Spillane Low D head. Notice the plastice bit inside the head, catching the light. (click here to enlarge)
Davy Spillane Low D head from the side. (click here to enlarge)
Looking closely at the head you can see the uneven color (indicating uneven molding temperatures, I think). The molded head was apparently mashined, leaving marks. Inside the windway, there is a square bit of plastic sticking out, which should have been removed. All this gives the Spillane a cheap or slightly amateurish feel---nothing wrong with that, except that the whistle cost 200 Euros, which is pricey.
I include here a series of pictures. Mostly comparisons with other whistles, which will bring me to the last point of my review.
Davy Spillane Low D head next to an old-style (well-loved) Howard head. Notice the similar bevels on the blade. (click here to enlarge)
For comparison: new-style Howard head (on a poststructural bath rug). (click here to enlarge)
Apart from the minor differences, such as the narrowness of the beak, the slight flattening of the top of the beak, and the bevel of the ramp (which resembles the old-style Howard more than then the new-style), the head of the Spillane bears more than a passing resemblance to the new-style Howard head. The Howard low D is considerably cheaper than the Spillane, of course, uses thin brass tube rather than a thick aluminium tube, and is better-made, at least to my layman's eye.
For comparison, from the top: Old-style Howard, recent Overton, Spillane, big-hole Overton. (click here to enlarge)
As you can tell, the Howard is a bit shorter than the Spillane or the Overtons, which has to do with the wider inside diameter of the Howard. In the picture posted further up, you can see the Spillane next to a new-style Howard. Take a look at the hole spacing: The Spillane hole-spacing is very close to the Howard (only hole sizes are differnt, as you'd expect), but to my mind is identical (or very nearly so), to the big-hole Overton.
Hole patterns, from the top: Old-style Howard, Spillane, big-hole Overton. (click here to enlarge)
Seems to me that the Spillane low D was inspired by (if not copied from) the Howard head and the tube of a big-hole Overton. For the price, I'd expect the whistle to play well, which it doesn't. That is subjective to a certain extent, I know, but I can't see a professional player using this whistle.
There you have it. A shred of the Spillane mystery remains, in that we haven't seen an Overton-style all-aluminium Spillane low D. But perhaps the Howard-style Spillane is enough.
And the oddest thing of all: The Spillane isn't signed or stamped "Spillane," reducing its sentimental value to Spillane fans.