A session in full swing, Levis’ Corner Bar, Ballydehob. Photo by Finola Finlay
The Ballydehob Session has been on the go for many years, so I asked Dick Miles to look out some of his older repertoire to load into this site, so we can all learn (or re-learn) the tunes to play together the next time we meet.
First up is Valentia Harbour – a beautiful slow air which is titled in Irish Amhrán Na Leabhar, meaning ‘Song of the Books’, although sometimes called ‘Song of the Lost Books’.
. . . The song to this air was written by Tomás Rua Ó Súilleabháin (1785-1848), a poet and musician from Iveragh (Uibh Ráitheach) or Derrynane, County Kerry. Ó Suilleabhain had been acting-schoolmaster at Caherdaniel and was forced to transfer to Portmagee when another schoolmaster was appointed to the permanent position. As he was leaving he placed his treasured and huge (for the times!) library of leather-bound books for transport on a boat going from Derrynane to Goleen (Goilin, Valentia Harbor), while he himself travelled by road. The boat struck a rock and was lost, tragically along with the priceless collection of books, prompting Ó Súlleabháin to seek solace in song. The air is known in modern times as a slow tempo piper’s tune . . .
Dick’s next track features two hornpipes: Belfast Hornpipe and Madam Bonaparte. These are good ‘standards’, but are not frequently played nowadays. The latter was supposedly written by James Gandsey (1767-1857), piper to the Barons Headley, whose estate was near Killarney.
Lastly, I have added a track from one of Dick’s early CDs. This is the Impudence Schottische: a fabulous and quirky tune. Schottisches in Ireland closely resemble Barn Dances in phrase and timing. I’d love to hear this tune played in our session, although I fear it might be hard work on the melodeon – especially as Dick plays it in B flat! Would you mind if we transposed it, Dick?
Levis’s Corner Bar, Ballydehob – preparing for Wran Day 2019. Photo by Pól Ó Colmáin
It’s time to share the music! And the musicians (although you are all welcome to contribute – wherever in the world you come from). Don’t forget to tell us something about yourselves. First up: a little documentary well worth watching (note – any text in grey on this site will take you to a live link if you click on it), but who do think the young singer is…?
Of course! You’d recognise that high collar, bow tie and velvet jacket anywhere: it’s Dick Miles, now chief-of-staff of our Ballydehob sessions! This video was made a good few years ago, in the 1980s. And that’s when I first came across Dick, and the New Mexborough Concertina Quartet – at the Kendal Folk Festival, I think. Then, my wife Bryony and I were running a travelling shop which visited many of the UK festivals during the summers of the late seventies and early eighties. We sold books, records and musical instruments, and got to hear – and meet – many of the ‘folk’ stars of the day.
A selection of ‘English’ concertinas
Dick was the ‘frontman’ and principal vocalist for the Concertina Quartet, which was inspired by a concertina band which had been active in Yorkshire well into the twentieth century. In fact, some of the original band members were still around when the Quartet started to tour. Concertina bands were popular, playing music in harmonies often taken from brass band repertoires. The instruments were generally ‘English Concertinas’, as opposed to ‘Anglo’ or ‘Duet’ types. If you want to know more about concertinas, have a look at this post over on Roaringwater Journal. Now, here’s a track from the New Mexborough Concertina Quartet: I love the rich sounds coming out of those instruments! This is titled ‘Beauties of Ireland’ and is a rendering of Cuishlin Ma Chree / The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Hall and The Legacy:
Dick moved to Ireland in 1990 and has made his living from playing and singing in folk clubs, sessions and festivals ever since. He also founded and runs the annual Fastnet Maritime and Folk Festival, based in Ballydehob every summer.
Dick Miles and Martin Carthy in Levis’ Corner Bar, Maritime Festival 2018