Sunday, April 18, 2010

Martin Hayes: Clare Reel and The Night Poor Larry Was Stretched

I've started moving my columns for Folkworks to here as it has been difficult for people to find the columns and Folkworks also doesn't make the sheet music downloadable. That, however, is the main reason why people contact me! 

So here was the first one, originally from 2009, but published in Folkworks in May 2010. 

Many people like the idea of playing in a session and have decent skills and know some tunes, but do not quite have the repertoire or skills to hang in with a typical pub session (i.e. reels at blistering speed). Our session is aimed at the more common intermediate player, but I also want to keep it interesting enough for stronger players. Learning new material is important and I have a strong preference myself for learning tunes that are likely to be played in sessions elsewhere.   

Here is a pair of tunes that fit the description, one a lovely slip jig with the grim title The Night (Before) Poor Larry Was Stretched, the other the Clare Reel. While neither one was entirely obscure, they have become much more popular recently. The reason is undoubtedly that Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill recorded them on their last CD Welcome Here Again. Martin Hayes is a very popular and influential fiddler and this was their first recording in almost 10 years (the last one was a 1999 live CD), so it got a lot of attention. In a departure from typical Irish recordings, Martin and Dennis did not put tunes into sets, but recorded them standing alone. The Clare Reel is track 1 The Night Poor Larry Was Stretched track 5. Poor Larry also exists as a ballad with several different lyrics and changes in the melody, but it takes a minimum of 8 verses before he is dead, regardless of the version.

Martin Hayes epitomizes the fiddle music of County Clare for many people, but he certainly has his own idiosyncratic and very recognizable style. Personal styles dominate regional styles, although there are some recognizable regional characteristics. The Clare style could be characterized by a slower pace and a more wistful or even eerie feel. A contributing factor may be the use of flat keys, F, Gm, Bb, or even Eb. You will get that idea immediately if you listen to the short version of the Clare Reel (also the first track on their CD) available on Martin’s website at
I just found a great video of one of the key players of the Clare Style, Paddy Canny, who then was well into his 80s in the video. Paddy Canny could be considered the musical grandfather of Martin Hayes because he taught Martin’s father, PJ Hayes, in the 1930s.
Paddy Canny plays two standard jigs, but note his fingering: Cliffs of Moher is played in sessions everywhere, but in the key of Am, whereas Paddy Canny plays it in Gm.

Now, if Paddy Canny plays in Gm, there is a good reason to learn some Irish tunes in Gm, which happens to be the key for The Night Poor Larry Was Stretched. I took a video of a great set of Martin and Dennis last year, and Poor Larry starts at 1.12

I learned both of those tunes from Martin shortly after he had recorded them (he also helped me glue my upright bass back together, but that is another story) and
I transcribed both tunes in the attached pdf to get you started. But remember that you can never really learn a tune from sheet music alone. It gives you the notes, but that is only part of playing music and often the easier one. Sheet music is very helpful while learning a tune, but you need to get away from the printed material quickly and get the feel from a recording, video, or experienced teacher. I wrote out chords as well, but the chords here are more standard than what Dennis would play, and written so they are easy when capoed at 3rd fret (again, the idea is that you can use that for a session): Clare Reel becomes then: D-Em-D-G-D-Em-D for the A part and Bm-G-F-Em-D in the B part Poor Larry becomes: Em-D-Em-D  and G-D-G-C-D. However, that does not sound at all like Dennis Cahill. To sound more like him, try an Fsus throughout the A part of the Clare Reel and play the top 4 strings (finger them as F/Bb/C/F). Or for Poor Larry B-part, keep an F in the bass and chords change each bar: Bb/F - Eb/F - Bb/F - Eb/F. But when there are several chord instruments at a session, you need to agree on chords in advance or only one of you can play at a time. 

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