Tag Archives: tenor-banjo

Jam – The Jolly Beggarman

A couple weeks back I went to a party at my buddy John’s house. My practice over the last year or so has been to record as much live music as I can. Consequently, I recorded most of John’s party.

With this post I’ve included a track that I’ve found myself listening to over and over during the last two weeks. I’m just intrigued by it. So much, in fact, that I’ve since tried, unsuccessfully of course, to reproduce the spirit of the track in the more controlled setting of my home studio. I never planned on posting the original track here. But I’m finding myself compelled.

The musicians at the party were all taking a beer break. After returning with my beer, I sat down and started strumming. I think I was trying to remember the words to Sam’s Gone Away (you can hear me humming during the first few chords). But I quickly gave up on that idea and just started experimenting, trying to find something interesting. I guess the first thing I like is that there is no plan and, initially, it feels rather lazy. Just about then my buddy Roger returns with a full beer and sits down, picks up his bodhran and leathers into it. Things start to take shape. Then my buddy Mark returns with his beer. He picks up his tenor banjo.

I immediately recognize a problem. I’ve capo’ed up my guitar and I know that he will not be able to easily play in my position. So, if you listen closely, you will hear me offer a capo. Quickly realizing how absurd of an idea that is on several levels I, instead, slide my capo down between strums to a more favorable key. I’m actually pretty excited about this part…and still perfecting it.
Quickdraw Capo
Let me stray from my story for a moment to tell you about this wicked awesome capo, which I’ve been meaning to do for some time now. Another friend of mine saw my post about a video where a guy used this sliding capo. I thought, wow, I need one. And this friend happened to find one in Baltimore, bought it for me and drove it all the way up to me. It is the coolest thing.

Anyhow, after capoing down, I tell my buddy Mark that I’m just noodling and ask if he has a song; it is always easier to talk while playing after a few pints. After a moment of thought he goes into a classic Planxty song called The Jolly Beggarman, which for me requires a bit of experimentation before settling on a comfortable way to back him.

Well, you take a listen and decide for yourself if it was worth posting.
Jam / The Jolly Beggarman by baconworks

The Nobel Train

A classic corporate metaphor for teamwork is the crew team. In college I rowed in the two seat of an eight man scull and I can attest to that fact that if you are not pulling the oars in perfect unity, the boat moves like a duck.
The visual simplicity of the crew is one reason it lends itself nicely to the teamwork metaphor. However, the stakes are low if the team fails and in the best case scenario, the winning crew goes home with a medal and a warm happy feeling. Nice, but not the most griping example of teamwork.

Recently I was reading David McCullough’s 1776 and I was reminded of an example of teamwork that I would prefer to see on those motivational posters.
The Nobel Train of Artillery

As winter approached, in 1775, George Washington and his untrained, ill equipped rabble in arms were trying to figure out how to dislodge the kings mighty army from Boston. By all accounts, including that of General Washington, the situation was untenable and the obstacles look insurmountable.

It was during this dire period, with Washington’s army perilously close to destruction and the hopes of liberty for the new Americans in jeopardy, that a young man named Henry Knox approached General Washington with a bold idea.

Henry wanted to take three hundred men and march them to upstate New York where they were to appropriate sixty tons of artillery from Fort Ticonderoga. He and his men would then drag the cannons back to Cambridge, MA during the dead of winter using wooden sleds and oxen in what Henry described as a ‘noble train of artillery’.

Henry left for Fort Ti in early December and for the next two months lugged artillery over Lake Champlain, through mud and snow and ultimately arrived in Cambridge on January 24th, 1776. Washington then set all fifty-nine of Knox’s cannons on Dorchester Heights during the course of one night and pointed them down upon the British army. When the British awoke to see the deadly line of artillery pointing at them they thought better of retaliating and within a few days were boarding their ships in Boston harbor and preparing to evacuate. A major victory for the American’s and not a shot had been fired.

History is a great place, of course, to find good tune titles. This tune’s title is a nod to the teamwork and perseverance of Knox and his men during the most trying of times. I was really intending on recording a quick demo of the newly written tune…and then I got carried away with the instrumentation. It was one of those rare evenings where the recording session went smoothly (i.e. my furnace didn’t click on during the perfect takes!). As a demo, unfortunately, the recording is rather short. Consequently, I expect to rework it into a longer set at some point.

The Nobel Train / Franklin’s Harem by baconworks

Moving Cloud / Devany’s Goat / Julia Delaney

Today I received an email from someone I have not heard from in ~20 years … apparently Facebook really does have a way of connecting you to your past. Anyhow, this old friend ultimately stumbled upon baconworks and asked me about more music that her children might be able to step dance along with. So, I began poking around my site, realizing how difficult it actually is to find all the mp3’s I’ve posted (I’ll have to fix that), and discovered that I have yet to post a few of the tracks from my old Amadán album. I guess I’m just getting lazy.
This set of tunes was the first that we recorded as a group. As I recall, we were real excited to get into the studio and lay down some tracks. We were well prepared, had it all planned out…except for the part where Kevin, our guitar player, broke a string while tunning up. In his guitar case he found no spares. I offered my guitar, not the prized Lowden, but instead the infamous Rhapsoby . No, that is not a misspelling. Rhapsoby, not Rhapsody. The guitar is so obscure that even a Google search turns up almost nothing. And when I say ‘obscure’ I don’t mean the good kind, like a 1909-S VDB penny.

Needless to say, Kevin wanted no part of the Rhapsoby. So, there we were, wasting precious time and money in the studio, with no guitar. We had no other choice but for Kevin to leave the studio to try and track down some strings. Scrap all the practices and all the preparing, we had to come up with a new plan, which, of course, we did only after Kevin left on his hunt for new strings. In his absence Roger the percussionist, Damon the fiddler and I on the Rhapsoby, pulled this old set out of the bottom of our repertoire. We recorded it once or twice together and had the track nearly finished, to Kevin’s dismay, by the time he returned an hour later with his new strings.

The set starts with a little Rhapsoby intro, followed with some tempo challenged foot stomping. Incidentally, the foot stomping seems as bad of an idea today as it did then, but neither I nor the engineer could convince Damon to can his cacophonous idea. In addition, my good friend Roger plays some real nice Bodhrán and Bones throughout the set. And, just so Kevin didn’t feel entirely left out, we let him overdub some tenor banjo.

Incidentally, I enjoyed Devany’s Goat so much that years later I did my own recording of the tune, this time setting aside the Rhapsoby and opting for the Lowden.

So, I don’t know if this is step-dancable but, here is Moving Cloud, Devany’s Goat and Julia Delaney.

Moving Cloud / Devany’s Goat / Julia Delaney by baconworks

Breakfast at Rudy’s

Here is a set of tunes that the Mariners are expecting to play in Switzerland this summer. I put together this recording as a reference track for them.

The title comes from our St. Patrick’s Day tradition of cooking breakfast in the parking lot outside of Rudy’s in New Haven before the parade. Good times.

I learned both of the tunes off a Kevin Crawford album called In Good Company.
In Good Company

He actually plays them in different sets on the album. The first is called The First Pint. I believe the second is called Mouse in the Mug.

I don’t own a bodhran so the percussion in the second tune is me tapping the back of my guitar.

Screaming Wretch

In the mid 90’s I went to New York for the Millbrook Muster. After a lovely day of traditional fife and drum we imbibed a few cocktails and enjoyed each others company as we played tunes around the campsite. As the night covered us in stars our fifing had moved from the traditional jigs, reels and hornpipes into the more exploratory realm of what we called ‘Space’.

Space usually involved a half-dozen fifers playing, without any predefined structure or direction, in an attempt to spontaneously create atonal music. From the outside I suspect it was fairly offensive. But being in the center of it was intriguing. Like an ant colony, it initially appears unorganized, but after a bit of observation, a strange sense of organization emerges. Musicians would react to what the other musicians were doing and the Space would take on a musical dialog of its own. Without a map the participants would begin to gain an intuitive sense of where things were going like ants finding their way to food. Fascinating.

Well, the woman who was trying to sleep with her newborn a few tents over did not find Space to be nearly as interesting as we did and, with a fair amount of energy, she let us know. In an attempt to be considerate we put the fifes away and, instead, decided to continue our musical explorations through group humming. Ironically, this ‘Hum Jam’ attracted quite a crowd and before we knew it we had a dozen or more participants with as many onlookers. It was all very organic and quite exciting. But, once again, our lady-with-a-baby was unable to see the brilliance in the musical and communal phenomena that was unfolding before her. And with more energy than before, she leathered into us with an ear popping, shrill harangue that rivaled any atonal noise we could have possibly produced with fifes. She really killed the mood.

I went home, once the weekend was over, with a spiteful vengeance toward that screaming wretch who ruined our Space, which is ironic since I’m actually a reasonably nice guy. The next day, in a moment of catharsis I wrote this tune.

Screaming Wretch

In a nod to Space, I wanted to write a tune that sounded somewhat random and, originally, left the last note of the tune up for interpretation by the performer. My recording of Screaming Wretch, primarily on bouzouki and tenor banjo, is very incomplete as you will hear instruments drop the second time through. But, I wanted to post it because Plùc is looking for some new material and the best way to learn this tune is to listen to it…repeatedly. Also, you will notice, upon close inspection, that I am playing this slightly differently than how I originally wrote it. This is due to a combination of me softening a few spots, now that the years have soothed my aggravations, along with my fading memory of every accidental that I wrote in.

So, to the lady-with-a-baby: Thanks. This tune would have never been written without all your bitching. Second, I hope you can accept my belated apology for ruining your good nights sleep.
Screaming Wretch by baconworks

Calliope House / Stone’s Mongrel

Home recording has never been easier. Recently I have been experimenting with some equipment and have found the audio quality to be quite stunning. The experiments have looked something like this:


I record in my basement in between the furnace going on and off, which is a real pain since it has been so cold lately. Nothing like a perfectly good track ruined by the boiler firing up.

The track at the bottom of this post is made up of two tunes. The first is called Calliope House and is a tune that was written by Dave Richardson of ‘The Boys of the Lough’.

The second tune is one I wrote in January of 2007. I have been attending a session at a pub called John Stone’s Public House. After hearing lots of A minor jigs this tune fell out of my head on the way home from the session. I am quite sure it has to be a mix of all the tunes I had been listening to. The thing I like about the tune is that the A strain has ten measures … two more than is typical.

Stone’s Mongrel

For those interested in the recording details, I used the following equipment:
AKG C1000S microphone ~$200
into a
Pesonus TUBEPre preamp ~$100
into an
Echo Indigo IO ~$150
into the pcmcia slot on my laptop, which is not at all optimized for recording. It has a Pentium M processor, 1500 MHz and 1 GB of RAM.

I used free software called Kristal Audio Engine for mixing tracks, adding reverb, EQ and such. I also added additional effects such as compression from Kjaerhus Audio. They provide a set of free VST plugins.