Irish Philadelphia

The Web guide to Irish music and culture in and around the Quaker City

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Best Night Ever at the 'Maid

I'll make this fast. My wife is starting to think I am having an affair with my laptop. (Yes I am, of course, and I would be grateful if you would refer to her henceforth by her proper name, Boopsi.)

I know I've said this before about sessions at the Mermaid Inn, but the session last night was a keeper. It was one of those sessions that seems to draw energy from some limitless source. Perpetual motion's supposed to be impossible, but whoever said so evidently never attended one of the better Irish traditional music sessions.

One reason for the overall coolness of the session was the presence of so much high-powered talent, notably the hall of fame box player Kevin McGillian and son Jimmy on guitar and banjo. It was a big crowd, too, with 12-15 musicians. An interesting mix of talent, including many of the regulars, like Dave Miller.

Fiddler Chris Hagy, the session's resident mother hen, always creates a welcoming atmosphere. Chris is one of the most encouraging and generous musicians you're likely to run into.

Normally there are gaps between tunes and sets at a session. Beer breaks and such. This night, one set seemed to fold over into the next, and so on 'til closing.

Seemed like we hit every tune in the book, moving seamlessly from one tune to another -- The Traveler's Reel, Sligo Creek, Egan's Polka, Old Tipperary. And on and on and on.

Continuing my (I hope) not too annoying practice of recording local sessions, I pieced together several MP3s suitable for download. Some of you have asked about the diminutive digital recorder I'm using. It's a Sony, model ICD-SX25. It records stereo. I picked it up at Staples for under $150.

I am also now playing a Toshiba digital bodhran, model number BO-666. The tipper is actually a laser that plays Kevin Conneff sound samples when you wave the tipper in front of the bulletproof Kevlar head. I'm just a digital guy. (Lies. All lies.)

Seriously -- or as serious as I get -- I'm not aiming for anything like a polished quality. Sessions are nothing if not spontaneous.

If you can't be there in person, soaking it all in, I want you to be able to appreciate the session as I did. All of a session's seeming imperfections are, in truth, part of its undying charm.

Download the podcasts:

- J.M.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

First-Timer at the Plough

Just before Christmas, I took my cheapo bodhran down to the Plough and the Stars. I'd always heard it was a great session, maybe the best, and I wanted to see whether my drumming would pass muster or send Plough patrons screaming into the night, blood streaming from their ears.

The good news is: no screaming patrons or streaming blood. I'm sure I didn't set the world on fire, but not too horrible either. I'm sure I'll go again.

The Plough session that day drew a mandolin player from the Harrisburg area -- nothing going on out that way on the Irish traditional music front, evidently. Also there, a fiddler and whistle player from Pittsburgh, who drop in when in Philadelphia to visit their daughter.

A huge crowd overall, with more than 20 musicians, pretty much all of them excellent, including three kids.

I recorded some sound that day -- the first time I used my little hand-held digital voice recorder. It all came out surprisingly well, although I am told that the sound quality is not that great for dial-up web users. I posted it to

I also shot some pictures.

Both sound and photos are respectfully submitted here for your approval:

Photo spread

- J.M.