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Chris Smith: Words & Music

Reels: The Peeler's Jacket/The Flogging/The Abbey

(Chris Smith (banjo), Randal Bays (fiddle), Roger Landes (bouzouki))
2005-09-08
If you came to Irish music in the 1970s—particularly if you were American—it was almost impossible to escape the influence of the Bothy Band, Planxty, or De Dannan/Danann. Recordings by those bands (on thin, floppy vinyl, especially from the then-great Mulligan label) were so influential that still, 30 years later, a lot of us play still some tunes we first heard there. On this set, one of the first we recorded during the sessions, we just naturally found ourselves falling into a De Danann groove—who themselves played more like a band from the 1920s than the 1970s (high praise indeed). It wasn’t conscious, but on this first set, we definitely were showing the influence of Frankie Gavin (fiddle), Alec Finn (bouzouki), and Charlie Piggott (banjo), from the greatest incarnation of that band.

“The Peeler’s Jacket” (also known as “The Boys of the Lake,” “Corkonian Reel,” “Emminence Breakdown,” “Merry Blacksmith,” “Paddy on the Railroad,” “The Shepherd in/on the Gap”) plays on a slang term for a policeman in Ireland, a reference to Sir Robert Peel who originated the Irish police force in the mid-19th century. It appears as #1184 in O Neill’s 1850, but I’m middling certain I got it from Micho Russell.

Button accordion master John J. Kimmel recorded “The Flogging” in 1916; it also appears in O Neill’s Dance Music of Ireland as #482 and in CRE II as #184, collected by Breathnach from Paddy Murphy in 1969. The tune is very widely distributed, showing up in Scottish, Irish, and English collections. There’s a lovely anecdote in O Neill (1913) about 19th-century piper Pat Ward, from Blackbull, Drogheda, writing down this tune with a burnt furze stick. Andrew Kuntz’s Fiddler’s Companion, a fantastic resource no player should be without, mentions that the tune is located in a repertoire list compiled from Philip Goodman of Louth at the Feis Ceoil in Belfast in 1898. I might have got it from Kilmaley’s Peader O’Loughlin.

“The Abbey”, first recorded in 1928, is also known as “The Moher Reel,” though Jack and Charlie Coen, from whom I got it, call it “Drag Her Around the Road.”