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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Luke Kelly's style?


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/186779

rhoderickj - Posted - 09/12/2010:  18:10:04


I am a guitar player with no banjo experience whose primary interest is in Irish folk music. The tenor banjo (tuned to GDAE and played with plectrum) is usually used for Irish traditional music but many Irish folk bands often use 5-string banjos for rhythm.

I have considered picking up the banjo in addition to guitar. My main inspiration is Luke Kelly of the Dubliners but I can't find any references to his style of playing. Does anyone know if it has a name? Is it unique to him? How could I learn it?

It seems to me like he usually plays his 5-string like fingerstyle guitar but he often strums chords without a plectrum. I think this style of playing really adds character to folk music without giving it a bluegrass feel (nothing against bluegrass of course, but it doesn't really belong in Irish folk music).

Here are a few YouTube videos that exemplify his style:

coelhoe - Posted - 09/12/2010:  19:07:45


Boy, does that bring back memories of Dublin in the summer of '65, before Kelly joined the group on a regular basis. I saw the band out at Howth, near Dublin, in a hotel playing in the middle of a large crowd. Most of what he is doing is simply strumming the instrument as if it were a guitar, and only by accident hitting the fifth string. Once in awhile he will play a hammer-on using his thumb, like a Carter-style guitarist.

But any unique banjo notes you are hearing are coming from Barney McKenna's tenor, not Kelly's five string. Barney was a wizard on the tenor. You should hear him play "The Mason's Apron."

An interesting story concerning Kelly's banjo. It looks like he is using a Vega in the videos, but he used to have a Merlin (remember them?) given to him by Tommy Makem, who often performed with the Clancy Brothers as well as solo. Merlin had given Tommy the banjo to use on stage, a weird outer-space design, that Tommy could never keep in tune and so he gave it to Luke. One night on stage in Dublin, the Merlin literally exploded. The neck broke, the tuners flew off and the head collapsed. Kelly tossed the rest into the audience.

When Kelly died I wrote to a friend in Dublin to ask the cause. "Too much of everything," was the reply.

I don't know that many have followed him in using the long neck Seeger style banjo. Many Irish vocalists have gone to using a bouzouki, cittern or octave mandolin for the richer chords and ease of playing, but the Seeger style, due to both Pete and Peggy (probably more the latter since she was living in the UK), had a strong effect on ensemble music in the UK and Ireland in the early 60's.

falconeman - Posted - 09/12/2010:  19:44:35


Luke usually did a simple strum on banjo. His real asset was as a ballad singer for the group. That being said, however, he could pick as seen in this clip, his last performance before dying of a brain tumor. The lyrics are haunting... "I must away now, I cannot linger..."

youtube.com/watch?v=WMGvQ2v-ZRM

mainejohn - Posted - 09/13/2010:  05:29:37


quote:
Originally posted by falconeman

Luke usually did a simple strum on banjo. His real asset was as a ballad singer for the group. That being said, however, he could pick as seen in this clip, his last performance before dying of a brain tumor. The lyrics are haunting... "I must away now, I cannot linger..."

youtube.com/watch?v=WMGvQ2v-ZRM



Hauntingly beautiful...Mckenna's tenor and Luke's simple yet effective style truly complement each other. Luke's singing captured the soul of Ireland.

BrittDLD1 - Posted - 09/13/2010:  07:28:21


quote:
Originally posted by coelhoe
An interesting story concerning Kelly's banjo. It looks like he is using a Vega in the videos, but he used to have a Merlin (remember them?) given to him by Tommy Makem, who often performed with the Clancy Brothers as well as solo. Merlin had given Tommy the banjo to use on stage, a weird outer-space design, that Tommy could never keep in tune and so he gave it to Luke. One night on stage in Dublin, the Merlin literally exploded. The neck broke, the tuners flew off and the head collapsed. Kelly tossed the rest into the audience.

He's playing a Merlin (pehaps 2 different ones...) in the first two
videos. Something else in the 3rd.

Best-
Ed Britt

Wykowski - Posted - 09/13/2010:  07:53:44


UP THE DUBS !!!!

Luke Kelly is among the Greatest Folk Singers of All-Time (Ronnie & Ciaran are up there too)

Barney's tenor is the best (& John fills in all the gaps perfectly).

Best Band EVER !!!

rhoderickj - Posted - 09/13/2010:  08:06:46


quote:
Originally posted by coelhoe

Boy, does that bring back memories of Dublin in the summer of '65, before Kelly joined the group on a regular basis. I saw the band out at Howth, near Dublin, in a hotel playing in the middle of a large crowd.


I am extremely jealous.

quote:
But any unique banjo notes you are hearing are coming from Barney McKenna's tenor, not Kelly's five string. Barney was a wizard on the tenor. You should hear him play "The Mason's Apron."


McKenna is definitely amazing. Many credit him with the introduction of the tenor banjo to Irish music. Even so, I think Kelly's banjo style is better suited to solo playing with vocals. For example, in that Muirsheen Durkin video, it adds a neat galloping kind of sound which is then backed up by the percussive plucking of the tenor.

quote:
I don't know that many have followed him in using the long neck Seeger style banjo. Many Irish vocalists have gone to using a bouzouki, cittern or octave mandolin for the richer chords and ease of playing, but the Seeger style, due to both Pete and Peggy (probably more the latter since she was living in the UK), had a strong effect on ensemble music in the UK and Ireland in the early 60's.


That sounds like an excellent analysis to me. I hear a lot of bouzoukis and mandolins in Irish folk, but I think they lack the folksy, working-class sound of the 5-string. Unfortunately, most Irish traditional musicians completely reject the 5-string. I find that astonishing considering that it was one of the instruments responsible for the Irish folk music revival. Other 5-string players include Tommy Makem, Pecker Dunne, Will Millar of the Irish Rovers, and Margaret Barry. I think Andy Irvine of Sweeney's Men also played a 5-string.

I will have to look into the Seeger style. After reading this, I spent a few minutes going over some old Seeger recordings and I can definitely hear the similarities. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.

Basic Strum - Posted - 09/13/2010:  09:44:54


quote:
Originally posted by rhoderickj

I am a guitar player with no banjo experience whose primary interest is in Irish folk music. The tenor banjo (tuned to GDAE and played with plectrum) is usually used for Irish traditional music but many Irish folk bands often use 5-string banjos for rhythm.

I have considered picking up the banjo in addition to guitar. My main inspiration is Luke Kelly of the Dubliners but I can't find any references to his style of playing. Does anyone know if it has a name? Is it unique to him? How could I learn it?

It seems to me like he usually plays his 5-string like fingerstyle guitar but he often strums chords without a plectrum. I think this style of playing really adds character to folk music without giving it a bluegrass feel (nothing against bluegrass of course, but it doesn't really belong in Irish folk music).




With your guitar-playing experience, you shouldn't have much difficulty achieving what Luke Kelly did so well on the 5-string banjo -- which was to strum and accompany himself singing. As others have pointed out, Kelly's strumming tended to integrate the 5th string in kind of an ad hoc way. If you were simply to begin fingerpicking and strumming a 5-string banjo with your fingers, as I assume you already know how to do on the guitar, I think you'll get to where you want to be fairly quickly. I'll probably get lambasted for suggesting this, but there's really no specific "Luke Kelly Style" that you should seek to imitate; it's a moving target, really, and the presence of the tenor banjo is only going to complicate any attempt you would make to isolate the 5-string in your head. I really ought to emphasize that none of this is intended to put down Luke Kelly's playing; he did a fantastic job at vocal accompaniment, which isn't easy to master -- and what fantastic vocals they were! Lord, what a voice! Bill

rhoderickj - Posted - 09/17/2010:  17:50:40


quote:
Originally posted by Basic Strum
With your guitar-playing experience, you shouldn't have much difficulty achieving what Luke Kelly did so well on the 5-string banjo -- which was to strum and accompany himself singing. As others have pointed out, Kelly's strumming tended to integrate the 5th string in kind of an ad hoc way. If you were simply to begin fingerpicking and strumming a 5-string banjo with your fingers, as I assume you already know how to do on the guitar, I think you'll get to where you want to be fairly quickly. I'll probably get lambasted for suggesting this, but there's really no specific "Luke Kelly Style" that you should seek to imitate; it's a moving target, really, and the presence of the tenor banjo is only going to complicate any attempt you would make to isolate the 5-string in your head. I really ought to emphasize that none of this is intended to put down Luke Kelly's playing; he did a fantastic job at vocal accompaniment, which isn't easy to master -- and what fantastic vocals they were! Lord, what a voice! Bill


Thanks Bill. That's sound advice. In either case, I just can't get the banjo out of my head, so I'll be picking up either a 5-string or a tenor soon. Hell, maybe I'll try both.

By the way, if anyone happens to find this thread interesting, I happened upon an older thread here at Banjo Hangout about the same topic: banjohangout.org/archive/87720

In that thread, "mick banjo Mac" (fivestringbanjoteacher.ie/) says that he learned banjo from Luke Kelly and that his "style is both clahammer (up-picking) & classcial style's" and that "Luke used no finger picks at all, just the tips of his fingers. Not the nails, the fleshy part. Some times he used a thumb pick."

Basic Strum - Posted - 09/19/2010:  04:16:43


quote:
Originally posted by rhoderickj

[quote]

In that thread, "mick banjo Mac" (fivestringbanjoteacher.ie/) says that he learned banjo from Luke Kelly and that his "style is both clahammer (up-picking) & classcial style's" and that "Luke used no finger picks at all, just the tips of his fingers. Not the nails, the fleshy part. Some times he used a thumb pick."




Again, my advice to someone like you, an experienced guitar player who wants to imitate a specific individual's idiosyncratic banjo playing, is watch and copy. For one thing, clawhammer is not up-picking by any stretch of the imagination. And what does "classical styles" mean? If you were to obtain clawhammer instructional materials thinking that by mastering that technique you would be able to play the way Luke Kelly did, you might discover the joys of clawhammer but wind up even farther away from your goal. Start with a Kelly rendition you really like on YouTube, figure out the key and chords on your guitar, get a 5-string banjo chord book, study Kelly's right-hand movements, and have at it. If you can't figure out the banjo tuning for a given song while you are learning, there are people here who will help you. Bill

coelhoe - Posted - 09/19/2010:  06:59:15


I think everyone playing 5-string in the UK in that time period was greatly affected by the playing of Peggy Seeger, who came to the UK in 1956, and later backing up Ewan MacColl, her husband, with her own version of brother Pete's variant of the up-picking styles of Rufus Crisp and Bascom Lamar Lunsford.

If you can find the any of the albums of the UK band, The Ian Campbell Folk Group from the early to mid-60's you can hear John Dunkle playing very precise melodic phrases using this style in a variety of time signatures (e.g. 9/8, 6/8. 4/4 3/4) doing back up for Davey Swarbrick on the fiddle.

But, in general, the style sounds a lot like American folky players of the time period such as Bob Gibson, or Alex Hassilev (with The Limeliters).

Seems to me that Peggy Seeger even published a book in the UK on banjo playing.

rhoderickj - Posted - 09/19/2010:  07:00:04


quote:
Originally posted by Basic Strum
Again, my advice to someone like you, an experienced guitar player who wants to imitate a specific individual's idiosyncratic banjo playing, is watch and copy. For one thing, clawhammer is not up-picking by any stretch of the imagination. And what does "classical styles" mean? If you were to obtain clawhammer instructional materials thinking that by mastering that technique you would be able to play the way Luke Kelly did, you might discover the joys of clawhammer but wind up even farther away from your goal. Start with a Kelly rendition you really like on YouTube, figure out the key and chords on your guitar, get a 5-string banjo chord book, study Kelly's right-hand movements, and have at it. If you can't figure out the banjo tuning for a given song while you are learning, there are people here who will help you. Bill


My goal isn't so much to mimic Luke Kelly as it is to be able to do decent covers of Dubliners songs. I would also like to play banjo as an accompaniment to vocals and guitar. The name or "type" of style doesn't really concern me too much. I guess I was just confused because the banjo can be played in so many different ways, each producing a signature sound that is commonly associated with a style of music. I was just hoping to find a good starting point. Thanks again!

Basic Strum - Posted - 09/19/2010:  09:11:06


quote:
Originally posted by rhoderickj

[quote][i]

My goal isn't so much to mimic Luke Kelly as it is to be able to do decent covers of Dubliners songs.




I guess I got thrown off by "my main inspiration is Luke Kelly of the Dubliners." Now that we know what you're after, the flat-picked 4-string banjo is much more significant in the Dubliner sound (and Irish music in general) than Luke Kelly's 5-string playing. In guitar terms, think of the Dubliners' tenor banjo as the lead banjo and Kelly playing rhythm banjo. In covering Beatles recordings ... John's rhythm guitar or George's leads? Bill

rhoderickj - Posted - 09/19/2010:  20:02:07


quote:
Originally posted by Basic Strum
I guess I got thrown off by "my main inspiration is Luke Kelly of the Dubliners." Now that we know what you're after, the flat-picked 4-string banjo is much more significant in the Dubliner sound (and Irish music in general) than Luke Kelly's 5-string playing. In guitar terms, think of the Dubliners' tenor banjo as the lead banjo and Kelly playing rhythm banjo. In covering Beatles recordings ... John's rhythm guitar or George's leads? Bill


That makes sense, but do you think it's possible for me to sing and play tenor? It looks to me like the tenor requires a certain amount of concentration that doesn't lend itself well to multitasking. I was thinking of the 5-string as sort of splitting the difference: I could add a banjo to the mix but still retain the ability to sing. Ideally, I'd like to get a full-time tenor player in the band but, in my area, they are quite rare.

Basic Strum - Posted - 09/20/2010:  03:54:48


[/quote]

That makes sense, but do you think it's possible for me to sing and play tenor? It looks to me like the tenor requires a certain amount of concentration that doesn't lend itself well to multitasking. I was thinking of the 5-string as sort of splitting the difference: I could add a banjo to the mix but still retain the ability to sing. Ideally, I'd like to get a full-time tenor player in the band but, in my area, they are quite rare.
[/quote]


The Dubliners backed by Miss Priscilla's All-Girl Ukulele Band would still be the Dubliners. If I were you, I would focus first on evoking the experience of a Dubliners' show -- the energy, the attitude, the wit -- using whatever instruments you already have in your band. If you're limited to 6-string guitars, look into quick fixes that suggest higher-sounding instruments such as capoing one of them up for different voicings, or substituting a 12-string for one of them. Meanwhile, nominate someone in the band to learn the tenor banjo at least well enough to trill some melody lines, and build up your group's Dubliner instrumental skills on a separate track. You're certainly going to want to add a fiddle player, too if you don't have one already. Isn't there a Dubliner fan forum out there where you can get info on their musicianship in general?

I think that's about it from me. Good luck to you. Bill

spoonfed - Posted - 09/20/2010:  06:50:36


I met Luke on several occasions and played his merlin too, I was a guitar player exclusively at that time and found the Merlin to be quite unpleasant to play ! the neck and fingerboard were cold to the touch and to my ears it seemed harsh and brash, lacking the woodiness usualy found in folk music, Lukes own peculiar style was, as has been said here, very akin to guitar fingerstyle a kind of strumming/picking much like us guitarists employ when we can't locate a plectrum ! I play Irish folk music gigs about five times a month using a Gibson RB250 and I can get Lukes tunes quite easily whilst singing, as you stated that you are a guitarist I think you should find it comes quite easy once you try, A lot of the Dubliners songs are in G major anyway so loosely picking a song like Peggy Gordon in open G is a good start off point, the right hand patterns are quite easy to pick out by ear, also Black Velvet Band uses similar right hand techniques but be carefull when picking along to recordings, the Dubs did not always adhere too strictly to concert pitch and sometimes changed key over the years probably depending on how the throat was feeling on a long tour, Peggy Gordon was frequently played in F for example, you could also strum songs like the wild rover in open G, try it for size, its nothing but good fun !

neiloco - Posted - 03/16/2011:  12:04:53


rhoderickj I find myself in the same boat as yourself. Guitarist trying to add a repetoire of songs that I can accompany myself on 5 string banjo al la Luke Kelly style. Turns out, it isn't rocket science for the most part. I've managed to get a few songs down, Tramps and Hawkers, The Night Visiting Song,

youtube.com/watch?v=kSOhSn-zrL...e=related

drop me a line if you want to trade chords/lyrics etc :-)

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