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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Church Street TOTW April 9, 2011

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strokestyle - Posted - 04/08/2011:  08:13:40

Church Street

 I learned this tune from Billy Mathews and he got it from a great Irish accordion player on one of his travels. I like the way it flows and the feeling of the tune when it is played slowly. When I researched the tune I found it was a Polka (Church Street Polka).  Maybe I need to work on this tune as a polka someday, but seems when I learn a tune one way it’s really hard to change that tune in my mind.  I do think the BHO fellow with the Draino TV avatar (John D) would do a wonderful rendition of this as an Irish Polka (Hint). I wanted to contaminate a few of you with this tune because I never hear it in the circles, so hopefully you will make it one of your new offerings at your local jams.

From this Irishtune info Website

Fiddlers Companion says: "CHURCH STREET (POLKA) [2]. AKA and see “Killoran’s Polka [3],” “Memories of Ballymote,” “Pete’s Polka.” Irish, Polka. G Major. Standard tuning. AAB (Moylan): AABB' (Callaghan, Mallinson, Phillips). This tune appears on the Chieftains first record, paired with “St. Mary’s Polka.” Source O’Leary associated this tune with west Kerry fiddler Julia Clifford. The tune (and “St. Mary’s Polka”) was probably named for the St. Mary’s Society or club, later called the Church Street Club, formed in 1956 around a core of Sligo/Leitrim musicians who had moved to Dublin, including flute player John Egan, John Brennan, Dessie O'Connor, Tom Mulligan, Bill Harte, John Ryan, John Kelly, Sonny Brogan and John Clarke. The session helped nurture younger players such as Tommy Peoples and Tony McMahon and was a haven for nearly every traditional musician of the time who was in or visited Dublin. The session eventually moved to Hughes's Pub in Chancery Street, where it still continues under the leadership of Pearl O'Shaughnessy. Boston button accordion great Joe Derrane says the tune was a favourite in Irish-American music halls in the 20th century, and it has present currency among New England contra dance musicians. Barry Callagahn (2007) notes the popularity of the polka among English trad. musicians, and believes it was absorbed into “revival” repertoire following the recordings by the Chieftains in the 1960’s or Paddy Killoran in 1937 (under the title “Memories of Ballymote”)."

Read more on line here[1

Also at this mandolin help site there is some tab

Not very many you tubes of this tune, but I did find this one

Here is my version played with my favorite old timey guitar guy “What’s His Name” (Nuts on the BHO) who was wonderful enough to stick with me for 24 takes to get one take that wouldn’t embarrass me too much.blush I hope someone will put up their versions or if you know something about the tune I would love to hear about it. Enjoy!

Church Street TOTW April 8 2011


J-Walk - Posted - 04/08/2011:  10:17:46

Cool tune, Christine.

I found two different clawhammer tabs here (haven't tried them):

I also found a nice slow mandolin solo  (good for getting the melody):

RG - Posted - 04/08/2011:  10:18:38

Hey Christine...real nice tune and liked your version a lot, nice bounce to this one, it'll be fun to learn!

strokestyle - Posted - 04/08/2011:  10:26:23

Thanks RG - I look forward to you posting your version!

J-Walk - Thats fantastic your a great internet slueth. I'tl take me a while to get on to the tab, but maybe I can find more of the melody than by my ear!

strokestyle - Posted - 04/08/2011:  11:14:11

I just received permission to post this version by Billy Mathews.

Church Street FIddle Only by Billy Mathews 500 Tune Project


ramjo - Posted - 04/08/2011:  14:22:46

Really nice! Lots of dimension to this tune. I like how you play it, and Billy's version is great too. I can imagine this cranked up a bit at a contra dance or wedding. A real crowd-pleaser.

vrteach - Posted - 04/08/2011:  14:47:47

Wonderful tune. Been one of my favorites since I learned it at one of Billy's workshops (was it in Mt View, or Champaign?).

There is a version of it by Trotwood, with samples available on Emusic.

There is also some further information and discussion on

Hmm, it looks as though I haven't recorded it--I'll see if I can fix that. I find it kind of tricky on banjo.

Edited by - vrteach on 04/08/2011 14:50:07

J-Walk - Posted - 04/08/2011:  16:52:12

I've been playing around with this one off and on all day. Tricky indeed. I've got all the notes figured out, but I just can't play it very well.

It seems to be a bit easier (at least for me) if I  play it in C, using Double-C tuning. Make the A part high and the B part low. That means I'll never be able to play it with a fiddler, but that probably wouldn't happen anyway.

banjoike - Posted - 04/08/2011:  20:28:29

Very nice sweet little tune!  You have soul in your playing!  

vrteach - Posted - 04/09/2011:  07:52:39

OK, I played it some last night, but I don't think I'll ever be able to do a satisfactory solo on banjo. It is indeed easier out of Double-C/D. I also tried playing it in G using a tuning of gDADE, and it's not too bad in that.

I also experimented with playing it in D on the fiddle, and it's not too bad. Like J-Walk says, I then make the A part high and the B part low. Maybe I can get OK enough to do a recording of that so J-Walk has someone to play with!

Anyway, I had to come in to work this morning to restart some machines after a power outage (we had some big storms about 5am), and I had my fiddle and WL-250 in preparation to head up to Lincoln for an event. So I've done my first overdub all in audacity. My office has a good bit of computer fan noise, plus I'm always distressed when I do a banjo backup for myself on how unsteady my timing is on fiddle, but here it is. In G, and gDGBD on the banjo.

Church Street


BANJOJUDY - Posted - 04/09/2011:  08:05:56

J-Walk and all - Just messing around with this one and playing it out of Double D tuning with the fifth string on g.  Works nicely that way.

I was unable to copy the fiddle file from the hangout directly to my computer, so I had to record it with Freecorder.  Is there an easier way of getting these files transferred directly to the computer?

Oh - who is coming to ABQ for Adam Hurt's concert on April 22nd? 



J-Walk - Posted - 04/09/2011:  08:24:27

Judy, when someone uploads an audio file, they have the option of not making it downloadable. Apparently, that's what Christine did with that fiddle track (maybe by request of Billy Matthews). In such a case, recording it in real time is the only way to do it (I think).

I will see you and the gang in Albuquerque.

strokestyle - Posted - 04/09/2011:  09:19:58

Nice Job Erich! Billy has always tried to train me to play rhythm banjo back-up. Playing in this manner does not develope the notier parts of the tune and I often know I am glossing over the melody because I know the fiddler will do that job for me. This makes it hard for people to pick-up the full melody line of a  tune from my playing.  I am still developing my ear and technique,so I may not be able to add more melody very soon. It wasn't very long ago that my pinky was in another dimension and getting it to move was a feat in itself. 

Judy, J-walk is right I did click the not able to download button for Billy's fiddle mp3. I would not mind sending you the mp3 over the air waves if you want. See...these recordings of Billy playing by himself come from his master project to put down 500 fildlle tunes. He is now on tune 431, I am so proud of him. He plays them slow and he keeps the version simple so people can learn from his project. Selling his work is his lifeline so I would hope some players might support his efforts and aquire his cd's to learn tunes from.  Billy is a fiddle and banjo master from the old ways and has spent over forty years collecting. He has one of those brains that retains all these tunes, we call it advantaged.big I recently found sites selling ring-tones of my playing tunes I had posted on the hangout, but I don't have texting on my phone so I can't even buy them and listen. Ha!  I did not want Billy's work to be abused in that manner, but I wanted to share his Church Street so people could listen and get closer to the real tune.

Ike your a jewel so I can't wait to hear your posting of Chruch Street!

Ramjo how about a try at this tune, but which tuning would you go for?indecision I would love to listen!

As for the key I would not have thought to try to play this out of D. Double C would be fun. Because of the A-minorory thing in the A-part I feel most comfy in G. I don't know if you can tell but on the a-part I play this tune mostly holding a chord shape, but in the b-part (which I think is really lovely) I shoot for some single notes.

I am glad people are enjoying the tune because I wanted to bring something different to the tune table.


banjoike - Posted - 04/09/2011:  11:49:16

I don't know whether to tackle this one or not.  Anyway Christine, the banjo sounds so nice and old timey, and you know, i love the rhythm you have.  It really has a calypso beat.    Also the notes you leave out really give the song a very simple beautiful sound.  I might see if my wife can play it on the Hammered Dulcimer.

strokestyle - Posted - 04/09/2011:  12:44:18

Thanks Ike! I have a long ways to go but the climb has mostly been uphill, thank goodness cause we all know the early sounds we made on the banjodevil. Dulcimer music is totally allowed on this TOTW, by the way. Sorry about the little faces, but somewhere along the way Erich added some new features and like a toys are fun for a little while anyway.

I do like the combined sound of the fiddle, guitar and banjo. Especially when the guitar sounds almost invisible but holds down the bottom end, the banjo plays rhythm with syncopation without following every note the fiddle does and the fiddle responds by keeping track of all the notes and provides swing and harmony in many cases. Of course this works in the Old Time genre and would never fly in bluegrass, jazz, swing and  other styles of playing.

I guess I didn't realize how challenging this tune might be to a melodic banjo player.

ramjo - Posted - 04/09/2011:  13:20:17


Originally posted by strokestyle


I guess I didn't realize how challenging this tune might be to a melodic banjo player.

Yeah, it is! Since you've invited me to, I've been trying to learn this in gDADE from Billy's recording. (If you want exercise for you pinky, try that tuning.) He has some catchy twists and turns. If I ever get it flub-free enough to record, I'll post it.

J-Walk - Posted - 04/09/2011:  14:08:25

Here's how it sounds in Double C tuning. It's still very rough, but I like the tune enough to keep working on it. Eventually, I might be able to smooth it out a bit.

Church St. Polka


strokestyle - Posted - 04/09/2011:  14:26:10

You folks are impressing me with your great versions! J-Walk you attacked that tune in just one day!

Ramjo I'll wait patiently, even though I'm excited you are working it out! The first time Billy told me I'd need my pinky for a tune, he watched as I looked at my pinky really hard and then it wiggled a little some time went by and then it went towards the spot and finally landed on the fret...I looked up and said Yes I did it(full of glee)...Billy's eyes opened real wide before the laughter ensued (we both laughed together cause it was such a feet). Took awhile to speed that pinky up to real time.

J-Walk - Posted - 04/09/2011:  14:39:16

Yes, I attacked it, captured it, and held it prisoner. The sound you hear is me torturing it.

banjoike - Posted - 04/09/2011:  20:58:41

Nice...J Walk!!!  Very nice sound.

ramjo - Posted - 04/10/2011:  15:46:11

For your amusement, here's mine in gDADE. Unlike Christine's dropped notes, which are a purposeful part of her lovely arrangement, mine are purely mistakes. (It's been a long day of yard work.) Unlike Erich's fine rendition, mine has no lilt, and it's not very polka-y (pokey is more like it). And unlike J-Walk's it's not very creative. But I like the way the B part sounds in this tuning--the way it gives access to the chords. So I thought I'd post to have you hear that. This is a keeper tune for shure. Thanks C!

Church Street Polka


John D - Posted - 04/11/2011:  07:13:46

Thanks for coming up with this tune, Christine!  Knew it was a tune I had to learn the first time I heard it. Great versions so far!  I'm working on it in G, polka style.  Very pinky involved and tricky drop thumbing!  Gimmie some time.

Strangely enough, the first part of  "B" part really reminds me of the catchy melody from this 1973 hit:





vrteach - Posted - 04/11/2011:  08:10:11

Cool! Really nice versions J-Walk & Ramjo. It's such a catchy little tune that it is worth working on the tricky bits.

I bet it would work  well in classical-3-finger technique.

strokestyle - Posted - 04/11/2011:  08:19:48

Ramjo you can amuse us anytime with your flavorful playing. Your version does have all the qualities I like to hear for sure, quite lovely with real flavor. Thanks so much for working that out and in GDADE there's a tuning I had never thought to try out.  The b-part  is what attracked me to this tune  and you captured it! Thanks for posting!

I am so glad you were listening John D. When I read that this tune was originally a polka I thought of you immediately. I recently got onto a grove with two finger action, working on Swallowtail Jig. Polka's have a similar ride. You liberate these types of tunes with a right hand action, so thanks for taking notice, the tune is worthy. I hear what you mean in the Youtube you posted. This tune seems to draw players in, quite captivating.

Any one want to go for the three finger classical?

John D - Posted - 04/14/2011:  09:09:40

Here's my version so far.  Real sloppy, but I'm still working on it.  I don't think this has polka phrasing, but it's fun to play.  CH Guitar tuned FFCFAC with capo at 2nd fret.

strokestyle - Posted - 04/14/2011:  09:18:49

All I can say is awesome! CH guitar what a pleasant surprise!

ramjo - Posted - 04/14/2011:  09:26:16

Wow, John_D. That was excellent! What an extrordinary tuning. I never ran across that in all my guitar-playing years. That B part sounds great in both octaves.

John D - Posted - 04/15/2011:  11:15:23

Thanks, folks.  I thought I better add a banjo version.  I'm in standard G tuning but I capo at the  5th fret in order to facilitate playing all loud and crazy.

tomberghan - Posted - 04/17/2011:  14:36:15

Nice little tune.  laugh   Here's mine!

Church Street Polka, 4 string baritone banjo

Best Wishes,



Church Street Polka


banjoike - Posted - 04/17/2011:  20:45:49

Real nice Tom!!!

banjoike - Posted - 04/17/2011:  20:46:06

Real nice Tom!!!

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