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Aug 24, 2017 - 1:25:12 PM
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Mike Floorstand Players Union Member

United Kingdom

78 posts since 4/21/2009

I think this amount of expansion/embellishment is accepted on Mason's Apron which is something of a solo party piece. You wouldn't do it on every tune in a session.

Dec 6, 2017 - 12:44:49 PM

Tom Hanway Players Union Member


6426 posts since 8/31/2004

Originally posted by davidcava

I have a question for those musicians of this music in Ireland. I was listening to the version from the young Fionntan and Eoin, and I know they are expanding/embellishing from other genres. Is this sort of thing welcomed, or frowned upon by the traditionalists in Ireland? I'm coming from a Bluegrass background here in America, and I'm really curious as to your views on the trad scene music in Ireland.

Thank You for any response,


David, that's a great question! Here's my old three-part version—I have others—which I'm putting up again because I want you to notice the jazz chords used by backing guitarist Gabriel Donohue from Athenry, Co. Galway.  I've noticed a trend lately among the youngest guitar players to go wild with chord substitutions, and sometimes (if they manage to stay in the right key) ... it works great!

So, old friend, times have changed, and they are still changing. ITM purists in America I don't waste my time with: talk is cheap. Now, traditionalists in Ireland, e.g. the Comhaltas crowd, get a bad rap for being purists; however, I think the younger players who play Irish music, and whom Comhaltas promotes on its website and in lots of other ways, are forever pushing out the boundaries to include non-Irish instruments, non-Irish tunes, other Celtic tunes, accompaniment ideas, and the like. (The fiddle came into Irish music via Scotland, so this process has been going on for centuries.)

I wrote this back in 2001, "Regrettably, the term 'Celtic music' has become a chimera for players who work within the core of Celtic tradition. The playing of tunes is very situational and contextual—yet timeless and ever changing. The dynamic interplay of continuity and change, repetition and variation, lies at the heart of all Celtic artistic traditions, as in all living tradition."

Irish legendary composer Seán Ó Riada  (1 August 1931 – 3 October 1971) "felt that the old céilí band style had been corrupted by organizers who 'took the easy and wrong way out, tending more and more to imitate swing or jazz bands' by using instruments such as the piano, drum set, and bass. 'The result,' he added, 'is a rhythmic but meaningless noise with as much relation to music as the buzzing of a bluebottle [monster fly] in an upturned jamjar.'"  Quoted in James R. Cowdery, The Melodic Tradition in Ireland, (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1990), p. 24.

I'll stop quoting Irish musicologists for now. (We really need to jam again, it's been donkey's years. I can teach you 'Mason's Apron' in no time!)

At the moment I'm putting in chords (suggestions) to a humongous nine-part setting of 'Mason's Apron' for 5-string. I also have a two-part Clare version in G (based on Micho Russell's laid-back whistle version in F), which I posted earlier on this thread, and the three-part version (above), from the companion recording to Complete Book of Irish & Celtic 5-String Banjo.  

Now, I regularly play four- and five-part versions at sessions, depending on who's around and wants to take a whack at it. One can always jazz this tune up to annoy purists or please the old heads who have more eclectic tastes (and party favors). So, I'm not too precious, not a purist, and I'm happy to rattle out different versions of this tune, though I tend not to mix them up. This tune can even be slowed down, with ornaments added, then played as a hornpipe for a formal or sean-nós step dancer. It's been done at many a pub session, even if by accident.

For the bedevilment, I'll come back later with that nine-part transcription for 5-string.

Tenor players have their own standard versions—Barney McKenna famously played five parts—so that's a good option for anybody. 

One can work up a bare-bones-two-part version, leaving out triplets, and stick to that. What harm?

My old version is loosely based on Barney McKenna's version, but leaving out some parts to keep it mercifully short, hehe.

THE MASON'S APRON (Gabriel Donohue backing on jazzy guitar)



Edited by - Tom Hanway on 12/06/2017 12:47:39

Dec 6, 2017 - 2:47:42 PM

3245 posts since 11/13/2005

Fantastic Tom, I loved it! I really would like to get over to Ireland again, just to soak up what the young are up to......that means you too! Thanks for the input, and it has been way too long indeed my friend. I'm afraid I'm very stagnant with the 5. I do enjoy the occasional Bluegrass gig from time to time, and I'm enjoying trying my luck on Jazz tenor guitar, but that's about it for me for the time being. I have other non musical interests at the moment, but it's all good right?

Thanks for the message Tom, and I hope to see you soon sometime down the road my dear friend.

Dec 7, 2017 - 4:55:29 PM

Tom Hanway Players Union Member


6426 posts since 8/31/2004

David, you got it! I'll listen for your stuff. I look forward to picking with you, and we will. Okay, I was listening to Seán McGuire's legendary fiddle version (one of them with 10 parts, then an extra two-parts the last time through).

Anyway, I noticed some similarities to Barney McKenna's tenor version, which can be reduced to five parts, but has more like seven, or seven-and a-half parts, lol. I reckon Barney was constantly tinkering with it and playing in the moment. I like it in G on the 5-string, with the most resonance out of the banjo. It can always be moved up to A with a capo. But for the nine-part version, G is perfect because it actually goes past the 12th fret in the eighth and ninth parts. 

I'll add it to the Tab Library once I've gotten it under my fingers and found any glitches that need ironing out. I pretty much have it though; now to memorize it. I'm actually working on it backwards, learning the last three parts first, just to make sure that I do them justice and have the ending nailed. I'm compartmentalizing all these versions so that I don't have a gigantic mess of a tune, and so that I can play and teach them all separately. Maybe someday I'll be able to play all sixteen parts and clear the pub except for the lovely barmaid at my local (best kept secret in town). Hehehe. (I'm joking, maybe.)  };^D>

All the best ~ Tom

Dec 17, 2017 - 1:55:27 AM

Tom Hanway Players Union Member


6426 posts since 8/31/2004

Originally posted by benhockenberry

The reel Mason's Apron is played in limitless variations across Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and the US (14 settings so far on  Barney McKenna and John Sheehan popularized the tune as a fiddle and banjo showstopper with their multipart arrangement with the Dubliners; Kieran Hanrahan, Boys of the Lough, Sean McGuire, and Matt Molloy have also recorded it.  At sessions in my area, I usually only hear the first two parts -- the higher parts get tricky for some instruments, while the first two are "friendlier."  I'll post my own version shortly.

Mason's Apron on Tenor Banjo

Thank you Ben Hockenberry for pointing out the "limitless variations" for this tune, for your video, and for all The Mad Session settings (check out Examples 5 and 6 for just two extreme cases). Your version really inspired me, as per usual. Brilliant, Ben! Magic!

Here is a nine-part-contest version of the famous Scottish reel—not for the faint of heart. I have it in G (not in A) because I prefer it there, but obviously, it can be capoed up higher. These are advanced Irish and Celtic fingerstyle variations (G tuning) that use ornamentation in the form of triplets, inspired by legend Anthony Sullivan, who pioneered 4-string variations in A (GDAE tuning). In that same spirit, I have added (optional) chords and a fancy ending that is reminiscent of frenzied fiddlers bringing the tune home.

One doesn't have to play all nine parts (even if one can), and they can be combined and re-combined to suit one's taste; in other words, make this tune as long or as short as you want. Much thanks to Ben Hockenberry and Anthony Sullivan for the inspiration to go back and re-explore this mad tune.  I also have a two-part version based on Micho Russell's version..

The Mason's Apron (nine parts in Irish fingerstyle)

Mason's Apron - Co. Clare version (for tenor banjo)

Mason's Apron, The (for 5-string banjo)



Edited by - Tom Hanway on 12/17/2017 02:10:22

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