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(The) Leslie’s Reel (A)    

The tune “Leslie’s Reel” has a set of versions, though I don’t know which came first.  One close version is called “Monymusk,” named after a town close to Aberdeenshire, Scotland; another version is called “The Teileann Reel” (or “The Teelin Reel”) named after the village of Teileann in co. Donegal – a small coastal village on an inlet at the eastern end of the Sliabh a’Liag sea cliffs, and known for its fishing and trad fiddle music. Frankie Kennedy, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, and the rest of Altan (which means “Stream” in Irish, by the way), play “Leslie’s Reel” on their eponymous CD (1987). Frankie and Mairead got the tune from James Byrne (1946-2008), who learned it from his father John Byrne of Glencolmcille, Donegal.  John Byrne named the tune after two Leslie brothers, Pat and John, who taught him the tune and lived near him before he immigrated to America. So it should be called “The Leslie’s Reel.” Asked in 1995 about different people developing their own versions of tunes, James Byrne recalled the following:

Oh yeah, they were always doing this sort of thing, but they were always very particular to do nothing that would spoil the tune, which can be done too. Most people can do maybe some variations, but they mightn’t fit there. They were very particular in them days, because I remember hearing a story about two brothers, John Leslie and Pat Leslie, and they were great players. And there was another man who lived a couple of miles up the road called Johnny Boyle. He was one of the greatest players on this side of the parish. And he would be down in the Leslie house, and they would be practicing variations on tunes, and then, when they would have them practiced, they would play them, and a couple of them would get up and dance to them, to see if they could still dance to them after all this doctoring around. I heard that from a man that used to be in there raking [visiting in the evening]. He used to wonder what was going on. He didn’t have any music at all. When he used to be sitting in there, two men would get up and dance to it—highlands and all this sort of thing.

Byrne was also asked by Michael Robinson, who was interviewing him, whether he thought people were starting to play tunes faster than they used to.  To which James replied, “Some do, you know. Some are inclined to play very fast now – too fast.”  Michael then asked whether playing too fast for the tune to be danced to was a problem, and James replied:

Yeah, this it is.  Once you do that, I think it’s too fast even for listening to. It may have a sort of a rhythm to it, all right, but I think it’s too fast even for listening to. Most of the great players, like John Doherty, they played fast but at the same time you could hear every note. They didn’t sort of rush the tune like some of them are inclined to do now. I think it’s nicer when they’re at a reasonable pace, not too slow and not too fast.

Donegal fiddlers often pair this tune with “The Shetland Fiddler.” Altan plays it after “Jimmy Lyons’.”




(The) Leslie’s Reel,


(The) Leslie’s Reel,

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