Irish-American Acetate Discs, 1940–50s

Irish-American Acetate Discs, 1940–50s

Now playing: Miss Roddy, reel ; and other reels / Martin Wynne, fiddle
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  1. Miss Roddy, reel ; and other reels / Martin Wynne, fiddle
  2. The reel of bogie / James ‘Lad’ O’Beirne, fiddle, & Andy McGann, fiddle
  3. The Kerry reel / Martin Wynne, fiddle
  4. Lord McDonald, reel ; & other reels / James ‘Lad’ O’Beirne, fiddle, & Andy McGann, fiddle
  5. Music in the glen, reel ; McFadden’s reel / Martin Wynne, fiddle, & others
  6. Ennis’ reel ; Carney’s reel / Martin Wynne, fiddle, & others
  7. Lord McDonald, reel / Martin Wynne, fiddle
  8. The flogging reel ; The mountain top, reel / Martin Wynne, fiddle

Irish-American Acetate Discs, 1940–50s

Acetate discs were originally used in recording studios from the 1930s to the early 1950s, before the introduction of tape recording, for making test copies of recordings. They consisted of aluminium plates covered with a thin layer of lacquer, and sound was cut directly onto the lacquer. They were only intended for temporary use and became inaudible after many playings. Acetates were also used in radio work, and some commercial companies recorded performers on acetate disc for a fee.

The eight acetate recordings presented above come from the collection of the late John Brennan, a Ballisodare, Co Sligo, flute player resident in Dublin, and they were donated to the Irish Traditional Music Archive in 2008 by his son John who lives in Denmark, per Peter Sorenson.

John Brennan was friendly with the Sligo fiddle players James ‘Lad’ O’Beirne (1911–80) and Martin Wynne (1913–98), who were resident in New York and whose playing is featured on the discs. Lad O’Beirne, who had emigrated there in 1928, had a homemade acetate disc-cutting machine, and this was doubtless the original source of most of the recordings. Martin Wynne came to the United States in 1948, and seems to have made the first two of these recordings with an unknown pianist in London before emigrating. Lad O’Beirne accompanies Wynne on piano on the latter’s New York recordings. The New York-born fiddle player Andy McGann (1928–2004) is also to be heard on one of the recordings, in duet with O’Beirne on fiddle and accompanied on piano by Jerry Wallace (1929–91). All of these musicians were influenced by the famous New York-based Sligo fiddle player and recording artist Michael Coleman (1891–1945), as can be heard in the repertory and style on the discs.

These recordings seem to have been made in the late 1940s and in 1950. The discs have been heavily used and their sound quality is now poor. The first six have been remastered to the highest level possible by Harry Bradshaw for ITMA; the other two recordings are less audible but are included for their historical and technical interest.

Do you have other acetate discs of Irish traditional music? ITMA would welcome their donation or the opportunity to copy them.

With thanks to record donor John Brennan and to Peter Sorenson for his good offices.

NC, HB & DD, 1 December 2009