Allan's Irish Fiddler

Allan’s ‘Irish Fiddler’

Allan’s ‘Irish Fiddler’, Containing 120 Reels & Jigs, Hornpipes & Set Dances, Selected from All Sources, Arranged by Hugh McDermott

[tune titles listed below]

The undated Glasgow publication Allan’s ‘Irish Fiddler’ has been an entry-level tunebook for aspiring fiddle players of Irish traditional music for over 60 years now. A cheap publication which has been widely distributed, it contains a substantial body of popular tunes, and is still available. Anyone who has absorbed its contents and learned to read its notations is well equipped to make progress in the music. In spite of the ‘120’ tunes mentioned on its title-page, the collection actually contains 131 melodies in 121 numbered sections. Interactive music scores for the 131 are presented here; for pdf versions suitable for printing click on the bottom right of each score..

The origins of the collection are something of a mystery. Its first date of publication is not now known; the earliest association date the Irish Traditional Music Archive has been able to discover is April 1953. Although the book has been extensively used for decades, very few libraries hold copies; it is a perfect illustration of a common publication that was below the radar of most librarians. With its high proportion of tunes made current from the 1920s onward on gramophone records by Irish-American star performers like Michael Coleman and James Morrison, the collection seems to have been compiled in the mid-20th century. The identity of Hugh McDermott is likewise now a mystery. Was he an Irishman living in Scotland, or a Scot of Irish ancestry? Given the dance-music orientation of his collection and the appropriateness of his markings for fiddle fingering and bowing, he was probably an active fiddle player who provided music for feis or ceili dancers.

Mozart Allan, publisher of the collection and member of a music-publishing family active in Glasgow since the 1820s, was a prolific publisher of Scottish and general popular music in the 20th century. This present collection was followed up by the firm's publication of Allan’s ‘Irish Pianist’ (Piano Part of the Irish Fiddler) with the 131 tunes split into two separately published parts edited by Ian MacLeish and arranged for piano and piano-accordion. It is similarly undated but may possibly be a publication of the late 1980s (Part 1 was purchased by ITMA in January 1989, Part 2 in July 1990). The Mozart Allan firm has ceased trading within the last decade.

With thanks to the Breathnach family, donors of the ITMA copy of the book, and to Reg Hall, Paddy Glackin, & Almut Boehme, Head of Music, National Library of Scotland Rare Books and Music Collections, for information. ITMA would be glad to learn more about Hugh McDermott and the different versions of his collection: email any further information to [email protected].

NC, TH & JS, 1 March 2014

Tunes in this collection