Well the season is turning and this ol’ pirate is preparing to once again journey overseas. Pretty soon the blog posts will stop, at least for a month or so, as I won’t have regular access to computers. In honor of my return to the fair isle of Eirann, and in honor of my finally getting my turntable-to-computer system working again, here’s a fresh rip of an out-of-print vinyl of some 78’s of the greatest Irish fiddler of all time. How’s that for blogworthy?! But who’s that? Michael Coleman, of course! As the liner notes state, “Coleman’s contribution to Irish music is so significant that to describe it by the customary superlatives is almost beside the point.”
It’s fairly safe to say that no musician has had a greater impact on Irish music, besides of course the legendary Turlough O’Carolan.
In 1974, a monument was erected by the Coleman Traditional Society. It is close to his birthplace, on the Tubbercurry to Gurteen road. Nearby is the Coleman Heritage Centre, a music archive and a replica of the house where he lived. The monument bears this inscription:
“Michael Coleman. Master of the fiddle. Saviour of Irish traditional music. Born near this spot in 1891. Died in exile 1945.”
Michael Coleman was born on January 31st 1891, in Knockgrania, in the rural Killavil district, near Ballymote, County Sligo, Ireland. His father, James Coleman, was from Banada in Roscommon County, and a respected flute player who eked out a living on a small parcel of land. Michael was the seventh child of James and Beatrice, and the surviving half of a pair of twins. As such he had poor health, and was small in stature.
The district of Killavil was renowned for its music, particularly fiddle players and travelling musicians, who augmented the locals at many a house session. Travelling dance teachers were also a feature of country life at the time and Michael seems to have been a good dancer in his youth. He actually met James Morrisson at a dancing class – two who were to feature in Irish Music in United States. By the time he was 10 years old he was an accomplished dancer and violinist and was in demand at local concerts.
His elder brother Jim had a high reputation but was never recorded. In his formative years Michael was influenced by Uilleann pipers, including Johnny Gorman. Coleman was also influenced by the playing of James Scott Skinner. Michael, being small of stature, was not built for heavy work, so music was his only resource, travelling to play at house dances, fairs, etc.
He left school in 1908, at the age of 17. He won competition prizes in 1909 and 1910. In 1914 he moved to Manchester to join his brother, but returned after a few months. In 1914, at the age of twenty-three, Coleman sailed to America with his friend John Hunt.
New York gave Coleman many opportunities to play in dance halls, saloons, clubs, etc. He joined the Keith Theatres vaudeville circuit, and played at many venues. In 1917, he settled in New York City, and married Marie Fanning, originally from County Monaghan, Ireland. They had one child, Mary.
Between 1921 and 1936 he recorded roughly eighty 78-rpm records for many record labels, His most lasting contribution was his numerous 78’s recordings by various recording companies during the 1920’s and 1930’s. In some of his early recordings a non-de-plume name is used. The equipment available at the time could not do justice to the subtleties of the playing; even a fiddle fitted with a horn to boost the volume was used for a time. Money was still so scarce that Coleman always took a fee for his performance but never worried about Royalties. Coleman also preferred to play solo rather than join an orchestra, where in fact the earning potential lay. He was mainly accompanied by pianists, but on some recordings he used guitarists. He also recorded with fiddlers Pakie Dolan and Tom Gannon, and flute players Tom Morrison and Michael Walsh. He built up a firm friendship with fiddlers Hughie Gillespie and James Morrison in later years.
He was the most famous exponent of the Sligo style, both at technical and expressive levels. The Sligo fiddle style is highly decorative, using many triplets. James Morrison is another exponent of this style. Michael’s records reached County Sligo, and influenced a new generation. He died in Manhattan on January 4th 1945, and is buried in St. Raymond’s Cemetery, in the Bronx.
1 Lord McDonald’s
2 The Fox Hunter’s
3 The Morning Dew/Woman of the House
4 Heights of Alma/All the Way to Sligo
5 Dougherty’s/Tell Her I Am
6 The Derry Hornpipe
7 Bonny Kate/Jenny’s Chickens
8 Tom Ward’s Downfall/The Reel of Mulinavat
9 The Blackbird
10 The Duke of Leinster & His Wife
11 High Level Hornpipe
12 Malloy’s Favorite
13 Mrs. Kenny’s Barndance
14 Dr. Gilbert/The Queen of May
step it up.
vinyl, cleaned | mp3 >224kbps vbr | w/o cover | 72mb
dedicated to Bernie, Gadaya & Joski
you’ll find the other out-of-print Shanachie vinyl at Times Ain’t Like They Used to Be
and also get a bunch of Coleman 78’s at archive.org.