Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A Murder of Piccolos

     Okay that collective noun is reserved for crows but its applicable to a group of piccolos as well. Here is the collection of Kevin Rietmann, piper, fluter, etc from the US.

Kevin has an excellent youtube channel of old recordings notably pipers:

"Time to chime in with my collection, largely American/French/German; none of these toneholes you could drop a nickel in.

Left to Right:

BOOSEY AND CO/MAKERS/LONDON/22854/LP "Guaranteed British Made" Plus its case at the bottom. "Lyre"?
HF MEYER/HANNOVER/C on head and body, mit crown stamp, nach yah
(Huller, judging by markings) MADE IN GERMANY/Eb/LP
And 3 unstamped jobs, the first two pretty crappy players; the ivory head one is stamped "E/LP," and the head seems to work OK, but the body's tenon is missing a large section of wood.

The barrel on the Boosey is a modern plastic replacement. The skudge on the Koehlert's headjoint is crosshatchings a previous owner carved into the ivory, to prevent slippage. The little ferrule next to the Boosey's case fits onto the end of the Improved, bringing the bottom D down into tune.

Note the plates the key posts sit in on the Meyer, another indicator it's the real deal. Hard to play without colliding with its keys, though. The stamped ones are all nice players, don't quite have the Huller or Noblet working as of yet though. The metal-over-wood headjoint on that Cloos leaks as well, no matter how many times I bathe it in beeswax. Repairs here and there by pipemaker Brad Angus, who I've been badgering to make a keyed flute for years."

Special thanks to Kevin Rietmann 

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

John Doonan, more recordings

Also to be found on the old Ceol Alainn page are the only two full length LPs of piccolo playing that I know of.  The recordings can be found here.
Doonan is mentioned whenever the piccolo in traditional music is mentioned. He is the Godfather of modern day piccolo playing. He is a touchstone for anyone continuing to play the pic in Irish music and was a large figure in traditional music in the North of  England. His sons and other members of the family keep the name alive in traditional music with the Doonan family band.

From the Farne Archive:

   South Tyneside musician John Doonan, All-Ireland and World Piccolo Champion, is often described as the Godfather of Irish Music and, in celebrating fifty years of travelling and playing, it has was said that he has been on the road longer than the white lines. John died on Friday 8th March 2002 aged 80 years old. Along with his two sons, Mick (piccolo, flute, whistles, uilleann pipes and vocals) and Kevin (fiddle and vocals), the Doonan Family have travelled from their base in Hebburn, Tyne and Wear to play all over the world. Affectionately known in the north east as the 'Whistling Welder', he has had an unquestionable and significant influence on music and musicians in, and far beyond, the North of England. His grandfather also called John, played fiddle and accordion and his father George was a fiddler. John played by ear and never learned to read music. His flair saw him win an All-Ireland championship competition in Co. Roscommon playing the piccolo in 1968 and come second in the music section of the Welsh International Eisteddfod in the 1970s. He was also an original member of the High Level Ranters folk band in their early days! He is affectionately remembered by all who knew him and is noted as much for his company as for his music. 

Fluters of Old Erin

Cover for the original cassette.
Not sure who the fluter is?

Fluters of Old Erin was a compilation of recordings from the 78 rpm era of Irish Music. I believe all the piccolo tracks were recorded in the US. The cassette was put together by Harry Bradshaw who was working for the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin.. 
 This excellent compilation really opened my eyes to the different feel of the players of that era, and new (old) ways of phrasing and breathing..

Five of the sixteen tracks feature the piccolo.

8. My Darling Asleep/ Yesterday Morning
Dan Sullivan's Shamrock Band, Owen Frain on piccolo.

11. Lord McDonald/Miss McGuinness
Paddy Finlay, on piccolo. Coleman on fiddle.

13. Bradley's Favourite
John Sheridan and his boys (I think Sheridan is the piccolo player)

14. Eileen
Showpiece/Novelty item by Tommy Breen

16. The Black Berry Blossom/ Bonnie Kate
Dan Sullivan's , Owen Frain pic

This excellent recording was posted on Ceol  Alainn a blog featuring unavailable recordings of traditional music.


The recordings have been removed from the blog but are currently hosted here

An amazing resource!

Monday, 29 July 2013

Rudall, Rose, and Carte Piccolo

    Here is a piccolo from Rudall, Rose, and Carte  no. 412 ,1852-1878. Rudalls are, in their various guises, one of the most sought after flutes for traditional music. The piccolos do not gather the same type of interest as their larger counterpoints. This is handy enough for those interested.

Here  is the relevant thread on Chiff and Fipple. I believe this was decided to be an Eb and is cocus and silver. There are a few other Rudall piccolos referenced in the thread.

Here is a lovely video from Jem Hammond featuring three Rudall piccolos. Great stuff. All that's missing is three Hohner 4 stop melodeons to be my ideal session.
The players are Jem, Tom Scott, and Terry Clarke-Coyne. The pics are all Rudall Cartes one ebonite, two cocus.

Special thanks to Jem Hammond

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Album Cover, Vin Garbutt


         Wooden simple system piccolo features on this 1978 album cover for Vin Garbutt's Tossin a Wobbler. Garbutt is a singer, songwriter, whistle player and all around folkie from Middlesbrough. I believe he played piccolo with the Teeside Fettlers. I found an old photo in an issue of The Living Tradition with Vin and another piccolo player. I think the other player was in the Teeside Fettlers as well but don't have a name.

Comhaltas Archive

    A few interesting recordings of piccolo can be found at the Comhaltas Archive. You can only listen to thirty seconds if you are not logged in. So create a user account and search piccolo. It is a brilliant resource for old recordings. Most of tracks listed as piccolo are in fact flute but a few are piccolo.

A few that stand out are Tommy Breen's novelty, showpiece type tune, Eileen.
Breen was really exploiting the piccolo's chromaticism and trills. This unusual track also features on Fluters of Old Erin.

There is a slow air played by Criostoir O' Cearnaigh. The notes say recorded by Father Lyons 1960s.

Nielius O Croinin also plays some hornpipes with an almost classical tone and approach. Interesting listening though, like his version of the Coolin with diaphragm vibrato. If I recall correctly He played with Leo Rowsome in some form of group or trio, and played pipes as well.

There is another track of Paddy Finlay with Coleman. This track is also on Fluters of Old Erin.

An All Ivory Pic

  Here is an all ivory piccolo for sale by All Musical Instruments in New York. Ivory headed German piccolos are common on eBay. I've not seen another all ivory pic before. It looks fairly German to my eye but could be English or made somewhere else. I believe it is unmarked with nickel silver keys.

Noted flute player James McMahon born in  Roslea, Fermanagh was known for playing an all ivory flute around Belfast. He was reportedly friends with the McPeakes.

The Ivory Flute is a nice jig composed by the man himself.

X: 1
T: The Ivory Flute
R: jig
M: 6/8
L: 1/8
K: Ador
|:B|ded G3|edB dBA|G3 edB|edA A2B|
ded G3|edB deg|G3 edB|dBA A2 :|
|: B|deg a2b|age deg|G3 G3|edB dBA|
deg a2b|age deg|G3 edB|dBA A2 :|

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Peter Worrell, maker

       Peter Worrell based in Norfolk, UK is making some stunning looking simple system piccolos. He also makes very high quality band flutes, wooden head joints for Boehm flutes, and a cylindrical eight keyed flute based on the Rudall and Carte flute once owned by Calum Stewart.

Peter makes both keyed and keyless instruments. 

Here is a clip of Calum playing one of these:

(Edit) I asked Peter what model piccolo is based on and how he got interested in making flutes for traditional music. Here is his reply:

The instrument was based on a Basel Piccolo. Large Bore piccolo.
I started making instruments for the traditional market primarily because I had always wanted to make a simple system flute that took a standard concert flute headjoint. I thought that this instrument would be good for cross over players.
I wasn’t aware that the instrument already existed albeit quite unique and made by Rudall Carte.  Robert Bigio had come across one but it was not quite what I was looking for. I waited for 8 years.
Then by chance Robert had Calum Stewarts telephone number and put me in contact with Calum.
I initially copied his instrument but during the prototype stages I made some alterations due to the original bore of the flute having changed. I was pleased with the final results and the Peter Worrell RC was available.
The first instrument went to Calum Stewart.
All the very best
Peter Worrell 

John Doonan, Billy Pigg, and Charlton Foster from the Farne Archive

    (Edit search Doonan once on Farne website)

     Here are some clips of John Doonan in great company from a folk club appearance South Shields in the 1960s. Doonan's nice crisp style involves both tongue and glottal techniques and it compliments the Northumbrian pipes of Pigg well. The tunes are fairly well known Irish tunes for the most part.
     John Doonan's name is the largest in the field of Irish style piccolo playing. (Maybe its more a patch of grass than a field.)  John was from Newcastle and played flute in dancebands  beginning in the 1940s. At some point he moved to the piccolo presumably to be heard over the din of the dancehall. Presumably he also found an affinity with the instrument and played it until his passing in 20002. I hope to add more on Doonan as this page expands.

An Eight Keyed Piccolo

     Here is an 8 keyed English piccolo. It is marked CT. This one was sold through Music Treasures/ Early Musical Instrument. What a beautiful instrument. The only other 8 keyed pic I've seen was an original Meyer that sold on eBay a few years ago. I can't seem to find the images of the Meyer I harvested off eBay, I believe it had an ivory head joint and nickel keys. Modern Boehm piccolos do not generally have a long foot.

E Piccolo


  I bought my son this tiny E piccolo on eBay the day he was born.  It's marked B and S Improved and E. It plays in E as well so I doubt the flat symbol is missing. Why an E piccolo? B and S is the mark of Barnett and Samuel.
I've seen antique piccolos as high as F and a polymer G made by Michael Cronnolly.

Murray Piccolo

    I am waiting for this Murray blackwood piccolo to arrive in Scotland from the Canary Islands. I don't know whether it was made by Sam or Sean Murray. I have a great fondness for Murray flutes so have high hopes for this piccolo.
    In the past I have played an anonymous German pic and a lovely plastic cylindrical pic made by Jem Hammond in Wales. I have misplaced the Jem pic but could not recommend it more highly.  It plays great and is very affordable.


Welcome to this dark little corner of the Internet. I hope to shed a little light on the mighty little piccolo as used in traditional music. My interest in the subject come from my general interest in the flute in Irish music and in particular in the music of the 78 rpm era when little beast held its own with concert flutes, melodeons, fiddles, and pipes.  I love the punchy style captured on these recordings. This little space is dedicated to the players of that era and to John Doonan.

Here are two tracks from the Internet Archive 

John McNulty playing with McConnell's Four Leaf Shamrock Orchestra, 1924

Lovely drive here. The pic pulsing above the fiddle and the nice bit of doubling (or is it tripling here?) on the melody by the piano player.

Paddy Finlay playing with the great Micheal Coleman, 1927

The second jig is the now ubiquitous Kesh, called Kerrigan's here.

Special thanks to KR