Bonnie Kate (1)

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X:1 T:Bonnie Kate [1] R:reel M:C L:1/8 K:D dB|AFdB ABAF|DFAF E2 EB|AFAd cde/f/d|cABc dcdB| AFdB ABAF|DFAF E2 EB|AFAd ((3Bcd) ((3efd)|cABc defg|| a2 fd fafd|fafd e2 ef|gfef gbag|fedc defg| a2 fd fafd|gabg fgaf|gfef gbag|1 fedc dcdB:|2 fedc d2 d2||



BONNIE KATE [1] (Cait Deas). AKA - "Bonny Kate." AKA and see - Cait Deas, Cáit Bhóidheach, Boys of Limerick (The), Bonny Lass of Fisherrow (The), Bonny Lass of Fishirron (The), Cait Bhoidheach, Bonny Kate (1), Quadrille des Laurentides 6ème partie, Sporting Kate. Irish, English, Canadian; Reel. Canada; Quebec, Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, Ontario. D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Breathnach, Kerr, O'Neill): ABB' (Moylan): AABB (Brody, Allan, Cole, Phillips): AA'BB' (Miller & Perron, Perlman): ABCD (Breathnach, Miller). "Bonnie Kate" was adapted in Ireland from the Perthshire, Scotland, composer Daniel (sometimes Donald) Dow's C Major reel Bonny Lass of Fisherrow (The)<@@@TAG145015@@@> (published in his Complete Repository, vol. 3, c. 1773). However, as researcher Conor Caldwell (2013) points out, "it has been in Ireland for as long as most of the indigenous repertory." The reel appears "Bonny Kate" in the mid-19th century music manuscript collection of Canon James Goodman (vol. 3, p. 128), and in Book 2 (No. 205) of the large c. 1883 music manuscript collection of County Leitrim fiddler and piper Stephen Grier (c. 1824-1894). It was first recorded by button accordion player John J. Kimmel in 1916, but was popularized in the 1934 by the famous Irish-American fiddler Michael Coleman whose setting has become a classic (the reel is paired with "Jenny's Chickens"). Piper Leo Rowsome's 1937 recording also proved influential. Daniel Michael Collins (in notes to Shanachie 29009) opines: "The reel has a great potential for creating boredom because of the fact that it contains phrases that are repeated over and over again. It is only through the use of variation and good presentation of rolls and triplets can any musician make the tunes in anyway interesting."

Regarding Coleman's variation sets, Reg Hall (1995) says the London fiddler Michael Gorman (1895-1970), a second cousin of Coleman's, "attributed the Coleman 'Bonnie Kate' setting to his teacher, Jamesey Gannon (born c. 1840) of Crimlin, Chaffpool, County Sligo, while Lad O'Beirne (1911-1980), son of Philip O'Beirne from Bunninadan (one of Coleman's fiddle instructors), attributed them to John O'Dowd." An untitled setting appears in Joyce's Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909, No. 126), with the note "I find a setting different from mine in a small obscure publication, 'The Knight of St. Patrick'." O'Neill prints the melody as Boys of Limerick (The) <@@@TAG161108@@@> and there is a County Leitrim version in the local Kiernan manuscript (1844–46) under the title "Sporting Kate."

Donegal fiddler John Doherty described how "Bonnie Kate" was the first tune he learned as a young boy:

Ach indeed I started fiddlin’ when I was very, very small. I started to play the fiddle when my arm wasn’t just as long as the fiddle. And I remember one day I was playing [...] I made some kind of a fiddle, or the imitation of a fiddle [...] as we call it in Irish, strachan. And I was annoying my father with it, but he chased me outside anyhow. ‘Get out of it that boy, what are you annoying my head for?’ ‘Oh,’ says I, ‘I’m trying to learn a tune.’ ‘Ah now, now,’ he says, ‘leave it from ye, because you’ll never be able to play the fiddle according to what I see you doing,’ he says, ‘and what I hear you at.’ But, however, the sort of a toy fiddle I had made, I went on out and I sat under the cow’s head in the byre, and what do you think of it, the first Strachan is an antiquated colloquial word in southwest Donegal which means ‘rasping.’ couple of notes I struck upon was the first few notes of Bonnie Kate. And I come in to my father. ‘Well here father,’ says I. ‘Listen haul on, you’re puttin’ me out,’ says I, ‘very often for being making noise in your head and all this but wait to you hear this,’ says I. And I just begin the first few notes anyhow. But to make a long story short, I went over Bonnie Kate in the way that a child would do it just so it seems to be that it was just nature controlling me to, that it was just me natural musical talent that was controlling me to do it. [1]

The tune was picked up by Texas-style fiddler Benny Thomasson, perhaps from Ryan's Mammoth/Cole's 1000, or perhaps from the 1929 recording of 'K. Scanlon', whom Reg Hall identifies as a rather mysterious fiddler, likely from County Sligo, recorded a set of reels (entitled "Medley of Old Time Fiddling Reels") for a label whose audience was for American old-time music. See also Montreal fiddler Isidore Soucy's idiosyncratic and irregular version of the reel, recorded by him in 1930 as Quadrille des Laurentides 6ème partie <@@@TAG128848@@@>


Additional notes
Source for notated version : - Chicago Police Sergeant James O'Neill, a fiddler originally from County Down and Francis O'Neill's collaborator [O'Neill]; Kevin Burke (London/Co. Clare/Oregon) [Brody]; Benny Thomasson (Texas) [Phillips]; accordion player Johnny O'Leary (Sliabh Luachra region of the Cork-Kerry border), recorded at Na Píobairí Uilleann, October, 1984 [Moylan]; Kenny Chaisson (b. 1947, Bear River, North-East Kings County, Prince Edward Island, now resident of Rollo Bay) [Perlman]; piper Seán Potts (1871–1956) and fiddler Tommy Potts (Ireland) [Breathnach]; fiddler Dawson Girdwood (Perth, Ottawa Valley, Ontario) [Bégin]; fiddler Seán Ryan [Miller & Perron].

Printed sources : - Bégin (Fiddle Music in the Ottawa Valley: Dawson Girdwood), 1985; No. 65, p. 75. Breathnach (CRÉ 1), 1963; No. 174-176, pp. 68–69 {three versions}. Brody (Fiddler's Fakebook), 1983; p. 53. Cole (1000 Fiddle Tunes), 1940; p. 6 (appears as "Bonnie Kate's"). Elias Howe (Musician’s Omnibus Nos. 6 & 7), Boston, 1880-1882; p. 637 (as untitled "Irish Reel"). Hughes (Gems from the Emerald Isle), c. 1860's; No. 78, p. 18. Joyce (Old Irish Folk Music and Songs), 1909; No. 126, p. 63 (appears as untitled reel). Kennedy (Fiddler's Tune-Book, vol. 1), 1951; No. 37, p. 19 (appears as "Bonny Kate"). Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 4), No. 41, p. 7. McDermott (Allan's Irish Fiddler), c. 1920's; No. 44, p. 11. Miller & Perron (Irish Traditional Fiddle Music), 1977; vol. 3, No. 19. Miller & Perron (Irish Traditional Fiddle Music), 2nd Edition, 2006; pp. 49–51 (two versions). Moylan (Johnny O'Leary of Sliabh Luachra), 1994; No. 141, p. 83. O'Neill (Music of Ireland: 1850 Melodies), 1903; No. 1277, p. 240. O'Neill (Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems), 1907; No. 545, p. 101. Perlman (The Fiddle Music of Prince Edward Island), 1996; p. 78. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, vol. 1), 1994; p. 34. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 160. Roche (Collection of Traditional Irish Music, vol. 1), 1927; p. 70, nos. 182 and 183 (two settings). Ryan's Mammoth Collection, 1883; p. 28.

Recorded sources : - Avoca 139, Sean Maguire – "Music of Ireland." Breton Books and Music BOC 1HO, Winston "Scotty" Fitzgerald – "Classic Cuts" (reissue of Celtic Records CX17). Cló Iar-Chonnachta CICD 173, Brian Conway – "Consider the Source" (2008). Copley Records EP9-20 (45 RPM), Paddy O'Brien (195?). Decca 12015-A (78 RPM), Michael Coleman (1934. Paired with "Jenny's Chickens"). Drumlin Records, Brain McNamara – “A Piper’s Dream” (as "Sporting Kate"). Edison 50604 (78 RPM), John H. Kimmel, 1918 (appears as first tune of "Bonnie Kate Medley Reels"). Folkways FW 8876, Kevin Burke – "Sweeney's Dream." Folkways FG 3531, Jean Carignan – "Old Time Fiddle Tunes" (1968). Gael-Linn Records 78 RPM, Tommy Reck (c. 1957). Legacy 120, Jean Carignan – "French Canadian Fiddle Songs." Shanachie 29009, "Andy McGann & Paul Brady." Shanachie 33004, James Morrison – "The Pure Genius of James Morrison." Topic TSCD 602, K. Scanlon – "Irish Dance Music" (1995. A reissue of the 1929 original). Viva W103, Sean McGuire – "Irish Jigs and Reels" (c. 1960's, a reissue of "Sean Maguire Plays," the first recording of McGuire that Josephine Keegan accompanied on piano).

See also listing at :
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recording Index [1]
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [2]
Alan Ng's Irishtune.info [3]
Hear recordings of various artists [4] at the Comhaltas Archive, in particular Michael Coleman [5] and Andy McGann [6]
Hear Michael Coleman's 1934 recording at Soundcloud.com [7]
See a standard notation transcription and extensive analysis of the tune and variations by Conor Caldwell of of the complete version played by John Doherty (who in turn modeled his version on Coleman's) and other Donegal fiddlers in the PhD thesis "‘Did you hear about the poor old travelling fiddler?’ - The Life and Music of John Doherty", 2013, pp. 92-109 [8]



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  1. " Conor Caldwell, "Did you hear about the poor old travelling fiddler?" - The Life and Music of John Doherty, 2013, p. 94 [9]