In the Tribute to William Hannah, Luke Daniels – best known for his Irish melodeon playing – channels energies in a different direction; exploring the overlooked legacy of William Hannah, a celebrated melodeon player and band leader of the 1920’s. The late Jimmy Shand in his autobiography cited Hannah as key influence. On the album which was released earlier in March, Daniels presents William Hannah’s music sourced from a number of 78rpm and wax cylinder recordings. This concert was the second live showcase, in the Norie Miller Studio within the Perth Concert Hall.
Luke featured on two melodeons which were both of historical significance– the Wilkinson Excelsior c1927 which was Hannah’s signature instrument and additional previous model used by the Wyper brothers, who had produced much of the wax cylinder recordings, in their shop on Cadzow Street in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire.
Luke was joined on the night by Isobel Anderson on the piano, Innes White on the guitar and fiddler Neil Ewart – who had been part of the recording process alongside Ian Carr and John Paul Gandy at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland earlier in the year.
The programme comprised a nostalgic collection of pieces including many tunes familiar from modern-day dance bands but each had a somewhat melodramatic arrangement, capturing the unique lifting sound that won William Hannah and his band a keen following amongst Scottish country dancers almost a century earlier.
Talking afterwards, Luke explained that the arrangements were exactly those heard on the old recordings; he didn’t want simply to learn the tunes but wanted to reproduce the original style of playing. Luke remarked that ‘Hannah started on mouth organ as a boy and he plays box as if it’s a harmonica’. He studied all the features of Hannah’s playing; the accordion fingerings, ornaments and octave playing in order to recreate his sound. The fiddle and piano parts too had been carefully transcribed leaving Ian Carr to interpret the guitar parts during the recording process.
A piece derived from one of the oldest featured recordings, The Inverness Gathering was the only set interpreted with a level of artistic licence, as no accompaniment existed on the archived version. The set opened with spirited melodeon taking the title tune which was followed by The 79th Farewell to Gibraltar, a tune led by warm fiddle playing and underpinned by slightly more subtle accompaniment. The melodeons provided an authentic sound, however the element of magic they offered came at a price; Luke spoke of the physical demand inherent in playing the restored instruments. The recording process had been tremendous fun, but he remarked that thirty six hours over four days had been physically challenging. In order to preserve limbs, he handed over to Neil Ewart who played a more contemporary set of impressive, self-penned tunes. His individual fiddling style was showcased and supported by guitar accompaniment of Innes White.
A tune well known to Scottish dancers – The Duke of Perth – bookended the final set of reels and was enthusiastically received by the local audience. Luke brought the instruments out to the front of stage after the concert, much to the delight of a number of senior Scottish dance band players. He encourages people to listen to the archive recordings and modestly remarked; ‘This was a band that played the material for fifteen years, and they really play it, we play it and we represent it, but we don’t play it as well as they do… their lift is amazing.’ He explained too that he was delighted with the response to the project; more and more people are coming forward with material belonging to Hannah and information on his life. This was an enjoyable evening of music which paid deserved tribute to William Hannah, illuminating his contributions to Scottish music.
Review by: Alice Tait
For archived recordings visit: http://www.gael.org.uk/tributewillhannah.html
Photo Credit: Alistair Cassidy : More Photos from the evening can be found here.