Scotch Mary played by Micho Russell

A brief analysis by Peter Laban, 29 August 2002

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Scotch Mary is a popular reel. The tune appeared on several 78 rpm recordings during the early part of the 20th century. One famous recording is that of piper Patsy Touhey, who recorded it with Drowsy Maggie and the Flogging reel. Another is that of the Ballinakil Traditional players, a famous and highly influential ceili band from East Galway. It is not unlikely Micho knew both recordings: I heard him often refer to the tune as "Drowsy Maggie" or "a version of Drowsy Maggie", but here he refers to it as The Mills are grinding which is a different tune altogether but as far as I remember the one the Ballinakil band played with it. I have given it its more familiar name here, to avoid further confusion.


Micho's playing had an irresistible rhythm to it: hearing this performance I can almost see that big man sitting there, both feet tapping the rhythm of the tune, his body slightly swaying with the tune and his eyes twinkling. The playing has an air of natural simplicity and life about it which is somewhat deceiving as closer listening will reveal Micho's total control and understanding of the music.

The playing is characterised by a lovely clear ringing tone throughout (the tune was played on a brass Generation e flat whistle), notes are suddenly suspended in mid-air, adding to the bounce of the tune and allowing the player to take a quick almost unnoticed breath in mid-phrase (e.g. in bars 9, 15). Sometimes phrases are very deliberately ended and a big silence crops up in the tune (bars 4, 12, etc.) but sometimes intervals get filled in resulting in more flowing passages like that in bars 11-12.

Like the music of some of the other Clare players presented in this series, this is music that cherishes the bounce and the phrasing of the tune.

The transcription

The transcription is only a tool to gain some insight in the playing, it is merely a snapshot of one playing, at one time by one person. Learning the notes by heart is not recommended, they can help guiding the ear though when listening to the soundclip. The ear is not perfect but I have tried to write down what I thought I heard.