O’Keefe’s Slide

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Pádraig O’Keefe (1887-1963) was known as ‘the last of the fiddle masters’ (Fintan Vallely, Companion to Irish Traditional Music, 2011). From the Sliabh Luachra region of southwest Ireland, he was initially a schoolteacher, and latterly a fiddle teacher, numbering Denis Murphy amongst his students.

There are a number of tunes known as ‘O’Keefe’s Slide’, but this is probably the best known. It is very nearly pentatonic, with just a couple of F#s as passing notes towards the end. Very often it will be notated with a key signature of just one sharp (corresponding to G major). This would put it in the dorian mode. To my ear, this does not sound like a dorian tune. Therefore, I have notated it with two sharps in the key signature (corresponding to D major) even though there are no C#s – or Cs for that matter – in the tune. This would place the tune in the mixolydian mode, which, for me, is the correct mode. Alternatively, who cares?

I first came across the two slides – Denis Murphy’s and O’Keefe’s – on a little-known 1974 LP called Merrily Kissed the Quaker by a band called The Blacksmiths. They included in their ranks a young Paddy Keenan, later of The Bothy Band and now thought by many to be the best uilleann piper out there.

Pádraig O’Keefe

The Jones Boys play highly accomplished traditional music from Ireland, England, Scotland, Brittany, Sweden, Bulgaria …

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