The Fairy Dance
The origins of The Fairy Dance can be traced to the early 19th Century. In 1809 Nathaniel Gow, celebrated son of the famous Scots fiddler Niel Gow, published a four-page foolscap sheet under the title Largo's Fairy Dance, a suite of two tunes: The Fairies' Advancing - a slow march - and The Fairy Dance, a tune he had composed for the Fife Hunt Ball in 1802. The former tune is now forgotten, but the latter has become a standard tune in Scotland, is known in a few settings in Ireland, and in North America different settings - and names for the tune - are found in abundance.
Scotland: The Fairy Dance (Nathaniel Gow)
It's one of those tunes that most people in Scotland recognise when they hear it. It's a rare traditional musician who doesn't know how to play it, and it can be heard at dances and ceilidhs across the country. The setting above is fairly standard, but there are small differences and variations from setting to setting. The fiddler James Scott Skinner published a number of variations on the tune (which he called Largo's Fairy Dance) in his 1903 collection Harp & Claymore. I have heard Shetland fiddler Aly Bain in a dual
with American fiddler Mark O'Connor, each playing variations to The Fairy Dance.
Ireland: The Fairy Reel
Versions of the Irish variant of The Fairy Dance - known as The Fairy Reel can be found in the repertoires of some of the most influential traditional players. The West Clare piper Willie Clancy (1918-1973) played it under the title An
Buailteoir Meidhreach (The Jolly Banger). His father learned it from another piper of legendary status, Garret Barry.
The Donegal fiddler John Doherty played a number of Scots-origin tunes, amongst them The Fairy Reel in the key of D. More recently, Kevin Burke (fiddle) and Jackie Daly (button box), two of Ireland's greatest
contemporary traditional musicians, recorded it on their popular album Eavesdropper (1981).
The setting given above is from the album 'Kitty Lie Over' by Mick O'Brien and Caoimhin O'Raghallaigh (2007).
USA: Old Molly Hare
The tune is very well known across
America. Fiddlin' John Powers and
Family, one of the first mountain
string bands to record, released it on a
78rpm disc in 1924. On that record he
said that it was "an old song that was
lost in the building of King Solomon's
Temple and in later years has been
resurrected, and we call it Old Molly
Hare." The lyrics contain such gems as
Old Molly Hare, what you doing there,
Sitting on the hillside eating on a bear?
Old Molly Hare, she took a spell,
Kicked my liquor jug all to Hell.
Other US variants have been noted under titles such as Rustic Dance and Grandma Blair:
USA: Grandma Blair