It was St. Patty’s day, probably 1980 or so, and I’d found myself at Cavanaugh’s at 23rdand Chestnut in Philadelphia, considered by some as the only legitimate spot to celebrate this holiday where everyone pretends to be Irish and drinks so much that eventually they’re persuaded to drink beer with food coloring in it and experience barfing in technicolor at some point while trying to find their way home in one piece. So many people had had the same idea, and soon the bar was packed beyond capacity, and in spite of the excellent band playing traditional Irish music, my cohorts and I had decided to leave, on the basis that we were never going to be drunk enough to make the over packed conditions tolerable unless we were able to move our elbows, which was quickly becoming impossible. On my way to the exit, at a rate of about 1 ft/min. I found myself squeezed by the crowd into a full body press with an attractive young woman, which was awkward, though not entirely unpleasant. Since our position couldn’t be ignored or changed of free will, I said, “I think under the circumstances, I should introduce myself.” She didn’t miss a beat and said,” I’ll say. According to my Mom’s rules, I think we just got engaged.” I still laugh at that line. But I no longer try to drink with the Irish on St. Patty’s day. It’s fighting above my weight class.
I love Irish music. I can’t play it, but I love listening to it. The choice of instruments, the beautiful lilting melodies, the incredible tempo, you just can’t sit still while it’s playing. And one of the important instruments in the Irish musical enemble is the “Irish Bouzouki..”
When I first started hearing the term Irish bouzouki , it was kind of jarring, like Norwegian sitar or French balalaika, or Belgian Conga (OK, forget the last). The traditional bouzouki from Greece was introduced into Irish music in the 1960’s by Johnny Moynihan of “Sweeney’s Men,” who later brought it to “De Dannen” one of my favorite groups, whose huge but acoustic sound can mesmerize me. A big part of that big sound is likely the bouzouki, which is close in size and voice to the octave mandolin, but usually tuned to GG-DD-AA-DD as opposed to the octave mandolin tuned to GG-DD-AA-EE.
The scale length is usually longer on a bouzouki as well, but fact is, many now use the two interchangeably. What I have here is an octave mandolin, with a 20” scale, structurally similar to the mandocello I recently built, with a folded flat top with minimal bracing on the part behind the bridge. It has a BIG sound. I didn’t do a scroll headstock on this one, or the “Bohemian” back, instead going with a more traditional carved maple two piece back with a purpleheart center strip. I’m working on another one with the scroll, etc., as well as a mandolin sized version of the Bohemian mandocello that has me very excited. But I really do love these OM’s. I think I’m going to have to start learning some De Daanen songs.