The Expatriate Game
Duck Baker, guitar, vocals
Maggie Boyle, Irish flute, vocals
Ben Paley, fiddle
The inspired combination of three great performers whose passion for traditional music and song has sustained them and their audiences for decades. Drawing on their common sources – the Irish and American traditions – they have come together for a musical celebration of the highest caliber.
Duck Baker, from Richmond, Virginia, is one of the most highly regarded fingerstyle guitarists of his generation. His repertoire ranges from traditional Irish music through old-time mountain music and bluegrass to blues, gospel, ragtime, swing and modern jazz. Baker has a reputation as a virtuoso but his performances depend as much on his humorous and informative stage manner as on technical bravura.
"Quite simply Duck Baker is the premier American fingerstyle guitarist" Sing Out
"He can go from the Mississippi Delta to the rings of Saturn" The Village Voice
Maggie's expressive, traditional vocal style - the result of her Irish heritage - has kept her in demand for many years. Since 1984 she has accrued an impressive catalog of recordings and live appearances, including work with The Chieftains, Rambert Dance Company, Incantation, Bert Jansch, Steve Tilston, Renbourn’s Ship of Fools, plus Hollywood film soundtracks.
“she tackles largely traditional song with a full-blooded ardour that’ll come as a shock to those weaned on the flaky New Age nonsense sold to us as Celtic music through most of the ‘90s” Colin Irwin, fROOTS
“..divine trad. Irish singer and flautist” Time Out
Ben has been playing the fiddle music of the USA, Sweden and Ireland since he was six years old. He has toured widely with his father Tom (founder-member of the seminal New Lost City Ramblers) and recorded with Bing Lyle, Mandragora, The Saw Doctors, Murray Lachlan Young and The New Deal String Band. His collection of Swedish fiddle tunes (Swedish Fiddle Music, an Anthology published by Dragonfly Music) has become the standard work on the subject in the UK.
“...just about the best folk fiddler of his generation” fROOTS
“Clean, fresh and inventive” Dirty Linen
Notes from the album:
“The Expatriate Game” is a word play on a well-known song by Dominic Behan, “The Patriot Game,” suggested both by the tendency of musicians to carry their tunes to foreign shores and by an item on Maggie's résumé (soundtrack vocals for the film “Patriot Games”). Duck Baker is a London-based American guitarist, and Ben Paley and Maggie Boyle were born to families who came to live in England - the Boyles from Ireland and Ben’s parents from America. Ben & Maggie share something that’s rare in today’s folk world, which is having grown up with traditional music as a central feature of family life.
Reared in the musically vibrant London-Irish community of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Maggie and her brothers Kevin and Paul got the music from their father, Paddy Boyle, a native speaker from the Donegal Gaeltacht townland of Derryloughan. Throughout his life Paddy was a great champion of Irish music, even during the years when it was largely forgotten, and the service he rendered the cause is still remembered in the community. Maggie’s other main tutor was Oliver Mulligan, a great singer from Co. Monaghan resident in London. She also received encouragement from flute players who were fellow members of the West London branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, notably Johnny Hynes from Athlone and the celebrated Boehm system luminary, Paddy Taylor of Limerick. Maggie, Kevin and Paul performed as the Boyle family during the ‘70s, and as regulars on the West London scene it was inevitable that they crossed paths with Duck Baker, who had moved to London in 1978 and become a regular visitor to The White Hart at Fulham Broadway on session nights. It was Duck who introduced Maggie to singer/songwriter/guitarist Steve Tilston a couple of years later, which led among other things to one of the finest duo collaborations on the English folk scene of the 1980s and 90s. Maggie and Steve also toured and recorded with John Renbourn’s Ship of Fools. Her other musical associations have included The Chieftains, Rambert Dance Company, Incantation, Bert Jansch and James Horner.
Ben Paley’s strongest early influence was also his father. Tom Paley was one of the most important figures of the American folk revival of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Along with Mike Seeger and John Cohen, Tom formed The New Lost City Ramblers, the first revivalist group to devote itself to the performance of old-time string band music. Ben also learned from his mother and stepfather, Claudia and Ron Gould, whose involvement with the music ensured that he got it from all sides. Ben began fiddling at a young age, and has worked with his father in The New Deal String Band as well as with such diverse artists as McDermotts 2 Hours, The Levellers, Damon Albarn and Murray Lachlan Young. In addition to his ongoing involvement with American and Irish traditions, Ben is a serious student of Swedish music, and he has authored a collection called Swedish Fiddle Music, an Anthology. Ben’s experience in different traditions should not obscure the fact that he is a dedicated and convincing interpreter of each, nor should that dedication be seen as a willingness to repeat learned versions of tunes by rote. He always seems to find some new twist to add to even the most familiar of pieces.
These last observations could also apply to Duck Baker, who is widely regarded as one of the premier fingerstyle guitarists of his generation. In addition to a solo career documented by dozens of recordings as well as numerous tutorial books and videos, the oft-transplanted Virginian has performed and/or recorded in an impressive variety of settings. Among the most memorable of these are duos with jazz guitarist Jamie Findlay, Appalachian singer Molly Andrews, and legendary jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd. In “The Expatriate Game” Duck’s guitar is sometimes heard in a back-up role akin to that normally associated with the instrument. At other times he plays melody or countermelody. Perhaps most notable are the fingerstyle arrangements of the tunes, in which the guitar plays both melody and bass line. Apart from some arrangements by John Renbourn, this sort of guitar playing, which is a basic approach for soloists, has yet to be adapted to group situations. It’s also a pleasure to hear Duck contribute a vocal here, as it’s something he does well in performance but rarely on record.
If this style of guitar is unusual in the context, the use of the flute on the traditional American tunes seems to be a first on record (at least according to Tony Russell, the leading discographer of early old-time music). The instrument was certainly played by 19th century minstrel show musicians in America, and one occasionally hears traditional musicians playing fifes or quills, but the flute just hasn’t been used by old-timey musicians. Maggie proves that, for all its novelty, the Irish flute sounds right at home with tunes from “across the pond.”
The Expatriate Game isn’t trying to achieve a seamless blend in their performance style, preferring to leave its members free to interject melodic variations in the course of things, along the lines of American old-timey players. They also consider the tension between the Irish and American sense of rhythm something to play with rather than iron out. At their best, they push each other into creating a group sound that’s truly unique and you can hear that, despite having spent over a century between them as performers (mostly by Duck, of course!) they are really having a ball doing it.
The air “Sean O’Dwyer of the Glen” and the slip jigs “Come Under My Dimity” and “The Humours of Whisky” have all been in Duck’s repertoire for years. The last two tunes are among several here that he used to perform with another expatriate musician, the fine Co. Galway fiddler Kieran Fahey, now living in Belgium. “Dimity” comes from Cole’s 1,000 Fiddle Tunes where it is notated incorrectly as a double jig, a fact that may explain its relative obscurity. Ben got “Glory in the Meeting House” from session playing, though the original source for this one is the Library of Congress recording by Luther Strong.
This version of the set dance “The Blackbird” has always been widely played but no one has ever tired of it. The arrangement heard here is something else again, with Duck switching from melody to fingerstyle and Ben unveiling one of the group’s secret weapons by playing harmony along the lines of Swedish second parts.
Maggie recorded her version of “The Banks of Claudy” some time ago with Steve Tilston but thinks she learned the tune when living with concertina player extraordinaire Mandy Murray in the mid ‘70s, from a recording by Mick Hanly and Micheal O'Domnhaill called Celtic Folkweave. She got the words from Colm O'Lochlainn's Irish Street Ballads though this version reflects a fair amount of editing.
“Over the Waterfall” is standard in Ireland and America, but this version of “Robinson County” is another story. Duck learned it years ago from fiddler Frank Ferrel, who got it from banjoist Bertram Levy. When this tune is heard at all it’s usually in a busier setting but the sparer banjo version is particularly charming.
Duck learned “Miss Forbes’ Farewell” from the great American traditionalist Norman Blake, who got it from a book by the great Irish collector, Francis O’Neill. As the canny observer might expect from all that, it’s a Scottish tune, the full title being “Miss Forbes’ Farewell to Banff.” This version of “Poll Ha’penny” is based on that of one of the mainstays of the Irish London scene in the ‘70s, Clare fiddler Bobby Casey, but Maggie and Ben have added some elements from the more familiar setting.
“Bonny Portmore” is little gem, lamenting the breaking up and selling off of Lord Conway's estate of Portmore, near Lough Neagh. Maggie got this song nearly 30 years ago from Sean O'Boyle's brilliant book, The Irish Song Tradition - 25 Irish Songs. According to Mr. O'Boyle's notes the ornament tree of the song was "the Great Oak of Portmore which was blown down in 1760. It was fourteen yards in circumference. A single branch of it was sold for nine pounds; the trunk fetched ninety-seven." Some wind!
“Rye Whisky” is a song that everyone seems to know but no one sings anymore, and more’s the pity. The first line is a natural for Duck, who says he took ideas for this version from Charlie Poole, The Holy Modal Rounders, and West Coast guitarist Barry Solomon, among others. He also rethought the harmonic structure and added a couple of lines of his own.
All three band members have long known “The Golden Keyboard,” while Duck and Ben had differing versions of “Sandy River Belle” in their repertoires. Duck got his from the classic recording by Buddy Pendleton while Ben credits that important source for session musicians, Os Mosis. The version heard here is part compromise and part superimposition, to which Maggie has added some harmony. Ben has “Grub Spring” from his father but again the source is a Library of Congress recording, this one by W. E. Claunch.
“Little Beggar Man” is widely known in Scotland and Ireland under this title. In America it’s usually called “The Red-Haired Boy.” Ben learned “Monaghan Twig” from Roger Leach and Maggie’s one-time roommate Mandy Murray, at the session he attends regularly at The Pond in Brighton.
The charming tune/ditty “Kitty Lie Over” is associated with the legendary piper/singer/storyteller Seamus Ennis, one of the great figures of Irish music. But mention should be made of a fantastic recording by Mick O'Brien & Caoimhin O' Raghallaigh under this title that came out just about the time the Expatriates were learning it (ACM Records).
“Temperance Reel” is one of a the handful of Irish standards that are also widespread in America, and while the basic version heard there is always pretty much the same, no two players are likely to play identical versions. In fact many styles of old-timey playing depend on almost constant variation, and that certainly goes for this wild duo, especially on “June Apple.” There’s nothing revolutionary about this approach, of course, but this writer can’t recall having ever heard a fiddle/fingerstyle guitar duo that sounded anything like this.
Maggie learned “A Youth Inclined to Ramble” from a 1970s recording by Paul Brady. Brady has spent much of his later career in the pop music world, but it shouldn’t be forgotten what an outstanding and influential traditional singer he was in those early days.
“The Fairy Queen” is a composition by Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738) that isn’t played anything like as often as it should be. It is said to have originated when the bard passed a night near a fairy rath (a mistake that only a blind man would have been likely to have made in those days) with the lucky result that he was visited in his sleep by a vision, bringing him this tune.
Michael Crane, San Francisco, California, January 2005