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JOHN BARNES - That Strain Again 

JOHN BARNES - That Strain Again 
Casella Press 

Melodies for Scottish Dancing is the subtitle for John's book of 100 of his own compositions. There are five waltzes at the end of the book with the remainder roughly equally divided between reels, strathspeys and jigs. The tunes are in the keys of C, D, A and G and their relative minors. More than a third of the tunes are in minor keys which would seem to be a high proportion for dance tunes.

Playing through the tunes, a number of impressions are formed. Clearly, John is an experienced dance band musician and the tunes all have that danceable rhythmic feel. Nowhere in the brief introduction does he say what instrument he plays, but a strong inkling comes through that he is a piano accordion player. Some have the nature of being exercises as titles, like Rule Of Thirds and The Smallest Interval would suggest, but there are also signs that he is conversant with a wide range of music; the early Scots tunesmiths and classical, certainly the Baroque, composers. His compositions in the minor keys are the ones that stand out, and it is Llanallgo and Traquair Fair that seemed most to suggest themselves as worthy of returning to after a first playing.

Born in Hull, John met his wife through playing in a ceilidh band. They lived for years in Aberdeen before moving to Dublin. His tunes are likely to appeal to dance band musicians from all three of these countries. Good, clear notation and quality ring binding add to the pleasure of handling and using this publication.

Vic Smith


This review appeared in Issue 129 of The Living Tradition magazine