Salmon Tails

Ben introduced us to Salmon Tails and it’s an excellent beginners’ tune. It has a nice lilt but the notes are not difficult. If you fancy adding ornaments, it’s just perfect. Ben sent me a written version in 4/4 but pretty much all the versions on the web (and how it’s played) seem to be in 2/4. There are so many forms of this tune (see below for the names associated) that it is hard to attribute authorship, although some give it to the notorious (in his time) Jimmie (or James) Allen from the turn of the 18th century.

Writing up this tune, I enjoyed reading about the history of the Polka (probably a dance from Czechoslovakia, although its history is a little contested, see Wikipedia). And although seems to call it a Polka, there are some who say it is a Northumbrian Rant (and not an Irish Polka, although there are also English and Scottish Polkas) (scroll down to the discussion at I’m afraid I’m yet to understand the difference between a Rant and a Polka, but please free to add a comment below if you know how to tell them apart, and when I learn more I’ll update this page.

I’ll leave its name as Salmon Tails, although many call it Salmon Tails Up the Water, or In the Water, or River, but also give it many many other names (which do appear to have pretty much the same tune, give or take a few extra notes) and sometimes Salmon Tails Up the Water is played with a completely different tune. Out of amazement, I’ve copied all the various names below. The names really express the places that this tune must have visited and in being adopted there, acquired new names. It’s clearly popular in Northumberland, but it’s structure (like the Hut on Staffin Island, Brenda Stubbert’s and Bert Mackenzie’s 70th to name a few here) feels Scottish, but like every good tune, it’s a mistake to give it a fixed national identity. It has travelled well and been enjoyed by many.

Lots of playing on Youtube…

Northumbrian pipes (from 1.07 mins in)
Cheerful pub session version
Whistle and banjo (from 2.30 mins in)
Northumbrian pipes and English concertina
On a fiddle in Ireland
Fiddle and harp from 1.14 mins
Bazouki, cajan, and guitar from 1.07 mins
Ukulele and eigenharp pico


Salmon Tails pdf here



Salmon Tails’ many names:

A Maire Cad Ta Ort?, Andy Irvine’s, Artesania,  Asailín Ag Seáinín, Baile Bheachain, Croppy’s Retreat, Dennis Doody’s, Freedom For Ireland, Hannah’s, Heather On The Hill, Ionsaí Na HInse, Ireland Forever, Johnnie Mickey’s, Lark’s Neck, Lark’s Nest, Molly What Ails You?, Polca An Dreollín, Salmon Tailing Up River, Salmon Tailing Up The River, Salmon Tails Up The River, Salmon Tails Up The Water, Siege Of Ennis, The Banks Of Enverness, The Banks Of Inverness, The Ceanngulla, The Croppies’ March, The Croppy’s Retreat, The Cuil Aodha polka, The Coolea, The Heather On The Hill, The Kerryman’s Daughter, The Lark’s Neck, The Lark’s Nest, The Tulla, The Wedding, The Wren, Tourniore Lass, Wren’s

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