I don’t remember when I first heard Mason’s Apron, but I know it was a long time ago. I seem to recall having a recording of Mark O’Connor playing it. The thing that really sticks with me about this tune is its similarity to a couple of other tunes – Ace of Spades, and Red Bird (a West Virginia breakdown.) I’m pretty sure that both of these tunes are derived from Mason’s Apron, but we will see what Fiddler’s Companion has to say about that. 😉 Two versions of Mason’s Apron that you should hear are those of Sean Maguire and my friend, Henry the Fiddler, who this tune is going out to.
Here’s a recording of Bobby Taylor playing Red Bird.
There appears to be only one recording of Ace of Spades on Youtube right now.
Mason’s Apron according to the Fiddler’s Companion
MASON’S APRON (Práiscín an Mhásúin/Saorcloice). AKA and see “Braes of Glenorchy ,” “Carton’s Reel,” “Gallagher’s Reel,” “I Don’t Like the Guidewife,” “The Isla Reel,” “Lady/Miss Carbury/Carberry,” “Lowrie Tarrel,” “The Mason’s Cap,” “The Mason Laddie,” “Miss Hope’s Favourite-Scotch,” “Praiscin An Saorcloc,” “‘S’ Coma Leam Do Shean Taighe” “Le Tablier Du Macon.” See also related American tunes “Jack of Diamonds ” and “Wake Up Susan .” Irish, Scottish, English, Shetlands, Canadian, American; Reel. A Major (most versions): A Mixolydian (Roche):G Major (some Irish versions). Standard or AEae tunings. AB (Athole, Breathnach, Gow, Hardie, O’Neill, Roche, Silberberg, Surenne, Sweet): AAB (Kerr): AABB (Brody, Cole, Jarman, Kennedy, Mallinson, Miller & Perron, Raven, Skye, Songer): AA’BB’ (Phillips): AABBCCDDE (Gatherer): AABBCCDDEEFFGG’ (Martin & Hughes). The melody is Scottish in origin, according to most sources, despite having been strongly associated with Irish fiddling tradition in the present day. Early Scots versions appear in Alexander McGlashan’s (173?‑1797) collections under the titles “The Isla Reel” and “Braes of Glenorchy,” while one called “The Mason Laddie” is in Robert Ross’s 1780 volume A Choice Collection of Scots Reels or Country Dances (Edinburgh). It quickly became a popular piece, with continued longevity; for example, a note in MacDonald’s Skye Collection, printed a century after Ross’s volume, states: “One of the best tunes that can be played for a Country Dance.” It was a particular favorite of William Hardie Jr. of Methlick (1856-1944), and was the usual encore of the Scottish fiddler Duncan McKerracher (1796‑1873), the so‑called “Dunkeld Paganini” (whom family history had it once danced on a table to the playing of Niel Gow), who it was said played the tune wearing his Masonic apron. Mason’s Apron is also the name of a Scottish country dance, though uncommon in the repertoire.
The melody lends itself to innumerable variations, and many fiddlers, even those not particularly known for spontaneous expostulation, compose their own. Of the two variations printed by Gatherer (1987), the first was composed by him, while the second, “quite common amongst Scottish and Irish fiddlers, was claimed by both Bobby McLeod and Sean Maguire.” The latter, a famous Irish fiddler, has been credited with taking (this) “rather common two‑part reel,” adding variations and creating a virtuostic piece which impressed other Irish musicians who either copied it or added their own variations, say the Boys of the Lough. Maguire added three parts to the two-part “Mason’s Apron,” requiring playing in positions and challenging to many fiddlers. Some fiddlers play pizzicato notes during the tune as a variation and some Irish versions have been rendered in the key of G major, including that by Paddy O’Brien (of Tipperary) and flute player Matt Molloy; the latter’s is a much admired version on that instrument. Joyce printed the tune as “Lady Carbury” and O’Farrell included it in his 4th volume of hi s Pocket Companion (1804-16) under the title “Miss Hope’s Favourite – Scotch.” Breathnach (1976) says the tune was sometimes played in AEae tuning by Irish fiddlers. “White Leaf” is a related Irish reel. Sligo master Paddy Killoran recorded “Mason’s Apron” as a two-part reel in March, 1939.
Many fiddlers in a variety of traditions have used the tune as a vehicle to display their skill at theme and variations. The melody is, for example, widely played in the French-Canadian fiddling tradition of Québec (see “Le Tablier Du Macon”), and variants can frequently be found in several American regional styles. Alan Jabbour (1971), for example, sees associations with this tune and the “Hell On the Wabash”/”Wake Up Susan”/”Hell on the Potomac” complex of American tunes. The first sound recording appears to have been by New York accordion player John J. “Dutch” Kimmel in 1915.