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New Irish and related releases Aug 2001

FIERCE TRADITIONAL. Frankie Gavin. TACD 4011.  Galway’s own Frankie Gavin is back on top form with a selection of traditional music on fiddle and flute, accompanied in places by his brother Seán on accordion, Brian McGrath on piano and banjos, and Alec Finn on bouzouki. Having done the pop and rock hits on Welcome to the Hotel Connemara, which seemed to have been made because it was a good title rather than for any musical reason, Frankie shows just how an exciting musician he can be in a selection of dance tunes and song airs.  It’s a tremendous selection of great music.

AT FIRST LIGHT. Michael McGoldrick & John McSherry. VERT CD 061. Two of the best, individually famous and also known for their parts in, respectively, Flook and Lunasa,they have played together formally and informally for a long time. This is the nearest thing they have done to a traditional album together. Lots of traditional tunes with some of their own tunes (check out McSherry’s lovely jig Lady Lane). They have a lot of help from friends such as Paul McSherry, Dezi Donnelly and Manus Lunny among others.

SELKIE. Mick Conneely. CICD 148. Yet another fine recording from one of the younger generation of musicians. Mick is one of the many excellent traditional musicians who learned his music in England. He was born in the English city of Bedford, with parents from Connemara and Longford. He now lives in Mayo and is known throughout the country. He has also worked extensively in Europe and the United States. The album features his fiddle music – the entire Conneely family play music and they learned it from their father Micky Máirtín Tom, who features on the album.

RAGAIRNE. Séamus Begley & Jim Murray. Ragairne means ‘revelry at night’ and Séamus Begley knows all about revelry. One of the best known musicians in Ireland, Séamus is an excellent accordion player, having played all his life for dances in his native northwest Kerry. He is also a fine singer, but is relatively little recorded. On this album he plays jigs, reels, hornpipes, and of course, slides and polkas. He is accompanied on guitar by Jim Murray, and he sings four traditional songs and one fairly modern one. A worthy successor to his last album with Steve Cooney.

LIKE A WILD THING. Ceide. No number. A group from the west of Ireland who play good, driving dance music, with Brian Lennon on flute, low whistles and vocals, Tom Doherty on accordion, melodeon and snare drum, John McHugh on fiddle, Kevin Doherty on double bass and Declan Astin on guitar, vocals and harmonica. They play jigs, reels, waltzes and an air with great vigour, and the songs and singing are on a level with most modern groups.

SHADY WOODS. Desi Wilkinson. DEASU 01. Desi is a celebrated flute player, and has an equal facility on the whistle and the bagpipes. He is also a well-known traditional singer, and has travelled the world as a member of the excellent group Cran. This is his ‘slow’ album, a selection of familiar old airs and some new ones, played on various wooden flutes. It is certainly very easy listening.

REACAIREACHT AN RIADAIGH. Seán Ó Riada & Ceoltóirí Chualann. CEFCD 010.  First released in 1962), this one has been missing for a long time, and its return is most welcome. It features the band at its most characteristic (although, there is no personnel list), with Ó Riada’s orchestrations of traditional tunes, played by the best of traditional musicians. It’s beautiful, fun-filled music, with the occasional spoken interjection by Ó Riada himself.  However its major attraction for me is the beautiful singing of Darach Ó Catháin, the greatest sean-nós singer of them all, caught here at the height of his youthful power.

CEOL NA nUASAL. Seán Ó Riada & Ceoltóirí Chualann. CEFCD 015. Another welcome re-release of a classic 1960s recording. Ó Riada appeared at a time when traditional music broadcasting was restricted to about 30 minutes a week, although the country was full of great musicians. His intervention seemed to restore confidence to a demoralised generation, leading to the great resurgence of the music in the 1970s, and the de-ghettoisation of our music on the radio. Remember that the majority of the musicians in this band went on to form The Chieftains.  The singer on this one is Seán Ó Sé, much more a drawing-room singer than Ó Catháin, but pleasant enough, nevertheless.

DING DONG. Seán Ó Riada & Ceoltóirí Chualann. CEFCD 016. This is another recording from 1967, when the Ceoltóirí were indeed a truly popular band. It’s another good selection of music and song, played by the same musicians as the previous one, most of whom were to become The Chieftains. If there is a regional bias it’s toward Ó Riada’s adopted homeland in West Cork – this is certainly obvious in the songs, all from Munster, and one, The Boys of Kilmichael, from the specific area where Ó Riada chose to live. Unlike most modern traditional bands, Ó Riada understood the need for a singer who knows how to sing, and who can choose a worthwhile song.

A CALL FROM THE MUSICAL HEART OF CAVAN. No Number. This is a record of the state of traditional music in the county at the turn of the millennium. It’s a warts and all view – some of the players are clearly young and learning. Probably its main appeal will be to Cavan people at home and abroad, but it is a good example of a local tradition. The music includes all kinds of dance music plus song, and musicians are of all generations and from every part of the county. Cavan has been and is a very musical county – it was one of the places where set dancing was kept alive when it was nearly unknown in most of Ireland. Some of the music here is extremely good.

TRADITIONAL SONGS FROM CONNEMARA. Nan Tom Teaimín. CICD149. Last year’s winner of the coveted Corn Uí Riada in the Oireachtas, Nan is from Ruisín na Mainiach in the parish of Carna, which Séamus Ennis once described as the most musical parish in Ireland. This is an album for all lovers of traditional singing; there are eight songs in Irish and two in English. One is a beautiful and most unusual version of Róisín Dubh. Three of them have minimal accompaniment on keyboards, and the whole is an indication of the healthy state of traditional singing in Irish.

RAGÚS – An Seó. RAGCD 002. Ragús is the Gaelic word for urge or desire. It is also the title of a show produced in the Aran Islands with singing and dancing. This recording is the music of that show performed by excellent musicians. Musicians include Maurice Lennon, Fergal Ó Murchú and Gary Roche, and there’s miked-up dancing as in Riverdance, a very boring listening subject. While the music is largely traditional and the songs are well performed, it is at all times obvious that what you are listening to is a professional stage show – however, it’s none the worse for that.

TAKE A CHANCE. Stockton’s Wing. TACD 3004. Speaking of Maurice Lennon, Tara has just released his old band’s Take A Chance for the first time on CD. When this recording was made in 1980, the lads were still very young, most of them recently proclaimed All-Ireland champions on their respective instruments. The line-up at that time was Maurice Lennon  (fiddle), Tommy Hayes (various percussions), Paul Roche (flutes, whistles), Kieran Hanrahan (banjo, mandolin, etc.) and Mike Hanrahan (guitar and vocals). Their youth is apparent in their enthusiasm, and their playing is as good as it gets. PJ Curtis must also take a deal of the credit for his fine production.

EVERY STORY TOLD. Matt Cunningham. ARCD 036. Matt Cunningham is almost a cottage industry, with dozens of records of accordion music to his credit, mostly recorded for specific set-dances. He also sings, and on this album his singing talents are most to the fore. It’s a peculiar mix of traditional and sentimental songs, with some almost country and western. There is, of course, a good selection of dance tunes, and on the whole, while it’s not exactly the ‘raw bar’, it’s a good example of the entertainment that you might expect in a rural Irish pub at weekends. And it is enjoyed by thousands.                

MASTER CAPE BRETON FIDDLER. Jerry Holland. FM 1982. Although Gerry Holland plays in the Cape Breton tradition, there is a similar background between his music and Irish music. It originally went from Scotland to Canada, where it settled and grew up. Jerry was born into a musical Canadian family in Massachusetts and moved to Cape Breton in the 70s. He quickly won recognition as the doyen of the younger fiddlers. This record was made in 1982, but has been out of print for a long time. It is reckoned to be a classic of the Cape Breton tradition.

PAST MASTERS OF IRISH FIDDLE MUSIC. Various artists. TSCD 605. Topic continue to release the remastered 78 rpm recordings assembled by Reg Hall. They have now come to the fiddle players, and this is a particularly welcome recording, including as it does such little anthologised players as Frank O’Higgins and Neil O’Boyle. There are also the famous ones, such as Paddy Killoran and Michael Coleman. Particularly nice are the couple of sides from Michael Gorman and flute player Mick Flynn. We are indebted to Reg Hall and Topic for this lovely music.

ROUND THE HOUSE AND MIND THE DRESSER. Various artists. TSCD 606. Another set of tunes in Reg Hall’s series of reissues. This set is subtitled ‘Irish C0untry-House Dance Music’ and seems to have as its theme the dances which are not as widespread as the ubiquitous jigs and reels. These include tunes like polkas, flings, barndances, mazurkas and ‘The Varsovienne’. The subtitle is a bit arbitrary, as surely the reels and jigs were equally popular at house dances? However, this is as jolly and as important a recording of traditional music as any other you can mention, with players such as Johnny Leary, Cuz Teahan, Johnny Duffy, Bernard O’Sullivan and lots more.

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