At any rate, the tune is not a story, but stories might lie behind the tune. For, as mnemonics, the names summon up a tangled web of circumstances; they not only help to summon the tune into being, but recall other times and other places where the tune was played, and the company there might have been. –– Ciaran Carson in Last Night’s Fun: In and Out with Irish Music
The Norns who are knitting in their usual place here in the Pub are strongly hinting that it’ll be both colder than it usually is and quite a bit snowier this coming Winter. Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, says Tamsin, our hedgewitch, said as much during the warm months so he and most of the Estate staff took several days and weather-proofed as much as possible where sensitive plants eXisco and where such creatures as the owls and such will shelter in an even better than is the usual manner here.
The perfect wintertime breakfast for me is an Irish fry-up complete with sausage and fatty bacon, hold the beans though. That and strong black coffee served with real cream will do nicely, provided all of this is served ’round noon, when I’m more or less ready to be awake and sociable.
I’ve been thinking about Irish trad music lately and realise that it’s long overdue for us to do another edition just on that music so that’s what you’re getting, though keep in mind it’s just a bit of the material on that music that’s in our Archives. So lets get to this edition…Cat starts us with an academic work edited by Martin Stokes and Phillip V. Bohlman: ‘Celtic Modern, subtitled Music at the Global Fringe, examines the phenomenon that is Celtic music in its many varied strands. While on the surface this volume looks at Celtic music from a number of different standpoints, the content is academically inclined, rather than acting as a general reader, as would, say, a Rough Guide type publication.‘
Cat has a look at Charles de Lint’s Forests of The Heart novel which I’m reading now and it says that we should ‘Have another drink and just listen to the music’. The novel has some astounding descriptions of Irish music sessions it, so do check it.
Chuck has a book for you that’s very popular to take out from the Library here at Kinnrowan Estate: ‘Ciaran Carson is an Irish poet and musician, who has, in Last Night’s Fun, put together a series of writings, each inspired by a traditional tune. In most cases, these are short essays. For others, he has written poetry or put together sets of quotations. Occasionally the subjects in consecutive chapters are directly related, but that is most likely happenstance.’
A book by Evan McHugh gets a thunbs down from Gary: ‘I love good beer, and I love to travel. I also enjoy reading about both. I find beer writing more interesting than wine writing, because beer experts tend to be less stuffy about their craft than wine experts. And a good travel writer can make you feel almost as though you were along for the ride. So I jumped at the chance to review Pint-Sized Ireland: In Search Of The Perfect Guinness. Writing about travel and beer! What could be better?MWell, as it turns out, it could be better if someone else wrote it.’
Joseph takes a look at Bill Barich’s A Pint of Plain: Tradition, Change, and the Fate of the Irish Pub, which he describes as ‘a brilliant hybrid of new journalism and memoir: ‘By his own admission, Bill Barich is a dreamer on a mission to recapture his youth. But he greets each illusionary fishing hole, village, and forest with clarity and wisdom. In the end, the reader — not the author — feels nostalgic and thirsty for something never really existed.’ And Joseph even tells you how he did it.
Donal Hickey’s Stone Mad for Music gets reviewed by John: ‘Subtitled “The Sliabh Luachra story,” this book attempts to demythologize the heartland of Sliabh Luachra, a legendary area where Irish traditional music is concerned. To fans of Irish music, Sliabh Luachra will need no introduction. Something of a mini republic in Irish music terms, Sliabh Luachra, translated from the Gaelic as ‘the mountain of the rushes,’ is an area that has written its own rule book within the Irish traditional lexicon and produced its share of masterful exponents. The music is characterized by a wild reckless energy, which somehow symbolizes the rugged nature of the area.’
Diana Boullier’s Exploring Irish Music and Dance gets a look from Kim: ’At some point for children seeking to master traditional music, the learning must come through the power of relationship — through parents, friends, neighbors, or teachers. But not every child has access to that world, and many a child may be drawn to folk traditions via a chance exposure to music that calls to him or her. So what’s a parent to do? So many interests seem to pass quickly in these childhood years, making today’s investment in teachers, instruments and so forth the equivalent of pouring sand down the proverbial rat hole. I would also argue that learning to play, dance or sing Irish traditional music requires the dedication of family, teacher, and community. Diana Boullier seeks to bridge the gap between children’s interest and the world of Irish traditional music.’
Harry Long’s The Waltons Guide to Irish Music gets my approval: ‘The subtitle of this book is ‘A ComprehensiveA-Z Guide to Irish and Celtic Music in All Its Forms’ and for once this is an accurate statement. It is indeed indispensable guide to Irish music in all its varied facets. So let’s look at this wonderful book.’
Brendan has a look at group that’s Irish to the core, to wit From the beginning: The Chieftains 1 to 4: ‘The Chieftains were one of the first modern Celtic music bands. Although completely traditional in material and instrumentation (even to point of eschewing any guitar or piano), they were one of the first bands to present Irish music to an international audience as a serious craft, whose still-quite-living tradition demanded serious attention. Paddy Moloney — then a founding member of the influential (and much larger) Irish group Ceoltoiri Chualann — formed the band in the early Sixties as a compact ensemble of Irish musicians showcasing purely Irish stylings.’
Gary has an insightful review of the Traditional Irish Music in America anthology: ‘In the 1970s, something new yet very old was happening in America. Traditional Irish music was being played and recorded. Just when it looked as though Irish music would fade out and disappear in the modern, mechanized world of the mid-20th century, a new generation of young Irish and Irish-American musicians came under its spell. What began happening to roots music of all kinds happened to Irish music. A revival began and became a renaissance until today, it’s played in pubs, dance halls and social halls, on public radio and television, all over North America.’
Jayme looks at the debut album of a well-known group: ‘The surprise is that this album probably doesn’t sound like what the casual Clannad fan expects at all. Every band must start someplace; and Clannad, like most every other Celtic band before and since, started with a repertoire of traditional covers. ’
Jennifer looks at a recording from a member of De Dannan: ‘Fierce Traditional is the long anticipated new solo album from Frankie Gavin, and it sees him paring the sound right down, getting back to the essence of the music. With the usual stalwart suspects in the studio, long term partner Alec Finn, piano/banjo extraordinaire Brian McGrath and brother Sean Gavin, this album is all about the tunes, pure and simple.
She also reviews Tip Toe, an album by Ronan O Snodaigh who she says ‘is probably best known as the front man with Irish band Kila. A poet, songwriter, percussionist, vocalist, and landscape gardener, it seems the ridiculous O Snodaigh talent knows no bounds. He has contributed to the evolution and revolution of bodhran playing in Ireland, and has introduced percussion instruments from all around the globe to the Kila sound, and beyond.‘
Danú’s Think Before You Think gets reviewed by Kim: ‘It’s a great pleasure to begin the a new year with an album of Irish music that is filled with stellar arrangements, tunes and songs that don’t pop up on every second disc, fine musicianship and one of those famous Irish tenor voices singing the traditional style.’
Kim recommends Keoghs Irish Pub, her favorite pub in her hometown of Toronto. She says the owners have made ‘community building seem effortless, and have built the relatively new (circa 1997) pub into a hub for celebrating Irish culture in North America. The bar and its patrons are friendly, and some of the session night regulars appear to be stalwarts of the local Irish music scene. This is no age ghetto either — regulars range from pensioners to young, and often easy on the eyes, patrons in their 20s. The decor is tasteful and simple, not too dark, and the fireplace and kitchen add a bit of warmth, while the snug creates a spot for quiet conversation.’
Kim also saw one of the best Irish trad groups live: ‘Altan were one of the first truly traditional groups I came to love, and they will always be one of my favorites! I hadn’t seen Altan in five years or so — last time was at the World Theater in St. Paul — so this evening was a great treat, and anticipated with bated breath. This concert was also a benefit for the Ireland Fund of Canada, an organization that promotes cooperation between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and seemed to draw many folks from the Irish expatriate community in Toronto, as well as other diehard Altan fans. Massey Hall is a wonderful theatre in what I’ll call the old style–minimal lobbies, ticket booth openingto the outdoors — but a grand room that has aged well over its life.‘
Lars looks at The Alt, self-titled first album from a new group: ‘and boisterous to the soft and soothing, from the long slow ballads to the fast furious instrumentals. The Alt is a trio focusing on songs, only three of the eleven tracks are instrumental sets, and traditional material. No pipes, no fiddle, but plenty of guitar, bouzouki, that special wooden Irish flute and vocal harmonies. Their sound is much closer to the style set by groups like Sweeney’s Men, Planxty and Patrick Street, than the Dubliner-side of Irish folk.
Lars exclaims of Beoga at Ten that ‘There are times when reviewing is a sheer pleasure. This is one of those moments. Beoga is an Irish five-piece group, four men and a woman, with keyboards, button accordion, fiddle, bodhran/percussion and one member doubling on guitar and button accordion. They were formed in 2002 and this is a recording of a concert to celebrate their first ten years.’
He says Eilean mo Ghaoil: The Music of Arran ‘is the brainchild of Gillian Frame, fiddler and Arran native, and if the Arran tourist board doesn’t adopt it as its official soundtrack (assuming there is such an animal as an Arran tourist board) then they’re definitely missing a bet.’
Beginish is from the band of the same name who Naomi says ‘is a potent Irish traditional group which was born from four musicians who are successful in their own right, and have a long history of collaborating with one another. This history of collaboration is what brought about the birth of this talented group, and I can only hope that they’re here to stay.’
Naomi also pens a look at Barefoot on the Altar, a tasty album indeed: ‘Chulrua (pronounced cool-ROO-ah) is not only the name of this amazing trio of celebrated musicians but the name of the favourite wolfhound of the ancient Irish hero Fionn MacCumhaill. It translates to English as “red back.” Personally, I love how traditional Irish music is infused with so much history; it adds a depth and richness which makes it even more enjoyable.’
Paul looks at ‘Sé, (pronounced Shay), is Gaelic for ‘six’, and as well as the obvious meaning, is a lovely great mouthful of a title. For those of you who may be new to Lúnasa, this is a four-piece (Cillian Vallely joined a number of years back on pipes and low whistles) traditional Irish band. Just tunes. Great, great tunes. Fiddle, whistles, flutes, upright bass, pipes, guitar, bodhran, a little piano and trumpet even… The variety is wide but never overwhelming. It’s one of the things that have made Lúnasa what they are today: the ability to undertstand just exactly what a tune needs, without ever overcomplicating matters.’
Robert takes a look at a retrospective album by the same group, The Story So Far: ‘As is my habit with new music, I started off by putting Lúnasa’s The Story So Far on the player while going about my daily business, just to tune my ears. My first reaction was, “OK, there’s only so much fiddling I can take at a time.” Then I sat down to listen.’Zina, an Irish fiddler and a great lover of Turkish Coffee, is the sole author of our extended What Not this Edition. Let’s start off with her look at the Green Man Pub which leads off this way, ‘Fiddles. They’re everywhere.’
She notes that ‘Probably my favorite kind of Irish music sessions are house sessions, where musicians are invited over to someone’s house for an evening of tunes and perhaps a few songs if there’re any singers along, and of course lots of alcohol and food.’
A great session is followed by a suitable breakfast says she: ‘Oatmeal drizzled with cream, fat pork sausages sizzling with fat, eggs both simple and fancy, bread thick with butter and strawberry jam, scones with clotted cream, calves liver, bacon, lobscouse, crispbreads, tea, coffee, Turkish coffee…’
It’s a sad read but but she wrote an appreciation of an Irish music artist we lost long before we should’ve: ‘Ah, sad news. Mícheál Ó Domhnaill is dead. It’s far too early; he was far too young. I never met the man, yet he is and likely always will be an inextricable part of the fabric of my life–the impact of his contribution to the Irish traditional music I play was all-encompassing; like his guitar backing, it lifts and carries the music forward, never changing the melody but always putting his own stamp upon it.’
She has an excellent review Of both James Carty’s Upon My Soul: ‘I found that there were no real highlights to this recording: it’s all good’ and a recording from a famed Lonsdon venue called Paddy In The Smoke: Irish Dance Music, From A London Pub which she nowes ‘is simply one of the most important and influential recordings of Irish traditional music ever made.’
Let’s finish this edition First off with a tune by Clannad, a band often derided by Irish trad music lovers as just a New Age band because of their later recordings but give a listen to ‘Down By The Sally Gardens’ and I think you’ll agree that they do Irish trad rather well.
A newly composed tune that feel traditional is offered to us by Altan who recorded this while performing at Somerville Theater in Somerville, Massachusets on the 13th of February 1993. It’s ‘A Tune For Mairéad And Anna’ from their performance at the Folkadelphia Session, 7th of March, 2015.
So let’s find something sprightly to listen to end with on this fine Winter day… Ahhh that’ll do… Here’s De Dannan performing ‘Jenny Rocking The Cradle’ a trad Irish reel which was first was collected in printed form by O’Neill in his Music of Ireland: 1850 Melodies (1903). This version was recorded at the Canal Street Tavern in Dayton, Ohio, sometime in 1982.
This incarnation of the band consisted of Jackie Daly on accordion, Alec Finn plying bouzouki and guitar, Frankie Gavin on fiddle and whistle with Colm Murphy playing the bodhran and Maura O’Connell providing the lovely vocals, which she amply demonstrates on ‘My Irish Molly-o’ from the same concert.