Uncovered, the debut album by a Mancunian of Irish extraction, flute and whistle player Garry Walsh, is an oddity in a couple of ways. Garry’s repertoire is drawn from his two grandfathers via his parents from counties Louth and Cork and includes many tunes, forgotten by other musicians, which have become so rare that Dublin’s Irish Traditional Music Archive could discover no previous reference to them. The second unusual element is that Garry has a predilection for playing some of said tunes on instruments which aren’t exactly the norm, such as E flat and B flat flutes and an F whistle, which often imbues his music with the kind of ‘lonesome’ eeriness associated with the eastern parts of counties Clare and Galway.
That said, and as Garry’s now based in the city, there’s a very strong Cork presence evident in Uncovered and not least in the choice of guest musicians which includes Dave Hennessy on melodeon (once of Any Old Time), guitarist Johnny Neville (once of North Cregg) and (once of De Dannan) Colm Murphy on bodhrán.
The tune titles too are sometimes indicative of their origins. There’s Under the Tholsel, referencing one of Drogheda’s most well-known buildings, and North West Street, referring to one of the town’s thoroughfares, while Butterley’s Reel, name-checks a former Drogheda shipping company. The air Around Lough Ine alludes to a West Cork lake and there’s no need to guess where Back to Skibbereen cites. Unfortunately, there are also two tunes listed as Gan Anim [sic], an unusual oversight by the normally reliable Ossian Publications. Included too are two recently written melodies, Garry’s own The Travelling Lamp, and his daughter Clara’s eponymous reel.
Apart from the ears pricking at the sound of these new tunes the other major enjoyment lies in Garry’s musicianship which reveals both a fluent, mellifluous player and one whose main aim is to allow the tune to do the talking. The major disappointment, however, is that the album is so short. Thirty-seven minutes would have been the approximate norm in the days of vinyl, but, contemporary expectations are far higher and, as Dave Hennessy’s introduction clearly indicates, the rarities on display are only part of Garry’s collection of otherwise forgotten tunes.
Nevertheless, Uncovered is an intriguing brew and one guaranteed to entice anyone interested in expanding his or her repertoire.
15th December, 2004
Uncovered was released on the old Ossian label but is still available from Cló Iar-Chonnachta.
Anyone intrigued by Garry’s repertoire might be interested in the following article which I wrote for fRoots magazine.
Thanks to numerous collectors, most notably Captain Francis O’Neill and Breandán Breathnach, there’s a vast quantity of notated music available to anyone wishing to learn some Irish traditional tunes or add to their collection. However, very occasionally (and it is very occasionally indeed) someone comes along, plays a tune at a session and immediately prompts the question, “Hey, where did you learn that?”
Such is the case with the flute player Garry Walsh, Lancashire-born, but of Louth and Cork extraction, whose recent Uncovered album on the Ossian label includes tunes so rare that not even the copious resources of Dublin’s Irish Traditional Music Archive could find previous notated or recorded examples.
Garry was a relatively late starter on the flute, not taking up the instrument until the age of twenty-one, though he’d been playing the whistle since he was a young lad. His tutor was his father, primarily a pianist, but adept on several other instruments, including the trombone (Dad is a jazz fanatic too) while his mother provided the songs and is also an accomplished lilter.
The young Walsh’s musical career began in relative solitude and it was some time before he played at a session. “I learned my music in isolation really. We lived miles away in the country, fifteen miles from Manchester, buses were few and we didn't have a car. Also being young, I wasn't allowed near pubs so never really got to the sessions. My father was strict, musically speaking, so by the time I eventually played at sessions I was already a competent musician with a wealth of tunes learned at home from mum and dad.”
However, Garry never became a stalwart of the Lancashire session scene, drifting in and out of music during the 1980s and 1990s and “at one stage simply stopped playing altogether” when the responsibilities of marriage and his own young family took precedence.
The realization that his own musical repertoire was something special has never left him. At the sessions he did attend he found that few musicians knew the tunes he had acquired from his parents, though occasionally, on trips to Ireland, he would meet someone who recognized a few, such as the Cork fiddler Matt Cranitch (of Na Filí and Sliabh Notes). One time when the Fleadh Cheoil was held in Listowel he found himself in dispute with a man “dressed in a top hat and tails, the suit was in green velvet and on his shoulder was perched a chicken. I was asked to play a solo tune and afterwards your man shouted to all that I was to be ignored as the tunes I have were from an age long ago. This tickled the crowd seeing as your man was dressed as if he had stepped out of some kind of time machine himself.” For those who’ve never attended a Fleadh Cheoil, strange things can happen.
Later, when he was offered a job in Cork, Garry leapt at the chance and moved across the water, lock, stock and several smoking flute barrels, a few years back. He regularly plays in the city in the company of musicians such as accordeonist Dave Hennessy and bodhránista Colm Murphy and linked up with its local label, Ossian, to record Uncovered.
The album received impressive reviews, not least in fRoots and sparked interest not only in its collection of rare tunes, but Garry’s own mellifluous playing and occasional use of keys which don’t usually feature in Ireland’s D/A/G lexicon. Questioned about those keys, Garry responds both expansively and informatively: “I wished to explore the feel and context of tunes on different pitched instruments. I think they bring variety and give a different sense of the tune. In my opinion, the F whistle offers an impish quality and an Eb flute raises concert pitch a semi-tone and so brings a sense of urgency to a reel. In contrast, the Bb flute evokes a special warmth and texture to the tune, especially if played at a slower than normal pace.”
As to why his selection of tunes had previously not been ‘uncovered’, Garry’s reckoning is that “they must have stayed in local hands”. Though his maternal grandfather from Drogheda, Co. Louth was a professional musician and travelled widely, it seems that he never came into contact with any collectors. His paternal grandfather, the source of his father’s repertoire, never wandered far from Skibbereen in County Cork until he emigrated to Manchester.
Buoyed by the success of Uncovered, Garry has another album in the pipeline which will feature more rare tunes and a few new compositions (Uncovered actually included one of his own and one by his daughter Ciara) and will also feature some songs, for the man’s a damned fine singer too!