includes information on all the known commercial releases which feature the
music of the Waterford-born fiddler Jimmy Power. An almost full track listing is included
at the very bottom of the page.
Jimmy Power’s is a name that many will recognize, especially those who were fortunate to attend sessions in London during the second half of the twentieth century. He was born into a labouring family in 1918 in Ballyduff, County Waterford and, according to his long-time piano accompanist, Reg Hall, ‘His father, a fiddle-player himself, had died a few weeks earlier during an influenza epidemic leaving Jimmy a musical reputation to live up to and a stringless fiddle hanging by the fireplace.’ At around the age of ten he received some lessons from an Italian music teacher who was visiting schools in the area, but much of his music came from his grandmother, Statia Donnelly, who knew many tunes which she would lilt as she busied herself around the house. His other early influence was his uncle Paddy, who played both melodeon and uilleann pipes, but, ultimately Jimmy was virtually self-taught as a fiddler, though was much inspired by the recordings of the Sligo greats, especially Paddy Killoran.
In his teens Jimmy managed to get into some kind of trouble and, as a consequence, was instructed to leave home by the local priest. He enlisted in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, playing uilleann and war pipes in its band, but never found military life much to his liking and, apparently, deserted the day before the regiment was due to depart for Malta just before the beginning of World War Two. By 1942 he was living in Glasgow where, ironically, a priest gave him a fiddle so he could join the musicians in a céilí band he had discovered. He married Kathleen O’Connor while living in Glasgow, but then worked for a while in both Leeds and Sheffield before settling in London in 1947 and working as a carpenter in the building trade.
Around 1950 or 1951 Jimmy popped into The Black Cap in Camden Town one Sunday lunchtime and discovered a session in sway in which everyone was playing bar Michael Gorman. Allowed to borrow Michael’s fiddle, Jimmy joined in, only to be told by the Sligo man “I think you’re listening to too many of Michael Coleman’s records”. Subsequently, Jimmy’s musical influences widened as he came into contact with other Irish immigrants, but he did strike up a lasting friendship with Gorman, playing together at another Camden pub, The Bedford Arms, and with Michael and his partner, Margaret Barry, in The Black Lion in Kilburn in around 1956 or 1957 (a session attended by the young Reg Hall). By then Jimmy was playing fiddle for London County Council dance classes and at virtually every Irish dancing competition held in London. Towards the end of the decade he formed The Four Courts Ceilidhe Band which toured the Irish dance halls of London and the Midlands for the next few years, appeared on television and made a couple of records.
The first appearance on vinyl under his own name, rather than under The Four Courts banner, occurred in 1964 with the release of Irish Folk Night, a live album recorded at London’s Folksong El Toro on 29th June that year, which largely featured The Dubliners, as well as the less familiar names of Paul Lenihan and Dave Phillips. Jimmy plays Margaret Barry’s The Stray Away Child as part of a trio including Michael Gorman and the composer herself on banjo. It would be fair to report that this is by no means as inspiring as the version which appears on the Gorman collection The Sligo Champion. 1964 turned out to be a very good year for Jimmy as, returning to Ireland for the Waterford fleadh, he won all three fiddlers’ cups (for Waterford, the surround counties and the open competition).
Jimmy’s own first solo album, Irish Dances, was released in 1967 on the Clan label and was a very restrained reason indeed. The reason was that the album had a straightforward purpose as its subtitle reveals (‘Reels, jigs, set dances and hornpipes played in strict dance tempo’). In other words, like the albums of his contemporary, the flute player John Doonan, it was squarely aimed at those wishing to practise their dance steps. Jimmy has been quoted as once remarking that accompany dancers for competitions was “one of the most tiresome tasks in the field of Irish music” and there is no doubt that the often ten-hour stints took their toll. So perhaps Irish Dances was his way of signing off from the chore.
Certainly, there is little life in the three set-dances which appear on the album, but Jimmy’s short bowing style and penchant for triplets are still obvious on the slip jigs The Derry and Down to Limerick.
In 1965 Jimmy and Reg began a session at Tom and Kathleen McManamon’s pub, The Mulberry Tree, in the somewhat insalubrious setting of Bromley-by-Bow. When the McManamon’s moved to The Favourite, just off the bottom end of Hornsey Road in Holloway, the musicians followed too, establishing what was to become probably London’s most famous traditional music session and one which endured until 1980. To be frank, The Favourite was not exactly the most physically welcoming of pubs and sometimes the smell from the nearby Islington Council Refuse HQ was a little overpowering, but socially it was one of London’s friendliest bars and was advantageously placed not far from the Holloway Road tube station. That geographical position meant that it was easy for other musicians to reach and take part in what was not so much a session as a Sunday lunchtime show, choreographed by Jimmy Power from the pub’s small stage (constructed by Jimmy himself and equipped with a basic amplification system consisting of one microphone, an amplifier and a speaker hung on the far wall). He would perform originally with just Reg Hall on piano and additionally, from 1969 to 1973, with Westmeath-born Tony Ledwith on button accordion.
Jimmy’s knack lay in noting which musicians had turned up for this regular Sunday venture and in making sure that any unknown visiting musicians were also embraced by the event. As evidence, turn simply to the better known of the two recordings drawn from The Favourite’s resident and visiting musical personnel, Paddy in the Smoke, originally released on vinyl in 1968 and as a CD (with additional material) in 1997. The album features the then cream of London’s Irish-born or Irish-descended fiddlers – Martin Byrnes, Bobby Casey, a young Danny Meehan, Dennis MacMahon, Jimmy Dunleavy, Julia Clifford, Edmond Murphy, Seán O’Shea, Con Curtin and Andy Boyle, as well as Lucy Farr, who must have popped up for the day from Essex – as well as one of the city’s best-known music teachers, the Leitrim accordionist Tommy Maguire. Add to that brew a young Tony Mac Mahon who was just passing through London on his way to Morocco, and Paddy in the Smoke really does capture the feel of The Favourite. All it lacks is Jimmy’s fondly remembered closing time instruction to both musicians and audience to “now go home to your dinners”. Licensing laws were very strict in those days and the pub was supposed to close after drinking-up time shortly after 2pm, but somehow it was often possible to squeeze in an extra pint.
As for Jimmy’s contribution to Paddy in the Smoke, well he appears on a roistering rendition of The Jolly Tinker with Mayo’s Jimmy Dunleavy, solos on the jigs Kitty’s Rambles and Dan the Cobbler (replete with The Favourite’s clientele in full conversation mode) and again on Jenny Picking Cockles and Kitty in the Lane which must have been recorded early in the afternoon as the bar denizens are noticeably quieter. That latter track itself succinctly characterizes Jimmy’s playing as intuitive, occasionally demonstrative, but never losing the sense of the tune. His other two appearances are in trio form with Lucy Farr and Andy Boyle and the second, the jigs Doctor O’Neill and The Battering Ram (replete with lilting from the bar), might almost be taken as a London-Irish anthem in the way that it not only captures the sound of the late 1960s but is astonishingly redolent of the music one will encounter at many an Irish session in London today. By the way, Reg Hall is on grand form throughout the album.
It was also on a compilation that Jimmy made his next contribution to recorded music. This was the Folkways album Irish Dance Music which was issued in the USA in 1973, but must have been in the pipeline for some years as the date of Reg Hall’s notes for the album is 1967. Amidst a veritable wealth of classic recordings, featuring musicians such as John McKenna, Paddy ‘Nenagh’ O’Brien, Tom Morrison and The Ballinakill Traditional Dance Players, Jimmy appears playing a medley of reels – Jenny Picking Cockles/Kitty in the Lane/The Cottage Grove [sic] and certainly is not out of place in this illustrious company. The recording was made privately in Croydon in 1963 (presumably chez Reg) and amply demonstrates Jimmy’s abilities and Reg himself is on fine form too.
A second edition of this recording was issued by Topic in 1995 with additional material, but, since this resolutely concentrated on 78rpm recordings, the Power/Hall track was sadly missing.
Next in the Power discography comes an oddity, Irish Music from The Favourite, recorded, like both previous albums, by Bill Leader and released on his own label in 1975. Although bearing a very accurate photograph of the pub on its sleeve (and, my, how did I forget that it served Double Diamond?), the LP was not actually recorded at The Favourite at all, but at somewhere called The Sugawn Kitchen in 1971 with some tracks being laid down at a private house in Croydon, Surrey some two years later.
The recording marks the debut of Jimmy’s son, Tom, who appears in a photograph on the sleeve rear in a natty fur-lined jacket and plays guitar on several tracks while, in another photograph, Tony Ledwith appears to be wearing Irish tricolour socks!
However, despite lacking the authenticity suggested by its title, Irish Music from The Favourite, unquestionably captures Jimmy Power at his best. For evidence, look no further than a sprightly set of reels (The Woman of the House and The Morning Dew) and the very next track (the jigs Willy Clancy’s and Mag Long’s). In part, the reason lies in the tone of the Power fiddle. Previous recordings had suggested a harshness, but here it is all sweetness and light, complete with a jaunty air to its stride. The Donegal is one tune I remember Jimmy playing regularly and the version recorded here resolutely captures the sheer spirit of his playing and, something which many fiddlers lack, an implicit suggestiveness – as though something were about to happen, but one needs to stick with Jimmy to find out just exactly how events will unfold.
By the time of Jimmy’s next solo album, Irish Fiddle Player, released by Topic in 1976, Tony Ledwith had returned to Westmeath and been replaced in The Favourite’s sessions by another accordionist, Paddy Malynn from County Longford. Thanks in part to its later reissue by Ossian in cassette format this is perhaps the most well-known of Jimmy’s recordings apart from Paddy in the Smoke. Whether it deserves to be so, however, is open to question.
While Music from The Favourite seemed to encapsulate the sheer spirit of Power’s playing, Irish Fiddler lacks that vital spark. Indeed there seems to be something subdued about the whole album. The recording lacks resonance, so much so that Reg Hall’s piano (which is very low in the mix) really does sound thoroughly dampened. Jimmy’s fiddle comes to life on The Harvest Home, but, more especially, on the coupling of the reels Jackie Coleman’s and The Castle on which he is joined by Gerry Wright from County Limerick playing a particularly spirited tambourine. Jimmy seems to be infected by Gerry’s brio and his playing is all the better as a result.
The question also arises as to whether Irish Fiddle Player was, in fact, some form of homage to Jimmy’s Sligo favourites. For instance, listen to the opening track of the second side, The Nine Points of Roguery coupled with The Crib of Perches, and it is distinctly possible to imagine that one is hearing an undiscovered Paddy Killoran recording (and Reg’s piano is so low in the mix on that one that it is almost non-existent).
The last album in the sequence was issued in the year of Jimmy’s death, 1985. Fifty-Odd Years appeared on his son Tom’s own label, Tompo, who commemorated Jimmy’s long musical career by inviting Josephine Keegan to accompany him. By then, Jimmy had retired from work and the sessions at The Favourite had been transferred across the Holloway Road to The Victoria (a bar with even worse toilets than The Favourite and, believe me, that’s saying something).
Fifty-Odd Years was actually recorded in February, 1984 and Jimmy, despite ever encroaching ill-health, really is on top form, as evinced, particularly, by a vivacious rendition of the reels The Fisherman’s Island and Hunter’s House. Undoubtedly inspired by Josie Keegan’s typically vivacious accompaniment, and possibly by the knowledge that he would not be around much longer, this Fifty-Odd Years abundantly exhibits that the fiddler had lost neither his touch nor his knack of suggesting all kinds of musical nuances in his playing.
Indeed, it was in the early 1980s during a lunchtime session at The Victoria that a close acquaintance expressed the opinion that Jimmy Power was the sexiest fiddler she had ever heard. Her allusion had absolutely nothing to do with Jimmy’s physique or personality (sorry, Jimmy), but the wholehearted effervescence of his music and that certain earthiness present in the tone of his fiddle.
Fifty-Odd Years is indeed a gem and it is a great
pity that neither this LP nor any other of Jimmy Power’s albums has ever been
reissued in CD format. Indeed, apart from Paddy in the Smoke, the only
currently available examples of Jimmy’s playing appear on the Topic collection Round
the House and Mind the Dresser and the Na Píobairí Uilleann 2003 collection of the recordings of the
Waterford uilleann piper Tommy Kearney.
That is a
sad state of affairs. Jimmy Power was not one of the best fiddlers in the world
(and he would certainly himself question anyone who accorded him the same
status as Coleman or Killoran), but he was certainly highly talented and a
hugely inspirational musician. The sessions at The Favourite and The Victoria
were part of London’s lifeblood for almost twenty years. So, if there’s some
willing entrepreneur out there with more money than sense and the patience to
handle numerous awkward licensing problems, now’s the time to step forward.
5th November, 2004
P.S. Having compiled this I’ve just discovered another Jimmy Power LP –
The Jimmy Power Trio The Favourite (Hit
Records HITL 5004)
Apologies for the poor quality of the scans in this article. Most have
been ‘stitched’ together from two partial scans of an LP’s sleeve and, as a
result, are not as good as a decent digital camera might have produced.
Starlight ST EP30 and ST EP 35 – two 6” EPs issued as Volumes 1 and 2
The band consisted of Jimmy Power, Paul Gross, Tommy Maguire, Tony
Howley, Michael Plunkett and Reg Hall.
Various – Irish Folk Night
Decca LK 4633; 1964
Michael Gorman, Margaret Barry and Jimmy Power appear on
side 2, track 2 – Stray Away Child.
Jimmy Power – Irish Dances
Clan 233 003; 1967 (also issued as Bounty BY 6040)
Accompanied by pianist Reg Hall on all tracks bar Dowd’s Favourite (on which Paul Gross provides piano).
Side A: 1) The Doone/Rakish
Paddy; 2) The Irish Girl; 3) The Hunt; 4) Contentment
is Wealth/Tatter Jack Walsh; 5) Keane/O’Neary’s; 6) Planxty
Drury; 7) The Maid Behind the Bar/The Bunch of Keys.
Side B: 1) Dowd’s Favourite/Jenny’s
Welcome to Charlie; 2) The Pipe on the Hob/The Cliffs of Moher; 3)
Bonaparte’s Retreat; 4) The Derry;
5) The Idle Rogue/The
Westmeath; 6) Down to Limerick; 7) The Drunken Sailor; 8) Sport
of the Chase.
Various – Paddy in the Smoke
Topic 12T 176; 1968 – reissued with additional tracks as
TSCD 603 in 1997.
Jimmy appears on the following tracks (CD version): 8) The Jolly Tinker (with fiddler Jimmy Dunleavy); 13) Kitty’s Rambles/Dan the Cobbler; 14) Jenny
Picking Cockles/Kitty in the Lane; 18) Farewell to Erin/The
High Reel; 19) Doctor O’Neill/The Battering Ram (both tracks 18 and 19 are with fiddlers
Lucy Farr and Andy Boyle).
Various – Irish Dance Music
Folkways FW 8821; 1973
Accompanied by Reg Hall (piano), Jimmy appears on Side B,
track 5 playing Jenny Picking Cockles/Kitty in the Lane/The Cottage
Jimmy Power, Tony Ledwith – Irish Music from The Favourite
Leader LED 2051; 1975
Accompanied by Tom Power (guitar), Paul Gross (piano) and
Reg Hall (piano)
Side A: 1) Statia Donnelly’s/Mick Gorman’s Fancy; 2) Last
Night’s Fun/Martin Wynne’s; 3) Princess Royal; 4) The Woman of the House/The
Morning Dew; 5) Willie Clancy’s/Meg Long’s; 6) The Donegal/The Mooncoin; 7)
Seán Ryan’s Fancy; 8) Toss the Feathers/Cooley’s/The Earl’s Chair; 9) Lanigan’s
Side B:) Paddy MaLynn’s/The Green Groves; 2) Kitty’s Gone
a-Milking/Miss Thornton; 3) Hornpipe selection; 4) The Tempest/Colonel
Rodney’s/John Morrison; 5) Bonny Ann/Miss Johnson; 6) The Kesh; 7) The
Mistress/St. Anne’s; 8) The Copperplate/The Kilmaley/The Pigeon on the Gate/The
Maid of Castlebar.
Jimmy Power – Irish Fiddle Player
Topic 12TS 306; 1976 – reissued as Ossian cassette OSS 81;
Accompanied by Reg Hall (piano); Gerry Wright plays
tambourine on side A, track 6.
Side A: 1) Tommy Potts’ Rambling Pitchfork/The Strayaway
Child; 2) The Chorus/McKenna’s; 3) Jockey to the Fair/Miss Brown’s Fancy; 4)
Coleman’s Favourite/The Promenade; 5) Dwyer’s/The Harvest Home; 6) Jackie
Side B: 1) The Nine Points of Roguery/The Crib of Perches;
2) Whelan’s/The Old Lark in the Morning; 3) The Mountain Reel; 4) Follow Me
Down to Limerick/Hardiman the Fiddler; 5) Youghal Harbour; 6) The Walls of
Liscarro; 7) The Jug of Punch/The Moving Bogs of Powelsborough; 8) Statia
Tompo TP 0001; 1985
Side A: 1) Paddy Ryan’s Dream/Joe McGoldrick’s; 2) Cherish the Ladies; 3) McDermott’s/The High Level; 4) Master Crowley’s/The Star of Munster; 5) The Fisherman’s Island/The Hunter’s House; 6) Sweet Biddy Daly/Whelan’s; 7) Jockey to the Fair; 8) The Dog in the Bushes/The Merry Sisters/The Flogging.
Side B: 1) The Rambling Pitchfork/Farewell to Gurteen; 2) Charlie Lennon’s/The Dairymaid; 3) Lord Gordon’s; 4) The Stack of Barley/The Galway; 5) The Templehouse/Miss Johnson; 6) Bonny Kate/Jenny’s Chickens; 7) The Humours of Ennistymon/Brian O’Lynn/Paddy in London; 8) Roisín Dubh.
Topic TSCD 606; 2001
Jimmy appears on track 5 playing The Little Fair Child.