Where once Ireland was seemingly awash with the 78rpm recordings of the Sligo fiddler and, even in the 1960s and 1970s it was possible to acquire various vinyl LP recordings of the master, it is a pretty pass that nowadays (apart from his appearance on various compilations) the only CD available of Michael Coleman’s recordings is The Enduring Magic. Following on from their work in reissuing the recordings of Paddy Killoran and James Morrison on From Ballymote to Brooklyn, P.J. Hernon and Gregory Daly have compiled another wondrous collection, released under the auspices of the Coleman Heritage Centre.
Similar to their earlier work, Hernon and Daly have taken material from previously issued Shanachie LPs, on this occasion The Legacy of Michael Coleman and The Classic Recordings of Michael Coleman which were released in 1976 and 1979 respectively. However, unlike the Killoran/Morrison predecessor, The Enduring Magic also includes tunes from the 78s held by the Coleman archive collection and, most wonderful of all, two tracks taken from recordings made for a private individual in 1940.
Said person is not identified in Gregory Daly’s liner notes which are, unfortunately, somewhat off-beam in reference to those two tracks. According to Daly, both tracks are unaccompanied (though there is actually only one unaccompanied tune on the album, The Derry Hornpipe) and consist of Molloy’s Favourite and Wellington’s Reels. However, Gregory is completely justified in asserting that some of the accompaniment, as The Blackbird amply proves, ‘is about as bad as accompaniment can get’!
However, one really must take issue with his belief that ‘like all great art, there is a timeless quality to Coleman’s music’. Without roaming too far into the realm of aesthetics, the point about ‘great art’ is that it is both ‘of its time’ and transcends its time. The sound quality of Michael Coleman’s recordings, however much restored, the often rudimentary accompaniment, and the fact that the reproduction medium was the 78rpm disc places his music firmly in the first half of the twentieth century. The timelessness lies in Coleman’s sheer artistry which transforms a reel such as Dr Gilbert into an effortless consummation of the fiddler’s art, despite the wayward piano backing. Tantalisingly, Gregory also refers to Coleman having recorded ’10 transcription discs for radio in 1944’, leading one to wonder about their whereabouts, current ownership and chance of their contents becoming publicly available.
In summation, The Enduring Magic is a fine introduction to Coleman’s music and of significant interest because of those two private recordings (whichever they are), but is a relatively poor shadow of the double CD, Michael Coleman 1891-1945 complete with its detailed biographical booklet, compiled by Harry Bradshaw for Viva Voce and Gael Linn. Although the fact that such a seminal release is currently unavailable simply beggars belief.
6th March, 2005
More information about the CD can be found at www.colemanirishmusic.com.