Despite bearing the same cover images as the respective fourth and fifth editions of The Rough Guide to Ireland (and we’re now onto the seventh) these two compilations have no connection with that book (nor with the book The Rough Guide to Irish Music). However, they are part of a now ten years old marketing tie-in between World Music Network and the Rough Guides. The latter has become well-known not just for its travel books, but for a series of music reference titles of which the two most renowned are The Rough Guide to Rock and the massive two-volume guide to World Music.
Of course, I must lay my cards on the table. Although I write for the Rough Guides I had absolutely no involvement in the compilation of these two CDs, a fact which I’ve had to stress on several occasions to some of the musicians whose work appeared on the first of these albums and who did not receive a penny from their then label as a result of its licensing of their tracks to World Music Network (and I should emphasize this lapse was not the fault of WMN).
All World Music Network/Rough Guide CDs follow the same production template. Most CDs are compiled from a variety of labels and offer at least an hour’s worth of music. Most are accompanied by a sixteen-page liner offering an essay on the tradition covered by the CD, though focusing usually upon the singers and musicians who appear. The original albums from which the compilation was drawn are also credited. On the downside you also get several pages of advertisements – bizarrely, the liner for the Irish Folk CD includes a full-page ad. for a Dutch newspaper.
These two CDs are somewhat different in terms of the music they contain, a factor probably influenced by which labels were willing to license material at the time (which may also explain why Irish Folk is no longer available – at least, it’s not listed in the Rough Guides 2003 catalogue).
In many ways Irish Music represents the best and the worst aspects of compilations and it’s worth bearing in mind that it was issued at a time when the market was flooded by similar collections. On the one hand, it rounds up the usual suspects (Dolores Keane, Altan, Clannad, the much compiled Eileen Ivers track On Horseback, and Patrick Street), but it also draws strengths through licensing material from Green Linnet, Nimbus, Whirling Discs and Cross Border Media. The first-named provided tracks by Kevin Crawford, Déanta, Martin Hayes and Joe Derrane (who would certainly not be a name well-known in the UK). The Nimbus tracks derive from the various CDs which constitute the four-album From a Distant Shore collection of live recordings from the annual University College Cork festival in the first half of the 1990s. So, there’s the chance to hear the duo of Altan’s Ciarán Tourish and the Derryman Dermot McLaughlin on The Boys of Malin and The Gravel Walks or the London-based flute player Siobhán O’Donnell joining the pairing of Karen Tweed and Andy Cutting.
Apart from Dervish’s Molly and Johnny and Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill’s Colm Cille na Féile, the remainder of the CD comes from the Cross Border Media label whose products have not been available for some years. So, there’s space for a marvellous set of polkas from Sliabh Notes’ first album as well as tracks from Brendan Larissey’s debut and Martin Murray’s only solo album to date. However, the crowning glory is the track taken from Cran’s debut album, The Crooked Stair, which begins with Seán Corcoran’s stupendous solo rendition of Dúlmán before heading into the flute-led Charlie O’Neill’s Highland.
Unlike a tin of Ronseal wood conditioner The Rough Guide to Irish Folk does not do what it says on the label, otherwise it would be full of songs by the likes of The Dubliners and The Johnstons. Presumably, having already used Irish Music, WMN were stuck for a title and calling this one “Irish Traditional Music” would clearly imply that its predecessor somehow did not cover the genre.
Unfortunately, thanks to Gael-Linn licensing much of its back catalogue to other labels in the 1990s (such as the budget Music Club), some of the album’s contents seemed pretty stale at the time of release, even if the likes of Brian Hughes, Paddy Glackin, Jackie Daly, Declan Masterson and Seán Ryan provide masterful examples of their musicianship. Still, at least there were more samples of singing in Irish from Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin, Seosaimhín Ní Bheaglaoich and Áine Uí Cheallaigh (though I’ll pass on the Clannad-inspired Aoife Ní Fhearraigh). Much of the album’s remainder was licenced from Green Linnet (who provided Cherish the Ladies. Kevin Burke’s Open House, Moving Cloud, The Tulla Céilí Band, Déanta and the truly awful Reeltime), but there are also a trio of small label rarities.
The first is provided by Óige, though unfortunately it’s the version of the band featuring the off-key Maranna McLoskey on The Maid of Culmore. The second (and more highly recommended) is Craobh Rua’s version of The Red Crow, from the time when Díarmaid Moynihan was their uilleann piper, and the last comes from Seán Tyrrell’s out-of-print album The Orchard.
Still, at 75 minutes in length, it’s hard to quibble about the value of this collection – if only the same could be true of the trite and sometimes illiterate liner notes. Here’s a typical example:
Aoife Ní Fhearraigh, the traditional singer from northwest Donegal, was born into an Irish-speaking family and grew up surrounded by some of Ireland’s greatest musicians.
How did she fight her way out?
Alternatively, try this one:
My, that must be a very long album! But, my favourite by a long chalk is the picture of a smiling Déanta – all six of them – alongside an entry that describes them as “five young virtuosos”. So, which one wasn’t a virtuoso then? Come on, Eoghan, after all these years it’s time to spill the beans.
This is an original review by Geoff Wallis.
More details about WMN can be found at www.worldmusic.net.