Space prohibited inclusion of the following entries in the first edition of The Rough Guide to Irish Music. Additionally, this supplement includes some entries that were substantially adapted before inclusion in the final copy. It is important to stress that all of the material on these pages is presented in the form in which it was submitted for editing, so it does not always follow the final format of the book typographically. However, cross-references to the published version of the Guide have been inserted where appropriate.
Apart from these individual entries a number of other cuts were made, including:web addresses from virtually all individual entries and the Listings section lost the following sections:
< Musical Instrument Suppliers;
< Record Labels.
Key: " = CD; ! = LP; Cass = Cassette.
Compilation albums and series
Any Old Time
Blood Or Whiskey
The Bowhouse Quintet
The Fallen Angels
In Tua Nua/Lesley Dowdall
The Irish Rovers
The Saw Doctors
Toss the Feathers
Two Time Polka
Caomhín Ó Raghallaigh
Other String Players
Máire Ní Ghrada
Tomás Ó Ceannabháin
Flute Players and Whistlers
Other Major Figures
COMPILATION ALBUMS and SERIES
This section was given a major overhaul before finally appearing in the introductory section of the Directory.
Though always the best introduction, the Irish music market has been plagued by a plethora of compilation albums in recent years, including many of dubious quality. With certain exceptions noted below, any albums consisting of two or more of the following words are best avoided: Celtic, Gaelic, cream, soul, spirit, magic, pride, force, roots, reflections, haunting, ancient and James Galway. You’ll find recommended collections of singers and instrumentalists in the appropriate sections of this directory. All recommended releases here are in CD format.
The 78s Era
For a historical and comprehensive introduction, the Globestyle series cannot be surpassed. Ron Kavana’s trawl through the Topic label’s extensive archive produced eight themed collections: Those on uilleann piping, the Irish in London, the music of Sliabh Luachra and the song tradition are described in the appropriate entries and, sadly, The Coolin’ (the apostrophe is presumably a typographical error), covering slow airs and laments, has been deleted. As a grand starting point Treasure of My Heart introduces the whole series, while I’m Leaving Tipperary celebrates the great Irish‑American recording era of the 1920s and 1930s. The two general collections are Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part which focuses on recordings from the 1960s and 1970s (and features major figures such as Willie Clancy, John Doherty and Séamus Ennis) and A Living Thing which overlaps time‑wise, but includes leading lights from subsequent generations, such as Patrick Street, Cathal McConnell and Four Men and a Dog (plus Kavana himself!).
A busy man, Ron also compiled the excellent‑value Farewell to Ireland 4 CD boxed set from Proper Records, a stupendous, bargain priced introduction to classic recordings from the 78s era which includes many famous names plus obscure musicians who recorded under such names as “The 5th Avenue Busman” and “The Singing Insuranceman”. Others to look out for from this period include Topic’s Irish Dance Music (which has some real rarities) and Rounder’s From Galway to Dublin featuring one of fiddler Neillidh Boyle’s few recordings and the wonderfully‑named Murty Rabbett singing Molly Durkin. Moving on to the 1950s, two essential recordings are World Library of Folk and Primitive Music: Ireland (1951, Rounder) compiled by Alan Lomax with Séamus Ennis in the West of Ireland and Saydisc’s Traditional Dance Music of Ireland, collated from Peter Kennedy’s Folktrax recordings. The former mixes music and song, while the latter is purely instrumental and includes a mixture of Irish and London tapes, the latter including the marvellous flute player Paddy Taylor.
Vinyl times (but CD reissues)
Serious record companies began operating in Ireland during the 1950s and 1960s and two of the grandest compilations come from Claddagh and Gael‑Linn (the latter in conjunction with the more recent arrival, Hummingbird). The two disc Claddagh’s Choice is an exemplary archive collection running from a 1966 recording of uilleann piper Leo Rowsome up to the mid‑1990s and musicians such as the glorious Clare concertina player, Mary MacNamara. Gael‑Linn and Hummingbird’s Ór, rightly subtitled “The Golden Age of Traditional Irish Music & Song” runs right through from Seán Ó Riada and Ceoltóirí Chualann to the Bumblebees, while not forgetting classic music from piper Paddy Keenan and one of Ireland’s greatest song interpreters, Frank Harte. Folk Music and Dances of Ireland (now released by Ossian Publications and issued to accompany Breandán Breathnach’s book of the same name ‑ see p590) is a marvellous demonstration of the breadth of traditional music from the plaintive voice of Sean ‘ac Dhonncha to the magical piping of Pat Mitchell. Belfast’s Outlet label should also not be forgotten and its many compilations from the 1970s and 1980s includes both Festival of Irish Traditional Music and The Best of Irish Traditional Music, both two‑disc sets, featuring the likes of Seán MaGuire, Joe Burke, Na Filí and Séamus Tansey. One relative oddity from this era which should not be ignored is the simply magical The Lark in the Clear Air: Irish Traditional Music Played on Small Instruments (Ossian), originally recorded in 1974, and featuring sublime playing of piccolo, whistle, flute, spoons and mouth organ plus a unique jew’s harp trio!
The compilation industry really took off in the 1990s with a welter of releases often simultaneously containing some of the same tracks. Among those recommended are: the Gael‑Linn compilations Blasta! and Binn Blasta,.drawn from its more recent releases; the St. Patrick’s Day Celebration Festival live series from Magnetic Music, featuring some of the best new groups and musicians; World Music Network’s The Rough Guide to Irish Music and the erroneously‑titled The Rough Guide to Irish Folk, both drawn largely from the smaller traditional music labels; Rounder’s Easydisc reissue imprint, especially the Chicago‑focussed Celtic Winds: Irish Music in America; Trad at Heart from Dara, featuring Altan, De Dannan and Gerry ‘Banjo’ O’Connor; and Dónal Lunny’s Sult (Hummingbird), commissioned for the Irish language TV station TnaG (now TG4) and containing a host of major names (though set your programmer to skip track five, Mark Knopfler’s execrable rendition of Raglan Road, guaranteed to send Patrick Kavanagh’s corpse a‑spinning). Connoisseur Records has also revived the Champions of Ireland series, featuring All‑Ireland title winners in various instrumental categories and céilí bands.
Don’t be deterred by the titles, for Mícheál Ó Domhnaill’s Celtic Christmas series for Windham Hill, though inspired by seasonal spirit, does include some remarkable and sensitive musical experiments, sometimes featuring rising stars such as the harper Laoise Kelly and the fiddler Zoë Conway. Also of great interest is the illustrious bodhrán and assorted percussion player Tommy Hayes’s compilation, Síol, supporting the cause of ecological biodiversity, and featuring a number of new recordings, including the fiddler Martin Hayes and singer Karan Casey. Another worthy, though more directly musical cause, is the restoration of the Crosskeys Inn, one of Northern Ireland’s major session pubs, which burned down in 2000. Live in the Kitchen (available from www.crosskeys.clara.net) features a host of local musicians, including ex‑members of Déanta, plus songs from Len Graham.
It had to happen and Bill Laswell beat the field with the first ever traditional remix album, Emerald Aether: Shape Shifting (2000, Shanachie), subtitled “Reconstructions of Irish Music”, containing re‑workings of releases by Solas,. Matt Molloy and Jerry O’Sullivan.
Lovers of live recordings should head for Ceol na hÉireann, a collection of rare live cuts from RTÉ’s gargantuan archive, including the legendary Castle Céilí band from 1964, early Planxty recordings of The Raggle Taggle Gtpsy and Tabhair dom do Lámh, Joe Cooley back for a break from the USA in 1963, a classic Paul Brady rendition of Arthur McBride and John and Simon Doherty duetting on The Pigeon on the Gate (1958). Others to hunt down include Sessions from the Hearth, the brainchild of Kerry guitarist Benny O’Carroll who brought musicians from all over the country to a fun‑packed evening at Tralee’s National Folk Theatre. Gael Force, recorded at The Point Theatre, Dublin has virtually all the big names from Irish music and several special guests. The undoubted highlights are Sharon Shannon’s version of The Penguin Café Orchestra’s Tune for a Found Harmonium that teeters on the brink of berserkerdom, and the dynamic interplay between Dermot Byrne’s accordion and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s fiddle on Altan’s The Boxty Set. Sharon also pops up on The Transatlantic Sessions (Iona), along with Paul Brady, Maura O’Connell and Tommy Hayes on a 2‑volume set recorded for TV and featuring predominantly Scottish, American and Irish musicians. Saving the best till the very end, the spirit of youth is captured on Cumar (Cló Iar‑Chonnacta), the name of an annual week‑long school for young people centred on the arts and culture of the Gaeltacht regions. The disc collates 19 of the singers and musicians who sang or played during the school’s concerts and is simply brim‑full with a stupendous range of talent and should be number one on your shopping list, if you need reassuring about the tradition’s future.
Bringing It All Back Home accompanied the much‑debated BBC TV series (see p544) and many of its 37 tracks (spread over 2 CDs or 3 LPs) continue to raise eyebrows. What are we to make of The Everly Brothers singing Rose Connolly to the accompaniment of Liam O’Flynn’s uilleann pipes or a duet between Elvis Costello and Mary Coughlan? Well, as much as we want to and there’s plenty here to tickle the senses. The series was so popular that it even sparked a tour, live highlights of which are collated on Guinness Tour ‘92 ‑ Bringing It All Back Home (with Mick Hanly, Scullion, Sharon Shannon and the duo of Stephen Cooney and Séamus Begley who were not involved in the original project). 1995's even more controversial A River of Sound (see p544) charted the “changing course of Irish Traditional Music”, but, whatever your view, it’s worth acquiring simply for the mind‑boggling duet between Altan’s Ciarán Tourish and Dermot Byrne on Johnny Doherty’s which doesn’t just raise the rafters as suggest the need for a new roof!
Donegal fiddle music (see pp308-312), Irish musicians in London (see pp355-358) and Sliabh Luachra (see pp346-349) compilations are covered elsewhere.
Most local compilations emanate from the Western coastline. From the far southwest comes Beauty an Oíleáin (Claddagh), a lavish collection of music and song from the now‑deserted Blasket Islands off the Dingle Peninsula, Kerry. This marvellous collection features former islanders and their descendants, recorded between 1957 and 1991, and offers a tantalising view of the importance of music on the Blaskets Clare is well‑represented by the tremendous Farewell to Lissycasey, virtually a county ‘greatest hits’ compilation, including Willie Clancy, the Tulla CB, Bobby Gardiner and singer Siney Crotty (with whom the song providing the title was always associated). Also of note is The Sound of Stone (1993) recorded in support of The Burren Action Group and featuring a host of Clare‑born or ‑based musicians including Tommy and Siobhán Peoples, Davy Spillane, Luka Bloom, and Mary Custy. The Sanctuary Sessions (1994) captures Seán Tyrrell, Siobhán Peoples, Jo Marsh, PJ King et alia in the raw at Cruise’s in Ennis. Listen carefully and you can hear a certain well-known personality instructing the punters to keep quiet. Further up the coast, Galway has Ceol Tigh Neachtain, a neat compilation of contemporary musicians, including fiddlers Seán Smyth and Máirín Fahy, flute‑player Brian Lennon, and a border‑hopping guest spot for Sharon Shannon. The Connemara‑based Cló Iar‑Chonnachta label naturally has several excellent collections, including Seoda Chonamara Volumes 1 & 2 featuring musicians such as the Hernon brothers and Johnny Connolly plus a number of acclaimed sean‑nós singers, notably Joe Heaney and Seán ‘ac Dhonncha. Connemara’s idiosyncratic blend of sean‑nós and Country and Western (sung in Irish) is best heard on Gaelcheol Tire Phléaráca Chonamara, a live concert featuring the genre’s reputed creator, John Beag. Thanks to the Coleman Heritage Centre in Gurteen, Sligo has produced several find compilations and the latest is The Mountain Road, a collection of tunes popular in the south of the county and featuring a host of flute players and fiddlers. Trad Tráthnóna is a tremendous set of live recordings from contemporary Donegal musicians, including Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, her brother Gearoíd (one of the best guitar accompanists around), and fiddlers Stephen Campbell, Paula Doohan and Hugh Ó Gallchóir. Finally, also well worth seeking out are the various annual Raidió na Gaeltachta compilations, such as Blas, Réalta (the RnaG song competition) or its 25th anniversary selection, Togha agus Rogha, all featuring a host of singers and musicians from the Gaeltacht regions.
As most Irish music is really dance music, it may seem strange to include this section, but some astonishing collections have been issued geared directly towards dancers. The undeniably best is Set Dances of Ireland: Music for Listening and Dancing, four‑course delight ‑ popular dance sets from the south‑west of the country, performed with ultimate zest by musicians such as Breandán Begley, Johnny O’Leary, Tommy McCarthy and Michael Tubridy. Accordionist Matt Cunningham has also produced twelve volumes of the Dance Music of Ireland all aimed directly at the toe‑twinkling market while Outlet’s First Steps and Beyond contains a range of accompaniments for practice at home.
Unfortunately, a shortage of space precluded this entry in its entirety, though certain key figures reappeared with their own entry in the Singers section.
The origins and nature of the form of unaccompanied singing in the Irish language known as sean-nós have been already covered (see pp23-25). So this entry aims to guide you towards some of the key figures in she song tradition. Some, such as Joe Heaney (Seosamh Ó hÉanaí) Áine Uí Cheallaigh and Iarla Ó Lionáird, whose careers have encompassed other areas, consequently have their own devoted entries in this Singers section.
A cautionary word is essential before commencing. Many of the recordings described were, of course, produced in a studio and lack the essential empathy of an audience so fundamental to sean-nós singing. Moreover, such recordings should not be understood as the ‘definitive’ rendition of a song, but simply the way it was sung at the very moment of the recording.
As ever, there are a number of highly recommended compilations available. Two, however, stand out from the pack. Amhráin ar an Sean-Nós reaps a rich harvest from the RTÉ archives, covering singers from all the main Gaeltacht areas and includes a rare recording of Aodh Ó Domhnaill (father of Tríona, Maighréad and Mícheál) and a call-and-response rendition of Cúnla alternating between Irish (Joe Heaney) and English (Séamus Ennis). The second is Raidió na Gaeltachta’s Buaiteoirí Chorn Uí Riada, a double CD featuring all sixteen winners of the prestigious singing trophy from 1972-1996. However, this is largely a Connemara compilation, since the only exceptions are Áine Uí Cheallaigh (born Belfast, but long resident in Ring) and the Donegal singers Lillis Ó Laoire and Gearóidín Bhreathnach. RnaG’s annual Réalta releases of recordings from the station’s own competition are also of exceptional quality and include many singers who would not otherwise be recorded.
Our geographical journey through the Gaeltachta now follows, commencing in Waterford and moving clockwise around the country.
Some would argue that Nioclás Tóibin (1928-1994) was not only the greatest singer from the Waterford Gaeltacht of Na Déise, but one of the most majestic voices Ireland has ever produced and it would be foolhardy to disagree with either conviction. From Rinn Ò gCuanach (Ring), Nioclás learned his songs from his parents who, in turn, had learned from their own forebears and it is almost impossible to describe the sheer beauty and power of his singing in words. His control of both voice and breathing was staggering and allowed him to incorporate the subtlest of variations into his singing which, nonetheless, still focussed on a song’s essential melodic ingredients. Champion at the Oireachtas major singing competition (now Corn Uí Riada) for a unique three consecutive years (1961-63), his repertoire encompassed an astounding three hundred songs or more, including those from local poets, but also many others from around the country. However, the one song with which he will ever be associated is Na Connerys, one of the ‘big’ songs in the tradition, recalling the sufferings of three brothers transported from Waterford to New South Wales in the first half of the 19th century as a consequence of disputes over land rights. This song is, naturally, included on the definitive Rinn na Gael, a simply astounding compilation of Tóibín’s singing from the radio archives, which also features a quite extraordinary version of Róisín Dubh, where his voice gives the impression of being just about to crack under the stress of emotion without ever quite doing so.
RTÉ has recently issued a collection of songs Amhrán ó Shliabh gCua from Labhrás Ó Cadhla (1889-1961) from Scartnadriny which contains recordings dating as far back as 1928. The importance of these thirty-two songs lies in their antiquity, since Labhrás learned most of them from his mother (b. 1847) and aunt (b. 1823) who, in turn, learned from their own forebears. Consequently, this majestic recording forms a remarkable bridge spanning several centuries.
Not herself a native of Co. Waterford, Ann Mulqueen (b. 1945, Castleconnell, Co, Limerick) moved to Ring in 1969. A teenaged prodigy, she won the Senior song title at the 1959 Fleadh Cheoil and repeated her success the next two years. At fourteen, she joined one of Ireland’s most famous céilí bands, the Gallowglass, and embarked on a successful ballad-singing career for the next decade before settling in Co. Waterford. For some time she managed a local pub, while also learning Irish and, subsequently, acquiring a new song repertoire, learned in part from the Tóibins. Her first album, Kerry’s 25th, appeared in 1981, but the one to look ouf for is Mo Ghrása Thall na Déise (1992), aptly subtitled Memorable Songs in the Munster Tradition which features Anne in excellent voice on songs in both Irish and English.
" Nioclás Tóibin Rinn na Gael (1970s-1980s, Cló Iar-Chonnachta). Glorious singing from the most acclaimed of Irish singers.
The singers of Cúil Aodha (Coolea) in the West Cork Gaeltacht of Mhúscraí have been well-known ever since Seán Ó Riada established the local choir in the 1960s. Known also for the breadth of their repertoire, their numbers include Eilís Ní Shúilleabháin, erstwhile winner of the Oireachtas women’s song title, Sean-Nós na mBan. Nowadays teaching singing at UCC, her marvellous album, Cois Abhann na Séad (1997) demonstrates the eminence of her singing through such songs as a gorgeous Bruach Na Carraige Báine and a quirky, macaronic An Hide and Go Seek. A couple of other songs also follow Ó Riada’s original arrangements.
The pivotal place of music and song in the Blasket Islands reached an international audience, through three remarkable autobiographical accounts by islanders, published between 1929 and 1936, of which Muiris Ó Súilleabháin’s Twenty Years a Growing remains easily the most readable and enjoyable. The last permanent residents of the wind-battered Blaskets left in 1953 and many settled on the nearby Dingle peninsula. Its Corca Dhuibhne Gaeltacht has itself a grand musical tradition, represented most notably by the Ó Beaglaoich (Begley) family from Baile na bPoc. The two traditions have intermingled and combined to rivetting effect on one of the quintessential recordings, Beauty an Oileáin, a compelling tribute to the enduring fortitude of the islanders. Worth acquiring for the accompanying booklet alone, compiled by Rionach Uí Ogáin, this is not just an historical record, but a dazzling testimony to the power of music in the face of adversity.
" Beauty an Oileáin (1957-1991, Claddagh) A consummate, yet ultimately tragic recording of a life from a distant epoch.
Sean-nós retains a powerful place in the cultural life of Connemara in Co. Galway. Indeed, the region has its own record label, Cló Iar-Chonnachta, whose catalogue boasts many superb recordings of local singers. Carna (and its surrounding area is the heartland of sean-nós) has produced many exceptional singers, not least, of course, Joe Heaney. One of the most celebrated was Joe’s close friend Séan ‘ac Dhonncha (1919-96) who learned his singing from his parents. Education in Dublin and a subsequent teaching career of his own did not diminish his passion for music and he broadened his repertoire by studying the songs of Munster and Donegal, mainly in the Irish language. During the 1940s he encountered Séamus Ennis when the latter was collecting music for the Folklore Commission and, as a consequence, spent much time learning new songs and passing on others from his own storehouse. For more than twenty years he lived, and worked as a head teacher, in Ath Eascraigh, East Galway. On his 75th birthday Cló Iar-Chonnachta issued An Spailpín Fánach, a fine tribute to a talented man which, though subtitled “Traditional Songs from Connemara”, includes several songs in English (John Mitchell, Cathal Brugha amongst others). Most of the album was recorded in 1987, but make sure you buy the CD version as it has 8 tracks more than the cassette.
Máirtín Tom Sheánín Mac Donnacha (b.1955, near Lettermore) is one of the most well-known of contemporary singers and a regular presenter on RnaG to boot. He was the youngest ever winner of the Corn Uí Riada in 1983 and was successful again in 1988. A singer of superb range, Máirtín has recorded two grand albums of which the most intriguing is his first, Seoltóireacht Gheár - Amhráin Sheáin Cheoinin, consisting entirely of songs composed by one of Connemara’s most prolific bards, Sheáin Cheoinin, who specialised in describing maritime adventures and recites two of his own works on the album.
Women singers are well represented too, not least by a pair of astonishing recordings from the 1970s. The first comes from Caitlín Maude (1941-82), from Casla, whose many talents included acting, poetry, play-writing and fiddling. Her only album, Caitlín (1975) reveals a pure-voiced singer of astonishing magnitude and virtuosity, highlighted on Dónal Óg and An Bonnán Buí (the latter being also the name of the singers’ club she co-founded in Dublin). Why Claddagh has never reissued Máire Áine Ní Dhonnchadha’s 1970 album Deora Aille remains an unfathomable mystery for this is one of the classic albums of Irish song. Máire Áine (1919-1991) came from Spiddal and often appeared on radio and TV from the 1950s onwards. The original Deora Aille LP was one of the most elaborately packaged of all Irish releases, complete with inset gatefold sleeve and lyrics booklet, and features both a voice as clear as the “water from the rock” whence it derives its title and her rare full-length version of Úna Bhán, sung with irresistible beauty. In complete contrast, is the jovial An Faoitín, a song espousing the cause of the whiting as a fish fit for the tables of the nobility.
" Séan ‘ac Dhonncha An Spailpín Fánach (mainly 1987, Cló Iar-Chonnachta) A grand compilation demonstrating the sheer versatility of Séan’s magisterial voice.
! Máire Áine Ní Dhonnchadha Deora Aille (1970, Claddagh) Utterly gorgeous singing - come on, Claddagh, it’s time for a reissue.
The Aran Islands
Descended in part from troops in Cromwell’s army, the people of the Aran Islands, off the coast of Galway, have their own colourful song tradition which can be traced back to the poetry of the 18th and 19th centuries. Indeed, islanders sometimes use the word ‘casadh’ (a twist or coil, as in rope) to describe singing. Few recordings have been made, so Songs of Aran, featuring islanders taped by Sidney Robertson Cowell in 1955, are to be treasured. Most are sung by Margaret Dirrane or her son Seán (when he could take time off from farming) and include songs used by the singers to accompany typical activities, such as An Túirnín Lán, associated with spinning.
Singers from the Mayo Gaeltachta were less well known until Raidió na Gaeltachta began broadcasting from Castlebar in 1972. Its archives store a host of field recordings from the Achill Island, Erris and Tourmakeady districts and a selection is available on Glór Mhaigh Eo (Voice of Mayo), a fine example of the region’s breadth of singing styles (including some curious Country and Irish adaptations.
The county’s sean-nós style is generally reckoned to be less ornamental than Connemara and singing tends to focus more on the song’s rhythm. One of the queens of the county’s song tradition was Róise Bean Mhic Grianna (1879-1964), variously known as Róise Rua (Redhaired Rose) or Róise na nAmhran (Rose of the Songs) who, though born on the mainland, lived most of her life on Arranmore Island. Róise’s repertoire was fertilized by spells spent first when she was hired out to work in the area of East Donegal, Derry and Tyrone known as The Lagan and later in Scotland. She was recorded by Radio Éireann in 1953, singing around fifty songs, and though then in her seventies, still sang with passion and vigour. Twenty-five of these appear on Songs of a Donegal Woman and include popular Donegal songs such as An Spealadóir and Má Théann Tú Chun Aonaigh.
The inhabitants of outlying Tory Island constitute Ireland’s most isolated community with a powerful tradition of music, song and dance. One of the most well-known singers to come from the island is Eamonn Mac Ruari (b.1928) who now lives in Falcarragh on the mainland. Eamonn also plays accordion, the island’s favoured instrument, but his album Toraigh Ó Thuaidh (1989) is entirely devoted to song and includes a fun-packed An Ghoibóg call and response song with his daughter Patricia. This also features on Seoda, a formidable compilation of singers from the county, including two members of the indomitable Ó Domhnaill clan from Rann na Feirste (Caitlín and Conall).
One of the foremost contemporary singers from the county is Lillis Ó Laoire from Gortahork, twice winner of the Corn Uí Riada in the 1990s and now director of The Song Centre in the Irish World Music Centre at the University of Limerick. Noted for his collecting of songs, particularly from southwest Donegal and Tory Island, Lillis sings with a voice of velvet, sometimes producing sudden wonderful octave leaps in pitch. His only album, Bláth Gach Géag dá dTíg is a wonderfully warm collection drawn from Donegal’s deep heritage.
" Various Seoda (1980s-1990s, Cló Iar-Chonnachta) A compilation which demonstrates both the breadth and depth of the Donegal tradition.
The small Gaeltacht of Rath Cairn in Co. Meath was only established in 1935 as part of a government relocation scheme. Among the new inhabitants was Darach Ó Catháin (1922-1987) who was born in Lettermore, Connemara in 1922. Darach lived for many years in Leeds, England, where he worked as a builder, but never lost his love for the songs he learned in his childhood nor the eloquence of his voice, by the evidence of his stunning album, Traditional Irish Unaccompanied Singing. Perhaps the songs of a migrant possess an additional strength and vitality, animated by estrangement, but, whatever the case, this stands alongside some of the greatest recordings of sean-nós ever to be made. Compelling, calm and authoritative, Ó Catháin was one of the undisputed masters of Irish song.
" Traditional Irish Unaccompanied Singing (1975, Shanachie) Joyous, redolent singing from the mighty Darach.
One of the freshest albums of 1999 was Jo Collins’s debut Watercolours, a startling blend of mainly self-penned songs delivered with a silken style and a dash of panache not usually associated with a newcomer. But then, of course, Jo isn’t a tiro, but honed her craft on the London pub music scene where she met husband Tom (a traditional banjoist/mandolin-player). Moving back to Tom’s home base in South Roscommon, they began to play sessions around the midlands where audience requests for her own compositions began to out-number the traditional songs. Born in London, though her Grandfather was from Donegal, Jo’s reputation increased supporting Frances Black on tour and the critical acclaim accorded her affectionate songs promises a rosy future.
" Watercolours (1999, Ainm) One of the best of the new breed of singer-songwriters.
Dubliner Rita Connolly rose to prominence through her featured role in Granuaile, future husband Shaun Davey’s 1986 celebration of the Clare pirate queen, composed specifically with the vocalist in mind. By then, this fifth-born of seven children had been singing professionally for almost a decade, starting in Dublin’s pubs and clubs when she was 14. Her first collaboration with Davey had been The Pilgrim (where she sings with Welsh and Cornish choirs and two of her sisters, Ursula and Inez), but Granuaile sparked an international tour and increasing acclaim for Rita’s pure, yet powerful voice. Since then Davey has co-produced her two solo albums, 1992's self-titled opener and 1995's Valparaiso and both bear the composer’s considerable stamp. The debut album’s highlights include tremendous collaborations with The Voice Squad - the bouncy Venezuela (which also features Máirtín O’Connor and Davy Spillane) - and harmonised Factory Girl/Same Old Man with Liam Ó Flynn (Rita returned the compliment on the piper’s Out to the Other Side). It’s a fine album, despite occasional lapses into jazz ballad and Beatles tendencies and a plodding rock track Amiens, though the traditional elements had all but vanished by the time of Valparaiso, a solid, but very much MoR rock performance.
" Rita Connolly (1992, Tara). Innovative arrangements abound in this bright debut album worth acquiring simply for Rita’s lush harmonies on Factory Girl.
The rich, warm voice of Tim Dennehy has been beguiling audiences for the last two decades. Based in Mullach, Co. Clare, and working as a schoolteacher, Tim has never lost touch with his Kerry roots. Born in Ballinskelligs to parents who both sang, he was raised in Cahirciveen and retains a strong affection for the works of the town’s best-known poet, playwright and songsmith, Sigerson Clifford. Singing usually unaccompanied in both Irish and English, Tim has released three grand albums. The first, 1989's atmospheric A Thimbleful of Song, includes musical Tim’s setting of Clifford’s poem, The Ballad of the Tinker’s Daughter, while his own superb song, The Ballad of James Moore (the tale of an unfulfilled dreamer), on 1993's A Winter’s Tear, demonstrates the power and vision of his own song-writing skills. More recently, 1997 saw the release of Farewell to Miltown Malbay, featuring Garry Ó Briain, Nollaig Casey and Tommy Keane and a charming rendition of one of Tim Lyons’ wittiest songs, Heinrich’s Doolin Disaster, the cautionary tale of a man advised to shoot a goat as a cheap means of obtaining bodhrán-making material. Tim presents a regular traditional programme on his local radio station Clare FM.
" A Thimbleful of Song (1989, Sceilig Records). Lovers of unaccompanied song should head for this one - an immaculate contribution.
Probably the only practising psychotherapist on the Irish music scene, singer-guitarist Martin Donnelly (from Crumlin, Co. Antrim) is one of the most inspired performers currently around. Like the poetry of Séamus Heaney, Donnelly’s strength is to write songs evocative of time and place and no better than Rathlin Island, the stand-out track on his only album Stone and Light, which catches both a sense of voyage and a feeling of belonging. His style is redolent of 1970s American troubadours, such as John Stewart, but a love song like Flute of Ebony, graced by Maire Breatnach’s fiddle, contains images that are intrinsically Irish.
" Stone and Light (1995, Round Tower) A fine debut album from a talented singer-songwriter.
Working a weekly residency at The Lobby Bar, Cork in the early 1990s, Sinéad Lohan was spotted by Declan Sinnott who at that time was producing Mary Black and leading her backing band. Struck by Sinéad’s talents, the ex-Moving Hearts guitarist secured her the support spot on Mary’s forthcoming tour and subsequently produced her 1995 debut album Who Do You Think I Am (and played all the instruments too). While serving as a fine showcase for Lohan’s voice and song-writing skills, the net product was almost inevitably a sub-Mary Black album. Nevertheless, its ensuing popularity saw Sinéad touring the USA and reassessing her directions in the company of producer Malcolm Burns (noted for his work with offbeat USA vocalist Lisa Germano). The outcome was No Mermaid (1998) where Burns captures Sinéad at a significant cusp in her career. The title track opener, complete with catchy chorus, set out Lohan’s stall from the offset and is followed by eleven songs largely of existential exploration. Much more rock-laden than its predecessor, Sinéad can certainly write melodic hooks, but her lyrics tend to drift dangerously near obscurity though always delivered with inimitable style. wwwrgmplc.com
" No Mermaid (1998, Grapevine) A grand voice and great melodies cannot always cover nebulous imagery.
Sadly, David died in 2002.
Belfast-born singer-guitarist David McWilliams was the nearly man of folk-pop in the late 1960s. If remembered at all (and he certainly should be!), it’s for his classic pop single The Days of Pearly Spencer (1967) where he deployed megaphone-distorted vocals. Though released three times and plugged heavily on Radio Caroline it was never a hit. He recorded seven self-penned albums between 1966 and 1974 all of which are now collectors’ items. The 1992 CD Best of the EMI Years draws mainly from his work in the 60s and includes his other well-known song, Harlem Lady.
" Best of the EMI Years (1960s/1970s, EMI) A grand compilation which should have merited a reappearance of McWilliams’ ‘lost’ albums.
Former Cherish the Ladies singer and bodhrán player, Cathie Ryan, has been gradually enhancing her own reputation since the release of her debut self-titled solo album in 1997. The following year's The Music of What Happens (whose title derives from a Fionn Mac Cumhaill aphorism), produced by Séamus Egan represents a significant step forward - even if her choice of songs sometimes veers towards the overtly cloying and sentimental, such as the self-penned I’m Going Back (which sounds like a James Taylor reject). Cathie’s bright voice is best-suited to traditional numbers like Home by Bearna, once often sung by Christie Moore and here embellished by Win Horan’s fiddle and Gerry O’Beirne’s guitar, but her rendition of the Seosamh Ó hÉanaí song Coaíneadh Na Dtrí Muíre, though effortlessly sung, wanders close to Clannad territory.
" The Music of What Happens (1998, Shanachie). Fine singing and playing, but the songs themselves are of variable quality.
One-time member of the acclaimed Nenagh Singers’ Circle, Deirdre Scanlan released her own label debut CD, Speak Softly in 1999. Largely unaccompanied, apart from Gerry Simpson’s occasional keyboard and ‘sounds’, and singing in both Irish and English, her choice of songs featured some familiar material such as Leaving of Limerick and Siúil a Rúin and Bruach na Carraige Báine and three of her own compositions, including the elegant From the Grave, delivered with the characteristic purity that has seen her win All-Ireland titles, tour North America with Comhaltas and broadcast regularly on radio and television. It was no surprise to traditional cognoscenti when she was selected to replace Karan Casey in Solas and performed with her new band as principal vocalist in Jean ‘Riverdance’ Butler’s latest extravaganza Dancing on Dangerous Ground.
" Speak Softly (1999, own label) Destined to become a collector’s item, this includes some stunning unaccompanied singing.
In 1985 the young singer’s single Religious Persuasion sent seismic shudders around his native Belfast and the North and caused ripples across the water. Featuring lines like Onward Christian soldiers, I hope you don’t mind, being afflicted by religion of the persuasive kind it boldly took up the cudgels laid down by punk bands like Stiff Little Fingers. The subsequent 1986 debut album Rave on Andy White seemed to augur great things as Andy tapped the same political sap as his contemporary, the Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg. At times redolent of Like a Rolling Stone era Dylan (thanks to Rod McVey’s Hammond), the lyrics glistened with bile (...and on the 12th I’ll never where the sash my father never wore). Subsequent releases have never matched the emotion nor impact and are best heard via the 1998 Compilation CD. Though now based in Switzerland, for a while in the 90s, Andy shared a Dublin flat with Liam Ó Maonlaí of Hothouse Flowers. Tim Finn (Crowded House) moved in upstairs and the eventual result was the trio’s parson’s egg of an album Altitude recorded as ALT (the initials of their first names). Andy has written a book of poetry, The Music of What Happens, and samples are included in his own latest recording, Speechless (2000) which largely attempts to recreate his live performances. Www.andywhite.com
" Rave on Andy White (1986, Cooking Vinyl) Supercharged spleen-venting from the Belfast songsmith.
The three ancient types of Irish music are suantraí (lullaby), geantraí (merry song) and goltraí (lament) sometimes known collectively as An Uaithne which, in transliteration, becomes ANÚNA, the name Michael McGlynn chose for his unique choral ensemble. McGlynn’s aim was to use the few fragments of music which have survived from Celtic and medieval Ireland as a base for exploring the potential of the human voice, weaving new sound textures through polyphonic arrangements and plainsong. Sometimes using more than twenty voices and occasionally employing just the sparsest instrumentation, the outcome is both intensely beautiful, though also betimes chilling. Anúna has toured to general acclaim, reaching a wider audience through appearances in Riverdance, but the studio offers greater scope for experimentation. By the time of the third album, 1995's Omnis, McGlynn’s arrangements covered traditional songs, such as The Flower of Magherally and Latin requiems, together with his own compositions which saw increasing use of a vocal drone as atmospheric setting. 1999's sublime Deep Dead Blue is the acme of celestial perfection, as voices combine and intertwine to produce powerful interpretations of pieces as wide-ranging as Dicant Nunc (from the 12th century), The Green Laurel (from the 17th) and the title track itself, a surprising, though ethereal version of one of Elvis Costello’s most emotive songs in which Michael himself solos. www.anuna.ie
" Deep Dead Blue (1999. Gimell). Past meets present in this stark, yet moving album.
I later discovered that Mick Daly is known as ‘Black Dog’ and, since he was also in its first line-up, this partly explains the origins of the name of Four Men and a Dog
Though the name suggests a haphazard approach to music, don’t be misled, for the Cork-based trio Any Old Time produced some of the sweetest and enjoyable sounds of the 1990s. There was an undeniable simplicity to their music which, as any musician knows, requires plenty of skill to achieve and AOT had it in abundance. The key to their sound was the nowadays relatively unusual combination of melodeon, played by Dave Hennessy, and fiddle, courtesy of Matt Cranitch, assisted by the guitar and banjo of long-time Lee Valley String Band member Mick Daly who’s also no mean singer. Their second album, 1995's Crossing takes the Sliabh Luachra sound as its starting point, but also sees the group spread its wings to include mazurkas from Newfoundland and a waltz by US guitarist David Lindley. The best of the Sliabh Luachra tunes are Thadelo’s Barndances, from the playing of the concertina/accordion man Thade O’Sullivan, while Mick’s songs include The Crackling Radio, a true gem from the pen of Cork songwriter Ger Wolfe.
" Crossing (1995, Dara) A rich sonic tapestry woven by three of Cork’s finest.
Lovers of The Chieftains shouldn’t overlook the eponymous album by Bakerswell, led by the band’s former tin whistler, Seán Potts, nephew of the fiddler, Tommy Potts. Reminiscent of his erstwhile colleagues’ early landmark albums, Bakerswell’s light, breezy sound was characterised by sprightly unison playing, no better on the set of jigs begun by Dolly Keane’s. The pipes of Seán’s son Seán Óg and fiddles of Kevin Glackin, John Kelly jr. and John McEvoy are well to the fore while colours and contrasts derive from the harp of Nóirín O’Donoghue, Mick Hand’s flute and, of course, the senior Potts’s whistle.
Cass Bakerswell (1988, Claddagh). Colourful, joyous playing from a short-lived but powerful ensemble.
If you’re still yearning for the ribald, raucous sound of the original Pogues then this Kildare septet could be the band for you. Their eponymous debut album features 18 whole-hearted and self-penned eardrum bashers and, though singer Barney Murray’s vocal cords can begin to grate after a while on record (the man must have a spare larynx!), their unrestrained live performances are guaranteed to send you staggering into the night. Let’s face it, any band with a guitarist called Dugs Mullooly and which writes tunes called Wack for a Widdle and Drunken Priest of Dingle can’t be all bad!
" Blood or Whiskey (1990s, Sound Records) As Christy Moore once supposedly said of The Pogues, “Great band, but fuck the gigs”, referring to the enthusiastic audience, and the same could be true for Blood or Whiskey.
Bohinta have travelled a bumpy path since their early days. The band’s origins began with an Edinburgh-based quartet, Sam Harlet, formed by singer, guitarist and uilleann piper, Martin Furey, and fellow guitarist, mandolin-player, Robin Hurt. By 1992, the pair had moved to Dublin and became Bohinta, playing residencies at Slattery’s and The Baggot and being courted by record companies, some of whom wanted Martin to achieve the impossible feat of becoming his illustrious father, Finbar. Martin and his sister Áine moved to England the following year and have been based there ever since, touring and recording and their only album to date, Sessions (1996) - originally released as Bohinta in Ireland - compiles music spanning their career to that date. All eleven songs are solely or co-written by Martin Furey and demonstrate a fine line in melodic construction, if sometimes wandering a little too close to lyrical pretension of the New Age variety, while Fort Song resembles a U2 cast-off. The best songs are delivered by Áine’s sensuous voice and her own solo album (though Martin plays a significant role), Sweetest Summer Rain (1999) blends her own compositions with songs from other traditions, such as Silky and Renardine and a couple of old Sandy Denny favourites. A new and proper Bohinta album is due for delivery in 2001.
" Sessions (1996, Ardent Music). Flashes of brilliance, marred by occasional self-indulgence.
Listing double bass player Paul O’Driscoll’s live and recording credits would extend this book by several pages, so let’s focus on the former Deiseal member and prestigious composer’s most recent conceptual development, The Bowhouse Quintet. Birmingham-born O’Driscoll has been exploring the boundaries of traditional music since arriving in Ireland in the early 1990s, but it’s doubtful whether anyone else could have originated the idea of a string quintet nor, in doing so, gained the cachet of approval from no less than Tommy Peoples. You can hear the extraordinary results on Live in Ennis, a recording of the Quintet’s first real gig. Immaculate ensemble playing by fiddlers Liam Lewis and Calico’s Tola Custy, Danú’s Jessie Smith on viola, ex-La Lugh member Claire O’Donoghue on cello and O’Driscoll himself, takes in inspired arrangements of traditional tunes, often with a baroque touch, and original compositions. The undoubted highlight is when the Quintet expands to incorporate four more fiddlers (including Tommy and Siobhán Peoples) to shake dust from the beams on The Holly Bush and The Miser’s Pocket.
" Live in Ennis (1999, Lochshore) An original concept that succeeds through the sheer musical strength of its members.
Singer, guitarist and bouzouki player Michael Casey (from North Connemara) first hooked up with West Limerick button accordionist Danny Brouder in 1997. The venue was Shannon Airport, where Michael and arranged to meet Danny for the first time to fulfil a three month engagement at a pub in China! On their return, they recorded their self-titled debut album and continued to play regularly, both in and around Michael’s home village of Renvyle and further afield. Dúchas means ‘heritage’ and their second album, Solstice, reveals just how broad this is. Dance tunes are drawn from a variety of sources, including slides from Danny’s home turf, reels from Charlie Lennon and Connie O’Connell and a variation of De Dannan’s interpretation of Hey Jude. Casey also returns to his first instrument, the banjo, and pens six of the album’s eight songs, including Shane, an unsurprising tribute to the ex-Pogues’ front man since Michael’s voice clearly bears the MacGowan imprint. Still, there’s nothing wrong with that and the duo form a lively partnership throughout, aided by several friends in places. www.connemara.net/duchas
" Solstice (2000,.Hog Productions) A grand brew from an increasingly popular pairing.
This now sadly defunct all-woman a Capella quartet, whose members included at one time Frances Black, Christy Moore’s sister Eilís and Máire Breatnach, graced festivals and the air-waves alike with their dulcet harmonies during their twelve year career. Their extensive repertoire seemed boundless and its range is best heard on their last CD Happy Ever After which features songs by Neil Young and even Prince, along with stunning versions of Aililiú Na Gamhna and She Moved Through the Fair. Joan McDermott now sings with Providence while other members are active in other musical and theatrical fields.
" Happy Ever After (1998, Tara) The best of unaccompanied harmony singing, though scant traditional content for some tastes.
Taking their name from the Doolin home to O’Connor’s famous pub, Fisherstreet produced some of the best traditional sounds to emanate from County Clare at the turn of the 1990s. Thankfully too, they were recorded before their demise on the excellent Out in the Night (1991). Producing a fluent, infectious brand of music, Fisherstreet’s core was the brothers John (concertina and Uilleann pipes) and Séamus McMahon (fiddle, flute and concertina) and accordionist Dermot Lernihan. Additional brio came from Frank Cullen (mandola and mandolin) and Maurice Coyle (guitar), while the final vital ingredient came from harpist Nóirín O’Donoghue (also a very proficient pianist). Fine ensemble playing colours the album, but the undoubted highlights are the three leads’ wondrous unison work on the jig Helvic Head and a set of reels kicked off by David Adams. Most of the band continue to be active on the local music scene.
" Out in the Night: Music from Clare (1991, Mulligan) Effervescent music from some of contemporary Clare’s finest.
The short-lived band Grianán produced some of the best music around in the early 1990s and, fortunately, were recorded before their demise. The Clare-based band’s spearheads were the button accordion of P.J. King, the flute of Kevin Crawford and the fiddle (and occasional keyboards of Siobhán Peoples while the rhythm battery consisted of John Mahoney’s bodhrán and Pat Marsh’s bouzouki. Grianán inherited from The Bothy Band and Planxty, but imbued their music with a Clare flourish and underlying lack of pretension, as can be heard on their only album The Maid of Erin (1993). For Peoples completists, the undoubted highlight is Tommy’s guest appearance duetting with daughter Siobhán on Jug of Punch, though the band are on fine form throughout and there’s an inspired reading of Gulf of Mexico (long associated with UK skiffle king Lonnie Donegan), aided by guest Martin Murray’s mandolin. A stalwart of the Tulla Céilí Band, King went on to join Murray in Damp in the Attic, Crawford now stars in Lúnasa, Mahoney and Marsh can be found in Moher (the latter in Calico too) while Siobhán Peoples continues to play regularly around Clare.
" The Maid of Erin (1993, West Winds) Some day Siobhán Peoples will record her own solo album, but this is a grand substitute in the meantime.
In Tua Nua’s bracing blend of American West Coast-influenced rock with traditional overtones proved a popular draw in the 1980s. Formed in Howth, Dublin in 1983, their early line-up included a young Sinéad O’Connor before settling on singer Leslie Dowdall. The ‘traditional’ elements were provided by Steve Wickham (later of The Waterboys) on electric violin and Vinnie Kilduff on uilleann pipes and whistles while the ‘rock’ side came from Paul Byrne (drums), Martin Clancy (keyboards), Jack Dublin (bass) and Ivan O’Shea (guitars). Their first single Coming Thru’ was also the initial release on U2's Mother label, while a well-received performance supporting Bob Dylan in 1984 saw them snapped up by Island and the subsequent release of their milestone Take My Hand single produced by Steve Cooney, a compellingly ethereal track co-written by O’Connor. However, Kilduff and Wickham left and the band’s album was shelved by Island, though a compilation of their singles and some unreleased tracks appeared in the USA and Europe as Somebody to Love. The Virgin albums Vaudeville (1987) and The Long Acre (1988) had moments of grace, thanks to Dowdall’s voice, but lacked the passion of the early days and the band split in 1989, having recorded a never-to-be-released third album. Leslie Dowdall successfully battled cancer in the 1990s and has subsequently released two albums of finely-crafted songs of love and regeneration, No Guilt No Guile (1996) and Out There (1998).
! Take My Hand (1984, Island) The only 12" single recommended in this book and still a magnificent tour de force (and artistically packaged too).
One of Irish music’s most long-lasting bands was formed in Toronto back in 1963 when two recently-arrived emigrants from Belfast, George Millar and Jimmy Ferguson, began working together as a ballad-singing duo. Augmented by George’s cousin, accordionist and harmonica player, Joe Millar, the following year, they then worked as a trio before George’s elder brother, Willie, made it a foursome. The Clancys and Makem were at the peak of their American popularity, so the Rovers headed for San Francisco, played a 22-week engagement at The Purple Onion and secured a record contract. Their debut album, First of the Irish Rovers, appeared in 1966, but it was the follow-up, The Unicorn, which caused a greater impact, spawning a million-selling single in its title track. Further albums ensued, and the quintet (now expanded by the arrival of Wilcil McDowell) maintained its popularity among Irish-Americans/Canadians even though the ballad boom had passed its sell-by date. Popular performers on Canadian TV over the next two decades, they had two further hits, Wasn’t That a Party, written by Tom Paxton, and the seasonal novelty, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Constant touring and sheer hard work maintained their prominence in a limited niche market and they celebrated 25 years in the business with their Silver Anniversary album. Though Will Millar retired in 1995 and Jimmy Ferguson died two years later, the Rovers recruited new members and soldiered on, continuing to perform their brand of good time, sing-along sunshine.
" Silver Anniversary (1989, Artic) Ballads, hits and more, typified by the dum-diddly-I-dum, What Wid Ye Do?
Anúna regularly provided the singers for the European Riverdance tour and four now ex-members (Caron Hannigan, Peter Harney, Yvonne Woods and Tara O’Beirne) have found a new dynamic as the vocal quarter Maca. Their debut album Blood & Gold was recorded while Riverdance toured New Zealand and features the quartet on a range of unaccompanied or sparsely backed songs from the Irish, Scottish and English traditions.(using echoes, drums, sea sounds, bells and harmonica player Brendan Power) Subtle harmonies abound (Peter providing falsetto on Maid in Love) while Anúna’s characteristic drones are employed to good effect on Dólas an Maighdine Muire. Excellent singers they may be (Caron, in particular), but perhaps Maca strive too hard to be ethereal, though at less than 30 minutes, the album never completely overpowers the listener.
" Blood & Gold (1998, Tara). Spare, atmospheric, haunting - cheer up, Maca!
One of the most successful acts of the 1990s and still a major draw for their rambunctious stage act, The Saw Doctors sprang out of nowhere (well, Tuam, County Galway to be exact) with their single I Useta Lover, the Irish best-seller of 1991. That record and the subsequent album, If This is Rock and Roll, I Want My Old Job Back encapsulated all that The Saw Doctors stand for - a timelessly bucolic and whimsical blend of folk, rock and roll underpinned by Leo Moran’s Duane Eddy-style big guitar licks, with the traditional element then supplied by the multi-instrumental talents of now-departed John ‘Turps’ Burke. Several albums have followed, all featuring strong songs by Moran in partnership with guitarist/vocalist Davy Carton, but the band have never managed to top barnstormers like That’s What She Said Last Night or their Galwegian version of Chuck Berry’s Route 66 the anthemic N17. Still, they make consistently strong albums, 1998's Songs from Sun Street, being the latest, and Pearse Doherty (bass) and John Donnelly (drums) complete the enduring line-up.
" Sing a Powerful Song (1997, Shamtown Records). Life in smalltown Ireland, admirably summed up by this superb 17-track retrospective.
There’s a relaxed, old-time feel to Síona’s debut album Launching the Boat which belies the youthfulness of the quartet, but perhaps says much about their heritage. The band all hail from the Sligo/North Leitrim area and are imbued in its distinctive sounds and style whose overall warmth is no better portrayed than in Port Gan Aínm/The Doberman’s Wallet, a couple of grand jigs (Port Gan Aínm literally means “jig with no name”). Both Damian O’Brien (fiddle) and June Ní Chormaic (flute) are expressive players. Oliver Loughlin manages to make you forget that his instrument is actually a piano-accordion while Kevin Brehony provides exceptionally understated, but always helpful piano accompaniment. The album’s guests include the notable Sligo bodhrán-player, Junior Davey and harper Michael Rooney .
" Launching the Boat (1998, Doorla). Effortless, bouncy music, played with panache by a youthful quartet.
Though Horslips still evoke fond memories, few now remember their contemporaries Spud. Indeed, glance at any of the reference books and it’s almost as though the quartet never existed nor has any of their albums been reissued on CD and original vinyl copies are highly valued. The best of these was their 1975 debut A Silk Purse, produced by Dónal Lunny who also added a touch of bodhrán and the then fashionable Moog synthesiser. Spud’s material drew heavily from both the English and Irish folk traditions, the former including the traditional Blackleg Miner and Crow on the Cradle (written by Sydney ‘Lord of the Dance’ Carter). Irish tunes and songs included Brian Boru’s March (very reminiscent of Horslips) and Newry Highwayman. Spud’s sound was light, cheery, riff-ridden and entirely string-driven, their line-up consisting of Dermot O’Connor (guitars), Don Knox (fiddle), Austin Kenny (mandolin, 5-string banjo, recorders) and Michael Smith aka ‘Smithy’ (bass guitar) with vocals shared. Two more albums followed (1975's A Happy Handful and, two years later, Smoking in the Bog, by which time O’Connor had been replaced by drummer Dave Gaynor and multi-instrumentalist Ken Wilson), but folk-rock’s popularity was on the decline and Spud finally had their chips soon afterwards.
! A Silk Purse (1975, Philips). Unjustly forgotten, mainly acoustic innovators.
The vivacious 5-piece, Tamalin, seemed set to occupy the middle-ground between traditional music and The Corrs with their 1997 debut album Rhythm & Rhyme, but, in the end, it also turned out to be their finale. The band consisted of four members of the renowned Belfast music-making McSherry family (Tina - vocals and flute; John - pipes and low whistle; Joanne - fiddle; and Paul - acoustic guitar and dobro) along with friend Kevin Dorris on bouzouki and bodhrán and had been plying the circuit for some years. An early sighting occurred on the 5th St Patrick Day Celebration Festival album, released in 1994, when they were still essentially a traditional band, though Tina’s rock intonations came to fruition on Rhythm and Rhyme. While Joanne and John were still penning traditionally inspired instrumentals like Skipping over the Bogs (albeit in 6/4 time!), the bulk of the album spotlighted Tina’s light, breathy voice, particularly on the minor success, the sub-Fleetwood Mac In the Morning. And that, ultimately, was it. Fine musicianship couldn’t mask a general weakness in material. John McSherry has moved on to pastures new, Paul (who had earlier played with Grianán) is heavily in demand as a guitarist and Tina is a member of the women’s a capella group Wild Flowers.
" Rhythm and Rhyme (1997, Grapevine). A mis-cooked Chinese meal of an album - sometimes sweet, but all too often sour.
Formed in Manchester in the late 1980s, roots-rock band Toss the Feathers merit mention simply for bringing Dezi Donnelly and Mike McGoldrick into the spotlight. The former parted company early on, but McGoldrick was still there for their third album, 1995’s The Next Round, an over-long and curiously lumpen affair. Though McGoldrick stars throughout, whether on flute, whistle, pipes or mandolin, vocalist-guitarist Barry James would have been happier in Bad Company and the true nadir is reached with the extended 14-minute work-out Greenhouse - Jeff Beck and Cozy Powell host a headbangers’ party for Funkadelic and The Levellers and nobody goes home happy - atrocious stuff!
" The Next Round (1995, Magnetic Music). Don’t bother unless you’re a McGoldrick completist.
Limerick’s Ó Briain family have been at the forefront of traditional music and dance for three generations through their dancing school, Sceoil Rince Uí Ruaire, and their cabaret group, Planxty O’Rourke, which has toured extensively. In 1999, five of the younger members combined as Tuath to release Reels & Rondos, whose title encapsulates the range of their musical interests. Most well-known of Tuath’s four singing sisters is Orfhlaith Ní Bhriain, one of Ireland’s most popular piano accompanists whose own track record includes the album Lose the Head with Sharon Shannon’s flute-playing elder brother, Garry. Aedín has been singing since early childhood and her career has taken in choirs as varied as the Galway Baroque Singers and Augsburg University Choir, Germany, while also winning competitions as diverse as the All-Ireland solo singing title and German Lieder prizes. Younger sisters Úna (fiddle) and Mairéad (flute) are both classically-trained too as is the group’s final member, their brother, guitarist Seán. Reels & Rondos opens with the infectious Céilí in the Glen, where the sisters’ high harmonies endanger glassware, and subsequently features songs as varied as an Irish language version of Santa Lucia, an unaccompanied Once I Loved and a melodious Home Away from Home. There’s some lively reels and even some dancing too, but the overwhelming feature is the sisters’ sopranino voices leaving a residual sense of the powers of vocal training. www.tuath.com
" Reels & Rondos (1999, own label) Overlapping traditions from the multi-talented Ó Briain clan.
In the tradition of Bringing it All Back Home (see p544), here’s a Cork-based band with their own distinctively Irish take on American folk music, aptly incorporated in the title of their debut album From Pana to Louisiana – ‘Pana’ is Cork slang for the city’s main thoroughfare, Patrick Street. TTP’s spread includes Cajun songs, bluegrass and old-time fiddle tunes, touches of Texan and a soupçon of Greek all played with a panache and joie de vivre that’s hard to beat. The playing’s tremendous throughout and Ray Barron proves to be a wizard on the mandolin, especially on the frantic instrumental Tom and Jerry.
" From Pana to Louisiana (1999, own label) Grand playing and great fun - catch them live if you can.
One of the best-known contemporary woman fiddlers, Maeve Donnelly, comes from Abbey, near Loughgrea, in Co. Galway, an area long associated with traditional music. Her playing bears all the hallmarks of the local East Galway style, the melancholy touch produced by a tempo slightly slower than the norm elsewhere and a high degree of modulation between major and minor keys, most notably found in the playing of Paddy Fahy . In 1976 Maeve took part in the USA Bicentennial music tour with harmonica player Eddie Clarke, Maighréad Ní Dhómnaill and Seán Corcoran, resulting in the album Sailing into Walpole’s Marsh and has regularly featured on other albums. Maeve is a founder member of The Morning Cloud.
The ex-Macalla and current Reeltime fiddler from Co. Galway rose to prominence via the latter band’s starring role in Riverdance and Máirín Fahy has been accumulating the plaudits as a musician and singer in her own right, not least through a series of guest appearances with The Chieftains. Her own solo album Máirín is rather a mixed bag, drifting in parts (especially Midnight in Galway) into the jazz-rock wilderness, but Máirín is an exceptional fiddler and her vivacious playing comes to the fore on the Village Reels and, best of all, Tip of the Iceberg which includes both a stunning version of The Raheen Reel and a guest spot for Brendan Power on The Mason’s Apron. Excellent support is provided elsewhere by husband Chris Kelly on guitars, brother Gerard on uilleann pipes and sister Yvonne on accordion. Of the songs, Flower of Magherally is the most familiar, but it’s the Famine emigration song Bonny Irish Maid where Máirín’s lyrical singing really shines.
" Máirín (1999, Torc/RTÉ) Lively fiddle and polished singing on the traditional tracks.
Rose Murphy, from Bellmount, near Miltown, Co. Galway, was born in 1900 at a time when every townland in the West of Ireland seemed to buzz with music. Her parents had originated from Mayo, her father, John James Conlon playing the fiddle, flute, melodeon and war pipes, while mother, Maria (née Dwyer) also played the melodeon and was reckoned to be a grand step dancer. All Rose’s brothers and her sister learned instruments and/or sang and P.J. (known as Peteen) went on to become one of the most influential recording artistes after emigrating to the USA. A melodeon player too, he first recorded in 1910 and some of his sides, including a notable duet with James Morrison (The Tap Room/The Moving Bogs) can be found on the Farewell to Ireland boxed set (see p40). Rose’s own first success came when she won a solo dancing competition at the 1907 Feis and she acquired notable skills too on the fiddle and melodeon. These she shared through teaching around Connacht and also appeared in a travelling variety show before emigrating to England where she lived in Wigan before joining her brothers in South Yorkshire’s coal-mining area. Here she met and married another miner, Paddy Murphy, and they settled in Maltby where, naturally, Rose founded a dancing class which she ran for many years until compelled to retire by worsening arthritis. However, she continued to write tunes and, in 1976, was persuaded to record for the then recently established local station, Radio Sheffield. Two of her compositions, Ladybower’s Reel (named after a reservoir in the Peak District) and The Lonely Maid, appeared on the 1977 album, Milltown Lass, compiled from these recordings. The record is aptly subtitled Old Time Irish fiddle and accordion, for Rose’s music is steeped the past, though nevertheless has a timeless aura. There’s a rousing accordion rendition of Drowsy Maggie while the lonesome feel of her fiddling is fully apparent on The Whistler and His Dog.
Cass Milltown Lass (1977, Ossian Publications). A worthy memento of a colourful character.
The fiddler from Watford, England, is a trained cordon bleu chef, so it’s difficult to avoid using terms like ‘feast’ to describe his debut album From the Chest. Like many a second generation youngster in England, Kevin’s tutor was the inspirational Clare man, Brendan Mulkere, and summers spent on holiday in Ireland expanded his musical knowledge even further. Back home he joined a céilí band and later toured Ireland with Geiro (which also included Cían’s Damien Quinn), deciding to move to Dublin in 1988. He’s been a regular on the traditional scene ever since and first appeared on record in 1996 accompanying Emer Mayock who repays the compliment on his own album, which also features Paul Kelly, mandola-player Dónal Siggins and button accordionist Verena Commins. It’s a flighty affair, combining original compositions with a brave blend of familiar and less common tunes. There’s a rare cover of a Horslips track, The Faerie King (actually, titled King of the Fairies from the album Dancehall Sweethearts) and tunes from Brittany and The Asturias in Spain too.
" From the Chest (1999, Malgamú Music) An impressive debut, marred by a surplus of stringed accompanists on some tracks.
It might seem strange to include a review of a limited edition album recorded by an eighteen year-old fiddler as part of a charitable fund-raising project required for participation in the Raleigh International youth expedition schemes, but if you ever have a chance to beg, buy, borrow or even steal a copy of Turas go Tír na nÓg, seize it! Recorded on a Sunday evening in the stairwell of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, this is an astonishing demonstration of Dubliner Caomhín’s talents, not least because through both tone and technique, as on the astonishing ten minute long air, Na Geadha Fladhaine, he somehow contrives to sound like an octogenarian Kerry fiddler! Caomhín has subsequently appeared on the Cumar album (see p44) and, if he later transpires to become a major star, remember you read it hear first. If not, what the heck, he’s still damned good.
" Turas go Tír na nÓg (1999, own label). Pointless to recommend, as only five hundred copies were issued and no more are planned, but, if you spot the name advertised, go and see him.
A familiar face at competitions in the 1950s and on television in the following decade, the fiddler from Nenagh, Co. Tipperary was a prolific composer like his contemporary and friend, accordionist Paddy O’Brien. Seán was actually a cousin of Paddy’s father, Dinny, and learned much of his music from the two O’Briens and his own father. All-Ireland Champion in 1955 and the following year, Seán is reckoned to have composed more than 250 tunes. He also ran his own successful band in the 1950s (which for a time included Galway fiddler Paddy Fahy) and toured the States at the end of the 1960s as the Seán Ryan Trio. Some of the tunes he acquired there can be heard on his only available CD release Back Home to the Cliffs of Mohir which also includes his own well-known reels Trip to Nenagh and Sean Ryan’s. Accompanied by the other Trio members, his wife Kathleen (piano) and accordionist Pat Lyons, the overall style reflects the blueprint laid down by RTÉ producers in the 1950s (characterised by the opening plonk-plonk chords), but there is no denying Seán’s mastery. His rhythm, as on the reel, Kiss Me Kate, was ever steady, with rolls and triplets crisply co-ordinated. Seán died in 1985 and there is a monument dedicated to his memory in Newtown, Co. Tipperary.
" Back Home to the Cliffs of Mohir (1970s, Outlet) Includes four new tracks by the redoubtable Ryan, recovered from the archives.
Daughter of folk/classical harpist Marie O’Neill, Ursula Burns is a one-off - a hybrid concoction of delicate harp-playing married to the off-the-wall lyrics of a Tori Amos and the sweet voice of a Karan Casey. Born in Belfast in 1972, Ursula learned classical piano, but developed interests in drama and performance, spending a spell with the Belfast Community Circus School in her teens before taking a degree in theatre at the University of Ulster. Next she moved to England and toured there and in Europe for three years with the Horse and Bamboo Theatre Company. Returning to Ireland, she began writing songs, using an old harp of her mother’s because she could not afford a piano. The result was her astounding 1997 debut EP, Sinister Nips, a heady brew of her own songs and a cover of Portishead’s Glory Box. Her subsequent debut album, According to Ursula Burns maintained the impact, blending stark and sometimes pungent lyrics (“Irish mothers spoil their sons/Ain’t much good for a girl who likes fun” from Continental Boys), her own lyrical playing (of a 36-string Paraguayan harp apparently) and atmospheric backing (including fiddles and uilleann pipes) . There really is no one quite like Ursula and her album is probably the most innovative to have emerged from the North in the last ten years.
" According to Ursula Burns (1998, Freestate/Ruby Road Records).The voice of an angel and the most improbable use of harp in contemporary music.
Representative of the new generation of eclectic Irish musicians, guitarist Seán Whelan has been a member of the jazz group Hotfoot, toured with singer Seán Keane, Mary Coughlan and Máire Breatnach, featured on albums by Sonny Condell and the Scottish singer Lorraine Jordan and worked as a duo with the Breton accordionist Michel Phillipot. Ideas for solo album End of Autumn began to germinate when he moved from Dublin to West Cork and bore fruit on its subsequent release seven years later. Acknowledging his musical debt to collaborator Paul Kelly, the album competently blends Whelan’s own mainly West Cork-inspired compositions with traditional music from other parts of Ireland, plus France and Moldavia, and a slip jig treatment of Dave Brubeck’s Blue Rondo à La Turk. Kelly himself features on many of the tracks and their are a couple of mellifluous contributions from flute-player Emer Mayock.
" End of Autumn (1998, Malgamú Music) Whelan’s compositions and playing demonstrate new potential for the Irish guitar.
Nowadays based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Eamonn Dillon grew up in a Belfast musical household where he and his three brothers and sisters were all taught tin whistle by their father, Eamonn senior. Eamonn began learning the pipes aged fourteen under the tutelage of his uncle and later the influence of Seán McAloon, twice winning junior All-Ireland titles. After moving to Florida, a chance encounter led to a gig in Toronto where Eamonn met the Newfoundland multi-instrumentalist, Jim Fidler, resulting in their collaboration on Dillon’s debut solo album, Storm the Kettle. Setting its stall firmly in the Afro Celt Sound System’s hinterland, it’s one of those albums listeners either love or hate. There’s no doubting the skill and subtlety of Eamonn’s playing of pipes, tin and low whistles nor the equal ability of his younger sister Roisín on fiddle, but their strengths are swamped by over-percussive backing tracks. For instance, one yearns to extract his homage to Paddy Keenan’s Bothy Band days, Farewell to Erin, from the mix just to hear how grand a piper he can be. However, others may already be adding some of the more danceable cuts to their party tapes.
" Storm the Kettle (1999, own label). If you like fusion music, this one’s for you. Otherwise, wait for a solo album from Eamonn - he should make one.
A colourful character and uilleann piper of legendary status, Dan Dowd (c1895-1989), sometimes called O’Dowd, was born in Dublin’s Liberties and first began playing the war pipes, becoming a member of the local James Connolly Pipe Band. That name alone should indicate Dowd’s political leanings and he was interned by the British during the War of Independence. Surprisingly, he was allowed to take his war pipes with him to Mountjoy jail and, when finally released, was playing them at the head of the procession of fellow ex-internees. In the 1920s he turned to the uilleann pipes, being first tutored by William Andrews in pipe-making premises that Dan had helped to obtain. Dowd, in turn, became an adept pipe- and reed-maker, but his work as a fireman limited his availability to play for others. Dan was active in Clontarf CCÉ for many years and helped to found Na Píobairí Uilleann, serving initially as its treasurer. His skills as a piper were brought to others through his appearance on The Drones and the Chanters Volume 1 (see p395), recorded when he was in his late seventies, where he plays a captivating rendition of the air An Buachaill Caol Dubh. Dan, by the way, was probably not the source for the famous reel Dowd’s No. 9 which is reckoned to have come from a Sligo fiddle contemporary of Coleman.
This is a longer version of an entry which, in a truncated form, appears in the directory in the Families section under The McNamaras.
Eldest of the famed musical family from Leitrim (see pp261-262), Brian McNamara (b. 1967) is an extraordinarily accomplished uilleann piper in his own right. Since taking up the pipes in 1979, Brian has developed a personal style of playing which radiates both warmth and creativity. Winning both Junior and Senior titles in the 1980s, he has subsequently taught and toured extensively, including Japan and the USA in his travels and becoming an expert on the effects of humidity on cane reeds as a consequence! He was the motive force behind the McNamaras’ fabulous album, Leitrim’s Hidden Treasure, producing the record, while also playing and researching its impressive liner notes, and the same care for detail is both evident and heartily welcome in his own superb solo album, A Piper’s Dream. This is quite simply a record that gushes with graceful eloquence, proffering one of the grandest statements of the piper’s art to have been released in the last few decades. Thoroughly at one with this most complex of instruments, McNamara plays with a control of tone and sense of purpose which at times scales heights impossibly attained without a mastery of technique to match. His playing of slow airs, especially Ní ar Chnocht ná ar Ísleacht, is exquisite, while dance tunes, most notably the single jig, Stoney Batter, are rendered at a measured pace which starkly demonstrates both the force of the melodic line and his own care for the tradition.
" A Piper’s Dream (2000, own label). Utterly magnetic piping from a true modern master.
Born in Glasgow to Irish parents, Pat McNulty’s maternal grandfather and great-grandfather from Co. Monaghan had both been uilleann pipers, though Pat himself began playing tin whistle, fiddle and piano before taking up the pipes in the 1950s. In the following decade he dominated the All-Ireland pipes championship, winning the title on six occasions. Naturally, he was an original member of the NPU and was the first person to be recorded by Brendan Breathnach who had set himself the task of taping all pipers present. Back in Britain, Pat founded a similar, if smaller group, SOUP (the Society of Uilleann Pipers) and continued to play at folk clubs and festivals, while also broadcasting on radio and TV. His most noteworthy appearance, however, was as the first piper to appear in a British concert hall with a full orchestra when he featured in John Tavener’s A Celtic Requiem. His own first album appeared in 1976, but the only one currently available is Autumn Apples where, in part, he uses a full set of Egan flat pipes from the mid-19th century. McNulty exhibits striking employment of drones and regulators throughout and the reels Music of the Forge/Stoney Steps, learned from Séamus Ennis and Leo Rowsome respectively, are glorious piped dance music. Other pieces include the grand lament from Co. Limerick, Slan Le Maighe, and several of McNulty’s own, such as the air Doohamlet Church, celebrating his forbears’ village.
Cass Autumn Apples (1992, Ossian). Mature as a prime vintage, McNulty’s music makes splendid savouring.
To prove that uilleann piping is not some genetic component of the male chromosome, here is Máire Ní Ghráda (b. 1959, Cork city) while Emer Mayock has also recently been making a name for herself piping with the Afro Celt Sound System. After a couple of years learning the whistle, Máire took up piping, aged twelve, attending Mícheál Ó Riabaigh’s classes at the Cork Pipers’ Club, and cites Séamus Ennis and Liam O’Flynn as her major influences. In her late teens she appeared on The Piper’s Rock (see p396) playing a jig, The Queen of the Rushes, and a couple of reels with a purity of tone that belied her age. For a time Máire played as a trio with sisters Nollaig Casey (fiddle) and Máire Ní Chathasaigh (harp) and has since toured widely and made numerous broadcasts, meeting up again with Nollaig on Donal Lunny’s innovative music series Sult for the newly-inaugurated Irish language TV channel, TnaG.
Inspired by Planxty and, particularly, the sound of Liam O’Flynn’s pipes, Jimmy O’Brien-Moran (b. 1957, Tramore, Co. Waterford) was inspired to invest £2 and 10 shillings in a copy of the Séamus Ennis LP The Pure Drop, having been intrigued by references to him in Planxty’s sleeve notes. Further LPs augmented his collection before he obtained his first chanter, subsequently taking lessons and becoming a regular attendee at the Willie Clancy Summer School. Seán Reid became an especial mentor and leant Jimmy a set of Colgan pipes dating from the early 19th century for his appearance on The Piper’s Rock (1977), a loan that was extended when Seán heard the results. A spell with Scullion followed at the end of the decade before Jimmy took an extended break from music, working for some years in the jewellery trade. He returned in the 1990s, playing saxophone in a dance band, and becoming again actively involved in piping, through playing, teaching and recording his tremendous album, Seán Reid’s Favourite, in 1996. The title takes its name from a reel, also known as Gilbert Clancy’s, recorded by another of Jimmy’s idols, Gilbert’s son, Willie. The Colgan pipes again feature on this sumptuous recording. Like Ennis, O’Brien-Moran’s style is bright and brisk - listen to the clear articulation of the reel Ceo na gCnoc for evidence - while drones are almost constant and regulators used sparingly and effectively.
" Seán Reid’s Favourite (1996, Piping Pig Productions). Fabulous controlled piping from a man who still claims to be ‘practising’!
From the musical clan renowned for its sean-nós singers, Tomás Ó Ceannabháin (from An Aird Mhór, near Carna, Connemara) is an acclaimed uilleann piper and flute-player, noted in the latter case for his interpretations of sean-nós songs. His legato-style piping won him the All-Ireland Senior title in 1970 and he was also Oireachtas champion in the same and following years. His first album, Ó Aird go hAird was recorded with fellow clan member, accordionist Seosamh Ó Ceannabháin, while the solo Fonn le Fonn/Tune by Tune highlights his own skills, especially on the upbeat dance tunes which include a jaunty piped Cherish the Ladies, while his breathy flute playing is put to good use on the familiar slow air Casadh an tSúgain.
" Fonn le Fonn (1998, Blue Sun). Ó Ceannabháin’s well-tempered uilleann pipes and flute in all their versatility.
Son of the famed John and Julia Clifford, whistle, piccolo and flute player Billy Clifford was born in London in the early 1940s, but spent much of his childhood in his parents’ native Sliabh Luachra. Living there in Lisheen with his grandmother, he first picked up the whistle under her guidance, gaining more encouragement when his uncle, the fiddler Denis Murphy, returned from New York. His parents moved back to Ireland in 1953, settling in Newcastle West, Co. Limerick, where Billy soon found himself playing in the Star of Munster Céilí Band, run by his father. However, after leaving school, he returned to England in 1959 where his parents began playing again in London’s Irish dance halls. By now Billy was playing piccolo, but soon progressed to flute and began his own separate musical career, linking up with his parents in the mid-1960s to form one of the most renowned London-Irish groups of the era, The Star of Munster Trio, which released a classic album for Topic. Billy went back to Ireland at the end of the decade, basing himself in Tipperary town, where he joined the Cappagh White Céilí Band, later marrying its drummer, Catherine Ryan. Winning the All-Ireland flute title in 1970 cemented Billy’s reputation on home turf and he recorded his own solo album in 1976/1977. Rather an oddity, this in part features Billy’s accomplished flute (a keyed wooden Radcliffe) on a number of tunes acquired from the family repertoire including Bill the Waiver’s (named after Julia’s illustrious father, Bill Murphy), interspersed with the trio formed with Catherine and accordionist Matt Hayes to play Tipperary set dances.
Just turned 30, Brian Hughes (from Athy, Co. Kildare) is one of the most talented and versatile tin whistlers around. Introduced to traditional music by his grandfather, Christy Bracken, Brian began playing the whistle at primary school and made his TV debut on a children’s show at the age of eight. A winner of many competitions in his teens, Brian also learned both flute and pipes (favouring the legato style) before taking an extended break from music which lasted until he was invited to play on singer Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh’s 1992 Bláth Buí album. His own solo album, Meascra/Whistle Stop, has more gems than a jeweller’s shop as notes flow with a delightful, yet never obtrusive, intricacy. Brian proves himself a master at the dance music, but real magic is invested in his slow air playing - the true test of a whistler’s prowess - such as the 19th century Cork air, Turas go Tír na nÓg.
" Meascra (1997, Gael-Linn). A wonderful tour de force of whistling.
Though involved in traditional music from an early age multi-instrumentalist, Vinny Kilduff from Kiltimagh, County Mayo, is perhaps most familiar nowadays for his respected production work (credits include albums by Niamh Parsons and Charlie Lennon). An all‑Ireland Champion singer and tin whistle player, he graduated to the uilleann pipes and, after studying music theory at the Dublin College of Music spent a couple of years on the European folk circuit before returning to Dublin in 1981.The following year, he joined General Humbert (featuring singer Mary Black), appearing on their second and last album, though greater attention resulted from his performance on U2's October, playing uilleann pipes on Tomorrow, and, subsequently, touring with the band. Next, he was an original member of In Tua Nua and toured with The Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues line-up for two years. Other appearances since then include Clannad's Anam and Lore albums and he also featured in the band’s tours. His only solo album to date, The Boys from the Blue Hill, is a tin whistler’s treat, where Vinnie highlights his prowess on a fine pair of Charlie Lennon’s jigs The Kings of Inishbofin/The Queen of Mayo.
" The Boys from the Blue Hill (1990, Mulligan). Innovative whistling from a musician who deserves more of the limelight.
The whistler from Athlone was All Ireland Champion at the 1966 Fleadh Cheoil in Boyle and subsequently was honoured by releasing the Outlet label’s first traditional album, the surprisingly-titled All Ireland Whistling Champion (reissued as Pure Traditional Irish Music Played on the Tin Whistle). Tom was an innovative whistler, and capable of coaxing an expressive range of notes from one of the simplest of instruments, often interpolating extra bars when the mood caught him. He was as happy playing dance music as airs and the album features a relaxed and typically chirpy The Lark in the Morning/Bill Hart’s Jig (where Tom barely seems to takes a breath) and a splendidly lonesome rendition of the air Roisín Dubh that soars above irritating finger-style guitar.
Founder-member of Cherish the Ladies, flute, tin and low whistle player Joanie Madden (b. New York, 1965) has been a major figure on the USA’s Irish music scene since the 1980s. Her mother Helen originated from West Clare and her father Joe was raised in East Galway, playing the accordion in the local style. Young Joan’s first tin whistle lessons came from another East Galway man, Jack Coen before she moved on to the flute, subsequently winning All-Ireland titles on both instruments. While her work with CTL (and on many recordings by others) continues to impress, her only solo traditional album to date is A Whistle on the Wind which show-cases her dazzling technical ability on both flute (including a splendid trio performance with concertina-player John Williams and fiddler Eileen Ivers) and on whistle (frighteningly fast, but equally magical fingering on John Doherty’s reel)
" A Whistle on the Wind (1994, Green Linnet). One of the USA’s finest Irish musicians produces a real dazzler of an album.
Heavily in demand as a session player and accompanist (most notably with Mary Black’s backing band and Christy Moore), Pat Crowley is equally adept on both accordion and piano/keyboards. A session at The Spaniard, Kinsale, Co. Cork resulted in a collaboration with fiddler and classically-trained flute-player, Johnny McCarthy and their eventual album Fool’s Dream. The unification of two traditions through their own inspired compositions, both individually and together, produced one of the albums of the year with a lyrical power that would be hard to surpass. Guests include Steve Cooney, Colm Murphy, fiddler Bernadette Walsh and a spell-binding vocal by Mary Black herself on the title track.
" with Johnny McCarthy Fool’s Dream (1998, Dara). Crowley and McCarthy successfully tread the tightrope in this refreshing album.
Born into a musical household in Brooklyn, Billy McComiskey began playing the button accordion at the age of six, but it was not until he heard Bobby Gardiner play in 1960 that he began to take his learning seriously. In 1970 he won silver medal in the all-Ireland Championship and by the middle of the decade was playing regularly with Brendan Mulvihill and guitarist Andy O’Brien as The Irish Tradition. A couple of the band’s albums followed before he released his own solo record Making the Rounds in 1981. Notable for the vitality of his own playing, this also includes a couple of remarkable duets with his own former teacher, the late Sean McGlynn, the only commercially available recordings of the celebrated Galway-born accordionist. Since then Billy has been highly in demand as a guest performer (both live and on record) and teacher and has released two albums as Trian with Liz Carroll and Daithi Sproule. Also included is Carolan’s Planxty Davis, featuring single-reed playing from Billy and the sound of the dancing feet of Danny Golden, one of the USA’s most well-known step dancers.
" Making the Rounds (1981, Green Linnet) Whole-hearted and vivacious playing from McComiskey, especially the splendid reel Johnny Allen’s.
Twice All-Ireland Senior Accordion Champion (1993-94), Colin Nea comes from Castletown Geoghegan in the Midland county of Westmeath. He began playing at twelve under the tutelage of Ellen Comerford of the Bridge Céilí Band and developed a rolling, jaunty playing style in the fashion of Paddy ‘Nenagh’ O’Brien whose music remained a lasting influence. Joining the Silver Spear Céilí Band in 1988, Colin toured around Ireland and the UK, learning much from the Band’s flute player, Joe Finn. In 1992 Colin participated in the CCÉ’s North American tour and, though retiring from competition following his title-winning exploits, continues to be active musically. His debut album, The Pure Box, appeared in 1999, and, as might be expected, features a fair few tunes from O’Brien, perhaps the best being a vibrant rendition of Brendan McCann’s Visit in cahoots with Joe Finn on uilleann pipes and fiddler Aidan McMahon. The album captures all of Colin’s céilí band experience, emphasis being placed firmly on a tune’s rhythm, though incorporating a naturally care-free swing. Ageing optimists will enjoy his own composition, the reel Life Begins at 25!
" The Pure Box (1999, Celtic Note) Bright and spirited box-playing at its best.
This section proved problematic and was dropped from the published version. All the entries were distributed elsewhere in the Guide with this exception.
One half of Sixties psychedelic specialists Nirvana (whose tuneful exploits are documented in the excellent Chemistry boxed set), multi-instrumentalist Pat Lyons (b. 1943, Lismore, Co. Waterford) has worked mainly as a composer and producer since the 1980s. His sporadic recordings are well worth seeking out, though his innovative 1981 concept LP The Electric Plough; released in the USA as The Hero I Might Have Been, is long out-of-print. More recently Patrick has revived some of its themes in his CD Ireland in My Dreams, effectively a 45-minute Proustian set of interconnected tone and written poems exploring his past in Ireland as a means of comprehending the future. Despite playing and composing everything Pat manages to avoid the pitfalls of introspection with occasional flashes of brilliance.
" Ireland in My Dreams (1998, own label). His imagery’s Yeatsian, his concept’s Proustian, but Pat Lyons is still a true original.
Recognised as one of the best piano accompanists around for his work with musicians as varied as Frankie Gavin, Matt Molloy and Joe Derrane and membership of The Moving Cloud, Galway-born Carl Hession is also a notable composer, arranger and orchestrator. The Hession family has long been heavily involved in music - his father, Michael, was a fiddler and piper, aunt Maggie a singer and major contributor to the Amhráin Mhuighe Seola collection and sister Celine a notable dancer - while the family home in Salthill was a popular session venue. Carl’s classical piano training eventually led to formal degree studies at University College Cork and he has employed his developing compositional skills and love for traditional music in a variety of recordings. The best of those still available is Ceol Inné Ceol Inniu/Old Time New Time. Joined by a guest-list that reads more like an awards ceremony (the accordionists alone include Dermot Byrne, Jackie Daly and Máirtín O’Connor), the album marries Carl’s own lush original compositions, such as the Chestnut Lane suite. and traditional adaptations (e.g. the reels Sarah’s Delight/Paddy Kelly’s) with four ‘big’ songs from the Amhráin Mhuighe Seola collection, featuring the eloquent sean-nós singer Seosamh Ó Flatharta (Joe O’Flaherty) from Carna, Connemara, and discriminating arrangements.
" Ceol Inné Ceol Inniu (1995, Gael-Linn). Experimental by nature, but still firmly grounded in the tradition.