John Vesey and Eddie Cahill
Two Sligo Masters
The latest album from the Coleman Heritage Centre is, in part, an unfortunate reminder that not every archive recording justifies rejuvenation. This double-CD package consists of remastered renditions of two albums by Sligo musicians originally issued by Shanachie, the fiddler John Vesey’s The First Month of Spring (recorded with guitarist Paul Brady and issued in 1977) and the flute player Eddie Cahill’s Ah! Surely (released in 1979 with Mick Moloney providing accompaniment on guitar, bouzouki and mandolin). Vesey and Cahill often played together after emigrating to Philadelphia in 1949 and 1950 respectively, though did not duet commercially.
The two albums have been reissued as a double-CD package which really does seem an utter waste of resources since both could easily have occupied just one disc and an ordinary single jewel case. The stated reason (that no duets exist of Cahill and Vesey) seems rather a spurious motive for this essential squandering of vital materials.
Apart from remastering the two albums, the project’s overseers, PJ Hernon and Gregory Daly, have also changed some of the tune’s titles, especially on the Vesey album, for the purpose of giving ‘titles by which these tunes are better or more widely known, generally speaking, within the tditional repetoire’. Those last two words are replicated as produced within the CD’s liner booklet whose cover also claims that these are ‘full lenght albums’. Such a slipshod approach unfortunately imbues this entire reissue (including yet another misspelling of Ed Reavy’s name and the replication of the original misspelling of Mulvihill’s reel. The tray-liner’s track-listing also includes errors such as an incorrect version of Josie McDermott’s name and a tune called ‘The Fkiwer if Redhill’. Really, lads, for €20 one expects decent proofreading!
However, there is a further problem to recount related to the Vesey album at least. A brief note at the end of the credits for the original version of The First Month of Spring offers the following option: The listener wishing to hear more guitar may turn the balance control towards the left, those wishing to hear less towards the right. Though such recording practice was more commonly applied to tutorial albums, e.g. those produced by Walton’s, some straightforward commercial albums did also adopt the same principle. The upshot is that The First Month of Spring offered listeners the chance to hear more of either John Vesey or Paul Brady according to their preference. This new CD version of the album appears to function in similar fashion which probably indicates that it has been remastered not from the 1977 masters but from a vinyl or even cassette copy of the commercial release.
Whatever the case it is absolutely patent that the combination of Vesey and Brady was not a musical marriage made in heaven. Often during this extremely short album (at a mere 27 minutes, making it one of the briefest commercial LP releases of all time) the fiddler and guitarist appear to be heading in different directions (not least on My Love is Fair and Handsome/The Pride of Rathmore where each seems to be taking an entirely distinct route through the set of tunes). The album’s impact is also not assisted by its contents (ten sets of reels and two of jigs) and the fact that Vesey clearly preferred (or was urged by his producer to favour) reels of a similar construction. True, he was clearly in good form at the time of the recording session, but by the end of the album the listener really does feel as though the same two or three tunes have been playing for the last half-hour. Sure, Vesey was a fine fiddler (though his bow clearly needed more rosin at various stages), but whether this album was worth resurrecting is highly debatable.
It would be pleasant to write that Eddie Cahill’s Ah! Surely is an album meriting rebirth and, for the most part, it is verifiably so. Sadly, the Shanachie producer again adopted the ‘listening control’ principle which means that Mick Moloney’s accompaniment is far too prominent in the mix. For evidence look no further than The Sailor on the Rock which confirms for all eternity that the flute and mandolin do not make good bedfellows. Moloney’s guitar accompaniment is at times also fairly rudimentary, but, worst of all, the sound of Eddie’s very mellifluous flute appears dampened (check Jim Conroy’s). Dare one conjecture that in attempting to diminish the sound of his embouchure the production team have also contrived to emasculate the edge of his playing?
Whatever the case, to discover its full vivacity it’s essential to play this album as loudly as possible (and hope that your neighbours are fans of flute music). That done, the wonders of his variations of The Old Copper Plate become absolutely apparent, even if Moloney’s attempts at Appalachian-style folk-guitar accompaniment become all the more obvious too.
Despite said volume adjustments certain tracks remain abhorrent, including, not least, a diabolical rendition of a set of John McKenna’s reels where the sonic clash between flute and strummed bouzouki is glaringly apparent (and I won’t even mention the mess that constitutes The Primrose Lass).
All told, the original release of Ah! Surely never displayed the full capabilities of Eddie Cahill’s flute and this reissue simply repeats that initial failing.
29th November, 2006
For more information about the Coleman Heritage Centre visit www.colemanirishmusic.com.