Releases > October 2006

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Cathal Hayden and Friends
Irish Dance Music

The title says it all really, the timing for dancers is critical and the dancers in question are those step dancers who begin as cute wee curly haired kids and progress ambitiously into the ranks of Riverdance and such like shows. If you’ve ever attended any of those classes you may have come across scratchy accordion albums recorded in outhouses, that might have once been OK for dancing but hey you wouldn’t want then in your home stereo.

This double album from Cathal Hayden and friends addresses this serious quality issue. Why shouldn’t Irish dancers have the best of music when they are rattling the boards? The challenge Hayden set himself was to adhere to the necessary strict tempo for dancers yet provide imaginative and subtle playing that would appeal to listeners. Hayden is joined on the album by Brian McGrath, Máirtin O’Connor, Mark Mohan, Alan Kelly and Arty McGlynn, his team is premier league standard, and you know he’s done it, the album works.

There are two discs, a blue one and a brown one; the blue is for experienced dancers and the brown for beginners. Listeners won’t find any difference in the approach or the quality of the music, superb throughout. Just the choice of tunes is a bit special for the beginner’s album. Case in point, their album opens with “Easy Reels” (The Soul of Colmcille/The Little Diamond/ Liz Carrolls/ The Dark Girl Dressed in Blue). So I give it a spin and start thinking, um, awh, um, I’m listening to Polkas, the timing is 2/4. The dance called the Easy Reel is learnt to the polka rhythm, before the wee things get to grips with the stuff we’d normally consider the reel McCoy. So the track listing is especially useful for dance teachers.

Who will this album, appeal to? Well everyone, dancers of all ages, listeners who like their trad at a comfortable pace where the inner melodies shine out. Ergo the same for instrumentalists, looking for new tunes (and there’s a cracker from Máirtin O’Connor - “Swings and Roundabouts” infused with the legacy of Kimmell and De Dannan, which would really test the skill of any choreographer and the stamina of the dancers).

I recently met a charming young Irish dancer from Doncaster, who bashfully admitted she knew nothing about Irish traditional music, well I said you’d better get hold of a copy of Cathal Hayden’s “Time to Dance 2″, it will change the way you think about Irish music. I’m going to lend my album to Phil Ryan in Cappawhite and see what he makes of it, I’m guessing his reaction.

This album should be in every dance school in the country, nay in the world. Enough said, ’tis a good one.

Seán Laffey

Visit Gael Linn web site



Vertical Records VERTCD076 8 tracks, 40 minutes

Belfast maverick piper and Dundalk fiddle prodigy: you’d expect fireworks, and that’s what you get. Tripswitch is much more than that, though. Alongside the storming traditional reels and modern global-folk showpieces, there’s a lot of very thoughtful and deeply satisfying music here. There could be more, of course, 40 minutes is rather short, but I’m sure there’ll soon be a follow-up from this duo.

John and Dónal start with The Rose in the Gap, a powerful march in the sparse rhythmic style of Lúnasa’s Lord Mayo, then the first reels storm in: Old Dudeen and The First Month of Spring. Fiddle and pipes are as tight as a pair of ’80s jeans, and that’s the way they stay. More reels follow from Tommy Peoples, Sean McGuire and John Doherty, some of Ireland’s greatest fiddlers. Charlie Mulvihill’s Reel, Drag Her Round the Road and Iniscealtra are three more well-known reels, powerful thundering ones for the most part. Jigs don’t get a look-in until the final track, with John’s composition Áille’s Arabesque and the classic Tell Her I Am whose name is explained here at last. The title track is one of several evocative slower pieces. Spain is also represented in a pair of upbeat tunes, a charrada and a corrido expertly transferred to the pipes, with fiddle and low whistle, very tasty.

Tripswitch belongs in the category of modern, full-on, carefully polished studio albums mixing Irish roots with world music offshoots. It also overflows from that category into the living breathing Irish tradition, and could soon be as much a part of the Celtic establishment as Lúnasa or Skyedance. That’s quite an achievement. The live show is something special too. On stage as a four-piece, with double-barrelled pipes from Francis McIlduff, the energy flows fast and strong.

Check out the website for sample tracks, CD mail-order and details of upcoming gigs.

Alex Monaghan

Visit Vertical Records web site

Visit At First Light web site


Another Time

13 Tracks, 45 minutes 27 seconds
Tallaght Records TACD02

Whistle player, Gavin Whelan is photographed on the liner of the CD leaning against a stone pillar. Out of focus in the background is a graffiti covered red brick wall. On the reverse Whelan clad in a leather jacket stands pensively whistle in hand, the backdrop this time another brick wall, with rusty tie bars, industrial, urban, gritty. There’s nothing about the cover that says sepia-tinted bucolic nostalgia, so what’s inside the CD, does the music live up to the first impressions a buyer would get on the CD rack?

Firstly the selection of tunes is admirably wide, only 5 sets of reels from the thirteen on offer, we get hornpipes, jigs, a highland and a slow air. The wider the remit the better, it is for the musical community and of course extends its appeal to those hunting for new tunes. Secondly the production, this is cut glass, shining crystal, full, reflecting all the rich colours of the instruments, each track sings out from the CD player.

Whelan surrounds himself with some of the best players around and they bring their own unmistakable energy to the project. Consider that he has Zoë Conway (fiddle) Eoin O’Neill (bouzouki), Colm Murphy (bodhrán), Aogán Lynch (concertina), Gavin Ralston (guitar), Finbarr Naughton (mandolin/fiddle), Peter Eades (keyboards) and Donncha Moynihan on guitar, and you can see how this has success stamped all over it.

Whelan restricts his palette to mainly duo and trio combinations, what we get are little cameo pieces, where all the instruments in the ensembles are allowed to shine out. On “The Buck from the Tree” hornpipe, Eoin O’Neill can build an intricate bouzouki back line, whilst Whelan delivers up front on the whistle melody. The ability for the whistle to blend and contrast with other instruments, which is often lost in big noisy pub sessions, is addressed here, his “McConnell’s Highland “pairs beautifully in the unison introduction with Aogán Lynch’s concertina and is given extra weight in the bass by Moynihan’s guitar on the “Laccaro Reel” which kicks this selection into a stronger more menacing gear. The one slow air “Anach Cuain”, works against the back cloth of a sensitive droned keyboard accompaniment from Peter Eades, you may mock electric technology in trad music, but such a combination would not have been as effective with a regular piano (you’d need pipes or a cello).

I particularly enjoyed the whistle and bodhrán combination on “Paddy Taylor’s”, Colm Murphy following each twist and triplet of the tune and not a hint of top end tipper pyrotechnics which are now becoming all to frequently applied without thought to many trade albums.

I’m a big fan of Eoin O’Neill’s bouzouki playing and he plays a master class on “The Mountain Lark” which builds to a full band sound as the selection closes with the “Hut of Staten Island”, ’tis my favourite track OK?
This is Whelan’s second album and the whistler from Tallaght continues to impress, the cover may be urban and gritty but what lies beneath is tasteful, reflective and fun.

Seán Laffey

Visit Gavin Whelan’s web site


An Crann Carraige - Concertina Melodies from Tuamgraney, East Clare

12 tracks, Own Label

Run the words Clare and concertina together and you have an unbroken musical tradition going back a century, add to that the GPS region East Clare and you have something very special indeed. East Clare music is to paraphrase Nancy Griffiths “a lone star state of mind”, it is relaxed and laconic, easy and inviting, throw in a couple of big names Paddy Fahy and Martin Hayes and you get the picture of where this music’s heart lies. So has Martin O’Brien picked up the magic of the music, has he the necessary soul to be dubbed an East Clare musician?

In the liner notes to the album, Eoin O’Neill fellow musician sums up O’Brien in a recollection of their first meetings in sessions in Ennis, “His body moves in perfect relaxed rhythm with the music,. He forgets everything. His fellow musicians know this is the real thing…they know it is heart and soul.” He brings that sense of quite mastery and total immersion in the tunes to this recording, simply packaged, no elaborate multi-page liner booklet, nothing on the tunes (and wouldn’t we like a bit of history about tunes from Tuamgraney, a web site is needed I think). Accompanied by Eoin O’Neill on bouzouki (who has played with the Ceilí Bandits, The Mary Custy Band and Gavin Whelan, presented traditional music shows on Clare FM and done the whole Doolin thing). Then there’s Quentin Cooper on banjo and that’s it, three lads playing tunes form East Clare, and it couldn’t get much better.

O’Neill allows the concertina to bubble to the surface and Cooper’s banjo matches the box note for note. Cooper also contributes guitar, fiddle, bodhrán and mandolin, he’s handy lad to have around a recording studio for sure.

The playing is live, first take material, with an occasional dropped note, about two and half minutes through the Cornstalk/Miss McDonalds’ selection there’s a hesitant hiccough, but O’Brien is not put off his mettle and continues on his merry way. The selections by and large are based on tun pairings: The Mist Covered Mountain with the Banshee Wail, The Ewe Reel with The Mountain Top, and so on, a good choice as the band here is essentially a moveable duo/trio outfit and the double tune pairings allows for enough variety without becoming too flash and ruining the essential pace of East Clare Music.

If I had to choose a track to play on the radio, I’d go for “Paddy Taylor’s ” with the concertina taking on a flute like tone as the tune shifts into Vincent Broderick’s.”

Martin O’Brien is a talent to look out for, and in this ensemble setting has produced a debut album of timeless exquisite quality, yes Eoin you are right he does have heart and soul, seems it goes with the territory.

Seán Laffey

Visit Martin O’Brien’s web site


Tasty touches, Blúirini Blasta

NYAHCD 2006 2 disks 41 tracks

It wouldn’t be too hard to point a finger at Martin Donohoe, he’s responsible you’d say, for the tremendous energy and vitality that ahs come to the Cavan traditional music scene in the past few years. Of course he’s so modest he’d deny it, but let his record (on and off disc) speak for itself, an instigator of the NYAH festival concept, the man who got Seamus Fay into a recording studio, and that boyish madness for traditional tunes which never leaves some of us

It’s all here on this large and impressive collection of selections from Martin Donohoe, and if you are wary of 41 tracks of accordion music, fear not because over that large edifice he has cast the shadow of another fifty or so musicians who join in duos and trios or add a spot of accompaniment hither and dither, great folk songs done in authentic folk song fashion, it’s like the best night in your favourite pub. There’s a fair sprinkling of Cavan musicians on the album, but a look at the personnel list on the back sleeve will tell you that this is like the biggest echoes of Erin tour ever assembled. That Martin was able to persuade so many distinguished musicians to join him on what is ostensibly a solo CD is proof enough that Martin is a national treasure.

The first track is a well chosen a set of reels that start of with a smirk on their face, dextrous box playing with a nylon strung guitar gently coming in under the main tune to break out into something gloriously rhythmic and exciting as Callan Lasses turns into Molly What Ails You. That same care over the arrangements is threaded throughout the album like gold braid on an uilleann piper’s bag. As for style Martin favours staccato and rapid left hand work over heavy chording or bass droning and the fullness of the sound develops a natural as he inter plays and communicates musical ideas with his guests.

He can hold his own with giants such as Brian Conway and Brendan Dolan (take time out to appreciate their version of Martin Whynn’s reels). One to analyse for age and enjoy for much longer.

Seán Laffey

Visit Cavan Music web site