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A Story Of Celtic Rock 1968-1978
Various Artists
Cherry Red Records, CRJAM3BOX024, 52 Tracks, 3 Hours, 49 Minutes
Irish Music Magazine’s John O’Regan has created this compilation, which looks back to a time, a half century ago and the heyday of Celtic Rock. John has an encyclopaedic knowledge of this genre and is an enthusiastic advocate for it. If you lived through the age when men wore denim, sported side burns and grew their hair long, and ladies had a penchant for Laura Ashley, then you’ll be taken on a nostalgic trip to your youth. If you’re a millennial this is your grandparents’ music.
There are some tracks here that will resonate with many of us, Irish artists include: East of Eden (Jig a Jig), Granny’s Intentions (Maybe), Skid Row (Oi’ll Tell You Later), Rory Gallagher (Just The Smile), Woods Band (As I Roved Out), Thin Lizzy (Whiskey In The Jar), Clannad (Siúbhán Ní Dhuibhir), Loudest Whisper (Silent O’Moyle), Joe O’Donnell with Rory Gallagher (Poets & Storytellers) and Spud (Tickle Your Fancy).
John’s eclecticism goes further with a dive into Breton Rock, something which at the time I’d be able to pick up intermittently on long wave radio of a Sunday morning. There are Welsh tracks from Heather Jones (Nos Ddu), Edward H Dafis (Hedydd), Brân (Y Gwylwyr) and Shwn (Bachgen) and a bulk of material from the Folk rock circuit of the UK: Fairport Convention (A Sailor’s Life), Pentangle (Once I Had A Sweetheart), Steeleye Span (Lowlands of Holland), Sandy Denny (Blackwaterside), JSD Band (Johnny O’Braidislea). Yes, I’ll admit I’m old enough to have seen some of these acts live. Great times they were too.
The liner notes run to 21 pages, each act is given a thumbnail biography and there are images bringing back the fashions of the day. The title track is by the Woods Band, from their one and only album, which was released in 1971. Formed by Gary and Terry Woods, Terry went on to play bouzouki in the Pogues. The Woods’ version of As I Roved Out is far darker than the one we have come to associate with Planxty.
Disc 3 closes with Runrig’s De Ni Mi and Puirt. Formed on the Isle of Skye in 1973, their career lasted until 2018. Folk Rock as a genre has had its peaks and troughs, some bands’ fortunes quickly turned to ashes, but for a glorious decade as this album recalls, this music’s flame burned brightly. Thanks to Cherry Red Records and the scholarship of John O’Regan, we can all be warmed by this collection of Celtic Folk Rock.
Seán Laffey

Live in Kyoto
Lúnasa Records LRCD006, 10 Tracks, 47 Minutes
Lúnasa needs no introduction. The Japanese do love their Celtic music, and the audiences are so well behaved, so the live atmosphere on this recording is a perfect backdrop for some absolutely brilliant music. Kevin Crawford on flute, Cillian Vallely on pipes, and founder member Séan Smyth on fiddle are backed by the dream duo of Ed Boyd and Trevor Hutchinson on guitar and bass for a classic Lúnasa sound on new tunes and old favourites. It’s all instrumental (just thought I should say that after the last album), and all acoustic of course, with no chatter between tracks so you get the full value of 47 minutes here.
Cillian kicks off Kyoto with March of the Min na Toitean Bull, a Donegal tune given a bit of a Bolero rhythm here and followed by two great tunes by his brother Niall. The next track opens with a lovely Scots puirt-à-beul melody on flute and fiddle, leading into a full band sound for the slipjig Comb Your Hair and Curl It, and then the first of five Cillian compositions. Crawford is no slouch on the composing front either, with three of his own pieces scattered among traditional Irish and Breton melodies.
A Carolan air, a set of driving céilí jigs, a delightful slow version of Winnie Hayes’ Jig and the wonderful Blue Fiddle from Smyth’s 1993 solo release give this album a slightly dark and very varied character, full of surprises. A trademark low whistle trio brings us to the final set of reels, beautifully articulated on fiddle, pipes and flute, with a thumping good finish from the full band on Kevin’s reel Cabin in the Woods. What more could you want?
Alex Monaghan

Tunes from Toureendarby
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 44 Minutes
If you like Sliabh Luachra music, this is an album you really must have in your collection. Curated with care from three excellent players who have nothing to prove by throwing shapes and everything to share by treating their tradition with the respect and love it deserves. Box players Pat Fleming and octogenarian Timmy O’Connor supply the real McCoy here, tunes that are local to Timmy’s parish, (and some are Timmy’s own compositions), in fact both he and Pat claim connections to nearby Boherbue. In the excellent liner notes, a timeline is shown tracking the tune-carriers from Patrick O’Grady in the 17th and 18th centuries to Timmy O’Connor (born in 1935) and then to Pat Fleming, who is keeping the flame alive for his and the next generation. Steve Cooney needs no introduction of course and his guitar work on this album is some of the most sublime I’ve heard from him in an ensemble setting.
The album was recorded in Timmy’s Kitchen in Toureendarby, County Cork, inviting us to share the intimacy and authenticity of this music. And what music it is; The Four Shoves/Jan Dan Mac’s polkas were new to me, but I can see these going global. This music is still anchored in the dance tradition, the lads include a set of Waltzes Pull Down the Blinds /Jer Dan Mac’s and a Barndance Jer Dan Mac’s /The Ideal. Jer Dan MacAuliffe lived across the valley from Timmy and had a vast store of traditional tunes; many of them were passed on to Timmy, and a few of them grace this album. Other local players are remembered, for example Davey Piggott whose slides make up track 5. There are some more “standard” tunes too, but they are given a special Sliabh Luachra polish, such as Britches Full of Stitches and the reel The Boy in The Gap. Sliabh Luachra music is deceptively simple and deliciously infectious. Tunes from Toureendarby proves the tradition is in good hands and has many a good night left in it.
Seán Laffey

In the Silence of the Twilight
Own Label, 14 Tracks, 58 Minutes
If you are looking for the next stunning voice in Irish music, then Valerie Casey will surely top your shortlist. This album from the Líadan singer and fiddle player should go a long way to establishing Valerie as a major singer in our folk tradition; she has the potential to fill a niche similar to that enjoyed by Seán Keane. On this debut album she has assembled a fine cast of musicians in Conal Early, Síle Denvir, Barry Kerr, Liam Bradley (piano), Denis Curtin, Garry O Meara, James Blennerhassett, Liam Bradley (percussionist), David Doocey, David Doyle and Stephen Doherty.
Her range of material covers a song in Irish: Casadh an tS​ú​g​á​n backed here by Síle Denvir on vocals and harp, songs that have become folk standards, Lord Franklin, Anachie Gordon, Pretty Fair Maid in The Garden, together with her versions of some universally regarded songs such as Richard Thompson’s The Dimming of the Day and Joan Baez’s Silver Dagger.
The title track impressed me so much when I heard her sing it live that we ran its fascinating backstory in our “Story Behind the Song” page in the June 2024 issue of this magazine. Briefly, it was written as a poem by her uncle Willy Hanly whilst he was serving with the United Nations Peace Keepers in Cyprus in the 1960s. He was moved to put pen to paper after seeing people attending an evening church service, the scene welled up in him a deep nostalgia for the comfort of a community mass back home. Valerie’s melody does full justice to the words and her daughter Annie Mai Ludlow joins her to further cement the family provenance. This deserves to be shared and sung everywhere an Irish session pauses for a song.
Once the word gets out about this album I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more of Valerie Casey. In the Silence of the Twilight is a new dawn for her tremendous talent.
Seán Laffey

Na Píobairí Uilleann NPUCD027, 21 Tracks, 68 Minutes
Seven Irish pipers who all happen to be female, that’s how these musicians introduced themselves when I attended their album launch, and certainly they dispel the myth that only men play uilleann pipes. On this recording, Mná na bPíob are Emer Mayock from County Mayo, Rita Farrell from London, Muireann Ní Shé from County Cork playing left-handed, Claire Fennell from Waterford, Maeve O’Donnell from Tyrone, Marion McCarthy from London and West Clare, and Pamela Schweblin from Buenos Aires a few miles south west of Mizen Head. Each piper plays three sets of tunes solo, over three dozen melodies in total, a great range of material from well-known jigs and reels to new pieces, slip jigs and barndances, hornpipes and three delightful slow airs.
This album runs the full gamut of piping sounds, concert pitch and flat sets, different styles of fingering and regulator accompaniment. Mayock’s tunes are all local, little-known gems, while Fennell’s are quite well known but played in a distinctive modern style. Ní Shé’s Slip Jig 80b comes from the Goodman Collection and is a tune well worth learning, as is O’Donnell’s air An Bonnán Buí or The Yellow Bittern. Among some intriguing tune titles, Londoners McCarthy and Farrell sneak in Madame If You Please and If There Weren’t Any Women in the World. Schweblin plays the ancient march Miss Hamilton with some tasty regulator work, and wraps up Volume 1 with two fine reels from a unique Argentinian collection of compositions in the Irish tradition.
Women pipers have too long been in the shadows, and I hope NPU’s planned series of Mná na bPíob recordings will bring more great players into the spotlight.
Alex Monaghan

Trad Cafe Records TCR003CD, 11 Tracks, 43 Minutes
This quartet of relatively young but very experienced musicians from Portland, Maine, presents a debut CD of New England contra dance tunes. Their repertoire draws on Irish, Scottish, French and even English music to produce a lively dance feel. Neil Pearlman on piano comes from a well known family of musicians and musicologists, and has distinguished himself on solo and duet albums recently. Katie McNally is one of the top New England fiddlers of her generation, well known from Cape Breton to Boston, with a couple of fine trio recordings to her name. Emily Troll plays accordion with contra band Anadama, and Owen Marshall is a long established guitarist and backing musician with several album credits.
Reels and jigs are the main course here with a side order of slower pieces. Lady Ann Montgomery, Haste to the Wedding, The Banks of Lough Gowna and Smith’s Reel (AKA Kitty’s Wedding) will be familiar to any fan of Irish music. Coleraine Jig and Petronella will certainly resonate with Ulster musicians: in fact there’s a feel of Scots dance band music throughout this album for me, in a good way. The waltzes range from the oldtimey Vidita to the French Canadian Îles de la Madeleine, and the French culture of New England is also evident in Pointe au Pic, Joys of Quebec, the classic La Bastringue, and a captivating slow version of Glise de Sherbrooke.
As well as playing excellent dance music, the Pine Tree Flyers are a real treat for listeners. I particularly liked the Opera Reel set, starting on fiddle and fingerpicked guitar before building to a full band sound with solo spots, and the delicate air Echoes of Scotty O’Neil with instruments weaving in and out of focus. As they say in New England, it’s all good!
Alex Monaghan

Own Label, 11 Tracks, 42 Minutes
From Asturias in Celtic Spain, this trio has made quite a splash since winning a major award at Celtic Connections in 2022. The core of flute, fiddle and bouzouki is joined on this debut CD by some mighty guests: Asturian piping icon Anxo Lorenzo, tenor banjo boss Ciarán Ryan, and three fine fellow Spanish musicians playing Irish pipes, bodhrán and cajon on a couple of tracks. More than half of Alba is just down to the three lads, and they are well able to carry an audience with them, but the pipes and banjo certainly add to what was already a very varied repertoire.
Despite their obvious leanings towards Irish and Scottish music, Deira have an unmistakable Asturian sound. The turbocharged jig Hayden’s Mood has more than a touch of Spanish muñeira, and the medley A Xeitu is pure Asturian tradition. Most of the material here was composed by the band members, in a modern pan-Celtic style: pumping dance tunes, wistful airs, and of course a couple of 7/8s. Comparisons with Talisk, Ímar, Moxie or Bodega spring to mind on various tracks - for the quality as well as the character of this music - although even the Irish and Scots reels The Broken Pledge and The Ale is Dear take on a flavour of Southern Europe. If you’re looking for a quick snapshot, listen to Finn del Mundo with its up-tempo rhythms and imaginative arrangements, or Hogmanay Polka for a more hypnotic dreamy side of Deira.
Alex Monaghan

The Lights That Never Go Out
Own Label, 8 Tracks, 34 Minutes
This is a solo album from the Dutch bouzouki player Kaspar Laval. He is well known in Continental Celtic music circles for his work with Hot Griselda and his collaborations with the uilleann piper Stijn van Beek. On this album he is joined by Jeroen Geerinck (a band mate from Hot Griselda, who also plays with Geronimo, Snaarmaarwaar, Spilar). Jeroen recorded and mixed this album at Studio Trad in Belgium.
The album’s cover picture is of the Pool Beg Lighthouse and the title refers to a line in a Smiths’ song, that he relates to the passing of his mother and his partner Sara prior to recording this work. So to the tracks, familiar titles for anyone who has a grá for folk song: Peggy Gordon (with its slightly altered melody), 10,000 Miles, Barry Kerr’s ode to growing up on the shores of Lough Neagh The Newry Boat Song, and a couple of lyrically tailored sea shanties Bold Riley and Shallow Brown, the latter with a pulsing riff on Kaspar’s electric bouzouki. His bouzouki sound here is often fed through an effects box, with reverb, presence and echo on some tracks, reflective of his early Rock influences and the power folk of Hot Griselda.
This is an album that grows on you. The songs may be well worn, yet Kaspar’s fresh readings open them up to a deeper scrutiny, it is definitely an album to revisit time after time. In a Dutch interview Kaspar said this album was “Fueled by the fervent desire to give free rein to my emotions. I was eager to capture the best of the best from this collection – to make and leave a footprint, no matter how small: a personal life’s work.” This is indeed a significant indent on the strand of Celtic music.
Seán Laffey

Tales and Golden Histories
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 59 Minutes
There is a profound sonic intelligence at work on every track on this album that brings together Maryland born harp player Lily Neill (an All Ireland Fleadh winner, she also holds a 1st Class Honours degree in Irish Music and Dance from the Irish World Academy at the University of Limerick) and Finnish cellist Vesa Norilo in a work that features Irish, Finnish, Swedish and Breton music. The duo first met in 2005 when Vesa was just 24 years old; now having turned forty there’s a maturity, confidence and a love of experimentation in the way he incorporates the many sounds of the cello into their duet playing.
Lily Neill too has a playful sense of daring, whether it be holding back for just the right amount of time whilst Vesa develops a motif or taking the reins and leading out a tune for Vesa to back. He has more options in that regard due to the physics of the cello. He plays with a bow on Menuetti and the set called Pollennessa 29, plays a finger plucked bass line in Nettles in the Bed 1971, and uses the bow percussively like a drumstick on occasion. In many of the tunes here, Lily’s harp is an answer to Vesa’s leading questions, and the way she resolves the tension is a lesson in the art of musical conversation.
They trade melody and percussive rhythm on the almost comical mazurka-like Järvilän Sotiisi. Lily shines on the Irish airs such as The Stride/ Christmas Eve/ Farewell to Ireland. They have an ear for a beautiful melody and I’ll point you to The Ookpik Waltz, named after a First Nation in Canada’s west is a beautiful melody.
Fair play to Lily, she has taken a stance against the exploitation often inherent in streaming services and the like, her website clearly states Tales and Golden Histories is not available on digital platforms. To hear this new music, you’ll have to go old school and purchase the album directly. That will of course require a bit more effort on the listener’s part, but with music this good that endeavour will be handsomely rewarded.
Seán Laffey

Own Label, 11 Tracks, 40 Minutes
Wicklow born O Deer is the performance name of West Cork based song writer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Oisín Walsh-Peelo (O Deer is a pun on the English translation of Oisin). His debut album features all new songs; it was recorded, engineered and co-produced by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo at Coningbeg Studios, Wicklow with some field recordings captured in Devil’s Glen Wood, Wicklow. One track Colour from the White was recorded in Harmony Hall, Kilkenny. O Deer hails from Wicklow and this album is a way of returning to his roots. It took a while for this particular flower to blossom, the project began during 2020, a little lockdown got in the way of its release.
On Os, O Deer supplies lead vocals, pianos, toy-piano, guitars, Irish-harp, electric bass, percussion, low-whistles, harmonicas, bouzouki, baglamas, tenor and alto saxophones, accordion, quite the haul. Other musicians on the album are Caimin Gilmore (double-bass), Méabh McKenna (vocals), Tadhg Walsh-Peelo (violin) and Síofradh Walsh-Peelo (violin).
This is an album of woodland echoes, songs invoking the charm of a bucolic life beyond the maelstrom of mortgaged conurbations. Birdsong opens the first track, Waterside, nature here but distant, a dramatic beginning. O Deer enters with a finger picked guitar, his voice is sweet, a pure tenor. He sings “See your face in the water” as the track melts like butter on an August afternoon dripping into a low whistle interlude accompanied here by the kiss of mouth music. More gentleness on All Aboard The Swedish Train, O Deer observing, “I tried to watch the world go by….Take this seat and turn it to a throne.”
O Deer is slightly more aggressive, but never angry on Syros, an escape to an idyllic Greek island, a sadly sweet reaction of a country boy living in a city. His Hellenic sojourn an opportunity to ask the question “we’ve got time for nothing, when are we going to live at all?”
Colour from the White starts a cappella, a fond reminiscence of a recent relationship and the life affirming power of growing your own food. The angst of a flaky future, hoping for a harvest on rented ground, until “the landlord took his share”. The song’s title painting a picture of the rainbow prism of a loved personality, one who lights up your heart with their every smile. On River Man,  his guitar is hardly there at all, inviting us to take things one slow breath at a time. Then there is Flower with its symphonic violin arrangements stepping beyond his gentle folk idiom.
If I was asked to sum up this album, I’d offer the phrase, ‘this is a collection of songs for simple solitude’. If you need a moment of calm in your day, Os has the remedy for you.
Seán Laffey