Pay The Reckoning

Reviews 2000-2001

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The Humours of Lewisham Volume Two

Denny Bartley - Midnight Feast

Ah ... the power of a voice, a guitar and a selection of great songs!

Bartley is a prodigiously talented guitarist and singer and this CD showcases both talents admirably.  The sparse production is a courageous venture ... there's nowhere to hide on this album.  Which is why it is such a joy.  Bartley sings directly to the listener.  No trickery intervenes.

Bartley chooses his material from a wide range of sources.  The opening track - Bob Dylan's "Seven Curses" - is an elemental folk song, full of iconic imagery and direct language and it certainly grabs the attention!

Only one "trad" song appears - the beautifully-delivered "The Blind Harper" (which we immediately replayed on first hearing - a superb, mesmeric arrangement!).  Bartley has a keen ear for a good song and so we have material from the likes of Ewan Mc Coll (The Father's Song and Kilroy), Graham Moore (The Road to Dorchester), Barney Rush (Nancy Spain) and Lal Waterson and Ollie Knight (the title track, Midnight Feast).

What most impresses Pay The Reckoning is the way Bartley pushes himself. His version of Michael Smith's "The Dutchman" sees him deliver a technically accomplished performance which the listener feels has really stretched Bartley.  He could have taken an easy route and delivered a less demanding version ... but the rewards for Bartley and his audience would not have been anywhere near so great.  Pay The Reckoning will confess to having become a tad jaded with this song after hearing so many hammy pub singers do it poor justice.  Bartley's approach dusted the song down, gave it a lick of polish and showed it in its true splendour ... no finer compliment for a folk singer!

This piece of work ranks alongside the truly great solo guitar/vocal performances with which we're all familiar.  Paul Brady, Liam Clancy, Dick Gaughan, the sainted Mr Dylan himself ...  Bartley may shy away from such comparisons.  But he needn't be so modest.

Preparations are underway for two web-sites where you can find out more about Bartley. The addresses are http://www.dennybartley.com and http://www.dennybartley.co.uk.  At the time of writing they are under construction, but should be up and running soon.

In the meantime, you can find out more at http://www.lastnightsfun.com, the website of Last Night's Fun, the trad band with whom Bartley performs as guitarist.

Pay The Reckoning December 2001

Ceide - Like A Wild Thing

Mayo-based 5-piece, Ceide, are one outfit who won't have any difficulty in staking their claim on airtime on Pay The Reckoning's CD carousel.

The band came together in sessions at Matt Molloy's pub in Westport and what sparks must have flown between them when they realised they were on the same musical wavelength! Intelligent with a sense of fun; able to hold their enthusiasm in check during the first repeat of a tune yet ready to drop all inhibitions and barnstorm their way to the finish line.

Ceide combine traditional tunes with contemporary songs. In this regard they are the latest torch-bearers in a musical institution which already has an illustrious history. (Stockton's Wing and Four Men and a Dog, to name but two groups, have walked a very similar path and to very similar effect.) Ceide's choice of contemporary material is exemplary. They interpret John Martyn's "John The Baptist" beautifully, allowing Kevin Doherty an opportunity to strut his funky stuff on double bass while Declan Askin showcases his guitar and vocals. Lyle Lovett's "If I Had A Boat" also gets a well-deserved, sensitive treatment. However to our ears the stand-out song on the album is local singer/songwriter Tony Reidy's song "Like A Wild Thing". The song catches a former farmer, forced into office work as a result of not being able to make a living out of his farm, reflecting bitterly on his current lot. The soul-destroying bereftness which lies at the heart of this song is communicated perfectly in Ceide's arrangement and the words linger afterwards, nagging away at the listener. "Farewell to the land where I grappled with stone/Farewell to the hills where I was soaked to the bone".

And what of the tunes? Well ... there are some beltin' sets here. We've already mentioned Kevin Doherty's double bass playing. It's remarkable how much it contributes to the tune sets. On the first set of reels, for example, Cis Ni Liathain/The Bucks of Oranmore, the bass is in evidence throughout the first reel, lending the tune a degree of "bottom" rarely encountered in traditional Irish music. At the change, Doherty holds back, allowing Brian Lennon on flute and Declan Askin on guitar to carry the first round of The Bucks Of Oranmore. At the repeat, Doherty rejoins, immediately anchoring the sound once again.

These lads know their stuff. Tom Doherty (boxes and snare drum) and John McHugh on fiddle haven't yet been mentioned by name, but their contribution is equally vital. There are a couple of slowish tracks (the Finnish waltz "The Flowers of the Forest" and the air composed by Pierre Bensusan "Le Voyage Pour L'Irlande") which spotlight the band's ability to maintain the rigid discipline necessary to put such tunes across.

Which is not, of course, to deny that discipline is also necessary in successfully playing jigs and reels and so forth. Ceide prove on this album that they are masters at constructing and playing exhilarating tune sets. Here you'll come across old standards and tunes you might not be familiar with as well as tunes which take you completely by surprise. In the final category is the inclusion of "The Night Before Larry Was Stretched" played as a slip jig in a set in which it is sandwiched between The Pullet That Wants The Cock and The Islay Rant, and benefitting greatly from the eeriness which it borrows from Doherty bowing, rather than plucking, his bass. All the sets are outstanding and are therefore all worthy of a mention. As well as those which already get a namecheck above, you'll be excited by "The Dunmore Lasses/Mother's Reel", "The Woods Of Old Limerick/Nora Rooney's Favourite/Farewell To The Tarpeys Of Arderry", "Within A Mile Of Dublin/Ballinasloe Fair/Mickey Finn's Favourite", "Gan Ainm/Cuir Barr Air/My Love Is In America" and "Mrs Kenny's/Adam And Eve/Babes In The Wood".

All things considered, a superb debut by a bundle of accomplished musicians, about whom we expect to hear very big things in the near future.  It's no exaggeration to say that in the space of a few days, this has become one of Pay The Reckoning's favourite recordings ... we'll be singing its praises at every opportunity!

The album may be purchased from Copperplate Mail Order at 68 Belleville Road, London, SW11 6PP, telephone 0207 585 0357.  Copperplate's website is http://go.to/copperplate and you can e-mail them at copperplate2000@yahoo.com.  If you drop by, mention our name!

Pay The Reckoning December 2001

Caise Ceoil - Classics From The CIC Traditional Irish Music Collection

First off, a few words about CIC (Clo Iar-Chonnachta, to give the company its full title).  The outfit, founded in 1985 has published over 200 books and around 150 albums.  Its aim is to capture and make available to an appreciative audience the variety of regional and personal styles of expression in Irish culture.

This album represents a quick overview of the gems in their Irish traditional music catalogue.  And what a catalogue!

The quality of CIC's pool of talent is demonstrated by the fact that they have put out work by the legendary Paddy Canny (whose quietly articulate mastery of the fiddle presages the style of his nephew, the equally legendary Martin Hayes).  To win the right to bring Canny's fiddling to the traditional music audience is truly a privilege.  Their sensitive production of his music is evident in both of the sets featured here (The Gallowglass/The Rakes of Clonmel and The Daisy Field/Molly Bawn).

However stellar Canny is, the other musicians featured on CIC's compilation are no less worthy talents.  There is spellbinding soulfulness in Joe Ryan's fiddling (The Old Torn Petticoat/RakishPaddy), supreme confidence in Catherine McEvoy's flute-playing (The Haunted House/The Banshee's Wail and The Duke of Leinster/The Ladies' Pantalettes) and a genuinely mesmeric talent evident in the singing of Peadar O Ceannabhain (An Rogaire Dubh/Na Ceannabhain Bhana/Paidin O Raifeartaigh).  The box and banjo interplay of Johnny Og Connolly and Brian McGrath quickens the pulse and sets the foot tapping (The Carraroe Jig/Homage to Rooney and The Happy Hornpipe/The Souvenir), while Marcas O Murchu's flute-playing casts a spell (The Coalminers and Farewell to Kennedy/The Man in the Bog/Johnny Henry's Jig).  Marcus and PJ Hernon spotlight a bundle of Marcus' own tunes (The Golden Plover/The Bobbing Sandpiper and The Linnet's Chorus/The Beautiful Goldfinch).  Ben Lennon gives us Mick McNamara's/Touch Me If You Dare and, as you'd expect from a musician of his calibre, leaves the listener wanting more.

However, Pay The Reckoning experienced a beatific vision on two occasions on listening to this album. The first moment occurred when Gabriel McArdle sang Flora. Ever since we first heard McArdle sing on the legendary "Dog Big Dog Little" album, Pay The Reckoning have been besotted by his highly distinctive voice.  The intervening ten years have not been unkind to his voice which retains those qualities which made it stand out so on the former recording.  The second moment occurred as The Bridge Ceili Band infused the final track (The Gravel Walks/Jackson's/Martin Fallon's First Night In America) with such energy and verve that it felt the room could not contain the music issuing from the speakers.

There are two true tests of an album such as this.  The first is whether the album has been put together in such a way as to succeed as a body of work in its own right.  Those of you are familiar with Claddagh's compilation from a few years back, Claddagh's Choice, will appreciate just how effectively a well-compiled sampler can hang together.  Caise Ceoil is just as lovingly compiled with a logic that guides the listener from the first to the twenty-second track.

The second test of the success of such an album is whether it prompts the listener to delve deeper.  On the basis of several listens to Caise Ceoil, Pay The Reckoning plan to unburden ourselves of some hard-earned currency and purchase a few of the source recordings.  No better plaudit!  Keep a weather eye out for reviews on this site.

CIC may be contacted via their website (http://www.cic.ie) or by e-mail to cic@iol.ie.

The album may be purchased from Copperplate Mail Order at 68 Belleville Road, London, SW11 6PP, telephone 0207 585 0357.  Copperplate's little plot of cyberspace is at http://go.to/copperplate and they may be e-mailed at copperplate2000@yahoo.com. What are you waiting for? Get in touch, for God's sake ... and tell them Pay The Reckoning sent you!

Pay The Reckoning December 2001

The Pure DropTour - Blackheath Halls 9th November 2001

This really requires very little comment.  When box-meister Jackie Daly, fiddle supremo Seamus Creagh, the piper Tommy Keane, Jacqueline McCarthy on concertina, singer and bodhrani Sandra Joyce and sean-nos dancer Roisin Ni Mhainin hit town, then there's nowhere else to be except where they are.

Daly took to the stage to open up for the large crowd.  "This is a set of slides" he said "from the Sliabh Luachra area.  They're dancing tunes, but it's a bit early in the evening for that.  Take it easy to begin with.  You'll maybe be ready for steppin' it out in a while!"

The first part of the evening consisted of the performers doing a few turns individually or in pairs, before Ni Mhainin led us into the break by dancing to the feisty playing of Keane and McCarthy.

After a quick pint downstairs, we returned to see all the musicians sitting around the stage, playing in session for the second part of the evening.  There was a sense of easiness in each other's company that communicated itself to the appreciative audience, who lapped up every note.

The tunes and the songs were too numerous to note here.  However some key moments stood out.  Joyce's rendition of "Blackwaterside" and her version of "For Ireland, I Won't Tell Her Name".  On the latter she sang the first verse solo - then Keane added a drone and Daly played some plainitive two-note chords for the remainder of the song.  Daly and Creagh's version of "Going To The Well For Water" was as good as Seamus Begley's version which, when we first heard it, virtually stopped Pay The Reckoning dead in our tracks.  And the "Galtee Ranger" set (The Galtee Ranger/Denis Murphy's Reel/The Doon Reel) which closed the show was inspired.  On this set, Daly took the lead, but all hands joined in, demonstrating the ages-old power of skilled unison musicianship to uplift an audience.

The show was promoted by Folkworks (http://www.folkworks.co.uk), a Newcastle-based traditional music agency, whose efforts to bring quality folk and traditional music to a mass audience are to be much applauded.  Next time they're promoting a gig in your town, why not give them your support?  You'll be glad you did!

Pay The Reckoning November 2001

Celtish - Up For It

There's little doubt that the recent rise and rise of (amongst others) Kate Rusby and Cara Dillon has thrust folk and traditional music into the limelight to a greater extent than at any other time in the past ten years or so.  In which case if Pay The Reckoning was a major record label, we'd be reaching for our chequebook in order to sign up this bunch of young, talented musicians.

Hailing from all four countries of the British Isles (Patrick Barcoe of Ireland on melodeon; Gwyneth Keen, Wales, vocals; Heather McFarlane of Scotland on fiddle and Englishman Gordo Taylor on guitar), the Celtish mob fair give it a lash on this, their debut album for Wise Records (WISCD2324).

Keen's crystal-clear vocals do proper justice to songs such as the album's opener "Silver Dagger", "Cruel Mother", "Who Is At My Window Weeping?" and, in Keen's mother tongue, "Y Ddau Farch".

On the tune sets, Barcoe's melodeon playing is a pleasure.  The interplay between his highly ornamented style and the more direct approach adopted by McFarlane adds colour, depth and interest to Celtish's music.  Underpinning the tunes is the rhythmic (almost athletic!) guitar of Taylor - no delicate finger-picker, he!  The choice of tunes is inspired.  Whilst the odd session favourite appears (for example, Miss McLeod's and The Walls of Liscarroll), the number of less well-known and original tunes is remarkable.  Check out Molly Rankin's, Barcoe's Candle Light Jig, Sandy Broon's and Matt The Thrasher.

A young band who have a great (and long) future together!

Looking forward to seeing the posters for the next album on a major label appearing on billboard sites on every high street!

For further details go to http://www.celtish.com.

Pay The Reckoning November 2001

Seamus Kennedy - A Smile And A Tear

There are two types of folk singer (actually, there are lots of types, but indulge us for a moment), those who approach singing as an art form and those who sing to entertain. Some of those whose primary approach is the former may also be highly entertaining; some of those whose approach is primarily that of the entertainer may also be consummate artists.

Pay The Reckoning's verdict after listening to A Smile And A Tear  (Gransha Records SK-0010) - Belfast-born, now resident in America, Kennedy's umpteenth album - is that he falls into the entertainer camp, yet approaches his material with the sensitivities of an artist.

The breadth of Kennedy's sweep is the first aspect which struck Pay The Reckoning as we settled down to hear the album through. There are traditional tunes and songs and newly-penned; songs from Ireland, Scotland and America. The title hints at Kennedy's ability to deliver sad and comic songs equally well. It does not however, account for Kennedy's unusual ability to dovetail the two into one coherent body of music.

You'll be familiar with some of the material on this album - the opener, for example, Mairi's Wedding/The Flowers of Edinburgh.  You'll be less familiar with Kennedy's delivery - a joyous, upbeat and yet subtle romp through two perennials.  Likewise you may be familiar with Grace, Song For Ireland and The Dutchman - here given Kennedy's rich, mellow treatment.

You;ll be tickled by some of the less familiar material.  Kennedy's own Boogie Woogie Piper, for example, which gives E.J. Jones of Clandestine - a Celtic outfit from Houston, Texas -- an opportunity to strut his funky piping over a country boogie number.  The two shouldn't work?  Theoretically, you'd be right.  But Kennedy's not afraid to take a gamble and this one pays off big time!  Folk and country radio DJs - take a tip; slip this into your scheddules and challenge your audience's preconceptions...

Jed Marum's "Sweet Ellen Joyce" , Stan Rogers' "Barrett's Privateers" and  John A. Carroll's "The Chemist's Drinking Song" are a few of the other tracks worthy of being singled out for special mention.  Although (and this is the reviewer's last refuge!) on an album of this quality, singling out one or two tracks is not only difficult, it serves no real purpose.  The true test of this album's calibre is to get your hands on a copy, pour up a pint (or several - there are 17 tracks!) of beer and relax and let Kennedy bring forth a smile and a tear!

To order this album or any of Kennedy's other albums, go to http://www.cdbaby.com.  Tell them Pay The Reckoning sent you!

Pay The Reckoning November 2001

The Northern Fiddler - Allen Feldman and Eamonn O'Doherty

This monumental (and, it transpires, controversial!) book - first published by Belfast's Blackstaff Press in 1979 and subsequently reissued by Oak Publishing - is now sadly out of print.

"So why review it?", we hear you ask. Well, we had no intention of doing so when, a few weeks back, the estimable Scott Tichenor of (inter alia) mandolincafe fame (see Links section) agreed to let us have a read of his copy of The Northern Fiddler. However, having rarely encountered a book which quickened the pulse more, Pay The Reckoning could scarcely restrain ourselves from shouting its praises from the rooftops.

The Northern Fiddler is essentially a series of essays by Feldman, interpersed with interviews, about old fiddlers from Donegal and Tyrone. The subjects of these are fiddlers of the stature of John and Simon Doherty, Con Cassidy, Mickey and Francie Byrne, John Loughran and others. O'Doherty has taken a number of photographs of the subjects, and executed a number of very eloquent drawings. These are as important an element of the book's character as the text. Finally, the book contains upwards of a hundred tunes, in standard notation, transcribed from the playing of the fiddlers.

However, let's not be fooled for a minute into thinking that this is some sort of technical fiddle manual. Instead, the book is a celebration of regional styles in Irish traditional music; a snapshot taken at a moment when possibly the last of those musicians who learnt the entirety of their craft in the traditional manner were of an advanced age. Behind them, of course, stand hundreds and thousands of musicians who, like Pay The Reckoning, share a love of traditional music. But, no matter how we immerse ourselves in listening to, and playing and discussing Irish traditional music, we can't escape the fact that we've grown up in an age where the prevailing winds of homogenised popular culture have howled around us. We have not lived during that time when ceili-ing (in the sense of house-visiting) was the dominant medium for the transmission of popular culture throughout the length and breadth of rural Ireland.

There is a theme of "distance" which runs throughout the book. At its very heart, there is an obvious and glaring distance between Feldman and his interviewees. This is exemplified by the contrast of the high-minded, academic/literary language of Feldman with the down-to-earth plain speaking of his interviewees. Other notions of distance emerge, for example, the geographical distance of this remote corner of the North of Ireland from the rest of the island and the subsequent development of distinct musical repertoires (influenced by peculiar patterns of seasonal migration to Scotland). Ultimately there is a sense that the key figures in the book have become distanced from an emerging Ireland which does not value their talents with the fiddle and bow in the same way as preceding generations did. There is a sad feeling that you and I, Allen Feldman and Eamonn O'Doherty may have a great deal of respect for these musicians for persevering in keeping alive a tradition that, at one time, looked as if might shut up shop, but our approbation is neither here nor there. What John Doherty and his contemporaries crave is the re-establishment of that old order which gave birth to their calling, that old way of making music - not performing, more a sharing of a common musical experience.

But what about the "controversy" mentioned above? Well, Feldman and O'Connor made a conscious decision to take down the tunes in the book as they were described to them by the fiddlers themselves. A number of people have commented on this after the event, claiming that the names of some of the tunes are wrongly given by the fiddlers and that a number of tunes for which the fiddlers did not supply a name are, in fact, well-known in the repertoire. (See, for example, http://www.geocities.com/Athens/6464/note.html).  (Pay The Reckoning have transcribed a few of the tunes in abc language ... click here!)

Such quibbles are perhaps, necessary, at least for the sake of academic integrity. However Pay The Reckoning recommends taking the book at face value and setting aside such criticisms. What you'll be left with is a deep sense of admiration for a generation of dedicated musicians and, with them, a deep sense of loss for a way of life which fostered their music but which has now been overtaken by the faster, louder, brasher, tackier, more instant way of life which Ireland now shares with every other part of the "developed" world.

Pester your local out-of-print booksellers to track you down a copy!

Pay The Reckoning October 2001

Paddy Keenan and Tommy O'Sullivan - The Long Grazing Acre

As far as Pay The Reckoning is aware, the latest release from Paddy Keenan is available only by mail order from http://www.paddykeenan.com.

While awaiting its arrival, we often stole a glance at the sleeve notes which have been posted on the site. The album's title is a reference to Paddy's pavee heritage, and throughout the sleeve notes, the thread of his pride in his inheritance is very much to the fore.

As with his previous album, The Na Keen Affair, some tunes on this outing are dedicated to members of his family. The jig, Brother John, is written in memory of his brother, Johnny Keenan. Here are Paddy's own tender words about his big brother:

"The tune was composed for my late brother John (October 1947-March 2000). He used to play the banjo to me when I was two years old. He taught me to play my first tune on an old Clarks whistle when I was seven. Back when the fiddle was his main instrument, at age seventeen, he was offered a classical music scholarship to France on violin. Johnny was a very talented, gifted musician. His favorite instruments being the banjo and the fiddle. He never was all that interested in the commercial world, which helped in keeping his very own pure style. He had expression with control. You could give him an instrument he'd never seen before and within an hour Johnny would be playing the same instrument as if he'd known it all of his life. Johnny quietly passed away after listening to the air 'Stor Mo Chroi' played by myself on a low whistle similar in tone to the one he used to teach me with and Sean Garvey sang him one of his favorite songs (thanks, Sean). I would like to remember my little big brother as the musical genius of the family, and the greatest living exponent of the tenor banjo. Good-bye Johnny and may your soul be at peace. "

The album also contains an air dedicated to his mother and called simply "Mary Bravender". The tune is similar in its elegance to The Na Keen Affair's "Johnny's Tune" which Paddy wrote for his father. Pay The Reckoning has a lot of time for this degree of "rootedness" and generosity.

The album opens with a fine set of jigs, "The Lost And Found/The Hag At The Churn/The Wind Off The Lake". The second of these will be familiar to those who have listened to the Bothy Band's output. The first and third Paddy got from James Kelly.

Next up is a set of two reels composed by Paddy. The first, Eimhin's, is a slow reel. It leads into a version of "Cahir's Kitchen" a fine three-part reel previously released on "Poirt an Phiobaire". This time around Paddy sets off at a faster lick. The accompaniment is remarkable - a distorted electric guitar (courtesy of Steve Housden, ex-Little River Band) growls towards the start of the track and provides a tasty counterpoint to Paddy's low-whistling. (Pay The Reckoning generally has problems with electric accompaniment to traditional acoustic instruments ... in this case, we're pleased to applaud the combination!)

Track three showcases Tommy O'Sullivan as he delivers an intricate and delicate version of the Maids of Culmore. Then a sparkling set of reels - O'Rourke's/The Spike Island Lassies/Lord MacDonald's. The first of these also featured on Poirt an Phiobaire. The Spike Island Lassies will be familiar to many from Planxty's version.

Track five is a tune - Jutland - by Tommy. Tommy's fine solo guitar picking is augmented as the tune repeats by Paddy on both whistle and pipes.

Next up is the jig set Brother John/The Pavee Jig. The first has been discussed at some length above. The second is an equally engaging jig.

Tommy O'Sullivan then gives us a version of Sandy Denny's "Stranger To Himself", before Paddy, Tommy and co launch into a feisty jig set Sliabh Russell/The Blarney Pilgrim/The Clare Jig. Three oul' standards, but in the hands of maestros the tunes take on fresh life. There are moments during this outing where the urge to grab an instrument and play along become overwhelming!

The tune, Mary Bravender, is presented next, before an epic set of reels Antara/The Twirly-Haired Girl/The Mountain Road. The first two are originals by Paddy; the latter, of course, a traditional reel (and one featured by Paddy Keenan and Paddy Glackin on "Doublin'").

Tommy O'Sullivan delivers a stunning version of "Killing The Blues". Pay The Reckoning has been impressed with this song since we heard John Prine's version some years ago. We've heard other people render it, but none with the feel that Prine manages. Until now! Tommy's is a very different take on the song - but one which compares very favourably with Prine's.

Finally Kitty O'Shea's/The Kerry Jig. From the sleeve notes it would appear that Paddy seems disappointed with this final set. "These two never really got to where I was wanting to take them." Well! That would have been one hell of a place! As it is this is as fine a rendition as you're likely to hear of these monumental jigs. Playing the jigs is analagous to taking a walk with a pair of lively dogs. There are times when Paddy seems to be struggling to contain them and they threaten to go off on their own way; there are other points where he exerts his authority to bring the tunes, panting and tongue-lolling, back to heel.

As we have come to expect, yet another classic collection of tunes, played with the customary vigour and rawness associated with one of the world's foremost musical talents. It's evident that he gains a great deal from the close association with Tommy O'Sullivan and with the other musicians featured on various of the album's tracks.

Buy it! You will not be disappointed ...

Pay The Reckoning October 2001

James Morrison "The Professsor"- 30 Recordings 1921-1936 (Viva Voce Records )

Pay The Reckoning is indebted to Oliver Burns - often referred to on our Rants and Raves page - for presenting us with this fine collection of the recordings of County Sligo fiddle maestro, James Morrison.

Viva Voce are to be commended for their persistence in tracking down these recordings and repackaging them for us, as well as for their work in preserving other traditional Irish music recorded at the beginnings of the 20th century. The sleeve notes alone are a pleasure. Pay The Reckoning happened to read them prior to being able to get to a tape deck and listen to the recordings and we were practically salivating by the time we dropped cassette one into the slot. Check this out! "... in the middle of the night he would wake up with a tune in his head and he'd get up and practise it over and over, keeping the rest of the house awake.  At times he had to play the fiddle under the bedclothes so as not to annoy the rest of the family"  Or, of the supposed rivalry between himself and Michael Coleman ... "It's a great pity that the two giants of this age, Coleman and Morrison, never made a recording together that we know of.  It has been suggested that  jealousy and acrimony existed between the two, but the opposite seems to have been the case as attested by Tom Carmody and Hughie Gillespie who knew both men well.  Perhaps the strongest denial of ill feeling between them came from Michael Coleman's daughter (Mary Hannan).  No, no, that's not true!  They were great friends and got on well together.  And James Morrison was in my house many many times, and him and my father would play music together, sure, all the time."  (Now those would have been sessions to have sat in on!)

But here's the rub.  Morrison had the misfortune of being seen by posterity as having lived in Michael Coleman's shadow. This collection of his recordings is an attempt to put paid to that belief, to show that Morrison was every bit as much the consummate artist as Coleman.

Such music!  What immediately strikes the listener is the variety of tunes.  Modern musicians tend to favour the reel as the epitome of their craft.  Morrison and musicians of his time cast the net wider.  You are as likely to come across hornpipes, waltzes, barndances, schottisches as you are reels and jigs.  And what masterful playing.  To pick out sets for special mention seems almost sacrilegious.  Pay The Reckoning 's collective pulse raced to The Showman's Fancy/The Sandlark, The Tailor's Twist/The Flowers Of Spring, The Peeler's Jacket/The Duke Of Leinster and The Curlew Hills/Peach Blossoms. But only slightly faster than it otherwise raced as we took in this extensive selection of tunes from the bow of a true maestro.

This, and other Viva Voce cassettes, can be purchased from http://www.oldhatmusic.freeserve.co.uk/Irish_Catalogx.html. Tell them PayThe Reckoning sent you!

Pay The Reckoning September 2001

The Kitchen Band - Simply

Simply what? Simply folk music. Here's a band that wouldn't know pretentious if it stood up in their soup! A band that has been on the go since Adam was a mere twinkle in God's eye.

The Kitchen Band is one of a legion of bands that have carried the folk torch through wave after wave of "revivals" and "movements". And have ploughed the same furrow all along. Bands such as The Kitchen Band are the unsung heroes of the folk world.

What will you find on the album? Well, you'll come across songs and tunes from all over the British Isles (and America). Remember what we said about pretentiousness up above. You won't find any 13-minute epics unearthed from an obscure collection; you won't hear any tunes in weird time signatures.

What you'll hear is down-to-earth, Saturday night sing-song favourites, some contemporary folk material and a smattering of original songs by Tom Arthur, the band's songwriter-in-residence. Songs such as Donegal Danny, The Flower of Northumberland, The Kerry Recruit, Rolling In My Sweet Baby's Arms. The final set of jigs kicks off with a banjo and melodeon duet of that show-stopper, The Kesh Jig, then into an original - Katie's - before their version of one of the key Irish jigs, The Blackthorn Stick.

However ... "pleasant and delightful" (hint at a song we think you should cover, lads) though the rest of the material on the album is, the Kitchen Band's version of "Jamie Raeburn's Farewell" is a complete blinder! The sparse arrangement, the delicacy of the delivery ... we were left speechless!

So you'll want details of how to get your hands on this artefact. Click on http://www.kitchenband.btinternet.co.uk/page10.htm or e-mail kitchenband@btinternet.com.

Tell them Pay The Reckoning sent you.

Pay The Reckoning September 2001

Kinin - Kinin

Aficionados of the "pure drop" approach to Irish music might take a while to get to grips with the music of Yorkshire's Kinin - Sarah Cheffins on violin and Pete Millard on guitar, cittern and vocals.

The duo's approach takes elements of a host of folk styles and weaves them to create a sound unique to them. Expect to be surprised ... the inclusion on the album of cuts such as "The Flower of Magherally" and "The Rocky Road To Dublin", each in their own ways standards of the Irish folk singer's repertoire, does not imply that the songs are treated in standard ways. On "The Rocky Road", for instance, Millard's laid-back style gives the song an atmosphere that lustier, thigh-slapping versions lack. Millard is prepared to take risks with his treatment of songs. For example, the airs used for the songs "The Banks of Red Roses" and "The Lakes of Pontchartrain" differ significantly from those with which Pay The Reckoning is familiar.

Cheffins' violin style owes a little to the Irish tradition. However her adventures in other idioms (best exemplified by the inclusion on the album of Hook olle Storpolska, a Scandinavian tune) appear to have left much more of an impression.

Pay The Reckoning's verdict? A thoughtful and delicate offering from an intelligent outfit who have evidently spent some time making music together and are very comfortable working together - each giving the other ample space to develop their own ideas and themes.

For details of ordering a copy of the CD go to http://homepages.poptel.org.uk/scheffins/recordings.htm.

Pay The Reckoning September 2001

The Lucy Lastic Band - Loose Elastic

It was a day when Pay The Reckoning could do with a bit of cheering up.  Within minutes the sun had come out again, birds were twittering in the trees - you know the rest!

We exaggerate only slightly.  The Devon four-piece ceilidh band have put together a cracking selection of tune sets destined to set the most recalcitrant foot tapping.

Richard Whiteside's fiddle dominates the album. A fine musician, his tone and his gracing lend colour to the tunes.  Jon Palmer's guitar work is superb - subtle and understated on the whole, he nevertheless adds oomph at just the points where oomph is needed.  Jane Lewis - the outifit's accordionist - tends, on the whole, to provide accompaniment rather than take the lead.  However on Delia (The Amorous Goddess) and Planxty Fanny Power, she plays counter-melodies which add colour and depth to the tunes and on the set of waltzes towards the end of the album, takes a very effective lead.  Finally Susan Heard's percussion adds just the right amount of rhythmic bottom to the band's sound.

What of the tune sets?  These are supremely well-chosen.  From the ebullience of the hornpipe set (Morpeth Rant/Cincinnati Hornpipe/Staten Island/The Cork Hornpipe/Shetland Fiddler/College Hornpipe) through the quirkiness of Gidleroy (Gilderoy/The Dorsetshire Hornpipe/Durham Rangers) to the straightahead raucousness of the polka set (Richard Whiteside's own composition Gooseberry Crumble, followed by O'Neill's Statement/Peg Ryan's/St Mary's Polka/Kerry Polka/Johnny Mickey's Polka/Ballydesmond).

However as far as Pay The Reckoning is concerned, a number of tunes and sets on the album stand out as exemplary.  

The first is the tune Delia (The Amorous Goddess), already mentioned above, in which the band's intricate interplay of accordion and fiddle is showcased.

The second is the set of reels Drowsy Maggie/Akam's No. 4 (another composition from the bow of Richard Whiteside).  The band toy with the note lengths of the first reel, a risk well worth taking, but a risk nevertheless.  Then 1-2-3-4 and they play the tune straight!

Finally the Kilty Lads/Strayaway Child set - the album's closer - is a classic.  To attempt the latter tune - associated with Michael Gorman and latterly a signature tune of, among others, fiddlemeister Kevin Burke - is to invite comparison.  The Lucy Lastic Band stand up to such comparisons well.

Individually and collectively the band are a pleasure to listen to and if the ceilidh approach means that each tune gets less repeats than some traditional outfits might give, there is the consolation that the band squeeze a lot of tunes into a short amount of time!

Any criticisms?  Well ... we'd have liked to have heard the odd song ... even ceilidh bands have been known to sing from time to time.  But otherwise, no!  A well-produced, thoughtfully arranged album which left Pay The Reckoning with a large smile on our face!

Further details may be obtained from www.bigbear-uk.freeserve.co.uk.  The band can be e-mailed at lucylasticband@hotmail.com.

Pay The Reckoning September 2001

   

Mad Rush - How Well Do I Remember

A bit of a departure from Pay The Reckoning's normal focus on traditional (or nearly so!) Irish music is this collection of songs by Plymouth duo, Mad Rush, husband and wife team Den and Ned Couch.

Of the 13 tracks on the album, all but 2 are original compositions.  Given Pay The Reckoning's predilections, with which regular visitors will be familiar, it's hardly surprising that the traditional songs "Lisbon" and "The Trees They Do Grow High" were the first we listened to.  Each is a delight.  Den's voice is a revelation.  Unforced and free of any artificiality, her delivery is spot-on.  

Hailing as they do from a town with a long historical association with the Navy, it's hardly surprising that much of the material on the album concerns matters martial.  A great deal of the folk canon springs from such sources, and so it shouldn't be surprising to find modern songwriters turning their attention to material of this nature.  And yet, to Pay The Reckoning's ears, songs such as Ned's "Young Boy No More", "Soldiers of Britain" and "The Bloody Eleventh" are a lttle startling since so few of the artists we listen to perform such work.

The album contains a number of highlights.  The traditional songs mentioned above are ones which Pay The Reckoning found itself returning to several times over the course of the past few days.

We were very impressed with "The Day You Were Taken Away", a song for which the adjective "haunting" might have been invented.

And we were captivated by "Lord Preserve Us" - a very clever song indeed.  Like many a good story or film, too much detail would spoil the song for the new listener.  So we'll give the (excellent) lyrics (by Pamela Trudie Hodge, a good friend of Mad Rush) a miss and applaud instead the deftly mesmerising guitar picking of Ned and Den's subtle vocals.

However the stand-out track on the album is the last, "Fairisle".  Some day soon - take our word for it - you are going to hear this track played by Mike Harding. It's destined to become an instant classic.  And then to be covered by Kate Rusby, Cara Dillon, Dolores Keane, Cathy Jordan or Eleanor Shanley. Pay The Reckoning rarely allows itself a moment of smugness, but we'll indulge ourselves the first time we hear Fairisle sung in some far-flung session by someone who describes it as a song by one of the above. We'll reply that we remember when we first heard the original and how we still think it's far better!"

We gather that Den and Ned are working up some new material.  Let's hope they keep in touch.  We want to hear it!

Further information about Mad Rush can be had by following this link. Click here.  Or by e-mailing Madrushfolk@btopenworld.com

Pay The Reckoning August 2001

Dick Hogan - The Wonders Of The World

An oddity this! No indication on the CD as to the publisher; no catalogue number; nothing! And yet a lot of attention has been lavished on the production and the list of supporting artists (The Voice Squad, Gerry O'Connor, Vinnie Kilduff and Seamus Begley to name just a few) is very impressive.

Dick Hogan is a Tipperary-born singer whose rich, powerful voice does justice to the collection of songs on this album which range from novelty numbers such as "The Frog's Wedding" and "The Day The Goat Broke Out On Grand Parade" through a number of Percy French songs ("Tullinahaw", "McBreen's Heifer", "The Darling Girl From Clare") to the more "worthy" traditional songs.

Let's not go into detail on the pure novelty songs. In our discussion of "Farewell To Ireland" elsewhere on these pages, Pay The Reckoning has conceded that in a certain place, at a certain time, stage-Irish songs may have had a certain merit and a certain charm. However, we don't feel that the conditions apply in this album which rehabilitate such numbers as "The Day The Goat Broke Out On Grand Parade".

Still leaves us with a lot to marvel at.

Let's deal with the Percy French numbers first. Now, for a long while Pay The Reckoning had been sceptical about the merit of Percy French numbers. We've been debating amongst ourselves the source of such scepticism and have come to a consensus that it's as a result of listening to too many oul' codgers without a note in their collective head wailing away at "The Mountains Of Mourne" or "Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff" when under the influence. Because the fact is, as Dick Hogan's rendition of three songs by French reminds us, that French was a great storyteller and his use of vernacular, rather than detracting from his songs, actually adds colour and centres them perfectly. "The Darling Girl From Clare" is, of course, an instantly recognisable classic and therefore a perfect opener for the album. "McBreen's Heifer" is less well-known. The album closes with another "minor" song "Tullinahaw" which, by virtue of its air and its narrative, surpasses both of the earlier French numbers. Pay The Reckoning came away wishing Hogan had recorded a version of "Eileen Og, The Pride Of Petravore". Or better still - an album devoted entirely to songs by Percy French. (Bet he could hammer sparks off Ballyjamesduff.)

Of the other songs on the album, three stand out as being among the best examples of their kind which Pay The Reckoning has yet to come across.

"The Wonders Of The World" is a classic nonsense song (as opposed to novelty song). Pay The Reckoning's head was reeling as we tried to keep up with the stream of images.

"The Rich Man And The Poor Man" is a perfect vehicle Dick to join forces with the Voice Squad, the latter chiming in with power and finesse on the "Oh-Roger-um" refrains. Hogan's voice rides easily above the massed chorus and the extra "push" he needs to give his voice in order to transcend the accompaniment highlights a (very pleasant) nasal quality which is not elsewhere in evidence.

However the highlight of the album is Hogan's solo rendition of "Muldoon, The Solid Man". For those unfamiliar with the song, it concerns one Muldoon, a big-shot in the New York Irish community, who remarks in song about his "solidity" among his peers. The song requires a strong, confident voice and a measured, sensitive delivery. Any weakness in the voice would detract from Muldoon's statements about himself. Any stridency or arrogance in the delivery would expose Muldoon as a bombast of the worst kind. Hogan gets the mood of the song immediately and his delivery is perfect. "I am a man of great influence ..." Pay The Reckoning can easily imagine that if Hogan was to sing this at any session or singaround, the room would go pin-drop silent and other musicians present would despair of ever being able "to follow that!"

Pay The Reckoning's verdict. There are one or two numbers we could have done without. But the album contains a number of thoughtfully chosen and brilliantly-delivered songs. Pay The Reckoning will be keeping a weather eye out for more stuff by Hogan. If any of our readers come across any other examples of his work, please keep us posted.

Pay The Reckoning July 2001

Paddy Keenan - Paddy Keenan

Hot Conya's much-appreciated reissue of the 1975 Gael-Linn recording of Paddy (plus brothers John (banjo) and Thomas (whistle) and Paddy Glackin (fiddle)) is both a fascinating piece of history and a treat for those who've been captivated by his pipering, both within the Bothy Band and as a solo performer.

The album has a rough and ready feel to it which, far from detracting from the overall musical experience, is a stamp of its authenticity. There's an air of intimacy that pervades all good traditional recordings. It's as if the listener has been invited into a private moment. You get the impression that the players aren't really overly concerned about the prospect of the music reaching an audience ... that they're playing to please themselves yet striving, as all good musicians do, for excellence and striving to find new ways of achieving excellence...

Congratulations are in order to Paddy and to Micháel O'Domhnaill, the album's producer, for giving Thomas, John and the other Paddy opportunities to showcase their own musical abilities. John takes a solo on The Tarbolton Reel/The Longford Collector and the set dance, The Job Of Journeywork. Thomas gives us The Lark In The Strand, a jig, and the Swallow's Tail Reel. Glackin doesn't play solo, but provides his usual tasteful support (later to re-emerge on the album "Doublin'" - see review below).

On the remaining tracks, Paddy Keenan is the focus of attention. The selection opens with a rousing set of reels, The Steampacket/Miss McLeod's. Then Paddy provides us with a version of the slip jig, The Drops of Brandy, played first in D then in G, with John providing a driving, percussive accompaniment on banjo. Pay The Reckoning's only beef with this cut is that it is too short. We could quite easily have sat through this for another five or six repeats.

The same is true of the jig set Coppers and Brass/The Rambling Pitchfork. The first of these jigs is associated with Felix Doran and although Keenan gives it one repeat, it could bear a few more. Same goes for The Rambling Pitchfork.

The two sets of reels which close the album are scorchers - The Wild Irishman/The Sailor's Bonnet and Colonel Frazier/My Love Is In America. Keenan opens the first set on chanter only before giving us the pipes in full voice and the effect is hair-raising.

However the album's highlights are the two set dances The Blackbird and The Ace And Deuce Of Pipering. Keenan plays the first as a slow air to begin with before stepping it up and playing it in hornpipe time. The moment when the tune changes is one of those which brings life into sharp focus, the transition contains the seed of every musical possibility!

The Ace And Deuce Of Pipering sees Paddy and John duetting to great effect. Pay The Reckoning was so impressed with John's performance of this tune that immediately we heard the track, down off the wall came the banjo and we set to work trying to learn the tune. We retired from the fray a while later ... to say that it is a difficult tune to play is a mammoth understatement. (And yet so easy to listen to!)

Finally, a brief mention of Seamus Ennis' sleeve notes. It's a mark of Keenan's importance that a musician of Ennis' stature would be asked to contribute to the album in this way. Ennis' notes are quirky and conversational, informed by his long years at the piping. His support for the young Paddy Keenan is obvious.

And Pay The Reckoning marvelled at the young piper's talents. He went on to perform with other musicians and to be recorded in circumstances which allowed for more sophisticated production, but the young man's approach to piping was already formed at this stage.

A great album!

Pay The Reckoning July 2001

Various Artists - Farewell To Ireland (music of the early Irish immigrants recorded in the USA)

We had heard good things about Proper Records' 4-CD, 80-track celebration of Irish music recorded in America in the 1920s and 1930s. A labour of love on behalf of its compiler, the quasi-legendary musician Ron Kavana, the set has been talked about in hushed tones by some of those who move in similar circles to Pay The Reckoning.

And yet despite Farewell To Ireland's flawless pedigree, and despite the recommendations of people whose opinions we heed, Pay The Reckoning approached the recordings with some trepidation. The source of the slight reluctance was two-fold. Firstly the CDs contain a number of "stage-Oirish" tracks, (eg Pat White's "I'm Leaving Tipperary" and The Flanagan Brothers' "My Irish Molly-O") which have been known to set our teeth on edge. And secondly we've also sat through archive recordings whose masters have been so degraded that it's hard to hear the tune through the blips and bubbles and hiss.

However on neither account were our fears justified. In context, the stage Irish numbers have a relevance (and a charm!) that we didn't expect. It's plain that these were songs written for and by people who shared similar values, who were able to laugh with and at themselves. They demonstrate the confidence that the Irish community had in itself at the time (remarkable considering that this was only two or three generations removed from the generation that died as a result of, or fled to escape, the Great Hunger.) Pay The Reckoning isn't suggesting that such songs should be resurrected to form part of the current canon (let's leave Val Doonican to tinker with them), but in their place, on this selection, they are eminently listenable and enjoyable.

Pay The Reckoning's second fear was similarly unfounded. Despite their antiquity, the recordings sound remarkably well-preserved. Ron Kavana mentions the fact that to modern ears, accustomed to all sorts of studio wizardry, some of the relative levels may seem odd. He also points out that some of the tuning may not be perfect. He explains this by noting that recordings were often made in a hurry; musicians may not have had an opportunity to fine-tune. Does either of these issues detract from the overall enjoyment of the listener? Pay The Reckoning would argue not. Rather they establish the age of the recordings. It's remarkable how similar the overall "topography" of some of the recordings (particularly those of the larger bands) is to the overall balance of jazz and other ensemble dance recordings of the era.

So, out of the welter of songs, tunes and tune-sets on the CDs, is it possible to pull out any highlights? Pay The Reckoning is hesitant to alight on individual tracks. Ron Kavana has spent some time arranging the sequence of tracks so that they may be listened to from beginning to end as a coherent and enjoyable whole. So we'll resist the temptation to single out this or that track as being worthy of special note. Suffice to say that a large number of the greats of traditional Irish music are represented here - Patsy Tuohey, Michael Coleman, Packie Dolan, Patrick Stack, Ed Reavey, Tom Ennis. And many of the building blocks of the Irish music tradition are here also - "The Stack Of wheat", "The Boys of Bluehill", "The Steampacket", "George White's Favourite", "The Moving Bogs", etc.

With its high production values and informative booklet by Ron Kavana, this is one box set which any aficionado of Irish traditional music will rate highly. It is guaranteed not to sit on the shelf looking dusty and worthy, but will make the journey regularly to the CD player!

Congratulations to Ron Kavana and to Proper Records for a job well done!

Pay The Reckoning July 2001

Shane MacGowan and The Popes - The Snake/The Crock of Gold

Towards the end of his career with The Pogues, it was clear that Shane MacGowan had started to lose his grip on (and interest in?) what was originally a brave, ambitious and immensely successful project. Few would claim that Hell's Ditch was anything other than a pale imitation of the outfit's timeless albums Rum, Sodomy and the Lash and If I Should Fall From Grace With God.

So when Pay The Reckoning heard in 1995 that Shane had put together a new album with a new band, we were keen to give it a listen, but wary that it might, tragically, be yet another indicator of a talent in terminal decline.

We need have had no such fears. The Snake proved that MacGowan had regained his powers in the period between being Pogue-in-Chief and becoming Head Pope.

The Snake is a rattlingly good album. From the opening bars of Church of the Holy Spook, it's clear that MacGowan has assembled a cast of co-conspirators whose musical talent is as muscular as that of his former comrades in arms. And his songwriting talent has reasserted itself ...

One of the features of MacGowan's work with the Pogues was the ability to craft tender and lyrical songs (e.g. Rainy Night In Soho or The Broad Majestic Shannon) and set these alongside songs which were almost Bosch-like in their depiction of the grotesque (e.g. The Old Main Drag, Down In The Ground Where The Dead Men Go, The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn). Occasionally he would manage to pull off the difficult trick of combining both aspects of his vision and the results were, generally, among his most effective moments (e.g. Fairytale of New York, A Pair of Brown Eyes, Sally MacLennane).

On The Snake, MacGowan manages once again to juxtapose the tender and romantic with the nasty and ugly (yet no less romantic). The Song With No Name (to the tune of the Homes of Donegal) is a bitter reflection not so much on lost love as love cast casually aside, in which MacGowan is at his most self-aware and self-critical. This contrasts with the more rousing and more nightmarish Church Of The Holy Spook, Mexican Funeral In Paris and Snake With The Eyes Of Garnet. His writing scales the height of bawdiness with the demented bragging of The Donegal Express - a double jig into and out of hell with one fist tightly clenched at all times around a bottle of Inishowen poteen.

As ever MacGowan dusts off a few standards and subjects them to his mauling. On The Snake he gives us the "farewell-to-the-drink" number, Nancy Whiskey and two old rebel songs The Rising Of The Moon and Roddy McCorley.

One of the highlights of the album is his reworking of Gerry Rafferty's "Her Father Didn't Like Me Anyway". This manages to capture the sense of impotent loss which came across in the original. But whereas the original had something of the whimper about it, Shane's version culminates in an outpouring of anger. We suspect in the original that Gerry Rafferty is blaming "Her Father" as a means of letting himself off the hook. In MacGowan's version we believe that everything would have been alright if that interfering oul bollix had kept his neb out of things; and by Christ he's going to pay in the long run!

While The Snake is a polished showcase for Shane's musical renaissance, The Crock Of Gold is a much more spiky beast. Pay The Reckoning doesn't mind admitting to feeling disappointed after first listening. The sheer rawness takes a little time to get used to (Pay The Reckoning has similar difficulties when, for example, listening to early Dubliners' or Clancy Brothers' recordings). However, ultimately, the album's rawness is one of its defining qualities and one of the factors which contributes to its success.

More than in any other of his albums, the dual influences of rock'n'roll and Irish music (the gamut from traditional through country'n'Irish) come together. They are celebrated on the track, Rock'n'Roll Paddy - Heinz' "Just Like Eddie" meets Bridie Gallagher's pill-popping, decadent son, who exclaims "I've got a letter from Elvis Presley/Big Tom is still The King".

Paddy Public Enemy Number One, Shane's distilling of the Dominic McGlinchey life story into a hellish nursery rhyme, combines the tune of The Man From Mullingar with The Kesh Jig with the matter-of-factness of Weile Waile.

There are a number of "sticking-out" tracks. The first of these is Ceilidh Cowboy - which repeats the lustful excesses of Donegal Express. A lot of people would like to think that the Ceilidh Cowboy is a deliberately overdrawn character. Unfortunately Pay The Reckoning believes that this is a faithfully observed portrait of the feckless, yet charming, characters to be found within and around every ballroom of romance the length and breadth of Ireland.

More Pricks Than Kicks - to the tune Tabhair Dom Do Lamh - is a melancholy reflection on good times gone. He sings to the partner who's no longer with him "There's more pricks than kicks/That's how it is/In a scumbag hotel that's the way that things are/If you name me a street, then I'll name you a bar/And I'd walk right to Hell just to buy you a jar".

St John Of God's represents an artistic highlight of the album. An unsentimental depiction of a mentally-ill man, railing at the world, its spareness and lack of filtering bring us face-to-face with our own fragility. In real life you can walk on by - listening to The Crock Of Gold, MacGowan takes you by the hand and forces you - for three or four minutes of your life - to observe and to try to feel what it might be like to be in the other's shoes.

The album closes, poignantly, with Charlie McLennan - Shane's roadie and close friend for many years - grating out a version of "Wanderin' Star".

These two albums - produced in fairly short succession a few years back - have unfortunately not been followed up. Shane's musical career seems to have gone into hibernation, while he concentrates on other avenues, e.g. his recent book "A Drink With Shane MacGowan". There were hopes that his return to form might have resulted in a larger output. We had even hoped that like his one-time musical collaborator, Steve Earle, Shane may have found it within himself to mine a rich vein of material. Steve Earle has demonstrated that good songs follow good songs, that being productive increases productivity, that ruthless quality control leads to better quality songs in the first instance. The fear now is that after such a long lay-off, Shane will find it impossible to find his form again.

Pay The Reckoning May 2001

Fire In the Kitchen - Various Artists & The Chieftains

Pay The Reckoning has some problems with The Chieftains.

There is something about the slickness of their presentation, the way in which they self-consciously showcase individual musicians’ talents in particular tunes, the way in which Paddy Moloney self-deprecates all of the time. Above all of that, the overblown production evident on some recent albums. (If you don’t believe me just check out The Long Black Veil. Turn up the volume on their version of “The Foggy Dew” with Sinead O’Connor. Stand well back – it sounds like World War Three has just broken out.)

On the other hand, “Another Country” was a brilliant experiment. If it faltered occasionally, there were moments on the album of real genius (the “Miss McLeod’s/Did You Ever See The Devil, Uncle Joe?” set is unsurpassable).

So it was with a little trepidation that Pay The Reckoning approached the Various Artists album “Fire In The Kitchen” which spotlights Canadian musicians. The blurb doesn’t quite paint a true picture of the Chieftains’ involvement. Suffice to say that they are very much in evidence throughout. However, thankfully, the boys and girls from Canada get top billing.

So. Having got the above off our chest, you’ll be wanting Pay The Reckoning’s verdict.

Well, we could live without some of the material on the album. But as for some of the other tracks, it’s a case of once heard, never forgotten.

The album’s opening set – “Madame Bonaparte/The Devil’s Dream/The Mason’s Apron” by Leahy – is a cracking introduction. Madame Bonaparte has long been one of Pay The Reckoning’s favourite pieces (as played by Finbar Furey). This ornate solo fiddle version is very far removed from the version with which we are familiar – but that is no bad thing. When the rest of Leahy kick in (and we mean kick!) on the Devil’s Dream, the power is frightening. Speed, fluency and poise combine with some wild fiddling which weaves around and about the tune, triplets raining from the bow like sparks from a blacksmith’s hammer (think Tommy Peoples’ fiddling on “The Laird of Drumblair” and you’re in the vicinity). Then to top it all, a rocket-fuel version of “The Mason’s Apron”. Pay The Reckoning imagines Barney nodding in appreciation.

Next highlight is Great Big Sea’s “Lukey/Lukaloney”. A traditional Canadian song, this version is stretched to its limits by the muscular talents of Great Big Sea. No pale violets here. Instead some of the lustiest vocals Pay The Reckoning has heard in a long time. But do not infer that Great Big Sea’s power implies somehow that they lack finesse. The choruses are perfectly harmonised – an effect reminiscent of deeply-layered African choral music. Pay The Reckoning wants to track down more of these guys’ stuff!

The closing set “Le Lys Vert” by La Bouttine Souriante is one where the Chieftains are most in evidence. Elements of this set will be familiar to those who have cocked an ear to the Chieftains’ output. The overlayering of French instrumentation (particularly the brass section) lends it a flavour which is, however, refreshing.

Other tracks on the album worthy of mention include The Rankins’ “Inis Aigh”, Ashley MacIsaac’s stellar set “My Home/The Contradiction/Julia Delaney” (the final track being one of Pay The Reckoning’s favourite reels) and Natalie MacMaster’s “Fingal’s Cave”.

The track on the album which is most likely to divide listeners is the version of “My Bonnie” by Laura Smith. Yes, THAT “My Bonnie” – the first tune to crop up in just about every “Teach Yourself to Play” guitar manual. THAT “My Bonnie” which kids the world over are forced to sing at school. I’d like to say that Laura Smith rehabilitates the song. But she doesn’t; she can’t. The song is such a cliché that it’s dead – and buried outside the graveyard in unconsecrated ground. And yet, you see, Laura Smith attempts to take the lyrics off into new territory and root them in her place – the cold, hard country she calls home. And that is laudable. But this is only OUR opinion – check the album out for yoursalf and you may come away thinking that Laura’s experiment worked.

All in all, well worth shelling out a few quid (or dollars or whatever) for.

Pay The Reckoning May 2001

Paddy Keenan Live at the Hammersmith Irish Centre, 4th May 2001

As he took the stage and begun to strap on the pipes, Paddy Keenan admitted to feeling more than usually nervous. “There’s a lot of pipers in the audience tonight.”

He needn’t have worried … the Rooneys and the Dorans and whatever other pipers were seated at the big table at the back of the Hammersmith Irish Centre may be among the critics whose opinions Paddy values most. But tonight, like Pay The Reckoning and like every other member of that small group of people in the hall, they could only wonder at the fluency, accuracy and soulfulness of a maestro.

There were a few tunes Pay The Reckoning hadn’t heard Paddy play before. In particular we’d like to track down the self-penned “Paddy’s Jigs”. Keenan made a point here with which Pay The Reckoning is familiar. He said that when he writes a tune “in the tradition”, some people carp that it “sounds a bit like” some other tune. When he writes a tune which sounds completely unlike anything they’ve heard before, they (presumably the same individuals) complain that it’s “not traditional”.

Much of the performance was of tunes from his Bothy Band days or familiar to Pay The Reckoning from Paddy’s later albums. But familiarity does not breed contempt when such a masterly performer is in full flow.

There were, surprises, of course. On Doublin’, Paddy plays The Plains of Boyle and Cronin’s as a set of hornpipes. Pay The Reckoning was surprised to hear him announce that he was going to add Harvest Home as a third tune in an extended set. Harvest Home is one of those tunes which, like many of the most familiar in the Irish tradition, verges on cliché. However Keenan breathed new life into what is an archetypal tune, reminding the audience of the elemental aspects of the piece. (Pay The Reckoning spent much of the next day playing Harvest Home on various instruments and remarking on just how good a tune it is! So, a request Paddy! Next time you’re over tack “The Boys of Bluehill” on to the end of this set please …)

Other highlights of the evening? Frankly, they were too numerous to list. However Rakish Paddy, The Kesh Jig Set and the Bucks of Oranmore were particularly well-received.

Pay The Reckoning came away from the night with lasting memories of three slow airs. Keenan’s playing of The Factory Girl and Derry Gaol, two song-airs, the former on low whistle and the latter on the pipes brought the audience to an awed hush.

However his playing of Johnny’s Tune almost stopped us breathing. Those who have listened to The Na Keen Affair will be aware of the power of this tune. However nothing could prepare the listener for the emotional onslaught of the tune played live before your very eyes and ears. Once round on the “flute” (as Keenan called the low whistle), an abridged version by Tommy Sullivan, Paddy’s accompanist on guitar and then once round on the pipes. I’m told that Paddy’s father was a renowned musician in his own right. Good musicians deserve good musical tributes. Johnny Keenan got the tribute he deserved.

Pay The Reckoning May 2001

Paddy Keenan (with Arty McGlynn) – Poirt an Phiobaire; Paddy Keenan with Paddy Glackin – Doublin’; Paddy Keenan – The Na Keen Affair

Pay The Reckoning once found itself embroiled in a pointless, drunken argument over whether Paddy Keenan or Liam O’Flynn was the best piper.

The argument was sterile because ultimately the answer to the question boils down to taste. There is no doubt that each is a master of the instrument.

And yet Pay The Reckoning took Paddy’s side. The argument can be summarised as follows:

Pay The Reckoning – Paddy Keenan is a vibrant, aggressive, risk-taker. Liam O’Flynn is a technical genius, but he doesn’t stick his neck out like Paddy does.

Opponent – Liam O’Flynn gives a tune its due respect. He plays it; he doesn’t play with it. Paddy Keenan is all over the place.

That final remark rang in Pay The Reckoning’s ears for many days afterwards (as the hangover subsided). Visitors to Pay The Reckoning will have been aware for some time of our appreciation of Paddy’s contribution to the Bothy Band’s output. But in order to get to the heart of his art, it’s necessary to take in his solo work. Therefore Pay The Reckoning took great pleasure in sitting through these three albums* in order to remind ourselves of the man’s talent, to ensure that he isn’t “all over the place”.

We’re pleased to report that all over the place Paddy Keenan is not! One thing which each of the albums demonstrates is Paddy’s control … of himself and of his instruments. Sure, he may introduce the odd over-ambitious bit of gracing to a tune, but the execution is always flawless.

Lovers of the Bothy Band ought to get their ears around some of Paddy’s other work. The aggression that many fans have detected in his Bothy Band work seems to have mellowed. These albums find him in a much more expansive mood.

Let’s start with “Poirt an Phiobaire”. The opening sets of traditional recordings and performances are important in capturing the audience’s attention and imagination. Paddy chooses a fine couple of jigs to draw us into this album (Condon’s Frolics/The Eavesdropper).

The album features Paddy playing a couple of Breton tunes – music for which he has a particular fondness. The first (Marig ar Pollanton) is a slow air, played on the whistle as the first tune in a set which also comprises an original reel (Cahir’s Kitchen) written by Paddy in England in 1970. Paddy plays the second Breton tune (Jezaique) on the pipes.

On “Doublin’” both Paddys share top billing. There are number of outstanding sets on this album. The hornpipe set The Plains Of Boyle/Cronin’s is a hair-raiser. On the former in particular, the intricacy and accuracy of the ornamentation is exemplary. Paddy Keenan’s solo rendition of the reel The Bunch Of Keys is an inspiration – equally as important an element of his recorded work as his playing of Garrett Barry’s/The Bucks of Oranmore on the Bothy Band’s Live BBC Recordings album.

The version of The Dublin Reel enables Pay The Reckoning directly to compare Paddy Keenan with Liam O’Flynn, who plays the tune on Planxty’s “Cold Blow and the Rainy Night” album. The verdict? Well let’s just say that both are fine recordings of a fine tune. If Pay The Reckoning would rather listen to the Keenan and Glackin version then that is no reflection on Liam!

Keenan’s magnificent version of Roisin Dubh is, for Pay The Reckoning, the album’s other key highlight. Pay The Reckoning has always been fond of Keenan’s approach to slow airs on the pipes and this is no exception. The decision to record the tune was undoubtedly risky. It has been used so often in so many settings to suggest an atmosphere of pathos that it’s on the cusp of cliché. But Keenan has managed, single-handedly, to rehabilitate it.

Those familiar with the Bothy Band’s output will prick up their ears at The Salamanca, The Bucks of Oranmore and Garrett Barry’s, all of which appear on the album.

Na Keen Affair allows Paddy to showcase other influences on his playing. He was living in Newfoundland at the time the album was recorded and plays a set of Newfoundland singles – Herb Reid’s/She Said She Couldn’t Dance/Shootin’ The Bull. This is music which most Irish traditional music devotees will not have been exposed to, but will immediately warm to. They’ll recognise singles as close relatives of the polka.

Highlights of Na Keen Affair include Tommy Peoples’ input to the set of reels The Corner House/Paddy Taylor’s (Tripping Up The Stairs)/Reevey’s. To Pay The Reckoning’s knowledge, it is the first time that both musicians have appeared together on record since the Bothy Band’s 1975 album. A long time coming!!

Admirers of assured, laid-back piping will derive pleasure from Paddy’s version of The Cuckoo’s Nest – a three part hornpipe. His slow air – Johnny’s Tune, For The Avalon – written in memory of his late father is another key moment on the album.

However as far as Pay The Reckoning is concerned, the album’s stand-out track is Out On The Ocean. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this tune – ostensibly a straightforward jig – is any way throwaway. In Paddy Keenan’s hands Out On The Ocean is a BIG tune. A genre-defining, genre defying moment.

These are three albums which will grace every traditional Irish music collection. Even those who believe that Paddy Keenan is “all over the place” will surely agree after listening to these that their judgment hay have been a tad hasty.

*Since this piece was written, Hot Conya records have re-issued the first of Paddy Keenan’s solo albums “Paddy Keenan” – originally available on Gael-Linn, but unavailable for many years. Watch this space for a review – Pay The Reckoning has ordered its copy from http://www.towerrecords.com!!!!!

The Official Paddy Keenan website is at http://www.paddykeenan.com

Pay The Reckoning May 2001

The Bothy Band - "1975"

They arrived on the scene in the mid-70s and gave traditional Irish music such a kick in the arse that its nose is still bleeding.

On their debut studio album, the Bothy Band are captured at their most energetic.  The various instruments and voices come together in a set of tunes and songs that have formed a virtual bible for traditional musicians throughout Ireland and beyond.

The Kesh Jig set kicks off with an insistent bouzouki rhythm, underpinned by the drone of Keenan's pipes and then ... they're off!  

The album gives each of the key players an opportunity to play to their strengths, as well as to demonstrate that far from being a collection of absurdly talented musicians, they were a powerful entity whose ensemble playing was flawless.  Keenan's pipes and Matt Molloy's flute are well to the fore as usual.  The album provides Tommy Peoples with his only studio outing with the Bothy Band and good use he and they make of it.  Peoples' solo fiddling on Hector The Hero/The Laird of Drumblair is an amazing display of wild, unrestrained talent and passion.  When the rest of the band kick in on the second tune in the set, Peoples continues to soar above the other musicians, each measure a flurry of notes that combines technical mastery with a real sense of "soul".

To attempt to pick out highlights on the album is a futile exercise - if only because the album itself is a highlight in the continuing history of Irish traditional music.  Pay The Reckoning would point to the Kesh Jig Set, Julia Delaney, Pretty Peg/Craig's Pipes and The Butterfly as critical to the success of the album.  But that is not in any way to downplay the rest of the album.

Buy it, borrow it, steal it, listen to it constantly ... you'll thank Pay The Reckoning for the advice.  Oh, and by the way, it could change your life!

To buy this CD please follow the link : Ossian Publications - Music from Ireland

Pay The Reckoning December 2000

The Bucks - "Dancin' To The Ceili Band"

A band that harboured the talents of Ron Kavana, Terry Woods and Paddy Keenan, The Bucks were a short-lived outfit.  But the temporary nature of the Bucks experiment didn't stop them producing one of the finest original/traditional albums of the 1990s.

Which is not to say that "Dancin' To The Ceili Band" is uniformly brilliant.  There are moments when the enterprise wavers slightly (such is the nature of the experiment they were attempting).  But when they're on form, the Bucks are on form.

And when are they "on form"?  Well, original songs such as "What A Time ...", which puts forward in song Kavana's theory that Irish music formed the backbone of what became rock'n'roll (a theory which he hints at in his sleevenotes to the excellent compilation by Topic of Irish music from its back catalogue, "Treasure Of My Heart", and which Brian Hinton reprises in his recent book "Country Roads").  On "Psycho Ceili in Claremorris" which seques into a blistering set of tunes ("The Bucks' Set") - the centrepiece of which is Paddy Keenan rendering a light speed version of "The Bucks of Oranmore".  On their versions of the old standards "Courtin' In The Kitchen" and "An Puc Ar Buile".  On their set of old-time waltzes.  (Which should sound vaguely corny, but somehow, as well as being flawlessly executed, serve as an emotional and artistic centre for the album.)  And, of course, they're well on form on the track "Rashers and Eggs", a tribute to Irish music itself.  Afficionados among you will recoginse the references in the lines of the chorus "Daniel O'Connell, he saddled the pony/And merrily kissed the quaker/The Kinnegad Slasher's in the moving bog/With the bould Annie Mulligan's daughter".

This is not an album that's easy to find.  But keep your eye out when you're browsing through the second hand racks and don't hesitate to buy it if it's available.  If you don't, someone else will.  And if you only knew what they stood to gain!

Pay The Reckoning December 2000

Ciaran Carson - "Last Night's Fun"

Quite simply, the best book yet written on traditional Irish music.

Equally gifted as a musician, writer and raconteur, Carson is uniquely positioned to give us his personal take on "trad".  In series of vignettes, each named after a tune from the traditional canon, he cogitates on the music itself, on the playing of the music, its rituals, its pleasures and its pitfalls.

There are many memorable passages in Last Night's Fun, observations so precise and so skilfully conveyed that the images will stay with you for a long time after you've finally laid it aside.

A must read for the lover of Irish music and for the lover of well-crafted prose alike.

To buy this book follow the link: Amazon.com: buying info: Last Night's Fun : In and Out of Time With Irish Music

Pay The Reckoning December 2000

Sweeney's Men - "Sweeney's Men"

Recorded at at time when the market for traditional music was much less well-developed than currently, the release of Sweeney's Men now appears as a courageous act of faith, whose rawness and intimacy are as affecting today as they would have been back in 1968.

Two of the Men (Johnnny Moynihan and Andy Irvine) went on to found Planxty and many of the elements of Planxty's approach to music are in evidence on the album.  The mixture of Scottish, English and Irish songs, the interplay of mandolin and guitar.

From a subjective point of view - Pay The Reckoning being particularly fond of the mandolin - the track "Rattlin, Roarin Willie", with its intricate, subtle, yet supremely confident mandolin picking stands out as highlight, alongside "Sullivan's John", a song which figured prominently in the soundtrack of Pay The Reckoning's upbringing thanks to the singing of Gerry Crossey.

However, just as interesting is the inclusion of the song "The House Carpenter".  The presence of this old-time American number (there is a great recording on the "Watson Family" album) does not jar with the rest of the tracks on the album and lends weight to the theory that "old-time" and subsequent forms of American "country" music owe a large debt to Irish (and Scottish) musicians who settled in the Appalachians.

The album has recently been re-issued back to back with the less successful "Tracks of Sweeney".

To buy this CD please follow the link : Amazon.com: buying info: Sweeney/Tracks Of Sweeney

Pay The Reckoning December 2000

Breandan Breathnach - "Folk Music and Dances of Ireland"

A slim volume, essential reading for the serious musician, Breathnach's work represents on the most pithy, scholarly yet accessible "serious" books yet written on the Irish musical tradition.  Breathnach's explores the history of the music, from what is known via archaeology and early texts through the better-documented lore of the dancing masters.

There is a little of the headmaster in Breathnach's prose (Pay The Reckoning imagines him peering over horn-rimmed glasses, wagging an admonishing finger), particularly in his advice to aspiring musicians about practising tunes and building a repertoire.  But, since his advice is based on years of experience as an accomplished musician, it is undoubtedly sound and any hint of lecturing is easily forgiven.

Breathnach refers throughout to a number of tunes which illustrate points he has made.  He does the reader the service of transcribing the the tunes in the book's appendix.  To buy the CD, click on the link which follows: Ossian Publications - Music from Ireland.

To buy this book, click on the link which follows: http://www.ossian.ie

Pay The Reckoning December 2000

The Bothy Band - "Old Hag You Have Killed Me"

Old Hag shows the Bothy Band continuing to break new ground in Irish traditional music.  Peoples had left by this stage - his place taken by Kevin Burke.  Despite the fact the Bothy Band were Ireland's most exciting instrumental ensemble, the highlight of the album is the track "Fionnghuala", a close-harmony interpretration of a song from the Isle of Barra.

Elsewhere Triona is given an opportunity to grace the album with her superbly understated renditions of "Sixteen Come Next Sunday" and "The Maid Of Coolmore".  Micheal sings "Tiocfaidh An Samhradh "and takes the lead on "Calum Sgaire", whose over-produced close-harmony accompaniment unfortunately predicts the syruppy output of Clannad circa "Harry's Game".

Still, we can depend on the musical numbers to cut to the chase (and the quick) and Old Hag hosts a number of breathtaking sets.  As far as Pay The Reckoning is concerned the key to the album (and maybe the answer to the question about the meaning of life) is a set of jigs - "Rosie Finn's Favourite/Over the Water/The Kid On The Mountain".  Many times at various sessions we've heard musicians trot out this set ... but never will we have heard it presented so well.

Old Hag You Have Killed Me is nowhere near as good an album as "1975" - but it's doubtful if that album could ever be surpassed.  However Old Hag is as good as it gets otherwise.  10/10.  Buy!

A link to a suggested site where this album may be bought will be posted in due course.  In the meantime, use your imagination!

Pay The Reckoning January 2001

Haste to the Wedding - "Take to the Floor"

Independently produced by the five-piece from County Antrim, this album demonstrates the subtle differences and deep similarities which exist between Irish, Scottish and old-time American music.  Haste to the Wedding's accordion-driven sound draws chiefly on the Irish and Scottish traditions.  However it came as a  surprise to Pay the Reckoning to encounter a set of American tunes on the album (Turkey In The Straw/Waiting For The Federals/Over The Waterfall/Boil Your Cabbage Down).  Struck by the resonances between this and the other sets of tunes on the album, Pay The Reckoning was reminded of Brian Hinton's thesis in "Country Roads" that American country music is essentially derived from Irish and Scottish musical forms.

The album was recorded in a day. Those of us who've spent any time in and around recording studios will appreciate the task which the boys have achieved in laying down 12 tracks in such a short space of time.

Haste to the Wedding's stance is essentially to adopt the straight-ahead ceili approach.  There's no nonsense on the album and a great deal of thought has been given to putting together the sets.  Lesser-known tunes sit happily alongside standards from the Irish and Scottish repertoires.  To pick out just a few, the tune Dashing White Sergeant which opens the eponymous set, is a real hair-raiser and prefectly chosen to introduce the album.  (Pay The Reckoning have been attempting to learn the tune since we first heard it!)  Their version of The Butterfly - played remarkably well - introduces a cheeky set of tunes from the Irish tradition which mixes jigs with reels to great sucess.  The set of jigs which follows (Strip The Willow/The Blackthorn Stick/Haste To The Wedding) is guaranteed to encourage even the most reluctant wallflower to throw caution to the wind and their legs in the air!

The album has its frustrations.  Chief amongst these is the fact that on occasion the accordion threatens to drown out the other instruments.  Pay The Reckoning would have liked to have heard the banjo, mandolin and fiddle presented slightly higher in the mix from time to time.

However Pay The Reckoning is pleased to endorse the album and to extend their congratulations to Haste to the Wedding for a job well done. We look forward to the next one.

Take to the Floor may be ordered from the band's website http://www.hastetothewedding.com.

Pay The Reckoning January 2001