If it’s late August it means the Fleadh is over and congratulations are in order! Earlier in the month, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann branches from the world over sent representatives to Sligo for the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, the world’s largest traditional music festival and once again folks from North America made an extraordinary show of it in the various competitions.
Indeed, everyone who went over to compete deserves respect and admiration, however the following bunch stood out to Fleadh judges: Jake James (1st, Fiddle 15-18; Mulligan-Quinn), Brianna Brown (1st, Concertina under 12; Saint Louis Irish Arts), Eimear Arkins (2nd, Fiddle Slow Airs over 18 & 1st, Lilting, over 18; Saint Louis Irish Arts), Finbar Kantor (3rd, Fiddle Slow Airs over 18; Martin Mulvihill), Patrick Shields (3rd, Uilleann Pipes Slow Airs over 18; Mulligan-Quinn), John Paul Wick, Seamus Wick (3rd, Duets 15-18; Mike Rafferty-Joe Madden), John Paul Wick, Seamus Wick, Tim Clauss (2nd, Trios 15-18; Mike Rafferty-Joe Madden) Jim O’Dowd (2nd, Newly Composed Song any age; Mike Rafferty-Joe Madden), and Maura Mulligan (3rd, Sean Nós dance over 18; Úll Mór). Congrats to everyone! Fair play.
On the sound system this week is Bryan O’Leary (accordion) and Colm Guilfoyle’s (flute) new album “Where The Bog Is.” Taking its title from a quip Padraig O’Keeffe once made about the location of his own townland, “Where The Bog Is” contains 16 tracks of truly excellent Sliabh Luachra music.
Sliabh Luachra music is one of those deeply local styles that has an intense and dedicated following of fans. This album will be sure to delight, as it shows a born-in sense of the music, as both players from the region (Guilfoyle from Kilcummin and O’Leary from Tureencahill) and born to musical families. Not only did Guilfoyle’s mother and aunts all play, he learned also from local players like Padraig Buckley and Stephen Carroll. O’Leary, who was TG4’s young traditional musician of the year for 2014, is the grandson of the legendary Sliabh Luachra accordionist Johnny O'Leary and studied with the likes of Henry Cronin and Nicky McAuliffe.
Both, are outstanding players. Guilfoyle and O’Leary are gifted with impeccable melodic phrasing, but what’s really interesting is how well the two articulate with each other: their ability to play unflinchingly on the same page contributes to their easy musical flow and conveys a warmth that makes the album special.
It being an album of Sliabh Luachra music, polkas and slides figure prominently and they’re all great. There are three sets of absolutely cracking slides, but the first “Where the Bog Is / Dan Jermiah’s" perhaps the most interesting of the three. Not only are they both lovely tunes, but they’re both fairly rare as well, the first coming from a Padraig O’Keeffe manuscript and the second from one of O’Keeffe’s students.
Several good polkas to write about here. O’Leary opens “Johnny Cope / …” brilliantly and all by himself, with Guilfoyle and guitarist Gearoid O’ Duininn falling in later on and adding a good gallop; “Paddy Cronin's /…” is very nice as well. However, “John Clifford’s /…” is the one that I’m perhaps most strongly drawn to – they’re great tunes, and Guilfoyle’s tone and playing here are outstanding.
The album also sports a pair of really cool barndances, “Thadelo’s 1 & 2.” Both bounce along as barndances should, but there are some really lovely melodic touches in the second tune that set this track apart. I also really like the reel set “Billly McCormick’s/ …” quite a bit. There, Guilfoyle and O’Leary are joined by Mikie O’Gorman (fiddle), Ciarán O’Sullivan’s (banjo), and Michael O’Connor (guitar), who add a bit of power and a nice depth of sound. O’Sullivan, in particular, gives this track a particularly interesting and attractive drive, I feel.
There is one song on this album, the standout “Sweet Kingwilliamstown,” rendered by the great Brendan Begley. The performance is lovely: Begley’s voice is full of sweetness and the musical accompaniment Guilfoyle, O’Leary and Jack Talty (piano) provides adds just the right level of gravitas. Incidentally, the liner notes here do an impressive job in not just contextualizing the song within Sliabh Luachra practice, but they weave in a personal relationship to the song’s history that gives the song’s place on the album a fair bit of poignancy.
There is great youth in the music on this album, but it reflects the majesty of the old and intensely local Sliabh Luachra tradition. Guilfoyle and O’Leary have done excellent work to preserve this musical heritage in their own playing and have come up with a recording that I think documents this well. “Where The Bog Is” is a great album, one that fans of the Sliabh Luachra tradition should have. It will appeal to anyone who loves good music as well! Visit wherethebogis.bandcamp.com for more
Daniel Neely writes about traditional music each week in the Irish Echo.