By Daniel Neely
Hey, who’s heading out to Irish Arts Center’s annual Christmas Show at Symphony Space tonight? I’m going to be there and am looking forward to what Mick Moloney, Athena Tergis and The Green Fields of America have in store. It’s a great New York City tradition so I’m sure it’ll be great fun. Hope to see some familiar faces!
Last Friday, the Kilfenora Céilí Band released a new track, “Clare My Heart My Home.” An epic paean to the Banner County, it’s not particularly “seasonal” in nature, but it really is a perfect end-of-the-year tune in both sound and sentiment. Commissioned by Fleadh TV, the group’s concertina player Tim Collins wrote the song and the band is joined by singers Edel Vaughan, Jerry Lynch, Craig Flanagan, the St Patrick’s Pipe Band, and the Tulla and Clarecastle/Ballyea Youth Choir. There isn’t a chance Clare folks won’t be moved by it. It’s available as a direct download prerelease from the band’s website, www.kilfenoraceiliband.com, and will be available on CD at some point in the future.
Sean Smith is my trad music-writing counterpart at the Boston Irish Reporter and like me, he’s a musician. He’s recently released a lovely collection of vocal tracks called “Rule of Thumb.” Featuring songs from Ireland, Scotland, Newfoundland, and England, Smith accompanies himself on finger-style guitar. In the collection’s notes, Smith suggests a Leo Kottke influence in his guitar playing, which sounds about right; I also hear shades of Cat Stevens in Smith’s vocal timbre. Definitely worth checking out. Have a listen at tinyurl.com/seantsmith.
In other news, traditional musicians should be aware of the recently published “Mulhaire Music,” a website devoted to the compositions of legendary Galway button accordion player Martin Mulhaire, his brother Brendan, and their father Tommy.
Intended to preserve the Mulhaire family’s formidable influence, the site includes biographies of Martin, Brendan, and Tommy Mulhaire, a photo gallery, and a discography that complement an annotated collection of tunes presented in both notated and recorded form. There are 21 tunes (18 reels, 3 jigs) in total, all composed by Martin, save for two from Tommy (“Julia's Fancy” and “Tommy Mulhaire’s”) and one from Brendan (“Stars and Stripes”). Musicians will recognize several that have made their way into the standard repertoire like “Golden Keyboard,” “Carmel Mahoney Mulhaire’s," and “Mulhaire's #9,” but there are also several lesser-known gems to explore.
This is an excellent resource and a must-visit for trad musicians. Martin Mulhaire is one of the greats and his family has made a significant contribution to the tradition, so it’s nice to see the Mulhaire legacy preserved in so accessible a way. “Mulhaire Music” can be found at www.mulhairemusic.com.
A quick note: I’ve recently been listening to a recording I only just discovered that wish I’d known about when it was released in 2014, the eponymous album from the Dublin-based band Skipper’s Alley. The group might be fresh in some readers’ minds, as they toured around the mid-Atlantic and midwest regions in October. The band features Patrick Cummins (banjo, mandolin), John Flynn (guitar, voice, flute, whistles), Eilís Lavelle (harp), Fionnán Mac Gabhann (uileann pipes, whistles), Ultan O’Brien (fiddle, viola), Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin (concertina, voice, flute, viola, whistles), and Macdara Yeates (bodhrán, guitar), and they’re great. They have a very tight, well-arranged sound and play with great drive. I understand there is a new album in the works, which I’ll keep an eye open for. Check them out at www.skippersalley.ie.
Finally, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has recognized the uilleann pipes as a symbol of “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” and singled out Na Píobairí Uilleann, the Society of Uilleann Pipers based in Dublin, for its teaching and preservation efforts. This is an important designation because it brings high profile international attention to the significance of the uilleann pipes and the piping tradition around the world. So, congratulations pipers everywhere! To learn more about the honor and the pipes in general, visit pipers.ie.