By Daniel Neely
It’s not often that I get a CD as marvelous as Jimmy Power’s “Go Home and Have Your Dinner,” but here we are. A collection of 35 recordings (33 of which are previously unreleased commercially, with some appearing in raw form on the British Library’s website), “Go Home” brings the music of this important fiddle player into crisper focus. It’s a fabulous (and fabulous sounding) album that fans of trad music will love hearing. It’s also one that I think says a lot about traditional music making in general, so I think any musician who plays at sessions will want to sit down with this one and take a good, hard listen as there’s a lot to be gleaned from it in terms of things like tone, pacing and phrasing.
Many readers will likely recognize Power’s name from the album “Paddy in the Smoke” (www.topicrecords.co.uk), a classic live recording made in the 1960s at the the Favourite in Holloway. Many readers will know the Favourite as the legendary gathering place for Irish musicians living in London in the 1950s and ’60s, with its Sunday morning session attracting the likes of Martin Byrnes (fiddle), Bobby Casey (fiddle), Tony McMahon (accordion), Julia Clifford (fiddle), Lucy Farr (fiddle), Willie Clancy (pipes), and Roger Sherlock (flute) to name but a few. With Power featured on five tracks, the “Paddy” album has remained an enduring favorite for decades.
Power, however, has also appeared on several other recordings, including Michael Gorman’s “The Sligo Champion” (1959), “Irish Dances” (1967), “Irish Music from The Favourite” (with Tony Ledwith, 1975), “Irish Fiddle Player” (1976), and “Fifty-Odd Years” (with Josephine Keegan, 1985), all of which were interesting. He was also featured on the CDs and in the companion book to Reg Hall’s brilliant “A Few Tunes of Good Music” project, which also included some well-done biography.
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Power’s is a great story in the music: he was born in 1918 in Ballyduff, Co. Waterford, and began learning the music through friends and neighbors using a fiddle he inherited from his father, who sadly passed before he was born. In the 1930s, he was first exposed to the recordings of Michael Coleman, Hugh Gillespie, and Paddy Killoran, who was a particular favorite. He moved to London in 1947 and eased his way into the scene, becoming close with fiddle player Michael Gorman, who would become his mentor. Power eventually became quite busy around town playing for feisianna, working for Comhaltas, and as a member of the Four Courts Ceili Band. He also had a well-respected session at the Mulberry Tree on St. Leonard’s Street, but when that ended in 1966 he set up shop at the Favourite. The rest, as they say, is history.
As with Power’s other albums, the music here is superb. What I think sets this release apart from the others, however, is the variety – there are all sorts of contexts represented here, from solos, to small group, to ceili band. Because different moments in his playing career are represented, it’s easy to hear the detail in his playing and to get lost in his phrasing, ornamentation, and tone. For example, his version of “The Gold Ring” from 1966 is lovely, as is his take on Tatter Jack Walsh (1965). His playing on the slow air “An Droimeann Donn Dilis” (1981) is just wonderful. There are three different recordings of “The Bunch of Keys” from different points in his life (mid-late 1960s, early 1970s, 1981) that show how his playing and his approach to a tune developed over the years. The recordings of the Four Courts Ceili Band are also fascinating to hear as they showcase his playing in a highly organized group setting. The life in Power’s playing comes across extraordinarily well throughout – it’s great to hear.
“Go Home and Have Your Dinner” is an album that musicians and listeners should make an effort to add to their collection. Jimmy Power’s playing is bold and nuanced, and it is delivered in a way that is thoroughly enjoyable. Fabulous through and through, it’s as much of a must have as any CD out at the moment. Keep in mind, though, that it’s not an easy album to get ahold of. Seems it’s only available through Custy’s at the moment (custysmusic.com), so plan ahead if you’re ordering from abroad, as it would make an ideal stocking stuffer for the fiddle player/traditional music lover on your holiday list.