Each “Memory” episode was a fabulous exploration.
Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
Back in 2019, I wrote about Cormac Breatnach’s “Whistle Blower” album, a project that explored Breatnach’s brother Osgur’s wrongful arrest and conviction in connection with the 1976 Sallins train robbery, and the subsequent turmoil it brought his family. It was a powerful work that explored the ideas of trauma and resolution in a most personal way.
On Thursday, June 24 at 8pm Irish time/3pm EDT, Breatnach will perform “The Whistle Blower” live at Rathfarnham Castle, in an event that will be streamed online for the world to access. The presentation will include live music, a short film, and motion graphics by Luis Poveda. This project has won multiple awards and drawn all kinds of positive attention, so the live stream should prove a very interesting event, indeed. To learn more about Breatnach’s album, visit his website at www.thewhistleblower.ie. Visit rathfarnhamcastle.ie to learn how to watch the stream.
In other news, all good things must come to an end, and such is the case with Mick Moloney’s brilliant “By Memory Inspired: Mick Moloney's Songbook” web series, the final episode of which was released last week. Presented through NYC’s Irish Arts Center, “By Memory Inspired” was a superb bit of covid art that took viewers on a series of engrossing journeys right when a bit of informed escape was needed the most.
Moloney’s weekly format became quickly identifiable: in each 10-15 minute (or so) episode, he explored a carefully selected song or tune and closed with a performance, in which he was joined by an assortment of top tier guests. In the process, he wove a fascinating story with twists and turns (and lots of interesting visuals) that gave viewers great insight into history and personal experience, all from his home in Bangkok, Thailand, where he weathered the pandemic.
Each “Memory” episode was a fabulous exploration, no small feat considering he made 31 them over ten months and two “seasons.” Several episodes stood out for me, including "The Spanish Lady,” an homage to Moloney’s great friend and mentor Frank Harte that included a performance with Lucy Johnston; “My Uncle Dan McCann” and “Mother Malone,” two great songs associated with the singer and piper Shaun O’Nolan, who we learn lives on through Moloney; "Michael Conway,” a song from the Solas album “Shamrock City” about copper mines, a bare-knuckle fighter, and the Irish experience in Montana; "The Catalpa,” a story about a daring plot to free six Fenian prisoners held in Australia with a performance of a song collected by Ron Edwards; and "Sean McGlynn's Mazurka,” a tune written by Eugene O’Donnell named for one of the great button accordion players who was murdered in 1983. There wasn’t a clunker among them, though – this body of work has something that will appeal to everyone interested in Irish music.
What set the project apart was the guest artists who joined him. Brenda Castles, Athena Tergis, Haley Richardson, Billy McComiskey, John Doyle, James Keane, Jimmy Keane, Martin Hayes, Brendan Dolan, Dan Levinson, Vince Giordany, Jim Friar, Liz Hanley, Lucy Johnston, Brian Fleming, Michelle Mulcahy, Matt Mulqueen, and Tommy Sands all featured at one point or another (some, like Castles, Tergis, Richardson, and McComiskey, were fixtures). These musicians were almost never in the same room as a rule; rather they provided their parts for later assembly.
Filmmaker Roy Esmond was the person responsible for bringing it all together. He expertly produced and edited each episode and made the music whole, which was a substantial undertaking, given the technological challenges involved with marrying individual parts into cohesive, singular performances. Complimenting his work was artist, poet, and performer Declan Forde, who did the illustrations that closed each episode, and gave the series a distinctive look.
I encourage everyone reading this to go back and explore “By Memory Inspired” if you’ve not already done so. It really is a superb series about Irish music and history, and Moloney’s intellect, wit, and musicality are on full show – it is hard to not be engaged from the start. Every episode can be found on the Irish Arts Center’s website and can be accessed directly by clicking tinyurl.com/ByMemoryInspired.