“In Memory of Paddy Fahey” from the Kane sisters, is an outstanding collection of fiddle music.

Féile Oriel is set to return in 2023

Founded in 1969, the Féile Oriel was Ireland’s first latter-day fiddle competition.  Each year it named a fiddler of outstanding merit “Fiddler of Oriel,” with some of its notable awardees including Kathleen Collins (Galway/New York, 1969), Tommy Peoples (Donegal, 1970), Gerry O'Conner (Dundalk, multiple times in the 1970s and ’80s), Tony Linnane (Clare, 1981), and David Doocey (Mayo, 2009).  Although fortune has twice led to the competition’s dormancy, its reputation and musical prestige has never waned

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 Now, after an 11-year hiatus, the Féile Oriel is set to return in 2023.  This year, it will take place April 28-30 over a weekend that will feature sessions, concerts, and céilithe, climaxing in the naming of two new Fiddlers of Oriel, one junior (U18) and one senior (O18), on Sunday the 30th.

 In addition, organizers will introduce a new feature, the “Elders Of Fiddling” award, which will recognize six fiddlers of remarkable achievement from each of Ireland’s four provinces, the UK, and the U.S.  The inaugural class of recipients will consist of Jim McKillop (Ulster), James Cullinan (Munster), David Sheridan (Leinster), Paddy Ryan (Connaught), Eilish Byrne (UK) and Brian Conway (USA), and is a powerful group of richly deserving musicians.  Particular congratulations to local legend Conway, whose superior musicianship and perennial musical contributions to teaching represent Irish America well.

 The Fiddler of Oriel competition is open to any fiddler in the Irish traditional style and is already live.  It has a hard close at midnight on February 28th, so if you’re interested in competing please be advised the clock is now ticking on your entry window!  For more information, visit the Féile Oriel website here.

 Another notable musician who has held the Féile Oriel crown – twice, in fact – is Liz Kane (1995, ’96).  And wouldn’t you know it, she and her sister Yvonne have a brand new album out that I just happen to have had running in the media player.  “In Memory of Paddy Fahey” from the Kane sisters, is an outstanding collection of fiddle music and it’s one that will have the musical world buzzing, not simply because the playing is superb and a terrific example of “how it should be done,” but because this album is awash in the kind of cool, unusual tunes that will keep the tunerati well-inspired into festival season.  This is definitely an album to get.

 “In Memory of…” is the fourth album from north Connemara-based musicians, following “The Well Tempered Bow” 2002; “Under the Diamond” (2004), and “Side by Side” (2010).  Stylistically, they've been influenced by the music of Sligo and East Galway, but they’re perhaps best known for their recordings and interpretations of their dear friend, the legendary east Galway musician and composer Paddy Fahey, after whom this album is named.

 Here, they are joined by John Blake (guitar, piano, bouzouki; he also produced and engineered the album), Neil Martin (cello), Nathan Pilatzke (dancer) who enhance the Kane sister’s marvelous playing.

 This album is sure to be a favorite of traditional music fans because it understands Fahey so completely.  The Kane sisters had a close relationship with Paddy Fahey and benefitted from his mentorship, not only soaking up his repertory, but surely enough of his history to be the reason he asked them to accompany him when he was awarded the Gradam Ceoil for Best Composer in 2001.  What we have here is work that is completely informed by Fahey’s legacy, and fascinatingly so.

 The Kane sisters are superb musicians.  And despite the brilliance of their playing, it all might be overshadowed by the brilliance of the tunes, especially those Fahey composed.  (Other composers who are represented include Paddy Kelly, Eddie Kelly, Brendan Mulhaire, and the Kane sisters themselves.)  “Paddy Fahey's/Gentleman Johnny/Paddy Fahey’s” (track 5, which I mention because all of Fahey’s tunes are called “Paddy Fahey’s” and it can get confusing) is a perfect example.  The first tune is strong, but by the time the third barrels in, it feels like a triumph.  Each of the tunes in “Paddy Fahey's/Paddy Fahey's/Paddy Fahey’s” (track 8; see what I mean?) is great as well, all dripping with character.

 Fahey’s tunes are great, but in the context of the rest of the album, “Paddy Fahey’s / McKenna Country / Humours of Nickey” (track 6), a Fahey tune followed by a pair of tunes composed by Joe Liddy, becomes a lovely study in stylistic contrasts.  Here, his tunes are suddenly so different from those of someone like Liddy.  And it’s lovely to hear how effectively the Kane sisters can highlight the differences in the way the two composers express themselves.

 The Kane sisters show off their compositional talents throughout this album as well.  “Emily's Buzz/Johnny Phádraic Phíotair/One for Leo,” a reel followed by two jigs, is an excellent example.  The first two by Liz, the last by Yvonne (accompanied by Pilatzke), each one is compelling and make for an excellent set.  Flashes of Fahey’s influence are clear as well.

 For me, though, the most charming tune set on the album is “The Stone Outside Dan Murphy's Door/Grandad's Waltz/John J. Kimmel.”  It’s a song, waltz, and hornpipe that really make a brilliant combination and become a lovely counterpoint to the rest of the album’s intensity.

 “In Memory of Paddy Fahey” is a fabulous album of top rate fiddle playing – great rhythm, great phrasing, lovely selection, and it’s brilliantly recorded.  It’s magnificent music and the finest sort of tribute to a mentor.  If you love traditional music, again, this album is a must have.  To learn more, visit the sisters' website here.

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