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MARCAS O MURCHU "O Bhéal go Béal" CICD126

The poster of the latest release "Mouth to Mouth" by the contemporary English band "Levellers", is throbbing with colour, catches the eye, and conveys the upbeat music and song which the band produces, with catchy melodies, erratic fiddling, and powerful drums. Such a sound conjures up images of the sweaty, mass movement of frustrated fans at a hot, panting concert.

Simultaneously, the debut album, "O Bhéal go Béal" by Marcas O Murchú, Belfast born flute player, was released. The translation of his album title is "Mouth to Mouth", however, the name is sheerly coincidental, as this is where all similarity ends. The front cover is tastefully simple; a photo of the musician, Marcas O Murch£ himself. This suggests that the content and flavour of such an album may be more traditional than the sounds of a Celtic tinged pop concert.

I was right. The seoladh (launch) took place at Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann which was held in late August of this year in Ballina, Co. Mayo. The fleadh is one of the major festivals celebrating Irish traditional music and culture, and generates huge international interest, where all ages and nationalities can come to compete or just join in the music, and the 'craic'.

This year, for Mr O Murchú, the fleadh location was appropriate, as he is from North Connaught parentage and musical influences. The Fleadh was also a highly successful launchpad for his album, as his confident set on the Guinness GigRig projected the sales and popularity of "O Bhéal go Béal". The Fleadh office sold out over the weekend, and Marcas was fervently selling and autographing, to people from Ireland, Scotland and Europe. I think every buyer was eager to return home and get it on the CD player, myself included.

The opening track pulsates with a set of three relatively unknown jigs. Immediately the rhythmical, punch, Belfast style of flute playing is recognisable, complete with attractive, unexpected rolls and long notes. The sets of reels which follow such as "The Happy Man", "Hill 16" and the "Fermanagh Reels" all bear the trademark of the unmistakable, stabbing rhythm.

Most tracks are complemented with a subtle guitar accompaniment, by Eoghan O'Brien, interspersed with the sturdy bodhran playing of Seamus O'Kane. There is also the odd hornpipe or Leitrim polka such as "Up and Away" played solo, in the old style, where the shuffling, stamping feet of set dancers on a flagstone floor can be imagined echoing the flute rhythm. Piano, harp, fiddle and button box also feature on this album by Brid McNally, Eoghan O'Brien, Maurice Bradley and Peter Gallagher respectively. Here Marcus tastefully selects his team of traditional accomplices from his own circle of musical friends, and gives us a treat, as they are previously unrecorded.

The tunes span from the good old jigs and reels on raw, powerful flute, and dynamic tin whistle, reminiscent of the late Micho Russell, to planxties, slow airs and Highlands, all very rare, old and traditional. There are some compositions by Maurice Lennon, Paddy O'Brien and Cathal McConnell, such as "The Piper's Broken Finger" and of course, Marcas' greatest influence, Josie McDermott is represented with affection and sensitivity in "Plancstai Josie McDermott".

The Irish songs on the album are impressive, sung mainly unaccompanied, with great fluency and expression, especially in "The Flower of Sweet Strabane". Although the songs are in Irish, there are helpful explanations of the storylines, which entail the popular issues of whiskey, and lost love.

The depth of the "bond between wood and wind" - blowing the flute to make music - is strong with Marcas O Murchú. The wealth of tunes and songs among the twenty-one tracks on this album, complete with personal memories and notes on every tune, shows Marcas has nurtured his personal style of flute playing, with the help and influence of other musicians, namely Josie McDermott, who features on the sleeve photographs.

"O Bhéal go Béal" is a necessity for both flute player and flute lover.

Frances Morton

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This album was reviewed in Issue 25 of The Living Tradition magazine.