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VARIOUS ARTISTS "The Fiddle Music of Donegal" Cairdeas Records CNF001
VARIOUS ARTISTS "The Brass Fiddle" Claddagh CC44CD

As an unashamedly English fiddle player, I find the fiddle music of Donegal amongst the most accessible of the Irish regional styles. That shouldn't be too surprising, perhaps, for the dance music of Donegal has probably been more strongly influenced by that of Scotland (and dare I say, England!) than other Irish regional fiddle styles.

Of these two records, "The Brass Fiddle" is perhaps the most important. It's a reissue on CD of a classic vinyl LP, and ought, along with the recordings of John Doherty, to be in the collection of anyone with more than a passing interest in the traditional dance music of these islands.

The title refers to a metal fiddle made in the 1920s from a brass drum found washed ashore by Frank and Johnny Cassidy of Teelin during the 1920s. Making fiddles at home from available materials wasn't at all uncommon in the past, although few recordings survive. The fiddles played on this recording seem to be conventional (wooden!) violins.

The players are all masters of their music, and there isn't a duff performance on the CD. Some of my favourite performances come from Francie Byrne, in his eighties at the time of recording, his "Bagpipe March", in particular, shows him as a technically gifted player. Vincent Campbell is no technical slouch, either. Listen to his playing on "Jacksons" and "Bean a Ti ar Lar". Then listen to the apparent simplicity of his mazurka playing; this should be an object lesson to anybody who feels that sheer chops maketh the musician. The playing of the both James Byrne and Con Cassidy is equally as good. Really, this album should be required listening for anybody attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle, but particularly for those classical musicians who assume that playing the written notes equates with fiddle playing!

The second album is a recording of a concert of Donegal fiddling held at the Donegal Fiddlers' Summer School which took place in Glencolmcille during August 1995. There are some very good performances by players with ages ranging from their late '20's to '70's. I particularly enjoyed the playing of the septaganarians, Proinnsias O Maonaigh and Danny McCarry, but then I also found the playing of the younger players equally exciting.

This album is well worth buying, providing, as it does, a snapshot of a vital tradition at a time of great renewal. (It also has 41 tunes featured, which has got to be good value for money!) It's even more worthwhile when you consider that all the performers have donated their royalties to Cairdeas na bhFidileiri, the organisation which not only organises the summer school, but also continues its work throughout the year fostering the Donegal fiddle style.

Chris Bartram

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This album was reviewed in Issue 24 of The Living Tradition magazine.