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BERNARD O'SULLIVAN & TOMMY McMAHON "Clare Concertinas"
Green Linnet GLCD 3092

WILLIE CLANCY "The Minstrel from Clare" Green Linnet GLCD 3091

These are both CD reissues of Topic recordings which have been added to Green Linnet's "Celtic Classics" series - and rightly so! The Clare tradition is one of the most important in Ireland, and these recordings preserve the playing of some of its greatest exponents.

Willie Clancy was probably the most respected and influential Irish piper of his generation, and a source of numerous tunes and songs. This recording covers his piping, singing and whistle-playing in roughly equal measure, and shows the prodigious range of talent of this great entertainer. The songs range from the comic and bawdy to the sentimentally patriotic, and are delivered in a strong voice which needs no accompaniment. The instrumentals range from jigs and reels, most of them hardly known at the time of recording, to the slow airs for which Willie was justly famous.

This is the earliest recording of Willie Clancy that I have heard but, even so, he was already an old man when it was made. At times this shows in shortness of breath or slips of the fingers, but despite that, this is a very entertaining CD.

Bernard O'Sullivan was also quite old when his concertina-playing was recorded, but his pupil Tommy McMahon was only in his twenties. The differences in style and repertoire between these two Claremen are interesting, with the young man concentrating on rollicking reels and jigs while the older player brings a more relaxed approach to the more expressive dance tunes and airs. Despite the pace, Tommy McMahon's fingers work wonders and his playing compares well with today's great players, introducing innovative ornamentations and melodic variations. Bernard O'Sullivan's fingers were considerably older, and the difference is apparent here, but his choice of tunes and his use of harmony are still fresh and exciting.

Both these recordings were made in the field, one in 1967 and the other in 1974, and so the technical quality is not up to Green Linnet's normal exacting standards. However, since the main interest of these CD's is probably historical, this is not a serious problem. Sound quality aside, both CD's are entertaining and enjoyable. The concertina music will appeal to the free reed specialist more than to the general folk enthusiast and the reverse is probably true of Willie Clancy's music.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 15 of The Living Tradition magazine.