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BEGINISH - "Beginish" - Inish Records INIS001

To beginish at the beginishing ... have you ever seen Beginish? Beginish the island, that is, not this outfit - it's the lowest and least distinguished of the Blasket islands. Now our bards here could have played on our emotions by calling themselves after one of the more famous islands: "Tearaght" would have suggested lonely crags soaring to great eminences from fathomless depths; "Inishvickillane" brought to mind thoughts of the púcaí or little people; or they could have scared us all with the sense of danger and awe inherent in the name "Inish-na-Bró". None of this: "Beginish" it is, with all the humility that connotes - here we are, they seem to say, everyday musicians doing a job of journeywork, nothing too outstanding ...

Don't be fooled! For this is a highly polished performance from a group of accomplished individuals who are already highly thought of in their own right. Brendan Begley, for instance, enjoys considerable repute as both accordionist and singer, and his talents are here augmented by those of Paul McGrattan (flute), Paul O'Shaughnessy (fiddle) and Noel O'Grady (bouzouki). Their musical roots are at the two extremities of the west of Ireland - in Donegal and Kerry - and the sources of the tunes reflect this fact, many of them coming from the great Sliabh Luachra box player Johnny O'Leary, whilst others derive from master musicians of the north such as the late Johnny Doherty.

Their collaborators, too, are a mix of north and south, and their names give us an inkling of the high regard in which the players of Beginish are held. To have Arty McGlynn and both Tríona and Mairéad Ní Dhomhnaill on your record is quite a coup; and, if it's a bodhrán player you're after, where would you find one better than Colm Murphy? The inclusion of Tríona reinforces a resemblance to the Bothy Band that is already quite marked. It's to be heard not only in the geographical mix (though, curiously, the Bothies never had a member from Munster in their ranks, but that never seemed to stop 'em from playing polkas and slides), but also in the mix of dance tunes, slow airs and songs (in both English and Irish), in the arrangements, especially the use of keyboards, and in the remorseless drive of the playing.

Put crudely, Beginish are inclined to be something of speed merchants - but then, what harm! Wasn't Johnny Doherty one too? And they carry it all off with great polish and never lose the swing. So thoroughly polished, indeed, is every performance that it is impossible to single out a particular set of tunes for commendation, though the trio of jigs "A Night at the Fair", "Bill the Weaver's" and "Síos Chun na Trá can" stand for all, and the closing medley brings us out with a classic bang and a Bothyish change of time signature. As regards the personnel, comparisons are likewise invidious, though Paul McGrattan is particularly outstanding here: he contributes a couple of fine tunes of his own composition, and his playing shows that he can take his place alongside the Molloys and Kennedys.

Turning to the songs, Brendan Begley does a superb job on the unrequited love song from Kerry "Iníon an Fhaoit ón nGleann"; his rendition of "The Rose of Aranmore" is rather too schmaltzy for my taste, but sounds as if it would find a ready welcome on the other side of the Atlantic. And for fans of the O Domhnaills, Tríona and Mairéad do "I Courted a Wee Lass", a song from their native Rannafast. In short, there's something for everyone here, as Beginish take their place in the list of the supergroups, following in the footsteps of Altan, Dé Danann and the Bothy Band.

Christy MacHale

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This album was reviewed in Issue 28 of The Living Tradition magazine.