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JOSIE MCDERMOTT - Darby's Farewell Ossian Publications OSSCD20

I mind having a conversation with a fiddler once: says he "I like a good record, and another thing, I like good sleeve notes".

Well there's no shortage of good reading accompanying this C.D. re-release of Josie McDermott's 1977 album "Darby's Farewell". The notes are the work of Robin Morton, who wrote them for the original Topic release. Actually we owe a great debt to Robin who also produced this and many's another important record in the 60's and 70's. But one thing I think would have helped would have been a wee bit of updated information. And while we're on the subject of debts I think there's quite a few of us involved in folk music nowadays who must acknowledge the important part that Topic played in our development; indeed it is great that Ossian Publications have made this material newly available to us; not least because most of our oul' Topic L.P.s are "just about done". This is a good quality recording too, and considering it is a "field recording" rather than a studio one it stands the test of time pretty well.

I'm not sure that many listeners will want to listen to this album right through in one sitting, maybe that was one advantage of the L.P. in that you could play one side and come back to the rest later: and "Darby's Farewell" has quite a lot of material. The fact is that it is a "real" solo album (unlike the current phenomenon where a solo album often means a headline artiste along with a dozen or so guests), the only other contributor being that man Morton (again), adding a bit of bodhran to some of the instrumental tracks ... this is Josie McDermott on whistle, Josie on flute, Josie singing and last but not least Josie lilting.

The sole nature of the material brings home to the listener that this is "roots music", performed by a real Irish "tradition carrier", and for me the really special component is the dance music, whether on flute, whistle or voice. There is more than just a sense of excitement, somehow Josie McDermott conveys his understanding of the dance, indeed I wouldn't be at all surprised if one were to tell me that he was a real good dancer. The music itself dances, there is a percussive rhythm in breath and tongue which adds life to the skillful fingering on the instruments - Josie doesn't need to play wildly to create the excitement, he just plays well.

The choice of tunes, the hornpipes, jigs, polkas and reels, complemented by two beautiful slow airs, is sure to prove a lasting reference for instrumental musicians, indeed I would recommend it to the serious collector of tunes for that reason. These tunes are from a wide range of Irish traditional sources, some of them now "set piece" session tunes, but most listeners new to the album will certainly find inspiration from a new discovery as well.

Robin Morton credits his friend and long time "collaborator" Cathal McConnell for introducing him to Josie. I can imagine that a "head to head" session involving Josie with Cathal would be something else altogether ... and it wouldn't stop with flutes and whistles. Like Cathal, Josie is also a carrier of traditional songs: the album features three songs. One, "Moorlough Mary", Josie learned from Paddy Tunney. However, Josie contrasts with Paddy's airy Ulster style giving the song a more earthy feel, there is a melancholy here accentuated in Josie's sean-nos singing which is typical of his native Connaught.

He is certain to further please singing aficionados with his version of "Una Wan" an interesting song, and an ancient one. It was originally a Gaelic song, but this English version comes from his local tradition. To me the song highlight is the third of the trio, "The Ballad of Carolan Country": this was written by Josie himself and was his entry for a song writing competition in his hometown Fleadh. We don't hear if the song won a prize but I must say that it is a fine composition. I think it is the sense of pride and nostalgia, within the framework of a tour round Ballyfarnan describing the places associated with the most famous harper of Ireland's musical tradition, that appeals to the exile in me.

I don't expect many folk, apart from the committed collector of traditional material, will be tempted to rush out and buy "Darby's Farewell" but if you want a good example of material firmly connected to the roots of Irish folk music this is a must.

Colin McAllister

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This album was reviewed in Issue 5 of The Living Tradition magazine.