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GEARÓID O hALLMHURÁIN - "Traditional Music from Clare and Beyond" - Celtic Crossings OWR-00462

It's not only Ossian Publications, with their set of CDs by Doolin musicians, who are shedding valuable light on the musical traditions of Clare at the moment. Dr Gearóid O hAllmhuráin, native of Ennis, roving university lecturer and accomplished player of the Anglo-German concertina, now presents us with this disc, which is an absorbing exposition (both in the booklet notes and in the music itself) of the traditions of Clare and their connexions with other traditions, both historically and in the present.

Lest anyone suspect that this is a dryly academic offering, it should be pointed out that Dr O hAllmhuráin is a scion of a highly musical family, and seems to have pursued the music from his earliest infancy. Also, only an ill-informed outsider could ever make the mistake of thinking that he could out-philosophize the people of the philosopher county, or express himself more articulately than they. The whole approach here is informed by appreciation of, and gratitude towards, the musicians of earlier generations, and the notes leave unmentioned almost no Clare musician within living memory, being replete with allusions to departed figures who will bring back a wealth of memories to anyone who knows the county - in my case, the names of Martin Talty, Michilín Connollon, Joe Cuneen (to name but few) are especially evocative. From Joe it was, for instance, that Gearóid got his first Clarke's whistle, on which he is no slouch either, as demonstrated by a fine pair of reels, "Over the Moor to Maggie" and "Lucky in Love".

The music reflects Gearóid's lifetime of obsession with the music of his native county, and, given his choice of instrument (he started out on the pipes, but was 'converted' to the concertina at, of all occasions, Seán Reid's funeral!), there is a strong emphasis on the repertoire of the concertina greats, such as Paddy Murphy, Sonny Murray and the great Mrs. Elizabeth Crotty of Kilrush, for whose music he has been an avid propagandist. Then, too, there is his fascination with the céilí bands of the 1950s, notably the Tulla, reflected in his choice of piano accompaniment for several numbers (by the egregious Barbara MacDonald Magone of Detroit, second-generation descendant of Cape Breton immigrants) and also by the inclusion of legendary East Clare fiddler Paddy Canny and his long-time collaborator Peter O'Loughlin, better known as a flute player, but who here joins Paddy on fiddle. This reunion of the pair on record for the first time since their legendary Shamrock LP of 1960 has been the source of much excitement among older followers of Clare music; more significant to a younger generation, but closely related, is the presence on two tracks of Martin Hayes, son of the renowned P.J. Hayes, the other fiddler from the 1960 record.

Martin Hayes is, of course, a man with one musical foot firmly in the modern world, at least as far as arrangements are concerned, and the same is true of O hAllmhuráin, whose arrangements sometimes recall those of Mícheál O Súilleabháin (from whom he receives a plaudit on the back cover). The participation, for instance, of Janet Harbison on harp on several tracks makes for an effect which is deeply non-Clare. One of the places where she is used to best effect is on the slow air "Coilsfield House", composed by Niel Gow's son Nathaniel, and mention of which brings us to Dr O hAllmhuráin's third and broadest theme on this record: the external connexions of the Irish tradition with Scottish, Shetland and Cape Breton music. It's notable that he chooses to close the disc with a remarkable medley: Tom Anderson's "Da Slokit Light", learned from Cape Breton fiddler Buddy MacMaster; another Jacobite tune, the clan march "Within a Mile of Edinburgh Town"; and two reels of Scottish origin, "Archie Menzie's" and "The King of the Clans" - the latter learned from Clare concertina virtuoso Sonny Murray, thus somehow completing the circle.

Diverse though it undoubtedly is, then, this record nonetheless constitutes a well-rounded whole. It commends itself to the attention of all lovers of concertina music and the Clare tradition, but should also strike a mighty resonance within the soul of the Scottish listener.

Christy MacHale

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This album was reviewed in Issue 29 of The Living Tradition magazine.