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LIAM CLANCY, TOMMY MAKEM, FAMILY & FRIENDS
"The Lark in the Morning" Tradition TCD1001

Now here's a slice of history if ever there was! Dating from the days (as Jimmy O'Dea used to say) before McConochie's motor boat was invented - in this case 1955 - it evokes what in many ways now seems, with hindsight, a less complicated time. It was also before the invention of Planxty, The Bothy Band, Moving Hearts and the Chieftains - or even of Ceoltoiri Cualann. Most relevantly to the case, it was before the invention of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, though that musical milestone derived directly from the circumstances that led to the original release of this record.

Briefly (because Liam Clancy himself tells us a lot about it in the liner notes, though they're not as "comprehensive" as the blurb would have us believe), it's the fruit of a song-collecting field trip undertaken all those years ago by a couple of musicologists from the USA, with the bold Liam as guide, and covering the length, if not the breadth, of Ireland, from Kerry to Donegal. In the course of the trip a visit was made to the home of the formidable Mrs Sarah Makem in Keady, Co. Armagh, and Liam struck up a fast friendship with Tommy, the son of the house, which was to lead to a memorable partnership which was largely instrumental in changing the way in which the folk traditions of Ireland were perceived, and giving rise to a phenomenon quite akin to the British Folk Revival.

Back in 1955, there being no "revival" to speak of in Ireland, there weren't as many purists when it came to the matter of style in traditional singing (which is still the case in some of the nicer rural areas), and in that context Tommy Makem's theatrical, vibratoful rendition of The Cobbler seems a perfectly natural companion to The Whistling Thief as performed by that master of the sean-nos, Sean MacDonnchadha. These two songs are emblematic of the collection, in fact: Diane Hamilton, the expedition leader, had a particular fondness for children's songs and songs to do with children, and the emphasis is definitely on light songs here (and a couple of nice bursts of diddling, too). There are exceptions, though: a magisterial In the Month of January by Mrs Makem herself, rock-solid in time and in tone. And, thank goodness, Hamilton had the sense to seize the opportunity to record an in-his-prime Paddy Tunney in a whole spectrum of moods (and in Irish and English), all the way from Rockin the Cradle to Roisin Dubh.

If that were all, this would still be an important and delightful record. But no! Remember that visit to Kerry alluded to earlier? Its purpose was a trip to Sliabh Luachra in search of those twin genii of the fiddle, the monolithic Denis Murphy and the mercurial Padraig O'Keeffe. The tale of how they found the latter is recounted in the notes, and it was during the field trip in question that party photographer Clancy took the famous photo of Padraig with his bow and his glass of stout. Both he and Denis Murphy are featured on this disc, Padraig with one number and Denis with two: I can think of several people for whom this fact on its own would constitute sufficient reason to bag a copy of The Lark in the Morning. And, taking the record as a whole, there's reasons enough there for all of us.

Christy MacHale

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This album was reviewed in Issue 18 of The Living Tradition magazine.