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Topic TSCD474

Her Mantle so Green, is a re-release of a long deleted Topic record with the addition of three tracks. The material was recorded around the London area between 1955 and 1957. Margaret Barry, singer and banjo player, along with Michael Gorman, fiddle, played loosely organised sessions in various pubs around the capital. Music sessions similar to these developed into clubs charging an entrance fee, and the rest is history. The wheel has turned, however and it seems that clubs are out of favour and the session is becoming the more popular outlet of musical expression.

Early recordings can be difficult to appreciate. Over the past thirty-five to forty years musical techniques and styles have changed, as has the expectations of increasingly knowledgeable audiences. For the most part the instrumental sets, here, have suffered with the passage of time and fare badly in comparison with work originally recorded, engineered and edited in a proper studio set up. What is to be heard here is basically a live performance, recorded straight on to tape, in one take. Some instrumental tracks are well worth hearing though. The jigs, "The Rambling Pitchfork" and "Fasten the Legging", with Willie Clancy, and the polkas, "Maguire's Favourite/Tralee Gaol/Maggie in the Wood", with Tommy Maguire and Paddy Breen, and the Michael Gorman solo piece "Dwyres Hornpipe" are still full of life and spirit.

Time, however has not diminished the drama and solidity of Margaret Barry's singing. Bold and powerful, sympathetic and sensitive, her performance a blend of the arts of storytelling and unaccompanied singing. Margaret Barry imparts a knockout delivery to all of the nine songs recorded here. All are worthy of a mention but particular favourites include "Her Mantle so Green" and "The Factory Girl" as well as versions of the better known "The Flower of Sweet Strabane" and "The Galway Shawl".

Recorded sources of traditional musicians and singers are increasing in importance. Echoes from an earlier time, they are a link between our past and our present. This is part of our history, heritage and culture, and should be more accessible to us all, especially prospective players and singers.

Peter Fairbairn

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This album was reviewed in Issue 9 of The Living Tradition magazine.