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Joe Heaney Seosamh O hEanai The Road From Connemara Topic TSCD518d

About 40 years ago, a young fellow was persuaded to do a floor spot in a London folk club. The first two songs went down well, so he decided to hit them with his biggest song; an English version of "An Bonnan Bui" (The Yellow Bittern). He pitched it right, put in just enough ornamentation, and felt well pleased as he went back to his mates. As he got to the table, he looked full into the face of Joe Heaney, the Connemara singer. He nearly wet himself at the thought that he'd been cocky enough to sing that song in front of his idol. I needn't have worried, he just smiled at me. "Maith thu" (good on you), he said as I sat down. That was typical of Joe Heaney; he always had time and encouragement for others, no matter how green they were. Connemara people are naturally good-mannered; Joe was a gentleman in the true sense of the word. It's only a pity that he didn't get true recognition and appreciation of his artistry until he went to the USA. Say what you like about the Yanks, they make a fuss of talented artists like Joe Heaney.

Shortly after that night, I went back home, sick of being on strike. I didn't see much of Joe again until 1976, when I met him in Donoghue's. There were a few songs, plenty of conversation, then three of us went for a drink. Some time later we were asked to leave the Gaelic League club in Harcourt Street. I never saw him again. All this is to explain why I felt so emotional as I listened to these CDs. Not just for the content, and his artistry, but for the feeling of once again being in his company. Here, Joe doesn't only sing; he talks about the songs, and about life in rural Ireland. He makes even the most hackneyed songs sound better, and good ones great.

Surprisingly, there are more songs in English than in Irish; not his usual preference. If you've a liking for songs sung in the traditional style; if you want to hear one of the finest ever Irish traditional singers as you've never heard him before; this is one for you. It's probably going to be regarded as the definitive Joe Heaney recording.

Sleeve notes are Topic's usual fine standard; every word sung or spoken is included, along with translations into English. Grateful thanks is due to Peggy Seeger and Ewan McColl for making the recording in the first place, and to Topic for issuing it now. It's a long time since 1964, when this was recorded, but it's been well worth the wait.

Mick Furey

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This album was reviewed in Issue 43 of The Living Tradition magazine.