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BENECHE "The Morning After" BENECD001

Fresh and lively, Celtic Connections stars Beneche are relatively new kids on the block and this debut album marks them out as an act to watch. Their melee of Irish and Scottish folk music is no surprise with the band comprising equal elements of Scottish and Irish musicians. They are Scottish fiddler and trainee broadcast journalist James Smith; doctor and accordionist Padraig O'Neill from County Kerry, Derry born singer and guitarist Sean O'Donnell and 22-year-old Scotsman Martin O'Neill, a phenomenal bodhran player who holds the All-Scotland, All Britain and All-Ireland titles.

They got together in late 2000 in Glasgow, and this album features some of the sets they most enjoyed playing in the pubs and clubs - it's a demonstration of versatility. I was particularly impressed with Sean O'Donnell's voice and his versions of songs recorded by two folk legends - Richard Thompson and Tom Waits. He serves up a great treatment of Thompson's beautiful Beeswax and gives a nod to another of his heroes, Waits, with a moving Old Shoes (and picture postcards).

A highlight is their deft slips jigs set - Farewell to Manchester, which includes the classic The Humours of Whisky. Talking of humour, this album is not short on that - especially in Jamie's "Brittany Speared" - which he penned whilst on a university exchange in Canada, in protest at the number of posters of the pop princess! There are traditional polkas from Padraig's home county, a Cape Breton reel and the lovely but melancholy reel The Broken Pledge plus another Jamie Smith composition, Pleasure of the Isles written while on a tour of the Outer Hebrides.

You sense there is a lot of untapped talent still to emerge here but Beneche have all the makings of a pretty slick outfit. And the name? James explains: "When the band started I was a history student studying Czechoslovakia - Beneche is a corruption of the second president of the Republic in the 1930', Edvard Benes - very obscure I know but I was rather caught up in my degree when we started out!". Watch this space. Beneche is a work in progress..

Jane Brace

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This album was reviewed in Issue 57 of The Living Tradition magazine.