Three recent Irish CDs featuring concertina – Harry Scurfield

 

In Ireland, the “concertina” is almost exclusively the Anglo, and the three CDs here are all fine examples of its use within Irish tradition, and together have links which almost span the history of the instrument in that music.

Claire Keville (as those who attended Swaledale this year know) is a great player, originally from Claran, near Headford in Co. Galway, but with long associations with Co.Clare. (Check out her traditional music programme “Music In The Glen”, which you can get early on Tuesday evening on your computer at www.clare.fm). Her CD, “The Daisy Field” (CKCD002), is a well-chosen selection, beautifully played, with gentle and unobtrusive accompaniment on guitar (Terence O’Reilly), piano (Geraldine Cotter), fiddle (Liam Lewis) and from Claire’s sister Breda also on fiddle. Claire also plays three harpsichord solos. Her concertina style is steeped in the tradition, but is also very much her own, and, – without proclaiming technical flashiness – Claire uses her fine technique to express the value of the music itself, with neat octave passages, a steady rhythm, and decorations that enhance a tune, rather than simply being “clever”. Overall, lovely playing! (And Claire sends thanks to the Dippers for the fantastic little instrument!)

Tom Carey, from Cree (West Clare), had his first concertina lessons many years before Claire Keville was born, and this CD is long overdue. I once found myself in Crotty’s pub in Kilrush and gradually realised that the gentle man next to me, playing a battered Jeffries, was the same fine player I had many years earlier heard on a Free Reed recording! Time has not weakened Tom Carey’s style since the release of those 3 tracks. The tunes are very much from the heart of the tradition, and there is a light but determined pulse to these jigs and reels (with one slow air and a hornpipe), which, sprinkled with some “same direction” decorations give a dancing lift to the playing. The bellows use, and the variation from legato to more staccato passages add to a certain sense of urgency, particularly on the reels, though the playing never races out of control, and always has a rich, expressive warmth. Gentle backup is provided by Josephine Marsh (accordion) and Therese McInerney (fiddle). A timely and beautifully executed reminder of styles that developed over the first half of the 20th Century, the CD is simply entitled “Tom Carey” (GL0002).

Tom Carey learned initially from Michael “Stack” Ryan, who was born at the end of the 19th century; the third album, a double CD, possibly reaches even further back. “The Humours of Tulla”, subtitled “A collection of music, songs, stories and poetry reflecting the rich cultural heritage of East Clare” and is largely “archive material”, with – of course – half a dozen good concertina tracks. We find, as one would expect, contemporary tunes from the always wonderful Mary MacNamara and Kate McNamara, (who have both taught at Swaledale!) but also most interesting home or “field” recordings of players like Paddy Grogan and John Naughton, bearers of a tradition from many years earlier. There is here, too, a fine lesson in what the old-style German concertina can do, on “The Star of Munster”, with tremendous verve and drive from the hands of Michael O’Donoghue, recorded in 1972 at the age of 84. The album is put out by the Tulla branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann, and features other fine players of other instruments, too.

All three albums reviewed here may be obtained from – amongst other places – Custy’s Music Shop in Ennis, Co.Clare, http://www.custysmusic.com/ , phone (00353) 656821727, e-mail: custys.ennis@eircom.net.

Harry Scurfield