PICA Volume 1, 2004 – Review: A Touch of Clare

Recording reviews

A Touch of Clare. Kitty Hayes. Clach·n Music, CM CD004 (2001).

Reviewed by ROGER DIGBY

A Touch of Clare: Kitty Hayes

It appears to be a phenomenon of English female concertina players that they favour the English system over the Anglo almost without exception. Katie Howson comes to mind as an exception, but she is foremost a female melodeon player (and there aren’t many of those either). By contrast, in Irish music where the whole tradition is hugely male dominant at home and abroad—particularly in the older generation—there are some blindingly good female Anglo players. Mrs Elizabeth Crotty, whose CD I reviewed a few years ago for the ICA’s Concertina World (No. 417, December 1999, pp. 19-21), and Mrs Ellen O’Dwyer, who was a star of the Free Reed field trips in the 1970s (I’ve heard rumours of reissues—let’s hope so!), were players who stood head and shoulders above many of their male counterparts. Clach·n Music have now released recordings of Kitty Hayes, another mature exponent of the gentle, lilting, and beautifully paced style of County Clare. Too much Irish music is currently played too fast; reels are usually fairly fast, but the other rhythms do not have to be, and too often subtleties of phrasing and tempo are ironed out (or steamrollered over!) by taking tunes unnecessarily quickly. Kitty Hayes’s sense of pace is superb throughout this recording session which apparently took place during one day in her home, a context which can only help the relaxed style of her playing. As if to make this point, the CD begins with two sets of reels taken very steadily so that the final notes of the phrases have the time to swell, rise, and hang on for just that split second before the next phrase comes in, creating a tension and excitement that faster playing cannot achieve. This continues throughout the recordings of jigs, hornpipes, more reels, and one song which make up the fifteen tracks. Throughout, the left hand works more than is usual with many players and there is a minimum of decoration on the right and only the slightly halting start of ‘Cooleys Jigs’ gives just a hint of the informality of the recording’s venue.

I have only one small reservation about this otherwise superb release. The liner notes give no information about the concertina itself, and I am forced to conclude that it is not a very good one. Clicks and air-intakes are inevitable in a closely miked recording, but the reeds sound thin and a bit choked. Fortunately this doesn’t detract from a masterful performance.

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