Karen Ryan. Photograph: Brona McVittie.
London fiddle player Karen Ryan has released her first solo album, the Coast Road, featuring Pete Quinn on piano, published by Cló Iar-Chonnacht. Ryan is a founder member of the London Lasses and Pete Quinn group (who have recorded four albums to date), as well as a much sought-after workshop teacher and music promoter.
She started playing music when she was nine years old, taught by the Leitrim musician Tommy Maguire at the London Irish Centre, where she herself now teaches. It was here that she met life-long friends and fellow fiddle players, Elaine Conwell and Teresa Connolly (née Heanue), with whom she won the under-12 trio competition at the All-Ireland Fleadh in 1985.
While being very active in the London Irish session scene and festival and Fleadh circuit, as well as visiting Conamara regularly, she cites in particular Brian Rooney, Brendan McGlinchey, Danny Meehan and the recordings of Andy McGann as having the most influence on her fiddle playing.
Through her role as Director of the Return to Camden Town festival of traditional Irish music, song and dance, she is also an award-winning promoter. Now in its fourteenth year, the festival has become a key date in the Irish music calendar and celebrates the historical link between Camden and traditional Irish music.
Most of the tracks on the Coast Road feature Ryan on fiddle accompanied by Quinn on piano or keyboard, although Ryan plays banjo on the jig set of ‘Kiss the Bride’ and ‘Shandon Bells’, and whistle on the reel set of ‘The Swallow’s Tail’, ‘The Sunny Banks’ and ‘The London Lasses’. For some tracks they are joined by Conor Doherty on guitar. On the waltz-reel set featuring ‘Tim O’Leary’s’ and ‘The Rabbit’s Burrow’ she plays with fiddlers Elaine Conwell (of the London Lasses) and friend Teresa Connolly. And for the jig set of ‘Going to Mass Last Sunday’, ‘The Gold Ring’ and ‘The Battering Ram’ she plays with Gary Connolly on accordion and Colman Connolly on uilleann pipes. Ryan plays one slow air, ‘Sliabh Geal gCua’, which she writes that she learnt from Séamus Begley’s singing; and there is one song on the album, ‘An Draighneán Donn’, sung very naturally and gently by Ryan’s aunt, Nancy McEvaddy of Claregalway.
The twenty-two pages of sleeve notes include a short biographical note on Ryan, comments on her playing by Danny Meehan, Brian Rooney and Brendan McGlinchey, Irish and English versions of all the extensive track notes, and a wide range of photographs of Ryan, of instrument details and of family and friends.
Being dedicated to her father, Michael Ryan (‘for loving the music so much that you did everything possible to help me love it too’), and featuring so many tunes Ryan learned from Maguire, this is clearly a recording with a strong sense of tribute at its heart.
The tracks are as follows:
1. Reels: The Limerick Lassies, The Gatehouse Maid, The Mountain Top
2. Jigs: Kitty’s Rambles, Kitty of Oulart, An Rógaire Dubh
3. Hornpipes: Plains of Boyle, McGlinchey’s, Walsh’s
4. Plokas: Dan Herlihy’s, Tom Billy’s
5. Slow Air: Sliabh Geal gCua
6. Reels: Sally Gardens, Miss McCloud’s, Tommy Maguire’s
7. Jigs: Kiss the Bride, Shannon Bells
8. Reels: Mrs Lawrie’s, Karen Ryan’s
9. Jigs: Dr O’Neill’s, Saddle the Pony
10. Slip Jigs: The Gathering , Liverpool to London, The New Piano
11. Reels: The Swallow’s Tail, The Sunny Banks, The London Lassies
12. Song: An Draighneán Donn
13. Waltz and Reel: Tim O’Leary’s, The Rabbit’s Burrow
14. Jigs: Going to Mass Last Sunday, The Gold Ring, The Battering Ram
15. Reels: Galway Reel, Musical Priest, Sailor On The Rock
Published on 15 May 2012