Steve Cooney – Ceol Ársa Cláirsí: Tunes of the Irish Harpers for Solo Guitar

Steve Cooney – Ceol Ársa Cláirsí: Tunes of the Irish Harpers for Solo Guitar

Thursday, 16 January 2020 (All day)

Steve Cooney, a long-time fixture of the Irish music scene, has, after being involved in making hundreds of records, finally released his debut album. It is a compilation of fourteen tunes, all for solo guitar in Cooney's own arrangements, by Irish harpers, including Turlough O’Carolan and Thomas Conlan. As well as being a collection of beautiful tunes, 'Ceol Ársa Cláirsí' is also a carefully researched historical document, relying heavily on archival work by Cooney and others.

Cooney writes about the album, "Martin Hayes challenged me to do it over a year ago… he knows that I like the studio process where you can – at your ease – build up rich textures through the multilayering of different instruments; and so he put it to me to create a CD of just a single instrument… a bit of pressure!

"As a guitar player, it’s important for me to recognise that we – as guitar players – have the potential to access the great depth of the Gaelic harp tradition: we pluck strings with our fingers as do the harpers. The tonal sensations are also similar – the steel strung guitar shares elements of tonality with the old wire strung harps."

'Ceol Ársa Cláirsí' can be bought from Cooney's own website, where previews of each track are available, or from Claddagh Records in Temple Bar, Dublin.



James Camien Mc...

Why I gave the above rating: 

Steve Cooney was best known to me for his brilliant high-tempo accompaniment to the Begley family’s Kerry polkas. I saw him play with Cormac in a dreich day in Feakle in 2019, and he even took out a length of pipe and played it as a didgeridoo.

Surprisingly, for me, this energetic, even mischievous side of Cooney is nowhere in this gentle album of compositions of Irish harpers. Cooney’s arrangements are subtle: there is light ornamentation to the melodies, which adds colour and expression without obscuring the tune, and the accompaniment is sophisticated and varied without being distracting. The arrangements, as well as his playing, are without exception sensitive and perceptive. Cooney has a deep sympathy for the music, and you can see why Martin Hayes has for years been urging Cooney to record his versions.

It is not that one cannot quibble: Cooney does not have the final sheen of finesse you would get from a classical player, and I’m not convinced by the occasional slides between notes, the free arpeggiation, or various other isolated moments here and there. And he plays with fingerpads rather than nails or fingerpicks, thereby occasionally choking the tone on a melody note. But these really are quibbles: what really matters is whether the love—the generous but honest understanding—is there: and it is, from the first to the last, there in abundance.

Feb 9, 2020

Be Part of the Future of the Journal of Music

Sign up for our newsletters to receive our latest news, UK newsreviews, articles, jobs and events.

To add a concert listing see here. For advertising visit this link.


Please note that some listings are added by third parties. The Journal of Music does not take responsibility for the content or accuracy of listings published by third parties on this site. The Journal of Music reserves the right to edit or delete listings. Click here to add a listing, login or register.