Recent Books on Irish Music (November 2023)
New Songs from Old Stories: New Piping Pieces & Ballad Airs
New Songs from Old Stories is a collection of fourteen new songs and two instrumental uilleann piping pieces composed by fiddle player, piper and composer Sandie Purcell from Kill, Co. Kildare. Purcell previously published a collection of her dance music in 101 Original Compositions of Irish Traditional Music in 2007, some of which were later recorded on CD by her group Reelan.
The origins of New Songs from Old Stories lie in a collaboration with the music historian, writer and piper Terry Moylan, when he was Archivist with Na Píobairí Uilleann and Purcell was Administrative Assistant. She writes:
[Terry Moylan] is an enthusiastic follower of Irish song, as well as piping and, aware of my qualification in music composition, he asked me if I would look at a poem that he liked and see if I could transform it into a song by providing a new air. A couple of successful attempts at setting some lyrics to music became the seeds of this project and over the next couple of years we managed to compile this collection.
The fourteen poems come from a range of nineteenth- and twentieth-century sources including historian and painter John Fitzgerald (1828–1920), Young Ireland poet Thomas D’Arcy McGee (1825–1868), Fenian Brotherhood member Arthur Forester from Salford (1850–1895), the Irish poet Teresa Brayton (1868–1943), Laois poet John Keegan (1816–1849), ‘The Soldier’s Song’ author Peadar Kearney (1883–1942), Young Irelander John O’Hagan from Newry (1822–1890), songwriter and broadcaster Leo Maguire (1903–1985), Ballykinlar Camp prisoner J.S. Considine, Belfast architect and poet Patric Gregory (1886–1967), doctor, writer and United Irishmen historian Richard Robert Madden (1798–1886), as well as the anonymous ‘I Shall Spend My Holidays at Inchicore’ published in Nugent’s Bohemian Songster in Dublin in 1932. New Songs from Old Stories comes with a sixteen-track CD with performances of the songs from singers Antaine Ó Faracháin, Helen Diamond, Mick Keely, Pádraig Ó Nualláin, Chantal de Barra, Éamonn Hunt, Mick Keeley and Macdara Yeates.
The two newly composed instrumental pieces, which are also included on the CD and performed by piper Mark Redmond, are ‘The Battle of Clontarf’, a commemorative work commissioned by Dublin City Council for performance in April 2014, the thousandth anniversary of the battle, and ‘The Open Road’, written in honour of the late Liam O’Flynn, who was also from Purcell’s home town. Both of these works are extended pieces comprised of descriptive passages mixed with new tunes. Purcell describes them as being in the tradition of instrumental works such as ‘The Fox Chase’, designed for solo piping performance and listening as opposed to dancing. She writes: ‘these two compositions represent the renewal of a piping tradition that had not acquired new material for over a century.’
New Songs from Old Stories is a rich new source of material for singers and musicians alike and is available to purchase from Na Píobairí Uilleann. Visit www.pipers.ie.
Rí Rá Mullingar: A Fleadh Cheoil Chronicle
Motion Picture Media
Noel McIntyre is a photographer and videographer from the midlands. When Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann came to Mullingar in 2022 and 2023, McIntrye spent his time exploring the atmosphere, sessions and crowds with his camera and documenting what he found.
Now, in Rí Rá Mullingar, he has compiled a selection of his work in a 136-page large-format coffee-table book. ‘The eye is like any muscle,’ writes McIntyre in the Introduction. ‘The more you exercise it, the sharper it becomes. On this occasion, with so much to see, my eye needed to be agile and razor sharp. As the days unfolded, I found an instinctive rhythm, and was able to see and capture moments of intimate and beautiful detail amidst the raucous cacophony of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.’
The collection contains over 100 photographs of audiences, musicians, dancers, singers, organisers, crowds and shop fronts, as well as musical details of instruments. With an introduction by musician Niall Breslin, Rí Rá Mullingar will be a popular memento for locals and the many people involved in the successful hosting of the Fleadh.
Available to purchase from www.rirabooks.com.
Kind of Green: Jazz Legends from 86–90 through an Irish Lens
In December 1986, the first issue of a new magazine titled JazzNews International was published in Dublin. The venture of Irish jazz singer Dara Ó Lochlainn (son of the printer, music collector and uilleann piper Colm Ó Lochlainn who founded the famous Three Candles Press), the magazine had correspondents in over thirty cities around the world – from Bombay to Vancouver! Irish contributors included Ronan Guilfoyle and Brian Trench.
Ó Lochlainn asked one Jim Connolly from Belfast, then a teacher and a jazz fan in London, to be the city’s correspondent, and his brother, Martin Connolly, with little experience, volunteered to be his photographer. The result was a range of assignments from England to the Netherlands and photographs of artists such as Miles Davis, John Scofield, Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin, Dizzy Gillespie, Pat Metheny and many more.
In Kind of Green, Connolly has gathered together a selection of the photos, drawn from the negatives found in an attic in Belfast, and written notes for each. There are also some reproductions of pages from Jazz News International, anecdotes and reflections. The magazine only lasted a few years, and Ó Lochlainn died in his early 50s in 1992, but this book provides an interesting window on the jazz music scene at the time.
‘Kind of Green? I certainly was!’ writes Connolly. ‘The first time I attended the North Sea Jazz Festival, in 1987, I took only daylight-appropriate film with me. Imagine my shock after we came back and I received my prints from the local photo shop – 99% of the shots looked like they were taken in a coal shed at midnight. … I realised I had a lot to learn about this jazz photography lark.’
Today, Martin is based in Japan where he is a professor of literature at Tsurumi University, Yokohama. He creates music under the name ‘Machrijam’ and maintains a website, ‘Jim’s Garage’, as a tribute to his brother who brought him on his jazz adventures. Visit https://jimsgarage007.weebly.com.
Kind of Green, like other recent initiatives such as the relaunch of the Livia Records Irish jazz label, fills in another aspect of the history of jazz in Ireland. The book is available to purchase from www.blurb.co.uk/b/11743572-kind-of-green.
Amhráin Anna John Chiot – The Songs of Anna John Chiot
In eager ag / edited by Dr Pól Ó Seachnasaigh
Four Courts Press/Comhairle Bhéaloideas Éireann–Folklore of Ireland Council
Amhráin Anna John Chiot – The Songs of Anna John Chiot is a book of 128 songs, collected in the 1930s and 40s from the repertoire of Anna Nic an Luain from Cruach Thiobraid in Na Cruacha (The Croaghs) mountains in County Donegal. Edited here by the well-known fiddle player Pól Ó Seachnasaigh, Amhráin Anna John Chiot is the 26th title in the Comhairle Bhéaloideas Éireann/ Folklore of Ireland Council Scíbhinní Béaloidis/Folklore Studies series.
The Croaghs lie between Glenties, Ballybofey and Donegal Town, and the Irish language was particularly strong there at the time the songs were collected. Ó Seachnasaigh writes:
While this collection forms only a part of the huge store of folklore which was collected from Anna Nic an Luain, it is true to say that it is important in its own right, giving an insight into the richness of language and culture which survived in this monoglot community in the remote Croaghs area.
Anna John Chiot was visited by the collector Liam Mac Meanman in 1935 and 1937, and then Seán Ó hEochaidh in 1947 and 1948, both collectors with the then newly established Irish Folklore Commission. Ó hEochaidh collected 126 songs and that collection forms the main source for this book. Mac Meanman collected 49 and two of these songs were not included in Ó hEochaidh’s collection and so are included here.
Anna John Chiot had a remarkable ability to recall a wide repertoire, as well as a range of stories and folklore, and by the time of her death in 1954, she had achieved fame among folklorists at home and abroad for the richness of the material collected from her.
When Ó hEochaidh collected these songs, Anna John Chiot was aged 62 and not in good health and so recited the material without melodies, which means that this collection is words only. However, in a creative initiative, and similar to the Sandie Purcell book above, Ó Seachnasaigh has asked six well-known singers to put the words to a traditional song melody from Donegal and the book comes with an accompanying CD of 22 new songs. The singers are Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Anna Ní Mhaonaigh, Máire Ní Choilm, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Lillis Ó Laoire and Dominic Mac Giolla Bhríde, and the songs are also available on Soundcloud.
Amhráin Anna John Chiot is a valuable resource for those interested in the song and music traditions of Donegal. It is available to purchase from Four Courts Press. Visit www.fourcourtspress.ie.
Also recently published are Philip Duffy’s On the Night: Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann – Musicians and Senior Céilí Band Winners, 1951–2021, which is reviewed here by Méabh Ní Fhuartháin, and Music Autopsies: Essays and Interviews (1999–2022) by Benjamin Dwyer, reviewed by Deirdre Gribbin here.
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Published on 22 November 2023