Celtic Fiddle Festival’s Play On

Alistair Brown wrote this review.

Play On is the fourth release from a group of musicians who had no real intention of continuing as such beyond a one-off concert series in 1993. The enthusiasm, both on and off stage, generated by that project, which featured three of the Celtic world’s most noted fiddlers, Irishman Kevin Burke, Scot Johnny Cunningham, and Christian Lemaitre from Brittany has resulted, twelve years later, in hundreds of performances and numerous successful international tours.

This recording is dedicated to the memory of founding member Johnny Cunningham, who died in 2003. His chair is now occupied by Andre Brunet, a young Quebecois fiddler, who plays regularly with “La Bottine Souriante.” Ex Battlefield Band member Ged Foley provides peerless guitar accompaniment, and adds a solo “Lord Galway’s Lamentation” and “Planxty Whitbread” to the performance. The addition of Andre Brunet has contributed several very infectious Quebecois sets. Particularly notable is a rocking opening set of crooked tunes, “La Belle Catherine, Le Step a Ti-Phonse, and Reel a Toto,” foot percussion and all. Kevin Burke is at his usual best on well-loved pieces including “Sonny’s Mazurka,” and O’Carolan’s famous “Concerto,” reputedly a bit of musical one-upmanship directed at the Italian Baroque composer Geminiani. There are several distinctively Breton tunes played by Lemaitre: “Dans Fisel,” a special kind of Gavotte, an old march from the Vannetais region of Southern Brittany, and a set of an dro tunes, included because Johnny Cunningham loved to play them. Johnny’s “Leaving Brittany” is played as a tribute.

This album, most of which was recorded in concert, has very much a live feel to it. There’s that feeling of one thing leading to another, of excitement building, that you get when one master musician brings his own experiences, and a different cultural perspective to add to what has gone before. Performances feature each individual fiddler performing a solo set to showcase his own style and musical tradition, followed by a joint session where the different components combine to create a new musical compound, illustrating what the musicians have in common after all the unique elements that have gone before. Each part was wonderful, but the sum is another thing entirely: a chemical change rather than a physical one, as my old science teacher used to say. It’s all about the chemistry. For Green Man reviewer Steve Hunt’s take on Celtic Fiddle Festival’s previous release Rendezvous go here.

(Green Linnet, 2005)

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