Various artists’ Cairde

Sean Laffey wrote this review.

Pomp and circumstance don’t figure in Irish history; the Beal bocht, famine, emigration, colonisation and the cultural ravages of Anglicisation have all shaped both a home and away view of what it is to be Irish. There’s a collective affective understanding of the plight of the underdog and more often than not a pragmatic and practical solution to ease problems. Think of the charities “Bothar” and “Operation Christmas Child.” The former sends pregnant cows and goats to the third world to kick start family farms and the latter delivers shoeboxes stuffed with toys to underprivileged kids. The message is, don’t send money that can be frittered away on expensive all terrain vehicles and office suites in African capitals, keep the work grounded and make it appropriate.

There are situations where real cash money is needed of course, and no more so than in Ireland’s own overstretched Health Service, which is funded by a mixture of state and private contributions, it’s more American than the British National Health Service, more European than Medicare, but inevitably services are patchy, (for example breast cancer screening is very good in the Eastern Region and the Dublin hinterland, but very poor elsewhere). If a hospital needs a new scanner, or a special care baby unit, local fund raising often kicks in, or where the medical unit has national importance something on a grander scale is required. That then is the bigger background to this compilation album Cairde, the Irish for “Friends.”

There is a personal “human interest story” as the red top tabloids would have it; four years ago popular Portumna publican Seán Henry was diagnosed with lung cancer, “a tumour as big as a brandy bottle.” Now for those with a map handy, Portumna is on the northern shore of Lough Derg, in county Galway, musically in the East Galway tradition and close to the northern Tipperary town of Nenagh, which has a thriving singing and instrumental culture itself. Although there are hospitals in both Nenagh and Galway, Seán’s condition could only be treated in Dublin, (a three hour drive away) at the excellent St. Luke’s Hospital, and treated it was. Seán had radiotherapy, survived and prospered; as a thank you he came up with the idea of this compilation album.

Seán asked Loughrea based husband and wife duo of Joe Burke and Anne Conroy Burke to be his A&R team and financed the production costs by turning to the generosity of Tom and Debbi Fitzgerald of St Louis, Missouri. Griffiths Motors (a Ford dealership) of Claremorris in Mayo also helped with the finances. Charlie Lennon made his Spiddal Cuan studio available for the physical recording and all was set in place for a remarkable album.

Unlike a number of compilation albums I could name, this collection has been self selected by the musicians; consequently it does not suffer from the over commercialised complaint of many of this type that are swiftly made up from a trawl through a company back catalogue to get the most bucks for the least recording effort. What we get here is an album of 22 high quality recordings, technically excellent without the dead hand of over arrangement or the tweaking and twiddling so often meted out on “re-mastered” compos — it’s a virtual Macy’s shop window for the variety of top flight recording studios in Ireland.

A dozen of the tracks were newly recorded for the album, and these would make the album a must have, even if your charitable intentions are of the Ebenezer Scrooge variety. After two decades the Clare combination of Noel Hill and Tony Linnane hit the full-on pure-drop button of their vintage Ferrari with the reels, “Dr. Gilbert, Lady Gordon’s and Fergal O’Hara,” proving the carbs are as clean as ever and the engine is running at full torque. Another musician associated with Clare, Tommy Peoples (originally from Donegal but now living near Boston, Mass.) gives us a stunning solo selection of “The Frieze Britches and The Lark in the Morning.” Eileen O’Brien and Deirdre Cherry, forsake their Newport repertoire and cross the bridge to East Galway for two of Paddy Fahey’s reels , both unnamed. The combination of flute and fiddle is captivating in its honesty and intensity. Eileen, by the way, is the daughter of the late Paddy O’Brien, a prolific composer of tunes and the “inventor” of the modern “across the rows” style of accordion playing There’s a new recording of the song “Mary from Dungloe” by Don Stiffe and Matt Keane — it’s a gem.

Other artists on the album, who have donated tracks from their own CDs include Matt Molloy, Frankie Gavin, Sean Maguire, Mary Bergin, Tommy Keane and Jacqui McCarthy, Marcus Hernon, John Regan, Martin Connolly, Mary Staunton, Charlie Piggott and Miriam Collins. They’ve all offered samples from CDs that should be added to any half decent collection of Irish music. And it’s not all jigs and reels — there are songs too. Jimmy Crowley’s “Me Floppy Floppy Drive” is a warning to folks who might like to delve into the dark waters of adult web sites, Mary Staunton’s ” The Green Fields of Mayo,” is gentle elegy to her home place. Mary Conroy Knipper’s “The Moon Behind the Hill” seems a little out of place on the album; the singing lacks confidence and conviction, although it does pick up about three quarters of the way through. And for a real bit of fun there is Dick Hogan’s “The Frog’s Wedding..”Backed by the now rarely heard “Voice Squad” Hogan synchs four versions of “Froggy would a wooing go” in a song tapestry that spans 450 years and proves that if it was funny in 1549 it can still be a hoot today.

Joe Burke added the second track, the slow air, “My Lagan Love,” with shades off the emotional instensity of Tony MacMahon here, then Joe picks up his well known driving style as he segues gracefully into two old reels: “Last Nights Fun and The Crooked Road to Dublin.” Backed by Charlie Lennon on piano and Kathleen Loughnane on harp, it’s a master class in understated accompaniment, allowing Burke’s crisp accordion playing to carry the tunes from beginning to end.

At less than $1 per track this is an album bursting with good value and good values. You could buy this album and feel good about giving to charity; you could buy the album and feel good about the variety and quality of the music. I reckon if you buy the CD it will be a three way-winning streak for every one.

(The Friends of St. Lukes Hospital Dublin, 2002)

Diverse Voices

Diverse Voices is our catch-all for writers and other staffers who did but a few reviews or other writings for us. They are credited at the beginning of the actual writing if we know who they are which we don't always. It also includes material by writers that first appeared in the Sleeping Hedgehog, our in-house newsletter for staff and readers here. Some material is drawn from Folk Tales, Mostly Folk and Roots & Branches, three other publications we've done.

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