Reviews of VT132CD 'Donegal & Back!'


Lovely to have Packie back with us! At the national Folk Music Festival in April he was his old ebullient self, telling tales to charm the hind leg off a donkey and showing a previously unknown talent for writing 'old traditional songs' sung beautifully by young singer Breda McKinney whose family hails from Donegal. This CD is released to celebrate Packie's appearances at Sidmouth in the summer and hopefully some London clubs in the autumn.

 

Packie's side-splitting story telling is legendary but the CD concentrates on his fine singing and whistle playing in recordings made between 1965 and 1976 when he was in his prime. Packie's quietly understated style subtly brings out the drama of a bitter song such as McCaffery or the tragic ballad Rich Man's Daughter and well suits the melancholy of Lament to the Moon or the drawing room piece Where is My Norahl which in his rendition avoids sentimentality. Of course there are the well loved comic songs such as The Shirt Me Father Wore or Cod Liver Oil and my personal favourite You're Always sure to Meet an Irish Man ('twas an Irish man McGill first grew coffee in Brazil. 'twas Mulligan brought the monkeys to Milan.) I had never heard The Barnyard a poetic descriptive piece, and the two previously unreleased tracks The Drummer Boy of Waterloo and The Shores of Loch Erne give us the extra bonus of two very beautiful, little known songs in addition to the favourites. Five precisely played tunes on the tin whistle (including two delicate and moving slow airs) add to the variety of this well balanced CD, reflecting the range of Packie's talents and his importance as a traditional singer in additions to a well-loved entertainer.

 

In the accompanying booklet, friends, folklorists and academics pay tribute to Packie -the most complete performer..' a living treasure who wears his talent lightly. And this CD is one that you will treasure.

Folk London

 

This, in common with many Veteran releases, is a retrospective collection, but includes tracks not released before. Here we meet again the darling man from Donegal, mostly recorded in his prime (though he'll tell you he only reaches that next year) and demonstrating his talents to the full. One word filters through to the consciousness while listening to this: - it's charm. Packie simply isn't the kind of chap you ever get tired of. Whether it's humour, pathos, song, tune or chatter, Packie's your man. There's scarcely a gap between tracks on such a packed CD, (over 73 minutes) which (because of Packie's restrained delivery) is most becoming. The execution of each of the 22 tracks is so subtle, they at first seem naive. For those who know him well, there are no surprises, no disappointments. For those who don't, each track will be a revelation. Yes, most of it was on a Veteran tape, but mine got stretched and nearly worn through, lent and lost. So I'm very happy to see this CD released, and I'm sure you will be, too. Another "well done!" to John Howson.

Shreds & Patches

 

This is indispensable Packie: over an hour of his finest songs, recordings made in 1964 and 174,5,6.

 

Packie is a true traditonal performer having learnt his songs and tunes from his family and friends in the locality where he was born: rural Donegal. In Cornwall we remeber him with intense affection, for his songs sparkle as brightly as his eyes. He's 85 now and this is the perfect memento of him.

Folk Kernow

 

A pleasant variety of 16 songs and 6 whistle tunes taken in the main from two recording sessions, London 1964 and Biggin Hill 1975, representing Packie Byrne in his prime. Six additional tracks, three previously unreleased (7he Leather Britches, The Drummer Boy of Waterloo and The Shores of Lough Erne), make this more than a replacement for the Veteran album From Donegal & Back. The recordings have been digitally remastered to the customary high Veteran standard: the sound is clean, the tracks are well placed and the accompanying booklet is excellent. No need for song sheets here: every word is sung with the clarity that comes from a lifetime of storytelling.

There is only his voice, or his whistle, and you. This is a return to an era when life was unpunctuated by Hotel California. His engaging style invites you in. There are no instruments between you, no distractions. Each song unfolds in its own good time, as if you could do nothing better than be delayed by a good story. The source notes are welcome, but really don't matter, because he makes the story his, and yours.

 

There are the expected flippancies, Meet An Irishman and The Shirt My Father Wore, (`a grand old bit of drapery'), which are rarely sung hereabouts. Reputations are more often made through the powerful ballads like McCaffery or The Rich Mans Daughter, injustice and incest, but their impact depends so much on the audience coming to them fresh, and what better than an entertainment like Cod Liver Oil to make the contrast? The whistle tunes have so much space around them; no instrumentation added. The notes hang in the air. leave you time to appreciate their rightness.

 

A CD that will be appreciated by all who regard listening as an active, rather than a passive, pursuit. I can thoroughly recommend it.

Folk in Kent

 

Packie Byrne, born in 1917 in Corkermore, near Ardara, Co. Donegal, on a farm seven miles from the nearest village or town, is also a singer and tin-whistle player. This CD is an entertaining programme, drawn from unissued material recorded by Sean Davies in 1964 and Mike Yates in 1976, with affectionate notes by Julie MacNamara. There is no running time and there are sixteen items. It is not an academic study nor a profile and it should not be judged as either. Those who know Packie might agree that there are two sides to his performing. As a singer of serious ballads, there is none better, and an earlier long-playing record, 'Songs of a Donegal Man' (Topic, 12TS257, 1975), is testament to that. As a light entertainer, witty and throwaway, he has great timing and poise, but like many comedians some of his material can fall flat. This cassette starts with a near disaster, `Meet an Irishman', a piece of trivia that scarcely sustains the first listening. But he turns in excellent performances of the narrative song, `The Highwayman Outwitted', the amusing `The Shirt my Father Wore', the standard come-all-ye, 'McCafferty', and a comedy song and recitation, `The Big Ship'. I do not know when he learned `Cod Liver Oil' and `The Rambling Irishman', but they were popular in pre-war rural Ireland from the gramophone records of the Flanagan Brothers (1927) and John McGettigan (1930) respectively, and Packie rehabilitates them successfully back into the rural singing tradition.

 

Packie's tin-whistle playing goes back to the house-dances of his youth, but he left home many years ago, and there have since been times when tinwhistle playing has not featured in his social life. He has some unusual tunes from

home and, his playing is a long way from current mainstream Irish dance music, particularly as he ornaments by trebling with his tongue, which gives a staccato effect, particularly to the reels. One of his old dance tunes, `Au Cualain Coo' (sic), identified as a reel, is surely a fling, flings being central to house-dancing in Donegal during his early days. In public performance Packie's singing is gentle and intimate and his playing here on the large tin whistle seems to search for the same intimacy, but the subtlety of his playing gets lost in the deep resonance of the instrument.

 

It is strange, considering his background and manner of performance, that Packie has captured the attention of such wide audiences. But he has been able to hold audiences in the palm of their hand.

The Folk Music Journal

 

Packie Byrne now lives in retirement in Ardara, County Donegal after many years spent in England, earning his living in a variety of ways over the years, several associated with music and entertainment. He has been steelworker, stand-up comic, saxophone and clarinet player in dance bands, actor, storyteller, drover.... Well, read his fascinating book Recollections Of A Donegal Man (ISBN 0 9514764 0 8) for the complete story. In traditional music circles it is his singing, whistle playing and the compelling geniality of the man that wins everybody's hearts. During the sixties and seventies he was one of the most popular figures at the height of the folk scene's popularity which is when the recordings that comprise the Veteran recordings were made., partly by Sean Davies in 1964 and the remainder by Mike Yates (who also recorded Packie's Topic album) in 1976. He was constantly touring for fees that hardly gained him a decent living or reflected the considerable effort that he put into each appearance. His repertoire on the folk scene tended towards the humorous, even the novel or gimmicky (Do you remember the two whistles played with the shower mixer tubes?) but his love of the tradition always came through strongly. When he recorded albums he showed that love. Songs Of A Donegal Man for Topic was just that, with Packie singing the ballads he had learned as a young man. Packie Byrne, the limited issue album for the EFDSS in 1969 was in a similar vein, though that also included some of his whistle playing. Packie also made a couple of albums for Dingles (1977 & 1981) in the popular if unlikely duo with the American harper Bonnie Shaljean.

 

This Veteran CD reflects the way most folk club goers will remember Packie with a wide range of Irish songs, comic songs well to the fore including Meet An Irishmen, The Shirt My Father Wore, Cod Liver Oil and the part-monologue The Big Ship as well as sentimental pieces like Barnyards and Where Is My Norah? and songs that are firmly rooted in the tradition such as The Highwayman Outwitted, Rambling Irishman and McCafferty. All these are interspersed with tunes on the whistle, the most pleasing of which are the two beautiful slow airs.

 

For those of us with very fond memories of Packie's club and festival performances, this release reminds us of a different part of Packie's huge repertoire of songs than his previous albums. Packie occupies a unique position in that he can be counted amongst that band of humorous entertainers who made their living in the folk scene at the height of its popularity without compromising his position in traditional music. A comparable figure in the jazz world would be Thomas "Fats" Waller. The jazzers are even more suspicious than the traditional music community and they are pretty sure that anyone who amuses or entertains must have "sold out". Yet they all love Fats just as we all love Packie!

Vic Smith

 


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