Reviews of VT141CD 'They sailed away from Dublin Bay'
Michel Oliviť (customer)
This is fine traditional Irish music of the finest order and Liam Farrell and Joe Whelan are the musicians. This CD features them playing together recently and their spirit and dexterity is as good as ever, maybe even better, like good wine. Liam is a banjo player extraordinaire from an old Tyrone family who were all steeped in the whistles, flutes, fiddles box, and singing. Joe Whelan hailed from Offaly at a musical crossroads of traditions, came to London in 1960 and, since then, has been a huge influence in the music and accordion style. Also on the recordings are the legendary James Carty on flute and Reg Hall on piano.
The extraordinary thing about this CD is that the music and sound are larger than life. It's hard to imagine there are only four players on track, but such is the complimentary nature of the instruments, the harmony and complete understanding of each other's style. It's full of jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas and waltzes and most of them are 'references' and definitives. That's because many of the finest trad composers and players of that era - Paddy O'Brian, Paddy Fahy, Sean Ryan and the like, were /are musical contempories of Liam and Joe and their influence is much in evidence in the 30 or so tracks on here.
The music is superbly genuine. It's an album you can drop into your CD player and find no distractions, enhancements nor gimmicks, simply beautiful music for those who like this kind of stuff. A full hour of the best there is, where you can listen and do other things in equal measure and feel all the better for it!
Our favourite bits? Two superb tracks - the title track /waltz, 'They Sailed Away From Dublin Bay' and reels 'The Holly Bush / Congress'. No collection of traditional music is complete without this superb recording.
Irish Dancing International
There's no denying that there's a wealth of great Irish music available on CD at the moment. The trad fan might feel him or herself spoilt for choice. Well, Pay The Reckoning recommends that that you do yourselves a mighty favour and invest in Liam Farrell and Joe Whelan's offering.
This is simply one of the most outstanding recordings it has been our pleasure to come across. Outstanding not because it breaks the mould. Nor does it come imbued with flash-bang wizardry. The collection is outstanding precisely because it does neither of these. It's a down to earth, solid set of tunes, played with restraint and taste by Farrell (banjo) and Whelan (accordeon), accompanied by Reg Hall on piano and given a hand on a number of tracks by the sprog of the outfit, James Carty (flute).
Farrell and Whelan are veterans of the Irish music explosion in 1950s London. The post-war rebuilding boom drew Irish people in their thousands into England and soon a tight network of Irish musicians developed. Camden Town and Holloway were among the areas of London where clusters within this network established themselves. However they came together in all quarters of the capital - Willesden, Kilburn, Cricklewood, Highbury and across the water in New Cross, Croydon, Fulham ...
Farrell and Whelan played with the best of them, in various ceili bands such as The Hibernian, The Four Courts and the Dunloe and in formal and informal sessions throughout London. They played alongside such luminaries as Sean Maguire, Roger Sherlock, Bobby Casey, Lucy Farr and Brendan McGlinchey. Visiting musicians such as Joe Burke, Paddy Carty, Paddy Fahy would seek out the crack and - again - Farrell and Whelan would get the word.
Before ever hearing a note, there's a tremendous frisson associated with the possibility of hearing music from players who rubbed shoulders and traded tunes with such legendary names. And then the CD hits the carousel and - from the opening bars of the first jig set (The Blooming Meadows/The Lark In The Morning) - all that experience immediately makes itself manifest. We weren't even thought of when these boys were first making their way in the Irish music world, but by God, listening to them play we can immediately imagine ourselves in that world of dark suits, smoky pubs and jostling dance-halls. A more innocent time perhaps, but a time when the Irish community in London - without any artificial props - created for itself a rich and vital sense of community, much of which centred on the music.
Music whose purpose was not just to please the ear. Dancing was a much more popular phenomenon than currently and most sizeable residential areas within London were host to large dancehalls where the Irish community would congregate at the weekends to fill the floors and trot the night away to the ceili bands. It's difficult at our current remove, where Irish music - even for the Irish community - has become a "niche" pursuit, to imagine the mass enthusiasm of the 50s. However, the eagerness of the Irish community for its native music at the time has probably only been surpassed by the great upsurge of interest in the tradition during the early part of the 20th Century in America.
That Farrell's and Whelan's talent was tempered in the white heat of such glory days is obvious in every phrase they play. They pull off the difficult trick of combining an individual style with an absolute command of rhythm and therefore appeal to the ear, the heart and the feet at the same time. This insistent, but in some cases, almost subliminal pulse runs through all of the sets on the album - on reel sets such as George White's Favourite/The Galway Rambler, Paul Brock's/Mary McNamara's, the superb Travers'/The Chicago Reel, The Maid Of Mount Cisco/The Abbey Reel and the glorious The Holly Bush/The Congress as well as jig sets such as Paddy O'Brien's/The Flying Wheelchair, Kathleen Hehir's/Moyglass Fair and Paddy Fahy's/The Rakes Of Clonmel.
But for our money the stand-out tracks on this album are a hornpipe set and a waltz set. On The Good Natured Man/The Fairy's Hornpipe, Farrell and Whelan demonstrate how the pulse which we mentioned earlier can be maintained even when a tune is highly ornamented. The first of the hornpipes in particular sees Whelan wring streams of crisp and starkly-etched triplets from his accordeon and yet the dynamic of the tune never falters beneath its rich top-dressing of ornamentation.
The other set which merits particular mention comprises the waltz from which the album derives its title combined with that supposedly unlucky tune, The Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow. There are fewer sounds in the world so instantly arresting as an Irish waltz played by gifted and intelligent players. We find that such tunes have a great sadness at their core - not the bitter, hopeless, wretched sadness of the grand airs - but a languid melancholy, a hold-me-tight-and-don't-let-me-go sense of dejection. Music that expresses the pain of saying goodbye - not forever as in the sense of a lament, but as near as damn it. The pain of parting; the pain of heart's desire being just out of reach. This is a set to leave the listeners swallowing hard on their drinks to dislodge the lumps in their throats, while the solemn dancers slowly circle the room ...
A word or two of praise to Reg Hall, whose vamping on the piano adds depth and colour to proceedings and to London-born James Carty whose approach to the music belies his generation. Here's a player who knows where to look for inspiration!
If any of the above seems remotely over the top, then we can only encourage you to listen to the album. You'll find that our fulsome praise is well-deserved and that this CD is a pure treasure!
A doffing of the cap to Veteran before we finish. Veteran are a small independent record label, devoted to capturing the finest in traditional music from across the British Isles. Their carefully selected catalogue features singers and musicians who reflect the vitality and power of traditional music. Veteran eschew the scattergun approach of some labels who record just about anyone in the hope of hitting on a genuine talent. Instead they record only those artists whose music is instinctive, honest and earthy and whose music is crying out to be captured and made available. Nor will you find too many "star names" in their catalogue (although there are a few totemic performers on their books, and more power to Veteran for securing them!) - the label is more concerned with the quality of the goods on offer than on the place of the artist in some artificial pecking order.
At last! A recording of Irish music that doesn't try to break the world land speed record. Here are a group of musicians playing the kind of music that could have been heard fifty or sixty years ago in the pubs of Camden Town, Cricklewood and Croydon, and many other cities where the Irish have settled. It can still be heard today if you care to search it out.
The musicians have all served their apprenticeships in various bands and groups, such as the Hibernian Ceili Band and the Four Courts Ceili Band, over the past forty or more years Banjoist Liam Farrell came to London as a teenager from his home in county Tyrone and met Joe Whelan, from County Offaly about fifteen years ago. I first heard them at the Dartmoor Festival, accompanied by Reg Hall on keyboard, playing in concerts sessions. Or anywhere that they could find a box to sit down on and start playing. I still have the set of Irish slate 'bones' that Joe gave me that weekend. They are joined on this record by James Carty, son of John Carty the flautist from Knokroe Co. Roscommon, another fine player of the flute.
The music is a mixture of jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas and waltzes, played with skill, love, enthusiasm and respect and built on Reg Halls underling keyboard foundation. This is music to dance to; to jump up and
down to, this is music that you can hear live any Saturday at the Duke of Gloucester in Croydon or in any one of a number of pubs in Irish London. Go and listen, but first of all buy this record! It comes with an information booklet, written by Reg Hall, on the musicians and the Irish music scene in London.
The Living Tradition (magazine)
"The oft quoted Joe Cooley remark about the real music getting folks back to their senses sprang to mind when I was recently sent a copy of a wonderful CD from John Howson of the Veteran Label in Suffolk. The album entitled "They Sailed Away from Dublin Bay" features the music of Liam Farrell and Joe Whelan, (banjo and box, although it's spelt in that annoyingly fashionable English style as an accordeon, rather than accordion with an "i", and before you all send in letters, check out its etymology, it comes from the Greek akkordion, with an "i" which means in "tune or harmony"). Glad I got that off my chest, now back to the album, whose superb liner notes are by Doctor Reg Hall, (a man immersed in the London Irish scene for many years before he bacame an academic). Farrell and Whelan's music was gleaned from playing alongside the great names in traditional music who came to London from all over Ireland to live work and, in their spare time, play music. Now I'm not one to knock education and the need to train players in an academy may be merely a symptom of the way the music has lost touch with it's roots. There is one telling quote from Reg Hall, who recalls one noted musician telling him:
"If you know the title of every tune you play then you don't know enough tunes!"
Life is an Education, music is for life.
(editorial) Irish Music (magazine)
Liam Farrell (banjo) and Joe Whelan (accordeon) are veterans(!) of the London Irish scene. Their playing spans the years of relatively isolated, rural traditional music finding new outlets for it's expression in city pubs "across the water," to the boom-years of the Ceili Bands (Farrell and Whelan were members of The Hibernian and The Four Courts, respectively). On this CD (recorded over two nights in 2001) they're joined by fellow-traveller Reg Hall with the reassuringly familiar thump of his vamping piano, and James Carty, a younger musician who plays the old-style music on the flute. The repertoire is, unsurprisingly, Irish traditional music, pure and simple -- jigs, reels, waltzes, polkas, marches and hornpipes. The arrangements generally fall into the parameters of the old joke -- how do you know when there's a ceili band at your front door? They knock twice then all come in at once. That being said, there's nothing remotely "jokey" about this music, for while members of the "post-Planxty" generations (like me) may be initially disoriented by the absence of guitars, bouzoukis, complex rhythms, sudden time changes and dynamic variety that predominate in so much of the modern genre, this is wonderful stuff. This is Irish music played with enormous skill, empathy and verve by musicians who live and breathe it. Old-fashioned? No, these are genuinely "timeless" and utterly captivating performances.
The publicity accompanying this release from Veteran states that "the explosion of Irish music in 1950's London included two influential players; one a trend-setter amongst banjo players from Tyrone and another with an original and animated button style accordion from Offaly".
Here we have an album of traditional Irish instrumental music played by two seasoned veterans. Liam and Joe have been associated with just about every London Irish musician including the likes of Sean Maguire, Bobby Casey and Michael Gorman. The CD booklet is a veritable Who's Who of the early London Irish music scene and provides a very detailed and interesting history of the London music scene as both players talk at length about their experiences, giving us an insight into the craic and the characters they encountered along the way.
The music of course speaks for itself. There is a varied selection of reels, jigs, hornpipes, polkas and a couple of waltzes. Some are long established traditional favourites brought from the players' homeland; others are more recent compositions (such as the American Dusty Windowsill). The presence of Reg Hall's piano serves to give the recording something of an Irish ceili band feel. This is quite in keeping as Liam and Joe have played for so many Irish dances where a solid, rhythmical backing is important. Besides, they come from a time when guitars and jangley bouzouki were unheard of in Irish music circles.
Joe's accordion playing is rock solid and a treat to listen to. Not being an accordion player I wouldn't presume to comment on the technical aspects of his playing. However, as a banjo player for more years than I care to admit, I have to say how delighted I was to hear Liam Farrell at last (I had been aware of him for a long time). He is generally recognised as one of the first tenor players on this side of the Atlantic and has influenced a whole generation of young players. The banjo is a potentially destructive instrument in the wrong hands - so many sessions have been ruined by insensitive would-be banjoists. It doesn't have to be a brash instrument as Liam Farrell amply demonstrates. His playing has so completely assimilated the sophisticated embellishments that we come to expect from quality players of Irish Music.
So, an unreservedly excellent album and one that should be in the collection of anyone professing a love of Irish Music.
There's a really old fashioned feel to this recording which puts me in mind of the Topic album "Paddy in the Smoke" which was recorded as long ago as 1967. Since then the London Irish music scene has waxed and waned but now, thankfully, it is in full swing again and these boys are at the heart of it, having both been actively involved since the 1950s. It was then that they met and played with all the great names of Irish music who had come to England to live and work and, in their spare time, play music.
Joe Whelan plays a B/C button accordion, Liam Farrell the tenor banjo and on this occasion they are accompanied by James Carry on flute and Reg Hall on piano. The overall effect is a stunning combination of rhythm and melody. The tunes are not played at the usual breakneck speed but lope nicely along in a gentle but nevertheless exciting. manner. Subtle variations abound with Joe and Liam bouncing ideas back and forth between squeeze-box and banjo. Reg Hall's vamping piano can only be described as massive and funky - rock on Reg?
The usual high quality packaging from Veteran includes a booklet detailing the life and times of the musicians. Also included are some remarkable photographs the likes of which we'll not see again?
Reels, jigs, hornpipes, polkas, marches and a couple of gorgeous waltz sets - this is Irish music for dancing to although I must admit I'm perfectly happy to listen to it in the bath. Whichever way works for you, it's a great way to spend an hour of your life.
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