Reviews of VT134CD 'Linkin' O'er the Lea'
Now in her seventies, Maggy Murphy hails from Tempo, Co. Fermanagh. She was recorded by Peter Kennedy in 1952 (under her maiden name Peggy Chambers) and the song The Auld Beggarman (Linkin' o'er the Lea) became a highlight of the seminal Topic series Folk Songs in Britain & Ireland.
In the 20 year gap since I listened to that album, I remembered only that song and Maggy's singing - fresh, vibrant and very rhythmical. It was a joy to hear it again. Also recorded in 1952, but never released, Banks of the Silvery Tide is another delight - a poignant ballad of loyalty and treachery, love and loss sung with great feeling.
The recordings here span roughly 46 years, with ten tracks recorded in 1995/96. The voice has naturally mellowed, but the style is as lively and vigorous as ever. Maggy sings with conviction, warmth and underlying humour. her style is jaunty, the pace brisk, the oramentation subtle and the diction always clear and strong.
Most of her songs were learned from her mother, while family members and neighbours provided other sources. Many well-known ballads are sung to less usual airs, adding greatly to the interest and enjoyment of this fine collection. This really is an impressive recording and essential listening for lovers of traditional song.
From cutting-edge studio recordings, I'll return now full circle, to the simple humility of field tapes, this time in the English language. Linkin' O'er the Lea [Veteran VT 134CD], a new a CD from the UK label Veteran, presents 16 unaccompanied gems from Maggy Murphy, one of County Fermanagh's great singers. Murphy had been recorded by Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle, for the groundbreaking Caedmon discs. Most of the songs, however, were recorded in 1995 and 1996 by John Howson. They are mostly ballads; some of them were found in older oral and manuscript traditions and collected by Child ("Linkin' O'er the Lea," "Killyburn Brae," "Stock or Wall,"), and others first circulated on printed broadsides ("Banks of the Sweet Dundee," "Edmund in the Lowlands Low," "Molly Bawn"). Most of them will be well-known in one version or another to folksong buffs, who clearly make up this disc's potential audience. But Murphy's unique versions, her clear brassy voice with its distinctive vibrato, and the gusto with which she sings make each and every one worth hearing, especially the few that are rarities.
Dirty Linen (USA)
Here's another one from the rich singing traditions of Northern Ireland, this being a collection of "traditional folk songs and ballads from Tempo, Co. Fermanagh." I've been a sucker for this kind of thing since my exposure to an old Topic album entitled 'Mrs Sarah Makem - Ulster Ballad Singer' at an impressionably young age. It's often said that "a picture is worth a thousand words," so the booklet photographs of Maggy Murphy are worth considering. In many ways, they're strikingly similar to the photos on the John Kennedy album. Both show a person obviously old in years but young at heart, looking fitter than they have any right to be, with a face split by a huge grin and fun and "divilment" etched into every "laughter line" around their eyes. The performances recorded between 1952 and 1996(!) fulfil the promise of the pictures. Murphy comes across as a supremely talented, confident performer and a "larger-than-life" personality with a terrific delivery and an accent that could cut cheese. Whether she's delivering comic songs like "Crockery Ware," and "Paddy and the Ass" or a classic ballads like "Edmund in the lowlands low" and "Molly Bawn" she holds the listener's complete attention by the strength of her material and remarkable vocal talent. For anyone seeking a familiar comparison, Murphy reminds me somewhat of Dervish's Cathy Jordan (who I happen to think is unutterably wonderful). Jordan bucks the prevalent trend among contemporary female singers to concentrate purely on "sweetness" by allowing the content of a song to determine her vocal delivery, and it's a lesson she more than likely learned from singers of Maggy Murphy's generation. You want an example of what I meant by "the real thing" in that introductory paragraph? One listen to Maggy Murphy will bring you to the heartbeat of traditional singing.
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