DAN WALSH – O’Neill’s Tunes (Rooksmere RRCD120)

O'Neill's TunesDan Walsh tells the story himself: how he fell in love with Irish music and wanted to learn the banjo. He acquired a 5-string banjo and practiced diligently to become the brilliant musician he is today. Then he discovered that Irish music is usually played on the 4-string tenor banjo. Brushing aside that disappointment he worked even harder to make his dream album, O’Neill’s Tunes, fifteen sets garnered from O’Neill’s Music Of Ireland.

My wife, is not usually enamoured of instrumental albums but she likes O’Neill’s Tunes, partly because it’s by Dan Walsh, of course, but also because she recognises so many of the tunes. I suppose that makes her the equivalent of The Old Grey Whistle Test’s legendary doorman. I’m not an expert on O’Neill but it seems to me that Dan has mixed a number of popular tunes with some rather more esoteric selections. So the opening track begins with ‘The Old Bush’ and ‘Humours Of Ballinacarrig’ before up pop the familiar notes of ‘Jenny Picking Cockles’ leading into the ending with ‘Salamanca Reel’.

I should say before I go any further that I really like O’Neill’s Tunes. Dan has managed to combine his dazzling dexterity with a down-to-earth enjoyment of playing the music. Listen to what he does with ‘Strop The Razor’ and convince me that he has the normal number of hands and fingers. A few moments later he’s playing ‘Cork Hornpipe’ which is usually associated with The Dubliners and has been heard and played by anyone who has been to a session. The slip jig ‘Comb Your Hair And Curl It’ is a tune that I’ve heard many times even though I never knew the title until now and later Dan includes ‘Hag With The Money’, ‘Drops Of Brandy’ teamed with ‘Last Night’s Fun’ and ‘The Rising Sun’. Not forgetting ‘The Mooncoin Jig’ beloved of fans of the young Steeleye Span.

I should remind you that Dan has arranged O’Neill’s Tunes for clawhammer banjo and you can also buy his companion tune book – go on, I dare you. If you don’t, buy this album and marvel at his skill. Even better, go and hear him play live and count his fingers.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: https://www.danwalshbanjo.co.uk/

‘Jigs’ – live in a New Zealand music shop:

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