The Lark’s Call, is the debut solo album from uillean piper Tom Delany, and it’s one for the purist. No fusion or electronic wizardry here – just Irish traditional music, on traditional instruments, and played beautifully.
The quality of the musicianship is no surprise because – although this is a debut solo album – Tom Delany is well established on the Irish music scene. Best known to me as the piper in Four Winds, he also plays with Coast To Coast and as a duo with Four Winds band mate Caroline Keane, who joins him here on concertina. In fact, Delany has assembled an impressive group of friends as backing musicians; Alan Murray (guitar & bouzouki), Brian O’Laughlin (flute), Conor Lyons (bodhran) and Camille Philippe (mandolin). Lunasa guitarist Donogh Hennessy, as producer, completes a stellar line-up.
Like many instrumental albums, The Lark’s Call consists mostly of sets of tunes, starting with a set of jigs. Some of the tunes are very old, some composed in more recent times, but all are very much from the Irish tradition. Delaney’s early influences came from the travelling tradition, which is reflected by tunes from the likes of Johnny Doran and Micho Russell. Born in France, to an Irish father, Delaney now lives close to the Dingle Peninsular and the influence of the local music scene is also much in evidence.
Another familiar feature of instrumental albums is for arrangements to start at a slow tempo, often with a single instrument, before building up. Here, this creates a number of haunting, atmospheric openings, with unaccompanied pipes playing over a very audible drone. The uillean pipes are the dominant instrument, but like many pipers Delaney started with a whistle and demonstrates his skill on track three. This is a set of reels consisting of ‘John Joe Casey’s’, ‘Gus Jordan’s’ and ‘Maudabawn Chapel’. Delany has treasured childhood memories of his father playing the last of these on a fiddle. Delany returns to the whistle on track eight, with a set of jigs.
The Lark’s Call is a well-presented album, with a nicely planned running order. Among the jigs, reels and hornpipes, is a set dance, a highland and two slow airs. The airs are the only stand-alone tunes on the album, and the most sombre. ‘The Wounded Hussar’, is from a Napoleonic era broadsheet, written by Scottish poet Thomas Campbell, with a tune associated with Turlogh O’Carolan. It’s beautiful but mournful, as befits a poem about a woman who finds her love dying on a battlefield. From there, we jump to an upbeat set dance and two reels – ‘The Job of Journeywork’. ‘Dinny O’Brien’s’ and ‘The Pigeon on the Gate.’ I’ve associated the last of these with US contradance, but its origin is as an Irish reel. The second air is the atmospheric ‘Valencia Harbour’. This concerns Gaelic poet Tomas Rua O’Suiileabhain losing his entire literary output overboard while travelling at sea. No memory sticks to back up on back then. This is followed by ‘The Eavesdropper’, ‘The Morning Star’ and ‘My Love is in America’ – a jig and two reels that provide a foot stomping finale to the album. The contrasts work well.
If, like me, you like bagpipes, you’ll enjoy The Larks Call. If you’re someone with an aversion to pipes, well you probably won’t want to listen to it. Perhaps that sums it up – it’s an album that does what it says on the cover. This is an album of Irish traditional music, from a musician who is steeped in that tradition. The arrangements are thoughtful and imaginative, while maintaining a true authenticity. As I said at the start The Lark’s Call is one for the purist, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Artist website: Tom Delany | Uilleann Pipes
‘The Job Of Journeywork/Dinny O’Brien’s/The Pigeon On The Gate’: