Liag is an album of music from South-West Donegal that has been gestating for about thirty years. It concentrates on the more obscure corners of the repertoire and, indeed, there are only two I’m certain I’ve heard before. Dermot Byrne (button accordion and melodeon) is the Donegal man of the trio; Éamonn Coyne , on banjo and tenor guitar, is from just over the way in Roscommon while John Doyle (guitar, bouzouki, mandola and voice) is originally from Dublin. Both Coyne and Doyle have links with Donegal and the trio met at village festivals in the county.
The opening track, ‘Washerwoman’ is a sparkling set of jigs, the sort that makes you smile, beginning with ‘When Sick Is It Tae You Want?’ – one that I have heard before – and it’s followed by three reels. That’s the fundamentals dealt with. ‘The Shelf’ is another jolly tune decorated with banjo runs and then, unexpectedly, comes one of my all-time favourite traditional songs, ‘St Helena’, superb in both lyrics and melody. Napoleon Bonaparte was always a favourite with the Irish and John sings the song with sympathy but unsentimentally. The other song here is written by John, ‘Duffy’s Cut: Mile 59’. It’s a story of Irish emigration to the New World, always a popular subject, but one lacking a happy ending.
‘Stone Mountain’ is, more or less, the title track being a translation of Slieve Liag, a mountain in Donegal containing Ireland highest sea cliffs. The majority of the sets are up-tempo, the exception being ‘Bríd Óg Ní Mháile’, usually heard as a song but played here as an air. With Liag we have three of Ireland’s finest musicians who understand each other’s music and are performing at their best. It is warmly recommended.
Even on this icy night, the venue is full, the crowd enthusiastic – a significant portion seemingly also having attended the recent Transatlantic Sessions. It’s the second visit to Cambridge in very short order for this trio of musicians and they are most warmly welcomed back. (As a side note, it looks like a simple accident of timing prevented Transatlantic Sessions from inclusion in this year’s City Roots festival).
Arriving slightly late (delayed by a missing bike lock key), the band is already underway, so it’s John Doyle’s Child song ‘What Put The Blood’ that makes the first impression. John McCusker follows with a trio of songs from his Hello Goodbye album incorporating a tender tune for his daughter, called ‘It’s A Girl’ with a strathspey link into ‘Billy’s’, a reel for Billy Connolly.
Doyle then takes up an elegant, restrained electric guitar for ‘Liberty’s Sweet Shore’, about the mass death of thousands fleeing the famine en route to Canada. Doyle’s plainly touched by a recent meeting with an elderly woman in Scotland who’d somehow survived this horrific ordeal.
Mike McGoldrick’s seemingly bottomless lungs and dancing fingers are in fine form as he takes the reins on ‘Leaving South Uist / Lochaber Badger’, two tunes learned and loved from earlier Transatlantic Sessions. To round off the first session, the crowd joins in with the deceptively jolly sea shanty ‘Billy O’Shea’, a cautionary tale of pressganging and death. Doyle momentarily loses his thread and, casting heavenwards for inspiration, he fills on guitar, greeted by an encouraging roar of support from the audience as he finds his place once more. It’s reassuring to know that even the most gifted among us is only human, after all!
A quintet of tunes including ‘Keane O’Hara’, ‘Rip The Calico’ and ‘Coming Of Age’ opens the second session, all taken from the new album, The Wishing Tree, and followed up by ‘Across The Western Ocean’ a downbeat sea shanty learned from Doyle’s father. The band happily jumbles over the various tune titles, finally settling on a relaxed, “they’re all on the CD” – which pretty much sums up their easy-going unforced rapport, the kind that only years of friendship can bring.
When they play, it’s a different matter altogether. There is a precision and clarity that unites them. Totally focused, totally in sync, every note is played cleanly: no smudging, blurring or elision. From bow strokes, to finger placing to chords, the line of the music is always sharply defined and crisp, no matter how fast the tempo gets.
They’re superb quick-change artistes too, swapping out instruments mid-tuneset in the blink of an eye, not missing a beat. Starting on whistles, McGoldrick switches to flute and McCusker to fiddle, whilst Doyle changes guitar. As the tune gathers pace, the sheer physical effort is etched on their faces and in their body movements, with Doyle arched over his instrument, practically driving it into the floor. Afterwards, McCusker only says drily, “Well, that went slightly faster than we’d hoped”.
Doyle presents his murder ballad ‘Burke And Hare’, with its chorus based on a children’s rhyme, and ‘The Apprentice Boy’ (aka ‘Charming Anne’) which he introduces as “an optimistic song – my only one”. McCusker’s tender ‘Leaving Friday Harbour’ provides a tender, wistful interlude.
The audience remains utterly engaged and absorbed, rocking out with the faster numbers, quietly attentive on the slower ones. At the end of the show, there’s uproarious applause and foot-stomping until the band returns with an encore of ‘The Banks Of The Bann’.
Never having seen this trio play before (I know), their superb musicianship delivered so much more than expected and, mostly, with apparently effortless ease. What an absolute pleasure to share in their warmth, intimacy and richly talented company for the past couple of hours.
Believe it or not, these guys don’t have a dedicated web-site.
Carrying The Tune is the third solo album in the extensive discography of the critically acclaimed flautist Kevin Crawford, and accompanied by bouzouki (Mick Conneely and John Doyle), guitar (Doyle) and bodhrán (Brian Morrissey), it is immersed, as ever, in the sounds of Celtic tradition, displaying Crawford’s virtuosity at every opportunity. Indeed, such prowess makes it a rather difficult task to pinpoint the album’s standouts, without overlooking what else the record has to offer, therefore (particularly for those who are unfamiliar with the work) it may be more useful to provide a brief rundown of the album as a whole.
‘The Clare Connection’ opens the record, (a set of reels fusing ‘McHugh’s/Michael Murphy’s and Humours Of Tullycrine’ together and featuring Crawford on Eb flute) followed by slip jigs (collectively titled ‘2 Days’), before another set of reels are introduced in the form of ‘Autumn Apples/Cormac O’Lunny’s and Paddy Sean Nancy’s’. Phil Cunningham’s beautiful ‘Flatwater Fran’ next kicks off a set of waltzes, which (like track two’s slip jigs) showcase Crawford on flute as well as whistle. The second waltz of the set, ‘Mrs Jean Campbell BSC’, was written by Rory Campbell, giving Crawford’s piece its title, ‘Phil And Rory’s’
From here, boisterous jigs and beautiful reels lead the way to the haunting air, ‘The Dear Irish Boy’, which follows into the steady guitar of John Doyle and the double tracked flute of Crawford, in the selections which make up ‘The Slippery Slope’. An interesting change of pace is brought about through ‘Tanglony’, with Crawford, this time, opting for the D whistle, and Doyle accompanying him on bouzouki. The next pocket of selections are bookended with reels; ‘The Ivy Leaf’ and ‘The Mountain Lark’, with a collection of jigs, titled ‘Chapter 3’, sandwiched in between. Next up, it is an original, titled ‘The Hula Hoop’, that twists, turns and leads us to slow air ‘Travelling Through Blarney’ and ‘Come West Along The Road’ (collectively titled ‘Travelling West’) to bring the album to an atmospheric conclusion.
For fans of the Irish traditional/ Celtic music scene, you will, no doubt, be familiar with Mr Crawford’s output, either through his solo work, or through his recordings with Lúnasa, Cillian Vallely or Moving Cloud, but you may not be so familiar with this album; self-released originally in 2012 on BallyO Records, it has been out of print the last few years, but thanks to Brooklyn Boy Records and Copperplate Distribution, it is released, once again, in all of its glory.
BBC Radio 2 is to broadcast a drama starring Toby Jones and Jason Donovan based on award-winning author Michael Morpurgo’s child migration novel, Alone On A Wide Wide Sea. The four-part drama, the first ever adaptation of the book, stars Toby Jones and Jason Donovan alongside cameo appearances from Michael Morpurgo and Maggie Aderin-Pocock.
The 30-minute episodes will be broadcast across four days during Jeremy Vine’s show at 1.30pm-2pm from Monday 7 to Thursday 10 August. The drama will also feature original music from the album The Ballads Of Child Migration, as well as new songs which have been written especially for the radio drama.
Between 1869 and 1970 around 100,000 British children were sent overseas – without their parents – by leading British churches and charities to new lives in Australia and Canada. Michael Morpurgo’s story, which was adapted for radio by Ian McMillan, is inspired by this sad part of history. It tells of the adventures of two child migrants, Arthur and Marty, who dispatched from London to a working farm in the Australian outback.
In the drama, Toby Jones plays Mr Piggy Bacon, who runs the farm where the child migrants are put to work on the land, and Jason Donovan portrays Arthur Hobhouse, who as an orphan child was sent from London to Australia as part of a child migration scheme.
The play covers 50 years of Arthur Hobhouse’s life and so features three different actors portraying the character, though Jason is a constant throughout playing ‘old Arthur’. Michael Morpurgo narrates the story, while Maggie Aderin-Pocock (presenter of the BBC’s Sky at Night) plays an astronaut in the International Space Station.
Specially curated music from the drama was performed to great acclaim at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2017 on Wednesday 5 April at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Lewis Carnie, Head of Radio 2, says: “I’m delighted BBC Radio 2 is bringing such distinctive drama and music to the heart of our daytime schedule. The powerful and engaging writing of Michael Morpurgo will be beautifully brought to life by the superb cast.”
Michael Morpurgo says: “What is hard and uncomfortable to remember and believe, is always salutary and important to acknowledge. The migrant crisis the world faces today is not new. Wherever there has been war or hunger, homelessness or poverty, there will be refugees seeking sanctuary, seeking to survive. Among those who suffer most in such circumstances are children, children alone or unwanted in the world.
“After the Second World War, there were thousands of such children in this country in need of homes and in need of the security and love only a family can provide. Many of these children were sent away to the other side of the world, separated from all they knew, to Australia, and elsewhere, where it was thought they would be well looked after. Some were, but others found themselves living in abject misery and hardship, were exploited and abused, their lives blighted.
“Alone On A Wide Wide Sea traces the lives of these children, of one in particular, and of his family. He struggles all his life to come to terms with his isolation and banishment, as he and his daughter try to rediscover their roots, to find a way back to their family and a sense of identity.”
Jason Donovan said: “Michael Morpurgo is such a wonderful writer and Alone On A Wide Wide Sea is a moving, beautiful story. It’s an absolute pleasure to be invited to play one of his characters.
“Being Australian I’m very aware of the child migration schemes and the terrible hardships that some of those children endured when they went to Australia. In his usual magical way, Michael manages to weave a delightful adventure out of a terribly sad piece of history. I hope that this production will help to make more people aware of the story of child migrants.”
Alone On A Wide Wide Sea was published in 2006 and the book’s title is taken from a line in English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s longest major poem, The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.
The drama is directed by Frank Stirling, and edited and produced by John Leonard of 7digital productions. This is the second drama that John and Michael Morpurgo have worked together on for Radio 2. In 2014, John produced a version of Michael’s War Horse for the network.
R2 magazine said of the album, The Ballads Of Child Migration:
The trick for both the writers and project co-ordinator Gordon Lynch is to avoid saying the same thing over and over again. While and Matthews’ ‘Small Cases Full Of Big Dreams’ which opens the set almost says it all. Jez Lowe immediately provides another point of view with the jolly ‘Barnardo’s Party Time’ and his ‘Snow To Nova Scotia’ and John Doyle’s ‘Liberty’s Sweet Shore’ both offer optimism but by now you’ve read the notes and the enormity of the subject is sinking in. At this point the hymn, ‘Whither Pilgrims Are You Going’, performed by CBS and O’Hooley & Tidow might just leave a nasty taste in the mouth.
Doolin’ is France’s premiere Celtic band and their self-titled debut for Compass Records is one of the freshest and most exciting Celtic records in years. Natives of Toulouse, Doolin’ worked with legendary Irish guitarist John Doyle in the producer’s chair to achieve a sound uniquely their own—deeply rooted in traditional Celtic music but wonderfully flavored with French chanson, American roots music and even hip hop straight from the streets of Paris.
The band traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to record the album and worked in the legacy studio now owned by Compass Records where the Outlaw Movement in country music took root in the late 1960s. The resulting experience infused Doolin’ with an infectious energy. The musical essence of the band is captured on the fiery ‘The Road to Gleanntan’, the gorgeous reflective character of ‘Le Dernier Kouign Amann’, the beautifully rendered Jacques Brel classic ‘Amsterdam’, with its evocative strains of accordion and French lyric, and culminates with the bold integration of rap and John Doyle’s percussive guitar style on Sinéad O’Connor’s ‘Famine’. Collaborations with special guests Jerry Douglas (Dobro), John Doyle (guitar, bouzouki), Alison Brown (banjo), and Kenny Malone (percussion) brought stellar results on stand out tracks that include a reworking of the Steve Earle classic ‘Galway Girl’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Ballad of Hollis Brown’.
The beautiful mountain Knocknarea in Ireland’s County Sligo is said to be the final resting place of the ancient Irish warrior-queen Maeve. The ‘Alt’ is a storied glen on the side of Knocknarea, and it was in the shadow of this glen in the little village of Coolaney that the three master Irish traditional musicians in The Alt – John Doyle, Nuala Kennedy, and Eamon O’Leary – first gathered to rehearse.
The old ballads, winding tunes, and freshly discovered songs that each artist brought to the table reflect the pure love of the song that has made Irish music so beautiful and compelling over thousands of years. It’s this same love of the song that the Irish brought to America, nestling into their new homes in Appalachia and forming the bedrock that would bring us American country, bluegrass, and old-time music. The Alt are fully aware of this history, and in fact chose to record their debut album in the quiet isolation of a small cabin in North Carolina’s Appalachian mountains. Alone with just the scurrying sounds of little mice accompanying them, each of these master musicians was able to use their partnership to touch at something deeper in the music, something swift and beautiful and magical that
has always run beneath these songs.
Each player in The Alt is a leading light of today’s folk scene and though this could be easily called a supergroup, at its heart The Alt is really a celebration of friendship and song. Guitarist and singer John Doyle, whose family hails from around Knocknarea, was born and raised in Dublin, lives in Asheville, NC, and is one of the pre-eminent guitarists and vocalists of his generation. His ground-breaking work with Irish band Solas and with Karen Casey has influenced many other artists and his style of guitar accompaniment is iconic in Irish music. He met flautist and singer Nuala Kennedy at Celtic Colors and while touring in Europe and the two hit it off while exploring songs and tunes in common. Nuala is herself a singer and songwriter well known internationally for her beautiful vocals and her unusual arrangements of traditional songs as showcased on multiple solo albums for Compass Records.
Looking to add a third voice to the band, John suggested his long-time friend and fellow Dubliner Eamon O’Leary, who also plays guitar and bouzouki. O’Leary is one of the most in-demand Irish vocalists and guitarists in the US today thanks to his subtle and beautiful work with Jefferson Hamer in The Murphy Beds. Each artist in The Alt delved into their own pasts to draw forth the songs on their debut album. Though each member is a fine songwriter in their own right, for this first album The Alt give their attention to traditional Irish songs. Some of the songs they grew up hearing and others they have collected along the road, from friends and mentors, from archival recordings and written collections. Gathered in the mountains of North Carolina, The Alt recorded their debut album in just three days, a testament to the ease each member feels with their native music. The singular sound of The Alt that came from this recording session is greater than the sum of its parts; at once delicate, deliberate and always in deference to the song at its core.