Gatehouse announce their second album

Gatehouse

“It is said that music lifts the spirit and this is so true on Gatehouse’s new album Heather Down The Moor. Garnering their repertoire from the North Connaught tradition, all the tracks are finely paced with the lovely choice of traditional songs in both English and in Gaelic, as in the title track; ‘Heather Down The Moor’, or the wonderful Connemara Sean-Nós song ‘Seán Bán’, interspersed with uplifting flings, hop jigs, a few reel selections, double jigs and barndances, all complimenting one another, making the whole recording a joy to listen to.  The arrangements are sophisticated, but not overdone, which proves how good taste strengthens and enhances the tradition, when done well.” So says Mairead Ní Mhaonaigh about the latest release by Roscommon based traditional group Gatehouse.

Since the release of their critically acclaimed solo album Tús Nua in 2016, the band has gone from strength to strength. Receiving a rare 5-star review from The Irish Times – the album was described as “an unerring gem” and “in that elusive ‘must have’ category for years to come”. Internationally famous fiddler Martin Hayes stated that Tús Nua was “beautifully arranged and recorded. Everything happening here is authentic.”

On this, their second record, Gatehouse have presented more intricate arrangements and augmented their attention to detail whilst supplementing their core sound with additional instruments, layers and colours, all adroitly guided by the hand of co-producer Dónal O’Connor. They have assembled some of Ireland’s finest musicians: John Joe Kelly on Bodhrán, Alan Kelly on Piano Accordion, Michael McCague on bouzouki and Conor & Paddy McEvoy on Fiddle & Piano. The band’s members John and Jacinta McEvoy, Rachel Garvey and John Wynne are steeped in traditional music and it’s no surprise that they are sought after to teach and mentor younger musicians at various Summer schools all over the country. The Wynne/McEvoy partnership goes back a long while. “Myself and John McEvoy really enjoy playing together and have performed at many festivals and events over the years,” says John Wynne. “In the last couple of years we thought about expanding and developing our sound so we decided to put the group together. We didn’t have to look too far because in addition to myself and John, we had John’s wife Jacinta on guitar and concertina.” When it came to a singer for the group, John McEvoy says: “We asked a young singer called Rachel Garvey to join us. She is also from Roscommon and is an All-Ireland winner in both Irish and English songs”.

The album features new tune compositions from the band’s fiddler, John McEvoy which were created especially for this record. With the tune arrangements the band wished to create an ‘on the edge’ feel hence the new tune title ‘On The Edge’. “John’s compositions give us a unique sound and by osmosis, they seem to fit in the musical style of north Connacht” Jacinta explains. “There’s a great lift, flow and rhythm to the music of Roscommon. There is great joy and heart in the musical style, I think.” Rachel adds “We chose some English and Scottish folk songs like ‘Heather Down The Moor’, ‘The Cocks Are Crowing’ and ‘The Death Of Queen Jane’ as well as going back to the roots and the source of the singing tradition with the Connemara Sean-Nós songs ‘Mo Cheallaichín Fionn’ and ‘Seán Bhán’. With the Sean-Nós songs we really worked on presenting them in a new and fresh melodic way”.

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‘Heather Down The Moor’:

FLOOK – Ancora (Flatfish 006)

Ancora“Ancora impara” said Michaelangelo, aged 82, and I probably don’t need to tell you that means “I am always learning”.  [I suspect you might – Ed.] That’s something that Flook have taken on board with their first album since Haven in 2005. Flook didn’t go away in those 14 years, playing festivals, live shows and tours so why the lack of studio material? As Brian Finnegan says, “We…took a break in 2008, followed our hearts and instincts and went our separate ways; had kids, got hitched, loved, lost, explored the musical world…” Now they’re back with a Ancora, an album that shows that even iconic bands don’t rest on their laurels but continue to look for the new. This album will delight their many fans, attract new ones and be listened to by anyone who loves tradition as played by four experts.

Flook formed over 20 years ago, winning Best Band at the BBC Folk Awards in 2006 and at their heart still retain original flute and pipers Sarah Allen and Brian Finnegan, now joined by Ed Boyd (guitar, piano) and John Joe Kelly (bodhran). As well as the band the album includes a who’s who of guest musicians including Phil Cunningham, Philip Henry, Patsy Reid and Niall Murphy. There’s even Mark Tucker playing the theramin. The quality shines through and every track, none traditional, on the album is spot on. Hang on, didn’t I say the traditionalists will love it? Yes, I did because tradition doesn’t just mean it has to have been around for years. The 12 tracks on the album are formed from twenty tunes of which the majority are written by Allen and Finnegan but they also use works of contemporaries such as Jarleth Henderson, Sam Lakeman and John McSherry. It’s a living, breathing tradition.

The overall impression of the album is quality musicianship. The playing is precise and tight, they make it sound all very easy and natural, with the music flowing seamlessly. As an album of purely instrumental work it gives you, as the listener, a choice of dipping in and out or listening straight through. I’ve found it ideal to put into the car stereo for the trip to work, it has a running time of just under 50 minutes, and arriving in a much better frame of mind than I would normally do. Opening the album are two tunes by Finnegan; ‘Reel For Rubik’ and ‘Toward The Sun’. As expected the flutes dominate but the piece moves up through tempo and intensity and introducing the other instrumentalists.

This change in pace and style is common throughout the album, but never becomes rollicking. Probably my favourite piece, although a difficult choice to make, is Allen’s ‘Companion Star’ which is absolutely beautiful. It flows so well, at a gentle pace, and it’s very easy to imagine oneself on a boat just drifting along following that star. The segue into ‘Coral Castle’, co-written by Finnegan and Ashley Broder lifts the pace and introduces further instruments but again the title fits the piece, and anyone who has dived a coral reef will recognise the rhythm of life within it. .
I could easily have chosen ‘Turquoise Girl’ as another favourite track. This is a set of four tunes by four different composers, again flowing smoothly, with a faster pace that certainly gets the toes tapping. I can imagine it going down very well during a live performance.

This is certainly an album you should buy, a milestone from an iconic band, and get it now so that you can say you had it before the inevitable awards come along, because it will gain many Instrumental Album of the Year plaudits if there’s any justice in the world.

The album will be released on April 12th but is available to pre-order now through the website. Alternatively I’m certain it will be available at live shows and Flook will be taking it on tour throughout 2019, covering most of the country from Findhorn to Sidmouth.

Tony Birch

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‘Reel For Rubik/Unto The Sun’ – live:

Flook return with new album after fourteen years

Flook

On 12 April 2019, due to overwhelming popular demand, the legendary folk band Flook are finally to release a new album.  Coming after a gap of fourteen years, Ancora will be released through Cadiz Music on CD and digital formats. Despite the recording hiatus between their third studio album and Ancora, in recent years Flook have played occasional live shows, including short tours of Ireland,, Japan and Germany as well as festival shows, and they will undertake a seventeen-date tour of England and Wales in April and May 2019.

With the flutes and whistles of Brian Finnegan and Sarah Allen, the guitar of Ed Boyd and the bodhran of John Joe Kelly, the iconic band Flook weaves and spins traditionally rooted tunes into an enthralling sound – with agile but tight rhythms and virtuoso improvisation. Flook possesses a rare blend of fiery technical brilliance, delicate ensemble interaction and a bold, adventurous musical imagination.

Formed over 20 years ago by four friends, Flook burst onto the international music scene with their debut studio album, Flatfish.  The band had a remarkably successful performing and recording career – the sheer enjoyment of playing together shone through their albums. But it was their live performances that really captured the hearts of those who watched and listened.

Brian Finnegan said, “Way back in 2005 when we released our 3rd studio album Haven, little did we know that it would be our last for almost a decade and a half.  We took a break in 2008, followed our hearts and instincts and went our separate ways; had kids, got hitched, loved, lost, explored the musical world post-Flook.

But when Flook came calling again in 2013, so the voltage returned and like all deep friendships it felt like we’d never been apart. Part of the decision to re-group was the understanding that we had much left to say as a band, and a certain responsibility to our loyal fans, old and new, to create Flook music of the present, rich in both past and future.

The imagery associated with the meaning of Ancora is abundant indeed. It is the Latin word for anchor, be that to the seabed or in the kith and kin of our lives.  It also means ‘hope’ and ‘again’. The great Italian master Michelangelo was attributed as saying “Ancora Impara” on his 87th birthday, meaning “I am ever learning”. This resonated in us and was present throughout the process of recording Ancora.  So, deeper in we go. Thanks for listening.”

Having won ‘Best Band’ at BBC Folk Awards 2006, there is no shortage of virtuosity amongst the members of Flook, but the unique impact of this sensational Anglo-Irish group stems from the wholly intuitive, almost symbiotic, exchange between the various flutes, frets and skins. Ancora marks a return after too long away, but also a continuation.

Artists’ website: https://flook.co.uk/

‘Sharig’ – live:

STEVIE DUNNE – Live At The Crosskeys Inn (own label SDB003)

Live At The Crosskeys InnIreland is full of fine musicians who, unlike prophets, are honoured in their own country but not so much elsewhere. Stevie Dunne is one such. With two studio albums and an American Irish Music Award to his credit he chose a rather more low-key venue to record his third. The Crosskeys Inn is located half an hour from Belfast and is a place where Stevie has played his banjo and guitar for many years. Accompanying him on this session are Brian McGrath, Cyril O’Donoghue, Gerdy Thompson and John Joe Kelly, whose driving bodhran playing holds the whole thing together.

As he launched into ‘Jim Donoghues’ I thought the sound was disappointingly thin but I’m prepared to accept that the sound man, Cormac O Kane, was still twiddling his knobs at that point. He certainly was unable to edit out the small children during the beautiful and quiet ‘Sally Gardens’. Actually Stevie makes about point of that as they are his sons and he wanted them there and, presumably, heard. After a few bars things improved immensely and the musicians got into their stride. That said, this is very much Stevie’s album and the accompanists show great restraint doing just what is required to support his playing.

Some of the tunes are Stevie’s own but the majority are traditional as in ‘I got it from the playing of so-and-so’. Of course, so-and-so probably got it from such-and-such who presumably learned it from someone else. That’s how it is with Irish music in particular – the tunes are there and musicians like Stevie keep playing them. By the time the band hit the railroad rhythm of ‘The Dog Among The Bushes/The Wisemaid’ I was convinced. This is real music played in a thatched pub in front of an appreciative audience – what more do you need?

Dai Jeffries

‘The Dog Among The Bushes/The Wisemaid’ – live on TV:

Stevie Dunne releases live album

Stevie Dunne

Stevie Dunne is regarded as one of Ireland’s finest banjo players. Hailing from the small fishing port of Clogherhead in County Louth, Stevie now resides just outside Belfast where he has been a pivotal member of the traditional music scene for over 20 years. He began playing guitar at the age of 12, and was given his first banjo at the age of 13, when his late uncle John Dunne a fiddle and accordion player, heard him picking tunes on his guitar. Stevie instantly fell in love with the banjo and set about learning tunes and developing his style and technique. It has been said that Stevie’s banjo playing is energetic, yet subtle and with a distinct regard for the tradition. Having developed a strong following nationally and internationally, he receives numerous requests from around the world to teach and tour. A recent prerecord for TG4’s FleadhTV from the pier at Clogherhead received such widespread appraise that Stevie was invited to perform on the live show at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Drogheda.

Stevie has released two studio albums to critical acclaim – About Time in 2010 and Banjo in 2012. His first album won him a prestigious Irish Music Award in America. This latest offering is his first live album and he adds “I have been playing in The Crosskeys Inn for years. It wouldn’t be my local, however each time I have played in the bar the acoustic resonance and atmosphere has always been fantastic. I think this is partly due to the rich heritage that the bar has. It’s the oldest thatched pub in Ireland and has always been steeped in a rich tapestry of traditional music, song and dance. I have hosted many sessions there over the years, particularly as part of the Gig ‘n the Bann Festival”.

Recorded on the 8th April 2018, this record portrays Stevie’s ability to weave and meander around the tunes with the lightest of touches, when called for. Coupled with raw energy and magnetism, he produces a refreshing and invigorating sound. He is joined by some of Ireland’s finest accompanists – Brian McGrath on Piano, Gerdy Thompson on guitar, Cyril O’Donoghue on bouzouki and John Joe Kelly on bodhrán.

Stevie adds “The funny thing about this album is that we never played a note together until the night before the recording. I sent the lads the tunes and the night before Gerdy, Brian and John Joe came around to my house and we ran through the sets. It was clear that we immediately locked horns with the rhythms and chord progressions. Cyril came up the morning of the recording and fell straight into line with the rest of us and hence Live At The Crosskeys Inn was born. I think this is what makes the album work. We were all relaxed going in, we ran all tracks of the album once and then hit record! I think this album captures the warmth and atmospheric presence of the bar. It’s also quite open and on some tracks you can hear my 5 and 7-yearold sons having fun in the background soaking up the vibe of the day. I wanted my family and friends to be included on the album and my mother can be heard at the end of a number of sets particularly enjoying the music”

Artist’s website: https://steviedunne.bandcamp.com/releases

Stevie Dunne plays two reels: