The instrumental tradition of music playing in Ireland has been sustained over the generations for the most part by musicians who have seldom attained national celebrity status. The few exceptions have included the likes of Michael Coleman, Leo Rowsome, Johnny O’Leary and from the present Matt Molloy and Tommy Peoples.
While the established singing tradition blossomed following the British folk revival, instrumental musicians never quite stepped into the limelight in the same way as did the Clancy brothers and the many groups and singers who emerged after them. Traditional instrumentalists did record and continue to do so but never apparently managed to hold the public’s interest in a music scene dominated by songsters and balladeers. Fiddle players, concertina players and whistle players tend to make up the greater part of the recorded instrumental music available today. The tin whistle is undoubtedly the most popular instrument in traditional music today and although felt by many to be a beginners instrument, in the hands of a master musician it can lend itself to creating a exquisite sound.
Athy based musician Brian Hughes provides a fine example of what can be achieved on the tin whistle on his latest CD ‘The Beat of the Breath’ which is being launched in Athy Arts Centre on the 3rd of May at 8.00 p.m. This is Brian’s third solo recording with a total of fourteen tunes ranging from reels, slip jigs, hornpipes, polkas, marches, slides and my own favourite slow airs. Drawing on sources as diverse as Breathnach’s ‘Folk Music and Dance in Ireland’ and O’Neill’s ‘Dance Music of Ireland’, the young musician offers a veritable tour of Irish music both ancient and modern.
I was particularly impressed with the two slow airs, one of which was an early version of the air ‘Tàimse Im Chodladh’, found in a 1710 Scottish manuscript where it was described as an Irish tune. As an asling, which is a poetic form associated with the Jacobite period of Irish history, the composer exhorts the listener to fight for Ireland against its enemy. Brian dedicated his playing of this beautiful air which he learned from the Cùil Aodha sean nòs singer Iarla O’Lionaird, to the memory of the young Athy guitar player and singer Martin Conroy who died last year. Brian played with the late Martin on a CD recorded by another Athy musician Niamh Nì Dhèa in 2012.
The second slow air which I found appealing was Brian’s version of ‘Slàn le Màigh’, a song composed in 1738 by a little known Co. Limerick poet who lived in Croom. His was a song of exile in which the poet laments having to leave Croom after the local Parish Priest banished him on account of his somewhat decadent lifestyle.
‘The Beat of the Breath’ is a wonderful addition to Irish instrumental music and Brian Hughes throughout gives a virtuoso performance. His work adds to the now well established work of Irish traditional musicians stretching back to Michael Coleman, Paddy Killoran and others whose work continue to have a profound influence on Irish traditional music.
In this recording Brian is accompanied by Donnchadh Gough, bodhràn player of the Waterford group Danù and by Sean McElwain on bouzouki and guitar of the band Tèada.
The launch of ‘The Beat of the Breath’ takes place on Friday next 3rd May at 8.00p.m. in Athy Arts Centre. Brian and his friends will be providing music on the night and I’m told refreshments will be available. A good night is promised so do come along and support one of Ireland’s finest musicians.
Community support of another kind was evident during the last two weeks or so as Athy witnessed the passing of so many of its townspeople. Death has cut an extraordinarily wide swath through the town with the passing of Mrs. Conway, Joe Phillips, Mrs. McNulty, Joe Delahunt, Christy Byrne, Billy Tierney, Patsy Kelly, Mrs. Norton and Anthony O’Sullivan. Friends and neighbours came out in numbers to follow the corteges as they wound their way to Church and each final resting place. I am mindful of the fact that I shared a classroom with Christy Byrne in the local Christian Brothers national school and recall with sadness the number of former classmates who have died over the years. Mrs. Conway reached the extraordinary age of 104 years and to her family and to the families of all who died in recent weeks we extend our sympathies.