Billy Clifford – flute
Matt Hayes – Accordion
Catherine Ryan – Drums
Topic – 12TS312 – 1977
Topic stretched the criteria somewhat in order to make this the fourth in the ‘Music from Sliabh Luachra’ series, but Billy Clifford’s lifetime of exposure to the music of that region is very much evident in the solo material on this album. The solo polkas here feature the best playing of these tricky tunes in the Sliabh Luachra style that I have heard on the flute, and as Sliabh Luachra polkas played on the fiddle mimic the ornaments of the melodeon or accordion, Billy Clifford in turn uses the flute to play the fiddle, incorporating the idiosyncratic and heavily accented legato bowing of his mother Julia’s fiddle playing into his own unique and really lovely style.
The other side to the album is the material recorded with Catherine Ryan and Matt Hayes, featuring the eponymous band music from Tipperary. There are a number of quite outstanding tunes, such as the dubiously titled ‘Michael Coleman’s’, as well as a number of other reasonably well-known but interesting, even slightly unusual tunes. Between the two styles of playing there is some really great music on this album. — Rob Ryan
Ellen O’Byrne, born about 1875 in Co. Leitrim, emigrated to New York City at only 15 years of age. There she married Dutch immigrant Justus DeWitt and they opened a real estate and travel agent business together in 1900. Ellen was evidently an irrepressible fan of her native music, and the travel agency soon began to retail sheet music, instruments (including high-quality Italian-constructed accordions made by Paolo Soprani and Baldoni but rebranded under the O’Byrne DeWitt name,) and the few recordings of Irish music then available. In 1916, Ellen O’Byrne persuaded Columbia Records to start producing more authentic Irish recordings, starting with Eddie Herborn and John Wheeler, accordion and banjo. In doing so, she is considered to have essentially created the Irish-American recording industry. Soon, the O’Byrne DeWitt shop started offering Irish recordings on their own label.
After Ellen’s death in 1926, one son, James, inherited the New York store, and another son, Justus Jr., moved to Boston to open his own enterprise under the O’Byrne Dewitt name at 51 Warren Street, Roxbury. The O’Byrne DeWitt business flourished in Boston as it had in New York: an unlikely hybrid of travel agent/music shop. Under a new label, Copley, he soon began recording some of the local talent, and in the early 1950s, Paddy Cronin recorded a number of sides (solo fiddle with piano except for a few duets with flute player Frank Neylon) that became very popular and were essential in creating his worldwide reputation as a musician of note.
Note: A number of these discs are labeled with names other than the ones in common use today, and others are entirely mislabeled. I’ve tried to use the correct names on the mp3 files, but can’t make any guarantees!
In 1949 Séamus Ennis was working for Radio Éireann making field recordings of traditional musicians and singers. He recorded Paddy Cronin in a farmer’s house in nearby Ballyvourney. It’s said that Paddy never heard these recordings broadcast as he emigrated to America soon after. These tracks document his playing in his “purest” Sliabh Luachra style. He sounds very much like his neighbor Denis Murphy here, especially in the reel playing. Contrast with his recordings made after he arrived in America and began to incorporate the Sligo style which was prevalent among his peers there.
The Radio Éireann Mobile Recording Unit
Séamus Ennis in 1950
Note: It’s possible that not all of the tracks linked here are from the Ballyvourney session in 1949, but some of them were unlabeled when I received them and as they all have a similar sound and style, I’ve lumped them together. If they are mis-attributed, I apologize.
Ossian OSSCD 25, 2002. Remaster of Topic LP 12TS357, 1977. Recorded July 1976 and April 1977 in Dan Connell’s bar, Knocknagree, Co. Cork by Alan Ward, John Coakley, and Hugh Miller. Liner notes by Alan Ward.
The classic introduction to the music of Johnny O’Leary. Because he really made his name locally playing for dancers at Dan Connell’s bar and elsewhere, this album does a good job of framing his art in that context—a good number of the tracks were recorded live with dancers, including a full six figures of the polka set starting off the first side.
Click here for the extensive interior sleeve notes.
Denis Doody, born in Ballinahulla near Ballydesmond, was the grandson of the fiddler and contemporary of Pádraig O’Keeffe, Din Tarrant. He remembers hearing Pádraig O’Keeffe and Tom Billy play when he was a child, but it was the accordion that he picked up, largely teaching himself, and mostly playing alone. He emigrated to England when he finished school, settling in London until his return to Ireland in 1964, when he struck up acquaintance with Johnny O’Leary and Denis Murphy. These players were to influence his playing enormously as he returned to the music of his home region, though for ornamental intricacy and rhythmic deftness he is, in my opinion, unmatched within the old-style Sliabh Luachra accordion tradition. This absolutely cracking unaccompanied album speaks volumes of his sheer virtuosity and unrivalled lightness of touch. — Robert Ryan
A lovely recording of very traditional playing by two musicians from Gib, near Killarney, made in 1977, and sadly still unavailable on CD. There are no reels at all, and only one set of double jigs – the rest of the album consists almost exclusively of Kerry slides and polkas played with the strong rhythmic emphasis on the backbeat characteristic of the Sliabh Luachra region. It is very clear from their sparse, unobscured style that these musicians are of that generation whose music was played, at least publicly, for purposes of dancing, rather than for simply the pleasure of listening. — Robert Ryan
Recorded between 1964 and 1976 this album features fiddler Julia Clifford, sister of Denis Murphy, her husband John on accordion, and their son Billy on flute. Much of it was recorded around a single microphone in Eric and Lucy Farr’s kitchen, so the sound quality isn’t brilliant, but the quality of the music shines through, and Julia Clifford’s playing is, as always, a thing of beauty. — Robert Ryan
There’s some pretty in-depth notes by Alan Ward starting on page 26 of his Topic booklet here.