Gerry Harrington and Billy Clifford — Now She’s Purring

“Gerry Harrington and Billy Clifford have had a lifelong affinity with the music of Sliabh Luachra and have been making the music ‘purr’ in its sweetest most lyrical form for many years. The first time I heard Billy Clifford play was when himself and his mother Julia took to the stage in The Cork Opera House in the early 1980’s to play a set of slides in a concert celebrating the composer Sean Ó Riada. It’s a performance that still burns bright in my memory. Their music was delicate, sweet, full of personality and devilment and at times deceptively simple. What I heard in their music became a standard bearer in my own endeavours to learn the music of Sliabh Luachra. It drew me into a wonderful journey of exploring the music of The Murphys of Lisheen. A journey with no end. Billy’s playing does that to people. It gets you thinking. It reminds you of previous recordings of The Star of Munster Trio in which he played with Julia and his father John Clifford and the many other musical webs that his mother wove with Denis, Pádraig Ó Keeffe and Johnny Ó Leary.

“I’ve known Gerry Harrington since my teenage years back in the early 1990’s. We first played together at the Patrick Ó Keeffe festival in Castleisland when The Smokey Chimney comprising of Gerry, Eoghan Ó Sullivan and Paul de Grae were to the fore front of performing and recording music from the Sliabh Luachra survives in its purest form. His recent recording of accordionist Timmy Connors ensured that Timmy’s contribution to our music was properly documented and archived. Another feature of this recording is that most tracks were recorded on Julia Clifford’s iconic Stroh fiddle that Billy had restored and brought back to life. Hearing it in full health brings back lots of memories and it contributes to the mood of the album. Gerry’s deep respect for generations that have handed us the torch is evident in this recording Now She’s Purring, a reference to Pádraig Ó Keeffe’s expression when the music was sounding good and all was well with the world. Gerry displays a great understanding of Billy’s style of playing and the result is an excellent duet album. The tunes are played in settings many will not have previously heard and the accompanying notes give a complete history. It’s a recording that will stand the test of time and I highly recommend it.”
–Paudie Ó Connor

released July 9, 2018

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Pádraig O’Keeffe and Denis Murphy — Lyons’ Bar, 1961

In 1961 Denis Murphy was home on holidays from America and looking forward to meeting up with his old friend and teacher Pádraig O’Keeffe. Jack Lyons’ pub in Scartaglin was the closest thing to a local that Pádraig had, and was the usual spot for the two to meet for a drink and a tune. As it happens, someone (maybe Séamus Ennis?) fortuitously recorded this session, and we can now listen back to this musical conversation between two of the great men of Sliabh Luachra music.

Here’s one of the 38 tracks:
Pádraig and Denis play a unique setting of The Bucks of Oranmore

This recording came to me through circuitous means, and and as such I had no knowledge of who the original tape belonged to, or what sort of travels it had before it ended up with me. They were labelled as “secret” recordings, but for whom and from whom was the secret meant to be kept? Though these questions remain unresolved, recently it has come to light that it’s more of an “open secret” than I had realized. I spoke to someone who was given the recording early on, and is largely responsible for it being more widely known, and this person made a convincing case for sharing the recording freely. Seeing as how this is an important part of the cultural heritage, and that anyone with a keen interest in this music deserves to hear it, I’ve decided to post it here. It is an informal recording, not a performance, and some of the playing is rough and off the cuff, but I don’t think it can possibly diminish the reputation of either of these two giants. 

If anyone has more information about the context for this recording, or some of the missing tune names, or anything like that, please comment here or email me!

Special thanks to Gerry Harrington tracking down some tune names and supplying some of the history behind this beautiful recording.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THIS HISTORIC RECORDING

Paddy Cronin – Music in the Glen

LP produced in 1970 (with poor-to-middling sound quality, I’m afraid) by Fleetwood Records, a small Massachusetts record label not particularly focused on Irish traditional music. They were notable for their “Sounds of Auto racing” LP and other sports-related albums, as well as some drum and bugle corps recordings. Maybe this is a member of the corps adding a fairly bombastic snare drum to the fiddle, flute, and piano. Paddy seems to have mostly refused to record without accompaniment for reasons of his own, but it’s a shame that the backing generally adds nothing and only serves to obscure or even drown out the sound of the fiddle. No mention on the back sleeve who is accompanying Paddy on this album. On the flute, I think it’s Paddy himself double-tracking as he did on some later albums. The piano manages to keep up and match tempo with Paddy, but the chord choices are often… creative? OK, I won’t say anything else about the backing, except to say that if you can ignore it, you’ll hear that Paddy is really bringing his A game on most of these tracks! This would’ve been his first 33 rpm LP, and first commercial recording since his 78 recordings for Copley. At this point he seems to have largely moved on from the Sliabh Luachra repertoire and is mostly playing well-known tunes from the general Sligo-influenced New York/Boston scene. He plays with tons of energy and creativity. I’d say this album doesn’t offer a lot to the average Sliabh Luachra polka-and-slide maniac, but fans of Paddy Cronin who can listen past the rest of the noise will find a lot to love on this record.

SAMPLE: Paddy scootched a little closer to the mic to record The Cuckoo’s Nest and you can hear him pretty well over “the noise.”

Paddy Cronin - Music in the Glen 1Paddy Cronin - Music in the Glen 2

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Paddy Cronin – The House in the Glen

This LP released in 1971 is a step up from the Music in the Glen album. Paddy is still obsessed with glens and the things you find in them, but he’s ditched the snare drum, moved to a new record label, and has even included a few polkas and slides as a nod to the “baby music” fans. Though the recording quality is only a shade better, the album as a whole is much more listenable. There are a lot of nice tune choices in addition to the aforementioned polkas and slides, and the quality of the playing is consistently very good throughout.

SAMPLE: Paddy Stack’s Favorite (a distant cousin to Morrison’s Overplayed Jig) and Apples in Winter

Paddy Cronin House in the Glen 1Paddy Cronin House in the Glen 2

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Mike Duggan

Mike Duggan (1921-2012) (also called Mikey or Mick) lived in Knockrour East, Scartaglin and was one of Pádraig O’Keeffe’s fiddle pupils, encouraged by his parents, both of whom played the concertina. He also learned from a neighbor, Eileen Spillane, who played both fiddle and concertina and who frequently hosted house parties and dances. He soon became a sought-after musician for local events and played in every pub and open house in Scart. He was a member of the Desmond Ceili Band with Denis Murphy, Johnny O’Leary, Jimmy Doyle, and Michael O’Callaghan.

Mike Duggan and Denis Murphy playing together in Scartaglin, 1967 (from the Comhaltas Archives)

When Denis Murphy died in 1974, Duggan took his place playing with Johnny O’Leary for the set dancing at Dan Connell’s pub, and for local step dance competitions, and the duo continued for the next 20 years. It seems he felt his true calling was to play for dancers, be it in competition or house dance.
Matt Cranitch credits Duggan with getting him started on his doctoral work on Pádraig O’Keeffe when he gave Matt a collection of O’Keeffe manuscripts and taught him how to read them.

Learned from: Eileen Spillane, Pádraig O’Keeffe
Played with: Denis Murphy, Johnny O’Leary

Click here to read about Mike Duggan in his own words.

Denis “The Hat” McMahon

Denis “The Hat” McMahon (1941-2018) was a respected fiddle and accordion player, teacher, and an authority on Sliabh Luachra music. Originally from Churchtown, Castleisland, he settled in Ballyhar, between Killarney and Farranfore. As a youngster he learned fiddle from Jerry McCarthy, and continued with lessons on the accordion from Pádraig O’Keeffe. At some point his friends Nicky McAuliffe and Jack Regan convinced him to pick up the fiddle again. In the late 60s he spent two winters working and living in London where he often played with his fellow expats Con Curtin and Julia Clifford. Back in Kerry he was a member of the famed Brosna Ceili Band and the Desmond Ceili Band and had a fruitful musical partnership with Connie O’Connell. When Mike Kenny broached the idea of what was to become the Patrick O’Keeffe Traditional Music Festival, Denis was an early and enthusiastic supporter. He was quite often featured on radio and television, being a great exponent and historian of the local music, and had innumerable stories about his old teacher Pádraig O’Keeffe and others of his generation. At the 2010 Castleisland Festival, Peter Browne presented Denis with an award for his dedication to the music of Sliabh Luachra.

Maida Sugrue

Maida Sugrue (born Mary McQuinn in ~1933) was raised in the townland of Fiddane, Ballyegan, Nohaval Parish, near Gortatlea, Ballymacelligott, Kerry, on the “Low Road” between Castleisland and Tralee. The McQuinns were a musical family: her father played the concertina and accordion, and her uncle John McQuinn was a well-considered flute, piccolo, and concertina player. Two neighbors, brothers Jim and Matty Sullivan of nearby Maglass, would sometimes visit their home in the evenings to play tunes. Jim saw Maida’s interest in the music and let her try a tune on his fiddle, and upon seeing that her desire to play was in earnest, gave her the loan of his fiddle on which to learn. She soon showed great promise, and when she was about twelve years old the renowned Pádraig O’Keeffe was enlisted to take her on as his pupil.

She recalls Pádraig’s sporadic visits with fondness. Whenever he happened to be travelling through the area he would stop in to the McQuinn home. She remembers him writing out tunes in his own tablature, but he encouraged her to learn standard notation as well. She recalls that he was easy-going and funny and a great teacher. Often he would come late at night when the children were already in bed, and while her mother made him a bite to eat he would play the fiddle. The family all loved his visits and could listen to him playing forever. Lessons with Pádraig continued for about three years.

In her teens, her musicianship was already highly regarded and she took part in many local music and singing competitions. She won the very first “Crock of Gold” competition put on by the Catholic Young Men’s Society (CYMS) in Tralee, and she was briefly a featured singer for the original lineup of the Brosna Ceili Band. However, subject to the economics of rural Ireland at that time, she emigrated Chicago in December, 1952. She was “sponsored out” by a cousin who happened to be a sister-in-law of Cuz Teahan. Neither were playing much music at that time, but upon meeting, they bonded over their shared tradition and both having been students of Pádraig. Cuz was delighted to hear stories of and new tunes from his old teacher. Inspired by this new connection, they struck up a musical partnership.

In Cuz’s book The Road to Glountane, he recalls:

Maida is an excellent musician and step dancer. She can sing anything in any style and she knows the Gaelic. You can really hear O’Keeffe’s style in Maida Sugrue’s playing. You might have four or five fiddles and most of them are carbon copies of each other, but when their bows are going down, hers is going up. O’Keeffe started most of his music with an up, and the way he taught was you had to keep your right hand very close to your side. You had to keep your right elbow almost on your hip, and bow with your wrist pressed firm. You press the strings firmly at right-angles with your left hand so there wouldn’t be any vibrations, and keep your thumb away from the finger-board. You hold the fiddle with your chin – not the wrist. If you were persistent in bowing widely, he’d tie a cord around you to hold your arm in close.

Maida also played and sang with the live band that performed on Jack Hegarty’s Irish Hour radio program each week. For a while, after marrying Denny Sugrue in 1957, she became less active in Irish music circles, but when her children were grown she started to perform publicly again. She and Cuz formed a group with two other fiddlers, Úna McGlew and Mary McDonagh, that played in the Chicago area for some time.

In 1985 she recorded Maida: An Irish Country Girl, an LP of songs, a number of which are her own compositions. Sadly, it was a limited run and nigh impossible to find now.

Though now retired from performing, Maida is currently still involved in the Chicago Irish music community, appearing at local events on occasion. She recently attended the Patrick O’Keeffe Festival in Castleisland, to great acclaim. She spoke and played at the Fiddle Meitheal where Paddy Jones, a fellow pupil of Pádraig’s, was delighted to meet her.

 

Two tracks from the album Traditional Irish Music In America: Chicago. She plays The Queen’s Polka (aka The Top of Maol) and sings Táimse im’ Chodladh (I Am Asleep).