Celtic Sessions - Liner Notes

I first heard Cití na gCumman sung by by Déirde Ní Chaomhánaigh in Donegal in 1994. She learned it from the singing of Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh. Déirde and I played this tune late one night at an unusually quiet moment of a céilí dance and I very fondly remember that musical moment.

Sliabh Russel is a flute tune that Lars learned from a Matt Molloy recording to which he has added a variation of his own. Todd suggested the second tune, Come West Along the Road, which he learned from the West Coast fiddler Dale Russ.

I found Barndance in the Roche collection of Traditional Irish Music which Paul Machlis loaned to me. It was his book so it seemed fitting that we should record the tune together. In the Roche collection the tune is called Darkie's Dream, written sometime in the 1880s by G.L. Lansing. It is an example of a ñcoon song,î one of many songs popular in the late 19th century which stereotyped blacks. Darkie's Dream must have been fairly popular. In addition to the version printed in Roche and a recording by the Flanagans it turns up in a little book of fiddle tunes, Old Time Violin Melodies, published in Missouri in 1927 by W.H. Morris.

Todd and I strung The Donegal Reel/Maids of Mt. Kisco/The Youngest Daughter together and had a great time playing them with Seamus. The low, dark sound of the B-flat pipes and low flute is a great joy to accompany. The first reel is from an early Altan recording. The second is credited to Paddy Killoran, the master fiddler who performed from Boston to New York over 50 years ago. As a kid growing up in New Jersey I remember passing the town of Mt. Kisco on our family trips to upstate New York. Todd taught us the third tune.

We recorded Bí, a Íosa, im Chroí-se or Jesus Be In My Heart for a Narada sampler CD titled Celtic Spirit. I learned the melody from the Boston-area Irish harpist and singer Áine Minogue. The dark and somber tones of the cello and the English horn combine exquisitely to express this tune's strong spiritual quality.

Todd gave me the beautiful slip jig Drops of Brandy and we play it here in the key of E-flat with Seamus on the low flute and Todd playing his low pipes. To me, accompanying a slip jig is as heavenly as a drop or two of brandy.

I met Martin Hayes at the Valley of the Moon fiddle camp in 1996 and we had the pleasure of playing together. He was back in the Bay Area a few weeks later and we managed to find time to record a few tunes together. I first heard his unaccompanied playing of the two reels Joe Banes and The Green Gowned Lass on a recording called My Love Is In America and I've played along with that tape many, many times. It was a great joy to record them live with Martin after playing along with that tape for so long.

March of the King of Laois is very popular among harp players--a chestnut of the harp repertoire. I learned it from Todd and he described listening to our version as a "mystical experience."

I learned Fig for a Kiss from Deby Grosjean, a great fiddler and great friend. I found Sergeant Cahill's Favorite in O'Neill's collection.

The lovely air Boithrin Bui or The Yellow Road appears in the book Traditional Slow Airs of Ireland by Tomás Ó Canainn. In the introduction he writes "I feel strongly that slow air players should, to a large extent, submit their playing to the conventions of their particular instrument and the way it is played traditionally."

I hope I have taken this advice to heart in adapting this tune to the guitar. Ó Canainn's book also comes with a tape of over one hundred tunes, each beautifully played or sung by a solo musician. I have learned a great deal from this recording.

Neal Hellman suggested Brian O'Lynn to me. In 1913 Francis O'Neill published Irish Music and Musicians, and in it he wrote, "In the planting of cabbages or potatoes, a pointed stick with suitable handle on the other end was used to facilitate the work. A pantomime of the process of planting with this instrument is said by Sir William Wilde to have been practiced in the province of Connacht in olden times. A double jig named Brian O'Lynn, in the O'Neill collections, is the tune to which it is said to have been performed." Go ahead, try and do the dance. I learned The Star of Munster from the great Santa Cruz fiddler Chris Reader who passed away before his time in 1996. Chris and I played together in the band Isle of Skye in the early 80s and recorded the tune on an LP. I dedicate this medley to his memory and thank him for all he taught me.

I first heard Seacht nDólás na Maighdine Muire or The Seven Sorrows of Mary sung by the great Nóirín Ní Riain. The song is probably the oldest numerical carol in the Irish Gaelic song tradition. It is a beautiful melody, almost too lovely for the gruesome tale that the lyrics tell: "He being on the cross of torture and the sharp nails cutting him."

I have accompanied singers on the Robert Burns song Corn Rigs Are Bonny many times and have always wanted to play the tune as an instrumental. Thanks to Alasdair for his fine improvising.

Neal Hellman learned The Heroes of St. Valery after hearing Martin Carthy play it in concert in Santa Cruz. Neal then taught it to me and we have been performing it together ever since. It is a retreat march, written by Pipe Major Donald MacLean from Lewis. He was a member of the 51st Highland Division, part of the British Expeditionary Force sent to France in 1939. Although the Division fought with great gallantry against the German offensive it was eventually forced to surrender at Saint-Valery-en-Caux. In 1944 after the Allies landed in Normandy, the 51st Highland Division was allowed the satisfaction of liberating Saint-Valery. The tune was first played at the Highland Brigade gathering in Edinburgh in 1947.

I found Belfast Lasses in O'Neill's collection and have been playing Moving Cloud with Lars for a long time. He learned it from the playing of Matt Molloy.

What, another O'Carolan tune? Well, I have not heard any other guitar arrangements of Carolan's Cap, a melody beautifully suited to the instrument. In my mind the second paints a picture of a very happy man called Hugh O'Donnell. Shelley learned both of these tunes from a printed collection compiled by Sylvia Woods.

The Grey Funnel Line was written by Cyril Tawney in the 1960s and has always been one of my favorite songs. This instrumental version is dedicated to all those who work for peace on all the oceans of our planet.

-- William Coulter

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