Link to Living Tradition Homepage





GAVIN WHELAN - Catch The Air

GAVIN WHELAN - Catch The Air
Cló Iar-Chonnacht CICD194

This Dublin whistle player extraordinaire has done what few have dared to attempt since Eugene O'Donnell's 1978 album: an entire recording of slow airs. Not even Whelan would try this on the humble whistle alone: he also plays the uilleann pipes which he has mastered in recent years, and duets with himself on these two instruments, as well as enlisting the aid of Daire Bracken and Deirdre Smyth on fiddles, plus a small handful of accompanists. Each of the 13 tracks here focuses on a single air, from Carolan classics to well known songs.

There's a surprising number of Scottish melodies - Hector The Hero from Tommy Peoples' playing, two Gaelic songs from the repertoire of Capercaillie singer Karen Matheson and the Burns love song Ae Fond Kiss - all great tunes and well worth recording, Of the nine Irish airs, most are well known: the only two which were not very familiar to me were Aodh Ó Domhnaill's composition A Hiúdaí Phádaí Éamoinn and the final Neither A High Place Nor A Low Place. Both were pleasant surprises.

Gavin's interpretations of these airs are less elaborate than some, concentrating on the beauty of the melody, with few variations and embellishments. His versions are also relatively short - under four minutes as a rule - and some may feel that he has not done full justice to the songs behind the tunes. But these are not songs: they are slow airs, and I think there is room for a purely instrumental interpretation. Certainly the airs stand up for themselves without the words and in the case of Bean Dubh An Ghleanna, Gavin Whelan has taken a very fresh and free approach to the phrasing which moves the air away from the song. Not all the melodies here come from songs: Lord Mayo and Hector The Hero were not written to be sung and I don't believe I've ever heard original words to Limerick's Lamentation. But there's no denying the power and passion in their renditions here: the sobbing of the pipes through Marbhna Liumnigh, the beat of the drones under that great Carolan composition and the aching loss expressed in Skinner's tribute to Hector MacDonald. It's also a considerable achievement to bring something new to The Emigrant's Farewell or An Páistín Fionn with a simple whistle solo. Anyone with a taste for the slow air treasures of Scotland and Ireland should give this CD serious consideration and any whistle player could learn a thing or two from Gavin Whelan's playing here. Check out and for more details.

Alex Monaghan

Secure On-line mailorder service
Buy this CD online from The Listening Post
The Listening Post is the CD mailorder service of The Living Tradition magazine.
This album was reviewed in Issue 98 of The Living Tradition magazine.