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VARIOUS ARTISTS - In The Footsteps Of Coleman

In The Footsteps Of Coleman
Coleman Traditional Society CTS001

"Clapton is God", read the graffiti when I first lived in London, but the reverence in which guitarists held our Eric was as nothing to the awe in which members of the Irish Traditional Music scene held the name of Michael Coleman.

Why? First, his recordings were electrical. His earliest discs were acoustic, using the strident tones of a Stroh fiddle to get the music onto wax, but suddenly, as if by magic, his glorious smooth tone was revealed. Secondly he played fast. In his locality, his older brother Jim, his main influence, was considered the better fiddle player of the brothers because his tempi were better suited to the dance - they were more functional. Thirdly, he took ornamentation to an unheard of level, both in its complexity and variety. In other words, he had reinvented Irish dance music and taken it away from the dance into the new genre of "music for listening to" - vital in the world of selling discs. Having all of these new features, plus a performer with the technique to continually reinvent the tune, coupled with the tone and imaginative flair to play all of this with such control (allied to the feel for how dance music should feel) came as an absolute bombshell to his contemporaries. It was a revelation. Reels were the prime vehicle for this style, with jigs about half as numerous, but Coleman played plenty of hornpipes as well as often nodding towards the music of the house dance: the barndances, polkas and schottisches which have lingered so strongly and distinctively in Donegal. Anyone claiming to be interested in traditional Irish music will have the double-CD of his recordings (Gael-LinnCEFCD161) which comes with the essential biography of the man by Harry Bradshaw (shockingly, this package is currently unavailable).

The aim of the current double CD issued by the Coleman Traditional Society is to raise funds for the renovation of the memorial at Coleman's birthplace. Many people have donated tracks to these well-filled discs (46 tracks in all lasting over two hours) and they range from Coleman himself, his direct contacts such as Martin Wynne & James O'Bierne (interesting how much more slowly they play than anyone else on the disc!) via local stars Dervish to the newest crop of Sligo musicians. The quality is almost uniformly top-notch, with the occasional ill-tuned guitar or drum as nothing in the face of a flood of fantastic music. Drawbacks? Well, the diet of reels can seem a little unrelenting, but it hardly matters. My main criticism is the presentation, which is cheap and shoddy. The notes consist solely of a heartfelt eulogy from Seamus Tansey. No information on Coleman. No information on the music, the tunes or even the performers. On some tracks you don't even get the tune titles! Surely some kind soul could have been found to fund this - even putting it on a website (the CTS doesn't appear to have one) would have helped and might have been able to act as a conduit for further donations to an excellent cause. An attractive booklet may also have swayed the casual browser - to the immense benefit of both CTS and the purchaser.

Nevertheless, this is an essential purchase. Go and buy it now, then pester Gael Linn to reissue the Coleman CDs, and then get the wonderful double CD of Coleman's early associate and contemporary Michael Gorman (Topic TSCD525D).

Paul Burgess

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This album was reviewed in Issue 68 of The Living Tradition magazine.