Link to Living Tradition Homepage






Private Label SACD002

Skipper’s Alley is a seven-piece band from Dublin; they play traditional Irish music to a high standard and with a commendable sensitivity to complementary line. They formed in the spring of 2013, since which time they’ve made well-received appearances on festival stages and international TV and radio. Now, under the production guidance of Lúnasa’s Trevor Hutchinson, they’ve recorded their debut album, which showcases their expertise on a cleverly varied batch of tunes and songs in a refreshingly uncluttered recording.

By this stage the band knows exactly how to set out its stall and the first pair of tracks – a jig and reel medley and the intriguingly obscure Francie Manus Byrne – unerringly show the ensemble’s keen feel for internal balance and a restraint in tempo that nevertheless retains the essential element of unstilted energy in the playing. Skipper’s Alley don’t need to resort to hell-for-leather delivery to convince us of their well-developed musicianship.

Textures are delightfully managed, with none of the automatic assumption of roles that some bands adopt for certain instruments or blends, and all the band members are clearly comfortable with switching melody for support line and vice versa as necessary. The instrumental complement is extensive, with excellent use of a wide range of colours from uilleann pipes, tin whistle and flute through to fiddle, viola, banjo and harp, with concertina, mandolin and guitar, bodhrán and a sparing amount of percussion (brushed cymbals and the like). These guys have a great feel for light and shade and often bring an unusual sense of drama to the tunes they play. The Conor Tully’s set contains contrast a-plenty, while the lyrical, harp-led Fáinne Geal An Lae is a model of tender delicacy and the hop-jig Ruaidhrí & John’s makes for a scintillating disc finale.

When it comes to songs – which comprise four out of the 11 tracks – Skipper’s Alley boasts two very capable vocalists: John Flynn, who takes the two songs sung in English (the lilting emigration song Boys, From Home and William & John, a variant of the Twa Brothers ballad) and Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin the two in Gaelic, including the rollicking Buachaillin Deas Óg Mé (and Eoghan is also composer of five of the fine tunes on this CD). This all adds up to an impressive and very listenable set, in which felicitous, subtle and well considered details reveal themselves with each successive play; one for keeps, that’s for sure.

David Kidman

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 105 of The Living Tradition magazine.