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TERRY MOYLAN (ED) - A Living Voice: The Frank Harte Song Collection 

TERRY MOYLAN (ED) - A Living Voice: The Frank Harte Song Collection 
Craft Recordings ISBN: 9780955311215 

This book is a pleasure on so many levels. For the scholar or singer, it will form an essential part of any collection, but it is equally accessible and rewarding for anyone with only a nodding acquaintance with the songs. These are very much songs for singing and reflect the songs which people are singing. The book raises the bar in terms of the quality of publication. It is something that may have pride of place on any bookshelf, it is likely to be well read and dipped into regularly. It is a physically large book, A4 size with 416 pages, 193 songs and 220 images. If you see it, you will want it.

To convey the importance of this book, I really can’t do better than to quote from Frank Harte’s musical partner, Donal Lunny, who describes the book as: “THE definitive archive of Irish songs! This is his treasure for the nation to cherish, his immortal monument to posterity, which few people can hope to equal. Built with love and passion by a lovely, passionate man.”

The original idea behind the publication was for the song notes from a series of recordings to be published in book form. In this book, this idea has come to fruition. Frank Harte recorded nine albums, the first being an LP, Dublin Street Songs, for Topic Records in 1967, followed by themed collections covering the songs of the 1798 Rebellion, of Napoleon, of The Famine, of The Irish Navvy and an album of love songs, When Adam Was in Paradise. The brilliance in its execution comes from the fact that Frank Harte always paid attention to the sleeve notes for his albums. The result is a host of short stories giving background and information relevant to the songs together with some deeper explorations of some of the themes. If you ever wondered why there are so many Irish songs featuring Napoleon, you will find the answers here. The style is far from an academic tome, although there can be no doubt that Frank’s research would have been rigorous. The book will inform, educate and enrich your enjoyment of the songs, whether you are a singer or a listener.

Although predominantly a collection of Irish songs, it includes songs which have been borrowed from neighbouring traditions, chiefly Scotland and England, and which circulate in Ireland alongside native material. It includes new writing, choosing songs which have been adopted by singers as part of the tradition.

Franke Harte had deep roots in the Irish song tradition. His contribution to Irish music was recognised in 2003 when he was awarded the TG4 Gradam Ceoil, Singer of the Year. The CDs on which the book is based are still available and would make ideal companions to the book.

Pete Heywood


This review appeared in Issue 136 of The Living Tradition magazine