Link to Living Tradition Homepage





Sleeve not available
VARIOUS ARTISTS Seoltaí Séidte (Setting Sail) Gael Linn double CD, CEFCD 184

It was a shock to find from the inset book that Gael Linn is 50 years old; that means that I'm older than the company, when it seems to have been there forever. Their primary aim has always been to promote the Irish language; when they started to produce their series of 78s back in 1957, it was to feature singers in Irish because there were very few recordings of sean nós singing available. The records had a song - or songs, depending on length - on one side and solo instrumentals on the other. This enticed people unused to sean nós singing to buy them for the musicians, yet have the chance to hear some of the finest singers then around.

The singers are from Conamara, Donegal, and West Kerry: Seosamh Ó hÉanaí, Seán 'ac Dhonncha, and Máire Nic Dhonncha; Aodh Ó Duibheannaigh, Áine Ní Ghallchobhair, Seán de hÓra, and Diarmuid Ó Flatharta.

The musicians are: pipers Willie Clancy and - greatly neglected, except in piping circles - Tommy Reck; fiddlers Seán Ryan, Denis Murphy, Joe Devlin, Johnny Pickering, Seán McLaughlin and Paddy Canny; Vincent Broderick on flute; Joe Burke on button accordeon.

There isn't space to give my full thoughts on all the songs but Seán 'ac Dhonncha's version of 'An Buinnean Buí' stands comparison with the version I treasure by Ó hÉanaí, whose 'Beann an Leanna' here is a classic. Aodh Ó Duibheannaigh has a fine version of the old Ulster song, 'Úrchill an Chreagain'; while Máire Nic Dhonnchadha does a great 'Piob Ainde Mhor', to prove that it's not all doom and gloom.

These songs aren't for listening to while you do the washing up; they demand careful attention to get the full flavour of the artistry in the singing. The slight but significant differences in the regional styles are evident here; the vibrancy of Conamara ornamentation contrasting with the almost stripped down Donegal style with its similarity to the Gaelic singing of the West of Scotland and the more florid style of West Kerry.

One of the tests for judging slow airs is to try to marry the Irish words to the tune. As you listen here, you'll notice slight changes in phrasing which carry the song on, the words here being more important than the tune. These variations are OK; the main thing is that the tune fits the words. So these songs can be a valuable aid for playing slow airs - a lot of which are played too slowly anyway.

My only regret is that - because of the limited capacity of 78s - some of the songs are abbreviated. What remains of them is still worth listening to; if one catches your ear and you're determined enough, you'll find the words somewhere. Quite a few are in 'Abhair Amhrán', a wee booklet still available.

These tracks were cut on to acetate discs, with 1950s recording technology, so Harry Bradshaw has excelled his own high standards in re-mastering them. Some of the instrumentals are a bit suspect as to speed and pitch, but he's resisted the temptation to smarten them up. Who cares that much anyway, isn't it the spirit of the music that matters, not the precision of the recording? I listen to sessions I taped on an old cast-iron portable back in the 70s, and still get a buzz from them.

There are some fascinating photographs in the 100-page inset book; Séamus Ennis paying close attention to an old style step dancer; young Joe Burke without the beard - I'm older than him, too; a very young PJ Hernan sitting on his father's knee.

Nicholas Carolan provides the short but informative notes to both songs and tunes. Words of the songs are given in Irish and English prose translation. This is a really valuable source, a chance to listen to some great singers in their prime. To me, this is about the singers; the instrumentals are a bonus. If you've any interest at all in sean nós singing, this is a must. Twenty-three songs; what more could you want?

Mick Furey

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 60 of The Living Tradition magazine.