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VARIOUS ARTISTS - Seoda Ceoil 1 & 2

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Seoda Ceoil 1 & 2
Gael Linn CEFCD203

This is a historic release whose reappearance on CD (after a very long period of unavailability) is eagerly awaited by aficionados of genuine Irish traditional music. Released as part of Gael Linn’s 60th anniversary celebrations, the recordings on this two-disc set date from 1968 and 1969, and together feature seven of the undisputed masters of the pure style of Irish traditional music, all on unquestionably fine form.

Disc 1 presents Co Clare’s famous Willie Clancy on the uilleann pipes for clear-cut, charmingly spontaneous performances of a slow air and various sets of jigs, slip jigs and reels and on the tin whistle for two further sets (jigs and reels); John Kelly’s signature West Clare fiddle playing is featured on six tracks and he switches to concertina for three more; while sean nós singer Seán Ó Conaire performs two rare songs from his native Connemara.

Disc 2 presents the outstanding piping of Séamus Ennis, whose dexterity and versatility were a marvel to behold; though less intimately recorded, with a touch of harshness and distortion of tone, his five items (performances of reels, a double jig, a hornpipe and particularly the slow airs) fair make the hair stand on end. Also on Disc 2, we find Seán Keane’s nimbly eclectic fiddle ripping its merry way through three sets of reels and one of jigs and Dublin’s John Joe Gannon demonstrating his crisp, staccato box style (learnt from his father James in Co Westmeath) on three sets (single and double jigs and reels). The disc is completed by three songs performed by Connemara sean nós virtuoso Seosamh Ó hÉanaí (whom we all know as Joe Heaney), which are surely the jewel in the crown here, replete with brilliant turns of phrasing and what the sleeve note terms a “fierce rugged grandeur”. (Incidentally, the sleeve note also refers to a fourth song being performed by Seomas on this disc - whether this is a careless slip uncorrected from the original notes, or whether the track has been omitted in the re-mastering and reissue process, is something I’ve been unable to ascertain.)

One extra selling point of the Seoda Ceoil discs was originally that, out of their grand total of 29 items, 25 had at that time not been previously recorded (and those that had probably only by the Chieftains!). Seoda Ceoil 1 & 2 were part of a larger project which envisaged a total of eight volumes, but what a shame that the remaining six were never produced; nevertheless, these two discs deliver much of great value.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 97 of The Living Tradition magazine.