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HARRY BRADLEY - The First Of May

HARRY BRADLEY - The First Of May
Private Label FOM2013

I make this solo album number four from Belfast fluter extraordinaire Harry Bradley, with a few other recordings in between. Of the 14 tracks on The First Of May, five are unadorned solo flute, and the other nine are duets shared equally between James Carty on fiddle, Colm Gannon on button box and fellow fluter Sean Gavin. These three fellows have been carefully chosen as representatives of a traditional Irish sound which goes back to the earliest recordings of Irish music, because as well as being a fantastic musician, Harry Bradley is a man of strong opinions and likes his tradition served up a particular way. This recording certainly justifies his views that the old fluters of Erin deserve to be brought into present-day Irish music: the rhythmic, slightly breathy style which Bradley has perfected here is a compelling argument for the value of old style flute music - although, as Mick O'Connor's helpful sleeve notes point out, Bradley's style is his own. Nothing stands still, and although Harry Bradley has looked deep into the past of Belfast flute music and the wider traditions of Ulster, Ireland and beyond as archived on old discs, he has also developed a new version of this style which enhances the great Northern flute tradition with the possibilities of today's instruments and also of Harry's own consummate mastery of the wooden flute.

Bradley has chosen a fine mix of tunes to demonstrate his raw, uncompromising approach to Irish music. Classics such as Ah Surely, The Chicago Reel, The Boys Of The Town and The Master's Return are spaced with less familiar tunes such as The Gallant Boys Of Tipperary, The Dancer At The Fair, or Charlie O'Neill's German, learned from recordings of John McKenna and the Fingal Trio and from the playing of fiddler Gerry O'Connor respectively.

The material on this album ranges far and wide, but always comes back to the bouncy driving style of Bradley's flute. Following the likes of Frankie Gavin, Brian McGrath and John Carty of course, Harry has revived elements of those twenties and thirties recordings and even brought back melodies thought lost to stage Irish performances: The Rakes Of Kildare, Fisher's Hornpipe and Quinn's Jig are restored to respectability here. Reels, slip jigs, polkas and single jigs trot past, showing their paces one after the other, with hardly a pause to draw breath. Reels and hornpipes are nicely dotted and Bradley's friends add enough variety to keep things interesting. When the title track of two hornpipes draws The First Of May to a close, setting a cracking pace to the very end, Harry Bradley's admiring listeners are left feeling exhausted, but with a satisfied smile on their faces. The pure drop, powerful stuff indeed: this is music for the devotee, and for those with a taste for strong spirit.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 101 of The Living Tradition magazine.