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VARIOUS ARTISTS - The Irish Sea Sessions 2012

VARIOUS ARTISTS - The Irish Sea Sessions 2012
Liverpool Philharmonic LPISSCD003

First staged in 2010, the Irish Sea Sessions has become an annual event; now firmly established as the flagship centrepiece of the Liverpool Irish Festival, it brings together musicians from both sides of the Irish Sea to share and celebrate contemporary and traditional music on themes of the sea, emigration, poverty and resistance. 2012’s ISS show took place on 19th October of that year and featured the talents of 13 instrumentalists and singers in a programme of songs and tune-sets ostensibly combining the twin approaches of session and super-group arrangement – indeed, much in the approved manner and format of the renowned Transatlantic Sessions franchise but in this instance configured for live-on-stage performance.

The actual line-up changes each year to a large extent, although common to the roster for the past two years have been singer Pauline Scanlon, musicians Terry Clarke-Coyne (flutes and whistles) and Gino Lupari (percussion), also (naturally) musical director (and double bassist and pianist) Bernard O’Neill. Also participating in 2012’s show were Stevie Dunne (banjo), John McSherry (uilleann pipes), Frank Kilkelly (guitar), Dave Munnelly (bass) and Méabh O’Hare (fiddle). But on the evidence of this CD, 2012 at times seemed more of a specific showcase for the contrasting vocal talents of Alan Burke, Lizzie Nunnery, Pele front-man Ian Prowse and Damien Dempsey – the last-mentioned three of whom each contribute one own-composition along the way. Arguably, Damien and Ian err on the side of pop, but there’s no disputing the power and conviction of their delivery while the Celtic-rootsy instrumental backdrops do their job well enough (even so, I’m not convinced of the merit of a cover of the Beatles’ Come Together…).

Highlights of the show include the stirring, sparely-scored bodhran-tattoo lament of 15 April 1989 (composed by Terry), the opening song Sé Oakum Mo Phrisoun (a duet between Alan and Pauline), Stevie’s joyous banjo extravaganza (track 6), Lizzie’s Poverty Knocks and the energetic La Volta/El Garrotin set. The recording is faithful and editing has been cleanly managed to remove extraneous distraction. What lets the disc down just a bit is its presentation, for although each participant receives a handsome paragraph of biog, a rather too careful scrutiny of the track list and writing and performing credits is needed in order to glean who might be playing (or leading) on which track; also, there is no background information on the music and, crucially, no explanatory note to guide us through the untranslated song texts (although, sure, I do realise the space limitations necessarily mean that something has to be omitted).

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 100 of The Living Tradition magazine.