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CLANBRASSIL CCE - Songs From Clanbrassil, Killultagh And Kilwarlin 

CLANBRASSIL CCE - Songs From Clanbrassil, Killultagh And Kilwarlin 
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This book, and the two CDs that accompany it, are the result of a concerted determination on the part of the members of Clanbrassil CCE to ensure that they preserved as much as possible of their local song tradition before it was too late. This Comhaltas branch covers the area adjacent to the south-eastern shores of Lough Neagh – an area very rich in songs and song making within living memory. These and others, no longer sung but alive in memory, have been added to others that still get an airing. Some, where only the words remained, have been given a new life with a fresh air. Critically, this work has been done, not by a visiting collector, but by local singers and enthusiasts. All the songs have been given generous space in order to allow some background information to provide perspective on the songs, the area and the history and circumstances which inspired the songs.

And the result is a gem. Just 42 songs – not a lot by songbook standards, but this is so much more than a songbook. This is a book that gives the reader an insight into a regional culture that no pure songbook can hope to achieve, for here the songs appear in context, enabling the reader/listener to metaphorically step in through the door and sit down with the singers.

The songs themselves inevitably vary widely in subject and mood and cover much of the area’s history right up to the building of the Goodyear tyre factory in the 1960s. I particularly enjoyed Down By The Canal and its humorous approach to the love song, while others, like The Drowning Of Young Robinson, bore strong resemblances to songs from other parts of Ireland. The Ballad Of Master McGrath covers an event that was still recalled in the greyhound world 80 years later (according to my late uncle’s tales, who owned a dog that won the Waterloo Cup in the 1950s).

As a bonus, the two CDs feature recordings of every song and feature well over 30 singers. The quality of the singing is very good, and I would never have noticed that (due to COVID) they had been compiled from recordings made by the singers in their own homes, using their own equipment – not in a studio. The mastering process must have been daunting, but the resulting CDs run seamlessly from track to track with minimal variation in sound level or quality. The resulting package, which has received assistance from the National Lottery Community Fund, represents extraordinarily good value.

I can’t help thinking that this example of a collecting and recording venture is one that could be duplicated by other CCE areas around Ireland – and beyond – as well as by TMSA groups in Scotland, by Trac in Wales and maybe even in some areas in England. This publication would make a useful template for such ventures.

John Waltham


This review appeared in Issue 138 of The Living Tradition magazine