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Private Label MCG001

The Tin Fiddle is exactly what it says - a fiddle made of tin. These instruments used to be common in Donegal when wood and money were short. The travelling tinsmiths could tap together a fiddle body in a few hours with an old neck and some strings attached. They're rare enough now, but Damien McGeehan has borrowed a couple to make this CD. I've heard the odd piece of Irish music played on a tin fiddle before, and there was a record by James Byrne back in the eighties called The Brass Fiddle, but this is certainly the only album I've seen which is entirely tin fiddle music.

Because of its less rigid construction, a tin fiddle is strung at a lower pitch than a conventional violin, but the skill of the old Donegal tinsmiths was such that the body often very closely resembles a wooden fiddle, and the sound can be sweet and clean although quieter than a normal fiddle. McGeehan has used two tin fiddles to create all the music here, multi-tracking melody lines with the percussive effects available from tapping and brushing their metal bodies. There are several pieces from the repertoire of John Doherty, travelling tinsmith and fiddler par excellence in the mid 20th century, along with some other traditional pieces and six of Damien's own, all powerfully arranged. The eerie O'Rourke's Highland is followed by the virtuoso reel The Gravel Walks To Grannie about three semitones below its usual pitch, and then Peadar O'Haoine's Jig which is from Damien's family repertoire. The playing is crisp and intricate, recalling McGeehan's performances with trio, Fídil. His compositions The Anvil and The Tinsmith make the most of this instrument's possibilities, as does the Doherty showpiece The Four Posts Of The Bed, which has become a fiddle standard, with a distinctive sound here as the bow taps the tin fiddle. John Doherty's Waltz is one of many Donegal tunes which sound as though they belong in continental Europe, while Paddy's Rambles Through The Park is, to my mind, one of the most beautiful Irish airs and is not surprisingly attributed to a fairy piper. A couple of good Scots tunes complete the traditional content of this album, again showing McGeehan's mastery.

The Tin Fiddle ends with three of Damien McGeehan's own pieces. The oriental percussion and tones of The Last Day Of Summer have the tin fiddle sounding like a combination of tabla and thumb piano. Eleven Oaks is a soulful bowed slow air with a tone just like a standard fiddle, delicate and graceful, accompanied by harp-like pizzicato. The final Waterfall is an entirely free-form piece, beautifully evocative, a meditation rather than a melody, ending this CD with zen-like perfection. 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 120 of The Living Tradition magazine.