Gael Linn ORIADACD001

When John Reidy, composer of classical avant-garde serial works that no-one really wanted to hear, saw the light, changed his name to Seán Ó Riada and began working to bring the glories of Irish traditional music back to his nation, he set in train a musical explosion whose aftershocks are still being felt today. 

Following his orchestral work for the film Mise Eire, he formed the vernacular orchestra Ceoltórí Chulann, consisting of traditional instrumental players (although still lined-up on the stage in their penguin suits and dicky bows) and started to perform Irish traditional music orchestrated for a large group of musicians - with parts, not just everyone playing the tune. He himself played harpsichord, his attempt to emulate the clarsach - an instrument which was not available to him.  When he decided to call a halt to the group, he went back to the Gaeltacht and concentrated on writing choral music, however many of its members wanted to continue to plough the same furrow, and exploit the riches which he had uncovered. They rejuvenated the band's spin-off group The Chieftains and the rest, as they say, is history. 

This recording has long been available:  However, this remastered CD issue has done wonders with the sound quality and has also restored several tracks which had been previously unissued.  It also comes with a glossy booklet giving information about Ó Riada, texts of the songs and information on the material, but (incredibly) no information about the musicians.  The concert itself, honouring the bicentennial of the Creggan poet Peadar Ó Doirnín, is possibly the high point of this musical fusion - as well as being its farewell. 

One of the most important and influential concerts in Irish music history, it really stands up well to the test of time.  It concentrates on the grander elements of the tradition - O Carolan tunes, marches, Laments and so on, although interspersed with songs sung in the high tenor of Seán Ó Sé, and the odd jaunty dance.  This is required listening to any fans of early Chieftains albums, or anyone who wants to know what sparked so much of the modern revival. Whilst Ó Riada's orchestral music for Mise Eire is fragmentary, recorded with boxy sound, anaemic strings and problematic tuning in the brass, and his "Farewell" album of tunes played on solo harpsichord is clunky and slapdash, this album stands as a wonderful memorial to an exceptional and cruelly short-lived talent.

Paul Burgess

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This album was reviewed in Issue 66 of The Living Tradition magazine.