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Topic Records TSCD677T

Dating from 1952, this collection of 93 songs and tune medleys, over three CDs, is a well tended/processed record of the field recordings made by Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle, ostensibly on a field trip on behalf of the BBC, which both of these individuals had tenuous links with.

CD1 gives us 38 tracks and track fragments, mostly featuring Paddy Tunney and several members of his family, along with a few from John Doherty and his nephew Simie, recorded in Donegal and Fermanagh. John Doherty was a travelling tinsmith with an innate talent on the fiddle; but is in fine voice on tracks such as Moorlough Mary. Joe Tunney was a virtuoso accordionist and his contributions are delightful – his performance of Miss Monaghan could well be described as seminal.

CD2 comprises 31 tracks of dance music, much of it from the McKusker Brothers Ceili Band or members thereof and there are some real gems among them. Many tunes have crossed the Irish Sea from Scotland and occasionally England (Green Grow The Rushes O, Monymusk, Kafoozalum, Jockey To The Fair and Princess Royal are obvious examples – but most, if not all, may have even earlier Irish origins). The two way traffic of people meant that the culture travelled both ways continuously. These are all well preserved and presented here.

CD3 is a collection of field recordings from a group of travellers encamped near Belfast in late July/Early August 1952, and features notably Paddy Doran and his wife Mary, along with Lal Smith and Winnie Ryan, recorded informally, but carefully preserved. Although without embellishment, these 24 tracks are a perfect source for singers looking for authentic, lesser known Irish songs (although some are more familiar than others – I Am A Maid That’s Deep In Love, later by Pentangle, and two versions of The Blind Man He Can See, paraphrased by Christy Moore much later, are included).

Comprehensive sleeve notes and biographies are also provided, in true Topic fashion (although in the review copy many of the pages in the middle are upside down – but that’s only a minor gripe). As historical artefacts they have both the content and pedigree to deserve to be heard by a modern audience.

Grem Devlin

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This album was reviewed in Issue 103 of The Living Tradition magazine.