Awesome music from the archives: this week , Noel Hill and Tony McMahon
Perched on a hill on the red side of the north Cork/ east Kerry border, the village of Knocknagree is a suitably lofty peak for the cultural capital of Sliabh Luachra to rest. Not only were the shimmering streetlights of Rathmore visible but soundwaves from there would also make it to my window. The music at carnival time would echo across the Blackwater Valley to reach my curious ears. Word was that there were once 17 public houses on the square there. There are few left now but the one whose loss is most lamented is Dan O’ Connell’s. That was the source of the river of sound that flowed to my door. Sliabh Luachra’s brand of traditional music was once described by its proprietor as a state of mind. He knew what he was talking about. It’s a part of the world where the music is inextricably linked to the dance. The style of polka that fuels the fire has a particular tempo. The faster the rhythm, the better. O’Connell was happiest when his floor was taking a pounding. I was lucky to witness the room spinning on such nights. It was my introduction to dance music, a baptism of fire. This wonderful recording captures the pulsating atmosphere of those sessions perfectly. It opens with a cry of “Now, boys!” before Tony McMahon and Noel Hill launch into the Humours of Castlefin. The pace is lightning fast from the off but the virtuoso skill of the players mean that subtlety is not sacrificed for speed. The button accordion and concertina set off a journey into sound like two best friends skipping through the green on fair day. Theirs is a soulful conversation. It’s uplifting and infectious. The dancers hit the floor like thunder. There is palpable joy in the air. This is more than just a record. It’s a slice of life.