Great al­bums, the rise of women and the loss of vi­sion­ar­ies marked out 2018

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - YEAR IN REVIEW | MUSIC - SIOB­HÁN LONG

The year got off to a fly­ing start with Na Píobairí Uil­leann’s con­cert, The Sound of Ire­land, in the Abbey Theatre. A cel­e­bra­tion of Un­esco’s in­clu­sion of uil­leann pip­ing on its Rep­re­sen­ta­tive List of In­tan­gi­ble Cul­tural Her­itage of Hu­man­ity. Not only was it a mighty gath­er­ing of the great and the good, from Jimmy O’Brien Mo­ran and Seán McKeon to Paddy Glackin and Noel Hill, but the stage was ig­nited by a plethora of emerg­ing pipers, many of them fe­male and some of them still at school. Fi­nally, an in­stru­ment long associated with male play­ers is bridg­ing that gen­der di­vide, aided in no small mea­sure by the ground­break­ing mu­si­cian­ship of pipers Emer May­ock and Louise Mulc­ahy.

We were spoiled by ex­cep­tional al­bums dur­ing the year, par­tic­u­larly from fid­dle play­ers Gerry O’Con­nor and Sea­mus Maguire; flute player John Lee; Manus McGuire; and Zoë Con­way in the com­pany of her three cur­rent col­lab­o­ra­tors, Scots singer and whis­tle player Julie Fowlis, bouzouki and fid­dle player Éa­mon Door­ley and gui­tarist John McIn­tyre.

If there’s one thing that char­ac­terised 2018 it was the ease with which mu­si­cians ex­plored new hori­zons, grounded by the firm foun­da­tions of the tra­di­tion. Un­sur­pris­ingly, Martin Hayes was in the van­guard, Mag­el­lan-like, with his epony­mous quar­tet.

Mean­while, Slow Mov­ing Clouds were min­ing the nether re­gions where Nordic and Ir­ish mu­sic might find a shared pur­pose. The trio’s per­for­mance in Whe­lan’s in cel­e­bra­tion of their new al­bum, Star­fall, was a quirky, un­pre­dictable joy: cel­list Kevin Mur­phy find­ing his voice in the belly of a newly minted lan­guage that led the trio’s tunes on nykel­harpa, fid­dle and cello on a merry dance ever sky­wards. The band’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with Michael Kee­gan-Dolan’s theatre pro­duc­tion of Swan Lake: Loch na hEala evolved into an even more ro­bust shape dur­ing a year that saw them tour and per­form with the ac­tors on stage: the mu­sic of­fer­ing a per­fect foil for what be­came a whirling dervish of a pro­duc­tion.

But per­haps the most dra­matic de­vel­op­ment of the year came not di­rectly from the mu­sic but from the fe­male mu­si­cians who have ex­pe­ri­enced marginal­i­sa­tion in ses­sions, on the road and on stages for decades. Fair Plé, an ini­tia­tive that seeks gen­der equal­ity in Ir­ish tra­di­tional and folk mu­sic, came hot on the heels of the #MeToo move­ment, and Wak­ing The Fem­i­nists. Aris­ing out of a spon­ta­neous call to ac­tion by singer Karan Casey, Fair Plé isn’t about beat­ing up on men and male mu­si­cians. As singer, Pauline Scan­lan of­fered in an in­ter­view last April, “this isn’t about a turf war. It’s just about tak­ing a big, deep breath and mov­ing for­ward to­gether.”

At Fair Plé’s first Ris­ing Tides fes­ti­val in Lib­erty Hall last Septem­ber, the chal­lenge women face, not just in Ir­ish tra­di­tional mu­sic but in gen­eral, was sum­marised by Peter Cos­grove, founder of Fu­ture of Work at CPL, who la­con­i­cally noted that men are the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the great­est af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion in the history of western civil­i­sa­tion: it’s called “the history of western civil­i­sa­tion”. This gath­er­ing of women – and men – promised pre­cious few stock an­swers, but in­stead ig­nited a con­ver­sa­tion that found fur­ther deep pur­chase on the stage of the Na­tional Con­cert Hall on the Oc­to­ber bank

hol­i­day week­end dur­ing its Tra­di­tion Now con­cert series. There, a raft of Ir­ish women shared a stage with Pales­tinian singer Reem Ke­lani, and it was there that fur­ther en­er­gies were fu­elled for the long road ahead.

Women fea­tured strongly too in the in­au­gu­ral Ra­dio 1 Ir­ish Folk Awards, when Lankum were among the re­cip­i­ents of lau­rels that recognised their sin­gu­lar tal­ents and ro­bust con­tri­bu­tions to the canon. The awards struck a wel­come chord, chart­ing the emer­gence of di­verse mu­si­cians with their eyes set on wide hori­zons. From the cul­tur­ally rich ta­pes­try of Ir­ish-Per­sian en­sem­ble Navá to the vis­ceral blitzkrieg that was Daoirí Farrell’s per­for­mance, not to men­tion the al­most school­boy de­light of Andy Irvine when he ac­cepted his life­time achieve­ment award, this was a night to re­mem­ber.

In a year that sadly also saw the un­timely pass­ing of vi­sion­ar­ies, par­tic­u­larly Liam Ó Floinn, Tommy Peo­ples and Micheál Ó Suil­leab­háin, as well as Alec Finn and Thom Moore, we were re­minded all too of­ten of the pi­caresque jour­ney the mu­sic has taken, with th­ese re­mark­able mu­si­cians and com­posers help­ing to steer its course with their col­lec­tive gaze set firmly on a hori­zon that’s been both wel­com­ing and wide. A fit­ting legacy, and a map that still con­tains many un­charted wa­ters.

Pauline Scan­lan: ‘tak­ing a big, deep breath and mov­ing for­ward to­gether’.

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