The ongoing re-invention of Ireland's folk music (and that of the broader Celtic world's) is an ongoing treat. Today's Saint Patrick's Day special two-for-one entry celebrates the transformation with a disc from 1970 and a quite different one from three years later.
The earlier of the two records is meant to be used for ceili (KAY-lee) dancing. These gatherings for social terpsichore have been kept alive despite the preponderance of discotheques and American style country and western bands in Ireland. You can find ceili dances open to the public in several U.S. cities, especially around the month of March.
The second band, Planxty, would be equally at home in a small pub or a concert hall. More about them in a bit.
On Claddagh Ring, the Tulla Ceili Band seem designed to keep strict tempo in all but the most rowdy of crowds. Their most prominent instrument is the snare drum, played expertly by Martin Garrihy. The band first appeared at the Limerick Festival in 1946. This album still includes original member P.J. Hayes (his son, Martin Hayes, was in later aggregations of the band). It's apparent that this is a working band, meant for dance halls more than recording studios. They play with pride and a crowd-pleasing confidence. Here is a lovely set of more recent vintage from the Feakle Festival in Ireland:
My initial experience with Irish music, beyond Dennis Day on the Jack Benny Show, had been hearing the Dubliners and the Clancy Brothers on Folk Music and Bernstein.* When BBC's John Peel introduced me to Planxty, I was totally surprised by what I heard. Here was an intricacy and intimacy that practically turned the folk songs into works of high art. The expressive vocals, the uileann pipes, the use of hurdy-gurdy, mandola, and mandolin, combined with highly conscious juxtapositioning of material, made for a Celtic powerhouse that, in my mind, has not been matched, though giants like The Chieftains and Clannad come close.
All of this was before Riverdance and its spinoffs almost made Celtic performance seem cliched. For me, though, surveying the progression from John McCormick's 78s to Loreena McKennitt's CDs, I can only rejoice in this variety--tremendously delicious slices of Ireland at our wee fingertips.
Happy Saint Patrick's Day!
*Garrison Keillor has written about Maury in his book, West Bank Boogie: "Maury Bernstein was the prince of Cedar Avenue back then, who conducted an all-day moveable seminar on folk music (free) wherever he went. His radio show Folk Music and Bernstein was a work of art every week. You put a nickel in Maury and he talked for 15 minutes about cowboy herding songs or "John Hardy" or the history of the hardanger fiddle. In a just world, he'd have been professor of folk music at the University, but instead he was scrapping for a living playing birthday parties and bar mitzvahs and living up over the Mixers bar on Washington Avenue."
Find out more about Tulla Ceili Band here and here.