They Sailed Away From Dublin Bay

By Liam Farrell And Joe Whelan

Six comments

I can’t believe this hasn’t been posted yet. A great album by two of the veterans of the London scene. Here’s my review from Pay The Reckoning (Nov 2002).

Liam Farrell and Joe Whelan - They Sailed Away From Dublin Bay (Irish Music In London) (Veteran VT141CD)
There’s no denying that there’s a wealth of great Irish music available on CD at the moment. The trad fan might feel him or herself spoilt for choice. Well, Pay The Reckoning recommends that that you do yourselves a mighty favour and invest in Liam Farrell and Joe Whelan’s offering.

This is simply one of the most outstanding recordings it has been our pleasure to come across. Outstanding not because it breaks the mould. Nor does it come imbued with flash-bang wizardry. The collection is outstanding precisely because it does neither of these. It’s a down to earth, solid set of tunes, played with restraint and taste by Farrell (banjo) and Whelan (accordeon), accompanied by Reg Hall on piano and given a hand on a number of tracks by the sprog of the outfit, James Carty (flute).

Farrell and Whelan are veterans of the Irish music explosion in 1950s London. The post-war rebuilding boom drew Irish people in their thousands into England and soon a tight network of Irish musicians developed. Camden Town and Holloway were among the areas of London where clusters within this network established themselves. However they came together in all quarters of the capital - Willesden, Kilburn, Cricklewood, Highbury and across the water in New Cross, Croydon, Fulham …

Farrell and Whelan played with the best of them, in various ceili bands such as The Hibernian, The Four Courts and the Dunloe and in formal and informal sessions throughout London. They played alongside such luminaries as Sean Maguire, Roger Sherlock, Bobby Casey, Lucy Farr and Brendan McGlinchey. Visiting musicians such as Joe Burke, Paddy Carty, Paddy Fahy would seek out the crack and - again - Farrell and Whelan would get the word.

Before ever hearing a note, there’s a tremendous frisson associated with the possibility of hearing music from players who rubbed shoulders and traded tunes with such legendary names. And then the CD hits the carousel and - from the opening bars of the first jig set (The Blooming Meadows/The Lark In The Morning) - all that experience immediately makes itself manifest. We weren’t even thought of when these boys were first making their way in the Irish music world, but by God, listening to them play we can immediately imagine ourselves in that world of dark suits, smoky pubs and jostling dance-halls. A more innocent time perhaps, but a time when the Irish community in London - without any artificial props - created for itself a rich and vital sense of community, much of which centred on the music.

Music whose purpose was not just to please the ear. Dancing was a much more popular phenomenon than currently and most sizeable residential areas within London were host to large dancehalls where the Irish community would congregate at the weekends to fill the floors and trot the night away to the ceili bands. It’s difficult at our current remove, where Irish music - even for the Irish community - has become a "niche" pursuit, to imagine the mass enthusiasm of the 50s. However, the eagerness of the Irish community for its native music at the time has probably only been surpassed by the great upsurge of interest in the tradition during the early part of the 20th Century in America.

That Farrell’s and Whelan’s talent was tempered in the white heat of such glory days is obvious in every phrase they play. They pull off the difficult trick of combining an individual style with an absolute command of rhythm and therefore appeal to the ear, the heart and the feet at the same time. This insistent, but in some cases, almost subliminal pulse runs through all of the sets on the album - on reel sets such as George White’s Favourite/The Galway Rambler, Paul Brock’s/Mary McNamara’s, the superb Travers’/The Chicago Reel, The Maid Of Mount Cisco/The Abbey Reel and the glorious The Holly Bush/The Congress as well as jig sets such as Paddy O’Brien’s/The Flying Wheelchair, Kathleen Hehir’s/Moyglass Fair and Paddy Fahy’s/The Rakes Of Clonmel.

But for our money the stand-out tracks on this album are a hornpipe set and a waltz set. On The Good Natured Man/The Fairy’s Hornpipe, Farrell and Whelan demonstrate how the pulse which we mentioned earlier can be maintained even when a tune is highly ornamented. The first of the hornpipes in particular sees Whelan wring streams of crisp and starkly-etched triplets from his accordeon and yet the dynamic of the tune never falters beneath its rich top-dressing of ornamentation.

The other set which merits particular mention comprises the waltz from which the album derives its title combined with that supposedly unlucky tune, The Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow. There are fewer sounds in the world so instantly arresting as an Irish waltz played by gifted and intelligent players. We find that such tunes have a great sadness at their core - not the bitter, hopeless, wretched sadness of the grand airs - but a languid melancholy, a hold-me-tight-and-don’t-let-me-go sense of dejection. Music that expresses the pain of saying goodbye - not forever as in the sense of a lament, but as near as damn it. The pain of parting; the pain of heart’s desire being just out of reach. This is a set to leave the listeners swallowing hard on their drinks to dislodge the lumps in their throats, while the solemn dancers slowly circle the room …

A word or two of praise to Reg Hall, whose vamping on the piano adds depth and colour to proceedings and to London-born James Carty whose approach to the music belies his generation. Here’s a player who knows where to look for inspiration!

If any of the above seems remotely over the top, then we can only encourage you to listen to the album. You’ll find that our fulsome praise is well-deserved and that this CD is a pure treasure!

A doffing of the cap to Veteran before we finish. Veteran are a small independent record label, devoted to capturing the finest in traditional music from across the British Isles. Their carefully selected catalogue features singers and musicians who reflect the vitality and power of traditional music. Veteran eschew the scattergun approach of some labels who record just about anyone in the hope of hitting on a genuine talent. Instead they record only those artists whose music is instinctive, honest and earthy and whose music is crying out to be captured and made available. Nor will you find too many "star names" in their catalogue (although there are a few totemic performers on their books, and more power to Veteran for securing them!) - the label is more concerned with the quality of the goods on offer than on the place of the artist in some artificial pecking order.

You may find it difficult to access Veteran recordings in the shops, so best to visit Veteran direct at http://www.veteran.co.uk or write to them at

Veteran
44 Old Street
Haughley
Stowmarket
Suffolk
IP14 3NX
UK

Tune titles

re. the set of jigs that on this cd are called "Paddy O´Briens/ The Flying Wheelchair". The first of these is a Paddy O´Brien composition called "The Black Lough", submitted elsewhere on this forum. The tune you get if you follow the link on the tune list og the cd takes you to a reel known as "Paddy O´Briens"…of which there are a number!!!

Charlie Lennon’s Jig

Track 11 on the cd ‘They Sailed Away from Dublin Bay’ (Liam Farrell & Joe Whelan) says it’s Charlie Lennon’s jig. I can’t find the notation on any of the usual sites. Is there another name for it please?

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Re: They Sailed Away From Dublin Bay

The title waltz is this tune, in A dorian: https://thesession.org/tunes/13084/ — I posted a basic setting as an approximation, though Whelan is doing some amazing syncopations in this that I didn’t even try to capture. One of my favorite box and banjo albums!