another great cd, he is a genius
(taken from tradheads.com)
It’s Sunday 9th October 2005. The Lyric Theatre in Belfast is playing host to the last night of the 7th Open House Festival. And it’s been a great week of events. Sharon Shannon, Frankie Gavin and Mike McGoldrick have wowed the masses at The Waterfront. Flook, Karen Casey and Gerry O’Connor have packed out the local bars. So there’s an air of expectation for the grand finale at The Lyric. And why shouldn’t there be? After all, it’s Cathal Hayden and friends. Surely it’ll be electric? A night of musical genius? An attack on the senses? Well it was, quite frankly. And those lucky enough to witness the concert, which incidentally had been sold out for weeks, were quick to heap the praise for a very special night and a very special occasion. And somewhere, amidst the flying sparks and exuberant camaraderie, someone struck a feat of genius. Yes folks, it was recorded. And thank God for modern technology. We are so often left wanting when we hear the words “great gig last night” and “powerful show, you should have been there.” And there’s nothing you can do when posterity hasn’t been considered. But with the magic of multi-tracking and production of live recordings we can savour the atmosphere any time we wish. Good man Billy Robinson. The engineer has done a great service to the Trad industry by capturing the essence of one hell of a show.
Live In Belfast, with its fifteen wonderful tracks, is a celebration of both the past and present for the Tyrone musician. “It was a great opportunity to bring on board those who have been close to me, personally and professionally” says Cathal. “In the end I was actually quite humbled by the efforts of everyone involved.” Absolutely. And when you see the album credits you’ll appreciate the enormity of the task. Belfast Playwright Marie Jones was behind the project from day one and threw herself in to the proceedings as co-compere for the night along with 4 Men And A Dog’s Gino Lupari. Behind the scenes, and in the build up to the show, the NI Arts Council, Tyrone Music Association, Festival volunteers and others were all keen to lend their support in one form or another. And by all accounts the efforts of the Lyric concert organisers paid off handsomely.
And so to the stage. The man in black lead a host of musicians in an evening of magnificent tunes and fine songs. And the album reflects the diversity of styles and musicianship offered on the night. Appropriately it’s Arty McGlynn who partners Hayden on the outset with the usual finely crafted guitar work around a set of reels and hornpipes. “My connection with Arty goes back over 25 years and it seemed fitting to open the concert together” says Cathal, “He has proved to be a major influence over the years and his advice and direction has been invaluable.” And the opening track The Boys Of Ballisodare is proof that the Tyrone men are as tight as a photo finish when it comes to playing together. Almost clairvoyant, certainly pertinent. And without giving too much away before the big launch review, I have to mention the old favourite The Liverpool Hornpipe. When Hayden lifts the banjo you know you’re in for something special. Though there are triplets galore and some beautiful interaction between the boys it’s the understated subtlety of Hayden’s mastery of the instrument that gets your attention.
For the next set it’s the leading piano accordionist Alan Kelly who joins the fray along with percussionist Liam Bradley. “Myself and Alan are old friends” continues Cathal, “Having played many times together both at home and abroad in the past I was delighted with his presence on the night. He has a wonderful flowing style which befits the album.” And it’s evident with the Gallic resonance of Kelly’s work on the popular air Reminiscing.
Kevin Doherty, long time friend and co-Dogs associate, brings a change to the schedule with the heart rendering song Donegal Breeze. Doherty’s vocals are warm and welcoming, and boy does he mean every word. And I’m sure when the set list for Live In Belfast was first pencilled down Donegal Breeze was top of the list. One listen and you can appreciate why it’s a favourite of Haydens.
In the middle of the album Cathal is joined by another old acquaintance and likewise music maestro. “The first gig I played with Mairtin O’Connor was at a millennium concert in Galway” continues Cathal. “We’ve gigged together ever since. His work ethic is second to none, always organising, looking for ways around a tune. In fact he put together a set of tunes for the album, accompanied by Brendan O’Regan on bouzouki and our much missed friend Micheal O’Domhnaill on guitar.” And it’s this quartet who produces one of the outstanding tunes of the album. The Home Ruler is an absolute fiddle master class, Hayden at his zenith. Not only for his technical ability or his capacity to find that little bit extra, but for his understanding of the tunes ultimate potential whilst making it all sound uncomplicated. Frightening precision. Well done.
The album is also a delight for its contrasts. Styles, ambience, contribution. But the energy is the same. Immense energy. And when Micheal O’Domhnaill gives us his rendition of Lord Franklin, a recording which will always be special for many of us in the Trad world, he captures the essence of the night. The ambience is tangible. Heady. Poignant.
Flute enthusiasts will instantly recognise the contribution from Matt Molloy. “I always liked Matt’s recordings with the Bothy Band which influenced me greatly” says Hayden. “In the seventies I had witnessed his powerful style at the Ballisodare Folk Festival and wanted to include a set of tunes that I had picked up from Matt in the first place.” And it works. The McDermott’s set is tantamount to a musical horse race with Hayden, Molloy, O’Connor and McGlynn neck and neck from start to finish. Lively, vigorous, decisive. High energy stuff indeed.
The final few sets on the album see a host of familiar faces for Hayden. “After 25 years of sessions at home with close friends and family it seemed fitting that they were on stage for the end of the show. We played a set of tunes we’ll never get tired of playing.” Rightly so. And with tunes such as Fred Finns, The Fair Wind and a rousing John Joes Jig the boys set the world to rights. Cathal is joined by brother Stephen and friends Mark Mohan, Gerry Lappin, Gino Lupari, Brian McGrath, Eamon McElholm and Gerry O’Connor. The impressive line up justifiably polished off the musical spectacle, which I’m sure will prove to be a one of a kind performance.
Live In Belfast captures all the fun of the fair when it comes to Trad albums. It’s a blockbuster for sure, complete with all-star cast and Hayden in award-winning form. And even at this pre-launch preview stage you should already be getting a sense of the dynamics involved. Look out for the official launch of Live In Belfast in this magazine in the coming months, where we’ll feature in-depth interviews with Hayden and friends, and get their take on an album which is sure to become a must have for all serious Trad fans.
Music doesn’t get any better than this album. Worth every penny of the $8.99 I paid on Amazon. Cathal and friends please come to upstate NY!!!!!!