Recorded 2001, released 2003.
"1. Valley Rhythm
Carnie’s Canter (J.S. Skinner) canter! Mitton’s Breakdown (E. Mitton) reel
with David, guitar; Geoff, fiddle; Peter, bodhrán; Kevan, guitar
I love horses so couldn’t resist starting with a canter! James Scott Skinner, born in Banchory in 1843, was a virtuoso fiddler who composed many exuberant, flamboyant tunes that stretched traditional music. This ‘emigrates’ into a ‘breakdown’ by Nova Scotian fiddler, Earl Mitton. Earl used to run his own show on Canadian radio and TV in the 1950s and early 60s, with his band ‘The Valley Rhythm Boys’.
2. After Otters
The Curlew trad slow reel The Otter’s Holt Poll an Mhadra Uisce trad reel
with Kevan, guitar, Xin, xiao
Usually a fast Donegal reel, The Curlew became a slow one in memory of long hours by a Hebridean shore listening to bird-calls and trying to glimpse wild otters!
3. Blind Mary in America
Máire Dhaill ‘Blind Mary’ (Turlough O’Carolan)
with Geoff, fiddle
American fiddle meets Irish harp! A piece by the famous, blind Irish harper, Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738). Kevan has always felt it reminded him of a Confederate march and imagined it as a lament for one of the battles of the American Civil War. Geoff then happened to come up with this American fiddle version in the studio. Carolan’s friend Charles O’Connor wrote in 1726 that his two younger brothers were being taught the harp by a woman harper, Máire Dhaill. It’s thought that Turlough composed this piece for her - although I doubt he imagined it played quite like this!
4. Dancing Mathematicians
The Mathematician (J.S.Skinner) hornpipe, McElvogue’s (Thomas McElvogue) The End of Christmas (H.L.Earis) jigs
One of Skinner’s famously chromatic hornpipes that I learnt from the playing of superb Skye fiddler, Alasdair Fraser. Every accidental requires moving a lever on this kind of harp - but why should the fiddlers have the best tunes?! Flute player Tom McElvogue from Newcastle, England, composed the first jig. The second I made up one twelfth night.
5 The Clan Neil Trip to China
Liang Zhu (He Zhan Hao and Chen Gang) Chinese tune Kishmul’s Galley A’Bhirlinn Bharrach ‘’ Scots Gaelic song
with Xin, xiao; Anna, vocals
This well-known Chinese melody was composed in 1959 for a violin concerto depicting an ancient Chinese story about two lovers, Liang and Zhu, who turn into butterflies to avoid being separated. This leads into a celebratory ‘waulking song’ (originally for singing whilst waulking or ‘fulling’ tweed) describing the drunken revelry in Kishmul’s Castle on Barra, Outer Hebrides, after a successful raid – with plenty of wine and harp music! It was first recorded in 1937 in Northbay, Barra but it is attributed to Nic Iain Fhinn (‘the daughter of fair-haired John’), a 17th century poetess from Mingulay. Ruairi an Tartair was chief of the Barra MacNeils from 1594 to c.1620. The ship in the song takes the same route into harbour as the modern Calmac ferry that can be seen from Anna’s house in Earsairidh on Barra. She learnt the song from her mother.
6. Maggie’s Pancakes
The Green Mountain Sliabh Glas Maggie’s Pancakes (S. Morrison) Laurel’s Reel (A. Bennett) reels
with David, guitar
I usually feel that the time I get to spend amongst mountains goes far too quickly, so I’ve slowed this reel down from its normal ceilí speed! This goes into a favourite reel of mine by fiddler Stuart Morrison from Scottish band The Tannahill Weavers. He composed it after visiting Uist piper, Hamish Moore, as a tribute to Maggie Moore’s wonderful pancakes! Al Bennett is from North Sydney, Nova Scotia and this reel is on an album by Cork band, North Cregg. but I learnt it from accordion-player Steve Prosol, when he stopped briefly by our tents at the Cambridge Folk Festival for some tunes under the stars in the small hours!
7. An Caisdeach Bán
Fair-Haired Cassidy An Caisdeach Bán (T. Cassidy) slow air Custy’s (J. Brady) jig
with Tim, uilleann pipes; Colman, flute
Tim learnt this slow air from piper and teacher Tommy Keane. The original version was an Irish sean nos song first recorded in 1960 on Clare FM by the piper Séamus Ennis. Thomas Cassidy, author and subject of the song, belonged to the Augustinian community near Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, in the early 18th century. Cassidy was expelled from the order for falling in love with an ‘amber-haired girl’. He laments that his sin is ‘greater than half Croagh Patrick’ - but he doesn’t seem to have been too repentant! Custy’s comes from the playing of Manchester flute legend Michael McGoldrick. It was composed by John Brady, but Mike got it from the playing of fiddler Mary Custy - hence the name, which has stuck!
8. Lonely (X.Wu)
One of Xin’s own compositions, using many of the traditional oriental techniques of xiao playing. It was recorded on a wild day in Wiltshire with the gale trying to get into the microphones. In it he wanted to convey what it’s like when no one seems to listen or understand how you’re feeling - the only way to express emotion is directly through the music, through the bamboo flute. Some of the ideas for it were inspired by a song of the same name by Zhang Wei Liang.
9 Jumping Ahead
Paddy O’Brien’s (Trad) hornpipe Jumping Ahead Ag Léim ar Aghaidh (HL Earis) reel
with Peter, bodhrán; Kevan, guitar
This hornpipe is one of the many brilliant tunes I’ve learnt from concertina-player Marion Gill in London. It’s associated with famous Irish accordion player, Paddy O’Brien. The three-part reel I made up whilst dreaming of the summer holidays before my final university exams!
10. The Day Dawn
The Dark Island An Eilean Dorcha (Iain McLaughlin) slow air The Day Dawn (Trad) air Kevan’s Jig (Kevan Roberts)
with Xin, xiao; Kevan, guitar
Composed in 1958 as a pipe lament under the title of ‘Dr.Mackay’s Farewell to Creagorry’, this melody achieved national fame as the theme tune to a BBC drama series, The Dark Island, in 1963. David Silver, the programme’s producer, added lyrics about looking out from Oban to the islands – a place where I’ve started so many fantastic holidays! The eilean dorcha in the song is Benbecula, Outer Hebrides. I learnt the next tune from a recording by Shetland fiddler Aly Bain. A fiddler used to go round the crofts early on Yule Morning in Shetland playing this tune to welcome in the New Year. I played it at the Millenium Eve on top of a Welsh mountain in the rain - and decided that these traditions can be overrated! Kevan Roberts, a friend and brilliant bouzouki - 5-string banjo - and guitar-player based in London, has had several of his compositions featured on both radio and TV. I was lucky enough to be one of the first to hear his three part jig, sitting in a car in West London waiting for a gig.
11. Cradle Song
The Christening Reel An Baisteadh (Trad) reel The Cradle Song (J.S.Skinner) lullaby My Own Hearth Mo Theinntean Fhèin (I.A. MacLeoid) Scots Gaelic song
with Anna, vocals
These lyrics have been written recently to go with Skinner’s melody by Iain Aonghas MacLeoid (John Angus MacLeod) from Harris. The Christening Reel is a tune I found in O’Neill’s (‘1001 Irish Session Tunes’) whilst looking for music to play at a friend’s baby’s after-Christening party in mid-Wales! Francis O’Neill was Chief of Police for Chicago in the late 19th-century but spent most of his spare time going round the emigrant Irish community in the area collecting tunes. For full lyrics click here
12. The Gold Ring
The Gold Ring An Fáinne Óir jig
with Peter, bodhrán
This 7-part jig is usually used to showcase all the main techniques on the Irish uilleann pipes - but it’s such a good tune that I couldn’t resist borrowing it! There is a story behind the name that this jig was taught to a fiddle-playing farmer by a fairy piper in gratitude for the return of a magic gold ring. This version is close to that made popular by famous Irish piper Willie Clancy
13. Raganarök (H.L.Earis)
The bass part to this is a Norwegain tune learnt from an electric bass player! I made up the reel to go on top and asked a friend to come up with an appropraite Norse name. Ragnarök was suggested which is the Old Norse term fot the ‘Death of the Gods’ athe the end of the world! Wec first performed it at a multi-cultural concert’ with chapel organ on the bass part, fiddles, African drum, two harps and xiao where we felt it sounded suitably apocalyptic! This is the solo harp version.
14. The Fire Hose Reel
The Smith’s a Gallant Fireman (J.S.Skinner) strathspey The Fire Hose Reel (H.L.Earis) reel
with Kevan, guitar
I recently found out that this strathspey is yet another of J.S.Skinner’s (d.1927), who was dubbed ‘The Strathspey King’ in his day. The reel was inspired by an Irish music session in Limerick where there was a fire hose mounted on the wall of the pub with a plaque labelling it ‘Fire Hose Reel’. We all decided we’d have to write one! This tune is meant to coil round and back on itself a bit like a fire hose.
15. Doimhneachd Anama
Soul Depth Doimhneachd Anama Scots Gaelic song (lyrics, Iain Aonghas MacLeoid; melody, Norma Nic Dhughaill)
with Anna, vocals
John Angus, who again wrote the lyrics to this song, is the father of a friend of mine, Scots Gaelic teacher Marion MacLeod from Cambridge. She passed this song on to Anna and myself. It recently won an award for the best newly-composed Gaelic song at the Millenium MOD at Dunoon. Thanks to John Angus for the English translation here. For full lyrics click here
16. The HarpaSonic Set
Con Cassidy’s (C. Cassidy) Highland Green Fields of Rossbeigh Páirceanna Glasa Ros Beithe (Trad) Toss the Feathers (Trad) The Kilmaley (Trad) reels
with Kevan, guitar; Colman, flute; Peter, bodhrán; Tim, uilleann pipes; Geoff, fiddle
A ‘Highland’ by the famous fiddler, Con Cassidy from Teelin, Co.Donegal. The Gleann Cholm Cille area near to Teelin is a part of Ireland that I love from spending some wonderful summers of music and Irish up there. A ‘Highland’ is another name for a schottische, a couple dance of German origin in a Scottish style and is a type of tune common in Donegal sessions. They have a distinctive, ‘jumpy’ rhythm, closely akin to Scottish highland strathspeys. I organised a massed-harp concert in Cambridge called HARPaSONIC and ended the night with this last set of Irish reels! Also known as The Kerry Reel - Rossbeigh is on the coast of West Kerry – the opening reel was first recorded by fiddler Michael Coleman in 1924. Toss the Feathers is a justifiably well-known session tune – and I’ve always loved the poetic name! Kilmaley is near Ennis, Co.Clare. This last powerful dance reel was made popular by the Kilfenora Ceilí Band in the late 1960s. Thanks to Peter (All Ireland Champion on the Bodhrán 1999) for the solo here!"