"simply some of the most powerfully affecting vocal music you'll hear"
- Steve Hunt fROOTS
"a deeply expressive voice"
-Siobhán long The Irish Times
"a man of great imagination"
-Dai Jeffries Folking.com
- David Kidman The Living Tradition
" an astonishing new voice"
- Michael Quinn Songlines
-FRoots (on Rógaire dubh)
"Here is an album that is as unexpected as it is delightful."
- Vic Smith The Folk Diary (on Rógaire dubh)
Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, with Jane Hughes and Lorcán Mac Mathúna
St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, 17 March 2006.
Journal of Music
Outside the confines of the church of St Brendan the Navigator in Bantry, the populace clelbrated the National Feast with the customary mix of ballads and booze. Inside, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (Hardanger fiddle, whistles), Jane Hughes (cello) and Lorcán Mac Mathúna (voice) produced a fascinating alternative – distinctively Irish but without an atom of the paddywhackery that has come to infect the St Patricks Day celebrations.
In front of the altar of St Brendan’s stood a raised platform with three chairs, three music stands and a standard lamp. The ecclesiastical surroundings – complete with memorials to various Earls of Bantry and an unusual square organ – heightened the sense of anticipation. Lorcán Mac Mathúna was first on stage, still wearing his outdoor jacket. It was cold, very cold for the time of year, and, while the audience had the benefit of underseat heating which struggled to raise the ambient temperature, the performers had no such luxury. But the cold vanished instantly with the opening song, Tuirimh Mhic Fhinín Dhubh. Mac Mathúna’s performance of this unusual eighteenth-century song was commanding. A young man with a Dublin accent and a musical heart based deep in Múscraí, Mac Mathúna has, on this evidence, both the voice and the attitude to place him in the first rank of the new wave of traditional singers.
Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Jane Hughes joined him on stage for Caoineadh na dTrí Mhuire, unaccompanied at first, then supported by flute and, later, cello. The effecet was beautiful and spare, the scene was fully set for the rest of the evening. Hardanger fiddle made its first appearance for ‘Na Táilliúirí’ providing a suitably playful backing even if the over-enthusiastic interplay of cello and fiddle threatened to drown the voice on occasion.
A native of Norway, the Hardanger fiddle has, in addition to the four ‘playing’ strings, a course of five sympathetic strings that run underneath the finger board, adding overtones and resonances to the original sound. Ó Raghallaigh described the plight of the hardanger fiddle player: “You spend half your time tuning it and the other half playing out of tune!” the Hardanger stepped to the fore on the reels ‘The Mother & Child’ The delight of the player communicating itself to the audience. After the first couple of rounds, the melody shifted out of focus but continued in the mind of the listener, while Ó Raghallaigh carried the rhythm and harmony duties, hinting at the mainline, and gliding towards a clever landing. Later, his performance of ‘The Foxchase’ – the full monty of march, reel, and slow air and hop jig – proved the remarkable capabilities of both player and instrument.
The second half opened with Callanish IV, a piece for solo cello composed by John Scott Maxwell Geddes in the 1970’s. The Celtic mist curled ominously around the description. Geddes wrote the piece after a night spent sleeping next to prehistoric megaliths on the isle of Lewis. The reality was, fortunately different. The atmosphere was augmented by the dimming of the church lights and the fact that Hughes had positioned herself at the rear of the church, behind the audience, but the piece created a proud ambience of its own. Hughes made something remarkeable of Geddes’ piece, delivering a well-judged mix of technique and epression.
And so it continued – ‘An Rógaire Dubh’, with voice and interwoven fiddle, ‘Aisling Gheal’, with an inventive cello line, ‘Ag Casadh an tSúgán’, where the cello strayed delightfully into cheap terrain, and ‘Cath Chéim an Fhia’, surely the finest commemoration of an insignificant skirmish in the history of music.
The template created by Ó Raghallaigh, Hughes and Mac Mathúna is sound but hardly complete. The lack of adequate introduction to the songs, particularly in the opening half, detracted from the enjoyment of the audience, few of whome at an educated guess, understood the language of the songs. Some of the accompaniement was based too obviously on standard music theory, more imagination, more subtlety – and, perhaps, more rehearsal time – would have enhanced the experience. And, despite the patent beauty and character of the Hardanger fiddle, some of us longed for a few tunes on a “real” fiddle. But this was a first outing, after all, and the ideas presented here will develop with time.
A performance such as this requires a responsive audience and a sympathetic venue. In St Brendan’s it had both. But there are audiences and venues such as these throughout the country. All it takes is a little imagination such as that shown by Francis Humphrys and his team at west Cork Music. - PAT AHERN, - The Journal of Music in Ireland.
An Táin, world Premier St Patrick's COI Cathedral Armagh
AN PÍOBAIRE- December 2010
NA PÍOBAIRÍ UILLEANN
St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral provided the spectacular background to the afternoon concert appropriately called ‘Pipes in the Cathedral.’
The highlight of this concert was the World Premier of a commissioned piece from the Cork singer Lorcan MacMathuna entitled ‘Tain Bo Cuailgne’, the ‘Cattle Raid of Cooley’ one of the great epic stories from the Ulster Cycle of heroic tales. Armagh was a most appropriate setting for the inaugural performance of this piece commissioned by Armagh Pipers Club and supported by a traditional Arts Award from An Chomhairle Ealaion/Irish Arts Council.
The words come directly from the Book of Leinster and the piece follows the action of the Tain through eight descriptive pieces sung by Lorcan MacMathuna. The story is one of the great epics of the Scottish and Irish Gaelic Oral tradition handed down through the centuries and finally written down by scribes in the first millennium. The story also survived orally throughout Ireland and Scotland right to the present day. This was a truly magical performance rising to the occasion and captivating the audience. The entire piece is controlled by MacMathuna’s spell binding singing which ranged from low chanting to full throated and powerful vocals that echoed through the Cathedral. The musical accompaniment of uilleann pipes, fiddle, saxophone and piano accordion also included pre-recorded electronic music. This was one of the never to be forgotten moments of the entire festival.
William Kennedy Piping Festival Review
December 10/January 11
After lunch it was up to St. patrick’s cathedral for the world premiere of Lorcán Mac Mathúna’s An Táin. This was a musical interpretation of the Ulster epic tale of An Táin from the book of Leinster, which tells of the Connacht king and queen’s war against Ulster and the young Cú-Chulainn’s attempt to defeat them. Lorcán put this to music and presented it in the spectacular surroundings of the cathedral.
Lorcán is one of the younger generation of Sean Nós singers and he sang the eight-parted story, the supporting musicians – Seán Óg Mac Fhirléinn on bass clarinet, Flaithrí Neff on Uilleann pipes/whistle, Martin Tourish on accordion, and Owen Neff on fiddle – echoed the story with atmospheric sounds that emphasised the moodiness and foreboding or energy and rage as needed. Once the initial sound balance issues were sorted, this settled into a compelling piece that engaged and enthralled with each twist and turn in the story. The supporting slide show of beautifully crafted illustrations gave visual clues for the non-Gaelic speakers, and there was some very clever use of loops recorded live and played back immediately to add depth and complexity to the music. At just shy of an hour this was a substantial piece that deserves to be heard more.
An Táin By Deep End Of The Ford
There is something so powerful and so original about the music on this 2012 album from Deep End of the Ford, I can’t resist saying that I am just very happy that I have it and that I am disposed to love it.
The musicians are Lorcán MacMathúna on vocals, Seán MacErlaine on bass clarinet, Martin Tourish on piano accordion, Eoghan Neff on fiddle, and Flaithrí Neff on uileann pipes, vpipes and low whistles. I think they were possibly all involved in effects and electronics of one sort or another.
The Táin story itself and the music in this telling evoke “a Celtic warrior society and an epic campaign which revolves around two of the most enigmatic and powerful characters in Irish mythology”, and so the challenge is to make the music live up to that, and to the fact that this is one of the most “iconic” works of literature in our culture.
Understandably, the music here ends up being generally quite rugged, “masculine”(for want of a better description and ironically considering the key protagonist is female), though the voice and some of the instrumental lines are also suitably gentle at times. It often pulses and drives on with the rhythm, but includes passages of almost a-rhythmic improvisation and other more sophisticated digitally enhanced sections, as well as haunting and often beautiful melodies played at times in styles that produce those microtonal effects and overtones that contribute to an almost “lived” sense of the epic and supernatural occurrences being described.
The lyrics were taken unaltered from the mediaeval Irish manuscript, The Book of Leinster, and are sung in Old-Irish. All the core music was composed by Mac Mathúna, with “the vocal line [required by the text] providing the main melodic drive”, and then improvisation being used to build up around that.
There are lyrical moments in the epic-ness but mostly it is quite dramatic, both in how the instruments are played: episodically and shifting around, as tools to lay down the drama rather than smoothly in the tune-delivering way we are more used to in traditional music; and in how Mac Mathúna’s voice is used: also as a tool to serve the story, sometimes narratively neutral while at other times he acts out emotions and parts when the particular passage requires it (especially in the second part of ‘The Sorcerous Distortions’).
There are ten tracks on the album, labelled movements, each one derived from particular passages in the original narrative.
1 ‘The Pillow Talk’ tells of how Meadhbh sets the drama going when she decides she must top her husband Ailill’s wealth at any cost, reflected in ominous and disturbed melodic fragments and thrusting rhythms
2 ‘The Prophesy of Fidelm’ foretells the coming of Cú Chullain: “He will lay low your entire army, and he will slaughter you in dense crowds,” the prophetess declares in a melancholy, at times foreboding voice underlayed by acoustic hints of nature twisting and distorting
3 ‘The slighting of Cú Chulainn’ tells, through a shimmering, echoing soundscape, of the insulting terms Meadhbh offers Cú Chulainn when she sees the devastation wrought by him
4 ‘Cú Chulainn’s sleep’, evoked in a continuous drone on the pipes, is a lyrical monologue of injury, pain, and sorrow: “A drop of blood drips from my weapon. I am sorely wounded. No friend comes to me in alliance or help …”, dreamily relieved by a sweet melody on Neff’s pipes accompanied by strummed fiddle, which however dips at the very end into dissonant chords
5 ‘The Sorcerous Distortions’ starts with a short instrumental passage (accordion and grinding fiddle) evoking the transformation of Cú Chulainn, when he hears of the death of the Ulster youths who alone came to his aid, into “the distorted one”, and proceeds into a chant-like verse-account of his indiscriminate slaughtering of all around him – Mac Mathuna building his theatrical delivery into an urgent incantation with a second vocal harmony track: very powerful stuff, but kept under control to the point of almost being too short
6 ‘Dinnseanachas’ is a rousing march tune dedicated to the lore of the places itself, played on the box and fiddle
7 ‘The manipulation of Ferdia’ is the most manipulated of the tracks soundwise. There’s a demon in the background, brilliantly created through some kind of electronic trickery, and Mac Erlaine improvises against Mac Mathúna’s relatively straight-forward telling of Meadhbh’s calculated inveigling of Ferdia, Cú Chulainn’s foster brother, into attacking her foe
8 ‘Caoineadh Fherdia’ is a grim lament delivered over Mac Erlaine’s troubled bass clarinet, a voice of regret echoing out across ages as if to be picked up in the very character of sound of the uileann pipes towards the end
9 ‘The cries of Sualtaim’s head (Scread Ceann Sualtaim)’ tells of Cú Chullain’s father’s ride to get help being turned into a hideously supernatural call to arms, as “Sualtaim’s own shield turned on Sualtaim and its rim cut off his head … [which then] spoke the same words: Men are slain, women carried off, cattle driven away, O Ulstermen …” The music here is freer and looser and roaming and quite wild at moments, and Mac Mathuna revels in the vocal syncopation possibilities offered by the crisp verbal phrases and the chopped fiddle strumming and plucking
10 ‘The Rut and Carnage’ – as the bulls meet and attack and destroy each other (though not before Donn Cúailnge “attacked the women and boys and children of the territory of Cúailnge and inflicted great slaughter on them”) – is a sad laying out in song and music of the miserable consequences of war
With so few and such young musicians involved, it is a wonder that an epic feel of this magnitude could have been created by these guys, but it has. There is a lot demanded of the vocals in the relatively sparse instrumentation but Mac Mathuna delivers practically right the way through. As do the musicians both in terms of playing and imaginatively creating the soundscape for the drama (– though it’s not always just the “set” that the instruments evoke; they sometimes provide or pick up the main drama themselves and indeed the protagonists). It is a very visual, cinematic experience to listen to the entire album, though it is only (by necessity) partially told and at times, like the original itself, heavy going. But, fair play to Mac Mathúna and the others, many of the tracks are so beautiful they can easily be played independently of the rest, and it’s a real shame, therefore, we don’t hear them on Lyric and elsewhere at all these days.
GOTTA GET IT (ONE OF A KIND)
Album Review - Deep End Of The Ford An Táin
Tony Lawless, September 05 2012
Lorcán Mac Mathúna’s latest musical project The Deep End of the Ford explores An Táin which is drawn from the text of The Book of Leinster. "An Táin has a place amoungst the epic myths of the world. Its relevant and contemporary lessons have echoed throughout two millennia, and is remarkably pertinent today" according to the sleeve notes. "Set in a time of tribal allegiances, An Táin mobilises the peoples of the entire territories of Ireland in an epic tale of greed, ambition, political manoeuvring, deceit and heroism" dealing with the"ruthless Meadbh, whose thirst for supreamacy and wealth ...drags the tribes of Ireland into a bloody conflict"
This sets the scene for a truly remarkable project by Lorcán. Using improvisational techniques he paints a haunting landscape of voice and sound that defy categorisation. Experimental in its design and brilliant in its scope, it places Lorcán and his fellow musicians Mairtin Tourish, Sean Mac Erlaine, Eoghan Neff and Flairthrí Neff a class apart and at the outer edge of avant-garde experimentation. With words taken from medieval Irish manuscripts and sung in original old-Irish form, they tell the story of An Táin in ten movements. Its conception alone requires musicians of vision and genius and its delivery is exemplary. It requires the listener to conjure up a pictorial landscape within which to place the sounds and music and this in itself stretches your own view of what music can be. Yes it is demanding of your own musical preconceptions of voice and sound and therein lies the challenge. Without being immersed in Lorcán's world it is hard to see what he sees or hear what he hears. This is the point where he and his fellow musicians become the possessed medium through which the art and music must pass if it is to have a voice.
This most definitely throws the door wide open with comprehension coming from immersion in their journey. Suffice it to say that every now and again you need to be challenged and shaken from your reverie. You need to expose yourself to people that take a different direction and manage to take you with them. Lorcán and company have pushed the boundary but not to the point where they lose you. They have opened the door a little, and you have taken a glimpse inside. It is a door to the other side of an imagined and more cerebral world. You can hear the voice and the music and the colours and landscapes are strikingly different. You open it further and step through and marvel at the sheer scale of what has been achieved, seeking to understand. A masterful work of genius by musicians that are breaking new ground and opening new doors as they transverse our musical horizons.
Review by: Tony Lawless
At the end of Last year Lorcán Mac Mathúna, with Northern Lights (review here), took us back to mediaeval links between Ireland and Scandinavia. In Dubh agus Geal we were given a celebration of those links, drawn from the oral traditions of both regions. Lorcán’s latest project, The Deep End Of The Ford, takes us even further back in time; in a telling of the famous An Táín Bó Cualaigne (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) – An Táin.
The epic Irish legend of Queen Meabdh and An Táín Bó Cualaigne is an Iron Age tale of politics, bloodshed and heroism that’s been retold through the centuries. Meabdh’s thirst for wealth and power manifests itself in a struggle to gain possession of a prize bull. The resultant conflict calls all the tribal powers of Ireland to battle and sets brother against brother.
In a unique combination of ancient, traditional and contemporary sources, Lorcán weaves vocal performances taken directly from the contents of 12th century manuscripts, with music that relies heavily on traditional melody and modern electronics alike. The Deep End Of The Ford are Lorcán MacMathúna (voice); Seán MacErlaine (bass clarinet, saxophone, electronics); Martin Tourish (piano accordion); Eoghan Neff (fiddle and looping station); Flaithrí Neff (uileann pipes, low whistles).
The ten movements presented in An Táín are each based on a separate passages in the tale. From the moment An Táín’s upbeat, cantering opening movement, The Pillow Talk, begins it’s clear that this is a singular and carefully crafted work. As the album progresses contrasting approaches to the music help distinguish the separate movements – The Prophesy of Fidelm’s dark, dreamlike echo emerging from a mist of sound becomes clear in a vocal performance that moves between power and murmur. The powerful sections of the vocal are stirring and anthemic, while the woodwind merged with ethereal electronics creates an enthralling dreamscape.
Some tracks are more song-like than others – Cú Chulainn’s Sleep has a gorgeous opening with pipes over plucked strings delivering a melody that’s echoed in the vocal. Whereas The Sorcerous Distortions is more evocative of dramatic tales by a communal fire, as a strident vocal injects a sense of rage and urgency that climbs towards two voices raised in incantation. The Manipulation of Fherdia, which reveals Meabdh’s successful attempts to control Cú Chulainn’s foster-brother, seems to employ modern cinematic techniques, with eerie woodwind and disturbing, demonic whispers accompanying a droning vocal.
Even taken out of the literary context, the music and song are accomplished and fascinating in their own right – Caoineadh Fherdia is an extensive lament with a synthesized, stretched out Jaws harp ‘neath the lament repeated on uileann pipes. If there’s one instrument that can deliver a lament with a power of expression approaching that of a vocal, it’s uileann pipes. The Cries of Sualtaim’s Head delivers the tale of the original headless horseman where strings predominate alongside a galloping vocal that immediately injects a sense of urgency. If any track could stand out on this album it would be this one. The pace is constant, the vocal alternates from hushed haste to strident insistence, and all the while the plucked strings and Eoghan Neff’s masterly fiddle in an elemental maelstrom.
Like Dubh Agus Geal – the sleeve notes for An Táin are essential to get the most out of this album. You can enjoy the music simply for what it is – enthralling and wonderfully crafted. But the descriptive notes put the music created by The Deep End Of The Ford within the context of the ancient narrative it portrays, and help take the listener back hundreds of years to the telling of the tale, and thousands of years to the birth of the legend
Review by: Neil McFadyen
An Táin By Deep End Of The Ford
Review By: Fiacha O Dubhda FROOTS
The Táin Bó Cuailnge or Cattle Raid of Cooley is an ancient Irish epic tale found in the 12th Century Book of Leinster. It tells the story of the hero Cú Chulainn and his feats in a bloody and harrowing battle among the tribes of Ireland over a stolen bull.
This work came into being as a commission from the Armagh Pipers club and sets a selection of text fragments from An Táin within a richly illustrated tapestry of sound. Its series of musical vignettes are crafted by the improvisatory collective Deep End of The Ford, forming a lucid backdrop for Lorcán Mac Mathúna’s sean-nós singing. His mellifluous Irish evokes the character of ancient Gaelic epic and highlights the intimate union that exists between the language and this often overlooked way of song.
Here the diverse resources of contemporary Irish traditional and improvisatory music are brought to task in a vivid musical imagining of an Iron-Age culture. It would be easy for this experiment to err too much on the side of New Age pastiche, yet the crisp instrumentation ensures that any connotation of ‘Celt Synth’ are quickly dispelled. The interplay of Seán Mac Erlaine’s bass clarinet, Martin Tourish’s accordion, eoghan Neff’s fiddle and Flaithrí Neff’s uilleann pipes creates a sound that contains elements of Irish trad, contemporary jazz, electronic, and post-rock, yet cannot be subsumed under any of these banners.
This release strikes the rare balance of being something both entirely new and genuinely experimental, while simultaneously working to invigorate and inspire interest in an ancient form of melodic development and vocal production.
Descriptions of each movement are provided in the sleevenotes and full Irish text and translation can be found on Mac Mathúna’s website
Review by: Fiacha O Dubhda
Deep End Of The Ford - An Táin
25 April 2012
Reviewed By: Folkaholix
When listening to the newest disc of the ‘folk avantgardists’ Deep End of the Ford (DEOTF), one must remark with wonder that this facet of folk music is far too neglected. Supply and demand for this form of sundry easy listening music seems to be limited. When listening to Off-Beat-shouty-folk, traditional diddly-di folk with out-of-tune instruments or four people instrumentation everywhere, An Tain offers the most difficult and dainty pleasure for listening that Celtic Rock was able to offer me so far.
Instead of drums, bass, guitar and obligatory fiddle, the five gentlemen surprise with totally unexpected instrumentation: accordion, bass-clarinet, saxophone, piano, violin, whistles, a pipe variety, synthetic sounds and haunting singing, an instrumentation lineup which must be unequalled internationally.
Based on a 2000 year old tradition which was only noted in the Book of Leinster in the 12th century, DEOTF refer to material that would be hair-raising even for Irish native speakers. For friends of the Irish language medieval studies this opus will probably cause a languorous, semantic-cultural frisson, whilst for the non-linguist only the music remains.
The vocals of the band leader Lorcan MacMathuna is almost of spiritual, priest-like poignancy. While [probably] Irish nobility, ancient myths and fantastic creatures are being described, for the uninitiated it must resemble as if they had landed in a pre-Christian rite – as if druids would emerge from their subterranean cells. The haunting power of the vocals are underpinned by incredibly experimental instrumentation, probably in prosodic measures. By this, DEATF achieve a real act of genius. The pathos of the apparently antiquated, spherical overall sound emerges from an instrumentation which is far from antiquated.
The Sorcerous Distortions are almost orchestrally accompanied by the clarinet and accordion, whereas the violin in semiquaver not just underpins this sound. The violin’s bow seems mostly loose, so that besides the sound of the double strings the scratching of the bow creates further rhythmical effect. In doing so all instruments show playful perfection which, in the interplay with the incredible urge for innovation of the musicians, emphatically underlines the self-appointment to the avant-garde.
The gentlemen never renounce more simple folk elements though. For example quasi reels as opening to the following solemn piece, though also fiddle sequences which would be happy in a more traditional music form.
An Tain is an album on a technically virtuoso level. If this true for most bands only in case of some musicians, it has to be noted that with DEOTF without exception all musicians seem to have been touched by genius. To master such material requires not just a little courage, to package this then into such musical garment, shows musical integrity which solely focuses on the art itself and not the recipient. Who dares to try the unheard-of, is well advised to listen to this album. Who rather prefers stereotypical structures (with a stanza, chorus- middle section), catchy instant pleasure and diddly-di is ill-advised with this CD. This album not just deserves to be consumed in absolute silence – it can’t be listened to in any other way. The wealth of facets, of bandwidth of exemplary innovation, the togetherness of old and new in perfect harmony, requires nerves of steel. Though who fights their way through this album will be richly rewarded. Like an explorer, the receptive listener enters new territory whose apparent savageness shows a maximum of aesthetic harmony. Dare to take this step!
Reviewed by folkaholix
**** Beautiful Old Irish Laments. Deep End Of The Ford - An Táin
Reviewed By: Pieter Wijnstekers
The cattle raid of Cooley or Táin Bó Cúailgne (aka An Táin and The Tain) is the most famous legend of Irish antiquity and is a bit like the Irish version of the Iliad, where the battle between good and evil is told in a epic tale of two parties (in this case, Ulster and Connacht) who together fight to the death for possession of a prize bull and where heroism and tragedy, greed and ambition seem inextricably linked. Although the story was written down only in the 12th century for the first time, it harks back much further to probably the fifth century BC when Ireland was a pagan country, and many tribes in the country fought major conflicts with each other. Already in 1973 The story was the basis for the masterpiece of the Irish folk rock group Horslips, The Táin, under which title the story in 2004 was taken in hand by The Decemberists, originally released only in Spain on EP. The newly composed version, as brought here by the Irish avant-folk group Deep End Of The Ford led by singer Lorcán Mac Mathúna is a lot less accessible work, not least because all texts are sung in Old Irish and the music is largely in the form of equally dark and sober elegies, that not only represent the drama of the epic tale as well as depicting the tragic impact. Largely carried out on traditional Irish instruments in a style which, while folk-like in tone is also reminiscent of modern classical and improvised music, An Táin is not an album that quickly allows access. Whoever takes a moment to sit down, will soon discover a deep and touching piece that will not easily let go and the effort that one pays to enter the piece is paid back twice over.
reviewed by Pieter Wijnstekers in the May/June issue 2012
Deep End Of The Ford - An Táin Own Label
3rd June 2012
Reviewed By: Dai Jeffries
Horslips called it The Tain and added electricity to the 12th century text collected in The Book Of Leinster from a much older story. Now, Sean-Nós singer Lorcán Mac Mathúna who last appeared in these pages with his Irish/Scandinavian fusion,Northern Lights, has taken a rather different approach.
The story of Cù Chulainn and Meadhbh and a quarrel over a prize bull includes mystical prophesy, a demonic transformation, a headless corpse still retaining the power of speech and lots of blood – it would make a blockbuster of a film. Lorcán has gone back to the book and based his lyrics on the original text to the extent of singing in Old Irish although, helpfully, the full text of the songs and a translation appear on his website.
Musically, Deep End Of The Ford mix old and new sounds. Martin Tourish plays accordion and piano, Seán Mac Erlaine plays bass clarinet, Eoghan Neff plays fiddle and Flaithrí Neff uileann pipes and low whistle and all five performers are credited as composers. Added to this are electronic sounds and looped tapes and the music is heavy on the drones – something of a Mac Mathúna signature sound.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that An Táin will be heavy going. Lorcán has a lovely warm voice and the music easily carries you away. This is another wonderful album.
Reviewd by Dai Jeffries - read the origional review here
The tale of the Táin Bó Cuailgne, memorialised in the 12th-century Book of Leinster is invigorated by Cork singer Lorcan MacMathúna. Commissioned by the William Kennedy Piping Festival, this suite of 10 movements sounds primeval and its tone is haunting. MacMathúna’s never been afraid to venture into the unknown, as his last project, Northern Lights, a melding of Irish and Norse sagas attested. The primal impulse firing Flaithrí Neff’s pipes on the eighth movement, Caoineadh Fherdia, is the ideal foil for Lorcán’s belly-deep vocal patterns. But make no mistake: this is not music for the casual listener. It demands repeated exposure to reach beneath its surface, such are the demands of its patterns. Skipping directly to Scread Ceann Sualtaim, with fiddle and bass clarinet propelling the story, offers a relatively accessible entry to another world: alien but intriguing.
David Kidman – The Living tradition
Dubh Agus Geal – Darkness And Light
Private Label LMM011001
Lorcán MacMathúna, from Cork, is an excellent young sean-nós singer whose work I first encountered three years ago on his intense CD Rógaire Dubh. Here he unveils the first release of his ambitious ongoing Northern Lights project, which traces similarities in Irish and Scandinavian traditional music by means of what Lorcán terms “explorations of Gaelic-Norse folk roots”. That description might betoken a musical approach that’s vaguely trendy or else drily academic, but this intriguing disc is in fact neither, instead being a brilliantly listenable and stimulating musical experience.
In many ways it’s a natural continuation of what we encountered on Rógaire Dubh, where maximum impact is gained by the compelling and evocative vocalising of Lorcán himself and principal collaborator Raphael De Cock, cradled within opulent yet lucidly conceived textures that, while often sparsely-stranded, embody a bleakness that never lacks warmth, one which though invariably transparent remains highly telling.
Lorcán’s central thesis, expounded in the essay hectically crammed onto the inside first page of the admirably informative and voluminous accompanying booklet, is that folk music is part of the collective consciousness and experience rather than a single person’s story, and this is aptly demonstrated by his open-hearted sharing of modes and idioms familiar from traditional Irish and Scandinavian musics, which are performed in parallel and in empathic union on the same musical stage, as it were. The very sequencing of the dozen items on the disc accentuates this approach, and the listener remains riveted throughout, while it’s impossible to tire of the constantly changing soundscape where the panoply of accompanying instrumental colours (pipes, whistles, flutes, hardanger fiddle, bouzouki, guitar, jew’s harp, shruti box, bodhrán) is used ever-inventively (yet often quite unobtrusively) to enhance the texts and melodies. The sheer power of the words and music transcends any potentially disconcerting impact of the constant switching between sung languages (full texts and detailed synopses are all available in the booklet), and the overall effect is both timeless and gently epic.
Over The Waves (Craggie Hill) juxtaposes stories of departure and separation by sea from two perspectives, economically too (in under three minutes), whereas several other tracks stretch out the mood and experimental pairings in more extended fashion yet still don’t overstay their welcome. The Frozen North presents two interlocking narratives of loss, the Irish elegy Tuireamh Mhic Finín Dhuibh and the Norwegian ballad Dei Frealause Menn, given an eerie supernatural demeanour by the incorporation of overtone singing, while the dreamlike vision Aisling Gheal is characterised by a weird stringed accompaniment from a chatkhan (Siberian harp). The aching resignation of Ardaí Chuain is expressed in a vocal line of extremely poignant beauty, and further contrast is provided by The Chickens Lip, a glorious and vigorous melding of dance tunes, whereby a gangar (Norwegian walking dance) flows into a jig (the latter gleefully combining Irish lilting and Swedish lalling) before tripping off into a jubilant reel. Moments of repose are provided by the reflective “listening tune” Nordlys (played as a hardingfele solo) and the lovely lullaby that prefaces Bog Braon, to which a brief coda-cum-bonus track (a reprise of Nordlys) is appended, setting the seal on this enchanting, mesmerising disc.
Neil McFadyen - Folkradio.com
Northern Lights – Dubh agus Geal *****
“ I woke tonight from an ancient dream, a dream where tales of murder, exile and oppression flowed around my consciousness like the churning of the North Sea. A dream where voices, centuries old and worlds apart, enthralled me. A dream where Gaelic & Viking music, stories and song implored me to listen, to learn, to remember. And when I woke from the dream, all I longed for was to return to the green hillsides and the frozen seas, to immerse myself again in the timeless tales”.
Regular visitors may remember that back in July, Folk Radio UK reported on the completion of Lorcán Mac Mathúna‘s Northern Lights project, promising a ‘fascinating and beautiful’ album, Dubh agus Geal (Darkness And Light). Well, we’re delighted to confirm that was no understatement. In collaboration with Raphael De Cock (voice, pipes, Siberian harp, shrutti, hardanger fiddle, jews harp), and James Mahon (uillean pipes, whistle flutes), Lorcán Mac Mathúna has created an album that educates and fascinates.
Drawing on the historic affiliations of Gaeldom and Scandanavia, Dubh agus Geal celebrates the cultural traditions of folklore and music, unearthing both harmonious and contrasting associations. There are tales of exile and emigration, such as Over the Waves, where a young man looks forward to making his fortune on foreign shores, while his sweetheart dreads the inevitable separation; or Ardai Chuain, exploring the pain of unending exile.
Each song on the album comes from the musical and oral traditions of Ireland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Throughout, these traditions intertwine to produce songs that traverse the geographical boundaries. In, for instance the well known Irish celebration of a pastoral spring, Aililiu na Gamhna, The jews harp and bodhran instill a Nordic flavour. In Ceannabhan Bana / Paidin O’ Rafairte, pipes and jews harp combine in a lively session set.
Folklore the world over is full of dark tales and in The Frozen North, supernatural tales from Norway and Ireland combine in an eerie, lamenting epic, where throat singing adds a ghostly voice. In Sven In the Rosegarden medieval voices present a murder ballad that has parallels in many cultures, and is hauntingly reminiscent of ‘What Put The Blood?’ The song becomes more strident as the question and answer session continues, with soul stirring harmonies.
Life, however, isn’t all murder, mayhem and mystery – even in the frozen north. The Chicken’s Lip provides a set of dance tunes embracing the combined cultures, with hardanger and uillean pipes supporting mouth music traditions. To compliment the dancing, there’s music from the Nordic chill-out tradition of Lydarslått in Nordlys, and the beautiful and uplifting Bog Braon, a lullaby that gently skips toward a joyous conclusion.
This album defies reviewers, in the best possible way. It’s a challenge to do justice to the level of artistic and academic achievement presented. The best possible way to appreciate the wealth of creativity, imagination and study that’s gone into the creation of this masterpiece is to immerse yourself completely… lose yourself in the music, feed your mind with the extensive information provided in the sleeve notes. Anyone interested in the shared influences and traditions, musical, oral and political, of Northern Europe and Scandinavia will find Dubh agus Geal a treasure and a fascinating resource to return to time and again… I’ve only just started listening, and there’s still so much to learn.
read the review on Folkradio.com
SIOBHÁN LONG -The Irish Times
Dubh agus Geal – Darkness and Light Claddagh Records ****
It’s refreshing to hear musicians explore the crosscurrents that might have influenced (and clearly are now influencing) traditional music, particularly when those tidal patterns extend to Scandinavia. Sean-nós singer Lorcán MacMathúna has a deeply expressive voice that readily entwines itself in the syllables and rhythms of a song. His band mates (Belgian hardanger fiddle player, piper and jewsharpist Raphael de Cock, and piper, whistle and flute player James Mahon) feast on both shared and complementary repertoire here, which is at its most exotic on Sven in the Rosegarden , based on a Swedish murder ballad. The highly charged harmonies are at times monastic in their bare settings, while at others the stark contrast of pipes, fiddle and voice render the music deeply meditative. The Chicken’s Lip explores the lilting and lalling traditions of Ireland and Sweden to spectacular effect. A bold ride into uncharted terrain.
Tom Keller - Folkworld.eu
The second ‘Celtic influenced’ album takes me by surprise. Singer Lorcan Mac Mathúna plays together with the Belgian top musician Raphael de Cock and uillean pipe and flute player James Mahon. This collaboration results in a marvelous album on which the trio re-arranged traditional Irish and Scandinavian tunes and songs. Top quality music in which the tradition of the music is kept really well, without sounding out of date. Wonderful (harmony) vocals, well arranged instrumental parts. It’s an album which brings the ancient atmospheres back to life in a wonderful way. Listen to Mac Mathúna’s great vocals, which fit perfectly with the voice of De Cock. Softly backed by the flutes, pipes, hardanger fele and other strings. Definitely one of the best Celtic influenced albums from 2011.
Bart Vanoutrive - Folkroddels.be
An ambitious, hypothetical reconstruction of musical cross-fertilization between the Celts and Vikings, offering timeless haunting musical adventures ...
....These ‘music anthropologists' brought this challenging project to a successful conclusion. They wonderfully managed to evoke the mystique of the dark ages, not least by the full use of drones and sympathetic qualities of their instrumentation in the supporting accompaniments. This provides a number of magic, hypnotising, and sometimes meditative experiences, while the music stays still very accessible. There is much to discover and enjoy. Although very archaic in design, this music has something timeless. It presents a soul for the listener to lose her- or himself into...."
A translated extract from the extensive Folkroddels.be CD review
Dai Jeffries - Folking.com
Lorcán Mac Mathúna is best known in Ireland as a Sean-Nós singer. He’s also a man of great imagination and Darkness And Light (Dubh Agus Geal to give it its Irish title) is the first result of his Northern Lights project, exploring the links between the music of Ireland and Scandinavia.
If you think that’s odd, Lorcán explains that a thousand years ago Dublin was a major Viking ship building port and the cultural cross-fertilization was evident as late as the 16thcentury. If you still doubt consider ‘Sven In The Rosegarden’ and ‘I’m Sick To My Heart’ which bear strong similarities to British ballads. All the songs on this album are traditional, sung in Irish, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and English. Lorcán is joined by Raphael De Cock, James Mahon, Connor Lyons and Joey Doyle in a band heavy with drones, whistles and flutes. There are two sets of pipes, hardingfele and Jews Harp producing a haunting, almost mediaeval sound when coupled with the vocals of Lorcán and Raphael.
‘ Over The Waves’ mixes two songs, ‘Hermond Don Idde’ and ‘Craigie Hill’, with alternate verses in Danish and English leading into two rather jolly tunes. ‘The Frozen North’ again alternates verses, this time in Norwegian and Irish, telling a story which has parallels with ‘The Ship In Distress’ and is the most haunting performance on the album.
Although Dubh Agus Geal may appear at first to be a rather scholarly and esoteric work it is also extremely listenable. Not only do the players mix songs they also mix dance tunes with hardanger fiddle, pipes and lilting into something new. There is a great deal to discover in this record and much to enjoy.
read the review on Folking.com
Album:Dubh Agus Gael - Darkness And Light Loric Colloquies
Label:Foras Na Gaeilge
" Dubh Gael - Darkness And Light loric Colloquies" is an album that celebrates the similarities between Celtic and Norse music streams, though unlike the other albums that I've heard exploring that area this year, this one is rooted in Ireland. That makes a lot of sense as Dublin was a major trading city during the dark ages bringing the two cultures together. Northern Lights are a trio of traditional musicians drawn from other bands and projects who have got together under the stewardship of Lorcan Mac Mathuna to deliver an exciting and interesting album.
Spectacular sleeve notes herald the arrival of a young sean nós singer with attitude and a sense of time and place in equal measure. Lorcán MacMathúna may not possess the most exceptional voice, and at times he maintains a tenuous connection with conventional notions of tunefulness, but this is a singer with his ear on the prize. He delves so deeply beneath Saileog Rua that he scarcely remembers to come up for air, his voice creaking and groaning with the weight of one long-immersed in the spirit of the song. Gorgeous cello and fiddle (from Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Jane Hughes) lend depth and breadth to a vista still in the making. An early snapshot of a vocalist in pursuit of songs that "sing the singer". SIOBHÁN LONG, Irish Times
The Folk Diary Jan 2010
Here is an album that is as unexpected as it is delightful. Sean-nós singing in the Irish language is probably the oldest and certainly the most complex and difficult of all the singing traditions in these islands and enthusiasts will be used to hearing the recordings that were released in the early days of the revival of the few surviving veterans from the various Gaeltacht areas of the west of Ireland.
This means that this album comes as a surprise in a number of ways. Firstly, we are hearing a younger man at the height of his powers showing all the required skills in handling all the difficult cadences, decorations, twists and turns of this repertoire and then we are hearing much of the singing accompanied after what was always a solo unaccompanied tradition.
The accompanists come from both traditional and classical disciplines but they are innovating successfully in finding a way to augment the singer in a way that is compatible with this type of singing.
Not an easy album to listen to, it will reward the careful listener. VIC SMITH, The Folk Diary
"This is a beautifully packaged showcase for an astonishing new voice."
10th Anniversary issue.
Lorcan Mac Mathuna
Deep, dark and beautiful
Lorcan Mac Mathuna's father Seamus, himself a revered exponent of sean nos ('old style') singing, has described the form as 'the least understood, most complex part of Irish traditional music. It takes a keen ear and a sharply honed sensibility to appreciate where style and substance meet in a repertoire that is raw, astringent, technically complex and regionally diverse.
Purists may well insist that only two of the ten tracks on Rogaire Dubh are strictly sean nos style, the others being variously accompanied by Hardanger fiddle, whistle, bodhrán, harp, cello and pipes. But strict adherence to an a capella delivery aside, Lorcan Mac Mathuna's self-produced debut is a compelling collection of lowering laments that positions him in the vanguard of a new generation of sean nos singers.
The rough-hewn fissures and cross-cut grain of Mac Mathuna's peat-dark voice are employed with admirably understated intelligence in performances, steeped in the Munster idiom. Brooding beauty is the order of the day, although album opener 'Na Tailliuri" delights with its comic playfulness, and the robust title-track is borne along with a strikingly fast-paced energy by fiddler Caoimhin O’ Raghallaigh and Mick O'Brien on uilleann pipes. Standout tracks include the savagely sardonic, drone-accompanied Irish Famine song 'Johnny Seoighe' and a wistfully truncated 'Bean Dubh an Ghleanna' (featuring Helen Lyons' light-as-morning-dew harp).
The two a capella songs are also striking: 'An Buachaillin Ban' is a bleak, dangerously sensuous tirade against John Bull; while the 18th century elegy 'Tuireamh Mhic Finin Dhuibh' sees Mac Mathiina illuminatingly mining some dislocating, bass-heavy depths.
This is a beautifully packaged showcase for an astonishing new voice. MICHAEL QUINN, Songlines
"This is one of the most beautiful albums I have ever heard. I replayed it over and over. It's on the radio station and it will stay on there for some time." ALEX GALLACHER, folkradio.uk
"Speaking of getting right to the heart of the matter, for those of you interested in great singing, we can thoroughly recommend Lorcan MacMathuna’s ‘Rogaire Dubh’. Lorcan sings in Irish Gaelic, but the feel of this CD transcends language barriers." NICK O'SULLIVAN, Dulcimer.org
Cork-born Lorcán is a passionate young sean-nós singer with a confident and commanding, though sensible, measured style which emphasises the musical quality of the song in an often innovative way while demonstrating both a respect for and understanding of the texts. Sean-nós singing can be a bit of an acquired taste, I’ll admit, but Lorcán’s strongly individual presentation is both intense and involving without being austere or intimidating: deliberate: yes but involved rather than soporific. There’s both intimacy and an understated sensuousness in his response (a combination which I’ve noted in the singing of Dónal Maguire), and on some of the songs there’s also an approach to decoration that rather resembled that of Robin Williamson.
Unusually for a singer perhaps, Lorcán admits that he has often fallen for the music of a song and the sound of its phrases before he understood anything else about it. The drone of a hardangeror fiddle( Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh), cello (Jane Hughes), or pipes (Mick O’Brien), at once pictorial and timeless, gives a pictorial aspect to the musical expression almost before the meaning of the words at times. Other musicians play harp, whistle and bodhrán but each individual song is sparse in texture and two of the key songs are performed “undressed with accompaniment” as Lorcán aptly describes it. There’s a weird sensation caused by Lorcán’s double-tracking some passages from the text of the eerie 18th century elegy Tuireamh Mhic Finín Dhuibh, only accentuatin the sheer other-worldly nature of its melody line, which is at once epic and highly disorientating. A bit like the parallel-chanting of Tibetan monks, perhaps, but it sounds truly extraordinary.
Finally, the whole CD ends most delightfully when the subtly mellow song Bean Dubh an Ghleanna glides almost effortlessly into an uplifting and gently sparkling Merry-Band-Like plathrough of the reel Kiss The Maid Behind The Barrel. Sure enough, there’s sometimes stridency in Lorcán’s delivery, and it probably won’t help that a significant majority of the disc’s tracks are performed at a similar (slowish) pace, but personally I’ve found this one of the most captivating discs of sean-nós singing I’ve encountered in recent years. DAVID KIDMAN, The Living Tradition
SINGER Lorcan Mac Mathúna takes the style of Irish sean nós with all the reverence it deserves, presenting it in a form that opens doors to an ancient and rich tradition. One key is provided by an accompanying booklet of detailed and often passionate notes about the style and content of the songs.
The addition of accompaniment makes the singing more accessible, with the meanings being enhanced by sensitive interpretations on fiddle, cello, harp, pipes and whistle. The single cello line underpinning the voice throughout An Clar Bog Deil adds to its beauty and poignancy.
In the tradition of sean nós, there are two unaccompanied songs. In one of them, Mac Mathuna's double tracking of his voice creates an eerie and atmospheric other-worldliness. Amhrán na Leabhar struck me, with its desolate story of a school teacher losing all his books in a boat that sunk.
Although not easy going, this album rewards concentrated listening. - Delyth Jenkins, Taplas, (Welsh folk magazine)
LACKING EVEN a basic working knowledge of Irish, it was with some trepidation that this reviewer approached Lorcán Mac Mathúna's collection of sean-nós songs.
As it turns out, I needn't have worried as one of the main objectives of the Rógaire Dubh project has been to make traditional Irish-language songs more accessible to those without a good knowledge of Irish.
MacMathúna has gone about this in a number of ways.
On all but two songs in this collection from Connemara and the three Gaeltachts of Munster he has deliberately eschewed the traditional approach of unaccompanied singing.
Opting instead to work with a mixture of traditional and classical musicians - Mick O'Brien (pipes and whistle), Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (fiddle, hardanger and whistle), Helen Lyons (harp), Jane Hughes (cello) and Conor Lyons (bodhrán), MacMathúna has succeeded in delivering a contemporary twist to the haunting melodies of his traditional sean-nós repertoire.
An accompanying booklet includes translations and notes on the social, cultural or historical context of the songs. It also features a collection of images, reflecting the decay and regeneration of modern urban life and the artist's own city-dwelling background.
Mac Mathúna intention has not been to ignore or subvert 'tradition'. Rather it is an attempt to create musical interpretations which reflect his own influences while pointing to the undeniable fact that the very conditions that were responsible for forming that tradition no longer prevail.
Rooted in the traditions of the past, these songs undeniably breath with the life of the present. As Mac Mathúna explains: "The thing about tradition... is that it is a living thing. It must have renewed relevance to each generation that partakes in it..."
No matter what language you speak, the result is both engaging and beautiful. DAVID GRANVILLE, The Irish Democratic
A jolly opener. Sounds like a wee 'fun song' but as it's in Irish Gaelic it could be about a hanging for all we know! But we think the voice gives it away and it is a 'fun song'. This is another album that challenges the traditional norm in that the sean-nos style is 'accompanied' but even you diehards should be a touch tolerant 'cause the voice is excellent and the accompaniment is well used and to good effect. Have a listen to a master at work. Allcelticmusic.com
A Japanese review (I think) English translation preprinted below
."..album seems to me one of the most interesting albums released in 2007."
This album, as I hear it, is clearly based on the sean-nós singing tradition of Munster, but with a very tasteful and innovative accompaniment with most unusual arrangements that no one has ever tried with this type of singing.
When your ears are caught by the musical virtuosity of Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, playing the hardanger fiddle (hardingfele), Mick O'Brien, playing the pipes, or Jane Hughes, playing the cello, you are prone to get lost in the flow of the music itself, wondering whether what you are hearing right now is Nordic music or classical music; however, the singing is without a doubt sean-nós.
It seems I have encountered for the first time an album with a feel of sean-nós that is so full of love of songs and that is at the same time so originally and deftly arranged. At any rate, there are a good many of songs that will keep you fascinated so that you might find yourself listening to them over and over again.
I happened to get hold of this album at a record store called Custy's in Ennis, Co. Clare, by a suggestion of a shop clerk there. After I explained to him that I was looking for a good sean-nós record, he encouraged me to have a listen to it, which turned out to be an unforgettable experience. (Before this experience I seem to recall listening to it on a Clare FM program, though.)" MÍCHEÁL, Tigh Mhichil
Cé nár labhair mé leat go fóil, go raibh míle a Mhíchíl.
In the short time I have had Lorcán Mac Mathúna’s CD in my possession, my feelings towards it have already gone through a number of phases. As they may shift again. What follows may be more an update on a process than a summing-up. The jam is still bubbling in the pot and is not yet ready to set.
Two things leapt out at me on first hearing –that the emphasis is on the songs themselves and that the singer is taken with some of the big songs, of Munster and Connemara. That those songs included some of my personal favourites – ‘An Clár Bog Déil’, ‘Cath Chéim an Fhia’, ‘Amhrán na Leabhar’ and the ever-strange ‘Tuireamh Mhic Finín Duibh’ – was an added attraction. That the first song was a catchily rhythmic one, ‘Na Táilliúirí’, showed that Mac Mathúna was not confined to the tragic note, which can become monotonous in even the best singer.
Following this ‘Johhny Seoighe’ creats a startling contrast. This song of the Famine period is addressed in bitter supplication to a Mister Joyce, reputedly a Relieving Officer. The language of vision and enchantment –‘Más tú an réalt eolais…’ (‘If you are the guiding star…’) – that might ordinarily be addressed to a beloved or a spear-bhean is drenched in acid and applied to an authority figure from whome nothing can be expected. Mac Mathúna rises fully to the challenge, delivering a gripping, full-voiced rendition. I am not sure that any other song quite reaches the same height and this may account for the mixed feelings with which I have found myself greeting some of the other songs on the CD.
Not having being present at the recording, I can only speculate as to the reason. It must be said that this is not one of those recordings in which all character is removed from the song by a production (or commercial imperative) that values only sweetnes or that reduces the elasticity of sean-nós to a bland regularity that suits the accompanying band
Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s fiddle of Jane Hughes’ cello do not impose themselves on the songs, instead, they pick up on the feeling of the song and work – often with sensitivity and imagination, sometimes eerily, occasionally with a little too much artiness – around the singing. Studio recordings of sean-nós sometimes lack the dimension of connectedness to an understanding audience that powers the singer in a more domestic setting. (And some singers manage better than others to convey the large-scale concert setting.) I can’t help feeling that, though the whole experience of making this CD was a happy and creative one, at some level Mac Mathúna was singing slightly below room temperature, as it were, or else adjusting a little too much – perhaps not even consciously – to his accompanists. There is fine singing throughout, but, somehow, ‘Amhrán na Leabhar’ deosn’t quite hit the pitch of anguish required, or some of the energy seems to leak from the song in the lower, quieter notes at the end of the verse.
I will be listening to this CD again, and perhaps changing my mind about this song or that, and I am certainly looking forward to hearing Lorcán Mac Mathúna again, singing with all the unwavering commitment of his best work. BARRA Ó SÉAGHDHA, The JMI
Iarla O’Lionaird fans will enjoy these soulful, emotional, intense, Irish ballads, sensitively accompanied by cello, harp, fiddle, hardanger, pipes and whistle. The combination of the low bass melodies of sean-nós songs with the rich resonance of the cello is spine-tingling.
From FRoots magazines album review roundup who gave the album their thumbs up vote.
Four years in the making, and the source material dates back millennia.
To create Preabmeadar, Daire Ó Breacáin and Lorcán Mac Mathúna have combined the two greatest instruments of Irish music, the fiddle and the human voice. But the two have never quite been combined in this way before.
In the Irish oral tradition, poetry based on a strict syllabic structure, with complex patterns of rhyme and alliteration, was developed by the early bards. The technique ensured their work could be passed on word for word and lose none of its original impact. Through generations, the hereditary bards performed the roles of chroniclers, satirists and genealogists for those in power. Their work could enthral, terrify and delight. Their legacy provides us with an insight into the society of pre-Christian Ireland that culminated in 500 years of the richest vein of historic Irish literature, the Dán Díreach.
Fiddler, composer, songwriter, teacher Daire Ó Breracáin is a founding member of Slide & Danú. Growing up in Dublin, he soaked up the influences of some of the country’s most accomplished traditional musicians. His eclectic and exuberant fiddle style has resulted in a wealth of collaborative work in several musical disciplines, and he’s performed with a wide range of artists including Stockton’s Wing, Salsa Celtica, the Black Family and Niamh Parsons.
Lorcán Mac Mathúna’s work is well known to Folk Radio UK visitors. His ground-breaking projects Dubh Agus Geal (Northern Lights) and An Táin(Deep End Of The Ford) have brought ancient voices to a modern audience; with his mix of contemporary influences and mastery of the traditional sean-nós approach to singing. As part of the Fleadh Cheoil 2013, and the Derry City of Culture celebrations, Lorcán composed Derry to the Sea – a specially commissioned song cycle which celebrates the Foyle and the history of Derry from its founding to the present day.
In Preabmeadar, Daire and Lorcán have utilised the ancient, complex patterns of bardic poetry as a basis for contemporary dance music and song. In October, they provided us with a glimpse of what Preab Meadar holds in store on Folk Radio UK, with a preview of The Lion and Fox (Séadnadh Mór). At last the album is complete and the fruits of their labour are ready for us to enjoy.
The Lion And Fox (Séadnadh Mór) provides an opening of ghostly whispers and an urgent fiddle paints pictures of deception. Tadgh Dall Ó Huiggín’s 16th century poem uses the device of an old fable to comment on the treacherous political landscape leading up to the nine-years’ war, two decades before the collapse of the world of the Gaelic chieftains.
Intensity rises throughout and the listener is carried away on the dizzying combination of Daire’s fiddle and Lorcán’s intricately layered vocals.
In the earliest works that have inspired much of this album, medieval scribes would scribble fragments of ancient poems in margins of illuminated texts they were laboriously producing. In Rannaighneacht Ghairid this compelling glimpse of ancient poetry, its structures and its adherents has fuelled the imagination of Lorcán & Daire, putting to their own music the ‘Dramatis Personae’ of the unknown author.
An opening of tumbling chants amid percussive fiddle leads to a stirring rendition of the venerable lines. The complexity of the stratified fiddle parts quickly takes on hypnotic qualities, perhaps reflecting on wandering consciousness of the scribes.
To restrict the complexities of these hereditary forms to the words they originally conveyed would do them a disservice. Daire and Lorcán are eminently capable of bringing their contemporary skills to the table. Over ten years ago Daire wrote Sé Dúirt Sé, the song that first sparked his interest in the complex medieval Irish poetry of the Dán Díreach. A hauntingly gentle vocal performance is accompanied by layers of pizzicato and bowed strings. The effect is a meandering ramble that belies the intricate structure from which it draws its inspiration.
Captain Rock is Typical of Lorcán Mac Mathúna’s dramatic, storytelling in song. Social unrest was heading rapidly towards full scale rebellion in Ireland between 1819 and 1922. Captain Rock was the name given to the leaders of the rebellious tenant farmers. As well as giving us non-Gaelic speakers something to get our teeth into, with rising intensity throughout and the powerful imagery of Lorcán’s lyrics this is modern story telling at its soul-stirring best.
Famine stalks the winter fields, and frost grows thick on the hearth each night
In contrast, Cladach An Bháis showcases Lorcán’s equal skill in creating, and delivering a lament. Telling, and commenting on, a story in two parts. In this and the more fiery and invocative Farraigí An Tuaiscirt, Lorcan’s words capture Franklin’s lost expedition of 1845, and highlight how the hardship endured by its members captured the imagination, and the hearts, of English society; while the horror of the famine in Ireland barely registered interest. Daire creates a strident and powerful fiddle among the sadness of the first and sets the flame to Farraigí An Tuaiscirt.
In the early 19th Century, Irish gangs known as factions, fuelled by class divisions as much as a love of fighting, would exalt in violent conflict wherever they could find it. Tomás Rua Ó Súilleabháin’s poem from the early 19th Century, Do Shaoileas Nár Bhaoil Dom, tells the tale of when he was set upon by a faction. Lorcán’s vocal is the epitome of the Sean-nós tradition, while Daire’s exhilarating fiddle paints a vivid scene of mayhem.
Dance is just as important an aspect of these illustrious traditions, and inDeachnadh Bheag Daire & Lorcán explore the intricacies of a forerunner to the Dán Díreach metres in a light-stepping dance and a bewilderingly elaborate vocal, taken from an 11th century poem, Samhradh (Summer).
A blend of Ireland and Scandinavia is never far away when Lorcán gets to work. In the beautifully lilting Aoibhinn, his lyrics are set to a blend of the traditional tunes: Fead An Iolar (The Eagle’s Whistle) and Fine. It’s fitting that an album of such academic complexity should also include something that celebrates joy for its own sake. This perfectly complements Daire Ó Breacáin’s instrumental Teacht Slán As Anfa – lively, invigorating and brim-full of Nordic charm.
Said to date back almost three thousand years the mystical poem (The Incantation of ) Amergin, uttered by the legendary bard, tells the story of the first invasion of Ireland by the Millesians. Lorcán delivers an ethereal rendition of the poem in spoken English and sung Gaelic, amid intense atmospheres; invoking the power of the ancient poet-sorcerer and the wonder of his kinsmen. The effect is spell-binding.
The album’s credits close with thanks to ‘Amergin for inventing poetry’.
A further contrast between the ancient and modern is offered in Tempest (Deibhide). Although attributed to a 7th century poet named Rumann, this invocation of a stormy seascape dates from the 11th century but adopts a modern approach that somehow still manages to hark back to ancient times. Fiddle and bass are on a late pass from a jazz club amid chanting that seems to reference Nordic throat singing as much as it does Gaelic mouth music. As with Amergin, Daire and Lorcán combine these disparate flavours to mesmerising effect.
The 14th century poem Snéadbhairdne is set to a whirlwind fiddle from Daire, closing the album with a fiery, dancing flourish.
I’ve been listening to this album for a week and have barely scratched the surface. It’s so easy to become completely engrossed in the unique, ethereal beauty of the music itself, but there’s so much more in this recording to explore, to revel in, to wonder at. There are extensive sleeve notes for those who’d like to know more about the influence those ancient poetic metres have brought to bear on the work. And more still, on the archaic stories retold in this captivating modern setting. Preab Meadar is far more than a recording; it’s a contemporary window on the work of the earliest bards, on the origins of poetry itself. Preab Meadar is also further reaching than academic study – it reaches into the ancient, inherited consciousness of the listener, it brings the voices of the past to the modern ear.
Daire & Lorcan’s understanding of their art has resulted in a highly enlightening piece of work. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.
Review by: Neil McFadyen