Fire Draw Near (Anthology of Traditional Irish Song and Music)
Various Artists – Fire Draw Near (Anthology of Traditional Irish Song and Music)
Lea River – October 8, 2021
Released on River Lea Records (a division of Rough Trade), Fire Draw Near – Anthology of Traditional Irish Song and Music is a large and commendable collection of Irish songs and melodies.
Organized by Ian Lynch, perhaps best known as a founding member and singer of the Dublin band Lankum, the selection covers recordings from nearly seventy years past. This is, in many ways, a passion project for Ian. Over the past few months, Ian has hosted a monthly podcast and radio show, also titled Fire Draw Near, which explores traditional Irish music and for which he has conducted extensive research. The anthology is the result of this project.
With an MLitt in Irish Folklore and having taught traditional music and song at University College Dublin, Ian is the ideal ambassador for these songs and tunes. The album is accompanied by numerous liner notes, meticulously researched by Ian, which provide valuable insight into both track selection and individual performers.
Ian’s knowledge and passion allowed him to select a few favorite and unique pieces for this important collection. There are a number of rare goodies here, as Ian notes: “This LP is a collection of thirteen rare, weird and wonderful gems of Irish lore. Recorded in various regions of the country over a period of more than 60 years between 1947 and 2013. They show us a strong, multifaceted and dynamic musical tradition in the country; the one that still exists today. The settings are varied – bars, lounges, campsites, recording studios – as are the paths of those who perform. The music of the Travelers, which tended to the flame of tradition as the rest of society began to lose interest, is well represented, as are styles ranging from sean-nós singing in Connemara, to the violin of Donegal, to the uilleann flute from Dublin and English. song in language of both bawdy and beautiful ballads from all over Ireland.
The collection opens with an air of the Raineys; Paddy ‘Big Rainey’, his brother Stephen ‘Spare Parts’ and Paddy’s wife, Bridie. The Raineys were a family of travelers who brought to life the fairs and markets of Connemara. Their rendition of the traditional song ‘Woman of the House’ was recorded at Freeney’s Pub, Letterfrack, Connemara in 1956 by visiting professor Tony Knowland.
While ‘Woman of the House ‘is a short little track, just under a minute and a half, it’s a completely crisp introduction, the sound of the pub crowd and the general hubbub of voices add to the atmosphere. Both brothers played the violin, and Knowland noted that Paddy’s bow was not strung with horsehair but what looked like carpet thread, tied to the heel by a cotton spool nailed to it. It may have been recorded 65 years ago, but its energy and enthusiasm seems so immediate and fresh that it could easily have been recorded today.
The tradition of the traveler is very present The fire is approaching. Mary Doran, a traveler from Waterford, appears with “When I Was on Horseback”, recorded at a travelers’ camp outside Belfast in August 1952.
Mary’s song is an abbreviated version of “The Unfortunate Rake” with its rendition focusing on the song’s tragic and emotional climax, Rake’s funeral.
It’s a pure, unaccompanied song. Mary’s raw, emotional voice draws us in with a nuance and tone that feels older than her youth. Recorded by collector Peter Kennedy, its original notes indicated that after the men had “had their fill of drunk and fell asleep, Mary Doran, Winnie Ryan and Lal Smith, 21, 22 and 23, with their babies in their arms, Take turns grabbing the mic and singing their oldest love songs in a very decorative style.
Travel companion Johnny Doran is also featured with his fiery reel set “Colonel Fraser / My Love is in America / Rakish Paddy / The Bunch of Keys” recorded at University College Dublin in 1947. It is a rare recording, in fact, the only one of Johnny in existence. Shortly after the recording, Johnny was paralyzed in an accident and died a few years later.
Doran was known as the “cream of all pipers”, and you can hear he had a singular talent. Developing his talent while playing in the streets, it is tragic that only this recording of his playing exists. Yet, it also makes you wonder how many other amazing artists have made their way to fairs and races without ever being registered.
The collection is very personal for Ian. What is at the heart of the tradition? For Ian, it is “family and community; it’s something about embodying a different state of mind and it’s something about nurturing the soul during the dark times of the year. It’s something about aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, neighbors and friends.
The transmission of songs is also essential, and this anthology is an important tool in this passing of the torch. Hopefully listeners will adopt these songs in their own repertoire. As Ian notes, growing up, “Everyone has their song to sing and you’re so young you’ve never heard most of them before. People sing the songs they know, laugh and smile and make jokes when they don’t. The later the night gets, the more the songs improve and the faster the repartee becomes. Your older cousins are teaching you dirty words and you are surprised to hear your Nana telling even dirtier jokes. You laugh until you cry, then cry until you laugh again.
“The Codfish” by Nora Cleary is a perfect example of the Nana telling a dirty joke. Nora was in her early fifties when she recorded this on The Hand, Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare in July 1976, but it sounds a lot older. It’s an old song, first published in 1643 as “The Sea Crabb”. It is also a story of debauchery; the oldest text sees the pregnant, crab-thirsty woman. As Ian notes, it ends with a description of the creature hanging from the woman’s lower parts, before she reaches out and grabs the nose of the saving husband: my wife’s tayle and my nose together.
It’s also hard not to smile at “The Jolly Tinker” by John Reilly Jr., recorded at Co. Roscommon in 1971. As the cover notes tell us, Reilly was in her twenties and lived in an arched tent in a bog in Cloongrehan. , Cootehall, Co. Roscommon when recorded by collector Tom Munnelly. It’s a fun song, Reilly opens with a laugh, and you can hear the smile on his face as he sings. And it’s contagious.
With thirteen tracks on the anthology, there’s a lot to savor here, but Joe Holmes’ version of “The Dark-Eyed Gypsy” is a sweet highlight. Recorded in Northern Ireland in 1975, it captures the fiddler, performer and singer on a solo song, just his vocals, but what an evocative voice it was. Then in his late fifties (he died in 1978) you can hear a harsh life in his voice. Sometimes the voices waver, sometimes they falter, but the vein of youth is still there. The reflection still shines.
The anthology ends with an aria, ‘The Cat That Kittled in Jamie’s Wig’ performed by fiddler Francie Byrne. Recorded at Kilcar in August 1983, it is a short short strathspey, but another recording by a master violinist that is perhaps somewhat forgotten today. By the way, Ian notes that at the time of writing the liner notes (December 2020), Francie’s widow Kitty had just passed away at the age of 107. She was believed to be the second oldest person in Ireland.
In his notes, Ian looks back on his childhood and his first introduction to the tradition: “These are some of my best and earliest memories and although it took me years to realize them, my subsequent exploration of the vein of tradition has been a quest. to rediscover the raw material of these magical nights. That something strange undiluted in the air. I still can’t do the sentiment justice with words. Instead, I listened intently and tried to relive it. The tracks I selected for this album are the closest I’ve come to. Wild but never uncontrollable, simple in structure but infinitely complex, sometimes dark but always heartwarming. I can feel the same unbridled energy of those nights in the music of the Raineys and Johnny Doran; the same devilish humor in the mischievous vocals of Nora Cleary and John Reilly Jr.; the same tones of emotion distilled in the vocals of Mary Doran and Grace Toland. It’s music that speaks directly to my soul. Hope you will experience some of it on your own.
For anyone new to or already interested in traditional music and songs, Fire Draw Near – An anthology of traditional Irish song and music is an essential and dignified release, but, on top of that, it is also an utterly enjoyable, compelling and inspiring set of songs and melodies.
In addition, there are several performers here that I did not know, and a sign of the success of the anthology is that they are coming back for more. I will definitely be checking out Ian’s podcast and looking for other recordings from many performers on The fire is approaching. The legacy lives on.
Pre-order raffle: https://ffm.to/firedrawnear
List of songs from the Fire Draw album:
- Les Raineys – The woman of the house
- Mary Doran – When I was on horseback
- Tom Lenihan – Paddy’s Panacea
- Tommy Reck – The Kilfrush / The Trip to Durrow
- Frank Harte – The Finding of Moses
- Nora Cleary – The Cod
- Joe Heaney – Amhrán na heascainne
- John Reilly Jr – The Jolly Tinker
- Grace Toland – Flora
- Johnny Doran – Colonel Fraser, My Love Is In America, Rakish Paddy
- Luke Cheevers – Ulysses
- Joe Holmes – The Black Eyed Gypsy
- Francie Byrne – The Cat That Tickled In Jamie’s Wig
Learn more about Ian’s “Fire Draw Near” podcast: https://campsite.bio/firedrawnear
Album compiled and researched by Ian Lynch.
Compilation by Tim Chipping.
Work of Huargo.