Category: Archive

Bringing it all back home

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Rose and Mike Flanagan extended the hospitality of their home in Pearl River, N.Y., for such a concert on Saturday evening, Sept. 19. The living room and much of the dining room were packed as two members of Lunasa, flute and whistle player Kevin Crawford and uilleann pipes and low whistle player Cillian Vallely, performed without amplification in front of an unlit fireplace with Massachusetts guitarist Ted Davis accompanying them. Earlier this year Crawford and Vallely released an impressive album together, “On Common Ground,” and the Flanagan residence was one of several concert venues, including halls, on a short American tour partly intended to promote their new CD.
The pluck and professionalism of Crawford, whose father just recently passed away, were evident all evening. His quips kept the crowd laughing. (At one point he looked at me and said, “There’s Simon Cowell,” eliciting more chuckles.) And the playing by him and Vallely, who have forged a special duo chemistry that’s impossible to miss, was stellar throughout.
The opening medley of the “Belles of Tipperary / Kiss the Maid Behind the Barrel / Abbey Reel” immediately set a high standard above which the duo consistently played. The following medley of “Billy Rush / Burning Snowball / The Road to Reel” kept that fire burning, perhaps in tribute to the middle tune, named for a model of car that somehow burst into flame once in Cork.
Twin low whistles played by Crawford and Vallely on “Days Around Lahinch / The Man From Moyasta” conveyed the buoyant, lyrical music of the late West Clare flutist P.J. Crotty, in whose honor Crawford composed these two slow reels.
Crawford’s flute and Vallely’s pipes on the reels “Teampall an Ghleantain / Fr. Newman’s / The Periwig” were in flawless sync, and that last tune, previously recorded on Crawford’s solo CD “In Good Company” eight years ago, delivered an added punch reminiscent of its source, the version by Scots band Ossian on its 1982 album, “Dove Across the Water.”
A brilliant whistle solo by Crawford was followed by the nimbly articulated jigs “John Feehilly’s / Ned Coleman’s / Dominic’s Farewell to Cashel,” the middle tune of which was linked to Mike Rafferty’s playing.
Cillian Vallely’s piping solo matched the glow of Crawford’s earlier solo, and the jigs-into-reel progression of “Tom Busby’s / The Legend of Lisalway / The Mystery Reel” captured some of Lunasa’s silky sleight of hand from Crawford on flute and Vallely on pipes.
The third reel in the medley “Lad O’Beirne’s Favorite / The Silver Strand / Nuala’s Bonnet” is a Joanie Madden tune referring (if memory serves me correctly) to a hat worn by her friend, fiddler Eileen Ivers, sometimes nicknamed “Nuala” by Joanie. All three reels kicked off the second half of the concert with the power and precision displayed in the first half.
A change of tempo and texture came with the hornpipe/fling “The Birds / Jim Ward’s,” again showing close symmetry in performance.
The jigs “The Ivory Flute / Straddle the Donkey / Visit to Ireland” began on two low whistles, and Vallely switched to pipes for the third tune, which Crawford linked to button accordionist Joe Derrane.
A flute solo by Crawford preceded a piping solo by Vallely on “Dark, Slender Boy,” and the tunes that followed from the two musicians included “The Flying Wheelchair,” a jig composed by Leitrim-born fiddler-pianist Charlie Lennon in tribute to Donncha O Briain (1960-90), a gifted whistle player confined to a wheelchair.
The concert concluded with a blast of traditional reels, “The Old Bush / Bird in the Bush / Eel in the Sink,” from Crawford, Vallely, and Davis, who were joined by fiddler Tina Lech, Davis’s wife, and the jigs “Nancy Frawley / Helvic Head / Bill Harte’s” by the same foursome.
In the audience were fiddler Brian Conway and his niece, fiddle and whistle player Maeve Flanagan, fiddler Willie Kelly and his wife, flutist Siobhan Kelly, fiddle-flute player Dylan Foley, whistle maker John Sindt, singer Julee Glaub, fiddler Sarah Buteux, and uilleann piper Jerry O’Sullivan, whose name was invoked by Crawford when he good-naturedly slagged Vallely for showing off on the pipes “because Jerry O’Sullivan is here.”
It was that kind of occasion: socially casual and relaxed but musically tight and riveting.
In a time when politicians and stock-market speculators ignore the perilous plight of the unemployed by proclaiming the recession is over, something most American workers know isn’t over and won’t be for a long time to come (yet another oxymoronic “jobless recovery”), house concerts are likely to remain in the U.S. tour mix for Irish traditional soloists, duos, and trios.
If other house concerts are as welcoming and enjoyable as this one, they may even outlast the current bad times and flourish. For trad fans, that would be good.
Kudos to Rose and Mike Flanagan, ideal hosts for an ideal night of music and fun from Crawford, Vallely, Davis, and, at the end, Lech.

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