Category: Archive

Leitrim fiddler Vincent Harrison passes away in Dublin

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

From Tullycooley, Dromahair, Leitrim, Vincent lived for many years in New York City, where he often played in Friday night sessions with fellow fiddlers Martin Wynne, Andy McGann, Paddy Reynolds, Louis Quinn, and others at the Conway home in the Bronx. Their playing helped to shape the playing of a young Brian Conway, now an acknowledged fiddle master himself.
“Vincent moved back to Dublin after he retired from the telephone company,” Conway recalled, “but when he visited his brother, nieces, and nephews in the New York area, he would always call, and we would get together for a few tunes.”
This unobtrusive influence of Vincent Harrison in New York City also extended to Dublin, where he befriended and encouraged fiddler Liam O’Connor and uilleann piper Sean McKeon, among other musicians there. In O’Connor and McKeon’s 2009 album “Dublin Made Me,” a photo appears of Martin Wynne, Vincent Harrison, and James “Lad” O’Beirne playing fiddles together.
“Vincent is an excellent fiddle player in his own right and gives very generously of his time, memoirs, and music to his visitors in Dublin,” Liam O’Connor noted.
Also in the CD insert, O’Connor recounted this anecdote told by Vincent about Sligo fiddler Paddy Killoran (1904-65) and Killoran’s Pride of Erin pub in New York City: “Killoran would have two fiddles up on the wall behind the bar, and on occasions when another fiddler such as Vincent would drop in, he would often take them down and strike up a duet.”
Admiration for Vincent Harrison’s fiddling in New York City can be subtly discerned in three albums featuring Brian Conway: “The Apple in Winter” from 1981, “First Through the Gate” from 2002, and “Consider the Source” from 2008.
Among the recordings on which Vincent Harrison performed are “Around St. James’s Well” by whistle player and singer Carmel Gunning in 1995 and “The Cobblestone Sessions” in 2002.
My enthusiastic review of that latter album in “Ceol” included these words: “What a thrill it is to hear fiddler Vincent Harrison play again…. Harrison delivers a sprightly solo on two hornpipes, ‘Tom Hill’s/Ollie’s Delight,’ and joins two other fiddlers, Mick O’Grady and Edel McWeeney, as well as button accordionist Oliver Farrelly and flutist Peter O’Grady for the jigs ‘Mist-Covered Mountain/Dr. O’Neill.'” Those two tracks were recorded during June 3-5, 2002, at the Cobblestone Pub on North King Street in Dublin’s Smithfield Square.
I ended my review of that CD this way: “No matter how stormy the trends of music may be outside, the climate inside a trad-friendly pub remains congenial and restorative.”
The personality and fiddling skill of Vincent Harrison were also congenial and restorative. His musical imprint in Leitrim, New York, and Dublin will endure.
After viewings on June 6 and 7 at Lanigan’s Funeral Home in Dublin, the body of Vincent Harrison was removed to St. Mary’s Church in Killenummery, Dromahair, where a funeral Mass was said at noon on June 8 and followed by interment in Carrowcrin Cemetery.

Polka gets poke in the eye
Responsible for more than a hundred Grammy Award categories of music, the Recording Academy recently decided to eliminate polka as a Grammy category in order “to ensure the awards process remains representative of the current musical landscape.”
Part of the reason for deleting the polka category, which existed since 1986, is diminishing sales of polka music and a drop-off in nominated polka albums. Three years ago, the number of albums nominated for a polka Grammy was 20. “That’s not as competitive as we’d like these awards to be,” Bill Freimuth, vice president for awards at the Recording Academy, told a New York Times reporter.
Another reason for discarding the polka category was the hegemony of Jimmy Sturr, who has won 18 Grammy Awards. Whether the polka category needed to be shakened, not Sturred, is a matter for ongoing debate. But I find it disturbing that the Recording Academy would consider ditching a category partially on the basis of too many wins by an individual act. Would that reasoning also apply to singer-fiddler Alison Krauss, who now has 26 Grammy Awards? Should her Grammy train be abandoned at Union Station?
In addition, the Recording Academy at long last split the ludicrous single category of best contemporary folk/Americana album into two categories, best contemporary folk album and best Americana album. That will give some “contemporary folk” artist a Grammy each year. The Recording Academy also consolidated two categories, best Latin urban album and best Latin rock or alternative album, into one category, best Latin rock, alternative, or urban album.
Meanwhile, Irish and other Celtic traditional recordings of high quality essentially remain out in the Grammy Awards cold. It’s been a while since any Irish or Celtic trad act copped a Grammy in the categories reserved for folk or Americana.
I can assure the Recording Academy that I could nominate far more than 20 Irish and other Celtic traditional albums for a possible best Celtic album category. Would the Chieftains, still the best-known and most popular Irish traditional band in the world, become the Jimmy Sturr or Alison Krauss of this proposed best Celtic album category? Would that category also get capsized by Celtic rock, a hybrid that is far more accessible to Grammy voters?
Give us the chance to find out, Recording Academy.

New albums
The upcoming “Pride of New York” album by the quartet of flute and whistle player Joanie Madden, fiddler Brian Conway, button accordionist Billy McComiskey, and keyboardist Brendan Dolan has already generated a strong buzz of anticipation. (The CD will be licensed to and issued by Nashville’s Compass Records.)
But several other releases have recently come across the transom and merit noting. They include “The Leitrim Equation Featuring Lunasa” (issued by the Leitrim County Council and artists), singer-songwriter Eric Bogle’s “The Dreamer” album and “Live at the Stonyfell Winery” DVD (both on Greentrax Recordings), composer Bill Whelan’s “The Connemara Suite” (on Tayberry Records, part of the Compass Records Group), flutist Skip McKinley’s “Fairy Tales” (on Stonington Island Records), and singer Maura Connell’s “Naked with Friends” (on Sugar Hill Records).

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