Unfolding the young musicians of East Clare

Unfolding is a compilation album that was at No.1 on our ‘Top 10 Albums of the Month’, on several occasions throughout 2014.  Regardless of its genesis, it is an exceptional album of traditional music.  When consideration is given to the young musicians that appear on it, and the fact that it was a fundraising recording then you start to appreciate it even more.  It gives a great insight into the state of traditional Irish music at a grassroots level, and the future is indeed bright.  Concertina player Mary Mac Namara is at the heart of the recording as the young musicians featured are associated with her teaching.

According to the liner notes “Mary Mac Namara has taught in Tulla since 1996. Her concern is to pass on not just tunes but her own East Clare tradition. Among the young musicians are some of her concertina students but also players of other instruments with other teachers. They all, however, have a close association with  ( Mary’s ) Music Room, through her céilí bands, concerts, music exchanges etc. All of them have come under her influence.”

The notes introducing the album are presented in such straightforward language by Paula Carroll that they are worth repeating. She asks how is the teachers influence felt, and how can you pass on a tradition that is so hard to define? “For every rule, you find exceptions.” she says.  “Can we even define the geographical area? For musicians, ‘East Clare’ probably wanders over the Sliabh Aughty mountains, ignoring county borders.”

“Yet for all this fuzziness, there’s a core to this thing called East Clare music that we can recognise: a gentle but solidly rhythmic swing, a favoured repertoire, those famous minor keys, an interiority and groundedness that are sometimes mistaken for simplicity. And it is these tangibles and intangibles, and more, that Mary seeks to pass on.

And how is that done? Through teaching tunes, yes. But also by passing on an approach. By providing an environment. Like the nights in Lena’s Bar (now Gerry Shortt’s) in Feakle, where young musicians sit in with older ones, hear a few songs, watch the set dancers, as well as just play the tunes. Where they can be at ease in the company of eighty- or eighteen-year-olds.  This is the same bar where Mary learned to dance and play music herself. This is where we recorded the album.

It’s not easy to find such places, but in the music community in this part of Clare such things still happen. These young people are fortunate. Some of them are older teenagers. Some are very young.  I think you will hear something of that environment in the music of these young people. You may be surprised by their maturity.

Of course, things have changed.  Music is now taught, not just absorbed. Conversations beside turf fires aren’t a given anymore. People travel, learn tunes from outside their tradition, sometimes electronically.  Instruments are better.  The music is cleaner. There is more competition. There are things to celebrate and to regret about these changes. Shades of all this you will hear on this album too.

Almost all the musicians here are national award winners. There are as many more who could have been included. It was simply a question of making a selection. Winning competitions is less important than the story of how these young musicians are acquiring their music, and how and where they play it when competitions are over. I hope you’ll hear some of this story in the music on this album.”

In further correspondence with Paula she confirmed that “The Tulla exchange students were in Boston in November, and the Boston students were here in mid February.  “Really great times were had” she said.

Just like Clare there are some great names involved in training the Boston kids - Kathleen Conneely, Jimmy Noonan and Sean Clohessy to name a few.

As a result of this exchange the Boston students have now decided to bring out their own album which will be a live recording of the concert given in Tommy McCarthy’s Burren Bar in Boston.

We plan to follow up with some feedback from the students involved in this exchange in the hope that it provides inspiration to other schools and groups.  For now enjoy the exclusive track from the album featuring Sorcha Costello on fiddle and Brian Donnellan on piano.

Available to purchase from www.custysmusic.com with more information on www.marymacnamara.net


Other young artists appearing include


Aisling Hunt - accordion

Sinead Mulqueen - concertina

Michael Landers - guitar

Aisling Lyons - harp

Eimear Donnellan - concertina

Rosa Carroll - fiddle

Lily O’ Connor - concertina

Turlóg Céilí Band

Eoin Beirne - banjo

Cliona Donnellan - fiddle

Aisling McMahon - flute

Ulick O'Sullivan - concertina

Padraig Costello - piano

Isobel Elger - fiddle

Karen McMahon - concertina

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