Irish Music Review

Archive Album Reviews: Patrick Street – On the Fly (2007)

Patrick Street – On the Fly – Loftus Music LM002; 47 minutes; 2007

A recent review of this album in the UK magazine Songlines referred to Patrick Street as a ‘Dublin band’, revealing not only the reviewer’s ignorance about a group which has never featured a Dublin-born member in its career of now twenty years and more, but a sheer lack of understanding of the derivation of the musical elements which have coloured this group’s recordings and performances since its inception.

On the Fly is the band’s first album since 2003’s Street Life, the first to feature John Carty (on fiddle, flute and banjo – though he’s been performing live with the band for several years now) and the last to include accordionist Jackie Daly, who only appears on two tracks. Indeed, following Jackie’s departure, Patrick Street must be the only Irish ‘supergroup’ whose members were all born in England (three in London and guitarist Ged Foley in Durham)! A ‘Dublin band’, Songlines?

This latest album very much follows the standard Patrick Street format. There’s a wide mix of various dance tunes (three sets of reels, including wonderful interplay between Kevin and John on Down the Broom/The Gatehouse Maid/Mulvihill’s, plus hornpipes, jigs and slip jigs, as well as a set of polkas with Jackie Daly’s box to the fore) and John’s own composition the air/jig Seanamhac Tube Station. Indeed there can have been no more joyous sound on a recent recording than the sheer swing and sway of the twin fiddles on Martin Wynne’s.

Andy digs deep into his repertoire for three songs: The Rich Irish Lady, learnt from a Peggy Seeger LP in the late 1950s; plus Erin Go Bragh, first heard in a Hull pub in 1964; and, Sergeant Small, a depression song gleaned from his many visits to Australian. As has become a matter of course, but really needs reiteration, there are few singers in the English-speaking world able to tap so fundamentally into the wellsprings of a song than Andy and these three song outings tremendously reinforce that fact. Additionally, there’s a rare outing for Ged’s vocal cords on an engrossing version of The Galway Shawl.

Lastly, those two concluding tracks with Jackie Daly provide a gorgeous reminder of the accordionist’s ability to spur a tune ever onwards into the deepest regions of the imagination and provide some of the slickest ‘tips’ you’ll ever hear in your life.

Ever enthralling, On the Fly is an essential purchase.

Geoff Wallis - 5th March, 2008

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CD Reviews: Patrick Street – On The Fly

‘On the fly’ usually denotes hurriedness, a quick-fix in a situation where time is limited. However, this On the Fly does not betray anything of moves made in-flight or constrained by time. On this, the eighth studio…

On the Fly – Loftus Music LM002

‘On the fly’ usually denotes hurriedness, a quick-fix in a situation where time is limited. However, this On the Fly does not betray anything of moves made in-flight or constrained by time. On this, the eighth studio album from Patrick Street, the music is measured out in a space which flows around, above and in-between the 47 minutes it takes to play through the twelve tracks.

More than being just another release, this album represents an important shift in the line-up of Patrick Street as it formally marks the departure of Jackie Daly. But in effect, Daly already recorded his last Patrick Street album with Street life (2002), featuring on just two tracks, quite appropriately.

As a replacement, John Carty adds a new dimension to the group’s sound. His fiddle, flute and banjo playing create interesting settings, counterparts and leads to Kevin Burke’s flowing bow.  In the tune selections Carty and Burke explore their shared musical background. While on well-roved paths – such as ‘Happy to meet Sorry to Part’, ‘Martin Wynne’s’ and ‘Down the Broom’ – their twin fiddles create a raw, direct sound that is often unnecessarily smoothed over in contemporary traditional recordings.

On the song front, Ged Foley makes a brave attempt at resuscitating the worn out ‘Galway Shawl’; it took a while, but it grew on me. As usual, Andy Irvine is reassuring in the regular consistency of his sound world. ‘The Rich Irish Lady’ is a fine example of his inventiveness with contrapuntal accompaniment. Indeed, on each of the four songs there is an interplay which makes full use of the four musicians.

Overall, the production creates a live feel. The studio is absent in that you only ever hear four musicians, albeit in an ideally balanced setting: it is a document of things as they are rather than a fiction created in the studio or on stage. Within Patrick Street is the present place of Irish traditional music as it is in the flesh; this music could happen in your house.

I don’t limit my enjoyment of the album to one track, but there is certainly one that stands out for me: the set of hornpipes, ‘The Long Acre/Cuz Tehans’. This is as good as it gets, temperately measured with notes falling into each other like dominoes, moving to form a design mapped out by the four individuals.Banjo and fiddle moving together forces a smile, but words only catch the sentiment on the fly: go and listen for yourself.

Published on 1 March 2008 - Rory McCabe


Archive: 2004 – Reviews – Mozaik – Live from the Powerhouse

Music Review/Album: 27 May 2004

Rather fatuously billed on the CD sleeve as “the ultimate global stringband”, Mozaik are Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Bruce Molsky (USA), Rens Van Der Zalm (Holland) and Nikola Parov (Hungary), and this album was recorded live in Brisbane two years ago with the lads playing 18 instruments between them. The recording quality thankfully captures all the rapture of a terrific gig.

As with anything Irvine and Lunny get up to, there are exhilarating tracks here (‘Sandansko Oro’, ‘Mechkin Kamen’) in the kind of Eastern European time-signatures that would move your pocket calculator to meltdown. ‘Pony Boy’ boasts some terrific fiddle duetting from Molsky and Van Der Zalm, and serves as a handsome build-up to Irvine’s gritty vocals on his own zestful ‘Never Tire Of The Road’. The versions of both ‘A Blacksmith Courted Me’ and the complex ‘Smeseno Horo’ stand comparison with the Planxty covers of yore.

The latter is a veritable stringfest, with Parov’s kaval going head to furious head with the instruments of Lunny and Irvine. But perhaps the most touching of the material is Irvine’s heartfelt tribute to the legendary Willie Clancy in ‘My Heart’s Tonight In Ireland’.

The quintet on this performance may not be as pioneering as Lunny’s short-lived Coolfin project, but their unquestionable virtuosity and sheer joy in playing together makes this a memorable memento of what must have been a live gig to remember.

Jackie Hayden – Hotpress

Hummingbird HBCD0036; 62 minutes; 2004

 According to legend, the term “World Music” was apparently coined by a group of record label marketing executives at a dinner held somewhere in London sometime in the mid-1980s. However, if such an event ever took place, none of those present could possibly have envisaged the existence of a band like Mozaik, even in their wildest brandy-fuelled, post-prandial deliberations.

 For Mozaik, dear reader, is that rarity, a truly international band which consists of the London-born of mixed Scots/Irish parentage Andy Irvine, Kildare alumnus Dónal Lunny, American old-timey fiddler and banjo player Bruce Molsky, Dutch multi-instrumentalist Rens van der Zalm and the similarly skilled Hungarian Nikola Parov. Add to that brew Irvine’s well-documented affection for the music of the Balkans and all manner of quirky time signatures and the fact that the Powerhouse in question is in Brisbane, Australia and those marketing executives would be chortling into their glasses and calling for trebles all round.

It was Andy Irvine, of course, who was behind the original Mosaic (presumably, someone else now has the licence for the name) which first appeared after the final break-up of Planxty in 1983 and featured, alongside Dónal Lunny and uilleann piper Declan Masterson, and various European musicians.

That band never recorded, but thankfully this one has, though the concerts from which this album are drawn took place in March 2002. Nevertheless, a recent conversation with Andy revealed his desire for the album to achieve some recognition and, on the evidence provided, you’d be well advised to take heed.

One of the attractions of Planxty was the band’s never to be replicated line-up of instruments – uilleann pipes plus the various stringed instruments of Irvine and Lunny and the bodhrán of Christy Moore – and this is equally where Mozaik’s innate attractions lie. Apart from Andy’s occasional harmonica and Nikola’s whistle and clarinet, this is very much a string driven band (though any connection with the lamentable 1970s UK progressive band String Driven Thing should be firmly avoided). Like Planxty, Mozaik seem to be masters of all they survey, although it’s a substantially different landscape – one in which they can move from Aegean Macedonia (Suleman’s Kopanitsa, in the extraordinary time signature of 11/16) to Bruce Molsky’s Tennessee-inspired version of The Rocky Road to Dublin which itself segues into a wild Kentucky breakout, with Nikola’s whistle blowing hell for leather, on Indian Ate the Woodchuck. And from there it’s off to a Dutchman, Rens, playing a Rumanian tune on the fiddle which Andy once heard on a tour of Italy with the Breton band Gwerz!

If this all sounds as though musical passports are an essential requirement, fear ye not! Every listening unearths gems which possess an inherent commonality, but it’s Andy’s songs which, ultimately, provide the coat peg on which this truly international  and thoroughly enjoyable musical exploration can hang its hat (and, as Marvin Gaye wrote, “Wherever I hang my hat is my home”).

So amidst all the musical exploration there’s a wonderful reading of A Blacksmith Courted Me and perhaps everybody’s favourite Irvine composition, My Heart’s Tonight in Ireland “in the time of Sweeney in the sweet County Clare”, to which Dónal adds Robinson County, learnt from Pumpkinhead, and Bruce finales with a splendidly exuberant Trip to Durrow. Then there’s the Macedonian song Mechkin Kamen and a stirring tribute to Woody Guthrie – Never Tire of the Road.

Naturally, the album has to include the tune with which Planxty opened ears to Eastern Europe, Smeseno Horo (in a bizarre mix of 15/16 and 9/16 signatures) and the CD aptly closes with an evocative clarinet-led rendition of the Hungarian tune The Last Dance.

All told, this is a stunning confection and an extraordinary collaboration which should be valued and cherished. More treble brandies all round!

Geoff Wallis – 11th May, 2004

Archive: Review – Compendium – The Best of Patrick Street

Green Linnet GLCD 1207; 65 minutes; 2000

Distilling the essence of Patrick Street into one album would deter most compilers, but that’s the task the band’s Ged Foley faced with Compendium: The Best of Patrick Street (Green Linnet GLCD 1207). Patrick Street have always combined a subtle blend of musical diversity and tradition, while its members’ histories saw the band acquire ‘supergroup’ status on the release of their self-titled debut album  in 1986. This rich pedigree lies in the Sligo-inspired fiddle of Kevin Burke (renowned for his work with The Bothy Band and Micheál Ó Domhnaill), the Sliabh Luachra polkas and slides of Jackie Daly (De Dannan and Buttons and Bows) and the voice of Andy Irvine, pioneer of the bouzouki with Planxty. Original member Arty McGlynn has been at the forefront of Irish guitar players for thirty years, while the current incumbent, Ged Foley (ex-House Band) is also a notable exponent of his native Northumbrian smallpipes.

Compendium captures Patrick Street’s prowess on a stunning set of reels catalysed by virtuoso fiddle on Jenny Picking Cockles, and Daly’s vibrant accordion on The Newmarket Polkas, one of two previously unissued tracks. Irvine’s songs, whether traditional or self-penned, are well represented here by his paean to horseracing, Stewball and the Monaghan Grey Mare, with its Balkan-inspired backing, though a mawkish arrangement of Willie Taylor dissipates the vitality of this avenger’s ballad.

Patrick Street’s ‘signature tune’ and most noteworthy addition to the Irish canon, The Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s Music for a New Found Harmonium, is here too, albeit in a somewhat lacklustre live version.. Nevertheless, this is still a comprehensive introduction to the band’s back catalogue and Ged has almost managed to distil the pure drop!

 This review by Geoff Wallis was originally written for Songlines

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Archive: 2005 – The Legend of Sweeney’s Men Anthology Reviews

 Castle Music CMDDD932; 2 CDs; 139 minutes; 2004

Was Sweeney’s Men a groundbreaking group, as some claim, or, in hindsight, just a band whose curiosity value lies in its introduction of the bouzouki to Irish music? Well, this double album collection offers plenty of opportunity to explore the possibilities.

There were actually several versions of Sweeney’s Men. The first consisted of Joe Dolan, a guitarist from Galway (and not the MoR balladeer), together with Andy Irvine (mandolin, harmonica and guitar) and Johnny Moynihan on bouzouki and tin whistle with all three members singing. This original line-up recorded a single, Old Maid in the Garret/The Derby Ram which reached number six in the Irish charts in 1966, though signally failed to make any headway when released in the UK. Dolan left shortly afterwards and Paul Brady took his place for a couple of shows, though declined to leave The Johnstons to join Sweeney’s Men on a full-time basis. Instead, Irvine and Moynihan recruited Terry Woods, a 12-string guitar, banjo and (occasional) concertina player.

This new version of the band recorded a second single for the Pye label in 1967 – Waxie’s Dargle/Old Woman in Cotton ­– as well as their eponymous album for Transatlantic in the following year. At which point, Andy departed for an indefinite busking tour of Eastern Europe. In turn, he was replaced by guitarist Henry McCullough until the new arrival received an offer to join Joe Cocker’s Grease Band (and, in doing so, apparently became the only Irishman to play the Woodstock festival).

 Moynihan and Woods soldiered on for a while with the singer Al O’Donnell, but ultimately opted to continue as a duo. Thus it was in that form that they recorded The Tracks of Sweeney in 1969. By then both men were living in England and were invited, alongside a newly-returned Andy Irvine, by Fairport Convention’s bass player, Ashley Hutchings, to join a new electric folk band. They did rehearse, but Johnny and Andy decided not to participate, leaving Terry and his partner Gay to join the new Steeleye Span and that was the end of Sweeney’s Men. Gay and Terry Woods later went on to work as a duo and with their own The Woods Band before Terry was recruited to The Pogues and Gay rejoined Steeleye Span. Andy, of course, was in every line-up of Planxty, had a spell with De Dannan, worked as a duo with Paul Brady, spent many years in Patrick Street, recorded with Davy Spillane and nowadays is part of Mozaik. Johnny Moynihan replaced Dónal Lunny in Planxty and also joined De Dannan for a brief time before going on to form The Fleadh Cowboys in the 1980s. He’s still working, though most often as a soloist. Irvine, Moynihan and Woods did reform as Sweeney’s Men for a couple of Irish festivals in 1982.

So, that’s a snapshot of their history. What about the music? Well, it all seems curiously dated almost forty years later in ways that, for instance, the first albums by Planxty and The Bothy Band simply do not. In part the reason lies in the fact that Sweeney’s Men was very much a vocal group. Andy Irvine’s young voice had a definite rural burr. On the debut album Terry Woods opted for a distinct mid-Atlantic style, though, by the time of The Tracks of Sweeney, he was singing more like a member of a psychedelic band. Johnny Moynihan’s distinctive nasal tone has remained more of a constant.

The second reason relates to the choice of material. The first album mixed traditional ballads such as Willy O’ Winsbury and Reynard the Fox with more recently composed material, such as Dominic Behan’s Dicey Riley and Pecker Dunne’s Sullivan’s John with the frankly hackneyed Tom Dooley and a few instrumental tracks. The Tracks of Sweeney is dominated very much by Woods (who composed four of the eleven tracks and co-wrote another). These include the frankly bizarre Brain Jam (which would not have sounded out-of-place on an early Pink Floyd album), while another track, Pretty Polly, continued his fascination with American roots music. Moynihan’s leads include the very wistful Standing on the Shore and A Mistake No Doubt (which might have come straight from an Incredible String Band album).

Finally, there’s the matter of the arrangements. Sweeney’s Men evolved from the fringes of the ballad group movement and it shows in the tune settings where the lack of a dominant lead instrument waters down the overall effect. Even the acclaimed bouzouki is not that prominent in the mix and virtually non-existent by the time of the second album where the shortcomings of operating as a duo are exhibited on the somewhat insipid instrumental, The Pipe on the Hob. Indeed, the arrangement of the closing song Hall of Mirrors is excruciating.

However, that is not to say that there is no merit in these recordings, but, clearly, The Tracks of Sweeney was a failed experiment. Unsurprisingly, it took some months to record and the increasingly fractious relationship between Moynihan and Woods was never likely to produce a coherent album. As Colin Harper recounts in this anthology’s liner notes, Gay Woods characterised them as “two eccentrics who happened to be, unfortunately, eccentric in different ways”. In contrast, the eponymous album definitely does have its moments, but most of these are linked to the presence of Andy Irvine (especially Willy O’ Winsbury) and the fact that the band distinctly gelled as a trio.

Both albums have been reissued on several occasions. The last time was in 1996 when Castle Communications managed to squeeze both onto one CD and include Old Woman in Cotton as well. Castle had acquired the rights to Transatlantic’s back catalogue and was subsequently taken over by the Sanctuary Records Group. Its Castle Music label has been busily reissuing other Transatlantic releases, such as three of The Dubliners’ albums, each of which included rare material.

Similar rarities have been included on The Legend of Sweeney’s Men although whether there’s any value in hearing old singles by The Capitol Showband on which Sweeney’s Men provided some of the backing is highly debatable (especially as these include the Country and Western song The Streets of Baltimore and an awful version of the Tom Paxton song Bottle of Wine). There are five such tracks on the first CD which, however, does open with all four songs from the two early Sweeney’s Men singles.

The package’s compiler has even more problems with the second disc since The Tracks of Sweeney was a relatively short LP, lasting a mere thirty-three minutes. So CD two opens with Autumn Gold which hails from the album Andy Irvine recorded with Paul Brady and released in 1976. The reason for its presence here is that it was written during Andy’s Balkan travels and was also aired during the abortive Hutchings rehearsals. Then follows the tracks of The Tracks ensued by seven additional recordings. Two of these (versions of Willy O’ Winsbury and Sullivan’s John) come from albums recorded by Johnny Moynihan’s erstwhile partner, the Notts-born folk singer, Anne Briggs (who, coincidentally, was raised just around the corner from the home of this reviewer’s aunt and uncle). Two more derive from the Woods’ sojourn with Steeleye Span though here the credibility’s elastic begins to stretch towards breaking point. The first of these, The Dark-Eyed Sailor, is included because Terry Woods learnt it from Al O’Donnell (who spent such a short time as a member of Sweeney’s Men) and the second, Lowlands of Holland, because the tune came from Andy Irvine. Then follows a Woods Band rendition of Dreams for Me (which has already appeared as the second track on this disc) while the second CD ends with two tracks from Andy Irvine’s 1996 solo album Rain on the Roof. The first, Baneasa’s Green Glade recalls Andy’s Balkan trip while the other, My Heart’s Tonight in Ireland, name checks Sweeney. Whoops, but the elastic’s just snapped!

Might other material have been included? Well, Colin Harper reminds us that there are ‘no surviving radio or live recordings of Sweeney’s Men’, though strangely his notes refer to ‘an atmospheric amateur recording of a gloriously shambolic warm-up show in a pub in Crusheen, County Clare’ prior to one of the band’s 1982 reunion gig and also a ‘somewhat shambolic’ (Colin obviously likes the word) live RTÉ radio session by the McCullough/Moynihan/Woods line-up in 1986. Does either exist? If so, that material would have been far more interesting. If not, is Colin relying on someone else’s memory of their ‘shambolic’ nature? Instead he points the interested listener towards impossibly rare albums by Dr Strangely Strange on which there’s a Sweeney’s homage and both Moynihan and Irvine appear and an even rarer single by the band Skid Row on which Johnny “apparently” plays tin whistle!

His liner notes, however, do make for an enthralling and generally informative read and offer a taster for his forthcoming book Irish Folk, Trad and Blues, to be published in October, 2004. Nevertheless, they clearly rely heavily upon an interview with Andy Irvine and, to a lesser extent, one with Henry McCullough. The influence of either Terry Woods or Johnny Moynihan on Harper’s material is difficult to detect. Of course, Johnny is notoriously difficult to track down and I cannot recall ever seeing a published interview with Terry Woods, but their absence from Colin’s material is very obvious. A further problem is that there are errors in the text which, hopefully, will be not be duplicated in the forthcoming book. For instance, Sweeney’s Men could not possibly have taken their name from a book by Flann O’Brien since the book in which the character of Sweeny [sic] appears is actually called At Swim-Two-Birds. There was no UK record label called ‘Rockborough’ (it was Rockburgh) and Fairport Convention certainly did not record an album called ‘Leige and Leif’. Still, the archive photos more than compensate for those errors and, ultimately, this is a better-presented package than the one previously issued by Castle Communications.

Geoff Wallis
29th July, 2004

Click here for more information about Sanctuary Records.


Sweeney’s Men – The Legend Of Sweeney’s Men (Castle, 2005)

A long-plotted project this one – a 2CD set featuring everything released by the hugely influential Irish folk/embryonic folk-rock group, namely two albums, four non-album single tracks and various covert appearances on showband singles spanning 1966 – 69. It also follows various threads from the group during the early ’70s – Johnny Moynihan recording ‘Willy O’Winsbury’ with Anne Briggs for example, and Gay & Terry Woods shortly after the group’s demise recording Sweeney-related material with Steeleye Span and The Woods Band. Also featured is the classic 1976 recording of Andy Irvine’s mesmerising 1968 song (written shortly after leaving the group to bum around the Balkans) ‘Autumn Gold’ and his 1990s musical memoir of the Sweeney’s era ‘My Heart Tonight’s In Ireland’. just about the only period oddity we couldn’t find to licence in was Skid Row’s ludicrously rare 1969 single ‘New Places, Old Faces’, featuring Johnny Moynihan on tin whistle. But, as the Skid Row set above demonstrates, it didn’t escape the net for long…


SWEENEY’S MEN ‘The Legend Of (2CD)’ Castle Music CMDDD932

There seems to be a lot of re-releases about at the moment, with Castle/Sanctuary being at the forefront with some excellent-if sometimes obscure-examples. This one is a re-release of a re-release, expanded to a double from a two on one CD from a few years ago.

Sweeney’s Men, named after a book title, seem to be a bit like Fairport in the members they have included but it is Andy Irvine, Terry Woods, Johnny Moynihan and Henry McCullough who will be the most familiar to readers.

The first CD is most notable for “Willy O’Winsbury” for which Andy accidentally put the wrong tune to the set of words; incidentally the tune was borrowed by Fairport in 1969. Disc 2 has more input from Terry Woods resulting in a different, more contemporary feel to it.

Both CDs include extra material, interesting no doubt to Sweeney completists, but not really adding anything to the original albums, especially the inclusion of two by Steeleye Span!

A mention of the sleeve notes.Written by Colin Harper they provide an excellent history of Sweeney’s Men and of what the members have done since then. However, who is this Liam Offline who was a member of the original Planxty mentioned in the notes? Another example of the computer spell checker? Surely names should be checked for errors like this.

So the crucial question – is “The Legend of Sweeney’s Men” worth buying? If you haven’t got the original two on one, and want to hear what was innovative in the late 60s, then yes definitely. Otherwise have a look at some of the other material available on the Castle /Sanctuary Label.

Dave Beeby