Posted By Sarah Coughlan on May 15, 2017
Usher’s Island brings together two generations of the finest and most influential Irish traditional musicians, stretching back to the acclaimed 1970’s era of Planxty, through Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny, and the Bothy Band, through fiddler Paddy Glackin. They follow the last incarnation of Planxty, which ended in 2005, and later LAPD – Liam (O’Flynn), Andy, Paddy and Dónal. This next chapter, which began with shows in January 2015, brings in renowned players from the 1990’s generation, with Mike McGoldrick (Capercaillie, ex-Flook and Lunasa) on flute, whistle and uileann pipes and John Doyle (ex-Solas) on guitar and vocal. Both also play in The Transatlantic Sessions and as a trio with John McCusker.
Another legacy lies behind the story of the recording of the album. A year ago Usher’s Island’s five musicians assembled at Mike McGoldrick’s recently acquired cottage in Co. Galway. The woman who sold her brother’s cottage had been keen for Mike and his dad Brendan to know that it had a history of music making, having been where sessions were played in the village – which was confirmed by the presence of a number of old instruments. She was delighted that the new owner was a musician she had seen on TV. Fittingly, the cottage was turned into a recording studio for three days, with quilts draped everywhere and Mike doubling as chef to fuel the ensemble’s playing.
The resultant self-titled album is imbued with the musical history, both of the place where it was recorded and of the five celebrated members of Usher’s Island. Their debut exceeds the expectations that inevitably accompany musicians of this calibre joining forces.
The music combines the excitement of the 1970’s traditional Irish groups with a modern sensibility informed by a range of influences. There are lively sets of traditional tunes, including tunes from the Goodman Collection, from Donegal fiddle playing brothers John and Mickey Doherty, and from Chieftain’s fiddler Sean Keane. The songs range from fresh takes on the traditional Molly Ban, The Wild Rover and Bean Pháidín – which Dónal Lunny revisits 44 years after recording it with Planxty – to captivating originals by Andy Irvine and by John Doyle.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Planxty are one of those seminal Irish acts doomed to bask in an aura of reverence while remaining essentially obscure to all but a tiny subset of the listening public.
They placed a rocket under the trad scene in the 1970s, imbuing their old-timey sound with psychedelic and British folk revival influences. Yet their accomplishments were quickly overshadowed as frontman Christy Moore went solo (his singer-songwriter incarnation actually predated Planxty, assembled to provide backing for his second album).
Dónal Lunny and Andy Irvine, the band’s instrumental engine room, would meanwhile go on to rewarding careers of their own (most prominently with Moving Hearts), and Liam O’Flynn would also become the most famous uileann piper on the planet.
A new overview of their accomplishments, may go towards restoring the group to the prominence folk purists agree they deserve.
What’s immediately striking is that tension that defined with work, with whipsmart instrumental pieces such as ‘The Blacksmith/Blacksmithereens’ and ‘Timedance’ suggesting a fusion of session music and progressive rock, and the more direct ‘The Cliffs Of Dooneen’ foreshadowing Moore’s subsequent incarnation.
There were excursions, too, into Dubliners-style urban folk, as best demonstrated by the hard-bitten, pipe-driven ‘Pat Reilly’. Between the Jigs and the Reels is a fascinating collection, by turns melancholy and rambunctious and, 40 years on, the music’s rebellious swagger endures.
This was the sound of four young men deconstructing a genre and rebuilding it from the ground up — and sounding as if they were enjoying every moment of their unlikely and tragically short lived odyssey.