“The Old Blind Dogs play with a compelling energy and intoxicating rhythm,” says The Scotsman, “as players and audience seem to share a wild ecstasy of emotion.”
Fifteen years is a long time in the life of any band and most who reach that milestone are content to rest on the tried and true formulas that have worked in the past. Not so for Scotland’s Old Blind Dogs whose newly released Four on the Floor takes them bravely in many new directions.
The Dogs, one of Scotland’s most highly touted traditional folk bands, are not known for shying away from change. A strong, shared musical vision has allowed the group to ride out inevitable line-up changes to the extent that the only original member still with the band is Jonny Hardie (fiddle, guitar and vocals). The Dogs’ popularity has never dimmed though and the current foursome of Hardie, Aaron Jones (Bass, Bouzouki, Guitar, Vocals), Rory Campbell (Border (Reel) Pipes, Whistles, Vocals) and Fraser Stone (Drums, Percussion) have proven more than capable of carrying on the tradition of the band that the Montreal Gazette called “a Scots neo-traditional supergroup with a bracingly modern musical attack.”
Hardie who was classically trained, has recently been much in demand as a freelance producer and guitarist, and has solo and collaborative albums to his credit. Rory Campbell has been playing pipes and whistles since a young age and has fronted groups Deaf Shepherd and Nusa, as well as performing in a variety of ground-breaking traditional projects such as 2006’s The Blow Show. Aaron Jones who was voted Instrumentalist of the Year 2005 at the Scots Trad Music Awards is a past member of Craobh Rua and is a founding partner of www.tradmusic.com. He has appeared on many albums and continues to work regularly with some of the biggest names in traditional music, both as a performer and recently, as a producer with flute/fiddle player, Claire Mann. Fraser Stone brings his African-based percussion to both the Dogs and to highly-touted indie rock band Stereoglo.
Together, in varying line-ups along with past members Buzzby McMillan, Davy Cattanach (percussion), Fraser Fifield (saxophone, small pipes), Paul Jennings (percussion) and singers Ian Benzie and Jim Malcolm, the Dogs have released ten albums and have won numerous awards including the prestigious title of Folk Band of the Year at the 2004 Scots Trad Music Awards.
One aspect of Four on the Floor that might surprise even long-term Dogs fans is that instead of bringing in a new vocalist to replace Malcolm, who left to concentrate on his family and solo career, the remaining Dogs now share the singing duties, with admirable success. “For me,” says Hardie, “it was a matter of going back to thinking of the original sound of Old Blind Dogs. The band was a four piece for six years and, in many ways, I prefer the sound of four–with everyone having to work a little harder. We now have the ingredients for everyone to contribute songs rather than a front man and three backing singers. Because we all have a responsibility, we tend to focus on making sure the harmonies are right.”
The tracks on Four on the Floor run the gamut from contemporary songs such as Ewan McColl’s “Terror Time” and Davie Robertson’s “Star O’ The Bar” to tunes from Brittany and Galicia, to tunes found, as many a favorite Dog’s tune has been, in “dusty old books”. As to the title, Hardie claims that it “is just a reference to there being four of us on the stage now as far as I’m concerned–but everyone has there own theories (everything from manual gear boxes to us falling around a lot!) You decide.”
The Dogs have always been best known for their impassioned live shows and the inclusion of three classic Old Blind Dogs tracks, recorded live by the current line up, shows why. “Bedlam Boys/The Rights of Man”, “Branle” and “The Bonnie Earl O Moray” which span the Dog’s career, giving the listener a taste of what all the fuss is about. “It’s that live performance thing,” says Hardie. “There’s an honesty about it and we work hard on the stage. Perhaps we even err on the side of being too frenetic. We don’t really pace ourselves; we just go for it. I think ours is very immediate music.”
Tommy Sands was born, reared and still lives by the foothills of the Mourne Mountains in the North of Ireland. As a child he heard the lively fiddle and accordion, and the traditional songs and stories of his mother and father welcoming neighbours into the small farmhouse kitchen. Later with his brothers and sister, The Sands Family, he would travel the world bringing these same songs and stories to stages as far apart as Moscow’s Olympic Stadium and New York’s Carnegie Hall.
After the tragic death of his youngest brother Eugene in a car accident while on tour in Germany, The Sands Family toured less together. Tommy eventually set off in a more solo direction, writing new songs, recording albums of his own material and producing a weekly programme on Downtown Radio. Twenty years on, “Country Ceili” is still as popular as ever.
His first solo album, Singing of the Times (GLCD3044), released in 1985, is now regarded as a classic. Two songs from this collection, There Were Roses and Daughters and Sons have already passed into the Irish tradition and are currently included in the English Language syllabus in schools in Germany. Ireland’s Nobel winning poet Seamus Heaney spoke of “the airiness and heartsomeness” of Sands’ work. “You feel you can trust the singer as well as the song”, he says, “his voice is at ease, it is not drawing attention to itself and yet, for that very reason it demands attention naturally.”
Down By Bendy’s Lane (GLCD1085) came next, a charming collection of songs and stories. It consolidated Tommy’s wit and charm with children of all ages. In 1992 he released Beyond the Shadows (GLCD3068), a collection that reflected the changes in Tommy’s life as well as in the world. This included the remarkable Dresden and The Shadow of O’Casey, the title song from a stage musical written by Sands and playwright Sean O’Casey’s daughter, Shivaun.
Autumn 1995 brought the release of The Heart’s A Wonder (GLCD1158), a look at the tremendous changes that have occurred in Tommy’s homeland and around the world. It includes the song The Music of Healing co-written and performed with his good friend Pete Seeger and described by John Hume MEP as “a new anthem for our times”. The album also features the accompaniment of the famous Sarajevo cellist Vedran Smailovic.
In August 1996 he organized the historical “Citizens Assembly” in Belfast where, in a climate of “neighbourliness and humanity” created by Ulster’s finest artists and literary figures, all warring political parties sat down together for the first time this century. The Music of Healing was the anthem sung by all.
In January 1997 he recorded the title track for the tribute to Pete Seeger album with Dolores Keane, Liam O’Flynn and Co. The blockbuster album, entitled Where Have All the Flowers Gone? also features Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Nanci Griffith and many others. Kathy Matthea from Nashville has also recorded a great version of the Sands classic There Were Roses on the American Narada Label.
In September 1997 he was invited to address a special study of UNESCO in Paris on the subject of the culture of peace.
March 1998 he completed the new Sarajevo to Belfast album with cellist Vedran Smailovic. Also in March he was asked by Irish Republic President Mary McAleese to organize and take part in a special North-South TV cultural concert programme in Aras an Uachtarain, Dublin.
In 2000 Tommy recorded To Shorten the Winter (GLCD1212), an album of original songs based on the winter season and Christmas, with Dolores Keane, Liam O Flynn, Steve Cooney, Arty McGlynn and others.
Quebec-based Ad Vielle Que Pourra (Daniel Thonon, Luc Thonon, Gilles Plante, Alain Leroux, Clement Demers) utilizes traditional French instrumentation and music and fuses it with elements of Gypsy polkas and Venezuelan waltzes.
Andy Irvine is quickly achieving the status of folk legend, having already been hailed as a folk hero. It’s Andy’s turn for heroes, however, as he tells the stories, in song, of his own heroes through history — heroes like Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazi death camps, and James Connolly, famous Irish labor leader who was severely wounded during the uprising of 1916 and subsequently executed, and of course, Woody Guthrie himself. Featuring such artists as Davy Spillane,Arty McGlynn, and Rude Awakening rank this as the most eloquent album of 1991, if not the decade.
Celtophile [kelt-o-fī(-ə)le] : One who is obsessed with the beauty and imagery conjured up by the music that emanates
from the “auld sod”.
(Alt) : A person of rarified taste in Celtic music of all forms (no apologies necessary!).
The Compass Records Group is proud to present the CELTOPHILE collection. Drawn from the vast Green Linnet, Compass Records, and Mulligan Records catalogs, and spanning the breadth of traditional music from Ireland and the British Isles, these CDs are thematically organized and packaged and offered at a special value price. A unique and varied collection, CELTOPHILE is a welcome addition to the music collections of novices and fans alike.
“Billy McComiskey is the finest and most influential B/C box player ever to emerge from the US. In that sense, Billy’s place within the transatlantic pantheon of Irish button accordionists is both high and secure, and Outside The Box will only strengthen that judgment.”
– Earle Hitchner, The Wall Street Journal / Irish Echo
Billy McComiskey is a highly regarded player and composer of Irish traditional music. A Brooklyn native, he started studying accordion with the late Sean McGlynn from Galway in his early teens. He won the All-Ireland Senior title in 1986. He formed and played with two legendary trios: Washington DC’s Irish Tradition and the internationally acclaimed Trian. He is known on both sides of the Atlantic as an indefatigable session player, teacher, and promulgator of the music. On Outside the Box, Billy’s first solo CD in almost 25 years, the listener is once again reminded why Billy is known as “the most accomplished B/C box player to emerge from Irish America”.
Relativity, a Scotch-Irish band, successfully united two families, two countries, and two styles of music to create two albums, Relativity, (1986) and Gathering Pace (1987).
The four members of Relativity were brothers Phil and John Cunningham (fiddle and accordion/keyboard/whistle/bodhrán) from the band Silly Wizard and the Bothy Band’s brother-sister duo Triona Ni Dhomhnaill and Micheal O’Domhnail (vocals/clavinet and vocals/guitar/keyboard respectively)
Relativity’s strength comes from the extraordinary marriage of the earnest vocals of the Domhnails and the Cunningham brothers’ virtuosic instrumental abilities.
Multil-instrumentalist, composer, producer, tv and radio presenter, director…the list goes on when discussing Phil Cunningham.
A founding member of Silly Wizard and Relativity (along with his brother, fiddler Johnny), the accordion/whistle/keyboard player, along with long-time collaborator Aly Bain (fiddle) Cunningham has performed at the opening of the devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999 and later the funeral of the hugely respected First Minister, Donald Dewar – the nearest thing to a state funeral that Scotland has seen in centuries.
Phil has also composed classical music and music for theater and television, with 1997 seeing the premiere of his Highlands and Islands Suite at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. In 2002, Phil was awarded the MBE for services to Scottish music.
Tom Doherty, born in Mountcharles, Co. Donegal, in 1913, was one of the last of the great melodeon players in America who played in the old-country style long since vanished from the Irish traditional music mainstream.
Both of Tom’s parents were musicians; his mother played the fiddle and his father, who was a farmer, played the single-row melodeon. His area of Donegal was filled with music, particularly fiddle and accordian. People would get together for music and singing at house parties during the winter and during the summer the musicians would play for crossroads dancing.
Doherty started on the fiddle but was much more successful with the melodeon. He never had any formal lessons on the instrument, but picked it up on his own, putting in long hours of practice, and from listening to other players. In 1948, Tom emigrated to New York City because there was no work in Donegal. He got a full-time job in the cold storage business and on weekends played music, often appearing at some of the famous Irish dance hall in New York. In 1952, Tom married Mary Philbin, from Castlebar, Co. Mayo, and they settled in Brooklyn where he lived until he passed away.
Founded in 1977, the L’Ensemble Choral du Bout du Monde (the “World’s End Choir”) brought together traditional instrumental performers and over a hundred vocalists from over forty native choral groups throughout Brittany, the celebrated Breton province in Northern France.
Accompanied by bagpipes, keyboards, harps, guitars, flutes, claviers, percussion, conremuse, and the Grand Organ of the Landévennec Abbey, the ensemble keeps the native music alive through both traditional and original choral music in their Breton language (the Celtic dialect of Brittany).
Since 1989, composer, musician, and arranger Christian Desbordes has led the ensemble. In 1991, Desbordes composed the music for a theatrical production, La passion Celtique / Ar Basion Vras.
They recorded albums in 1992 and 1994, and in 1997, L’Ensemble Choral du Bout du Monde recorded Noëls Celtiques: Christmas Music from Brittany for Green Linnet, which won AFIM’s “Best Seasonal Music Album” in 1998.
Niamh Parsons has come to be known as one of Ireland’s most distinctive singers. Her earthy, sensuous voice has drawn comparisons to such venerated singers as Dolores Keane, June Tabor and Sandy Denny. The great Scottish balladeer Archie Fisher said of her, “a songstress like her comes along once or twice in a generation.”
Never has this been more clear than on Niamh’s (pronounced “Neeve”) latest album, Heart’s Desire (Green Linnet, 2002), produced by Dennis Cahill. As with her two previous releases, she furthers the tradition of Irish song with heartfelt delivery and unadorned settings. The collection of songs is drawn from both traditional sources and modern writers, including Mark Knopfler and Andy Irvine. Heart’s Desire has received glowing reviews, and named “Celtic Album of the Year” by the Association for Independent Music (AFIM).
Born and raised in Dublin, Niamh and her sister learned to love traditional Irish singing and harmonizing from their father, Jack Parsons, to whom Niamh dedicates Heart’s Desire. “Daddy had a beautiful voice,” she says, “and a great ear for a good song.” Her mother was also a singer and a set dancer from Co. Clare. The family would often join in song at the local Dublin singers’ club, to which Niamh still attends.
Niamh’s passion for singing blossomed naturally into a penchant for collecting songs. She is always on the lookout for songs, new and old, that speak to her-listening to new albums, scouring the Traditional Music Archives in Dublin, sharing notes with a network of friends and other singers. Once she discovers a song she likes, Niamh views herself as the vehicle for the music. “For me the song is more important than listening to my voice,” she says. “I consider myself more a songstress than a singer – a carrier of tradition.”
Throughout her career, Niamh has performed with a wide variety of artists, and has appeared at nearly every prestigious folk festival on either side of the Atlantic. As a member of the traditional Irish band Arcady (led by De Dannan’s Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh), she is featured on the group’s AFIM-awarded CD Many Happy Returns. She appeared before President Clinton and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in Washington, joined Grammy Award winner Paul Winter for an album and a summer concert in New York, and performed on A Prairie Home Companion when the show broadcast live from Dublin.
Niamh’s recording career began with The Loose Connections, a band of top-notch Belfast musicians she formed with songwriter and bass-player Dee Moore. The band recorded two albums of contemporary and traditional material together. Their debut recording, Loosely Connected (Greentrax, 1992; Green Linnet, 1995) met with the highest of praise. A beautiful mix of traditional Irish and contemporary songs, it featured the memorable “Tinkerman’s Daughter” and featured Brian Kennedy, piper John McSherry (Lúnasa, Coolfin), and accordionist Alan Kelly.
The Loose Connections’ second album, Loosen Up (Green Linnet, 1997) was another buoyant mix of originals and well-chosen contemporary ballads, like the gorgeous “Cloinhinne Winds” and Tom Waits’ “The Briar and the Rose,” a powerful a cappella duet with Fran McPhail of the Voice Squad. Once again the album featured first-class musicians, including guitarist Gavin Ralston (Mike Scott, Sharon Shannon) and Kilkenny accordion player Mick McAuley (now with Solas).
In 1999, Niamh took a bold step and returned to her roots with her first solo album, Blackbirds and Thrushes (Green Linnet) a collection of traditional Irish ballads gathered from over 15 years of Niamh’s singing repertoire. In her words, “these songs are living in me.” The album won instant acclaim as a welcome return to traditionalism. The Boston Globe declared that it “expressed the sorrow and longing of the Celtic soul more deeply than any within recent memory”, and Irish Music Magazine called it “simply magnificent traditional singing.”
Keeping in form, Niamh’s next CD In My Prime (Green Linnet 2000) was another collection of mostly traditional material, and again received widespread praise. Folk Roots named it one of the top albums of the year and The Irish Voice called the album “a must-have disc for lovers of Irish song.” It also saw the emergence of Niamh’s new accompanist, talented young guitarist Graham Dunne. The album was nominated for Album of the Year by BBC Radio 2 (UK) and the Association for Independent Music (US).
With Heart’s Desire the newest addition, it is a body of work that has proven Niamh Parsons one of the premier vocalists of her time and a keeper of the flame in Irish traditional song.
Quotes From the Press
“Simply magnificent traditional singing.” – Irish Music Magazine
“Let’s cut to the chase. Niamh Parsons has a drop-dead, stop-you-in-your-tracks, unbelievably gorgeous voice.” – Calgary Herald
“Niamh Parsons sings like an angel.” – Chicago Tribune
“It’s quite, quite wonderful, throw back the head stuff, utterly devoid of pretense or preciousness.” – Hot Press (Ireland)
“Subtle and expressive in delivery… one of those singers who sounds totally wrapped up in the meaning and message of everything she performs.” – The Scotsman
“One of the freshest and brightest on the Irish music scene today. Her strong expressively husky voice combines some of the best qualities of such stalwart vocalists as Dolores Keane and June Tabor. She has Keane’s gift for emotive sweep and Tabor’s talent for deep-rooted interpretation.” – Irish Echo
In My Prime
“Irish singer Niamh Parsons proves by this CD that she’s still very much indeed in her prime….She’s done it again here with, with more lovely songs from Ireland and beyond. But it’s not just the beauty of the songs that makes this CD, it’s what Parsons does with each song. She breathes sweet life – and sometimes bittersweet sorrow – into each word as she lifts the lyrics off the page and sets them flying.” – Pulse!
“A diva in her prime….dusky mature vocal chords, beautiful, coaxing musicality and phrasing, and heart slicing emotion.” – Irish Times
“Parsons has a beautiful voice, with a wide range which maintains purity from crystalline soprano down to throaty alto. What makes In My Prime a great recording (other than her considerable ability) is her comfort with the material and awareness of where her strengths lie.” – Irish Herald
“For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention over the last few years, Niamh Parsons has a drop-dead gorgeous voice and is a stunning singer of anything from traditional ballads to contemporary rock….What makes Niamh so outstanding is her ability to just let herself be the vehicle for a good song, rather than taking it by the neck and ’making it hers’. By going back to these songs in her prime, she breathes new life and freshness into them.” – Folk Roots
“Niamh Parsons has quietly become one of Ireland’s leading traditional singers. Her voice has an expressive subtlety and warmth that few other singers have…Perhaps the best parts are the two unaccompanied songs that truly show the power and timelessness of her voice. A recording that will sound as fresh 10 years from now as it does today.” – Dirty Linen
Blackbirds and Thrushes
“This album from emerging star Niamh Parsons Blackbirds & Thrushes expresses the sorrow and longing of the Celtic soul more deeply than any within recent memory. Parsons relies on simple accompaniment and a lovely heartache of a voice…Spare settings allow every nuance of her splendid voice to shine through.” – The Boston Globe
“A marvel of musical purity and unadorned charm, its 12 songs exude a pristine beauty that grows more fetching with each new listening. The Dublin-based Parsons is a splendid singer, and her purity of tone, shimmering clarity and heartfelt delivery perfectly serve the timeless airs and laments featured here.” – San Diego Union-Tribune
“Niamh Parsons may be well known for her work with Arcady and with her own band, the Loose Connections, but she is also an outstanding solo artiste. She has put together an impressive collection of songs, all painstakingly researched and immaculately presented, a true labor of love.” – The Living Tradition
“Parsons’ beautifully crafted phrases, sharp vocal control and soulful tone makes even the most melancholic song riveting.” – CMJ New Music Report
London-born multi-instrumentalist, film composer, producer, and songwriter John Faulkner grew up with the sounds of the Rock Revolution, and was greatly inspired by the likes of Elvis, Little Richard, and Gerry Lee Lewis.
After exhausting modern rock, Faulkner looked to the roots, discovering the great blues and folk musicians. During the English Folk Revival of the 1960s, Faulkner met and developed a professional relationship with singer/songwriter/folklorist Ewan McColl and his wife Peggy Seeger, who in turn introduced Faulkner to the world of British and Irish folk music.
When Faulkner was living in Britian in the late 60s and early 70s, he became close and began to play with many of the best London-based traditional Irish musicians, including West Clare fiddler Bobby Casey, piper Tom McCarthy, and Sligo flautist Rodger Sherlock.
In the 70s, Faulkner wrote the music for the BBC children’s television show “Bagpuss.” Then, in 1977, he met and married Co. Galway singer and De Dannan founder Dolores Keane. The couple worked on several more film scores for the BBC as well as formed the successful Trad bands “The Reel Union” and “Kinvara,” recorded three duet albums, toured extensively throughout the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe, and collaborated on several musical projects.
Faulkner has worked with the best in Irish traditional music, and has appeared on over fifteen albums (four of which he either produced or co-produced). In the new millennium, Faulkner joined forces with accordion great Jackie Daly to create a highly-acclaimed duet tour.