Jack Rowe's/Sailing Into Walpole's Marsh (track 1)
Moll Ha'penny/Poll Ha'penny (track 2)
New releases from the illustrious Claddagh label (discounting the Phaeton offshoot) have been few and far between over the last few years and The Thing Itself is actually the first album to appear since 2002’s Touch Me If You Dare. The protagonists on that latter album were, of course, Peadar O’Loughlin and Ronan Browne, while Maeve Donnelly also featured on five tracks. All three appear on The Thing Itself, though this time around it is Maeve’s fiddle and Peadar’s flute which take star billing, supported by Ronan’s flutes and whistle on two tracks and, more frequently, the utterly sensitive piano-playing of Geraldine Cotter.
The Thing Itself is very much a West of Ireland confection since Maeve hails from Abbey, near Loughrea in East Galway and Peter comes from Kilmaley in West Clare (Geraldine too is from Ennis and Dublin-born Ronan has long been fascinated by Clare’s music – see, for instance, not only Touch Me If You Dare, but his earlier 1988 collaboration with Peadar on The South West Wind). In turn, Peadar has himself been entranced by the music of East Galway, especially the Ballinakill Traditional Dance Players and the Aughrim Slopes Céilí Band.
However, it is the sheer affinity apparent on The Thing Itself which makes listening to this new album such a delight. Maeve and Peadar duet as if they have been playing together for years and, of course, they actually have been doing so for some time (Maeve has lived in Clare for the last quarter of a century).
The strength of their musical bond permeates the entirety of The Thing Itself and there is so much to marvel at here. Take, for instance, the fling Dunguaire Castle where fiddle and flute just seem to sing so perfectly together or the bounciest of bouncy jigs, Miss Walsh, where resisting the urge to leap up and dance is futile.
The East Galway style is probably at its most apparent in The Chorus Jig (better known as Queen of the Rushes, though this tune blends seamlessly into Cathaoir an Phíobaire. That latter tune is, of course, The Piper’s Chair which was popular around the Doolin area and appeared in Breandán Breathnach’s first collection. According to Pat Mitchell’s exemplary liner notes “Breathnach got it from box player Sonny Brogan, who got it from Willie Clancy who in turn, as he told me, got it from Micho Russell”. Peadar himself learnt the tune from the late Micho, but it would be hard to describe a more excellent pedigree!
In reality, The Thing Itself offers so many possibilities to enthuse over its contents that it is difficult to know where to stop. The playing of Maeve and Peadar is ever measured without sounding stilted, the rhythm is always easy and never forced (thanks also to Geraldine’s accomplished backing) and the sound of two musicians seeming to harness their skills effortlessly together makes this a thoroughly enjoyable recording. Some curmudgeons might view the album’s duration as short, but The Thing Itself is a clear case of quality before quantity!
Geoff Wallis, The Irish Music Review