“The new broom sweeps clean but the old one knows the corners.”
The Irish maxim is one of those great expressions declaring that with age comes wisdom and experience, and there are times when you simply have to sit back and admire people who hold fast to principles that may not flow with the current trends.
Even in the world of traditional Irish music where musicians always draw from the past, then many musicians take it in fast forward mode simply because they can or think that speed is what the listeners desire in their playing.
Along comes the widely anticipated duet recording of the venerable Mike Rafferty and one of his favorite protégées, the younger Willie Kelly originally from the Bronx taking its title from that axiom the new broom, and we find ourselves again resting comfortably by the hearth listening to that fireside music, unhurried and time blissfully on our side.
Flute player Rafferty hails from Ballinakill in East Galway. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1948 and today is a very young 82 in reasonably good health. Judging by his enthusiasm and ability to hold court in a session of music or storytelling, his faculties are all still very acute.
He has been a significant influence on many musicians of all generations in America and a source of tunes from the East Galway/Clare region where the music held fast and deep, producing so many great traditional musicians down through the years.
The number of younger musicians who hold him as a treasured source and friend speaks to his sincerity and genuine belief that traditional music has it owns charms and merits, and not to be deluded or contaminated by outside forces.
Fiddler Kelly’s early musical training was with the legendary Martin Mulvihill from Glynn, Co. Limerick, whose school of music turned out an incredible number of very fine and successful traditional musicians in the American diaspora, in that very first wave in the seventies.
As his own musical tastes developed, Kelly eventually gravitated to the music of his mentor, Rafferty, whom Mulvhill had introduced him to back in 1982, and also the slow lyrical style of East Galway and Clare, as well as lovely dance music of the Tulla Ceili Band that featured P.J. Hayes, Paddy Canny and Peadar O’Loughlin, who were very strong influences on him as well.
When he married Siobhan Moloney in 1992, he found even firmer footing and interest in that rich musical mine of East Clare and Galway which was very much in evidence at a recent live broadcast of Clare FM’s "Kitchen Session" series last winter in the Kelly household in Boonton, New Jersey.
The new recording contains 17 gorgeous tracks that you could listen to all night, wishing you were in the company of the two gentlemen who found a quiet corner to have this musical conversation that we can now all enjoy.
They are also accompanied by Rafferty’s son-in-law Donal Clancy, the guitarist and producer who has worked with the pair on previous recordings and many live shows like the Blarney Star and elsewhere.
The choice of tunes gives a pretty good indication of how steeped in the tradition they both are because the selection is broad and indicative of how carefully they listen to the music of others who share their taste or sentiment.
For instance, the title track “The New Broom” was composed by flute player Vincent Broderick who just passed away last summer, but Mike actually learned it off a recording of the Cavan fiddle player, Anton MacGabhann (Tony Smith) living in Meath near the neighboring Micheal O’Raghallaigh who gave Raff a setting for Mr. McLeod’s the reel paired with the hornpipe.
Willie solos a slow air “An Caisideach Ban” learned from a Connemara sean nos singer with the tune “The Cook in the Kitchen” from the old Ballinakill Ceili Band from Rafferty’s homeplace.
This Sunday, May 17 from 3-3:45 p.m. there will be a special mini-concert and CD launch and signing hosted by the Michael Rafferty branch CCE in Bogota, New Jersey (http://sites.google.com/site/raffertycce) before the regular monthly ceili at the branch named in honor of Mike.
It will be at the VFW Hall (239 Leonia Avenue) with the ceili set for 4–8 p.m. Call Bridie Dal Pizzol at 201-224-8250.
On June 5 they’ll appear at the Blarney Star concert and in July the new recording will get a warm Catskills Irish Arts Week launch night as well with a host of musicians to join Mike and Willie who are teaching there this summer (www.irishvillageusa.com).
The new CD can be ordered at www.raffertymusic.com or Terry Rafferty at 201-288-4267.
Also, a second volume of tunes and settings learned by Rafferty flute student Lesl Harker called Second Wind was released earlier this year and is available for music students.