The old expression about mighty oaks growing from small acorns is a very useful one when referring to a new music book about to be published this month by Jawbone Press. It is an illuminating new history about Ireland’s native instrument, the uilleann pipes, which to many is a more worthy symbol to represent Ireland’s cultural heritage than the harp which adorns its currency.
The hefty tome produced by Belfast piper John McSherry and journalist Colin Harper weighs in at 624 pages and is all about the Irish pipes. Carrying the title The Wheels of the World: 300 Years of Irish Uilleann Pipers, it started as a simple collaboration between McSherry and Harper to shed light on piper McSherry’s own compositions and some biography to go with it.
In Harper’s mind there was a much larger scope to the project as he and McSherry conferred, and they were fortunate to have access to some National Lottery funding as well as the commitment from the respected music publishing house Jawbone based in London.
The new book is a fascinating history of the musicians who take up one of the more complex and temperamental musical instruments you can find anywhere that bedevil master musicians as well as the novice.
Organized into 16 well-focused chapters and three appendices, the weighty paperback makes for an easy read. One of Harper’s virtues as journalist with a good academic background and rock music fluid writing style is to engage you for as much and for as long as you want to settle in with the book.
Whether you already know or think you know a lot about Ireland’s uilleann pipers or whether you want to find out more about them, this is a book that will satisfy that curiosity and also deliver in very personal fashion the fruits of many interviews with many who have played the pipes or have been touched by pipers over the years.
The first chapter is about McSherry’s journey into uilleann piping along the road to becoming one of Ireland’s world-renowned pipers with many credits to his resume. The following chapters deals with his piping heroes, Finbar Furey, Paddy Keenan and Liam O’Flynn, who carried the age-old instrument into the rock and roll era in traditional music back in the 1970s and their own biographies.
Further chapters explore the great pipers of the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s in Leo Rowsome, Seamus Ennis and Willie Clancy who were like piping royalty in their seminal roles in promoting the instrument.
In Ennis’s case, his early pioneering broadcasting work on radio in Ireland and his rambling methods of research gave even more allure to his instrument of choice. Also getting attention in a chapter is the traveler piper Johnny Doran, whose “roadwork” garnered attention all around Ireland from native musicians who sought him out. Even the legendary Vaudeville Irish piper Patsy Touhey is recalled for his historic place.
The two authors also share a great deal of history and information about pipers before 1990 and piping in Ulster which was more prolific than you might have thought. And there is a chapter on the highly respected and productive Armagh Pipers Club founded by Eithne and Brian Vallely which next year will celebrate its 50th year in operation as one of the pre-eminent music schools in Ireland.
There is extra value here in the three appendices also as one contains some vintage Irwin reportage on the Bothy Band and piper Liam O’Flynn from Planxty. The second has the very important discographies and session-ographies that help entail the work that went into this epic publication. The final appendix explores the musical path taken by piper McSherry himself through his own compositions and arrangements and settings of tunes in the traditional repertoire.
This a book for anyone with a deep interest in Irish music history and an accessible library to return to it over and over again or to lend to only your most-trusted fellow travelers in the music. To learn more about the publication and to order a copy of what will be a limited first run visit www.thewheelsoftheworld.com. Price to the U.S, including shipping, is and the price to the USA including shipping is €45.