|Lumiere in Seamus Begley's caravan|
As I was leaving Dingle town last month, a big May bank holiday festival was just getting underway called Feile na Bealtaine featuring a rich array of music and arts programming which I hope to return to in the future.
To say it celebrates the cultural diversity and depth to be found in that part of the world inhabited by West Kerry natives and wannabes is an understatement. In particular, the link between poetry, song and music stands out, and some of that was brilliantly captured in a CD that I picked up there along with three others mentioned here in this column produced by three resident artists.
Admittedly I am a late catching up with Beal Tuinne, a performance that was recorded back in 2007 in St. James Church on Main Street in Dingle during the Feile na Bealtaine, arising out of joint collaboration between composer Shaun Davey, who moved to the Dingle Peninsula with his wife, singer Rita Connolly, and his neighbor Seamus Begley, the singer and musician.
They were matched originally for a video production by Philip King who also lives in Dingle, and Seamus reached back for a collection of poems by his primary school teacher Caoimhin O Cinneide published posthumously by his family which includes singer Eilis Kennedy.
O Cinneide was fond of literature, singing and the Irish language and managed to mix all of that in his educational platform there in his native parish of Moor, a bucolic spot in the shadow of Mount Brandon as it looks down towards the Atlantic Ocean.
His poems written on scraps of paper gave a snapshot of the Irish life and people around him with all the joy and heartbreak of the human condition to be found in those parts – and all over Ireland – as people struggled to make a living or faced immigration or other losses.
The result was a stirring musical program and CD that is still being performed at times, and tugs right at the heart strings of any true Gael.
Along with Begley and Davey, it features Connolly, Eilis Kennedy and Daithi O Se on vocals and musicians Jim Murray, Lawrence Courtney and Eoin Beaglaoi. It is available at taramusic.com.
The pairing of Kennedy and Pauline Scanlon, two Dingle ladies with sensational voices on their own some five years ago under the group name Lumiere offered a very unique presence on the Irish music scene.
Their first album released over three years ago introduced them to a wider audience outside of West Kerry as a duo and in the intervening years, the reception they have received around Ireland and the continent gave them more confidence and scope.
It shows in their new CD My Dearest Dear produced in London by John Reynolds, who has worked with Sinead O’Connor and Damien Dempsey. In fact, O’Connor guests on the new CD on the timeless classic folk rock song “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” which is a very fitting song for denizens of the Dingle Peninsula where one can get lost in time.
The aim for this CD was a broader sound without losing the essence of Lumiere which is the gorgeous voices of Kennedy and Scanlon, who can often be seen singing together in John Benny’s Pub on Dingle’s Strand Street on a summer’s Friday evening owned by Kennedy’s husband John Benny Moriarty.
So more orchestration was brought in to the studio along with Donagh Hennessy, who often accompanies them with musicians Clare Kenny, Caroline Dale, Kevin Armstrong, Eamonn de Barra, Julian Wilson, Caitriona McKay and the aforementioned O’Connor for good measure. And there are still two songs in Irish to keep fealty with the local Gaeltacht culture.
Another wonderful singer who returned to her Dunquin roots in West Kerry is Muireann nic Amhlaoibh, the lead singer and flute player with Danu. Considered one of the top vocalists in the Irish scene, she has released a new solo CD called Ar Uair Bhig An Lae (The Small Hours).
Muireann is a highly confident musician with a great feel for songs that suit her, and whether she is singing in her native language or English, her phrasing and articulation enhance the material and leave you in awe at her talent.
Six of the 11 songs are in Irish, and all have a very appealing contemporary sound to them no matter what their vintage. She has also gathered a tasty crop of stellar musicians to lend a hand in Gerry O’Beirne, Michael Rooney, Oisin McAuley, Mick Kinsella, James Blennerhasset, Billy Mag Fhloinn (her husband) and Liam Flanagan.
The first time that I had ever seen or heard Damien Mullane play the button accordion was a part of the 2006 Comhaltas Echoes of Erin North America tour. The young West Londoner had won the Senior All-Ireland Championship in 2005 and would win again in 2007. You could tell he was destined for stardom with his easy command of the box.
Born in Cork and raised in London, he moved back over to Ireland when he could. His prowess won him a seat alongside the lightning fast Frankie Gavin in De Danann for a time, and he made his way down to Dingle where box players are as revered as the singers.
I caught him in O’Sullivan’s Courthouse Pub, one of the regular session places he appears when not touring, and finally got my hands on his solo CD 13 which was released last July.
The album reflects his adventurous and daring nature and his mastery over his instrument. Despite his tender years, he has a well-developed sense of musicality that is evident on the 12 tracks on the CD.
Donagh Hennessy produced it in his West Kerry studio Mhic An Daill and it features him, Trevor Hutchinson, Zoe Conway, Eamonn de Barra, John Joe Kelly, Dessie Kelliher and Pauline Scanlon for good measure. Mullane may be a “blow-in,” to Dingle but he seems to fit right in with the musical magic there.
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