Pure Bodhrán: The Definitive Collection

Big Beat Music BBM 001; 2 CDs; 75 mins; 2000

Calling anything a ‘definitive collection’ is simply begging for trouble, especially when a double album as patchy and poorly presented as this appears. With the notable exception of John Reynolds (recorded in 1927) and a Johnny McDonagh track from 1979, this firmly concentrates on the last dozen or so years. So, though many major player are here, there’s no room for such important figures as Brendan Byrne (who played with Ted Furey), Peadar Mercier (of The Chieftains) or, incredibly, Seán Ó Riada. Unhelpfully, tracks are not sourced and, worse, are listed under the name of the bodhrán player, so that anyone looking for the Brian Fleming track would not have a clue that it actually appears on Seán Whelan’s album.

There are some astonishing typos too - several names are misspelt, including most notably Donnchadh Gough (who appears as ‘Donnacha Goff’) and Steve Cooney (inaptly as “Conney”), while accents and apostrophes are foreign territory to the proofreader.

Perhaps even more startling is the choice of tracks themselves. What for instance is the point of including Alan Kelly’s Beautiful Lake Ainslie (with the aforementioned Mr. Conney) when the bodhrán of Jim Higgins does not appear until almost four minutes into the track? Why include one of Ron Kavana’s naffest songs, The Bodhrán Song, with Gino Lupari, when there are so many better examples of Lupari’s playing with Four Men and a Dog? There’s also yet another outing for the Afro Celt Sound System’s Whirly Reel 1, a recording that has been compiled to death.

There are other notable lapses. Johnny McDonagh and Kevin Conneff are both represented here, but neither with the groups with whom they are best associated, De Dannan and The Chieftains, respectively. Similarly, both the Christy Moore and Dónal Lunny tracks are taken from Arty McGlynn and Nollaig Casey’s Causeway album, so there’s no room here for Christy’s use of the drum to accompany his own singing or Lunny’s playing with any of his own bands. Astonishingly too, there’s nothing here from Ray Gallen, Junior Davey or Mel Mercier.

In terms of value, this is pretty poor too. The first disc in this collection is only 42 minutes long while the second is a spare 33 minutes (more than seven of which are provided by Whirly Reel 1). In other words, there is simply no reason for this to be a double album since the contents could easily have fitted onto one disc. At whom the album is aimed is uncertain since one has to be pretty knowledgeable about bodhrán techniques to comprehend the stylistic differences between the players (much of which is also obscured by studio enhancements).

‘Definitive’ it may not be, but definitely one to avoid and a massive missed opportunity to boot.

This is a previously unpublished review by Geoff Wallis.

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