Celtic Fiddle Festival
Play on ...
Green Linnet GLCD 1230; 55 minutes; 2005
The appositely titled Play on ... is Celtic Fiddle Festival’s first album since the untimely death of Johnny Cunningham in December 2003 (and their fourth release for Green Linnet). Although the remaining trio’s initial response to Johnny’s passing was to dissolve the band, in Kevin Burke’s words, “once the initial pain and sadness subsided a little, we started to think that Johnny would have been horrified at the idea of us calling it quits!”
So, the French-Canadian fiddler André Brunet (a key member of La Bottine Souriante) was invited to fill Johnny’s mighty shoes for the already planned North American tour, joining the three existing members, Kevin, Breton fiddler Christian Lemaître and Northumbria’s Ged Foley on guitar and fiddle. Play on ... consists of live recordings from that tour, dating from March, 2004, taped at The Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon and Artichoke Music (presumably a studio in that city).
Brunet makes an immediate impact on the album, providing its opening track which comprises three traditional Quebeçois tunes, La Belle Catherine, Le Step á Ti-Phonse and Reel à Toto. Two other tracks also derive from Quebec while the Breton element supplied by Christian includes a pair of unusual gavottes, an old march and An Droion, a set of tunes much loved by Johnny Cunningham (whose own Leaving Britanny also features on the CD). Plus there’s Stan Chapman’s Jig, sourced from the Boston–Cape Breton fiddler Jerry Holland.
Yet Celtic Fiddle Festival’s internationalism does not cease there, for Kevin Burke has also contributed the pretty well-known Yiddish tune Itzikel, naturally, there’s also a strong Irish element too in the shape of The Swedish Jig (thought to have been composed by Arthur Darley of Donegal), as well as two Carolan pieces, Carolan’s Concerto and Loftus Jones. From more recent times Kevin also tips his hat to the London session scene with two tunes, Promenade by Michael Gorman and Sonny’s Mazurka. Finally, Ged’s solo guitar workout features another Carolan tune, Lord Galway’s Lamentation, as well as a much more modern melody, Planxty Whitbread.
All told Play on ... is an utterly invigorating brew. The fiddles soar and swoop whether solo (as on Promenade/Sonny’s Mazurka) or in consort. Some of the interplay is delightful in its apparent simplicity, always a factor produced by well-honed arrangements, and the combined sound of the three fiddlers never fails to excite. Lastly, Ged Foley proves himself yet again to be one of the most accomplished accompanists in the business, knowing exactly when to reinforce or understate a moment.
So, get yourself a drink, plop Play on ... into your CD player, pull up a chair, celebrate the memory of Johnny Cunningham and enjoy this extraordinarily satisfying album.
15h June, 2005
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