The Coleman Archive Volume 1: The Living Tradition

Coleman Heritage Centre CC5; 71 minutes; 2000

Situated in Gurteen, Co. Sligo, the Coleman Heritage Centre has issued a number of compilation recordings synthesizing the essence of the county’s musical traditions (shared with neighbouring Leitrim and Roscommon). Prior releases have consisted of new recordings, such as 1999's estimable The Mountain Road, which featured a large number of contemporary musicians, including the Connemara-born accordionist, P.J. Hernon, who has long been based in Sligo, and the flute-player, Gregory Daly, who lives in the county’s South. Now Hernon and Daly have combined to produce this unequivocally seminal CD which draws together a cross-section of recordings held by the Centre’s music archive in Mount Irwin, spanning the period from the 1940s to the late 1990s.

Since the majority of the thirty-four tracks here were originally recorded privately, understandably there is considerable variation in sound quality, most notably on the opening track by the fiddler Tommy “Clogs” Gallagher (“Clogs” was apparently a nickname he acquired thanks to a tap dance routine which he used to perform on Manhattan cablelink TV). However, as Daly and Hernon note, since most of the musicians were recorded in their own homes, this enhances their music’s sense of relaxation. Additionally, the tracks are not presented in chronological order of recording. So, for instance, “Clogs”, recorded in 1978, is followed by the whistler, Pake Dwyer (1995), and then by Michael Gorman’s nephew, the flute-player, Mike, who was taped in 1959. Rather, the compilers have chosen to offer as much instrumental variety as possible, but remarking reasonably that the fiddle was the key instrument of choice in the area, though being replaced latterly by the flute. Hence, as one would expect, there are few samples of any other instruments - four whistlers, one accordionist, one banjo player and one mouth organist. Intriguingly, the accordionist (Elizabeth Bolger) is one of only two women featured - the compilers recognize the paucity of recordings of women musicians held by the archive - while the banjo player happens to be Larry Redigan, much better known for his fiddling.

Equally, there are few songs - just John Hannon’s My Native Town of Boyle, Jim Murray’s Maid of Sweet Gurteen and Fintan McDonagh’s Collooney Town - while there is also little musical variation. Reels predominate, naturally followed by jigs, with just one slip jig and only one air (and, unusually, the latter played expressively on the mouth organ by Gerry Donagher), while there is not a single hornpipe. However, as Daly and Hernon argue, this should be taken as “a true reflection of what existed in musical terms in the area, and any attempt to balance the material would be to interfere with this reality.” A glance at recordings by older musicians from the Sligo/Roscommon/Leitrim axis does seem to verify this point. The McDonaghs of Ballinafad, for instance, includes just one polka and a single slip jig among a welter of jigs and reels. Fred Finn and Peter Horan’s Music of Sligo features just one hornpipe. Leader’s 1971 LP The Coleman Country Traditional Society is all jigs and reels, barring one slow air. The recordings of Michael Coleman and James Morrison offered far more variety, indeed Harry Bradshaw’s compilation of the latter, The Professor, reveals a fiddler of remarkable versatility. However, both Coleman and Morrison were responding to the needs of both record labels and dance halls. One notable exception, as one would expect, is Josie McDermott, whose repertoire was extremely comprehensive, but then this reflected his extremely broad interest in music of many types.

Neither Coleman nor Morrison is present on The Living Tradition, but the third member of that triumvirate, Paddy Killoran, does appear and is one of its many hidden gems, thanks in part to Kevin Henry. Originally from Doocastle, Henry has been based in the USA since the mid-1950s and recorded Killoran later that decade, playing the reel Kitty Down the Lane, accompanied by the pianist Eleanor Neary. Other notable jewels include: the flute-player, Packie Duignan, recorded in 1978; a wonderful tale about Michael Coleman and his brother Jim, recounted by Jim Donoghue who played as a flute duet with Jim Coleman for some years; an undated recording of Josie McDermott playing The Fermoy Lasses/Cup of Tea with announcement to boot; a 1986 recording of the influential, but rarely recorded fiddler, Martin Wynne; and one from 1959 of the fiddler, Mary Ellen Giblin, a priceless example of the formerly strong tradition of female exponents of the instrument in the region.

Each musician receives a brief biography, some illustrated by archive photographs, and these simply enhance the joy of this recording. For instance, of John Hannon, the compilers note that, “It is a curious fact that in attempting to locate material for an archive collection, often the people who performed most are the hardest to find recorded.” Christy Hannon’s flute was “made from a cartwheel spoke by Michael Connolly, Kilasser, Co. Mayo and donated by him to the Coleman Heritage Centre”. Tommy Cawley “ was for some time in partnership with Michael Coleman in a music teaching business. He made no commercial recordings.” Of Johnny Giblin - “Johnny himself played the whistle, but would always prefer to listen, provided, of course, that the music was of a certain standard!”

Well, this reviewer is absolutely convinced that Johnny’s toes would be a-tapping to this wonderful collection.

This review by Geoff Wallis was originally written for Musical

This CD can be purchased directly from The Coleman Heritage Centre, Gurteen, Co. Sligo –

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