The Irish Low Whistle
Shanachie 78043; 44 minutes;
Tallaght Records, no number;
55 minutes; 2001
Though the tin whistle is the
first instrument of the majority of Irish traditional musicians, it’s remarkable
just how few outstanding examples of the whistler’s art have been recorded.
Maybe there’s a stigma attached to an instrument associated with childhood or
perhaps, realistically, most players just progress onto more complex
instruments. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of enthusiastic young
whistlers around, such as Dubliner Gavin Whelan, eager to follow in the
footsteps of Mary Bergin, Séan Ryan and The Chieftains’ Paddy Moloney.
sheer wizardry of Gavin’s debut album belies his age (a mere 22) and the
effortless ease of his duets with fiddler Zoë Conway, on tunes such as Brogan’s
Fancy, reveals a musician with a vast wealth of sessions under his belt.
Despite his origins Whelan demonstrates his West coast influences through tunes
learned from Donegal fiddlers, such as James Byrne, and the Clare born piper
Willie Clancy and whistler Micho Russell. Overall, it’s a startling blend of
virtuosity, spirit and just plain fun and already one of the most significant
Irish releases of the year.
While tin whistles have been
around since the early 19th century, the larger low whistle is a
much more recent development. Though simpler to play than the flute, the low
whistle’s bigger finger holes and larger gaps between them (and the extra puff
needed to blow it) still require much expertise. Its origins are often credited
to Finbar Furey, but there’s no doubt that one of the first prototypes was
constructed by his fellow piper, Joe McKenna. Almost thirty years later, and
after several albums in partnership with his wife, harper and singer
Antoinette, Joe has finally got around to recording his own low whistle album.
The question is, ”Should he have bothered?”
have a tendency to over-indulge in airy abstraction, drawing on the instrument’s
haunting tone to enter that area of ambient doodling known in some quarters as ’Celtic
hush’ music. Both uilleann piper Davy Spillane and the Afro Celts’ James McNally
have been tempted by this and Joe McKenna proves to be the latest victim. His
own composition, the overlong, Echo’s Calling, illustrates how tedious
this infatuation can be while the old air Caoineadh Eoghain Rua is
simply stupefying. There’s no question of Joe’s impressive ability, as shown on
a fine pair of reels, Eileen Curran and Tommy Peoples, but these
are just some of the few exceptions in a monumentally dull album.
This review by Geoff Wallis was originally written for Songlines magazine
information about Gavin Whelan – www.gavinwhelan.com.
information about Shanachie – www.shanachie.com.