Brendan Ring

Troublesome Things

Own label - BPR001CD; 38 mins; 2001

To put the record state, just in case anyone reading this review is under any misapprehension, the album’s excellent cover is not a portrait of the uilleann piper and low whistler, but an oil painting by Anthony Ruby (The Soul of Man). Fortunately, there’s a picture of Brendan on the case liner to prove it!

The Troublesome Things of the title, taken from a little-known poem by Thackeray, can hardly be a more appropriate comment on the uilleann pipes (ask any piper about the effects of humidity on reeds, for instance), but Brendan Ring proves himself an undoubted master of their complexities on this welcome release.

Perhaps best-known for his appearance on John Spillane’s The Wells of the World album, Brendan has been a key figure in the Cork traditional scene for some time. There’s a strong Corcovian presence on this album too, not least in the wonderfully clear engineering and co-production from Ray Barron (wizard mandolin player with Two Time Polka), and other notables contributing include Gerry McKee (bouzouki and guitar) from the sadly defunct Nomos and John Neville (guitarist with North Cregg). Other contributors include percussionist Mel Mercier and singer Rachel Healy.

Brendan’s unusual in playing a set of pipes of his own construction (in concert pitch, by my reckoning) and extracts a glorious ringing tone (no pun intended) from his chanter, using the regulators sparingly to produce simple but effective harmonies which are heard no better than on the well-known jig Brian O’Lynn. This runs into The Lisnagun Jig, one of several of Brendan’s own compositions featured here, while another two, The Robbery of Chester Jail/Rí Ring’s, demonstrates not only his complete inheritance of the tradition, but also, via his notes, a rather dodgy bloodline, albeit described with characteristic humour:

These tunes were written for two of my wilder ancestors. One my great-great-grandfather Horatio Nelson Tivvy, a native of Cork city, became governor of Chester jail and absconded with all the prisoners’ possessions, never to be seen again. The other, known as Rí Ring, from Coolivarne, County Cork, led a rather colourful life, having been wanted for various Whiteboy offences, including the shooting of a bailiff, he reportedly also shot his way out of jail.

(Whiteboys, by the way, were members of an eighteenth century Irish agrarian organisation formed in response to perceived grievances against the peasantry who committed their vengeful acts at night wearing white shirts.)

Several of the piping tracks are recorded unaccompanied, but one of the exceptions is a madcap romp through Madame Bonaparte, recorded live at The Lobby Bar with John Neville in manic accompanist mode.

Some might be disappointed by the length of Troublesome Things, which trots home in a mere thirty-eight minutes, but this is such a clear case of quality overriding quantity that nobody should feel short-changed by this excellent independent release.

This review by Geoff Wallis was originally written for Musical Traditions –

Troublesome Things can be purchased directly from Brendan Ring –

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