Ian Smith and Stephen Campbell
The Keadue Bar
Own label; 42 minutes; 2004
If you’re dying for a pint, don’t head for the Keadue Bar since the only liquid you’ll find will be saltwater. Mind you, be sure to have a bucket with you for, at low tide, you’ll soon fill it with shellfish.
Keadue (sometimes Keadew or Keady) is one of the most common place names in Ireland and derives from the word céide, which means a flat-topped hill. This particular Keadue is a townland situated in The Rosses area of Donegal, roughly halfway between Burtonport and Kincasslagh. Ian Smith and Stephen Campbell, two Scottish-born musicians, both reside in and about this area and over the last fifteen years or so have become two of the most prominent faces on the Donegal music scene (and both are regulars at the famed Monday night session at Húdaí Beag’s).
That hasn’t quite happened yet, for Keadue Bar is very much a collaborative effort between the singer from Kilmarnock and the fiddler with strong roots in The Rosses (who also, by the way, was a pupil of Jimmy McHugh’s – see a related review).
Keadue Bar’s eleven tracks alternate between songs and instrumentals and is graced by a remarkable sense of relaxation, which one perhaps should expect from two musicians at ease with their craft, but which should definitely not be equated with the ‘easy listening’ category associated with their near neighbour Daniel O’Donnell.
Ian’s voice is at its resonant best throughout six songs, beginning with the well-known My Love is Like a Red Red Rose which is followed by a devilish set of reels, McComiskey’s and The Commodore, composed respectively by Billy of that name and Liz Carroll. Stephen is here joined by accordionist Laurence McElhinney and the album’s producer, Manus Lunny, on bouzouki and guitar for a whirlwind rendition which never loses the beauty of the two melodies. Manus, by the by, has turned in a top-notch performance at the studio controls.
In contrast, the third track, Hush, is a lullaby introduced by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s vocals at their most dulcet and enhanced by the lyrical combination of Stephen’s fiddle and Dermot Byrne’s accordion. The sheer soul of Jim McLean’s lyrics, which relate to the forced clearances of the Scottish Highlands, is encapsulated by Ian’s vocal delivery, assisted by Mairéad’s harmonies and sensitive background keyboards from Manus. As if to retain the sense of desolation, the ensuing Lucky Liz is a wondrous slow air which truly merits the term ‘haunting’. The Campbell fiddle is in full soaring mode and Phil Cunningham’s piano break serves to reinforce the glorious melody.
Next Ian recounts the exquisite ballad Jock O’Hazeldene, before hooking up with Stephen for a couple of reels associated with the playing of Kevin Burke, Andy McGann’s and Humours of Scarriff, on which they are joined once more by Manus Lunny (bouzouki and guitar) and the renowned bodhrán player Séamus O’Kane from Dungiven. Both reels are played at a refreshingly restrained tempo, though the latter offers Stephen full scope to demonstrate the crispness of his triplets.
Track seven sees Ian turning to The Boys of Barr na Sráide and a fine version it is too, graced by Stephen’s own sensuous rendition of the melody. The problem perhaps is one of over-familiarity since the song has been recorded more than several times over the last few years. Fortunately, it’s a song strong enough to survive overexposure.
Contrastingly, Stephen’s sprightly rendition of An Mórchuras and The Grand Tour is a tribute to their composer, Jimmy McHugh, who’d be well chuffed by his pupil’s progress. The pairing features a great tip in the middle, one of the Campbell trademarks, and fully apposite guitar accompaniment from the hands of Mr. Smith.
Then follows what has become Ian’s vocal party piece (and the term is not meant in any derogatory sense), The Rocks of Bawn, which this reviewer well recalls him singing on a number of occasions. Of course, it is a song which will (and should) forever be associated with Joe Heaney, but, over the years, Ian has stamped his own mark upon its eloquent lyrics and, this time around, he is aided not only by Stephen’s fiddle, but by some charming accordion-work from Dermot Byrne.
Another well-known guest, Tara Diamond, joins Stephen for the penultimate track’s jig, My Darling’s Asleep – a fine fiddle and flute duet which simply lets the tune do the talking – before the pair are joined by Ian and Séamus O’Kane for another jig, Pipe on the Hob. Again, there’s a very pleasant decelerated feel to these two tunes.
Lastly, there’s another Scottish ballad, Bogie’s Bonnie Belle, which Ian first heard sung by Archie Fisher. This proves to be a splendid conclusion to a thoroughly first-rate album and one graced by wisdom, sheer expertise and sensibility.
28h September, 2004
For more information about Ian and Stephen visit www.keaduebar.com.