This reviewer has long been a sucker for piping albums, though does wonder, following a long conversation with Ronan Browne, just how large their actual market is. Ronan’s view (and, after all, he’s a piper himself) is that albums of solo piping draw a miniscule audience and indeed there is some evidence (viz. the polls conducted by the IRTRAD-L mailing list) that the most popular piping recordings feature the instrumentalist either partly or wholly in cahoots with either another musician or as part of a band. For examples of the latter think only of Davy Spillane’s albums, though (and it’s a personal view) perhaps his best is Forgotten Days, recorded with fiddler Kevin Glackin. It’s telling too that all of Paddy Keenan’s albums feature other musicians.
Back in 2000, when I was researching The Rough Guide to Irish Music, I spent an evening in the company of two of Ireland’s most renowned pipers, Néillidh Mulligan and Brian McNamara, in The Cobblestone. The pub’s wall sported numerous posters, amongst which was a flier for the debut album by Dubliner Tommy Martin who, from his photograph, appeared to be then in his early twenties. “What’s that all about?” I recall asking. “Ah, he’s just a young lad,” replied either one or the other of my confrères. As a result I decided not to include Tommy in the book, but, on the evidence of his second album, Shady Woods, my decision was certainly incorrect.
Five years further on (a substantial element in Séamus Ennis’s oft-cited dictum regarding the 21-year learning requirement faced by pipers) and Tommy’s musicianship has progressed by astonishing leaps and bounds as his harmonisation and use of drones on the set of reels Wallop the Spot/The Leg of the Duck/Temple Hill solidly confirms. I remain less convinced by his low whistling (as on The Maple Leaf/The Man of Aran), but that’s in part a personal conviction regarding the value of said instrument and it’s inability to attain a semblance of appropriate resonance.
Equally, certain accompanied tracks, such as Humours of Bally Keal fail to realize an empathy between piper and guitarist (Patsy O’Brien), though such lapses are more than compensated by the pulsating duet with fiddler Kevin Buckley on Eleanor Kane’s.
It is a brave piper who takes on the showpiece challenge of The Fox Chase, but Tommy’s abilities are well-set for the hunt and provide an enthralling exhibition of his skills.
For more information about Tommy visit www.tompipes.com.