CD Review: Fidil
Context matters in Donegal. Some of this perhaps derives from the playing of musicians like the Dohertys, ‘The Simeys’, storytellers who situated their tunes within the localities from which they came, acknowledging other traveling musicians such as Anthony Helferty who lived in the early part of the nineteenth century. More too comes from the distinctiveness of the Donegal tradition, the audible Scottish influence. Then there is the instrument that dominates the musical landscape, the fiddle itself. After all, Fr McDyer’s Glencolmcille Ceili Band consisted of eleven fiddle players and nothing else.
This album, by two Donegal fiddle players in their twenties, Ciarán Ó Maonaigh from the Gaoth Dobhair Gaeltacht in north Donegal and Aidan O’Donnell from Dunkineely in the south of the county, wears its context on its sleeve. Both in its track-list and sleeve-notes it invites comparisons. The tunes ring out like a history lesson – ‘Bundle and Go’, ‘Tuaim na Farraige’, ‘The Glen Road to Carrick’. The musicians cite Johnny Doherty, Con Cassidy, Francie ‘Dearg’, Danny Meehan, Tommy Peoples, Paddy Glackin, and Paul O’Shaughnessy. There are more and they are all big names. It says: this is where we’re coming from, and it is all here, volume, accent, brightness of tone, a particular use of the bow, the Scottish influence and the repertoire. All that marks Donegal.
But Fidil is more than the efforts of two young players to claim their musical heritage. Unlike many new recordings that are too ‘busy’, marked by the inclusion of the musicians’ friends to be distinctive, with this album the overall tone never really varies. It is rock steady. We have just two musicians playing so closely together it is sometimes hard to tell them apart. At other times, as on the playing of ‘Miss Cunningham’s’ they diverge, like a chorus of each other, before they rejoin again. The final track, ‘The Glen Road to Carrick’ picks up where that left off. This is virtuoso playing, although it doesn’t advertise itself as such, perhaps because what the two players do is so intuitive, so bound together, they seem as the one thing, as when they pass the tune from one to the other. You’re on that Glen road again, past John Mhosaí McGinley’s house – who may have composed part of the tune – and the weather has shifted, just slightly.
That is the real achievement of Fidil – it moves things, just slightly. From the opening notes of ‘Kitty in the Lane’ into ‘The Floggin’ Reel’ it twists and turns through a familiar landscape, but in a new way. Its strength is the closeness of the playing, from shade to shade, and its unadorned nature, at times pared back and sparse. The twist from ‘Bundle and Go’ and the acceleration into ‘The Frost is All Over’ is exhilarating. There is real depth to this playing, which is enhanced with repeated listening.
At the end it seems all too short and you want it to continue, like one of those legendary sessions down in the Glen, where the one fiddle is passed from hand to hand. These two musicians fit well into that company.
Published on 1 September 2008
Peter Woods is a radio producer and is co-author of The Living Note: The Heartbeat of Irish Music (1996).