CD Reviews: Breda Keville

The Hop Down, BKCD 205

The Hop Down, BKCD 205

I had to overhaul some of my fundamental assumptions and prejudices in the last month or so and it’s been a refreshing exercise. Over the last couple of months I had heard the odd snatch of some very beautiful, intelligent and delicate fiddle playing on Raidió na Gaeltachta and RTÉ Radio 1. I wondered ‘who is that oul’ fella playing the fiddle? It reminds me of….’ Sense memory is a powerful thing. These fragments of fiddle playing conjured up for me lots of memories of some amazing players who I had heard and admired over the years: Martin Rochford, Paddy Fahy, Eddie Kelly, Conor Tully, Aggie White, Máirtín Byrnes, Bobby Casey, Liam Lewis. It’s all about that remarkable Clare-Galway musical accent. A way of tackling tunes that’s rhythmic, fluid, maybe a bit slower than we’re used to in these days of high velocity trad-pop, but also distinctive and authentic. You’d know where it’s from when you hear it and for me nowadays that means it’s likely to be good.

Then I got a copy of The Hop Down by a young woman called Breda Keville and the mystery was revealed – she is the ‘oul’ fella’ I’d been wondering about! This is an extremely enjoyable recording, one that held my attention from the first full listening. Keville’s sound has all of the qualities and idiosyncrasies you’d associate with this Clare-Galway style and her choice of repertoire tells us a lot about her aesthetics and influences. What makes her sound so interesting and different is her technique and particularly her bowing, which captures so much of the delicacy and fragility of phrasing and ornamentation that characterises the school of fiddling that she follows.

Some of the most appealing performances for me include the solo, unaccompanied tracks ‘Seán Ó Duibhir a’Ghleanna’/‘Poll Ha’penny’, ‘Eileen Curran’/‘The Rainy Day’, and the title track which comes from the great Rita Keane from Caherlistrane, ‘The Hop Down’. There’s something very heartening and gutsy about this playing despite the sense of restraint and the odd moment where it feels tentative rather than assured, but that’s something that I really liked because it spoke of a commitment to authenticity rather than studio slickness. None of this is surprising either when you hear Breda sing. Her fine performances of ‘Blackwaterside’, ‘Bean an Fhir Rua’ and ‘The Cuckoo’ reveal an artist who is at one with the material and her singing adds great depth to this recording.

Breda is joined by her sister Claire (concertina and fiddle) on two tracks and one of these is ‘The New Road’/’My Love is in America’ which is a really excellent piece of unison duet playing. Terence O’Reilly (guitar) provides very sensitive unobtrusive accompaniment on a number of tracks including the reels ‘The Ceilier’/’Reavey’s’ which also features Claire on concertina and this is delightful ensemble playing by any standards. A recording like this is a cause for optimism at a time when so many accents and points of difference are being smoothed out of traditional music in studio recordings and elsewhere. This hop down is really a big step up!

Published on 1 January 2007

Dermot McLaughlin is a fiddle player and currently Chairman of the Irish Traditional Music Archive.

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