CD Reviews: Island to Island - Traditional Music from Newfoundland

Island to Island: Traditional Music from NewfoundlandSeamus Creagh, Colin Carrigan, Aidan Coffey, Mick Daly, Graham Wells, Billy Sutton, Jason Whelan, Paddy Mackey (Ossian Publications)Once described as ‘the fifth province of Ireland’, Canada’s...

Island to Island: Traditional Music from Newfoundland
Seamus Creagh, Colin Carrigan, Aidan Coffey, Mick Daly, Graham Wells, Billy Sutton, Jason Whelan, Paddy Mackey (Ossian Publications)

Once described as ‘the fifth province of Ireland’, Canada’s Newfoundland has many social, historical, linguistic and cultural links with Ireland that stretch back for centuries. Projects such as this CD demonstrate that such links have not disappeared, but are there to be maintained and nurtured, as well as being explored in modern contexts. Significant too is the fact that there is now also funding available to support such partnership activities taking place.

Seamus Creagh and Aidan Coffey, masters of the fiddle and accordion respectively, combine in a duo that is exquisite in its subtle and understated musicality. Joined by the very individual Mick Daly on guitar, this Cork-based trio constitutes Ireland’s representation on this CD. The Newfoundland contribution comes from a group of five musicians, again all male, and largely representing the younger generation of Newfoundland’s players. Fiddle, accordion and guitar are again the featured instruments, along with banjo, bouzouki, and bodhran. The fourteen tracks are equally divided between the two groups, with seven from the Irish musicians and seven from various combinations of the Newfoundlanders. The only collaborative track is ‘Lizzie’s Jig/Sam’s Jig’ where Aidan Coffey joins Jason Whelan and Colin Carrigan on a set of Newfoundland Doubles.

The playing from both groups is first class throughout – all of the musicians involved are at the top of their league. In terms of style the Irish connection is obvious – the Newfoundland players seem very much influenced by recent and mainstream stylistic trends of the Irish and Celtic music worlds; one would be hard pushed to distinguish too many idiosyncratic Newfoundland traits here. However, the unique touch of each of the players is evident throughout. Mick Daly and Jason Whelan deserve special mention for providing accompaniment that is very individual and distinctive; the reel playing of Colin Carrigan and Graham Wells on the Donegal tunes, ‘Johnny Doherty’s/The Ravelled Hank of Yarn’, is as good as it gets; and Seamus Creagh and Aidan Coffey, as always, provide us with consistent excellence in their duet playing.

The distinction between the two traditions becomes more apparent in terms of repertoire. The Newfoundlanders play a great number of tunes related to the jig family. Besides the standard jig we are introduced to Doubles – characterised by slide-like rhythms and with the quirky addition of occasional extra beats – and Singles (2/4 time). The influence of French Canada is also evident in a number of places such as in the truncated B part of the hornpipe ‘Like You Would’, written by accordionist Geoff Butler. The Irish musicians’ tracks include polkas, set-dances and reels, with a single foray into the Newfoundland repertoire with ‘The Flying Reel/Hound’s Tune’, compositions of two renowned Newfoundland fiddlers Emile Benoit (1913-1992) and Rufus Guinchard (1899-1990). Ireland’s masters, such as Pádraig O’Keeffe, are also represented in the tune selections.

In terms of musicality this CD is a delight from start to finish. In terms of unfamiliar repertoire – always a bonus on any new recording to come in the door – there are certainly a good many gems here. My only reservation concerns the overall lack of collaboration between both parties throughout. While there is not a thing wrong with a bunch of musicians recording seven tracks in Ireland and adding them to seven recorded by another bunch in Newfoundland, to produce a full album, surely this smacks slightly of a lost opportunity for some serious interactive work to take place? Seamus Creagh and Marie-Annick Desplanques, the driving forces behind this project, have both spent many years in Newfoundland and have been hugely important in maintaining and developing links between there and Cork, where they now live. If their primary aim for this project was to showcase young Newfoundland talent and the connections that exist between there and Ireland then this CD is a huge success. Hopefully, however, this will be the start of a series of similar projects that will explore the musical traditions and connections between both areas in more depth, celebrating the differences as well as the similarities, the old as well as the new, the song as well as the instrumental, and the solo as well as the ensemble.

Published on 1 July 2003

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