Robbie Hannan

Robbie Hannan

The Tempest Na Píobairí Uileann (NPU CD 016)

This album from Belfast-born uilleann piper Robbie Hannan is the third in The Ace and Deuce of Piping series of recordings, the first two being by Eliot Grasso and Emmett Gill. This album is of solo piping, performed on a flat set, and is Hannan’s third such recording.

The recording is typical of this style of CD so loved by organisations interested in promoting, recording and shaping a particular aspect of traditional music. There is no accompaniment or ensemble at all and the repertoire played is a reasonably standard collection of dance tunes and airs associated with the piping tradition. Indeed, the sleeve notes root each track in the past performance practices of various ‘master’ pipers, most notably Willie Clancy and Séamus Ennis. I suspect this album was recorded in the Pipers’ Club in live takes with little editing or multi-tracking, but the sleeve notes give us little clue as to the recording process.

The Tempest perhaps shows a side of Hannan’s performing practice closely allied to a more mainstream piping style. There is little here representing his often spoken of northern fiddle style of performance, although it can still be heard in some of the repertoire. His technical mastery is quite astonishing and he demonstrates such a breadth of technique that I would challenge anyone to place him in the one-dimensional stylistic axis of tight and open piping.

With quite a few of the sets performed here, Hannan shows an imaginative approach to the tune that is rare among traditional musicians generally, and this is most evident in his reel playing. In particular,  ‘The Broken Pledge / The Tempest’ shows an integration of technique and musicality that transforms the tune well beyond mere session fodder.

If there are problems with this recording these come from the process of recording itself. There are occasional squeaks from the chanter, and sometimes the rhythm falters or stumbles over technique. These are small quibbles which would hardly be worth mentioning if Robbie Hannan wrote about the philosophy of the recording and indeed the series of recordings in the liner notes. These are missed, as they would give the unsuspecting, non-piping listener a clue to why this recording sounds as it does. However, I suspect that this recording is primarily meant for an audience wearing popping straps, who will not be so bothered by the words of a flute-player.

Published on 1 April 2009

Niall Keegan is a traditional flute player and Associate Director at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick.

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