Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Thu 21 Jan.
It‘s hard to overestimate the influence this one man has had on the course of Irish music over the last 30 years. You can hear it in bars from Anchorage to Auckland, Tokyo to Moscow, and, with the explosion of recorded Irish music, in elevators, supermarkets and film soundtracks.
Donal Lunny formed the seminal Planxty way back in the late 60$, breathing new life into ancient, and threatened traditions of music making. With virtuoso Liam O' Flynn on uillean pipes, Christy Moore's powerful singing and subtle bodhran, and itinerant mandolinist Andy Irvine‘s Winsome vocals and exotic Eastern European influence (now institutionalised in the Riverdance score), the band created the matrix for thousands of subsequent bands in many countries. Then Lunny's late, lamented Bothy Band took the music to even higher instrumental dimensions. With his next band Moving Hearts, which featured the addition of a full rhythm section on bass, drums, and keyboards as well as a saxophone, electric guitar and two pipers (including the young Davey Spillane) up front, Lunny showed that traditional-based music could be as loud, gutsy and
preview CELTIC CONNECTIONS
Donal Lunny: Celtic pioneer
exciting as that from any rock outfit.
For years studio-bound and in perpetual demand as a producer, Lunny’s live performances have been spare, but he’s now back on the road with a new group, and album Coo/fin (no, not a shark in shades, but an Irish place name), and he's loving it.
'l’ve every intention of doing another album with this band,’ he grins. 'We’re all lucky in the fortuitous combination of people. They're all fantastic musicians, real characters; they go way beyond the music, the notes. It's not about bothering what the fingers are
doing. It's built on rhythm, and I love exploring rhythms. I think grooves are rhythmic personalities that you plan the whole number on, dynamically. Or architecturally: you build a nice road, then you construct a building along the way, then, say, the keyboard player puts his, or her, flowers in the window box.’
But, for all his legendary attention to detail, nuance, and intense rehearsal, Lunny is adamant that the audience is what it’s all about. ’You do all this so you can perform to people live: then, if it's lifting people out of their seats, you go yeah, full on!’ (Norman Chalmers)
Balfa Toujours Glasgow: T-ruitmarket, Mon 18 Jan.
The name Balta l‘s actually a corruption of the Scottish name Balfour, but it bears a special resonance in the histOry of Cajun music. The great Dewey Balfa and his brother‘s made an imperishable contribution to the mUSIC of the LOuiSiana French community, and the current prancipal standard-bearer of the family tradition, fiddler Christine Balfa,
Balfa Toujours: made
is determined to COITIIITUO that effort, even when it seems a daunting prospect.
'I was a little intimidated by the weight of my father's reputation until I realised that all I could really do is just be myself,’ she explains. ’If I think too much about that kind of responsibility it just puts on extra pressure, but I certainly feel it is really important to keep our culture alive and developing.’
The current version of her band Balfa ToujOurs — which she co-leads With her
husband, fiddler Dirk Powell — will feature in a double bill With accordionist Willis Prudhomrne, a major name in the closely related Zydeco style developed by the Creole musicians of Louisrana. If the weight of the past exerts its ineVitable force, however, they also heed the present. Our music still has the same feel as when the Balfa Brothers wrote music, and maybe when my great grandfather wrote music, but our songs are about today,’ Christine says. ’We want to play traditional music, but not music that is static, like in a museum ‘- we want to be true to the roots, but also to play the way that feels natural to us now. My father always said that tradition is preserved one generation at a time, and that is what we are trying to do.’
Dewey Balfa likened Cajun music to '
’the blues sound of the black man, the sound of deep hurt’, but if it is a classic response to exile and hard times, its vibrant two-step and waltz rhythms and emotive vocals are also a joyous negation of the worst the world can do. The band like nothing better than playing for dancers, and the Fruitmarket sh0uld suit them just fine. (Kenny Mathieson)
TRADITIONAL Alasdair Fraser
Glasgow: Piping Centre, Sun 17; Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Main Auditorium, Wed 20.
Fiddler, band leader, duet partner, teacher, composer, record company exec, musical adventurer — ’Sometimes I wear so many hats, it drives me crazy,’ admits Alasdair Fraser. ’Sometimes all I want to do is just go and play a tune.’
Having long since swapped his native Clackmannan for the sunnier climes of California — where he runs his renowned Valley of the Moon fiddle school — Fraser will fly to Celtic Connections ’99 wearing at least three hats. He has been booked to perform with his six-piece Skyedance band, a deux with Paisley gUitar Virtuoso Tony McManus, and is also heavin involved, as artist-in-residence for the duration, with the festival’s extensive programme of workshops and masterclasses.
The Skyedance project features the pick of America’s Celtic players (including the piper from the Titanic soundtrack) on flute, bagpipes, piano, percussion and bass. It now has a good couple of years’ collective experience under its belt, weavrng its sparklineg imaginative arrangements of traditional styles with a sophisticated array of rock, jazz, world and classical flavours.
’l’m feeling kind of jazzed about it right now,’ Fraser says. ’We’ve just come back from spending a week locked up in a hocise together working on band stuff, and that produced lots of ideas — lots of really interesting compositional things coming out, plus a real sense of the chemistry you need in a line-up like this.’
Working with McManus — the pair recorded their first album together during 1998 ~ is a more recent venture, but, it seems, a fruitfully complementary one. ’There's no substitute for the intensity of that one- to—one musical conversation,’ Fraser says. ’lt’s kind of like having a sparring partner. But at the same time I'm not trying to push and probe the music in the same way I do with the band; it's more a case of getting stuck ll) and playing.’
After the pair’s electrifying performance headlining November’s Fiddle ’98 festival, Fraser’s fans face a serious quandary at Celtic Connections: choosing between the full might of the band or the duo’s more intimate delights. Maybe only both concerts wrll do. (Sue Wilson)
Alasdair Fraser: stringing them along
7~~21 Jan 1999 THE llST 25