Merrijig Creek – New Tunes and Arrangements
New tunes and arrangements by Fintan Vallely, with Caoimhín Vallely, piano; Sheena Vallely, flute; Brian Morrissey, percussion; Liz Doherty, fiddle; Dáithí Sproule, guitar; Gerry O’Connor, fiddle.
A new album with 28 new tunes and arrangements on concert flute marking Fintan Vallely’s fifty-seventh year playing music.
With him is his sister Sheena Vallely, also on flute, who as a painter and musician has lived much of her working and playing life in London and Bristol. Framing and highlighting the music with piano melody and accompaniment is their cousin Caoimhín Vallely, a founder-member of the bands North Cregg and Buille. On bodhrán and percussion is Tipperary-born Brian Morrissey, and on fiddle is Donegal player Liz Doherty, of Nomos, Fiddlesticks, The Bumblebees and the international String Sisters. Also on fiddle is Gerry O’Connor from Dundalk, of the band Skylark and, with Eithne Ní Uallacháin, Lá Lugh; with Fintan he also performs the audiovisual concert shows Compánach and Turas. Guitarist Dáithí Sproule, both a soloist and singer, as well as having been member of Skara Brae, has toured and recorded with Altan and Liz Carroll.
Fintan is privileged to be buoyed along by the enervating nerve of this company: Sheena’s sympathetic flute pulse, Caomhín’s lift on piano, with Brian accenting moods on bodhráns and shakers. Dáithí is on guitar on track five, Liz is on several sets, and Gerry joins on the finale tunes. The intuitive production and direction input of Niall Vallely (a composer himself, of the bands Nomos and Buille), is greatly appreciated for his patient shepherding of balance, character and vitality in the album.
Some of the new tunes here emerged out of the headiness of days-long session immersions in counties Dublin, Sligo and Clare. Others came while touring, on long road trips on the neighbouring island. Eighteen of the twenty-eight pieces were made by me between the years 1977 and 2017; the other ten are favoured, complementary pieces that came out of travel, session playing and listening.
The few older tunes and Lucy Farr’s pieces are felt as a leavening matrix for the newer material which has been re-worked and honed over years, and was eventually coaxed to finality in the head-space freed up by a Deis grant from An Comhairle Ealaíon / The Arts Council of Ireland.
A couple of the new tunes were recorded with Mark Simos in 1992, but most have not been played in music circles before. They were played, however, at literary events, from the mid 1990s though to 2007 in Ireland and Scotland with the poet Dermot Healy as part of the spoken-word presentations The Ballyconnell Colours and Fool’s Errand for which familiar tunes were just not appropriate.
The naming of the new tunes follows the convention in Irish Traditional music: their titles indicate stories, history, places, significant events and people over the course of my performing life. So too with the group-titling of the ‘sets’, which is related to personal and circumstantial associations, a practice that has been with us since the advent of the CD in the eighties.
Notes on the Sets
Making new tunes
There are many beliefs and assumptions about the ancientness of the airs and dance tunes in Irish Traditional music: “from back in the mists of time”, “learnt from the fairies”, “heard on the wind”. The stories are comforting folklore, and most are at least partly true, for thousands of jigs and reels have indeed been distilled by musicians out of centuries-old song melodies, in times when musicianship was held in high regard, and believed to be supernatural. Generally, too, the tune-names that are the handling tags for performers do always have some organic connection with real lives and happenings. The best tunes had probably already been made and were in wide circulation by the time of late twentieth century revival, making possible the phenomenal institution we know as the ‘session’. Yet tunesmiths still manage to come up with unique, compelling new melodies. In addition to this, there is also an endless potential for re-composition in the melodic contours of existing tunes - their ‘set, accented tones’, a term used by Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin for the key notes which mark out the boundaries and turns of any melody. Like an aleatoric selection-box of phrases, these are subconsciously picked through and re-applied diversely in composition. Potential is expanded further by the challenge of the Irish-music spectrum’s twenty or so different tune-types, and these themselves can be explored for additional depth and breadth by changing the key, octave or tempo. Refreshing dimension can also be given by juxtaposition of different instruments and timbres, displayed elementally in solos as ‘the raw bar’, and with aesthetic sophistication in arrangements. Ethos absorbed from other equally distinctive musics can breathe further new life: the post-1950s fascination for bass, beat and crossovers boosted revival, and orchestration has for more than a century brought out yet other drama and power.
The tunes and arrangements on this album, however, were made, as most tunes are, without consideration of any of this, casually and unplanned. Some emerged out of the headiness of days-long session immersions in counties Dublin, Sligo and Clare, others in pensive exploration while on long road trips on the neighbouring island. Like a jigsaw that begins with just two pieces, a melody starts with a few notes - maybe a favoured passage, a riff. This is gradually teased out from both ends until a phrase emerges, eventually reaching the call-and-response unit that is the first part of a tune. That then is noodled into a diversion which typically reaches up into the second octave, goes off on a brief skirmish and then lands securely back at the starting point. If the muse gets courage, the second part may lead to a third, fourth or fifth, each related to its predecessor, but eventually all returning logically to the opening. And always, in Irish music, with the invitation or compulsion to repeat the whole tune two or three times over.
Eighteen of these twenty-eight tunes were made by me between the years 1977 and 2017; the other ten are favoured, complementary pieces that came out of travel, session playing and critical listening. The older tunes and Lucy Farr’s pieces are felt as a leavening matrix for the newer material which has been honed, re-worked and rationalised at various times, and was eventually coaxed to finality in the head-space freed up by a Deis grant from An Comhairle Ealaíon / The Arts Council of Ireland. A couple of the new tunes have been recorded with Mark Simos in 1992, but most have not been played in music circles before, though I did play them from the mid 1990s though to 2007 in Ireland and Scotland with the poet Dermot Healy as part of the spoken-word presentations The Ballyconnell Colours and Fool’s Errand for which familiar tunes were just not appropriate. The naming of the new tunes follows the convention in Irish Traditional music: their titles indicate stories, history, places, significant events and people over the course of my performing life. So too with the group-titling of the ‘sets’, which is related to personal and circumstantial associations, a practice that has been with us since the advent of the CD in the eighties.
Listen & Download at Bandcamp:
- Set 1: The Three Sisters 5:53
- An Grianán Feasa 2:08 · Fintan Vallely
- Merrijig Creek 1:44 · Fintan Vallely
- The Clonakilla Reel 1:58 · Fintan Vallely
- Set 2: From Ballinakill to Ballinascreen 3:59
- The Shoemaker 1:04 · Lucy Farr
- Music on the Wind 1:04 · Lucy Farr
- The Banba 1:49 · Fintan Vallely
- Set 3: Emilia Romagna Redoubt 4:31
- Per i Morti di Reggio Emilia 1:55 · Fausto Amodei
- The Reggio Jig 2:35 · Fintan Vallely
- Set 4: Roving Rhythm 4:32
- The Wounded Huzzar 2:02 · Trad. Arr. Fintan Vallely
- Captain O’Kane 1:13 · Turlough Carolan
- The Crosses of Annagh 1:20 · Trad. Arr. Fintan Vallely
- Set 5: The Humours of Blundells Grange 5:00
- The Dark Loanen 1:33 · Niall Vallely
- The Miltown Collector 1:11 · Fintan Vallely
- Maisie Friel’s 2:20 · Fintan Vallely
- Set 6: Gregorium Uproarium 5:01
- Ómos Tadhg MacSweeney 2:01 · Fintan Vallely
- Raithneach a Bhean Bheag 0:46 · Trad. Arr. Fintan Vallely
- The Musical Priest 2:14 · trad. Arr. Fintan Vallely
- Set 7: Homage to Brian Keenan 4:23
- Syrian Sky 0:42 · Fintan Vallely
- Trip to Damascus 1:52 · Fintan Vallely
- Farewell to Lebanon 1:50 · Fintan Vallely
- Set 8: The Maid of Annaghmakerrig 4:04
- Fool’s Errand 0:44 · Fintan Vallely
- Judith Guthrie’s Jig 3:26 · Fintan Vallely
- Set 9: The Rambles of Grappa 5:25
- Valentia Regatta 1:33 · Seán Ó Riada & John Kelly
- Garvey in the Sea 1:57 · Fintan Vallely
- The Verona Reel 1:54 · Fintan Vallely
- Set 10: The Ballyconnell Colours 6:40
- Five Women and a Fiddle 1:45 · Fintan Vallely
- The Rockforest Reel 2:14 · Fintan Vallely
- The Wild Goose Chase 2:42 · Fintan Vallely