A voyage through traditional Celtic music

One of our best reviewers decided he needed to learn more about traditional Celtic music, so he took a musical tour of the Islands of the Mighty. Says Robert Tilendis, ‘When you’re dealing with traditional music — or any music from the past, for that matter — you’re negotiating, bringing the ideas, the attitudes, the dreams of history into our present in a way the rest of us can understand while, one hopes, respecting the integrity of that original work.’

His first stop was Ireland, via Lúnasa’s The Story So Far. ‘It’s easy to be enthusiastic about this collection. Yes, there is solid tradition here … but there is a lot of contemporary sensibility that leads new places, not so much a matter of ‘hey, look, we’re being modern’ as an integral part of the approach … never obtrusive, never really calling attention to itself, but undeniably there.’

Scotland was next, by way of Blazin’ Fiddles Live, a recording from a mass fiddle orchestra — ‘When our Editor and Publisher (also known as ‘the Chief’) first broached the idea of my reviewing a Blazin’ Fiddles release, I was hesitant. ‘A whole orchestra?’ said I. ‘Of fiddles?’ (Well, that’s what he said it was.) Somehow I knew it wasn’t going to be Henry Mancini.’ He really did like it, as you can read here.

A lightning swing through Wales brought riches galore. ‘The more I am exposed to the various traditions of the world’s art and music, the more I credit Joseph W. Campbell’s observations, from The Flight of the Wild Gander, on the processes of folklore — in spite of the urge to identify ‘national’ traditions, folklore is inevitably the result of cultural cross-fertilization. . . . This is the sort of thing that ran through my head as I began to listen to three albums by Welsh artists from the Welsh label Sain Records, presented to me as ‘Welsh music.’ What makes them particularly Welsh? I wondered.’ Ar Log’s Goreuon Ar Log, Meic Stevens’ Icarws, and Steve Eaves’ Moelyci are reviewed here.

The final stop was Mozaik’s Changing Trains — ‘What I’m noticing in my small journey through ‘traditional’ Celtic music is, first of all, tradition is what you make of it (in other words, anyone who works with traditional music is negotiating with the past), and second, there are lots of traditions (which is to say, everyone who works with traditional music is also negotiating with everyone else). Take, for example, Mozaik. Composed of Andy Irvine (vocals, bouzouki, mandolin and harmonica) and Donal Lunny (vocals, bouzouki, guitar and bodhran), both Irish (by birth or affinity), Bruce Molsky (vocals, fiddle, guitar and banjo), an American folk singer; Rens Van Der Zalm, a Dutch guitarist (who also plays fiddle, mandolin, oud and the low whistle) — who met Irvine in Slovenia, by the way — and Hungarian Nikola Parov (kaval, gaida, gadulka, guitar, whistle, percussion, nyckelharp, and fujra), it’s hardly what I’d call ‘purist.’ (They are joined on this album by Liam O’Flynn on uillean pipes and whistle.) And yet….’

So we asked Robert, ‘Did you learn a lot about traditional Celtic music?’ He responded, ‘I’m not sure. But I had a lot of fun.’

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