Ahhh, there you are. I saw you sitting over in Falstaff’s Chair by the cheerfully cracklin’ fire on this cold, windy, and even rainy night. I see you’re enjoying your novel. . . . Me? I’m reading de Lint’s Moonheart — perhaps his best known work. Not all great literature comes in the form of the printed page — indeed some can only be listened to like those told by the storytellers, who sit in that chair telling stories long after midnight is but a memory, or the entertaining tale told by Colcannon on the recording I saw you eyeing a short while ago in the Library.
You’re probably remembering them as a Celtic music group. It’s indeed true that Colcannon — the stateside version, not to be mistaken for the Australian band of the same moniker, which is not nearly as good a group — has a sterling reputation for putting out truly brilliant recordings. All of their six previous recordings (Some Foreign Land, Athens Hotel, The Life of Riley’s Brother, Trad, Saint Bartholemew’s Feast, and Corvus) have gotten raves from our reviewers. However, The Pooka and the Fiddler / Happy as Larry — which I admit sounds like it should be a set of tunes, of a rather upbeat nature — is two short tales and something quite different altogether.
Judith Gennett did note when reviewing Trad that “Colcannon’s most noticeable and perhaps greatest strength is in their songs; it is here that they are truly distinguishable from the fine crowd of good, domestic Irish bands.” So, that they should be great storytellers ’tisn’t surprising ‘tall. Indeed, oft times the Irish are better tale tellers than anyone else and Mick Bolger’s “authentically accented vocals,” as Judith noted, are perfectly suited to this material. Mick’s certainly as good a storyteller as Christy Moore or Brian MacNeill, and certainly better than many of the faux (or perhaps just foul) Celtic storytellers, with their fake brogues, assumed backgrounds, and mangled tales.
Mick Bolger has written both of the tales on this recording — one traditional and very Irish, one more general in nature befittin’ folk tales everywhere — and also performs as the seanachie (Irish for storyteller), while the band provides the music on reels, airs and hornpipes. The first tale is the more charming of the two, as anything involving pookas and fiddlers can be. Mick tells how it came to be on the Colcannon Web site:
We hope you like these stories. They are based, very loosely, on folktales I heard as a child. When we were asked to do a special family concert for the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival in 2004, I wrote the words of “The Pooka and the Fiddler.” Just as Seán Séamuisín’s fiddle tunes seemed to play themselves, so the story seemed to appear on the page as if it were dictated to me. There followed a period of wonderful fun and cooperation within the band, with all kinds of ideas and suggestions bouncing back and forth — a spree of creativity. Later on, when we had the opportunity to record “The Pooka,” I wrote another story (“Happy as Larry”) to complement it. Again, there was that wonderful surge of play and exploration, with band members contributing original tunes that, we all agreed, were perfect for the story. Not only that but they seemed to go especially well on the instruments that we consider our “other” instruments.
Go here to hear a short sample from it. It’s best appreciated on an iPod with the lights down low and a wee dram of whisky for the adults listening, and perhaps cocoa for the bairns. Ahhh, you’ve heard it now? Good. Indeed it is the tale of Séan Séamuisín, a lazy, good-for-nothing fiddler, and his meeting late one night with a magical pooka in the form of a billy goat gruff, who apparently transforms his life. Or does he? Listen to the full tale to see what really happened that night when a pooka met another foolish mortal. Mick’s right in saying that the story of Larry, who knows the meaning of true happiness, complements the first tale. (Go this way for a sample of that tasty treat.) I’d say that the CD would make a perfect gift this Winter Holiday season for adults and children alike.
Now, shall we go to the Pub to see what the Neverending Session’s up to this evening? I hear that Mick himself might be here now playing with the Session and telling tales. If he is, I’ll spot him a Guinness for this excellent recording!