CD Launch: Waifs and Strays
Michael Hynes & Denis Liddy (Tig Na Celtic 2003)
Ballyline Folk Club, Crusheen, Co. Clare, Ireland (May 31, 2003)

The Ballyline folk club resides in the large, comfortable back room of the Ballyline Bar, which lies on the Gort Road, just outside Crusheen in Co. Clare, Ireland. As aficionados of Irish music will well know, Clare is a major centre for the tradition, being the home county of many legendary Irish musicians — and, of course, the Kilfenora Céilí band.

The club - which hosts performances by many great Irish musicians, including John Carty, Jackie Daly and Frankie Gavin — is the brainchild of local music teacher and highly regarded fiddler Denis Liddy. He is part of large family of traditional musicians — his father Dan was prominent in Comhaltas circles for many years. The Liddy family group, The Shannonside Céilí Band, was formed in 1985 and still plays today. Denis formed the exciting 'Barefield Céilí Band' from pupils at his school. They have been winning many "All Ireland" awards since 1998, and will be wowing the crowds at Irish Fest in Milwaukee in August 2003. Talking to members of the club, including stalwart members of the Kilfenora Céilí Band from 50 years ago, you soon get the impression that Denis is widely credited for keeping the Old Tradition alive in the young people of this part of Co. Clare.

Michael Hynes is a flute and whistle player from Smithstown in Kilshanny. His grandfather and father were both noted flute and whistle players, respectively. His uncle, Gus, was also a very well known concert flute player. In his youth, Michael travelled to Doolin, the traditional music capital of Ireland, where he was exposed to many exceptional Irish musicians, including Micho and Gussy Russell, and also heard musicians from other parts of the country playing in sessions there. These names included Matt Molloy, Tommy Peoples, Seamus Tansey and many others. Michael emigrated to London in the 1970s but didn't lose his contact with the music. He returned to Clare ten years later and now lives near Lisdoonvarna.

Denis and Michael first met when Michael was asked to replace another musician at a gig in Lahinch. Michael was so impressed with Denis' approach to the music and respect for the tradition that they have since played everywhere from Shannon to Shanghia (some people have all the luck!). The resulting CD is a natural evolution of their first meeting. They regard it as statement of their joint approach to the music and a 'thank you' to the people who have helped them along the way.

On the CD, as on the launch night, Michael and Denis were accompanied by Rob Sharer on guitar. Rob is an American musician who now lives part-time in Clare, and is a regular at sessions in and around Doolin. He is a highly talented finger style and rhythm guitarist -- and also has a fine singing voice.

The launch "gig" was due to start at 8:00 p.m. At 7:50 p.m. the back room was virtually deserted, except for the musicians and sound engineers. I was beginning to worry that the boys would be playing to a very select audience. In fact, my companion and I felt safe in leaving our seats to go into the bar and have a light meal (the seafood chowder is highly recommended!). When we returned to our comfy sofa seats, the audience was still conspicuous by its absence. At 8:20 p.m., though, people started to flood in, and by the time the trio began playing, most of the seats were full and the bar was two or three bodies deep. Within another 15 minutes, the place was "mobbed" (as they say here) with an extremely appreciative (if sometimes a little noisy) throng.

Michael, Denis and Rob treated us to two sessions of highly enjoyable and extremely skilful playing, much of it from the new CD. The album title (and the title of the first track) were inspired by Captain Francis O'Neill's collection Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody. The CD includes some original compositions by Michael and a wide range of melodies, reels, jigs, hornpipes and (among my favourites on this CD) a delightful selection of waltzes. There is also an appearance by the "Roscommon Elephant." At the launch, Denis had set a competition (with a free CD as a prize) to see if anyone knew just what this creature was. Michael later produced it and played perfectly. It's a large brown and white whistle!

During the night the trio played a number of "sets" and the dance floor became packed with dancers. We were mesmerized by the display from many talented people, who thoroughly enjoyed themselves while giving the "blows ins" (like me) a display to remember for a long time to come! There were also poetry readings and music from an array of musicians who came simply as friends of Michael and Denis.

This was a relaxed, friendly evening -- even for the blow ins -- and the music was superb! The CD deserves to do extremely well and the Ballyline folk club should be on anyone's 'to do' list when next in Clare!

[Steve Power]

You can find out more about Michael Hynes and Denis Liddy and their new album at their Web site.