In part because of his being outspoken about traditional music and so-called innovation, MacMahon has become quite an icon whose role as a spokesperson may have overshadowed his abilities as a musician. This excellent CD, MacMahon's second solo album only, should go a long way to help remind people of the latter. A retrospective in some ways, the album combines newly recorded tracks with archival recordings, like the duet with Joe Cooley recorded just before his death in 1972.
An Buachaillín Bán (My Dear Irish Boy) — Recorded at Boston College Gaelic Roots Festival 1999
I can see him as I play this air, Séamus Ennis sitting on the side of his bed in a flat in Bleeker Street, New York in the July heat of 1964. 'Stop there,' he'd say as he guided me in the playing of slow airs. 'Put the shiver into it now — think of the poem as you play.' He made me learn the words before playing a note — and he also let you know whether or not he was pleased! There will never be another like you, Séamus …
Toss The Feathers — w/Séamus Connolly
It was Good Friday 2000 at the Blarney Star in Manhattan when Séamus bent over the fiddle, just as he did in Killaloe of a Sunday morning many years ago. We played Toss the Feathers in two versions, as we had remembered them from Joe Cooley. Falling into a rhythm of shared comfort, we played until the music became a reverie of pleasure.
Port Na Bpúcaí (Music Of The Ghosts) — Recorded at Boston College Gaelic Roots Festival, 1999
"The fairies, they say, are not immortal; they, too, know death — and the music that went over the house on the island of Inis Mhic Uileain that night was a lament for one of the fairy host that had died … " Robin Flower (writing about this ghostly air in 1946)
The Battle of Aughrim — w/Barney McKenna
There was a great night's music on May 23rd 2000 at a certain house in the Liberties of Dublin. While Barney & I played, Klaus Biegert poured the wine and Peter Gordon lay on the floor behind a recording machine the size of a wheel-barrow. We had played this old march on The Green Linnet television series 22 years earlier and we just wanted to see if it would come back to us again! Over to you, listener!
Poll Halfpenny, Mrs Galvin's Favourite & The College Groves — w/John Beag Ó Flathartha Joining
I regard the music of Ellen Galvin from Moyasta, County Clare as the most inspirational I have ever heard. No one has a name for thing fling which she always played, but I can still see her crouched over the fiddle in Ennis in 1956. She died in 1961, bringing a mountain of music to the grave with her.
Caoineadh Eoghan Rua (Lament for Eoghan Rua O'Neill) — Thanking Brendan Mulkere of Clare for playing this soulful air for me of a dull night in London many years ago, banishing depression. I hear it again when I think of our great Ulster chieftain, the victor of Benburb, who died in November 1649 — only months before the arrival of Cromwell …
The Rolling Wave (An Tonn Reatha) — Though this tune has been called a slip-jig, its structure falls strictly within the realms of a double jig. Important to note, however, that because of its unusual phrasing, this certainly a more complex tune than the usual double jig.
The College Groves & The Floggin' Reel — w/James Kelly
James and I had a drink in Portland, Oregon one night in May 1985 and we decided we'd make a record together. Off we went to a dreary hall next day and played for an hour. We got fed up, packed up, went for a drink — and never mentioned the record again! Just goes to show that you should always be sober when making great plans!
Marcshlua Uí Néill — I remember Peadar Mercier, how he took up the humble goatskin drum and leaned over it in a posture of musical repose. He played, the shadow of a smile hovering around the moustache, beatific, as always, in the love of music. Never since his death have I heard wiser words, nor had a rebuke delivered with such elegant indulgence! We recorded this selection in the company of Riobard Mac Góráin for RTÉ of a winter's morning in 1972. The light of heaven to your soul, dear Peadar.
The Limerick Lassies — w/Joe Cooley
Finality hung in the air on 23rd November 1972 as we crowded into Lahiffe's Bar in Peterswell, Co. Galway. We all sensed that Cooley was leaving us. We played these tunes towards the end of the night. It was an honour and a sadness to play with the master …
Maro E Mar Maistress (My Love She is No More) — Memories of my first visit to Brittany in 1973 — all those stirring marches from the Bagad Belimor, the elegant Breton dances, the fish and tawney Muscadet at night in le Port de Peche and the airy conversations with Soazig — the way she had of looking into the far distance with eyes of lightest blue …
Garret Barry's Jig & The Gander In The Pratie Hole — The accordion played here belonged to Joe Cooley from 1949 to 1954. Tommy Potts had often played these tunes at my home in Clare & I recorded them in London for Bill Leader & Reg Hall in April 1967 for Paddy in the Smoke. Being young and airy at the time, I went out, bought a tent and travelled France, Spain, & North Africa with my brother Dermot. We played Irish airs for coppers on the streets of unknown cities and lived like kings! Who said that youth was wasted on the young?
The Siege of Guingcamp — w/Barney McKenna
Polig Monjarret stood like a medieval Breton chieftain as we stepped off the plane in Lorient. It was August 1972 and the Bagad Bleimor poured this thrilling march over hot asphalt and burnt kerosene. Never did a wall of such wonderful music fall on me, never was I so welcomed and never again did I make such friends: Cuff … Patrick Sicard … Dominique le Bouchier … Patrick Molard, Alan Cloatre … et Jean-Luc — adieu mon frère …
Amhrán Na Leabhar — Mourning the loss at sea, off Derrymore Co. Kerry in or about 1840, of a collection of manuscripts and books in the Irish language. The tragedy was witnessed by the poet Tomás Rua Ó Súilleabháin from the vantage point of Cúm a' Chiste. The books belonged to him and his grief is immortalised in this air.
Apples In Winter & The Carraroe Jig — w/Séamus Connolly
Learned by both of us from the soulful music of Joe Cooley.
The Garden of Daisies — An umbrella of dark memory hung over this tune for me until one night at the Club Chonradh na Gaeilge in Dublin: Peadar Ó Riada took the accordion from me and played it several times over, redeeming & revealing its lyrical beauty. Prejudice banished, I now play it as often as I can!
The Haughs Of Cromdale — w/Barney McKenna, John Sheahan & Liam Ó Maonlaí
There were fine times that night in the Liberties, viciously hot lamb-curry fornicating with the grape in the gut! Electric light was not permitted, so Áine Ní Chuaig lit an oil-lamp brought by piper McKiernan from the village of Carna. We muttered praise to each other as we played this old march — how good it was to have Barney back with us, just out of hospital — glorying in a shared music of abandon!