Sounds of silence
Boys, bylines and missing fivers (1)

Cora Smyth's efficacious prescription


Cora Smyth
Are We There Yet? (Claddagh)

You can just imagine the conversation in the Smyth family household, say 15 years ago.

The two sisters, Cora and Breda, are spending altogether too much time practising on their fiddles and whistles, not enough on their biology homework.

"But all we want to do is play music," the girls chorus, only for their parents, for all their own love of traditional Irish sounds, to retort: "Music's all very well, but it's not going to put bread on the table. You have to get some real qualifications behind you, and proper jobs."

If any exchanges of the sort ever happened, it would explain why the sisters went on to qualify in medicine. But it certainly didn't stop them making music. Girls being better at multi-functioning than boys, I'd wager that they simply took it all in their stride.

And Cora Smyth's new album Are We There Yet? gives cause for celebration that however conscientiously she followed her studies, the music was never sidelined.

Not another Irish fiddle album, I hear some saying. And if I am to be honest, the thought occurred to me, too.
But I am delighted to report that this one has quality and spark in such abundance that Irish fiddle album is a pretty inadequate description.

Produced by Smyth's husband Sean Horsman, it has all sorts of influences - "from blues, funk, Dixieland, gypsy jazz and Latin via Manchester and Co Mayo," it says on the tin - and just about everything you'd want in an instrumental set: virtuosity, changes of pace and mood, innovation and fun.

There is an occasional lapse into easy listening muzak, but I instantly forgive her this blemish each time I come across the lilting beauty of Banyuls.

And the rest is so good in any case that after 10 years of touring with the Michael Flatley and his shows, Smyth has established herself, with one solo(ish) record, as a force in Irish music. She has also performed a service she is unlikely to have envisaged.

My involvement in a newspaper launch in the Middle East has seen me extending a typical 12-hour day to more like 16 hours, more if you add the task of maintaining some semblance of continuity on the websites. (Where, I have been wondering, is that 35-hour French working week when you need it?)

Abu Dhabi is not Dubai, but its traffic can be thick and tedious to get through, and each set of traffic lights on my route seems to have been set permanently at red, with four seconds of green every few minutes.

I therefore choose my music carefully, and listen to it on each journey for some days on the trot.

Graham and Eileen Pratt, as I may have mentioned, proved an ideal tranqilliser for a while For the past couple of weeks, it has been Cora Smyth's turn. And whether or not her medical training had anything to do with it, she has been administering an effective antidote for these combined sources of stress.


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