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Mary McPartlan RIP: 'her loss is huge'

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Mary McPartlan, in the middle of the photo, flanked by Gerry Driver and Lisa Knapp*

As the years pass, we get accustomed to hearing unwelcome news about contemporaries while also, and especially in these sad times, wondering about our own mortality.

That familiarity with death does not make it any easier to learn of the passing of those you valued, whether or not you actually knew them that well, or at all.

I never met the Irish singer, producer and broadcaster Mary McPartlan, who has died from cancer at 65. But her music made a significant impression on me and it was with great sadness that I saw this Facebook post from my confrere Colin Irwin ...

Devastated by the awful news that Mary McPartlan passed away today. One of Ireland's greatest singers and a wonderful friend - she was warm, generous, kindly and funny, with a natural instinct for unearthing the inner heart of a song, whatever its origin.

Her version of Shane MacGowan's Rainy Night In Soho is never far from the turntable. We conceived our stage show about the life of Margaret Barry together and she was a driving force behind it and sang beautifully as always when we first performed it at Celtic Connections in Glasgow.

When she became ill with cancer she was heartbroken to have to pull out at the last minute of our next performance at Sidmouth Festival (her place taken at the 11th hour by Cathy Jordan). I am so pleased that despite the ongoing treatment she was able to rejoin the cast of She Moved Through The Fair one last time when we performed it in London a year ago. She was so determined to make it despite the tiredness and pain and, of course, she sang absolutely brilliantly.

She made some superb albums along the way - The Holland Handkerchief was my favourite - and her loss is huge. Heartfelt condolences to Paddy and the girls.

Typically eloquent words, Colin. And they reminded me of the review I wrote for The Daily Telegraph of the album you mention, The Holland Handkerchief:

The Daily Telegraph 7.06.04

Why would someone want her first CD to sound as if might have been issued 30 years ago? The answer in the case of Mary McPartlan is that her freshness as a recording artist is misleading.

If Peat Bog Soldiers is one of several examples of songs that recall the smoky, beery folk clubs of the 1970s, it is worth remembering that McPartlan was, by then, already singing in public.

During her career as a music producer, and despite the fact that she never got round to making a record of her own, McPartlan's robust and supremely expressive voice was no secret to those in the know.

Her overdue debut, The Holland Handkerchief, is instantly enjoyable. McPartlan's singing is mature and assured and the respect she commands among Irish musicians is clear from the presence of session men of the calibre of Mairtin O'Connor and Shamie O'Dowd.

While it may be a little late to suggest the dawning of a bright new career, McPartlan can feel she has delivered the album that was always in her, without ever resembling an old pro going through the paces. Colin Randall

Rest peacefully, Mary, and warm condolences to your family.

* Be patient until you can "skip ads". This is the track I mentioned in that 16-year old review. It is sublime ...

* Colin Irwin adds: the photograph is a still taken from the video we shot on a whim while rehearsing for She Moved Through The Fair at Gerry Diver's studio. It was taken on Gerry's phone I believe and the person filming it was Gillian Horgan, who played Margaret Barry in the show.

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