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August 2020

Instruments of pleasure: (5) Natalie MacMaster and the magic of Cape Breton

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I knew what I was looking for and I knew it would be a devil of a job to find it. Why? Because I couldn't remember quite enough to aid the search.
 
Natalie MacMaster is a superb fiddler from Cape Breton, part of the Nova Scotia province of Canada. It would be an exaggeration to say no one from Cape Breton is not a superb fiddler, but it's a part of the world blessed with a great and living musical tradition. There is no shortage of accomplished practitioners, as I found when there for the Celtic Colours festival in 1998.  Her husband Donnell Leahy, the father of their seven children, is a also a renowned fiddler and plenty of promise can be seen among the MacMaster-Leahy kids. 
 
But where was this track I needed to accompany the latest instalment of my series on folk and folk-related instrumentals? Was it one of her own albums or a Cape Breton compilation?
 

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The ultimate Cover Story: Kate Rusby's hand-me-downs

 

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Kate and band on home ground, Barnsley 2018. Image: Jonas Soderstrom

 

 

I was not sure whether to make this the 44th instalment of Salut! Live's Cover Story series comparing and contrasting different versions of the same pieces of music. I shall have it both ways, listing my appraisal of Kate Rusby's new album Hand me Down in two categories, Cover Story and Reviews ...

 

Much has changed in the world, including that part of the world occupied by folk music, since I first came across Kate Rusby when she was young and I was, well, not truly old.

That was the 1990s. Kate, with Kathryn Roberts*, was a breath of fresh air in folk, their Barnsley accents enhancing the songs they sang and making them sound traditional even if they were contemporary. 

Kate enjoyed saying how pleased she was that not everyone liked folk. The marginal nature of this  musical genre seemed to her to make it all the more precious, something to be sought after as if a rare diamond.

Over the years since then, she has produced some jewels of her own, a string of outstanding albums showcasing her enchantingly gentle and sometimes mournful voice, sublime live performances bringing warmth and joy to concert halls and other venues of widely varying size.

And her musical interests have developed significantly along the way. The 'knocking down castles" songs that once seemed, on her own account, to define her have been joined by captivating songs of her own composition and an enthusiasm for dipping into the work of others.

Covering classics can be a risky strategy for any performer but the overwhelmingly positive response to her interpretations, for example, of Sandy Denny's Who Knows Where The Times Goes? and Iris DeMent's Our Town served to vindicate the broadening of the Rusby repertoire.

Hand Me Down is the entirely logical consequence of that evolution, a triumphant collection of hits associated with Coldplay, the Bangles, the Kinks, Lyle Lovett, Taylor Swift, Cyndi Lauper, James Taylor, Paul Young, the Cure and Bob Marley plus two pieces culled from TV series soundtracks.

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Instruments of pleasure: (4) The Lark by Moving Hearts. Too hard an act for Clannad to follow

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Buy the album at Salut! Live's Amazon link: just click here

Was it The Storm before a becalmed Clannad?

It must have been Dec 1 or 2 1989 at the Hammersmith Apollo. Someone called Ray has written "most boring show for ages". On the strength of the first part of the gig I'd find it hard to disagree. I wasn't there afterwards.

But as we took our seats, the pulsating rhythms of Moving Hearts filled the concert hall. They were playing their album The Storm on the PA system. I have no recollection of Mary Kelley, the support artist, but do recall my horror at what had become of Clannad, a brilliant but already inventive traditional band metamorphosed as a gooey melange of dry ice and mystic but aimless sounds.

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Instruments of pleasure: (3) Leo Kottke and All I Have To Do Is Dream

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Image: Anthony Pepitone

For part three of my little series on folk and folk-related instrumentals, I have chosen a recommendation from a friend that is neither folk nor folk-related ...

From about mid-teens, my best friend and occasional protector was Len.

He was confident, worldly wise and tough in ways that I was not. When trips to the North East were rather more regular than now, we'd call in and see Len and Sue at their home in Newton Aycliffe.

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Instruments of pleasure: (2) O'Carolan's air, Lady Dillon, by Maire Ni Chathasaigh and Chris Newman

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First I offer thanks to those who have suggested, here or on social media, possible inclusions in my new series on folk and folk-related instrumentals.

For the second instalment, I turn to the substantial body of work attributed to the blind Irish harper and composer Turlough O'Carolan, who lived from 1670 to 1738 and wrote more than 200 airs (and some songs), many of the instrumental pieces played regularly to this day. 

I have lost count of the O'Carolan tunes I have enjoyed and could easily slot into the series. But the best of all, to my ears, is Lady Dillon,  a sublime slice of what I would call baroque and probably be wrong in doing so.

An authoritative music site, The Session, describes it is as a reel, also knows as Miss Dillon and Jigg, and quotes the O'Carolan scholar Donald O"Sullivan as identifying the subject of the tine as "either Bridget, wife of Lord Richard, 9th Viscount Dillon, or, more probably, their daughter Frances".

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Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman: a ghostly lockdown treat

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SEE ALSO:

* Cara Dillon - the big interview

** Potted Cara: quickfire questions, sharp answers

*** Apologies for the earlier absence of the video of the concert. Now rectified

 

When it comes to the Irish singer Cara Dillon and her husband Sam Lakeman, I have interests to declare.

Sam is the middle of three sons of Geoff Lakeman, a good friend, fine reporter and talented musician I have known since meeting him and his wife, Joy, at the Herga folk club in Wealdstone, north-west London all of 47 years ago.

I have met, lunched with and interviewed Cara and Sam and found them lively and engaging company. And I have great respect and affection for their music, as I do for the efforts of Sam's gifted siblings Seth and Sean (not to mention Sean's wife Kathryn Roberts).

Like all in the performing arts, they have been hit hard by the impact of Covid-19 and what Odhran Mullan, the creative director for a special event involving the couple. rightly calls the "horrible vacuum of live music" it has inflicted.

To compensate a little for careers on hold, Cara and Sam hired Cooper Hall, a venue within the grounds of Selwood Manor not far from their own home in Frome, Somerset to recreate the concert experience with expert staging, sound and lighting. But, sadly, with no audience.

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