The word ‘legend’ gets chucked around with wild abandon these days but no other word seems fit to accompany an article on a band that truly were ground breaking and have gone onto have an everlasting effect on Irish music. Put together by Planxty themselves this is the ultimate retrospective of their music coming, as it does, with a DVD featuring over two hours of previously unreleased performances.
Forty five years after Planxty formed back in January 1972 comes Between The Jigs And The Reels – A Retrospective. The band was made up of Christy Moore (vocals, acoustic guitar, bodhrán), Andy Irvine (vocals, mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, hurdy-gurdy, harmonica), Dónal Lunny (bouzouki, guitars, bodhrán, keyboards) and Liam O’Flynn (uilleann pipes, tin whistle). They released six studio albums starting with Planxty in 1973 and following with The Well Below the Valley (1973), Cold Blow and the Rainy Night (1974), After the Break (1979), The Woman I Loved So Well (1980) and finally Words And Music in 1983. At the time of that debut album their music was quite simply revolutionary and they popularized Irish folk music like no other band from that era.
Back in 1972 Christy Moore who was already a star in both the Irish and British folk scene’s had begun work on his second album and grouped around him some of the best musicians Ireland had to offer. His old friend from school in Newbridge, County Kildare, Dónal Lunny was a gifted multi-instrumentalist who had taught Moore how to play both guitar and bodhrán while the London born Andy Irvine of late-60’s Irish folk group Sweeney’s Men was a prominent figure on the Dublin trad scene and who co-ran a folk club with Lunny. Finally came Liam O’Flynn a true master of the uileann pipes. This group gelled instantly and with Christy Moore returned from England Planxty were born. With their bedraggled hair and bohemian image their music they literally took Ireland by storm. For the first time uileann pipes were accompanied by guitar, mandolin and bouzouki while Christy and Andy were possibly the finest singers of their generation. Although labelled Jigs And Reels the scope of the songs on this album is simply breathtaking from stirring tunes of war to gentle balllads and haunting airs. Planxty didn’t just play they also collected these songs saving many from obscurity or even death. Their music bridged the gap between the developing rock music scene in Ireland and the new wave of folk music musician.
There are seventeen songs here and it all begins with the tragic love story of an Irish emigrant to New Mexico ‘True Love Knows No Season’ and Liam O’Fynn’s beautiful piping is sure to send a shiver down the spine of listeners. Andy Irvine belts out the glorious ‘Pat Reilly’ followed by the instrumental ‘Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór’ while Christy returns to the fore to do ‘Follow Me Up To Carlow’ a song that tells of the battles of the Gaels of Ireland fighting the English oppressors in the war that began hundreds of years ago.
‘Băneasă’s Green Glade / Mominsko Horo’ takes us back to Andy’s time living in Bucharest in the 1960’s swiftly followed by the instrumental ‘The Aconry Lasses / The Old Wheels Of The World / The Spike Island Lasses’ and then by ‘The Pursuit Of Farmer Michael Hayes’ as arranged by Christy Moore who still contends that their are several verses missing that he puts down to
“the realisation that it was opening time”
On ‘Accidentals / Aragon Mill’ the heartbreaking main song is preceded by a short acoustic guitar piece that he is joined together by Liam’s piping with ‘Aragon Mill’ which Andy learnt from the North Carolina singer songwriter Si Kahn.
“But there’s no smoke at all
Coming out of the stack
For the mill has closed down
And it’s not coming back”
In Si’s neck of the woods, cotton has always been of paramount importance and closing of a mill brings with it, not only unemployment, but also the end of a way of life, whether it be a cotton mill in North Carolina, Lancashire or Belfast.
“But the only tune I hear
Is the sound of the wind
As it blows through the town
Weave and spin, weave and spin”
‘The Irish Marche’ is an English composition from the 16th century written by William Byrd while ‘The Rambling Siúler’ is from the early-19th century and tells the odd tale of an Irish colonel and the lengths he will go to win fair maid. Having heard a version of ‘The Well Below The Valley’ where Christy is only accompanied on bodhrán it was nice to hear a full band version of this beautiful song. Planxty are back in full on jaunty mood next with another instrumental ‘Junior Crehan’s Favourite / Corney Is Coming’ before Andy sings ‘Roger O’Hehir’, the story of an not very good petty criminal whose career leads to the gallows. Now for that Balkan tune that seems to have ruffled a few reviewers feathers with ‘Smeceno Horo’ Not knowing much about this I’ll just leave the video up for you to decide.
With the album nearing the end perhaps three of the widest heard and better known songs finish the album starting with the stunning Andy Irvine composition ‘The West Coast Of Clare’.
“Sorrow and sadness, bitterness, grief
Memories I have of you, won’t leave me in peace
My mind is running back, to the west coast of Clare
Thinking of you, the times we had there”
The sensitive and definitive version of ‘Nancy Spain’ keeps the momentum building and has since been made famous by Christy during his solo career. Written by Barney Rush who also wrote ‘The Crack was Ninety in the Isle of Man’, which Christy has also recorded. Sadly Barney passed away back in 2014 and this wonderful song brings us up nicely to the album’s end and ‘Timedance’. Commissioned back in 1981 for the Eurovision song contest back when it was big news and back when Ireland use to win it every year! This was, in many ways, a precursor to Riverdance and was for millions around the Europe the first time they had ever heard authentic traditional Irish music and can be said to have had a lasting effect on Irish music’s popularity.
Planxty Re-Union Show, Live at Vicar Street, Dublin. February 2004
Compiled and chosen by the band themselves they could literally not squeeze another minute onto the CD with it clocking in at seventy-nine minutes. The CD comes with a bonus DVD of previously unreleased performances from the RTÉ (Irish Televison) archives that lasts over two hours. The care and attention that has gone into this release is breath taking with an absolute goldmine of recordings, TV appearances and live sets that does the band the justice they deserve. Planxty ruffled a few ‘trad snobs’ feathers when they were around the first time and some of the modern day era trad snobs may find the inclusion of harmonies, compositions, English songs and Balkan tunes somewhat odd but for me it only adds to what is one of the best traditional album’s I ever heard. Planxty were one of the major reasons for the revitalisation of Irish music that led eventually to the development of celtic-rock and then celtic-punk so do yourself a favour and check out this album and find out where we came from.
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