The latest compilation release from Tara Music (formerly known as Tara Records) is Masters of Their Craft, any folk music release with the word ‘Masters’ in is normally a sign that what lies within is something a bit special, a cut above the rest. This is the cream of the crop from a label named after the Hill of Tara which according to tradition, was the seat of the High King of Ireland and was once thought to contain the Ark of the Covenant. Whilst that may sound very grand, the origins of Tara Records are a lot more humble which makes their musical legacy all the more historic and ground-breaking.
Jack Fitzgerald ran a record shop in Dublin called Tara Records whose customers were desperate to get hold albums being recorded by Bill Leader at the time. So in 1972 Jack set up Tara Records to license the release of a landmark album: Christy Moore‘s Prosperous Album.
Bill Leader came to Ireland in 1970 armed with his Revox tape recorder, he ended up in Properous in County Kildare where he went about recording Christy Moore’s second album. Christy was joined by musicians Andy Irvine (mandolin, mouth organ), Liam Óg O’Flynn (uilleann pipes, tin whistle), and Donal Lunny (guitar, bouzouki). These men were about to change the very future of Irish Traditional Music…they later went by the name of Planxty. As Christy describes the moment in his autobiography ‘One Voice':
“It was a magical time. The music was fresh and it sparkled. Every day brought new fun as we rollicked around Pat Dowling’s pub and then up Rynne’s cellar to lay down another track.” He later added “When I think of all the recordings that have been done since, none has ever acheived the same feelings of fun and crack. There has been lots of good music created and played, but seldom have we laughed so much”
With only a handful of releases under the label belt by 1980 things were soon took off under the management of John Cook and the label went on to become, what to many is, the leading traditional Irish music label. From those early days Masters of Their Craft features tracks from Christy Moore’s Live in Dublin (1978) and Planxty’s After the Break (1979). The choice of Planxty’s Smeceno Horo highlights the groundbreaking sound of Planxty which was influenced by Andy Irvine’s fascination with Bulgarian folk music, a love he found whilst hitch-hiking in the sixties through the Balkans. Combining this with Irish Tradional music was better than rock n’ roll and still sounds as strong and fresh today as it did then.
The theme of boundary pushing is the focus of the album which opens to Moving Hearts title track from ‘The Storm’ (1985), founded in 1981 by Dónal Lunny (bouzouki) and Christy Moore (vocals and bodhrán) they blended traditional with a very modern sound which again pushed traditional Irish music to a more contemporary level.
The inclusion of Rita Connolly led me on a hunt for more music, she has a striking voice and has worked extensively with husband and composer Shaun Davey whose album May We Never Have To Say Goodbye also features…I’ll be honest, this didn’t feel ground breaking, its inclusion was maybe prompted by the fact that is was composed for the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics in Ireland in 2003 and was ground-breaking in that sense…it was no small deal but not in the same sense as the other music featured. I would have chosen the beautiful Brendan Voyage or the very moving Béal Tuinne album opening Cuairteóir. Béal Tuinne was an album that never really got the attention it deserved and this could have been an opportunity for Tara to push it out there. It was a magical album recorded live in St. James Church, Dingle and one that speaks louder to me personally, the songs featured were the poems of Caoimhín Ó Cinnéide, a school teacher. I highly recommend it and make sure you read the story behind it before you listen.
Also featuring prominently are Stockton’s Wing which includes their first big hit Beautiful Affair and The Rossclogher Jigs. Clannad could hardly be missed and two tracks feature from their sixth album Fuaim (1982), a lovely album and a lot less commercial sounding than their modern offerings which found fame in film soundtracks: Mhórag’s Na Horo Gheallaidh is a beautiful track and this was the last Clannad album to feature younger sister Eithne Ní Bhraonáin who later went on to become known as Enya.
Davy Spillane and Liam O’Flynn, two masterful uilleann pipers make their mark with Liam’s The Piper’s Call featuring guest artists Mark Knopfler and Carlos Nunez, the latter offering the stronger track choice with Muiñeira de Poio / Muiñeira de Ourense. Davy’s offerings are from Atlantic Bridge (1988) which is a great album feat Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas, a transatlantic fusion that still thrives well today. There is a singular offering from Nollaig Casey and Arty McGlynn from their Causeway album (1995) which goes all out electric, a time of experimentation that got me thinking how many of the tracks featured have really stood the test of time.
The album is well rounded in selections and some speak louder than others but this is, as always, dependent on the listener. It does offer diversity and you do feel the stretch of time…some have greater longevity than others but for me Planxty still are the most ground-breaking traditional Irish band and their music spoke loud and clear on this album as did Christy Moore’s early live album. But I also know for a fact there will be those who find this album a nostalgic trip down memory lane so go on and enjoy it!
Also go and check out Tara Music’s back catalogue, it’s full of treasures!
I can’t think of a better excuse to show this old documentary on Planxty, not that I’m biased at all: