Coppers and Brass is nothing short of brilliant in the way it’s been painstakingly researched and put together. It’s an ethnographic documentary about Irish traditional music played by members of the Irish Travelling community and was directed by Tommy Fegan. Fegan’s passion for the the history of uilleann pipe playing is remarkable and even for the uninitiated this is a captivating documentary which is full of interviews with some rich and colourful characters. Through the interviews and supported archive footage Fegan has brought to life the stuff of legend and anecdote.
A name that continually crops up is the Doran family, especially Felix and, more so, his brother Johnny Doran – direct descendants of nineteenth-century Wexford piper John Cash. Johnny Doran’s style of playing is referred to by many of those interviewed and serves as a catalyst in explaining the traveller style of playing…one that makes abundant use of chanter technique to create colour, energy and ornamentation to the melody. In plain language it’s the stuff that gives it the kick and gets the crowd going.
Despite there only being one recording of Johnny Doran, made in 1947 by the Irish Folkore Commission, it took 39 years for them to be made public (a cassette released in the late ’80s). Seeing as those recordings are now a touchstone for many pipers it does raise questions around the reasons for the delay…a thought that is left with you rather than answered.
In tackling musical history Fegan also brings a great cultural insight, including the effects of the move in the late 1950’s to assimilate the Irish Travelling community by forcing them into fixed dwellings. He offers a unique contrast in perceptions by looking further back in time to their origins and lifestyle – as travelling musicians supplementing their income with whitesmithing and later with instrument making. They were respected and their annual visits were welcomed by many communities and musicians. There’s plenty of stories to back this up including one about Willie Clancy’s first encounter with Johnny Doran which led o him following Doran around West Clare for weeks. Doran’s playing had a big influence on Clancy even though he went on to develop a very unique personal style.
A highlight of the film has to be how well he covers the style of playing, something that’s done incredibly well – even the non-musician will appreciate it .
It’s a wonderful film and it deserves to be seen by many. I can’t sing Fegan’s praises enough in making this film and all those that helped make it happen. More power to your elbow!
Director: Tommy Fegan
Camera: Aisling Crudden / Eamonn Crudden
Research: Tommy Fegan
Offline Edit: Tommy Fegan / Eamonn Crudden / Arnaud Rigaud
Online Edit: Joske Slabbers
Sound Mix: Eamonn Crudden / Joske Slabbers
Project Supervision: Eamonn Crudden / Helen Lawlor