Come To an Irish Dance Party
Laichtín Naofa Céilí BAnd
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€18.25 incl delivery Worldwide
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List of Tracks:
1 Reels: Sally Gardens, Bag of Spuds, Bird on the Tree
2 Reels: Earl's Chair, Tim Maloney, Copperplate
3 Reels: Mulcairn's, Ewe Reel, Silver Spear
4 Reels: Lucy Campbell, Jolly Tinker.
5 Jigs: Maid on the Green, Lark in the Morning
6 Hornpipes: Cronin's Hornpipe, Murphy's
7 Jigs: Wandering Minstrel, Battering Ram
8 Jigs: Brian O'Lynn, Carraroe, Cook in the Kitchen
9 Jigs: Frieze Breeches
10 Reels: First House in Connaught, Donegal Reel, Boyne Hunt
11 Reels: Sligo Maid, Down the Broom, Green Groves of Erin
12 Marches: Sean South, A Nation Once Again, O'Donnell Abu
Extract from Sleeve Notes:
Laichtín Naofa Céilí Band: Bridging the Gap.Although ensemble playing has long been a feature of Irish dance music, the organisation of traditional musicians into formal bands dates only from the 1920s, prompted largely by the emergence of the public dance hall. In the 1930s, the newly emerging mass media provided another outlet for ensemble music and céilí bands such as the Ballinakill, Moate, Siamsa Gaedheal, Aughrim Slopes, Kincora andTara were to become household names. Perhaps their success prompted the formation of the Milford House Céilí Band in Miltown Malbay around 1937. The Band consisted mainly of members of the O'Loughlin family: Pat (Largie) on fiddle, Charlie on 2-row accordion and Frank on the concert flute; Ned McCormack of Liscannor played 3-row accordion and Willie Fox played accordion and concertina. John Meade of Milford was the drummer, while Paddy Casey of Spanish Point provided vocals.
The 1940s saw the demise of the Milford House and was, generally, a lean time for Irish music. Fiddle player Junior Crehan commented: `Death had already claimed its share of many musicians... and emigration was drawing off many of the younger promising players... All in all, it was lonely for anyone interested in the music and all that it meant'.
The launch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCE) in 1951, and the subsequent Fleadh Cheoil in Monaghan Town in 1952, gave an enormous boost to Irish music, particularly in rural areas. The founding of CCE's Clare County Board in April 1954 prompted the launch of local branches, including one in Miltown Malbay. Prominent early members were local musicians Martin Talty, Paddy Malone and Paddy Joe McMahon, and two members of staff from the local technical school, Miss Angela Merry and principal Colm O'Connor. Angela recalls contacting local traditional players about opening a branch of CCE: `There was a very good response [and] I got permission to hold meetings in the Tec.. We had regular meetings and sessions in the Tec - helped by the piano I bought for £11. Our traditional concerts in the Hall were very successful'. One of the new branch's first acts was the formation of a céilí band. As the musicians were gathered from a number of parishes, it was named the Laichtín Naofa after the saint to whom the Blessed Well which sits astride the border of the Miltown and Mullagh parishes is dedicated.
The Band's first official outing was at the 1955 fleadh cheoil in Loughrea. Band members included J. C. Talty and Josie Hayes (flutes), Paddy Galvin, Junior Crehan, James Flynn and Christy Dixon (fiddles), Paddy Joe McMahon (accordion), Martin Talty (pipes), Colm O'Connor (piano), Angela Merry (bass fiddle) and Paddy Malone (drums). Over the years, many players came and went but these musicians were to provide the nucleus of the band for the best part of its life. Prominent additions included Willie Clancy and Michael Falsey, on their return from the UK in 1957, while over time, drumming duties passed from Paddy Malone to his . brother Martin and then to Aiden Vaughan.
In spite of the short preparation time, the Band tied for third place in Loughrea, scoring 90 points out of a possible 100. Bearing in mind that the competition included the Kilfenora, who were in the middle of a three-time winning streak and the Tulla, the members of the Laichtín Naofa could be well pleased with their performance. In the following years, the Band were regular competitors at county and provincial levels, generally being placed just behind the Tulla and the Kilfenora. Finally, in 1958, the Laichtín Naofa won the Munster championship - Angela Merry remembered the occasion well: `We arrived at the fleadh in Longford in great form. We were parked in the Square and went into the open Market House for a final rehearsal. I thought we played extremely well and I told the boys we could not be beaten. We proceeded to the Church St. Hall and did defeat Tulla and Kilfenora. I think it was the first defeat for Kilfenora and they were extremely annoyed!'
In 1959, the Band had probably its greatest success when it won the Oireachtas title in Dublin. For Junior Crehan, winning the Oireachtas was `as far as you could go in traditional music - the highest feather in your cap', while Michael Falsey commented that the people attending were all there for the music — `more enthusiasts then you'd get at a Fleadh Cheoil...'
Winning the Oireachtas meant that the band was asked to play at the Mansion House in Dublin for a grand céilí. The night's programme makes interesting reading and proves that the dancers needed a good deal of stamina to get through the evening, which started at 9 p.m. and didn't finish until 3 a.m. the next morning - fortunately, the Laichtin Naofa was only called upon to play between 11.45 and 3! In the event, it is hardly surprising that one page of the programme consists entirely of the arrangements for supper. The dances were all of the approved céilí type and included four and eight-hand reels, the Walls of Limerick, Stack of Barley, High Caul Cap, Humours of Bandon and Sweets of May. These were interspersed with breaks for songs, step dancing and piping solos.
After their successes at the Oireachtas and the Munster championship, the Band was invited to make a long-playing record for the New York-based Dublin Record Company. The record marks an important milestone in Irish musical history, as the first long-playing record of a céilí band to be recorded in Ireland. Colm O'Connor made meticulous preparations and his notes provide details of tune selections, keys and the proposed structure. Sadly, space determined that a number of selections could not be fitted into the LP format, including two sets of polkas. The thirteen players who made the recording were Willie Clancy, Martin Talty, Michael Falsey, J. C. Talty, Angela Merry, Colm O'Connor, Paddy Joe McMahon, Michael Sexton, Martin Malone, Junior Crehan, Christy Dixon, Paddy Galvin and special guest Jimmy Ward on banjo. As the company did not have a studio in Ireland, the recording was made in the Irish Club in Parnell Square, and engineered by Bill Stapleton.
Towards the end of the fifties, a céilí band for young musicians was formed. It was known as the Briseadh na Lice Céilí Band and Aiden Vaughan remembered travelling to the Crehan's house in Bonavella for band practices. The Band included Tony Crehan and Michael Sexton (accordion), Ita and Teresa Crehan (tin whistles) Margaret Hehir (fiddle), Angela Crehan (piano) and Aiden Vaughan (drums). In a relatively short career, the band won a couple of Clare championships before age caught up. Michael Sexton was already playing with the `senior band' and others members were to join him over the next few years.
From 1959, the Irish economy started to pick up and this had an affect on all aspects of life. An altogether new venue for music was emerging in the form of the lounge bar and the substantial investment required meant that owners needed new forms of entertainment to attract a substantially larger clientele. The 1960s had ushered in a rival to the céilí band in the form of the ballad group, prompted largely by the success of the Clancy Brothers, and these ensembles were ideal for the lounge bar. The nineteen-fifties had also seen the development of much larger commercial dance halls and, inevitably, playing in these larger venues predicated either a growth in size or the use of amplification for musical ensembles. For the céilí band, the first option was neither practical nor musically desirable, while the second was not a straightforward matter. Although it was difficult to balance the amplification of a céilí band, it was certainly no use trying to play in a hall without it, as the sound would only carry about ten yards in front of the band. However, the old amplifiers, with their assortment of valves, were notoriously unreliable, particularly after a lengthy journey in an old car over country roads.
The popularity of céilí bands in the nineteen-fifties had also seen the development of a new type of band alongside the community-based bands. These were generally the brainchild of a single musician and were structured to meet a wide variety of musical tastes - from céilí to pop. A good example of this type of band was the Ma/achy Sweeney Céilí Band. Although the band had a hard core of great traditional musicians - such as Brendan McGlinchey, Sean McGuire and Johnny Pickering - the self-styled `King of the Céilí' was happy to engage in all sorts of shenanigans to promote the band. But, while some of the community-based bands were happy to include instruments such as the saxophone in order to cater for modern dances, this was not the style of the Laichtín Naofa, who were more interested in playing jigs, reels and hornpipes than waltzes, quicksteps and jives. In reality, the raison d'étre for the Laichtín Naofa was to provide local musicians with opportunities to play and also to participate in traditional music competitions.
Members of the band have stressed that theLaichtín Naofa was very democratic in its organisation and, other than Colm O'Connor, who arranged its musical sets, the Band did not have an identifiable leader. It was also different in having quite a large number of musicians and Angela Merry maintained that CCE officials had
made negative comments about a `céilí orchestra'! However, there can be no doubting the talent contained within the Band, which included, at one time or another, most of the best musicians in West Clare.
As time progressed, many of the bands from the early nineteen-fifties were unable to maintain their core of locally based musicians and the Laichtín Naofa was no exception. Inevitably, emigration took its toll, although this effect gradually reduced through the late fifties and sixties. But, such was the dedication of its members that fiddle player Paddy Galvin used to travel home from England to play in the band! In other cases, musicians found that life in a céilí band simply took up too much of their time, particularly as many members were raising families and attempting the tricky task of balancing music making with their everyday responsibilities. Junior Crehan recalls this dilemma: `We went to Clonmel one time, it was the night before a fair in Miltown. I was just barely home in time to bring a cow to the fair! It was tough, it was a hard job... but, I enjoyed it!'
At that time, dances were held on Sunday nights, as people had to be in bed early on Saturdays to enable a prompt rise for mass the following morning. Inevitably, that put a lot of strain on those musicians who held regular jobs, such as Michael Falsey who was working for the ESB. The death of Colm O'Connor in the autumn of 1964 also had a big impact on the band, as many of its activities seemed to have revolved around Colm and his family. Generally, it is hard to plot the final demise of a céilí band - they rarely seem to go out with a bang but, instead, seem to simply fade away. This seems to have been the fate of the Laichtín Naofa, with musicians drifting away either into musical retirement or finding other outlets for their talents. The Band made its last appearance in an all-Ireland in 1963 and in a Clare county fleadh in 1964 in Scariff, while Aiden Vaughan remembers playing down in Cross or Kilbaha at the Christmas of that year.
How can we sum up the contribution of the Laichtín Naofa to the musical life of its locality? Perhaps its most important contribution was to give the musicians in this area an opportunity to play and to be appreciated after the wilderness years of the 1940s. Junior Crehan hit the nail on the head when he said:
'The Laichtín Naofa bridged the gap between the past and present by linking the musicians of today with the musicians of another era. In this way, it contributed to the preservation of traditional music and carried the influences of great music-masters to the new generation'. Barry Taylor
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, Cois na hAbhna, Ennis