The chances are you have become a McPeake record-owner because you are already caught in their spell. To those who have 'ceilidhe' with them, listening to their L.P. is to. in amongst them; the visual picture and the friendly feeling go with the sound. More than that, in their presence, you gain a new dimension in time. Yes, I think that is it, that is where you are caught. But how to explain this to somebody, How should we begin to describe them.
We find them, at twilight, this family of Celtic bards, gathered round the smouldering peats, with Uillien bagpipe and Minstrel Harp … Ouch! The Tourist Handbook angle, romantic home-weave stuff and yet funnily enougb not so far removed from the truth. At the turn of the century grand-dad McPeake became involved in this kind of mystic shroud of the romantic Celtic Revival. Chicago police-chief Captain O'Neill included a photograph of him in his survey of 'Irish Minstrels and Musicians' and it was O'Neill who fastened on him the description: 'Unique McPeake'.
Today, mother seldom sees them home in Belfast. They are either 'on the road' round the British Folk Clubs or they are 'on stage' at some big city Festival. Their most recent appearance being on a World Network TV Programme from a modem Architect's house in Boston, Mass.
When I was knocked sideways, by old Frank singing with the pipes in the nineteen-fifties. I little dreamed that his grandson would be continuing this music into the late sixties; a third generation, Francie giving it all the 'bla' and 'nya' with no less craftmanship and plenty of inherited rhythm and artistry. These McPeakes are of yesterday and today and certainly they will be of tomorrow as well.
Of course. there arc changes, families do this, but these are subtle developments within the confines of the tradition. That's why they are great. In spite of all the temptations they remain themselves. 'You'll have to take us, as you find us' they say, and we respect them for this. Then there is the time factor. In this rushing world they have retained the dignity and repose of countrymen and combined this with the rhythmic excitement and their unusual ancient and modern 'Sound'. A musician of the last generation, the late Percy Grainger described the McPeakes using these sort of expressions: 'expressive harmonies, such as roving triads … fascinating sonorities such as two voices with bagpipes … contrary to what one might think … ballads of the most archaic type … '
The McPeakes have carried yesterday into tomorrow Time flies just writing about them!