Recorded by Peter Kennedy in 1952, the Singing Pipers of Belfast, Francis the First was the senior member of a remarkable Belfast family. He talks about his life and music, singing unaccompanied and with the Irish bagpipes, known as Uillean (or elbow) pipes. On some of the tracks he is joined by his son, Francis the 2nd, who also plays some solo instrumentals on pipes, and, for one of the tracks, father and son play a duet on two chanters.
FRANCIS McPEAKE I, aged 67 when this recording was made at the O Boyle family home in Belfast, was one of a number of performers that Charles O Boyle had invited to meet Peter for his first evening of music collecting in Belfast. For the next two years Peter and Charles's son, Sean, were to work together recording local traditions, travelling all over the North of Ireland. Peter had just returned from Yugoslavia where he had recorded Serbian bards singing to their own accompaniment on bagpipes, so to encounter a similar tradition in Belfast was a a remarkable co-incidence and a memorable occasion.
In particular Peter was struck by the song, WILL YOU GO, LASSIE GO?, the tune of which was composed by Francie I, recorded it in a cupboard under the stairs, and, when he returned to London, persuaded George Martin and the Educational Dept. of The Gramophone Company to issue this track on a 10" LP called FOLKSONG TODAY. It was subsequently copyrighted and published by Chappell's. The following year he invited the family to perform at the Royal Albert Hall, and they were soon winning prizes for Group Folksong at the International Eisteddfod at Llangollen in Wales.
Francis I was born in Belfast in 1885, but his father was born at Curran, Co. Derry and worked on a farm at Ballymacpeake. His mother too was a McPeake before and after her marriage. Francis left school at 13 and worked as a weaver in a linen mills at the top of their street. In 1915 he worked as a tram-conductor and after that as a photographer until his retirement in 1948. His piping he learned from John O Reilly, a blind piper from Galway who came to Belfast in 1907 for 6 weeks to teach him. 2 years later Francis won a pipe contest in Belfast and later represented Ireland at a Pan-Celtic Congress in Belgium. His photograph and that of John O Reilly both appeared in O'Neill's IRISH MINSTRELS AND MUSICIANS (Chicago, 1913).
FOLKTRAX 071 — The Jug Of Punch:
A studio recording of "The McPeake Trio", with Francis's two sons, Francis II (pipes) and James (harp), was made by Peter in London in 1961. It includes 11 songs and 8 instrumentals. We are most happy to relate that the tradition is still being carried on in the family. Francis McPeake's #3 & #4 are currently touring Britain, Ireland and the USA as "The McPeake Family".