SONGS & DANCES OF THE TRADITIONAL IRISH CEILIDHE (HOOTENANNY) WITH IRISH HARP AND ELBOW PIPES
Ireland is a country of song, a land in which the lyric spirit has been firmly implanted for hundreds of years now. A huge body of Gaelic folk song extends back over the centuries to the days when the Gaelic civilization flourished and supported a school of bardic poets who performed their verse, to a harp accompaniment before the chieftains and nobles who were their patrons. The body of lyric song begun by those ancient scholar-poets has been so increased over the years by the Irish people, lettered and unlettered, that Ireland must be considered a vast treasure-house of song, the folk poetry of its people among the most abundant and warmly lyrical of any country in the western world. The beauty and charm of Irish music has long been universally recognized, as has the equal beauty of the verse to which that music has been set. If the tradition of Gaelic song is a long one, it is a living, breathing one as well, as this charming and infectiously exuberant recording bears delightful witness.
Even in a country that celebrates song as perhaps no other does, the McPeake Family of Belfast is held in special awe, occupies a special place in the hearts of Irish people for its undisputed mastery of traditional Gaelic folk music, both vocal and instrumental. The McPeakes are truly a musical family: From singing and playing traditional uillean pipes Irish bagpipes) and Irish harp around their hearth fire, the family has gone on to achieve international fame. They have toured England, Europe and, most recently, the United States and have thrice garnered first place laurels at the Llangolen International Musical Eisteddfod in Wales for their performance of traditional music.
Patriarch and guiding spirit of the musical clan is 80-year-old Francis McPeake Sr., who as a young child in County Derry began to take up the musical traditions of his forebears. After playing in a family flute band at 11, he began studying the old traditional uillean pipes with a blind piper, and became so proficient on them that he won first prize at the 1912 Dublin piping competitions. He passed his love of the old music on to his sons — Francis Jr., who, like his father, plays the pipes, and James, who took up the Irish harp, teaching himself to play the old instrument.
This delightfully unique and musically ingratiating trio are both the joy and consternation of the folklorist: a joy because of the refreshing and exuberant music they make, but a consternation because there is no tradition in Ireland of pipes being used to accompany singing. The bagpipes traditionally were used as solo instruments to provide music for dancing. Tradition or no, however, the McPeakes stuck to their guns — or, rather, their pipes — and in their informal hearthside music sessions fashioned the warm, blithe, joyous and delightfully untraditional Irish folk song heard within. And earned the praise of their neighbors and countrymen as a result.
Folk music never stands still; it is as ever-changing as the people who make it and keep it alive. It was this process of change that prompted the three McPeakes to use their voices and instruments as they do, and it is this same process that brought the latest wave of McPeakes, the grandchildren of Frank Sr., with their new songs (Alabama is a good example) and instruments (guitar, banjo, accordion) into the family group. This third generation of McPeakes consists of Kathleen, Francis III and Tommy McCrudden, and they bring the fresh, brash enthusiasm of youth to the performance of the old songs.
The combination of the two — the old traditional ways and the vitality and spontaneity of the new folksong styles of the grandchildren — makes for a heady, exhilarating music that is at once both traditionally oriented and as exciting and familiar as today. This family of tradition breakers is creating a new, dynamic tradition of Irish song and, happily, we are fortunate enough to share in the excitement of that creation.