Six Days In Down

I first came across the music of Bob Brozman about ten years ago and subsequently heard a live broadcast and interview on Andy Kershaw’s radio programme. I found Bob’s music, style and intelligence very engaging and, although steeped in various traditions, the music was forward-looking.

Eventually I got the opportunity to work with Bob and under the auspices of Moving On Music. He has since visited Northern Ireland three times and toured as a solo artist. It was during a very successful 2005 tour that he mentioned in passing that it might be an interesting collaboration and challenge for him to work with Irish traditional musicians; this stuck in my mind.

I first briefly met the then-teenage Dónal O’Connor at an Irish festival in Valence in the south of France in 1998 and shortly afterwards bumped into him in a shop in Belfast, having no idea that he was studying in the city. It then became apparent to me that he was a new, young and important talent in the traditional music scene. In 2007, Moving On Music set up a tour for the band At First Light, of which he was a member along with (among others) the uilleann piper John McSherry.

In 2006, Moving On Music had the opportunity to apply to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland Lottery Fund for the support of various new initiatives and was in discussion internally as to what we would like to do if new funds became available. The subject of commissioning new work came up and suddenly it brought to mind what Bob Brozman had mentioned the previous year, so we duly set about thinking about who he might collaborate with. The choice seemed obvious – we were already working with the very people who were great, open-minded Irish musicians – so in late 2006 we asked Bob to give up a day off from a long UK tour to fly to Belfast to discuss the possibilities with Dónal and John. The discussions went well, and we all decided to go forward.

We were awarded a lottery grant in June 2007 and the composition/recording project took place in Downpatrick in early February 2008, when (two-trolley) Bob landed at George Best International Airport in Belfast.

I’d like to thank the musicians for the opportunity to help to make this all happen and for their patience, faith and – above all – their creative music-making.

Of course, along the way it was always a consideration that nothing might come of this collaboration, that traditions and sensibilities might be compromised and diluted, I don’t think so. What I do know is: what have we here is fresh, beautiful and passionate music; I hope you think so too.

Brian Carson, www.movingonmusic.co.uk

Bob Brozman

After a lifetime of collaborating with musicians from tropical islands, I thought a cold-climate island project would be interesting and challenging. My work on this project involved creating interesting backgrounds and landscapes to support and reinform the melodies, with unusual timbres and rhythms. After just a day or two working together, we also composed new music for this album, like ‘Beer Belly Dancing’, where we have Irish phrasing played in an Arabic mode, or ‘Brelydian’, where the Lydian mode, typical of Malian music, is brought into play. This project gave me a chance to explore some areas of playing technique and aesthetic intention that I have not utilized before on any recording. The results yielded some sounds and moods I have never achieved till now.

Working with these fine musicians was a pleasure, and we felt great about what was accomplished in only six days, in a world where months and years are often spent making albums. Special thanks to Brian Carson for envisioning and facilitating this project.

Bob Brozman, www.bobbrozman.com

Track Descriptions

01      Hardiman The Fiddler (Hardiman The Fiddler/Michelle O’Sullivan’s) – Slip Jig/Jig
(trad, arr Brozman / McSherry / O’Connor)

Instruments: fiddle, uilleann pipes, low whistle, two tricone guitars, bass on tricone, cajón

‘Hardiman The Fiddler’ is a popular slip jig, which is thought to have been named in honour of James Hardiman, first librarian of Queen’s College in Galway and author of Irish Minstrelsy, Or Bardic Remains, published in 1831. The second tune was learned from a private recording of County Kerry concertina player Michelle O’Sullivan.

02      Brelydian
(Brozman / McSherry / O’Connor)

Instruments: fiddle, low whistle, tricone guitar, bass on baritone tricone, Kona Hawaiian guitar, cajón

We set about composing a tune in the Lydian mode and considered a slow polka rhythm to be fitting, as it is not much used in Irish traditional music.

03      A Mháire Bruineall
(trad, arr Brozman / Makem / McSherry / O’Connor)

Instruments: vocal, fiddle, low F whistle, two baritone tricone guitars, cajón

A County Donegal song, originally composed by Tadhg O Tiománaidhe in the mid-1700s, in an effort to woo back his true love. This version, however, was taken from the singing of Aine Uí Laoi, born in the Gaoth Dobhair Gaeltacht (native Irish-language-speaking area), in northwest Donegal. We are delighted to introduce the wonderfully haunting vocals of our good friend Stephanie Makem, on this track. 
 
04      Portaferry Swing (Ragged Annie/The Boys Of Portaferry/Cameronian Reel)
(trad, arr Brozman / McSherry / O’Connor)
         
Instruments: fiddle, uilleann pipes, tricone guitar

‘Ragged Annie’ or ‘Ragtime Annie’ is a popular American fiddle tune, which John learned from the playing of Francis and Jack McIlduff of Belfast. The earliest appearance of ‘Ragtime Annie’ that can be documented, in print or otherwise, is the 78rpm recording by Texan fiddler Eck Robertson, in 1923.

‘Buachaillí Port An Pheire’ (‘The Boys Of Portaferry’) is closely related to ‘The Pullet’ and ‘The Sporting Boys’. Portaferry lies at the southern end of the Ards Peninsula, at the entrance to Strangford Lough, and is 20 kilometres from Downpatrick, where this recording took place.

‘The Cameronian Reel’ was learned from the County Donegal fiddle player John Doherty and can be found as tune number 1512 in O'Neill's Music Of Ireland, The 1850.

05      Róise Na bhFonn – Tuneful Rose
(Dónal O’Connor)

Instruments: fiddle, Kona Hawaiian guitar
         
This slow air was composed by Dónal in appreciation of, and in homage to, his grandmother Rose O’Connor, who was his first fiddle teacher and had an immense influence on his music.

06      Pota Mór Fataí
(trad, arr Brozman / McSherry / O’Connor)

Instruments: two Chaturanguiguitars, low whistle, high D whistle, fiddle, cajón

This is the air to a song we heard from the singing of Sean-nós singer Róisín Elsafty, from Connemara.

07      The Slide From Grace (Dusty Miller’s/Dan O’Keefe’s/The Slide From Grace)
Dusty Miller’s (trad, arr Brozman / McSherry / O’Connor). Dan O’Keefe’s (trad, arr Brozman / McSherry / O’Connor). The Slide From Grace (John McSherry)
         
Instruments: fiddle, low whistle, tricone guitar, bass on baritone tricone, charango, cajón

‘The Dusty Miller’ is a triple hornpipe, which appears in the William Vickers manuscript of 1770–72.
‘Dan O’Keefe’s’ or ‘Danny Ab’s’ was learned from the fiddle playing of Padraig O’Keefe, Dennis Murphy and Julia Clifford, and appears as tune number 86 in Breandán Breathnach’s Ceol Rince na hÉireann 2.
‘The Slide From Grace’ is a slip slide and was composed by John while thinking of the numerous people who 'had it all' and let it slip away.

08      Bean An Fhir Ruaidh
(trad, arr Brozman / Makem / O’Connor)

Instruments: vocals, two Kona Hawaiian guitars

‘Bean An Fhir Ruaidh’ (‘The Red Haired Man’s Wife’) is a story of a man’s unrequited love for a married woman. Many versions of this song exist throughout Ireland but, in the most well-known version, the lyrics are attributed to the writings of Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna, the Ulster poet, and Riocaird Bairéad, a writer from Bangor Erris, County Mayo. The nineteenth-century Tyrone novelist William Carleton noted that his mother was once asked to sing the English version of the song. She said, ‘I'll sing it for you, but the English words and the air are like a quarrelling man and his wife – the Irish melts into the tune but the English doesn't.’

09      Beer Belly Dancing
(Brozman / McSherry / O’Connor)

Instruments: baritone tricone, low whistle, fiddle, cajón, charango

The idea of this collective composition was to have a tune with rhythmically Irish melodic phrases, but using a middle-eastern type of mode for note choices, the result is a funky musical mix of beer and belly dancing.

10      The Beauty Spot (The Beauty Spot/Brendan McMahon’s/Miss Johnston’s Youghal Quay)
(trad, arr Brozman / McSherry / O’Connor)

Instruments: fiddle, uilleann pipes, bass on baritone tricone, two tricone guitars, cajón
         
‘ The Beauty Spot’ appears as tune number 185 in volume 1 of The Roche Collection Of Traditional Irish Music and was learned from the playing of Dublin piper Mick O’Brien.

‘Brendan McMahon’s’ was recorded by Dónal’s father Gerry O’Connor on the album Skylark and was learned from the County Clare accordion player Andrew MacNamara. We believe it to be a version of ‘The Steam Packet’ reel.

‘Miss Johnston’s’ is a traditional reel of Scottish origin. ‘Youghal Quay’ was composed by the accordion player and prolific composer Paddy O’Brien, from Newtown in County Tipperary. While researching the tune titles for this album, we discovered that the tune we have learned is an assimilation of the two. This can happen quite easily in the oral tradition. Now we’ve told you, we’re off to relearn the two tunes correctly!

11      Cailleach A Shúsa – The Hag In The Blanket
(trad, arr Brozman / McSherry / O’Connor)

Instruments: two Chaturangui guitars, bass on baritone tricone, fiddle, uilleann pipes, low whistle, bodhrán

‘Cailleach A Shúsa’ (‘The Hag in the Blanket’) was learned from the playing of Todd Denman and Dale Russ, and appears as tune number 889 in O'Neill's Music Of Ireland, The 1850. In Irish mythology, the Cailleach is a powerful hag often identified to a deity ruling the winter months between Samhain and Beltane. In days of old, when an unusually heavy storm threatened, people would tell each other, ‘The Cailleach is going to tramp her blankets tonight.’

Further Information

Visit Bob Brozman's website:  www.bobbrozman.com

Visit At First Light's website: www.atfirstlight.net