A distinctive album of rare quality that celebrates the musical tradition of Limerick, Clare, and the Shannonside area in general.
This type of album is a rare thing for any Irish city or county, and is a must for anyone with any interest in either Limerick and its surrounding areas, or Irish music in general.
A little bit of history, a little bit of storytelling, a stroll down bóithrín na smaointe, a little bit of culture, but above all some really good Irish traditional music and songs, written with care and played with passion.
Indigenous Irish music has a long and peerless tradition of troubadours, musicians and balladeers composing tunes and songs to celebrate a sense of place, and grafting modern influences so that the finished product is a significant progression for the tradition itself. This process is evident, for instance, in the work of Turlough O'Carolan in the Eighteenth Century.
This album encapsulates all that is inherent in this progression, i.e. traditional tunes (hornpipe, reel, and two jigs), diverse influences (i.e. from the blues harmonica added to some songs, through the background acoustic guitar riffs that wouldn't be out of place in the folk rock tradition, the use of the bass, percussion and keyboard to spice the jigs and reels, to the almost classical feel of the tune "Dave's Christmas Bells".
What is immediately noticeable about the album is the quality of the finished product. The entire album was recorded in Denis Allen's studios in Rosbrien, Limerick, and the production is a testimony not only to his professionalism, but also to his care and attention to detail.
History of Album
Larry has always had an abiding interest in folk and traditional music and has been a member of many folk and traditional "listeners" clubs down through the years. (See Biography)
This album arose from his involvement in the Full Circle Folk Club run by Tony Cremins, Tom Canty, Austin Durack and others in the Glentworth Hotel in Limerick in the first half of the nineties, and the Castleconnell Folk Club founded by Mike McInerney, Dick Ross, Mike Minihan and Larry himself in 1995 which is still running.
From his involvement in the "Folk Club" Scene, he developed a respect for the music sung, played, listened to, and appreciated by ordinary people - musicians and singers who make tremendous efforts, give great entertainment, but are not in the public eye or do not aim for stardom!!!
When, (as explained later), the "bit of recording" became an album, maintaining the "folk", or "of the people" element was all important.
Larry first went to Noel McLoughlin's (well known Limerick folk singer with an encyclopaedic knowledge of folk music) home studios in 1995 and recorded some songs just to see what he sounded like.....and the studio bug bit!! In early 1997 he traipsed out to Denis Allen's Studio with a guitar and a headfull of ideas and began recording. As he was "handy" at the banjo, bouzouki, and harmonica, as well as being a reasonably good guitar player, he played all the instruments himself on the first two songs he recorded, which were "Mickey Mac's Folk Club" and "On the Labour". The next song he recorded was "The Rocks of Old Curraghour". This was where his ambitions and ideas began to outstrip his abilities!! Realising that if he wanted to do what he wanted to do, and keeping in mind that he had at this stage written "The Whistling Bridge", he started learning the keyboard and the tin whistle.
It was around the time of the completion of "The Rocks of Old Curraghour" that "going to the studio," became "making an album".
The basic track of "So our love will be" came next and then "The Siege of Clampbetts Bow".
Larry himself explains:
"I had written 'So our love will be', (actually most of it was written on the Military Bridge in Castleconnell on a very warm summers day), and about a week later I was reading a poem by a Thomas Stanley Treacy called "The Siege of Clampbetts Bow" in Jim Kemmy's Limerick Compendium. Now I'd never heard of Thomas Stanley Treacy up 'till then but I was really impressed, laughing out loud at the poem. The poem epitomised the Limerick humour I knew so well, self deprecating, tongue in cheek, understated, that sort of "mock epic" stuff that trips so naturally off the tongues around Limerick - I've been listening to it all my life and taking it for granted. Anyway the tune just popped into my head into my head. I went into what I laughingly describe as our "music room" to put the melody on tape in case I forgot it!
The following day I had to adjust the words slightly here and there just to fit them into the melody. It was then I began to think of an album on a "Shannonside" theme. I resurrected two other songs "Peter Tait" (based on an article by the late Kevin Hannon on Peter Tait, self made millionaire of Scottish extraction who had electoral ambitions) which I had written as a kind of a spoof, and "Sweet Shannons Lovely Shore" which I had written some years earlier in Carrigaholt in South West Clare, about a guy I knew who went to the Middle East in the eighties to work in the oil industry, and decided to record them also".
These were then the songs of the album. The tunes were a hornpipe "The Whistling Bridge" and two jigs "Seachain an Fíon Larry!" and "The Dog that Heard the Bell"
Following the completion of "The Rocks of Old Curraghour" Larry recorded "So Our Love will be", "Peter Tait", "The Siege of Clamptetts Bow", "The Whistling Bridge", "Seachain and Fíon Larry!/The Dog that Heard the Bell", and finally "Sweet Shannons Lovely Shore", in that order.
Having listened to the tracks a few times, he felt that there was something missing. As Larry puts it:
"I wanted to do something special to celebrate music in general, away from the Shannonside theme altogether, and I had these phrases as Gaeilge going around in my head. It was probably influenced by Donal Lunny's great programme on RTÉ at the time, "Sult", so I put the phrases to music and wrote the song "Sult". In order to get the grammar right, I enlisted the help of my sister Síle, as, even though I speak Gaeilge quite well, I'm not too hot on the written grammar! With "Sult" and "Máirseál Ladhar a'gCapall", (which I wrote while camping at our local "Munro" Mountain, Galteemore), I added a Reel, which I called "Ríl an Oileáin". The Oileán (Island) in question of course being the one that I cycle through everyday! (In Limerick there's only one "Isle").
Recording and mixing "Sult", "Tóirneach an Fomhair", "Máirseál Ladhar a gCapaill" and "Ríl an Oileán (7'.14" long) took over 14 studio hours. Much experimentation and innovation took place during this recording. Finally, as a tribute to the artist who designed the cover of the album, Larry composed "Dave's Christmas Bells". This lovely tune is intended to bridge the classical and traditional modes of Irish music, and has a certain "O'Riada" touch to it.
Indeed, it is in such tunes as this that we see the breadth of Larry's musical influences.
The final mixing took place in Denis Allen's studios in October '99, and the album was pressed in Trend Studios in November'99, two and a half years after the first recording.
On the 9th of December '99, Larry collected his boxes of CDs from Trend Studios.
"I have to be honest and say that by early '99 I was sick to death of the project. I had told people that I was bringing out an album and some were asking me about it. I was putting a brave face on it but really the entire thing was like wading through molasses. I thought of the finishing date of the album as being like the question our maths teacher used to put to us about the infinitely small flea hopping to a wall and each day he hops a half of what hopped the day before. Of course he never reaches the wall!!! I was also stuck, and I mean really stuck, as to what the cover was going to be like as I'm useless at drawing and art.
Then I met Dave Mc Cormack.
I had seen his artwork in my sister's house and I arranged to meet him in Dublin one day when I was there. I just gave him the then unfinished tape, and asked him to come up with "some drawings". I really hadn't a clue what I wanted.
The minute Dave's artwork popped through my letterbox, my enthusiasm skyrocketed again. How Dave could produce something so appropriate, or something that suited what I wanted, was uncanny. I know it sounds unusual but I said to myself I'd better get down to it and produce something that was worthy of his art."
That's how Larry describes how Dave's striking pictorial representation of "The Dog that Heard the Bell" affected the entire project.
Dave's artwork is very sensitive to the mood of the album and sits well alongside Larry's notes, which also appear in the booklet. Augmented by the pictures by Larry's daughter Ursula, and a minimum amount of photos, (taken by Liam and Mike Minihan of Lisnagry), the artwork is a significant addition to the album.
From the early sixties, the cover, or sleeve as it was known then, has been an important part of any album. Some have become classics in their own right, fondly remembered and much perused over time.
The artwork on "The Dog that Heard the Bell" is unique and original, encapsulating the notion of the album being both modern and traditional.
The cover design was done by Niamh Brown of Designers Ink. in Limerick. She expertly formatted the art and text in the booklet, and indeed on her suggestion the cover was also scanned onto the disc itself. Ann Queally of Trend Studios in Princes St, Dublin did the scanning and got the disc ready for the printers.
Overall the booklet is a worthy addition to the music and is itself entertaining, bright, and humourous.
Vocals, guitar, bouziki, banjo,
keyboards, tin whistle, bass guitar,
Percussion: spoons, bongos, Zimbabwean drums
and homemade percussion.....................................................................Larry himself
Fiddle, banjo, bodhrán .........................................................................Mike Minihan
Bass guitar.............................................................................................Denis Allen
Additional Vocals on "So Our Love will Be"...........................................Margaret Toomey
Complaints are often made (and often with some justification!) by traditional musicians that accompanying guitarists are, ahem, amateurish or awkward in their attempts to "follow" the music!! Rarely, in this country at any rate, do singers have the temerity to complain about the inadequacies of traditional musicians when they "follow" a song well sung. Yet it is true that not all musicians can follow a song that well!
Mike Minihan is one of those rare musicians who possesses a high degree of empathy with the song as sung - in addition to being a traditional musician of great virtuosity in his own right.
Mike's infectious enthusiasm permeates any musical enterprise in which he is involved......and "The Dog that Heard the Bell" was no exception.
His contribution to the album is very significant and the addition of the fiddle, banjo and bodhrán "finishes" any songs and tunes which they adorn!
Most people have heard of Denis Allen, composer and singer of "Limerick, You're a Lady" and many other hit songs. What is not as well known is the fact that he operates a very busy (but intimate) studio in Rosbrien in Limerick.
Denis' enthusiasm and professionalism are sensed on this album. As Larry himself puts it "While the musician in Denis' studio is assured that there will be, as they say, 'no pressure', there is no room for haste or complacency either. His ideas and opinions, gently suggested, are always helpful and constructive, and applied with patience and care. There is no doubt about it but without Denis' helpfulness the album would never have been finished....or finished properly!!!"
While Margaret sings harmony on just one third of one song, her contribution is significant. She listened to one rather poor recording of the unfinished song for a very short length of time and recorded in the studio the following week - flawless in phrasing and melody - successful on the first take!!!