A superb post as always @scutter, you should have your own Album Club blog! And an interesting backstory/introduction to this album too. One of the reasons I love music so much is for how it becomes tied up in our lives; how it refers and relates to times, places, people and events and is purely emotional. Music truly is transportive. Amazing how that works.Some serious nostalgia listening to this for the past week. I hadn't heard it in quite a while and its been great having an excuse to have had it on repeat for the past few days.
When you're a kid, you like music, and you're skint, there are only a few ways to get your fix. One, the radio. Two, repeated listens to the handful of albums you or your siblings may have, three, getting your mates to tape the few albums they might have that you don't, and four, pilfer your parents music collection.
Its that last one that brought me to Planxty, to the Black Album, and to Cold Blow and the Rainy Night. I'd maintain that I like 'Cold Blow' and 'After the Break' more than I'd like the Black album, but I do adore this too.
My folks were both migrants (VOTE REMAIN), and were both very much a part of the Irish community in London from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. They worked in an Irish social club and I remember being told how, in those days, the disconnect from home was a lot more substantial than it would be now. The people who frequented that social club (and others like it), were often people who had left home out of necessity rather than by choice, and who were often very sad because of this. This led to people wanting to cling to their Irishness in whatever way they could, and, music played a pretty major role in that.
The worn out C90 tape we had at home (I still have it - with its orange cover) with 'Cold Blow' on one side and the Black album on the other, is the same tape that was played night after night in that social club. I recall my old man telling me how 'Cold Blow' was on one night and an English lad, a mate of one of the Irish lads there, came up to him while 'The Green Fields of America' was playing, and asked him could he turn it off because it was depressing the hell out of him. Needless to say, he was told, in no uncertain terms, where to go.
So that was pretty much the legacy I was taught when I first started listening to these albums at the age of 12/13. Planxty assumed a kind of mythical air during those years. A little later I became a little more aware of Christy Moore's solo stuff, and during a family road trip from Dublin to London in the early 90s, where The Christy Moore Collection (part 1) was played on repeat in the car for hours on end, I was smitten. While others I knew were getting very much into punk or metal, I was buying albums by Moving Hearts, The Bothy Band, and Andy Irvine. Unusual enough for a teenager at that time.
Its probably fair to say that this album is the purest album in terms of its Irishness. The Balkan influences aren't as widespread yet. Sure, theres The Blacksmith, but otherwise I'd imagine this would have been well recieved by the traditional Irish music community. I have heard that later on, Planxty were very much frowned upon by trad snobs. It was felt they were bastardising Irish music. There was resentment that one of the masters of the Uileann Pipes, Liam O'Flynn, had been usurped by these hippies, and trad music had been deprived of his mastery.
The whole idea and story of Planxty is pretty novel and fantastic. How a somewhat diverse and disparate group of musical nomads came together in the manner they did, how their collective influence worked so well, and created the sound they did. How they were so impressionable, how they soaked up influences from other cultures, and translated them back to Irish music.
The albums are curious. The styles can vary so much from song to song. One minute theres a 100 mile-an-hour jig or reel, next a heart-wrenching ballad. But it all works. Planxty were very much something bigger than the sum of their parts. Being familiar with a lot of what the members did afterwards, I'd argue that nothing came close to the first 3 Planxty albums. Even the later Planxty albums seemed not to have something that was definitely there for the earlier releases. Hard to articulate what it was.
Anyway, the Black album.
The 'Raggle Taggle/Tabhair Dom do Lamh' combo is a little strange. But I suppose, seeing as the reels and jigs often come in double or triple combos, why not here too. The change from one to the other is so seemless and easy that it all feels so natural.
I always preferred the version of Arthur McBride from this album to the later version Irvine did with Paul Brady (which I didn't really like at all).
Planxty Irwin is a beautiful instrumental piece. Probably one of the easier pieces for O'Flynn to play, and its complemented beautiful by Lunny and Irvine.
'Sweet Thames' is one song that I'd argue seems a little out of place on here. Its a song thats distinctly English folk rather than Irish folk. Nevertheless, I love it. I love the sound of Christy Moore's voice on those early recordings. Its a slightly higher pitched, softer tone than he had later on.
'Junior Crehan's' is like an olympic 100-meter sprint. I'm curious about this. I can't imagine they overlaid tracks on Planxty songs back in the early-70s (or maybe they did?), so who is playing the whistle here? I always thought it was only O'Flynn that played pipes and whistle? Must see if I can find this out.
'West Coast of Clare'. Beautiful, beautiful, song. Heartbreaking to listen to. I love Andy Irvine's voice on these more sombre tunes. He captures a mood so perfectly. Likewise on 'Beneasa' Green Glade', 'Green Fields of America' and 'You Rambling Boys of Pleasure', from later albums.
'Jolly Beggar'. This is the other side of Irvine's singing. While I wouldn't be as big a fan as of the more maudlin songs, I really like how he carries these off. He has quite the range.
'Only Our Rivers'. Beautiful song. Christy Moore rerecorded this for one of his solo albums later (possibly on The Voyage?), but didn't do it justice at all. Though maybe if I heard that version without having previously heard this one, I'd think differently.
'Si Bheag, Si Mhor'. Just in case you were starting to feel too mellow or sombre after 'Only Our Rivers', along comes this song to snap you out of it. Fantastic playing by O'Flynn, Lunny and Irvine again.
'Follow Me Up to Carlow'. Who among us has not blasted this out in a late-night sing-song before? Again, that early Christy Moore sound is all over this. Emotive, angry and powerful. I love it.
'Merrily Kissed the Quaker'. More O'Flynn, this time with added boudhran. Great.
'The Blacksmith'. Absolute tune. Its no surprise that Irvine still plays this regularly. To see him play it live is something to behold.
This is a 5/5 album, no doubt. That these 4, pretty special in their own way, musicians came together the way they did, and made the music they did, is something we should be eternally greatful for.
Not at all. But I have to say I always found the uileann pipes a bit shrill and it sounds like a strangled cat on some of this album.I can't stand Christy Moore so I have to skip all of his songs. I also find the mandolin/bouzuki accompaniments a bit tiresome. Everyone agree?
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