Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Ireland's Music: Murieann Nic Amhlaoibh: Foxglove & Fuschia

As she was planning the project which would become her album Foxglove & Fuschia, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh decided she wanted the music to be a bit like what she might do if she were planning for a gig in a pub near her home in Corca Duibhne, the Dingle peninsula, in the west of Ireland. It’s a situation she knows well, as she grew up in Dingle, surrounded by music and going to sessions from a young age.

As ancient stones and worn paths through mountain and along coast attest, people have been calling the Dingle peninsula in the west of Ireland home for thousands upon thousands of years. Rain and mist and wind, mountain and sea meet in a landscapes that suggests and evokes history and story.

Those stories are often told, shared, and forged through music.

Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh has studied in Dublin, taught in LImerick, and traveled the world with her music. For thirteen years she was lead singer and flute player with the top Irish band Danu. I came time, though, to return to to her native west Kerry, to live again in the Irish speaking region of the far west of Dingle where she herself had grown up and begun her life in music,

She also thought at the time that stepping away from Danu might be the end of her public career as a musician. It wasn’t.


A sure and steady vision of where she is and what she wishes to create as an artist is at the heart of Foxglove & Fuschia, which is Nic Amhlaoibh’s third solo album. There are songs in English and in Irish, and a few well chosen tune sets too.

Some of the music has its origin in west Kerry. Other songs and stories make their way in from father afield. They all, though, relate in some way to that life of water and mist, music and mountain and story found in Dingle.

There is the gentle joy of word and lyric in Muirisin Deas is Nora, a song from The Great Blasket Island, which lies just to the west of the tip of Dingle. It is about a couple who have been married a long time and are still very much in love. The words in Irish are from a traditional poem, set to a new melody by guitarist Gerry O’ Beirne. O’Beirne, who often plays with Nic Amhloaibh when she goes on the road with her music, supports her on the song for the recording.He also wrote the image filled song Where Foxglove, from which Nic Amhlaoibh drew the title for the recording.

For most pieces on Foxglove & Fuschia, there are just one two musicians joining Nic Amhlaoibh. That still leaves good scope for family and friends to sit in, though: there’s a set of reels with Nic Amhlaoibh’s husband Billy Mag Fhlionn on bouzouki and a friend from her days with Danu, Donnchadh Gough, on bodhran, and on a set of polkas with her father, Feargal MacAmhlaoibh, as the fiddler, and with longtime friends, Padraig O se on accordion and Donough Hennessey on guitars. Donal O’Connor, Seamus Begley, Pauline Sclanlon. Eilis Kennedy and John McSherry are among those who sit in on various tracks, too.

It is Nic Amhlaoibh’s voice and vision which define what’s happening on the album, though. Nowhere is that more evident than on The Final Trawl, a song of the sea by Scotland’s Archie Fisher. As part of her working co presenting the television programme Port for BBC Alba with Scottish singer Julie Fowlis, Nic Amhlaoibh had the chance to meet and sing with Fisher, who wrote the song with ideas and images drawn from his experience of seafaring.

Another song that weaves together the album’s ideas is Bean Dubh an Ghleanna. It is Nic Amhlaoibh says, one of the big songs which to her mind make up the classical tradition of Ireland’s folk music. Nic Amhlaoibh grew up in Dingle, in the Gaeltacht, where, she points out, you don’t actually study the traditional style of sean nos, you’re given the words and the melody and expected to find your own way into them.

Indeed, so she has, through each of the tracks on the recording. There are eleven of them, and each invites repeated listening. Tune, song, and story shared in ways which honor tradition and create it anew in one of Ireland’s most interesting and creative voices: this is what you will find on Foxglove & Fuschia.

Photographs of Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh and friends in concert at Celtic Connections in Glasgow, Scotland, by Kerry Dexter, made by permission of the artists, the festival, and the venue. Thank you for respecting copyright

You may also wish to see
Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh & Julie Fowlis: Dual
Musireann Nic Amhlaoibh: The Small Hours
Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh’s web site
Cathie Ryan: Through Wind & Rain

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