I remember being twelve years old and helping out in my family’s bakery. My Dad’s friend Tim called with news that he had been at a recording of Noel Hill & Tony MacMahon in Knocknagree.
In the middle of the conversation he handed me a tape of U2′s “War”. I had asked him for it a few weeks earlier when he had enquired what kind of music I liked. When he gave it to me he asked: “Do you think you’ll ever listen traditional music?” “Never” was my answer.
“Oh, I’d say you’ll come back to it” says he. I frowned at him, as if he had suggested I eat something a dog had left on the footpath. “Oh you’ll be back,” he laughed loudly at my disgust.
One part of me wanted to kick him, but I was overcome with gratitude and couldn’t. When I started to listen to that U2 album and I was attempting to mature my musical taste and leave behind the breakdance music and ‘Now’ albums I had been listening to.
I played it day and night. Sometimes strumming a tennis racket or belting a chair with homemade drumsticks.
It was the start of a love affair that involved many Irish bands and music. Soon, I graduated from the tennis racket to the guitar and began to add my own noise to the tides of Irish rock. But as if Tim had made some kind of prophecy, I started to drift back towards the traditional tunes.
I can’t exactly pin point when or why. On trips home to my parents, I would often raid their music collection. On one trip I came across a dusty box of tapes and in it, I found the Noel Hill & Tony MacMahon album. I wouldn’t have even given it a second look except that seeing it reminded of getting the U2 tape from Tim and him telling me I’d back to the traditional music.
Since Noise asked me to have a go at this article, I’ve been wondering how I would describe what I can hear when I listen to Noel Hill & Tony MacMahon “I gCnoc na Graí”?
I could try to describe it for you music enthusiasts and say it’s got all the balls of the best punk or soul music – it has the swing and trundling thunder of great techno; and it has the musical eloquence of JS Bach.
Or to be blunt and factual about: It’s two great musicians, some dancers and a crowd in a Pub. “i gCnoc na Graí” is recorded in such an intimate way that you could be there . . .
The thumping of the dancers is so loud that you could be standing next to the floor. Even on the solo pieces you can here the murmur of conversations near the musicians and often you can hear cars passing by.
I really don’t want to put anyone off by going overboard in discretion. You can get the album on any of the MP3 sites. It’s by no means rare and it’s a favourite of many traditional music fans and musicians. Listening to it, I’m always reminded that music is a magic thing that happens when we gather.
We need it to dance to and mock the hum drum. We need it to remind us of those we can’t forget. In the last few years I smile when I hear people saying, “shur the things that were always good about Ireland are still good.” It’s true. Thanks Noel Hill & Tony MacMahon. Thanks Tim.
Eoin (Stan) O’Sullivan has played in two of Cork’s best bands of the last 20 years – The Shanks and Stanley Super 800. He is also a passionate player of traditional Irish music and has played with the Ceilí Allstars for a number of years. Stanley Super 800’s album, Louder and Clearer was nominated for the 2007 Choice Music Award.