This is neither the first Chieftans recording I collected nor, obviously, was it the first that the Chieftan's made. It is, however, my favorite, for several reasons - including the great jacket photo of "The Giant's Causeway", an impressive natural formation of hexagonal basalt pillars located in northeastern Ireland, jutting far out into the sea.
The recording opens with three neatly dovetailed jigs labeled "The Session". A slip jig called "Elizabeth Kelly's Delight" opens the set, and leads into two slides called "Fraher's" and "Dinny Delaney's".
Turlough O'Carolan titled many of his works to compliment his various patrons; this is the reason for the name of the next tune, "Dr John Hart". O'Carolan had penned Gaelic verses to go with the tune, expressing the wish that Dr Hart be made a bishop; whether or not O'Carolan's endorsement had any effect, Dr Hart was made Bishop of Achonry in 1735. The tune is graceful and rather stately, but the Chieftans throw in a couple of fast variations, a strathspey1 and a jig, before returning to the main theme.
Sean Keane is, appropriately, lead fiddle on the next tune, "Seán Sa Cheo" (ie, "Sean in a Fog"). Keane leads the group through some interesting variations at the beginning of the tune, before sliding into the main line of this reel.
A pair of lively hornpipes ("The Poor Old Woman" and "The Fairies' Hornpipe") follow, just before we get to the main event of the recording: Paddy Moloney's tone poem composition "Sea Image". This is a wonderfully realized musical sketch of the sea, of its seeming friendliness and its hidden dangers, culminating in the wreck of a fishing boat among the rocks and breakers. The piece is woven together from traditional tunes and bridged by Moloney's compositions. I'd love to hear this one transcribed for chamber or symphony orchestra, though I'm not sure which instruments could successfully stand in for the wild, mad skirl of Moloney's piping.
Three polkas bounce around to settle on "If I Had Maggie in the Wood", a crowd favorite at concerts. Kevin Conneff sings this short verse in the middle of the tune:
"An Speíc Seoigheach" is a rather wistful, pretty air, starting with a theme played on the tin whistle, grounded by the harp, that is plaintive and yearning.
"The Dogs Among the Bushes" is a reel played with a mix of Scottish and Irish Celtic styles. The piece leads off with the strathspey "Athol Brose", before moving into the reel.
"Miss Hamilton" is a beautiful, courtly tune played in baroque style. It is the only surviving composition by the 17th/18th century harper Cornelius Lyons, who was influenced by his contemporaries among the German school. If this piece is at all typical of other work Lyons produced, it is a tragedy that none of his other compositions are extant.
"The Job of Journeywork" is played first as an air, featuring the fiddle-playing of Martin Fay, backed by Derek Bell's harp. Moloney's pipes pick up the main burden of the tune, as the whole group speeds up the pace to a jig.
I am especially fond of the two "racing" reels that close this recording, "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" and "The Reel with the Beryle", two pieces that complement each other perfectly. If I were asked to select the soundtrack music for a film version of RA MacAvoy's The Grey Horse, I would without hesitation pick these two tunes for the climactic cross-country horse race.
At the time of this recording, the Chieftans had seven members - the largest the band has ever been before or since. However, this was the final recording session for long-time Chieftans members Sean Potts and Michael Tubridy. The relentless touring schedule was beginning to wear, and at last, after the 1979 tour, they decided to return home for good. Flutist Matt Molloy joined the group later that year.