FolkWorld Issue 43 11/2010; Article by Seán Laffey

Notes in the Living Stream
Matt Cranitch & Jackie Daly

This autumn Jackie Daly and Matt Cranitch were very busy. September saw them on a Nationwide Music Network tour of Ireland followed almost immediately by a month long sojourn to Europe where they featured on The Pure Irish Drops tour. They also have a new CD out called The Living Stream and as Seán Laffey discovers, it has taken the duo a long time to record an album together.

I arrived late and full of apologies after being stuck in traffic on the morning of our interview, which was scheduled for the South Court Hotel near to Limerick’s Regional Hospital. This is the half way meeting point for Matt and Jackie who live in Cork and Miltown Malbay respectively. They were settled in the hotel for a day of media interviews, Irish Music Magazine was first up followed by FolkWorld and then “a man from the Cork Examiner”.

When I arrived Matt greeted me with a generous smile and a big hello, a pot of tea was ordered and we sat ourselves down at a table and the talk flowed for an hour, what we have here is barely a fraction of the topics we covered. The excellent PR for the album says; ‘The Living Stream draws very much from the Sliabh Luachra tradition, and features fourteen tracks, mostly unaccompanied.

Matt Cranitch, Jackie Daly, Tommy O'Sullivan

Cranitch & Daly @ FolkWorld: FW#23, #29, #42, #43

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However, on a number of selections, accompaniment is provided by Paul De Grae (guitar) and Bríd Cranitch (piano). This recording, which attests in a very comprehensive manner to the continuing relevance of the ‘living stream’ of traditional music in Ireland today, has been supported by The Arts Council of Ireland through the DEIS Scheme for the Traditional Arts.” Deis means chance in Irish.

The title by the way is a translation of one of Jackie Daly’s tunes An Ghiaise Beo. “Jackie Small pointed it out to us and Matt said that would make a fine name for an album. I’m very fond of streams and rivers and I love fishing,” says Jackie. Matt reminds me that the River Blackwater forms a 20 mile natural boundary between Cork and Kerry, so the idea of a living stream works on all sorts of levels.

Matt candily tells me this is a hard-core Sliabh Luachra album. Recorded in Miltown Malbay near to where Jackie lives. It was engineered by Martin O’Malley, “a delightful gentleman to work with”. The album took almost two years to record, Matt says, “time was given to make sure things were just right before the tracks went to the final mastering”. Con Kelleher from Cork took the photographs, the uilleann piper Eoin O Riabhaigh designed the art work and Jackie Small provided the excellent liner notes which are informative and interesting.

The album is a spare yet carefully crafted intimate musical conversation. There are 31 tunes in 14 tracks, only 3 tracks feature accompaniment, so what we have here is duo playing of the highest order.

The two musicians met many years ago, when according to Jackie “Matt Cranitch was only 10 or 11 years old”. Well before they had time to build reputations and amass a back catalogue of work. As two kids they enjoyed playing the music of Sliabh Luachra, their paths led to the same place, Duhallow, even if the journeys they took to get there were very different.

Jackie was raised in Kanturk, on the Cork side of Sliabh Luachra and as a young lad of around 11 years old he went to Jim O’Keefe’s Sunday dances at Knocknacolan a few miles outside the town. Jim was a past pupil of the fiddle master Padraig O’Keefe. “He as asked me if I’d like to dance but I said I was learning the accordion. So he gave me start and from then on I played every week for over two years. I was immersed in Sliabh Luachra music.” Jackie puts a stress on the word immersed.

Matt came to the music of the Duhallow area via his mother’s people and the fact that his father formed a family band in the 1960s. They’d play in Cork and travel around Munster but going to the Feile Cheoil in Kanturk was always a musical homecoming. It was on one of these family outings that the pair first met and their musical paths have crossed many times since, but never until now on record.

The impetus to bring out the Living Stream comes from the work they have been doing over the past 8 years in East Durham in the Catskills of up-State New York. Matt tells me that for years the Catskills organiser Paul Keating and the summer school students have been asking for a CD of the tunes the duo have been playing and teaching. I wonder if the tunes on the new album were suitable for students. Jackie bites back with a twinkle in the eye. “Only if they were able to play them.” Matt clarifies this: “Actually the tunes themselves are not the standard Sliabh Luachra repertoire, this is the underground stuff, the tunes older payers amass over many years, they are unusual, often very local in nature.”

Jackie tells me about the tune The Breeches Buttoned On. “I got that tune from Helen Broderick of Abbeyfeale and it came down to her from her grandfather Davy Linehan, he would have been a contemporary and friend of Padraic O’Keefe. I’ve only heard it once on a record and that was with a group of young players from West Limerick. It’s a local family tune and that’s why it hasn’t become so well known.”

Does this mean that some of these rare tunes will begin to filter back to the tradition? Matt says you never really know what will happen to a tune and where it will go and Jackie tells me about playing a variant of Terry Teahan’s Polka on a Patrick Street album. “I had this variation worked out and I used it to add to the third part of the tune. Matt Cranitch & Jackie Daly, The Living Stream Today I find that people who learnt the tune from the album are playing the variation as the main tune, that’s how the tradition works, there’s nothing fixed about what survives.”

We are of course very lucky that a great deal of the Sliabh Luachra music was recorded between the 1950s and 1970s so that now we have sound archives that give us a feel for the nuances and finesse needed to play in this style. “That’s important when it comes to teaching the music” says Matt, “teaching isn’t about learning new tunes, it’s about learning how to phrase them, how to swing them, give them the right accent. That’s why we felt we could make an album which is largely just box and fiddle and it’s the natural pairing for Sliabh Luachra music.”

I observe that the music still moves at a nice clip although it isn’t driven by a rhythm section or pulled forward with strings shaping the music with chords. Jackie agrees and adds the thought that you can actually slow some tunes down a little and with the right amount of swing bring out hidden depths in the music. “Some reels are lonely and sad and you miss that if they are played too fast,” Jackie tells me.

That sense of internal metre and the idea that things do not have to be rushed all the time is something they try to bring into their teaching and into tune writing too. Jackie has written three tunes for the album which Matt suggests have that rare quality of being new but sounding old. One The Kanturk Jig does indeed appear to have been around forever, so I ask Jackie how he goes about writing a tune. “I believe you don’t write a tune but a tune writes you. I take a long time to write new music, you have to leave it aside, go away from it before you begin to work on it, before you analyse it. I remember an old friend of mine the painter Maurice Desmond, he used to leave a canvas for months and then look at it in a mirror to get a different perspective, you have to do that with tunes too.”

This sense of taking the time to absorb the tune works into their teaching too, Matt tells me about the first time they went to the Catskills. “I was teaching an afternoon class on Sliabh Luachra music when two elderly ladies came in and sat down quietly in the back of the room. They listened first for maybe half an hour and then they took their fiddles from their cases and began playing along. After the lesson we got talking and I found out that they were nieces of Denis Murphy. Now they come back each year and they have brought two more of their cousins with them. They like the fact that we are playing music from their home place even though they emigrated half a century ago. And we like it because they can share stories about the times in Lisheen when Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford were playing for their family and friends. That helps us get back to the source of the music and when you realise where it came from and how it got here, then there’s no need to rush the playing, the tunes have enough spirit within them to work on their own.”

Wherever you hear them you’ll be experiencing notes in the living stream of Sliabh Luachra music.

Photo Credits: (1) Matt Cranitch, Jackie Daly, Tommy O'Sullivan (by Florian Fürst/ff-musikbüro); (2) Matt Cranitch & Jackie Daly 'The Living Stream' (unknown).

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