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February 2014 Update

It’s February 2014, all may seem quiet but there’s plenty of things going on. Bathed In Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond is published by Jawbone Press in the UK and USA on March 1. A 3,700 word extract is in the current issue of Record Collector magazine; a further extract will appear in Shindig! Magazine in March/April; and a third will appear in US magazine Jazz Times. I’m hopeful that reviews will appear in a number of UK publications.

My friend ‘Exciteable’ Dave Mullan – known increasingly as ‘Unsinkable’ Dave Mullan, thanks to his titanic battles with the very latest gremlin-strewn website building protocols – has just achieved victory in the creation of a dedicated website for the book: Folk songs are already entering the oral tradition, lauding Dave’s Herculean efforts in the face of seemingly impenetrable video-embedding glitches and multiple browser interface issues. But he won! Check it out…

At present, the book site includes: two extracts from the book; an unused Introduction; a web-exclusive essay on the Georgie Fame/John McLaughlin recordings; a mammoth 1963-75 discography/sessionography (which also appears in the eBook but not the print edition); audio rarities, with accompanying text; and several video rarities. Further material, and news updates relating to the book, will be added to the site in due course.

The first two (of 16) video installments from the November 21 2013 book promotional event, held at Cormac O’Kane’s Red Box Studios, Belfast, are online. The remaining parts will go online at Youtube roughly once a week. The event, compered by BBC Radio Ulster personality Linley Hamilton, included readings from the book, Q&A with myself and performances of eight pieces of music by a pool of 10 fabulous musicians – the music being tunes by the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Sonny Rollins and songs cowritten by Duffy Power anfd John McLaughlin in the mid 60s.

Here’s the video clip of the first part:

The evening will also be available on SoundCloud in audio-only form in five roughly half-hour instalments. Here’s the first:

Additionally, Mark Stratford at RPM / Another Planet Music has very kindly created a montage with narration based on the book’s back cover blurb. Here it is:

Aside from the McLaughlin book, work continues with my book on uilleann piping, a joint venture between myself and Belfast piping maestro John McSherry and provisionally titled The Wheels Of The World: John McSherry and the continuum of Irish piping. It has a number of distinct, though interlinked, chapters/sections and consequently feels like writing several books at the one time, but it feels like an important contribution to the literature, as an academic might say. As well as John’s story, and transcriptions of his music, with contributions from his associates and collaborators (several significant names in Irish music), the book will include a substantial history of uilleann piping – which is far richer in documentation prior to the 20th Century than, for example, the blues or jazz in America – and chapters on John’s three piping heroes Finbar Furey, Liam O’Flynn and Paddy Keenan.

Working on the Finbar Furey story – of huge importance in making the uilleann pipes visible and familiar to the British and European folk club worlds via records, touring and broadcasting in the 60s and early 70s – has led me towards creating a further chapter on Bill Leader, the legendary producer who, uniquely, recorded several of the piping greats for British record releases during those Swinging Sixties: Seamus Ennis, Willie Clancy, Finbar Furey, Liam O’Flynn (okay, that one was 1971…) as well as the McPeakes of Belfast (not piping greats, per se, but influential in bringing the instrument to the masses during the ‘folk revival’ in Britain). Bill has very kindly given me a detailed interview on his involvement with Irish music for the book and several British folk notables, so far including Martin Carthy, Roger Trevitt (Hunter Muskett), Dave Burland and Peggy Seeger, have also contibuted recollections regarding pipes and piping in the British folk world of the 60s. That decade was the tipping point between piping as an almost secretive, arcane pursuit in the backroom of Irish pubs and an instrument that could take its place as something thrilling and accessible on the world stage – albeit one that still demanded great dedication and skill to master.

I’m hoping to create chapters covering the four great pipers of the middle 20th Century – the era that straddled the oral tradition moving into the modern recording world: Johnny Doran, Leo Rowsome, Willie Clancy and Seamus Ennis. The intriguing thing about uilleann piping, it seems to me, is that there are only ever a handful of individuals in any generation who effectively represent the instrument and carry its tradition. Perhaps largely this is because it is so difficult to play and, historically, there have only been a few makers of the instrument let alone teachers. The situation has changed in recent years, but up to the 1960s, certainly, the number of uilleann pipers in the world could have been counted on a few hands. Named practitioners of the instrument, incredibly, go back to the early 1700s, as do collected examples of its repertoire – that’s a good two centuries before the same can be said of the blues.

The trick will be to make the book interesting and accessible to both casual listeners/readers and seasoned pipers. It seems curious to me that very few books have been written by or about individual performers/acts within the commercial end of traditional music – as compared with musicians within most other areas of ‘popular music’. Over the past 50 years folk music has existed within the broader popular music arena – the likes of Planxty, the Bothy Band, et al, by the 1970s were basically pop groups in terms of the environment within which they operated: they made records; they toured; they appeared in the music press; and so forth. And yet, even including books on English and Scottish artists from the ‘folk revival’ – including my book on Bert Jansch, first published in 2000, there doesn’t seem to be any great quantity of memoirs or biographies emanating from the folk/trad corner of the popular music world. Curious, isn’t it? John McSherry will be almost unique in being a professional Irish trad musician of the past 20 years with a book to his name. Let’s hope it’s a good one…

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