Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Breda Keville’s Captivating Debut - The Hop Down

All text copyright Ita Kelly (c) 2007

Breda Keville’s debut recording is a solo album of enormous depth and personal expression. Although she hails from north County Galway, Breda’s musical spirit is drawn towards the eastern side of the county and southwards to Clare. Her style echoes the pace and rhythm of the music and of the older musicians from these regions, Paddy Fahey, Peadar O’Loughlin, Joe Ryan, Bobby Casey, Junior Crehan and John Kelly.

The title of her album ‘The Hop Down’ is the name of a tune she heard played by Rita Keane. Rita and Sarah Keane and their niece Dolores were a great inspiration for Breda in terms of singing, but Rita also plays the accordion and Breda describes her as a gorgeous player. The Keanes come from one side of Headford and Breda’s home is in Claran on the other side. Breda enthuses about the magic of visiting Rita and Sarah in their home; “Everything you love about Ireland is in that kitchen” she says. “It’s just so unique. They have a big old fireplace and in summertime they have the door opened and they won’t turn on a light until it’s nearly dark. They are lovely people.”

All Breda’s influences are represented in the tunes and songs she has recorded. “Some of the tunes are ones I’ve been playing for years like ‘Eileen Curran’ and ‘The Rainy Day’” says Breda. “I am playing ‘Seán Ó Duibhir a'Ghleanna’ for a long time as well and it’s one I particularly love. ‘The Gallowglass’ – that’s a lovely set and I have played ‘Kitty’s Rambles’ a lot with a friend of mine who used to live here in Galway, the piper Lorenzo Morales. ‘Clancy’s Jig’ would be influenced by Willie Clancy. I’d love to have met him; he was supposed to be so funny and kind as well. ‘Mary Brennan’s Favourite’ was one I got from John and James Kelly.”

Paddy Fahey features strongly whether for his own tunes or his settings of tunes like ‘The West Wind’ and ‘The New Road’. Bobby Casey’s name appears a few times as do several others. Breda is meticulous in crediting her sources in the sleeve notes and Charlie Piggott, a musician with whom she plays on occasion and for whom she has great respect, penned the liner notes. He says “the link we experience here is infectiously strong in elements of the older players and composers.” Piper Tommy Keane spoke equally enthusiastically about Breda’s album when he launched it at the Willie Clancy Summer School and in the Crane Bar in Galway last year.

Breda Keville is the youngest of six children and grew up in a house where music was part of everyday. The music travelled through the generations on both her mother’s and father’s side of the family and it was her mother who drove Breda and her siblings to classes, lessons, Fleadhs and wherever they needed to go to experience their music. She also listened to music avidly and Radio na Gaeltachta was always on in the house. “Even though my father didn’t play” adds Breda, “he loved it and understood it; which is just as important really. His mother played a little bit on the melodeon.”

Breda learnt the tin whistle from Mary Bergin and the fiddle from Helena Delaney from Lackagh. In primary school, Brid Toher encouraged her singing and playing and later, the fiddle player Kathleen Nesbitt guided her and gave lots of encouragement too.

While her first passion is the fiddle she is also a formidable singer. On ‘The Hop Down’ we are treated to three songs from her pure and plaintive voice. “It has always taken second place to the fiddle” says Breda about singing, “and I don’t mind saying that because that’s just the way it is. The fiddle would be a real passion, it’s something I feel strongly about and genuinely love it.”

The songs too have solid pedigree. Breda learnt ‘Bean an Fhir Rua’ from the singing of Sean ‘ac Dhonnchadha, and ‘Blackwaterside’ is a song learnt from the singing of Paddy Tunney. There are many songs of this name but this version is a different setting. “‘The Cuckoo’ has been recorded by lots of different singers and in lots of traditions all over the world” explains Breda. “This version I got from a friend of mine; ‘Manda Lacy who introduced me to Anne Briggs who sings that song.”

Being the youngest meant that Breda was also influenced by what her sisters were listening to and playing. Especially her sister Claire who along with Breda are the ones who play most music now. Claire is a well known concertina player and has recently taken up the fiddle; she plays both instruments on ‘The Hop Down’ with Breda. “When I was getting into the music, Claire was coming home from college and she’d always have something new that I would listen to. She had tapes of the older players, Bobby Casey, Paddy Fahey and Paddy Canny. There were private tapes that would circulate amongst musicians interested in that kind of music. That’s how I came across them originally.”

The Willie Clancy summer school was the next great resource for Breda. “I started going to Milltown when I was fifteen and going to the fiddle recitals there you’d see P. Joe Hayes, Francie Donnellan, Junior Crehan and Paddy Canny, Joe Ryan and Peter O’Loughlin as well; all those people you had heard about. Some of them you thought they were dead and here they were coming on stage. Milltown is great for making young people aware of the older style. It’s one of the few places in Ireland that you can go and there is so much emphasis placed on the older style. They’ve got the west Clare fiddlers – you can go into the room there and listen to all these older generations playing for hours.”

Liam Lewis is another strong influence and in 2001 Breda played with Liam and Paddy Fahey, representing the east Galway style at a concert celebrating different fiddle styles organised by Mick Crehan in Galway. In preparation for that night, Breda learnt three of Paddy’s lesser known tunes and she plays them along with Liam Lewis on ‘The Hop Down’. “I feel I’m very lucky” she says, “to have met lots of those older generation players like Paddy Fahey and either played with them or chatted to them.”

Conor Tully is another influence in that style of east Galway, as is Kevin Maloney whom Breda recounts meeting in 2003 shortly before he passed away. ‘For the sake of old Decency’ is a tune gleaned from Kevin’s store.

Breda also listens to the older musicians from other regions of the country. “I’m drawn to the older style” she says. “These tunes have been shaped by generations of musicians. It’s like an instrument that’s just made; it has to be played a lot before the tone can come out.”

What is it that attracts her to these older musicians, this older style? “The older musicians, there’s something quite unique in their tone; they’ve just got some sweetness. When you hear them you know it’s them by their tone and their style, the way they’d ornament or do a variation, whereas nowadays I think it’s harder to distinguish between people.”

‘The Hop Down’ was recorded with Ronan Browne in his studio at his home in Connemara and with Ray Diamond who has a studio in Galway city. It was a good experience and very relaxed. Most of the tracks are completely solo, a rarity these days. There are two beautiful slow airs and it’s not surprising to hear that Breda has an All Ireland title for slow air playing. Terence O’Reilly, whom Breda describes as ‘the most sensitive guitar player’ accompanies just three of the nineteen tracks. Liam Lewis joins Breda for one track and her sister Claire for two.

Breda works full time as a radiation therapist but also teaches music. “It’s great to be given the opportunity to introduce the likes of Paddy Canny or Joe Ryan to eight and nine year olds who are interested in it” she says. She enjoys playing sessions and gigs locally but would welcome any invitations to perform, or opportunities to play here or abroad that come on foot of her recording. The cover design of ‘The Hop Down’ reflects Breda’s gentle and fun personality in terms of the photographs and colouring she chose to use. Her seven year old nephew created many of the beautiful pictures inside.

‘The Hop Down’ has already garnered seriously good reviews. It is a strongly individual and creative recording, traditional music delivered with maturity and sensitivity.

Click her to buy Breda Keville's Album 'The Hop Down' from the .tradnet store on Amazon.

1 comment:

Darren said...

Beautiful album indeed. Only discovered it a month ago.
Probably one of the best trad recordings of these last few years. Way more worth listening than any of the overproduced super trad bands which are in abundant number these days.
No backing is the way!