CD A0203: Live in the Highlands

Live in the Highlands by Máire Ní Chathasaigh & Chris Newman

CD Cover: Live in the Highlands by Máire Ní Chathasaigh & Chris NewmanThis recording was made in 1995 during a series of concerts at the 2nd Highland Harp Festival held in Balnain House, Inverness (Scotland's centre for the promotion of Highland music) and in the Western Isles of Skye, Harris, Benbecula and Mull. The tracks are presented in more or less the same order that they were performed on stage, except that the middle section was chopped out so what you're left with is the first half of the first set spliced on to the second half of the second set!

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Profile page & index of recordings & sheet music

Track Listing & Audio Samples

  1. Turkey in the Straw
  2. The Gander in the Praitie Hole/The Donnybrook Boy/The Queen of the Rushes
  3. Thugamar Féin an Samhradh Linn (We brought the summer in)
  4. The Unknown/Wellington's Reel
  5. Eleanor Plunkett
  6. The Acrobat/Bonny Banchory/Millbrae
  7. Róisí Dubh
  8. The Humours of Ballyloughlin
  9. A Shaighdiúirín a Chroí (Dear Soldier of my heart)/The Blackbird
  10. Salt Creek
  11. Táimse im' Chodladh
  12. A Sore Point
  13. Stroll On!

CD Notes & Credits

Sleeve Notes

Turkey In the Straw
One of the most popular of all traditional American tunes. The collector Francis O’Neill was of the opinion that this particular tune originated in Ireland and had manuscript evidence in his possession to support his view. He published an Irish-sounding version of it in his Dance Music of Ireland 1001 Gems. The version we play here however is definitely American!

The Gander In the Pratle Hole/The Donnybrook Boy/The Queen of the Rushes
We’ve been playing these three jigs as a set since we first started to perform together in 1987. Máire used to play the first tune and the last as a set with her fiddle-playing sister Nollaig Casey and piper Máire Ni Ghráda when they spent some time playing together as a trio in the mid-seventies, and subsequently recorded them on her 1985 solo album The New Strung Harp. Chris learnt “The Donnybrook Boy” from his good friend Jon Press.

Thugamar Féin an Samhradh Llnn (“We brought the Summer in”)
A very old and interesting song traditionally sung on Mayday, the first day of sununer in Ireland. Known as Bealtaine, it was one of the four major ancient Irish pagan festivals of the year. (However, the word Bealtaine - pronounced ‘Bee-owl-tinner’ - now refers to the whole month of May and not just the first day of the month.) Many Mayday customs have persisted into modern times. The custom of bringing the summer in”, that is, bringing newly-cut birch branches indoors to decorate the house on Mayday, was practised in Máire’s father’s home in the parish of Caheragh in West Cork when he was growing up. An 1844 account gives the following description of a custom alluded to in the song: “On May Day (the boundary day that divides Winter and Summer) two separate parties meet, the one dressed in the gloomy garb of Winter, the other in the gay dress of Spring. They carry on a sportive war...the Spring always obtaining the victory; they then march away in triumph, carrying branches with flowers attached to them, proclaiming and singing The Song of Joy’ or ‘We have brought the summer in”’. Bábóg na Bealtaine (the ‘May-baby’) was a large doll dressed up in ribbons and carried from house to house in some parts of the country. James Duke of Ormond is said to have been welcomed on his arrival in Ireland as Lord Lieutenant after the Restoration by a group of girls singing “Thugamar féin an samhradh lino”, dancing the associated celebratory rinnce fada or ‘long-dance’ and strewing flowers in his path.

The Unknown/Wellington’s Reel
The first tune is as its name implies! Chris learnt “Wellington’s Reel” from one of the amazing 78 recordings made in New York in the 20s and 30s by the brilliant Sligo fiddle-player James Morrison.

Eleanor Plunkett
One of the most beautiful tunes ever composed by the celebrated blind Irish harper Turlough OCarolan (1670 - 1738). Eleanor Plunkett, of Robertstown House, Co. Meath, was said to have been the last of her family. The ruins of Robertstown House lie just south of Cruisetown House near Nobber, Co. Meath, the village of Carolan’s birth.
The guitar solo was not of course composed in the 17th century, but was improvised by Chris on the night! Another arrangement of this piece (minus guitar solo) appears on The Carolan Albums

The Acrobat/Bonnie Banchory/Millbrae
The first two pieces were composed by James Scott Skinner (1843 - 1927), the renowned Scottish fiddle-player and composer. “The Acrobat” is a hornpipe which we both like to play, though on this particular night Máire took the tune; Skinner named the second tune after the place of his birth.“Milibme” is a reel composed by Ronnie Cooper from the Shetland Islands.

Róisín Dubh (“Dark Rosaleen”) [Row-sheen Duv]
It has been customary in Ireland for a very long time to play the airs of what are known as na ambráin mhóra (‘the great songs’) as instrumental pieces, or “slow airs”. R6isin Dubh is one of the most famous of Irish political songs, an allegory based on an older love-song in which the title referred to the poet’s beloved rather than, as here, being a pseudonym for Ireland. Though this majestically beautiful air is probably the most famous one of all in Ireland itself, it’s surprisingly little known among lovers of traditional Irish music elsewhere in the world. Singers should be wamed that as this was a quasi-improvisational live instrumental performance, Máire’s taken some liberties with the phrasing and added an extra repetition of the B phrase in the second verse to create a certain musical effect, so attempts to put the poem to her version of the tune will meet with limited success!
There’s a tradition that it was composed by Aodh Rua Ó Domhnaill (Red Hugh O’Donnell), the chief of his clan, who together with another great Gaelic chieftain Aoda Ó Néill masterminded the rebellion known as the Nine Years’ War. This culminated in catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Kinsale on Christmas Eve 1601, a watershed in Irish history seen in retrospect as the last stand for the independence of the Gaelic way of life.

The Humours of Ballyloughlin
One of Máire’s favourite tunes, a very old four-part jig also known as “The Hurler’s March”. (The late scholar Breandán Breathnach was of the opinion that it had started life as a clan march.) She originally recorded it ten years ago on her solo album The New Strung Harp.

A shaighdiúirìn a Chroí (“Dear Soldier of my Heart”)/The Blackbird
This song tells the story, common to many traditions, of a naive girl who falls in love with a ruffianly soldier. He strings her along for a while, making the excuse that he can’t marry her because he has no suitable shoes/coat/hat to put on; having shamelessly accepted presents of these from her he heartlessly announces that he’s married already! After the song we play “The Blackbird”, one of Ireland’s most popular solo set-dances. The tune is ultimately derived from the air of an allegorical Jacobite song of the same name, said to date from the time of the Old Pretender in the early eighteenth century.

Salt Creek
A traditional American tune, played here in bluegrass style with lots of guitar solos.

Táimse im’ Chodladh [Tawm-shim Culler]
Chris’s favourite air, again that of an allegorical song. The title is taken from the recurring last line of every verse: “Táimse im’ chodladh’s ná dúistear mé”, meaning “I’m asleep and let me not be wakened”. The poem loosely belongs to a genre very popular among eighteenth-century Irish poets, the aisling or vision-poem. The poet fulls asleep in a wild or atmospheric place, in this instance near a lios, a rype of prehistoric ring-fort found dotted all around the Irish countryside and thought to have been inhabited by the fuiries. In his dream he sees a beautiful girl standing before him and fulls instantly in love with her. In most aislingí she weeps, telling him her tale of woe and he vows to make her happy by righting the wrongs to which she has been subjected: she then reveals herself to be not a flesh-and-blood woman but a personification of Ireland and he wakes up, diseonsolate. In this song however she’s a powerful figure who does not weep but gives savage and vengeful battle-orders!

A Sore Point
Four years ago we recorded this tune (inspired by a Fernando Sor variation) on Out Of Court. Some time later we started playing the tune live, whereupon the original arrangement went out of the window. This is how we play it now - in a different key, without the mandolin, and about ten times faster!

Stroll On!
Chris considered taking a leaf out of Scott Skinner’s book and calling this tune “Bonnie Watford”, but felt it didn’t have the same appeal...

Maire and Chris made their debut as a duo at the 1987 Cambridge Folk Festival-a baptism of fire! Between them they have played in 21 countries, made TV and radio broadcasts on 5 continents and played on over 50 albums.

Chris is one of Britain's leading guitarists. He began to play the guitar at the age of 4; by 14 he was actually being paid real money for doing what he'd do for free! He spent many years with a variety of bands playing what could loosely be described as folk music, then became side-tracked into the commercial music world, producing The Oldest Swinger In Town(which earned him a silver disc). One day in 1985 he decided he'd really rather play interesting music than pursue interesting paychecks and thereafter became immersed in the traditional music of Ireland and Scotland. In 1995 The Scotsman said "Newman's brilliant grasp of the idiom and swingy, authoritative playing give....a tremendous rhythmic and dynamic lift..."

Maire grew up in a well-known West Cork musical family and began to play the harp when she was 11. Using her knowledge of the idiom of the living oral Irish tradition, she developed a variety of new techniques, particularly in relation to ornamentation, with the aim of establishing an authentically traditional style of harping. Her originality was quickly recognised and she made many TV and radio broadcasts as a teenager, going on to win the All-Ireland and Pan-Celtic Harp Competitions on several occasions.In 1985 she recorded the first harp album ever to concentrate on traditional Irish dance music, The New Strung Harp. Her unique approach to the instrument has had a profound influence on the new generation of Irish harpers.

A number of people (whom we privately thought to be misguided) have been asking for years when we were going to record a live album. Having always recoiled in horror from contemplating such a project, we finally took the plunge and found that it was really very painless!

This recording was made between 27 May and 3 June 1995 in the course of a hugely enjoyable series of concerts at the 2nd Highland Harp Festival held in Balnain House, Inverness(Scotland's centre for the promotion of Highland Music)and in the Western Isles of Skye, Harris, Benbecula and Mull, at the tailend of six solid months of touring. We've presented the tracks in more or less the same order that we currently perform them on stage, except that we've chopped the middle out so what you're left with is the first half of the set spliced on to the second half of the second set!(All the spoken introductions and stories have also been left to languish on the cutting room floor!) Most of these pieces have been on our setlist for quite some time, but a couple of the sets have only very recently been added. Four of the tracks appear on other recordings of ours;"A Sore Point" and "Stroll On" (in substantially different arrangements) on Out of Court,"Eleanor Plunkett" on The Carolan Albums (its treatment here is again very different); and "The Gander in the Pratie Hole", "The Queen of the Rushes" and "The Humours of Ballyloughlin" on Maire's solo record The New Strung Harp which was released 10 years ago- we decided that it was about time they had another airing! All of the remaining tracks are here recorded by us for the first time.

So here it is, a musical snapshot of the summer of '95. We hope you enjoy it. 
The Irish Times "Máire Ní Chathasaigh and Chris Newman produce music of fire and brilliance on harp and guitar. This latest release from the high-wire act in traditional music is live and without a net. The wow factor is, as usual, very high; what a pity domestic CDs can't be slowed down like tape and vinyl, the better to appreciate the dexterity. Although some of the pieces included have been recorded before they have been metamorphosed into something different in the meantime, and in some cases are almost unrecognisable. Genteel Eleanor Plunkett is rushed headlong from the 18th to the 20th century by a raunchy guitar solo, while A Sore Point has become a bravura showy slalom piece where harp and guitar chase each other up and down the octaves. Táimse Im Chodladh is perfection; spare, resonating and beautiful."
Folk Roots "Wandering around the Scottish Highlands and Islands last summer with no particular itinerary, I discovered that on both Mull and Skye I had contrived to miss concerts by Ní Chathasaigh & Newman by one night. Judging by this stunning album (recorded at several island venues and the Harp Festival at Balnain House in Inverness), I really should plan my holidays better. Máire Ní Chathasaigh is not only a virtuoso harp player but a tremendous singer as well. Chris Newman is one of the best flat picking guitarists in the UK, with a remarkable sympathy and feel for traditional music. Together they achieve a rare synergy, which shines through whether they're playing an O'Carolan slow air with a beautiful improvised guitar solo (Eleanor Plunkett), bouncing around a traditional American fiddle tune (Turkey in the Straw), or alternating the lead at breakneck speed on a mock ragtime tune (Stroll On). Máire's singing on the ritual Thugamar Féin an Samhradh Linn definitely scores highly on the 'small hairs' scale, contrasting well with the lighthearted A Shaighdiúirín a Chroí. This duo clearly have a great time but also take their music and their sound very seriously, and Newman's expertise at recording acoustic music has produced one of the best live albums I've heard in a long time. Máire and Chris are always a treat to see in concert and this album captures the essence of these two remarkable performers in a rare and priceless way. Absolutely essential."
Dirty Linen "Anyone who has seen Máire Ní Chathasaigh and Chris Newman live in concert knows that they are one of the most accomplished duos on the circuit today. 'Graceful nonchalance' is a good description of their confident and polished sound executed so painlessly. Blazing guitar and dancing harp move effortlessly from flashy American fiddle tunes to Irish reels to swing/jazz frenzies . Sometimes one can forget the blithe grace of Ní Chathasaigh's voice in the heat of the instrumental fervour."
Rock 'n' Reel "Two sets of strings in perfect harmony: simply astonishing! Both are technically brilliant players and it's to their credit that they can combine this virtuosity with an almost tangible feeling of warmth and spontaneity. As live albums go, this is definitely one of the better ones because although several of these tunes have appeared on earlier recordings their new arrangements and the sizeable chunk of previously unrecorded material lifts Live In The Highlands above the usual 'let's release a live version of the last album and fleece the fans' mentality of many artists and record companies. Excellent!"
Folk On Tap "The record output of this outstanding couple continues unabated, and with it the grandeur of their playing. Practically everything that is to be said about their playing has now been said. The wonder is that they can still produce music that is capable of surprising us and which sounds as fresh as though they had just discovered it. So when I say that the listener who has already heard Máire and Chris will know what to expect in terms of skill, finesse, sheer technical brilliance, and quality of repertoire, that same listener will still be caught as unawares as if he or she is just discovering Máire and Chris for the first time."



Special thanks to Caroline Hewat of Balnain House who made this project possible; to Christy O’Leary and to Simon Mayor & Hilary Jones whove been urging us for years to make a live album. It’s all your fault! Thanks also to William Crawford, Mike Simpson and everyone at Balnain House, to Sheila and Donald Murray of Benbecula and all the people we met in Skye, Harris, flenbecula and Mull for their kindness and hospitality to Corrina Hewat, Judith Peacock, Tom McConville, Fskil Romme, Jon Nicholls, Carsten Linde, Gigi Bresciani, Ingeborg Schrewentigges; to Máire’s sisters Noilaig & Mairéad Casey and to her parents Seán & Úna Ó Cathasalgh, whose knowledge of Irish songs and customs is a constant inspiration.

Máire Ni Chathasaigh - Irish harp, vocals, piano
Chris Newman - guitar
A Sore Point and Stroll On! composed by Chris Newman
Millbrae composed by Ronnie Cooper
All other titles traditional arranged by Máire Ni Chathasaigh and Chris Newman MCPS 1995.

Recorded by Chris May & June 1995 at the Highland Festival, Balnain House, Inverness and in the Western Isles of Skye, benbecula and Mull.
Mixed by Chris at Old Bridge Music
Digital Editing by Warwick Pilmer, Beaumont Street Studios
Sleeve Design by Bryan Ledgard at ledgard Jepson
Photos by Chris Newman and Geoff Lakeman
Produced and arranged by Máire Ni Chathasaigh and Chris Newman

© 1995 Old Bridge Music

Album Information

Instruments:     Harp, Guitar / Vocals / Piano
Genre: Irish Traditional
Format: CD
Our Ref: A0203
Label: Old Bridge Music
Year: 1995
Origin: UK