Kali or an octopus

The uilleann pipes is a musical instrument of such extraordinary complexity it could only have been invented by the Irish.

pipesIt is related to the bagpipes, but you don’t blow into it. The uilleann pipes is inflated with a small set of bellows, strapped around the waist and the right arm. It has three sorts of pipe: the chanter (on which you play the melody) , drones, and also regulators. There are three of these (tenor, baritone and bass), and each one has a set of keys to play chords accompanying the melody. It is astonishing that this instrument can be played by anything short of the many-armed Indian god Kali. Or maybe an octopus.

2060 sleeve full

But played it is, and it is a beautiful instrument, quieter and more subtle than the bagpipes. Among the bands which kept is use alive was the Gallowglass Ceili Band, part of the Irish cultural revival. This track comes from an LP released in 1968, the same year as The Beatles’ “White Album” and the Stones’ Beggars Banquet. It was, in short, irredeemably square even at the time of its release. Just look at the bloke playing the pipes on the album sleeve.

2060 sleeve Pot-smoking flower child on the Summer of Love? Not so much.

Ah, but we respect all music here on Planet Vinyl, and we have a special place in our hearts for those dedicated souls who keep alive ancient traditions by playing impossible instruments. And Gallowglass could pump out a mighty tune. Just listen.

  • Artist: The Gallowglass Ceili Band
  • LP Title: Irish Night
  • Side 1, Track 4 “McDermott’s Reel”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm, mono
  • Label: Hallmark
  • Catalogue number: Hallmark
  • Manufactured in: UK
  • Year: 1968

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The wheel turns

“Majella has a very bright future” declares the sleeve note on this LP. There are lots of quotes from the papers, too. “Majella will be a recording star of international fame,” says one. “Majella Brady is currently tipped to be Ireland’s top pop export for many years,” opines another. On it goes: “A new star will shine in the North- Greatest hope of a top line singer since Ruby Murray.” So, no pressure.

Majella front cover

Majella Brady is a native of Country Derry, in Northern Ireland. And for a time she was the Next Big Thing in Irish music, the Republic as well as Ulster. She had a few top ten singles in the mid-1960s, when still a teenager. But here’s the thing. Ireland is a pretty small place. Its population in 1969, when this album was released, was just over three million people. This is about the same as Mongolia now, and fewer than Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Majella back detailNot a big market, which is why all the talk about being an “export”. Majella got exported and had some success, especially in the country and western scene, but never quite broke through into the mainstream. Just guessing, but inflated expectations from a parochial homeland may not have helped.

She lives in Scotland now, and is still about, and still performs and releases music. She returned to Derry in 2014 for her first performance there in nearly 40 years, and she told the local paper: “I feel I am the forgotten singer of Derry”. But there is no bitterness: she comes across as a cheerful, kind, vivacious woman. She makes a good living playing music she loves, and who could ask for more?

In “The Spinning Wheel”, the title track of this album, is in this spirit. A young woman grabs the chance to sneak out to meet her lover in the moonlight. The wheel turns, but live life to the full.

  • Artist: Majella, with Don Lowes and his Orchestra,
  • LP Title: The Spinning Wheel & Other Irish Favourites
  • Side 1, Track 2: “Piano Trio In B Flat, Op. 99, D.898, Second Movement, Andante Un Poco Mosso”
  • Format: 12” 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: Hallmark SHM 699
  • Manufactured in: England
  • Year: 1969

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs