Sony 517319 2
The roars from the audience on this live CD say it all: not mere enthusiasm, more like primal expressions of joy from those lucky enough to have witnessed, in the first weeks of 2004, the historical reassemblage of Christy Moore, Donal Lunny, Liam O’Flynn and Andy Irvine into the legendary supergroup Planxty.
After 1973, once these boys had invigorated it, traditional Irish music was never the same again. Already virtuoso players with a vast love of the tradition, they infused their music with youthful energy and innovations from subtle harmonies to driving rhythms and the introduction of the bouzouki. Reformed for a dozen Irish concerts after a 21 year lay-off, the band played to ecstatic full houses and recorded this CD and a DVD for posterity.
The track list is a Planxty fan’s dream and rightly so – why abandon a great repertoire unused for two decades? From the off, the sound is unmistakable – the melodic, intricate weavings of Lunny and Irvine’s bouzouki and mandolin, the rhythmic drive, and above all, O’Flynn’s razor-sharp uilleann pipes, locked rail-tight and flying over, in and through everything else. Moore and Irvine’s voices are a little mellower, the familiar songs given maybe a little more bite: The Good Ship Kangaroo, Arthur McBride, Little Musgrave, The Blacksmith (chased by the tumbling, Balkan-inspired Black Smithereens), two versions of As I Roved Out, The West Coast Of Clare … and the real prize, Raggle Taggle Gypsy with its classic segue into Tabhair Dom Do Lámh, still a heart-stopper after all these years.
There’s nostalgia value aplenty but there’s nothing dated or outworn from these four, who clearly still delight in each other’s company. One gets the sense that on- and offstage spontaneous combustion was only narrowly avoided – you can feel hairs standing up on necks, the sense of prodigals returned, family restored. Just pray the rumours of more gigs turn out to be true.
Mel McClellan - July 2004
Music Review/Album: 09 Jun 2004
Twenty years after going their separate ways, Planxty came together for a series of twelve concerts in Vicar Street and Glór…
Planxty, in their original line-up of Christy Moore, Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny and Liam O’Flynn, were arguably the most influential of any of the early Irish folk bands. Their legacy can be heard in the sound of virtually every group to grace the traditional music scene since, from Altan to Dervish to Stockton’s Wing.
Twenty years after going their separate ways, these four musicians – all of whom went on to become legends in their own right – came together for a series of twelve concerts in Vicar Street and Glór. Happily for those who didn’t make it to any of those extraordinary shows, a CD and DVD have now been released featuring excerpts from them.
From the first spontaneous roar from the crowd as O’Flynn’s rock-solid pipes make their entrance on ‘The Starting Gate’, it’s evident that something magical is afoot. The four mesh together as though they’d never been apart, especially when Moore, Irvine and Lunny join in rich three-part vocal harmony on ‘The Good Ship Kangaroo’. And always at the musical centre there’s O’Flynn, his whistle and pipes a massive, deep-rooted core around which guitars, mandolins, bouzoukis and bodhráns dance in contrasting rhythms that intertwine delicately with nary a clash.
All the classics are represented – ‘Arthur McBride’, ‘Little Musgrave’, ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’, ‘The Blacksmith’ – this latter segueing into ‘Black Smithereens’, a Balkan-inspired riot of syncopation with pipes and strings alternating in call-and-response style. O’Flynn’s solo turn on the slow air ‘The Dark Slender Boy’ is a high point, as is Irvine’s haunting ‘The West Coast of Clare’.
If you were lucky enough to be there, this recording will take you back. If you weren’t, close your eyes while you listen to it … or better yet, get hold of the DVD and watch it in a darkened room. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself whooping and shouting along with those fortunate punters in the audience.
Sarah McQuaid - Hotpress
Columbia 202534 9; 2004
After initially testing the water in Lisdoonvarna the previous October, Planxty’s Dublin homecoming saw the reunited foursome playing a series of joyously received concerts. The venue was Vicar Street, a snug 300-seater where the front row is just a few feet from the stage.
Live 2004 offers selections from one of those concerts and features several tracks not present on the CD of the same name. These include Christy Moore’s eloquent song True Loves Knows No Season and Liam O’Flynn’s piping tour de force, the Carolan tune Sí Bheag Sí Mhór.
There’s plenty of stage banter (and one of Christy’s famous examples of how to put down a heckler) and the camera captures both the intimacy of the occasion and the intricacy of Planxty’s musicianship. Indeed watching close-ups of O’Flynn’s flying fingers and the intertwining devilry produced by Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny on the strings is fascinating in itself.
Additionally, the DVD includes three bonus tracks, Andy’s song My Heart is Tonight in Ireland, Christy’s version of Mickey McConnell’s Only Our Rivers Run Free and an O’Flynn whistle solo O’Dwyer of the Glen.
But that’s not all you get for your money, for the DVD also features a documentary by Philip King and Nuala O’Connor on the band’s reformation, including some wonderful monochrome archive footage from the early 1970s (and, it has to be said, some wonderful archive hairstyles too) demonstrating just how impassioned Planxty’s music was then and remains so now. As their erstwhile manager remarks of the band, with especial reference to Liam, “You had three hippies up there … and you had this civil servant in the middle, and he’s producing the magic.”
Add to that a separate section of interviews with each of the band (including Christy’s tale of “the man from Portlaoise” – you’ll have to buy the DVD to learn what that’s all about) and this is almost the perfect package. It loses that one star simply because, hard to credit, but the band subsequently achieved even greater heights, as revealed by their momentous Barbican gig.
This review by Geoff Wallis was written for Songlines magazine
Sleeve Note from Leagues O’Toole:
Amongst other things, the year 2004 will be remembered for the public re-assembling of Planxty for twelve concerts – two in Glór, Ennis, in the music heartland of County Clare, and ten in the plush confines of Vicar St, Dublin – their first live performances in twenty-something years. †This is an event of some considerable historical and cultural magnitude, rendered all the more pertinent given the seamless realignment of Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine, Liam O’Flynn and Christy Moore.
Surreptitious rehearsals in Paddy Doherty’s Spa Hotel in Lisdoonvarna the previous October had revealed to the Planxty players that the chemistry was alive and well and ready to blow. And so it did, as each night the music tumbled magically from their fingers, smiles stretched across our faces, heads bobbed, feet tapped, Christy ‘hupped,’ and we all set adrift on a musical journey that would sail us through the full gamut of emotions.
A cast of odd characters starred each night; lusty blacksmiths, murderous Lords and adulterous Ladies, mighty mariners, raggle taggle gypsies, and shillelagh-wielding latchecos. There was drama, laughs, slagging, jubilation, reflection, and love coming from every corner of the room. The songs and tunes came to us from decades and centuries gone, from 17th century harp music, to the singing of John Reilly, to the priceless pages of the PW Joyce Collection.
‘The Starting Gate’ eases us into the music with delicacy and intricacy, quickly introducing that building block technique that marks so much of Planxty’s music; the blissful bouzouki-mandolin marriage, the otherworldly whistle, the drone, the raspy guitar, the thump of the bodhrán. And in the middle of this melee is Liam O’Flynn whose knife-edge precision piping raises a roar from the audience and elevates the music to the high heavens.
On his solo piece, ‘The Dark Slender Boy’ a mood of pin-drop rapture cloaks the room as Liam bends yearning notes and stretches whirring drones into this profoundly mournful music. In contrast, on ‘The Clare Jig’ his pastoral whistle dances gleefully between the double-bodhrán attack of Donal and Christy.
There are some fantastic stories told within the songs performed here. ‘Arthur McBride’ is an anti-conscription / anti-war song, and one which resonates as much with Planxty’s virgin audience as it does with veterans of the 70s. Here, Andy Irvine calls upon his colleagues to back him up on a suitably rousing rowdy-dow-dow chorus. The nine-minute plus ‘Little Musgrave’ is a poetically written fable of love, lust, infidelity, jealousy, murder, and remorse – the words to which Christy Moore found on pages scattered on the floor of an auctioneers in the early 70s. This particular rendition captures the singer in majestic free-flow.
We rarely discuss Planxty without referencing the unusual new flavours, arrangements, and instruments they brought to traditional Irish music. In a demonstration of their peerlessly inventive verve, they stitch ‘Blacksmithereens’ (a tune based on Andy’s first impressions of Balkans music) onto an old English folk song, ‘The Blacksmith’. This fiery performance is driven by Donal Lunny’s robust, rhythmic, bouzouki and underpinned by Liam’s dramatic phrasing, which prompts another round of hollering from the congregation.
The loudest roar though is reserved for one of the most celebrated segues in traditional music – that invisible bridge from ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ to ‘Tabhair Dom Do Lámh’. And who could deny Andy’s ‘West Coast of Clare,’ a lament of unrivalled pathos that has heads bowed in contemplation right across the venue. It’s rare to see an audience so possessed. It’s little wonder they received standing ovations every night upon entering and exiting the stage.
Nights like those in January and February of 2004 have been wished for, dreamt of, and fantasized about by thousands of Irish music fans for over two decades. We arrived excited, anxious, and downright nervous – there was a lot at stake; memories, expectations, and reputations. We left smiling, speechless, and wondering would we ever see their likes again.
It was a good start to the year.