Ein irisches Kleinod
Seit den frühen Neunzigerjahren musizieren Fil Campbell und Tom McFarland bereits zusammen. Da ist es kein Wunder, dass sich das irische Duo blind versteht, was seinem Konzert im gut besuchten Kulturforum am Dienstag eine besondere Atmosphäre verleiht.
Kiel. Von Routine ist dabei zum Glück nichts zu spüren. Vielmehr zeichnet sich das Zusammenspiel der Sängerin, die sich selbst auf der akustischen Gitarre begleitet, und ihres zuweilen ebenfalls singenden Percussion-Partners, durch eine wache Vertrautheit aus.
Auf dem Programm stehen Traditionals und eigene Songs, stimmig gemischt und auch in den hinsichtlich der Arrangements angenehm homogen gehalten. Wer in Sachen irische Songwriterkunst vor allem an die den Soundtrack zum Guinness denkt, ist hier falsch. Insbesondere in der ersten Konzerthälfte musiziert das Duo eher still. Während Fil Campbells mit gereifter Stimme Geschichten aus dem Land des grünen Klees heraufbeschwört, grundiert Tom Mc Farland diese elegant und kunstvoll auf den Bongos oder an der Rahmentrommel. Mitunter gestaltet auch er ein Stück mit milder Stimme, bei den Refrains ist er regelmäßig am Mikrofon zu erleben.
Auch das Publikum dürfte hierbei mit einstimmen, wie das Duo immer wieder betont. Doch das genießt lieber ein Glas Rotwein im Halbdunkel, summt allenfalls leise mit und applaudiert dafür umso herzlicher. Am Abend zuvor, berichten Fil Campbell und Tom McFarland, hätten ihre Gäste noch lautstark mitgesungen. Das war auf Hallig Hooge, wo sich im Konzert statt Wein- vor allem Schnapsgläser leerten. Auf der Hallig versteht man offensichtlich zu feiern – wenn es dort denn einmal etwas zu feiern gibt.
Zwischen den Songs zeigt sich Fil Campbell als sympathische Moderatorin, die die Geschichte zum Lied preisgibt. Der Titelsong des aktuellen Album Back There beispielsweise handelt von der Sehnsucht nach unbeschwerten Kindheitstagen. Campbell und McFarland singen ihn mit Inbrunst, so dass die Rückverbindung zu diesen Zeiten und ihrer Vitalität unmittelbar spürbar wird.
Generell nimmt der Abend in der zweiten Konzerthälfte an Fahrt auf. Hier steigert sich nicht nur das Tempo der Musik, hier präsentiert auch Tom McFarland ein klangfarblich an indische Tabla-Künste erinnerndes Solo auf der Bodhrán. Und im Finale gibt Fil Campbell dann noch überraschend in gebrochenem Deutsch ihre Version von Hannes Waders Wandervogel-Hymne Heute hier, morgen dort zum Besten. Dass diese naturgemäß eher ulkig als vollendet wirkt, ändert nichts daran, dass man an diesem Abend ein echtes musikalisches Kleinod erleben durfte.
FIL CAMPBELL & TOM MCFARLAND
Glenshee Music GSR005
Fil Campbell’s seventh album gives equal billing to her percussionist husband, Tom McFarland, who tours with her and also operates Ballyneddan Studio, where these tracks were recorded.
Eleven tracks provide a cross-sectional view of the current live set of this popular couple. There’s a bright take on David Francey’s Come Rain Or Come Shine and a fab version of the rarely heard Steve Ashley song, Best Wishes. A host of supporting musicians fill out the sound nicely, including James Blennerhassett on exquisite bass, and notably Danny McGreevy on uilleann pipes. A Wish For Emily, a Fil co-write with Enda Patrick Cullen, is an emigrant song clearly written from the heart, and is inspiring at first listen – and now on repeat on my player. The version of the Kieran Goss and Kimmie Rhodes song, Make The Morning Shine, certainly does it justice also. The highlight for me, though, is another co-write (Campbell with Tom McFarland on this occasion), The White Beach, which closes the album – a nostalgic nod at a childhood well served, now jeopardised by a landlord bent on refusing access to a beach. This could bring a tear to a potato’s eye.
All things considered, this is a well packaged, nicely produced album of contemporary Irish music, and proves that Fil Campbell is still delivering competent and captivating songs.
"A beautiful collection of songs."
Sounds Of The Emerald Isle - Irish Radio Show (34th Year)
Sundays 12:05pm on WVBF1530 Taunton, Massachusetts
Listen Worldwide on the internet at : http://tunein.com/radio/WVBF-1530-s23471/#
"Well, they say nothing's perfect, but your gig at Bacca Pipes on Friday came pretty close.
Thank you both for a wonderful evening's music. And what a great club it is for audience response.
Looking forward to the new CD, and especially to seeing you at the Topic."
"...an absolutely magic evening on Thursday last at the Black Swan. The intimate and relaxed atmosphere was just grand.
Tom's superbly judged and sensitively understated percussion and vocal harmonies proved a perfect foil to Fil's glorious singing, which on this occasion was placed at the service of a veritable treasure-trove of contemporary songs including some real discoveries."
Fil Campbell - A Place Of My Own (Glenshee)
Fermanagh-born singer Campbell has, over the years, released some very enchanting records, notably the two magical volumes of Songbirds which arose out of the TV series where she profiled Irish women singers from the first half of the 20th century and explored their repertoire. The role of women has always been a central focus of her presentation of song, and this album expands that preoccupation further with a delightful new collection of songs from a woman’s point of view - songs of work, love, hardship, emigration and marriage. As she explains: "We’re all trying to find a place of our own in life; and many songs that women sang in Ireland were just about that, finding their place".
This latest collection also follows on directly from the Songbirds records in presenting songs that she had learned as a child (I Know My Love, My Singing Bird and The Gartan Mother’s Lullaby) mixed in with songs from the repertoires of the women she profiled in the series, notably Margaret Barry (It’s Better To Be Single) and Delia Murphy, whose catalogue furnishes the disc’s closing pair of songs (Send Back My Barney To Me and the unpretentious fun of Whistle Daughter Whistle).
Once again, Campbell’s gathered around her some of the best of Ireland’s folk and traditional musicians; in fact, it’s an almost identical cast-list to that utilised on the Songbirds recordings – regular collaborators Tom McFarland (percussion), Brendan Emmett (guitar, mandolin), Brendan Monaghan (pipes, whistles), Seamus Brett (accordion, keyboards) and John Fitzpatrick (fiddle, viola), with, this time round, Nicky Scott on bass. Their contributions, though sensitive and tasteful, are nevertheless full of life-affirming energy, and in that respect too they dovetail well with Campbell’s rich, deeply felt and idiomatic vocal delivery.
As always, there’s never any doubt that she really gets to the heart of a song, whether it be conveying the pain of emigration (Come Back To Me Mavourneen, a song recorded by Connie Foley in America in the 1930s), invoking a harsh allegory through beautiful melody (My Singing Bird), or pointedly commenting on the woman’s lot (Haste To The Wedding), or even just having fun…
Although the disc has its share of lighter material, there’s plenty of contrast between adjacently-placed songs, for example where a matchless rendition of The Gartan Mother’s Lullaby is followed by the cheeky Belfast millworkers’ ditty The Doffing Mistress.
Alongside the fine performances of above-mentioned song classics, the set also contains some hitherto-not-so-well-known songs that are no less worth resurrecting, like Erin Grá Mo Chroi; but tucked away just over halfway through the disc is a significant, and perceptive, new song written by Vince Keehan from Mayo; Working The Streets simply yet poignantly captures the fear of a young woman whose life hasn’t turned out the way she’d hoped, and proves a definite disc highlight. All in all, well worth seeking out.
David Kidman 2012
Fil Campbell - Songbirds (CD and companion DVD) (Glenshee Records)
The Fermanagh-born singer/songwriter has changed tack for her latest project (and fourth album release), on which she looks back at the music of her childhood and pays tribute to the songs of the past and the women singers who performed them. Its genesis lies in Fil's desire to make a CD of folk songs that she had grown up with and that had first been recorded in the 1930s by Delia Murphy, but that basic idea has since evolved further to also embrace the lives of four other women who had also recorded this material (Ruby Murray, Bridie Gallagher, Mary O'Hara and Margaret Barry), eventually blossoming into a six-part series for Irish Television – entitled Songbirds: The First Ladies Of Irish Song – which was first shown in autumn 2005.
The DVD (which is available separately from the CD) presents the actual TV programmes in their entirety. What comes across more than anything else is that the project has been a real labour of love for Fil: her unreserved affection for her subjects and their songs, and her ability to get to the heart of the singers' stories and communicate it lovingly to her audience. The series is also strongly unified both in style and format and in terms of design and presentation, and looks and sounds extremely attractive, with archive film extracts and interviews sensibly balanced and integrated. Each programme seems just about the right length, and no individual element outstays its welcome - and yet I also felt I learned a significant amount about the ladies and their personalities from these brief portraits. The basic biographical information is fleshed out by reminiscences from an array of respected and experienced musicians, writers and broadcasters (these including Mick Moloney, Colum and Tommy Sands, Phil Coulter, Reg Hall, Steve Cooney and Ron Kavana), all of whom display an evident warmth, regard and admiration for the ladies (and a keen appreciation of their talents) and a relevant depth of informed knowledge with often some very interesting stories to tell. Finally, a number of excerpts from the recording-studio sessions (where Fil and a select few master musician friends performed key songs associated with the singers discussed) set the actual biographical studies into relief and give them an interpretive context. The first programme introduces the series' concept and rationale, while presenting a thoughtful overview: its tempting and plausible central thesis is that women singers weren't recognised as important in the performance of Irish repertoire (and moreover, all Irish singers were almost ashamed of their own heritage) until the emergence and subsequent popularity of these five singers; each in her own way has been deemed to contribute significantly to the ongoing folk revival while defining a specifically Irish repertoire that nevertheless encompassed both indigenous songs from the true tradition and songs from the music-hall or even Tin Pan Alley that idealised "the motherland" for the benefit of emigrants exiled in other countries (especially the USA). Each of the remaining five programmes in turn is then seen to concentrate exclusively on the life and work of one of the "first ladies of Irish song". Some or most of the five singers may at times have had songs which were common to their individual repertoires, but it's important to note that they performed in often diametrically opposed styles. While noting that all five ladies were in their own way popularisers of Irish song (and their semi-traditional way of singing even non-traditional material ensured that this got fed back into the tradition almost by default), the series also points up the contrasts between them, from the raw, but completely natural street-singer Maggie to the soaring, classically sweet bel-canto soprano and elegant harpistry of Mary; the wild, unbridled charm of Delia to the lift-the-stage persona and come-all-ye inclusiveness of Bridie and the all-pervading purity of tone and Hollywood-style artistry of Ruby.
Now, one may initially be disappointed that the series (and therefore the DVD too) contains no complete performances of individual songs, either by the original artists or by Fil herself - although it's perfectly understandable in view of the programmes' remit and the necessary time constraints of the format. The companion Songbirds CD, being available separately, should thus by rights be the answer to one's prayers, and to a large extent it is. The first thing to note is that it is indeed both entirely complementary to, and a logical development from, the DVD. To be sure, even if you've not viewed the DVD it stands alone as a totally lovely collection of songs, affectionately performed by Fil in her characteristically warm, sensitive yet commanding vocal style (someone once dubbed Fil "a third McGarrigle", and not without some justification). The songs all suit her down to the ground, and she luxuriates mildly in the expression of these old-fashioned sentiments (the DVD extracts show just how much she revels in singing them, but you can hear it on the audio tracks too). Fil also benefits enormously from the gently-conceived and ultra-sympathetic musical accompaniment courtesy of a worthy crew that includes her percussionist-husband Tom McFarland, James Blennerhassett (bass), Brendan Emmett (guitars, mandolin, banjo), Seamus Brett (keyboards) and Brendan Monaghan (uilleann pipes, whistles). There are some special guests too, notably Sean Keane who duets with Fil on Love's Old Sweet Song (Just A Song At Twilight) and Tommy Sands on What Would You Do Love?, with star instrumentalists Steve Cooney, Finbar Furey and Laoise Kelly providing key contributions to individual songs. I might well single out Steve's embellishments for special mention, but truth to tell they're all exemplary in their taste and ambience. Fil can through her own masterful reinterpretations justifiably lay claim to being a contemporary equivalent of the celebrated "first ladies", you might say.
However - and here's the rub - although all of the 15 songs on the CD occur in brief snippet form during the course of the six TV programmes, there are several more songs (including My Lagan Love, The Bonny Boy, Johnny The Daisy-O, Farewell But Whenever and Seoladh Na nGamhna) of which extracts are tantalisingly performed on the DVD, but which don't appear on the CD at all. I realise that the CD is over an hour long already, but it's a glorious length and I for one would easily have welcomed extra tracks. More in the way of a missed opportunity though, surely the bonus-material space on the DVD could better have been used for these additional songs (instead it presents five audio-only tracks taken from two of Fil's previous studio albums and unrelated to the Songbirds project).
One other, more minor point regarding the CD: although all the songs included therein are taken from the repertoires of the various singers portrayed, the booklet notes don't always specify which singer is primarily associated with which song. We all know of Delia's recordings of If I Were A Blackbird, What Would You Do, Love?, The Connemara Cradle Song and The Moonshiner; some of us will remember Mary's recording of The Castle Of Dromore; The Spinning Wheel was recorded by both Delia and Mary; and Ruby's Softly, Softly was but one of her five Top 20 hits in just one week in 1955! But as for the remainder, well without having seen either the TV series or the DVD we're left guessing just a bit (tho' you won't necessarily think that matters a lot when several of the songs were common to more than one of the singers). In any case though, Fil's own lovingly-turned performances are likely to inspire listeners to investigate the original recordings of the "first ladies".
The above reservations notwithstanding, the whole project (DVD and CD) has proved immensely worthwhile; the discs are great value as they stand, and all credit to Fil and Tom for their initiative and skill in producing what amounts to such an intensely rewarding and treasurable experience: both highly charming and uniquely comforting, and perfect fireside entertainment on all counts, I'd say.
David Kidman December 2008