First off, thanks to Mickey O'Donnell and Michelle Doyle for doing their interview with approximately two hours advance notice. They don't hang about, those two. Please go here to support their osteoporosis awareness campaign:
And so. The Harp.
When I was at Uni my mates used to laugh at the fact that my passport had 'the Guinness symbol' on the front cover. I'd never really given it much thought up until then, the fact that the passport and the extra stout shared the same symbol. What was the actual mechanism by which the image of a harp ended up on the Irish passport, I wonder? Who decided? There must have been a committee. And given the tendency for committees to be agonizing and infuriating, and given the tendency for Irish republicans to disagree amongst themselves from time to time, I'm sure the decision wasn't arrived at easily. Come to think of it, humans in general have a great talent for separating themselves into different sects over pointless passions. I mean, I worked in a place once where there was a long running and spectacularly ill-tempered series of arguments about whether there should be an electric kettle in the new tearoom that people could switch on 'as and when' they need to make a cup of tea, or one of those giant shiny urns that keeps the water at a constant temperature of 3000 degrees so you can scald yourself instantly without having to wait for a minute and a half. So it'd be no surprise if deciding on the harp was a cause of angst in the early days of the Republic.
I looked it up in these antique things I have in my house called reference books, like an intellectual might do. But there was nothing there so I googled it and found this piece from The Irish Post, written by Mary Louise O'Donnell:
Giraldus Cambrensis how are ye!
And then there's Turlough O'Carolan. He was blind, a traveling harper and composed a whole rake (I just realized I don't know how to spell that word right) of tunes that are really quite strange to my ear. They have a European feel to them in places, quite elaborately ornamented, and as I think about it now there were two of his tunes I learned to play early on: Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór (The Little Fairy Hill and The Big Fairy Hill) and Fanny Power (emphasis on the second word.)
I mentioned Alan Stivell's 'Renaissance of the Celtic Harp' in our chat with Michelle and Mickey. It's one of those records that has the power to pull me back, in what feels like an almost physical experience, back to my youth. (I know, I know, I say that every week, but it's true, that really does happen to me every week, more than one time...it's a wonder I can get out of my scratcher at all some days...)
Anyway, the image I have of that album is of a cover with some sort of seascape on the front, kind of ghostly and weirdly Celtic-y, even though at that time I had no idea what that was even about, and still don't really. There were only five tracks on it and one of them took up the whole of Side 2 and had pretty much every 'trad' instrument I'd ever heard of crammed into it, and several I hadn't. And there was another track called 'Ys' that had sea sounds and whistles and a sort of ambient feel to it. It was weird, man.
I was introduced to that record by a radical priest who had arrived in our town. When I say radical, I mean he had long hair and a beard and a dog, and talked like a normal human being. And he told me there was this cool thing called General Absolution that meant you didn't have to actually go to confession, you could just have forgiveness bestowed upon you, kind of like having the holy water scattered on you at Easter but without you actually having to show up. He was great. He lent me Van Morrison's 'It's Too Late To Stop Now' (which I still have), 'Meddle' by Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen's 'Songs From a Room' and loads of other music that was a lot more interesting to me at the time than the Celtic harp.
And yet, true story, diving once again through the boundless depths of Spotify one day looking for stuff to send to Darren, what did I find but that very album. And when I listened to the first few seconds of 'Ys,' with the waves and the opening notes and the harmonics, I was, like I say, pulled back towards my youth. That album was released in 1971 and even today it sounds pretty out there. Even when you're not stoned out of your gourd. You should give it a listen sometime.
On the way back from the interview with Mickey and Michelle, Darren and me were wondering how people so young have such confidence. Then we realized it's probably at least in part because they're ridiculously talented, and that's kind of lovely to witness. And truth be told, I think we were both a tiny wee bit jealous at the excitement and enthusiasm and joy they have for what's ahead of them - the music and the work and the travel. As a couple of cynics, we found it pretty inspiring.
Michelle, Mickey, thanks for the chat, and for the chance to listen to you play.
Also the Pozible crowdfunding campaign for their debut album finishes on Wednesday the 18th at 8pm. And here's the link for that: https://www.pozible.com/profile/michael-odonnell-3
Darren & Dom
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Darren & Dom