11 Tracks, 42 Minutes
There’s been a rush of albums devoted to slow airs lately – maybe as many as three, which probably equals the number released in the thirty years between 1970 and 2000. So we’re not overloaded with them yet, and Air Time is a fine addition to this category. Fiodhna Gardiner is a low whistle specialist, and as the daughter of famed Clare accordionist Bobby Gardiner she’s able to enlist an impressive band to fill out this debut CD.
Recently returned to County Clare after many years as an emigrant in Abu Dhabi, Fiodhna has built upon her experience of playing Irish music in the United Arab Emirates to produce this collection of airs ancient and modern, Irish and Scottish, with some well known melodies and some new favourites. The traditional An Raibh Tú ag an gCarraig sets the scene, with accompaniment from Gary O’Bhrian and Seamie O’Dowd. Easter Snow, a favourite air for me, adds Bobby Gardiner on accordion in a beautifully slow interpretation. Whistle and accordion alternate, and then combine for a final duet. Amhrán na Leabhar is also from the heart of the Irish tradition, a tragic tale played with great feeling here.
There’s lovely tone from Fiodhna’s Colin Goldie whistles – in A and Bb instead of the usual low D. Fiodhna’s ornamentation is peculiar to the whistle, rather than pipes or flute: tonguing and glissando, simple doublings and subtle vibrato, giving a very modern folky sound. This is enhanced by the use of keyboard, string arrangements, and harpsichord on several tracks.
Additional touches come from Mairtín O’ Connor and Liam Kelly on accordion and flute. The Dervish connection is clearest in three vocal contributions by Cathy Jordan: The Mall of Lismore, The Banks of Sullane and the traditional An Buachaillín Donn with English lyrics. Other instrumental tracks include the great Scott Skinner air Hector the Hero, recorded by several Irish musicians previously, and three Gardiner family compositions. Fiodhna’s own tunes Grá Mo Chroí and The Boy from Aughdarra honour her husband and her father respectively, and both have the poignancy of many modern whistle airs. An Ghorta, written by Fiodhna’s mother Ann, is more lyrical or even pastoral, despite being a lament inspired by the famine years in Ireland. Air Time finishes on a more cheerful note, The Dreams of Old Pa Fogerty by Scottish Gael composer Ailean Nicholson, a delightfully wistful end to a charming CD.
There’s a lot more information on Fiodhna’s website, well worth a visit.
The low whistle is the big baby of the traditional tin whistle/pennywhistle, distinguished by its larger size, lower pitch and a more breathy, flute-like sound. Bernard Overton is credited with manufacturing the first instrument in the early 1970s, which he made for Finbar Furey. Since Riverdance the low whistle is a respected instrument in its own right, often used for the playing of slow airs due to its enthralling and emotive sound. It has found a new trailblazer in Irish low whistle player Fíodhna Gardiner-Hyland who has featured on numerous film, television and radio programmes; while living in the United Arab Emirates, Fíodhna played whistles with the group Inis Oirr (2004-2011). These days she lives in the vicinity of the twin towns Killaloe/Ballina (Co. Clare/Tipperary) and is part of the committee organizing the Kincora Traditional Music Weekend.
Her debut solo album is exclusively dedicated to Airs for the Low Whistle, both traditional Irish (“An raibh tu ar an gCarraig”, “Amhran na Leabhair”, “Easter Snow” played over the closing credits of the Irish movie “The Lord’s Burning Rain”) and (more or less) contemporary Scottish (fiddler James Scott Skinner’s “Hector the Hero”, bagpiper Ailean Nicholson’s “The Dreams of Old Pa Fogerty”) as well as newly composed airs. Fíodhna penned “Gra mo Chroi” for her husband and “The Boy from Aughdarra” for her father, the well-known acordionist Bobby Gardiner (b. 1939), who once played with the Kilfenora Céilí Band before building a musical career on his own terms.
Fíodhna is playing her A/Bb whistles with much heart and soul. You want to lean back, close your eyes and expose yourself to the images forming in your head. Fíodhna is joined on “Air Time” by her father, and furthermore supported by the stellar cast of Seamie O’Dowd (guitar), Mairtín Ó Connor (button accordion), Garry Ó Bhriain (piano, harpsichord) and Liam Kelly (flute). A special treat is the employment of Dervish singer Cathy Jordan on three tracks, the traditional Irish “An Buachaillin Donn” (Little Brown-Haired Boy), Andy Irvine’s “The Mall of Lismore” and Sean Ó Riada’s “The Banks of Sullane”. Fíodhna and Cathy take turns, but also trail along in harmony. Simply great!
“Fíodhna Gardiner-Hyland is the daughter of legendary accordion player Bobby Gardiner, and as they say – the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. This album is a beautiful collection of slow airs and songs played with great heart and feeling, featuring Fíodhna on the whistle with a backdrop of luscious arrangements provided by some of Irelands leading musicians, including Seamie O’Dowd, Martin O’Connor, Bobby Gardiner, Gary Ó Bhroinn, Liam Kelly and Cathy Jordan featured on three songs. I certainly enjoyed listening to this album and know you will too.”
(Joanie Madden, Cherish The Ladies)
When Fíodhna sent me a review copy of her new “Air Time” album in March 2013, I was delighted to be asked to write a review for her. Only a few short weeks earlier, I heard Fíodhna play a beautiful arrangement of “An Raibh tú ag an gCarraig” at a session run by Paul Smyth in Liam Ó Riains, Ballina/Killaloe, Co. Tipperary.
From the first notes of “An Raibh tú…” this album had me engrossed. Because all the airs are played on low whistles, they move seamlessly in and out of one another. You would imagine that a brave undertaking like this – to play only airs for 40 minutes plus – would lead to fatigue. But I can guarantee the listener that this is not the case, as each air has been arranged and accompanied with such care and attention to detail, that even on repeated listening, the music is given different interpretations as to hold the attention.
There are surprises too. Cathy Jordan’s singing on three of the tracks caught me by surprise. On “An Buachaillín Donn” she is introduced by the whistle but then, after she sings a verse the whistle takes the melody again to the harmonies of voice. Likewise, Martín Ó Connor’s use of the box on “Amhrán na Leabhar” is most interesting and enhancing to Fíodhna’s playing. Seamie O’Dowd’s laid back fingered guitar, strings and keyboard enhance the newly composed air “The Boy from Aughdarra” which flows into Fíodhna’s mother’s composition “An Ghorta” which evokes visions of recent famine in Africa as well as events in our own country in the 1840’s.
Cathy’s harmonies with guitar, accompany the whistle again on the opening of the well know song “The Banks of Sullane” and by the end of the song the whistle and voice are in perfect unison together.
“Hector the Hero” is an air I first heard the great Scottish fiddler Aly Bain play many years ago and it was written by another great fiddler Scott Skinner for his friend, Sir Hector Macdonald who committed suicide as a result of unsavoury rumours and illness. How apt that it should be included here when we hear about so much of such tragedies happening, particularly among the young, in the Ireland of today.
“The Dreams of old Pa Fogerty” is the other Scottish air on the album and again with Mairtín’s drone-like box playing and fills, finishes the music off nicely with Gary Ó Bhroinn’s piano.
One track I hadn’t mentioned earlier ‘’Easter Snow’’ is an air I first heard played by the legendary Séamus Ennis (piper and collector) and one that he also named his final home in Naul, Co. Dublin after. There are many different descriptions of where the air originates but perhaps my favourite is that Easter Snow is a reference to the blackthorn blossom which appears in the Springtime; blackthorn is the opposite to hawthorn in that it bears its blossom before its leaves open, and the blossom time is usually quite close to Eastertide. Fíodhna is joined here by her father, the well-known Button Accordion player Bobby Gardiner for a beautiful rendition of the tune. So, on this album which is firmly based in the tradition, we hear her mother’s and father’s influences. As the old sean-fhocal goes: briseann an dúchas trí shúile an chait (heritage breaks out through the eyes of the cat).
(Aodan O’Dubhghaill, Head of Lyric FM)
With an innate understanding of the slow air, this sensitive and skilled musician, Fíodhna Gardiner, invites you on a dreamlike journey into an ancient Celtic world with a hauntingly beautiful collection of Irish and Scottish airs on her new CD entitled ‘Air Time’.
With respect for tradition, Fíodhna’s playing, governed by her heart, performs these airs with complete sincerity, supported by singer Cathy Jordan and a cast of well- known musicians. Her excellent choice of a low A/B flat whistles with its rich timbre, lends this CD an air of ethereal timelessness.
Fíodhna’s first track ‘An raibh tú ar an gCarraig’…… were you at the rock and did you see my Valentine?’, one of our most beautiful love songs in the Irish tradition, holds the key to this beautifully evocative collection.
One of the highlights on the CD is Track No. 4, ‘Grá mo Chroí’, where the tempo and pace is just perfect. While engaging the listener throughout, it introduces an unusual contemporary accompaniment, which in itself beautifully compliments Fíodhna’s original composition.
Being raised in a musical household, how could Fíodhna possibly produce a CD that isn’t a family affair. Lovely to hear her father, Bobby contribute to Track No. 2 –‘Easter Snow’ and her mother Anne’s composition ‘An Ghorta’ on Track No 9
With countless other recordings featuring jigs, hornpipes and reels, this CD ‘Air Time’, placing the slow air at the heart of the traditional repertoire – is long overdue.
(Roy Galvin, Tigh Roy, Ionad Cultúrtha: http://www.tigroy.com)
From the opening phrases of ‘An raibh tú ar an gCarraig’, you will be enchanted by this magical recording. Here, the listener is invited to take the air, down a musical path all too rarely travelled these days. Listen for the wonderful rendition of ‘Easter Snow’, where Fíodhna engages in musical dialogue with her dad, the great Clare accordionist, Bobby Gardiner. Both the playing and setting of ‘Amhrán na Leabhar’ evoke vividly, so many years later, the deep-felt emotions of the 19th century scholar and poet, Tomás Rua Ó Súilleabháin, at the loss of his books and manuscripts, on a fateful day off the Kerry coast.
Featuring collaborations with some of the finest artists in Irish music today, ‘Air Time’ shows this artist’s deep understanding and appreciation of our musical heritage, while embracing innovation and creativity, blending seamlessly the new with the old. It is a stunning collection by a most talented musician – one from whom we all need to hear more.
Tar slán, Fíodhna!
(Ciarán Ó Gealbháin, Traditional Singer)
It is with a great sense of honour that I find myself sitting down to review this wonderful album of slow airs by Fíodhna Gardiner. Of course it is indeed such a unique occurrence in the modern world of traditional music that an album consisting totally of airs comes to the fore, and this alone is a very welcome innovation. The Gardiner name is synonymous with traditional music through the legendary Bobby Gardiner, one of Ireland’s finest ever button accordion players, so it is no surprise that the musical pedigree continues to be manifest across the generations.
Coming from a background of traditional song in both the English and Irish languages, where interpretation of such lyrics is paramount to the performance and appreciation of these most powerful melodies, I feel that the renditions performed by Fíodhna on this album are true to every essential component that such pieces require.
On a personal level, Track Two ‘Easter Snow’ and Track Ten ‘The Banks of Sullane’ stand out to me as highlights from this most beautiful collection of airs that will be forever cherished because of sensitive recordings like this one. It is important to point out at this stage that Fíodhna’s musical collaborators deserve serious mention for their magical contributions – the stunning vocals of Cathy Jordan, coupled with the wizardly accordion tones of Martín O’Connor, and of course those of her own father Bobby, augment this recording in the most appropriate way imaginable. The accompaniment throughout remains exactly what it should be, allowing the powerful melodies to take their rightful place center-stage, as one would expect from such a stellar collection of musicians: Garry O’Briain, Liam Kelly, Seamie O’Dowd, Cathy Jordan, Bobby Gardiner and Mairtin O’ Connor. In my opinion, the stewardship of Seamie O’ Dowd as producer is the perfect catalyst in reaching recording utopia.
I wish this album and Fíodhna herself all the very best for the future and congratulate her once again on catapulting these most powerful airs to their rightful place, in gaining recognition up there with the more commonly played dance tunes.
(Fergal Ó Murchú, FOM Productions; Ragus Producer: www.ragus.ie/vidaud.asp)
Fíodhna Gardiner’s version of ‘Easter Snow’ on low whistle, amplified by button accordion, strings and guitar provides the perfect closing coda to the film ‘The Lord’s Burning Rain’, about a teenage boys journey of discovery. The boy is given the task of riding a newly purchased horse home through the beautiful Sheha mountains of West Cork in 1960′s Ireland, and on his way he has many strange encounters, including a tryst with a Didoesque tinker woman, a broken down Protestant farmer who gives him poteen, causing him to hallucinate and imagine himself observing some major battle scenes from Ireland’s War of Independence in which his father took part. The final haunting strains of Fíodhna’s ‘Easter Snow’, playing over images of the boy’s long dead mother, strike a deep chord of human longing.
(Maurice O’Callaghan, Director, Destiny Films and Publishing: http://mauriceocallaghandestiny.com/)
“It is a pleasure to hear this ample collection of slow airs, so well arranged and played and with such variety of sound. The slow air has a great capacity for musical expression and Fíodhna and her fellow musicians and family are to be congratulated on giving fresh life to these old and beautiful airs”.
(Peter Browne, Producer, RTÉ Radio 1, Ceilí House Programme)