Bodhran accompaniment by Brian Duffy, Ballyboffey, Co Donegal
20 new recordings from Ireland's finest female singer. Plus a bonus CD of her 1997 cassette recording Easter Snow.
"I am truly honoured to have been invited to contribute a few thoughts on the occasion of the production of this new CD, "The May Morning Dew", by Rita Gallagher.
Having enjoyed over and over the songs on "Easter Snow" the cassette which Rita had recorded back in 1997, which included many splendid songs, such as Easter Snow, Edward on Lough Erne Shore, Old Arboe, The Blackbird, Lurgy Sream, and a version of The Mountain Streams (to mention just a few), I wondered could Rita produce a second selection to equal the first. I need not have worried! Having listened several times to the 20 songs she has recorded, I am convinced that this new CD excels and eclipses anything we have heard over the past decade. I predict that it will be a valued source and inspiration for singers of all ages in the years to come.
The Wounded Hussar:
Oh the Marriage:
- Cragie Hill
- Bonnie Light Horseman
- Bonny Bunch of Roses O
- The Banks of the Clyde
- The Flower of Magherally
- Lovely Willie
- Lough Erne's Shore
- The May Morning Dew
- Rambling Irishman
- The Wounded Hussar
- The Shores of Lough Brann
- Out of the Window
- Oh The Marraige
- You Rambling Boys of Pleasure
- The Mermaid
- Rushes Green
- Wee Weaver
- The Nightingale
- What's Keeping My True Love
- The Mountain Streams
- Going To Mass Last Sunday
- John Adair
- Old Arboe
- Sweet Iniscarra
- Easter Snow
- Lurgy Stream
- Edward on Lough Erne Shore
- Sheephaven Bay
- The Blackbird
- When My Love and I Parted
- Blackwater Side
- Highland Mary
- Dark Is The Colour
- The Mountain Streams
This year’s Gradam for Amhránaí na Bliana (Singer of the Year 2017) goes to RITA GALLAGHER
Upon hearing this distinctive traditional singer, one is immediately aware one is listening to a vocalist of incredible ability. Her mastery of tone, breath, and ornamentation, coupled with her extensive knowledge and understanding of songs, from her native South Donegal and beyond, leave one in no doubt that one is truly in the presence of greatness. A three-time winner of the Comhaltas All-Ireland title for female singing in English, her extensive repertoire contains many exceptionally challenging songs, all of which she makes sound effortless.
Small wonder then that there were no less than 37 songs on her 2010 release The May Morning Dew which garnered much praise, and an award from LiveIreland.com Her humility belies a serious talent, and through her generosity of spirit she has been a great influence on many singers, both through her recordings, and her popular singing workshops at festivals around the country.
This year’s Gradam for Amhránaí na Bliana (Singer of the Year) goes to RITA GALLAGHER
Rarely, in any decade, has such a splendid collection of traditional songs been assembled in one audio publication. The quality of the singing in song after song is outstanding. Rita has a remarkably beautiful voice, which, allied to her integrity of taste, and the consummate ease with which she tackles the most challenging of songs, ensures that each song is a gem of special delight. Just look at the list of top quality and challenging songs which she sings with such superb artistry on this CD - songs such as The Mountain Streams Where the Moorcocks Crow, Lovely Willie, The Wounded Hussar, The Banks of the Clyde, The Bonnie Bunch of Roses O, Rambling Boys of Pleasure, Lough Erne Shore, Bunch of Rushes Green, etc, etc - indeed I could list the entire contents as examples of excellent traditional singing. And I must not overlook
The Mermaid, Paddy Tunney's translation of the Gaelic Song, An Mhaighdean Mhara, previously recorded (to my knowledge] only by Paddy's daughter Brigid on her CD "Hand in Hand". Though brief, it is a lovely item. A touch of humour is added with the inclusion of the light hearted Rambling Irishman, and the flippantly jocular Oh The Marriage
Familiar favourites such as Craigie Hill, The Shores of Lough Brann, The Flower of Magherally O, The May Morning Dew and Out of the Window (It will not be long love) are to be heard here, refurbished and renewed to gladden our hearts as when first heard many years ago.
Many of the songs sung here are from the Tunney repertoire - by which I mean they are songs which were regularly sung by the late Paddy Tunney, and by his mother Brigid - may God rest them both — and still sung by Paddys sons and daughters. (They are also sung by countless singers of all ages, for the Tunney disciples are legion). Rita Gallagher studied and assimilated these songs from her early twenties. Paddy Tunney's songs and singing style were a major source of inspiration.
In singing them now, she remains true to the spirit and integrity of that style; still, this does not prevent her from using her own exceptional musical talents to give her personal interpretation of these songs; a fine example of tradition handed down and renewed.
I would consider her singing of the several Tunney songs on this CD as a major tribute to an inspirational troubadour. This publication is also remarkable because we hear Rita's solo, unaccompanied voice, in all twenty recordings, apart from bodhran accompaniment on one light hearted song. With so many songs being included, most singers would have been tempted to include some kind of backing on a few tracks at least, or a few songs might have been recorded at a live session where murmured words of encouragement and the generally supportive atmosphere would give the performer confidence.
Only a singer of exceptional ability would have the courage to take on the challenge of maintaining momentum, tuning, and concentration through the four, five or six demanding verses of so many songs.
Rita Gallagher has done it in great style, and these recordings will stand as a testament to her ability". Seamus MacMathuna
Is Rita Gallagher the best Irish singer in the world? We know a LOT of musicians and fans who answer yes to that question for this fabulous alto from Donegal. A hidden treasure, she and her new album, Easter Snow, were brought to our attention by one of the world's best, Copperplate Distribution in London. Google Copperplate Distribution. You just landed in heaven without having to die first. This album is a masterpiece from a master singer. Do you want to hear the REAL Ireland? You're in luck. Rita Gallagher will sing it to you. A sean nos classic from a gift of a voice. This is no nasal soprano child singing some nonsense passing as Irish. This is a real Irish woman singing wonderful music in a voice from God. Impeccable. Bill Margeson
The Living Tradition
It's a brave singer who tackles The Blackbird', the air is the same as the famous set dance with all that that entails. The range is great and there's no margin for error; you either hit it right at the start or you're
in trouble. Start too low, and you finish up grunting the low notes; start too high and you sound like a castrato (if you're male). I only ever sang it in public once and all the way through it I was in fear of making a mess of it and a fool of myself. It never got a public airing since. Rita Gallagher hits it right on the button, that sweet note that lets you know you have the song right. It's a good long song, with many chances
of error, but she carries it off magnificently.
Gallagher's first recording, Easter Snow, in 1997, should have been followed by many more; the quality of her singing is outstanding. The May Morning Dew rectifies the omission. Twenty songs on a CD is exceptional; when you get another fourteen on another disc, you're getting something extra special. This second disc is a re-mastering of Easter Snow. As she says on the insert, "these 34 tracks are the total
my recorded singing". These are some of the biggest of the 'big' songs from the tradition; if you have these as a repertoire, you're in good company. When you record them without accompaniment, in spite of
the temptation to use it on a few tracks at least, you have to be good.
Originally from Ballymacahill, Co. Donegal, Gallagher now lives in Crossroads, near Ballybofey. Though not traditional, her parents were both singers; her mother sang in local
concerts in her youth. "I always sang and played music, but only came to traditional singing in my twenties when I attended a Donegal County Fleadh in 1978." She won her first All Ireland Fleadh for traditional singing in English in 1979, then again in 1981 and 1982 - missing out on a hat-trick by coming second in 1980. "Pauline Sweeney and Bridin Doherty were my initial sources of songs, when we were members of Donegal Seisiun Group together. I began listening to and recording other singers from then on. Between 1978 and now, I've collected a number of songs from many sources. I find that the older I get, the more interested I become in the songs, and how complex and diverse the songs and singers are. I realise how little I really know about the wealth of talent out there."
With Gallagher's background, it's not surprising that there is a weighting towards Ulster songs. She had many of the songs from the late Paddy Tunney and later from members of his family. Many of the song airs are different; others have different lyrics, which is always refreshing. But all are great songs from a long tradition. There are songs of love and of loss, of fickle-hearted sweethearts and brash suitors. There are bitter songs of cold-hearted landlords, like John Adair, who was 'one of our own' rather than the usual incomer, and transportation, like Edward on Lough Erne Shore. The latter isn't to be confused with Lough
Erne Shore, which is a courting song with a successful outcome. It's not all doom and gloom though; Oh The Marriage is a warning against that institution; The Rambling Irishman (not the De Danann version) has a light-hearted bodhran accompaniment. And that's the only accompaniment you get on any of the songs.
The May Morning Dew, the title song, is rightly regarded as a masterpiece of the regrets at the passing of time. Who could fail to be moved by the lines about the birthplace being "but a stone on a stone"? Gallagher's version is slightly different from mine but I got mine from three different family sources so long ago that I can't recall which is which. This is the beauty of traditional singing; to make a song your own yet keep within the spirit of the original. Out of the Window is often said to be a variant of She Moved Through the Fair, the reverse is probably true. So far as I know, Padraic Colum never laid claim to being composer of the air; although those lyrics are his for sure. Similarly, Rambling Boys of Pleasure is older than WB Yeats' Down by the Sally Gardens. That's not to imply any base motive; there was a theme, so he borrowed it. Gallagher has a different air for it that's a pleasant change from the more usual one.
Few female singers' voices really mature until they reach their thirties. Though I wouldn't dare ask their ages, I've noticed this in quite a few singers I've heard. I kept switching between the two discs and
there's a marked change in Gallagher's voice. As good and strong as it was in 1997, it's become even richer and mellower on the later recording. There's no question of which is best, just a difference.
Thirty-four fine songs from a fine singer; what more could anyone want?
In his introduction my old friend Seamus MacMathuna, who knows more about songs and singers than anyone else I know of, predicts: "...it will be a valued source and inspiration for singers of all ages..." Seamus doesn't give praise lightly so that's a real and deserved tribute. I'll give him the last word for I value his judgement on all things musical: "Only a singer of exceptionable ability would have the courage to take on the challenge of maintaining momentum, tuning and concentration through the four, five or six demanding verses of so many songs. Rita Gallagher has done it in great style, and these recordings will stand as a testament to her ability." Mick Furey