Without Doubt Planxty were the most influential band in the history of Irish traditional music.
In 1972 Planxty was born out of the recording of Christy Moore's second album Prosperous. The core members were Christy, his old school mate Donal Lunny, piper extraordinaire Liam O'Flynn, and Andy Irvine who was a founding member of the groundbreaking Irish group Sweeney's Men in the mid-sixties. The four enjoyed each others company so much during the recording of Prosperous' that they decided to have a go at making it a full-time adventure. They released a highly acclaimed single 'The Cliffs of Dooneen' and were promptly signed to an exclusive recording contract with Polydor Records.
Over the following years the group grew to huge status in Ireland, Britain and throughout Europe, they recorded two other albums in the next two years and then split up, with The Planxty Collection coming out as a good compilation of the first three albums. Personnel changes along the way included Johnny Moynihan replacing Donal Lunny (who left to join another band that never got off the ground although he guested on Cold Blow and the Rainy Night) in July of 1973 and Paul Brady stepping in for Christy Moore in 1974.
The original lineup of Christy, Andy, Liam and Donal reformed Planxty in 1979. They recorded three further albums including After the Break and The Woman I Loved So Well. There were several additions and changes to their lineup most notably the addition of Matt Molloy, flautist from the Bothy Band, and later with The Chieftains.
Others included fiddlers James Kelly and Nollaig Casey on Words & Music, Bill Whelan, later of Riverdance fame, plays keyboards on The Woman I Love So Well as do concertina/fiddle duet Noel Hill and Tony Linnane. In 1981, Planxty performed a Bill Whelan arrangement called Timedance as the intermission piece during the Eurovision song contest, held that year in Ireland, and later released it as a single (and included on Bill's The Seville Suite album released by Tara in 1992. Fourteen years later, Bill Whelan was back doing the intermission piece for another Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, with a piece called Riverdance that launched the Irish dancing revolution. In 1983, Christy Moore and Donal Lunny left to concentrate on Moving Hearts, with Liam and Andy pursuing solo careers.
Planxty – After The Break (Tara CD3001)
Planxty – After The Break (Tara Records CD3001)
Planxty : "After The Break"
The gravest danger in the resurrection of Planxty was always that, in attempting to recreate the extraordinary verve and majesty of their original incarnation, they neglected natural current instincts and succeeded only in becoming a parody of their former selves. That they managed with ease to avoid this considerable pitfall alone makes this a great record.
Naturally there's no conceivable way that "After The Break" can manage the same impact as their bold debut LP, purely because "Planxty" came first and hit upon a blend that evidently inspired all those involved. If "The Well Below The Valley" and "Cold Blow The Rainy Night" fell short of it (albeit narrowly) then it was because that sharpness and charged sense of restrained dynamics had to a small degree dissipated. On several tracks here notably "The Rambling Suiler", "The Pursuit Of Farmer Michael Hayes", and two sets of reels, it's fully recaptured.
Yet the track that defiantly declares that they are looking ahead and not behind is "Smeceno Horo", a frantic Bulgarian dance tune that's proved so popular on gigs it even merits a "FEATURING SMECENO HORO" sticker on the sleeve. A joker in the pack, it's a complete departure from everything they've done before, even allowing for some of Andy Irvine's flirtations with Eastern European music in the past. Undeniably invigorating and infectious, it's nevertheless my least favourite track on the record, jarring in relation to the rest of the album, but I admire their resolve in tackling it. It comes over much more powerfully live.
The only other real quibbles are that Christy Moore (on "The Good Ship Kangaroo" and Andy Irvine (on "You Rambling Boys Of Pleasure") seem to take the understated vocal style perhaps a shade too far, or maybe the vocals are a fraction too low in the mix. But these really are details - the arrangements around both tracks are superb, the instrumental break tagged on to the end of "The Good Ship Kangaroo", the opening track, stirring memories of "Raggle Taggle Gypsy" and "Tabhair Dum Do Lamh", "The Rambling Suiler", a Scots moral tale of a colonel who dresses up as a beggar and pulls a farmer's daughter, and "The Pursuit Of Farmer Michael Hayes", a geographical guide to Ireland through the eyes of a fleeing murderer, are both vintage Planxty.
Matt Molloy and Liam O'Flynn are at the helm of the instrumental tracks (two sets of reels and one of double-jigs) and two things emerge. One is that Liam O'Flynn has become an even more accomplished piper than he was before, and that Matt Molloy's brief contribution on flute was greater than it actually appeared on stage. His blend with O'Flynn is mesmerising here.
This is of course, an essential album.