Without doubt, Noel Hill and Tony Linnane are two
of the most talented young musicians playing traditional music in
Ireland todate. Still in their teens, they have been playing as
a duet, on concertina and fiddle, for almost ten years. Both come
from Co. Clare where their young lives were steeped in the rich
musical tradition of that count. Noel's highly evolved technique
puts him in a class of his own and very probably makes him the finest
concertina player in the world, as he demonstrates so powerfully
on his breathtaking interpretation of 'Johnny Cope'. Tony's reputation
as a master musician began when, at the age of three, he was already
playing traditional music on the mouth organ.
Noel and Tony continued to play together guesting
live and in studio with Christy Moore and Planxty before recording
the celebrated album "Noel Hill and Tony Linnane" in 1979
with Matt Molloy (flute), Alec Finn (bouzouki and mando-cello) and
Micheal O'Domhnaill (church harmonium).
Noel Hill And Tony Linnane (TARA2006) are extremely well served
by the other musicians associated with their new album in that
these consist of Matt Molloy on flute, Alec Finn on bouzouki and
mando-cello, with some effective liturgical comment by Micheal
O'Domhnaill on church harmonium. Yet this impressive line-up in
no sense steals the show from the two young clare musicians who
are the featured artists.
Tony Linnane and Noel hill deservedly are extremely highly rated
as soloists on the fiddle and concertina respectively. I note
that their promotional material refers to Noel hill as the greatest
concertina player in the world. Normally such extravagant claims
are inclined to make the average commentator shake a head in sorrow,
in this case one must admit that there is at least arguable substance
to the assertion.
At the same time, the actual music on the disc is well-arranged
but essentially middle-of the-road, traditional material which
is well worth a place in any collection.
Irish Times (24/04/1979)
On hearing the first track of this album with its tastefully
rattling bouzouki, I thought, 'Oh dear, more of the same stuff'.
Fortunately, however, this first impression is unfounded, for
the ubiquitous bouzouki gets a look only on three tracks, while
on one other it turns into a mando-cello For the rest of the album
the music is left alone in its traditional - and enhancing - void
of silence which is further emphasised on two tracks by the imaginatively
harmonic drone of a harmonium.
As to the music itself - what can you say? Tony Linnane is comparable
to the best among fiddlers, while Noel Hill would surely be a
master among masters on the concertina - his timing is unfalteringly
accurate and his grace notes have a biting precision which is
very satisfying to hear, and all this never degenerates into mere
technique. The individual qualities of these two young musicians
can be heard on several solos, and when they play together the
music has that drive, decorative clarity and unhurried pace that
only come when players understand each other's style very well.
This has all been captured effectively in this selection of hornpipes,
jigs and reels. I especially liked the hornpipes - 'The Home Ruler'
- bouzouki included - being one of my favourites, and I would
have liked more of these or other types of tunes, and fewer reels,
since there is, as usual, a definite surfeit of the latter. However
this is a minuscule grumble about what is, all in all, an excellent
Norman Skillen - In Dublin (May 1979)
Two former members of Inchiquin have released what for me
is the most worthwhile album of traditional music I have heard
in years. No gimickry, no sophisticated arrangements, no confusing
harmonies, just pure straight forward down to earth, honest to
god music but music far away superior to the normal music, guaranteed
to stir you and rid you of all signs of arthritis.
HAUNTS OF CLARE
Jack Lynch meets Claremen Noel hill and Tony Linnane
My first experience of the music of Noel Hill and Tony Linnane
was at a Bothy Band gig a couple of winters ago. Noel (concertina)
and Tony (fiddle), along with Peter Browne, had augmented a Bothy
set in the absence of an ailing Matt Molloy.
Besides playing a few memorable spots at The Meeting Place, the
duo joined the Christy Moore Band which toured the country, before
recording Christy's much acclaimed 'Iron Behind The Velvet' album.
To my mind it was the combined sound of the Claremen, above that
of the other band members - Andy Irvine, Gabriel McKeon, Jimmy
Faulkner and Barry Moore - which created the winning instrumental
atmosphere of the album.
Their recent recording debut on Tara, 'Noel Hill and Tony Linnane
must confirm and spread their reputation. An uncluttered album
of spirit and subtle shading, graced with the presence of Matt
Molloy (flute), Alec Finn (bouzouki, mando-cello) and producer
Micheal O'Domhnaill (harmonium), it represents perfectly the stance
and arresting style of the duo. Tony and Noel are billed to play
support on what promises to be a highlight of the traditional
year - The Irish leg of the Planxty tour - both this and their
spot at the Lisdoonvarna festival in July should bring the and
their album the even wider attention they deserve.
Although both are still in their teens, the partnership is
almost ten years old and they have had the singular experience
of making music (and pocket money) while still at school. The
same period also saw an American stint; they can also claim to
be able to live by their music, although as Noel, who also has
a sideline in repairing concertinas, quips 'in the music scene
'Professional' now usually means 'unemployed'.
Both were born into the world of traditional music - Tony learned
from his father Pat, a whistle-player and the primary influence
on his fiddle style was Tommy peoples, a friend of his father's
and a regular weekend visitor to their house in Corofin: "I
remember looking forward to the music at the weekends while I
was at school." Noel's was a concertina family - he learned
first from his father Sean, and again their house was a music
focal point in the area.
I ask how they found the transition from the kitchen and pub hearth
of the tradition to Stage work. While they themselves admit to
coping, they recognise a delicate balance at play and are skeptical
of some of the rock trends of their traditional contemporaries,
claiming that much of the citified fare comes across as 'planted'
music. Rock itself, Tony notes was from the start a stage-based
form and this obviously defines the difference from rural music,
rooted in a tight social and cultural web.
"The priests have a lot to answer for, though" adds
Tony "they really ruined the west." He identifies the
building of parochial halls as an attempt (successful save in
regions of Clare, Galway and elsewhere) to break the living, self-sufficient
and craft-fostering scene of household music and, as he puts it
"to try and take sex out of the music."
They find many of Dublin's traditional clubs to be unstable and
changing but since Tony still lives in Corofin and Noel regularly
returns there, they find they can still share their music in its
natural local context. They also find not being in each others
constant company an arrangement healthy for their music.
I ask how they found the task of accompanying Christy's singing
on 'The Iron Behind The Velvet' , particularly on 'Morrissey and
the Russian Sailor' where they feature to fine effect. Noel points
out that the song itself is a hornpipe tempo. They bring their
services to seven of the album's tracks, including a few braces
of reels. Tony is less versed at free fiddle accompanyment - he
cites Kevin Burke as masterful in that role. Noel's closing concertina
solo on 'Dunlavin Green' is a lament - a straight slow-air, he
They enthuse about the experience of recording the album and about
the tour which preceeded it. Noel explains that Christy's idea
for 'The Iron Behind the Velvet' was to go for unsophisticated
arrangements, natural and uncluttered by elaborate studio techniques.
The tour was planned so that the band might come to feel at home
with the arrangements, although Tony mentions that the first (and
biggest) concert - in Dublin's Liberty Hall was unnerving, saying
that it would have been better to finish the tour there. Both
took exception to a Hot Press review of that gig, feeling that
it was hindered by pre-set media notions about the idea and place
of the band.
When it came to recording their own album, Noel and Tony adopted
a similar (but less eclectic) approach to Christy. Micheal O'Domhnaill,
a onetime flatmate of Noel's was chosen as producer "for
his ears" his ability to listen and the fact that he is a
fellow musician. Perhaps the first question that occurs is about
the track 'Johnny Cope' where Noel's concertina is joined by Micheal's
harmonium. That was an idea I had a few years ago and I remember
saying that if we ever got the chance to record an album I'd like
to try it. Originally my idea was to use concertina and church
organ. Noel points out the instruments' close relationship to
each other, being of the same mechanically blown reed family.
They were unable, however, to find a pipe-organ on which to record
- the vicars proving themselves as obstructive as the priests.
"At least the vicars can play a bit of music. But, don't
worry, I'll do it someday."
The track 'Kiloran's Reel / The Mountain Road' where they pair
with Matt Molloy makes for a rare combination, "a very Clare
sound". On 'Anderson's Reel' the added inclusion of both
Matt and Alec Finn definitely makes for what is probably the first
ever recording of a fiddle concertina flute bouzouki line-up.
A favourite mentioned by both, has to be 'Joe Cooley's Hornpipe';
its grainy texture was achieved by Tony tuning down the fiddle
to meet Noel's low keyed concertina.
The identify a rule-of-thumb in their approach to making the album
as the refusal to 'horse-out' any of the tunes. Noel points out
the fallacy that speed brings real musical excitement - "The
faster the song gets, in fact, the more you loose the rhythm."
The resulting feel of the music is also well represented in the
cover artwork by Willie Matthews, especially the front cover photo
of the duo's instruments lying on a thick grained wooden table
by an old oil lamp. The image was conceived by Noel an both he
and Tony were satisfied with the results "There's a bit of
a taint to the picture, like I think the music has."
I can't improve on that description of the music. Noel and Tony
are two of the best we have. Get to know them better.
Hot Press - June 1979