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.
Concertina player Noel Hill and fiddle player Tony Linnane, both from County Clare started playing together as children. In the mid-seventies they joined up with Tony Callanan and Kieran Hanrahan to form the group "Inchiquin". They recorded one album together before Hanrahan and Callanan left to form Stockton's Wing.
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).
REVIEWSNoel 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 album.
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 points out.
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