2006 Zoë Conway launched her second solo album, 'The Horse's
Tail'. This album was quiet a change from her debut album as it
was recorded as naturally as possible, without using modern-day
techniques such as overdubbing and click tracks. The musicians
all played live in the one room at the same time, and the result
is an organic sound, which harks back to old LP recordings and
captures the raw energy of Irish traditional music. The album
contains a mixture of Zoë's original compositions alongside
older traditional tunes. Zoë is joined on the album by renowned
guitarist, Steve Cooney and percussionist, Robbie Harris.
fiddle player, Zoë Conway, is a prodigious talent, equally
at home in both traditional and classical styles. She is a holder
of the prestigious All-Ireland Senior Fiddle Champion Title, and
was recently voted "Best Traditional Female of the Year"
in Irish Music Magazine. Zoë has toured worldwide, playing
as guest soloist with renowned orchestras including The Irish
Chamber Orchestra, The Ulster Orchestra, The RTE Concert Orchestra,
and The National Symphony Orchestra of Galicia in Spain. She has
performed in some of the most prestigious concert halls in the
world such as The National Concert Hall, Dublin, The Kremlin,
Russia, The Kennedy Centre, Washington and Carnegie Hall, New
York. Zoë has also performed with international acts, Damien
Rice, Rodrigo y Gabriella and as a Riverdance soloist. She has
recently performed alongside Nick Cave, Lou Reed, Jarvis Cocker,
Gavin Friday and Beth Orton among others, at the Point Theatre
on the 4th and 5th of October 2006 for the Leonard Cohen Concert
- "Came So Far For Beauty".
Conway Live - DVD
Mairir i Bhfad _ Long Life to You - With John McIntyre
"Conway is at her best when she lets the fiddle do the
talking. Wild Strawberry Hill/The Horse's Tail, both Conway originals,
span the breadth of her playing, blossoming from the mournful
opener to the spangly title tune, revelling in its technical wizardry
but never sinking beneath it."
Siobhan Long - The Irish Times
Hotpress Oct 2006 - Sarah McQuaid
The Horse's Tail
With her second CD The Horse's Tail, wunderkind fiddler Zoë
Conway has opted for a radical change from her Bill Whelan-produced
2002 eponymous debut. The new album was recorded live over three
days in a barn in Omeath, County Louth, with - as Conway notes
in her liner notes - "no overdubs, no headphones, no click
tracks and no safety nets!" The result is a stunning sustained
performance, full of life and carrying a powerfully immediate
Guitarist Steve Cooney and bodhrán player Robbie Harris
provide fine accompaniment, but perhaps the most impressive tracks
are those on which Conway plays solo. The title track is a case
in point, full of verve and swagger, and it's reprised at the
end of the album as a "bonus track" recorded live at
the Willie Clancy Summer School in 2006. Along with a number of
other tunes on the CD, it's a Conway original; other standouts
in this category include the driving 'Dannan's Reel', written
for her "wee scamp of a nephew", and an evocative Scottish-influenced
number called 'The White Deer' - Conway suspects that it would
sound great on the Highland pipes and I suspect that she's right.
On two Charlie Lennon compositions, 'The Smiling Bride' and 'The
Handsome Young Maidens', Conway is joined by her sister and fellow
fiddler, Lisa, for a splendid unaccompanied duet, with Lisa playing
a nifty harmony on the second tune.
In addition to being a virtuoso on the fiddle, Conway also has
a sweet, childlike singing voice that she uses to good effect
on 'A Ghaoth Andeas' and 'Westlin Winds'. The vocals don't quiet
measure up to the instrumentals, but that's only in light of the
outstanding quality of the latter.
Irish Music Magazine
Zoë Conway Live
Holy Trinity Centre, Carlingford, Co. Louth
June 24th 2006
Her latest live project is a coming of age for Riverdance starlet,
Zoë Conway. It's a setting like no other. The beautiful hilltop
location of the Holy Trinity Heritage Centre is set in prominence
overlooking medieval Carlingford in County Louth. And tonight
the former blessed site is host to a musical spectacular befitting
the Viking kings of old that once brushed its walls and peripheries.
In the welcome summer air of an Irish June evening, another County
Louth attraction is preparing to unleash her amazing talent on
the expectant gathering of family, friends and fans. And once
the chardonnay has been served and the lights have been dimmed,
the star attraction is welcomed on stage by a delighted audience.
Zoë Conway, Riverdance's fiddle playing extraordinaire, emerges
to rousing applause.
Her endearing smile does little to hide her anticipation and excitement
of the occasion. And it's evident too that the Dundalk lass is
comfortable in these surroundings. Well, why shouldn't she be?
Both musically and geographically, this is her turf. And having
tasted success in 2002 with her self-titled debut album, she's
now preparing for her second outing, a live DVD featuring songs
and tunes both self-penned and borrowed. Tonight, in the splendour
of the restored Norman church, she's filling the aisles with a
repertoire of music and movement that's sure to please both the
eye and ear of any traditional music aficionado. And what's to
be expected once the DVD hits the shelves? Well, for a start,
how about the contribution of two of Ireland's best musicians
for accompaniment in the shape of John McIntyre on guitar and
Robbie Harris on bodhran.
It proved to be the perfect pairing on the night as they skilfully
crafted a musical mould giving Zoë the freedom to make her
mark. And boy did she make the most of it. The first set of tunes,
The Shetland Fiddler and Round the House and Mind The Dresser
was a gently introduction that caressed the audience into relaxed
mode with Miss Conway making it look very easy. She continued
with a variety of impeccably engaging sets without ever looking
uncomfortable under the prying lenses of the cameras and the army
of microphones that surrounded the stage. Fair play indeed. Anyone
who's ever recorded live will know it's not an easy task to relax
and enjoy the proceedings when there's a congregation of technicians
recording every heartbeat and eye movement. But the award winning
artist handled the showcase with class, style and a modesty that
will surely win many hearts in the years to come. And it didn't
seem a crack before we hit the interlude.
The first set had finished and the punters were delighted that
they had already got their moneys worth in both tune and song.
The mean fiddler had also graced us with her angelic tones through
a few well chosen airs worthy of evoking tears from the least
sentimental of men. On return to our seats we were treated to
some fine tunes such as the self-penned White Deer, a splendid
piece that was, as Zoë informed us, inspired by two Mexicans,
and injured hand and a countryside ramble. Sorry folks, you'll
have to wait for the DVD for an explanation on that one! And on
it went, set after set of pure genius from the three figures that
cut the stage. The All-Ireland medal winner, as if to remind us
that she is in fact mistress of many styles, launched into a hypnotic
adaptation of the classical piece Danse Espagnole. With McIntyre's
driving flamenco chords setting the backdrop, Zoë attacked
her instrument with lightning strikes. It was, without any form
of doubt, a masterclass in musicianship. Every note, precise.
Every stroke, with absolute conviction. Bravo. And so as not to
be outdone, percussion master Robbie Harris followed on the heels
with a bodhran solo which is best described as frightening. While
he enthusiastically beat the skin you could hear every goat in
Carlingford applying for a passport.
With the audience in awe, and the sun fading through the giant
stained-glass window backdrop, the evening was coming to a close.
But not before the cheers of "Encore" enticed the star
attraction back to the stage. The enticing Wild Strawberry Hill
and uplifting exodus, The Horse's Tail, both her own compositions,
proved to be the sugar on the icing on the cake. We had come expectant
and we left bedazzled. And I'm sure that in years to come, when
Zoë is counting her discography on more than two hands, she'll
always remember the night in the hilltop location where she broke
her performance mould.
The live DVD, as yet untitled, is sure to be a seller when it
appears on the shelves in October. And is she busy between now
and then? I'll say. Riverdance in Dublin, workshops in Cambridge
and live dates in Germany. Oh, and by the way, there's the small
matter of attending a wedding in September. Hers of course. I
wonder who'll be playing second fiddle then?
October 20 2006
Stripped Down Strings
For her second album, Zoë Conway has gone for a trad sound
that's both raw and cooked. Siobhan Long talks to the fiddler
about her decision to let it all hang out - musically speaking.
Musical minimalism: it's what Laurie Anderson trades best in.
So do Philip Glass and Steve Reich - and Tommy Peoples. Lately,
Zoë Conway has been busy stripping her music back to the
bone, too. Having basked in the advantages of unlimited studio
time for her solo debut in 2004 (under the watchful ear of Bill
Whelan), Zoë has opted for a rawer sound second time around,
on The Horse's Tail.
"My favourite traditional album is Tommy Peoples The Iron
Man," Conway says of the Donegal fiddler renowned for his
fluid, bare-boned playing. "I love albums that have been
recorded in a really short time, some only in a day, that capture
the feeling that the musicians had at a particular time. There
might have been a few mistakes and a bit of roughness here and
there, but to me, they sound great."
Denuding the music of its scaffolding is a task for the brave-hearted
- and the musician who has nothing to hide and everything to play
for. Conway has lost no time in carving a career for herself that
embraces everything from Riverdance to last week's spellbinding
Came So Far For Beauty concerts, where she shared a stage with
Jarvis Cocker, Lou Reed, Beth Orton and Antony.
Conway belongs to a small cadre of musicians who have taken the
best from both their classical training and traditional background.
Maybe that's because she has never been one to shut a door on
her musical identity. Why should she, when she can mine such rich
seams in both, and sometimes meld them to stunning effect, as
she does on the title track of her new CD, replete with spicatos
and pizzicatos - which, to the non-fiddler, are the musical equivalent
of a trapeze artist working without a trampoline?
"First of all", she says, "I knew that all the
musicians I'd asked to play on this CD were more than capable
of taking on a 'live' recording without having to fix or edit
it afterwards." She's speaking primarily of guitarist, Steve
Cooney, and percussionist, Robbie Harris along with her sister,
Lisa, and her husband, Revs guitarist, John McIntyre. "I
think that it's a more honest approach. A lot of people who listen
to albums have no idea about the surgery that's involved in it.
When they hear something on the radio, they assume that the musicians
can reproduce that same sound live, but a lot of them can't. The
most important member of an album is the engineer!
"So, I just felt that I wanted a very honest, traditional
approach, that is pure and simple and genuine. The kind of album
that, if people walked into the room and we were playing, that's
exactly what they'd hear."
The Horse's Tail is no collection of easy listening tunes, but
a blistering gathering, propelled by nine original numbers, all
composed by Conway. If traditional music was ever at risk of calcifying,
she is one musician who is hellbent on insuring that doesn't happen
by constantly breathing fresh life into it through her own tunes,
as well as through the playing of tunes by other contemporary
composers such as Charlie Lennon.
Composing doesn't come easy to Conway. It's a hard slog, but one
that was helped last January by a week at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre
in Annamakerrig, Co. Monaghan. All that daily isolation and nightly
conviviality around the dinner table breeds a welcome creativity,
"You have to lock yourself away," she laughs, "With
all the running around that we all do these days, it's hard to
get time to write. Being surrounded by poets and painters and
writers was fantastic. The days were an eternity, though; from
nine o clock in the morning to eight o clock in the evening, you're
on your own and you don't really talk to anyone. But I wrote about
twelve pieces in six days, and there's just no way I could have
done that at home. It's good to get away from reality at times."
There was a time when traditional musicians wouldn't dare venture
down the classical route. Even now there is many a classical music
teacher who will not tolerate a student dividing his or her attention
between the two genres of music. Conway is adamant that her classical
background was crucial to her development as a traditional musician.
The two influences dovetailed, rather than collided, she insists.
"I'd be the first to admit that I'd probably be a nice traditional
player, without the classical background, but I'd be quiet limited
in what I could do. It's like having two languages. I just wouldn't
be able to do some of the things that I do on, for example, The
Horse's Tail tune, without a classical training. Because you learn
all your scales and keys in classical music, it also means that
when you here something you like, you can immediately play it.
You don't have to spend hours trying to find the melody.
"A classical foundation leaves you much freer, but of course,
if you only play classical and came to traditional music late,
you'd have a lot of difficulty getting the 'swing' of it too.
I was just lucky to get both when I was growing up."
Conway's nonchalance is refreshing, particularly when it comes
to her total irreverence for the Gods of the music industry. Her
sojourn in the orchestra for the Leonard Cohen tribute concerts
was marked by a whole lot of rehearsal, punctured by the occasional
tincture of disbelief at the posturing of some of the musicians,
whose reputation, she admits, she was less than familiar with.
"When Lou Reed came on for the rehearsals," she chuckles,
"I said to one of the other musicians, 'Who does that fella
think he is?' and he just laughed! Just about the only one I knew
was Jarvis Cocker. But playing with the musicians was amazing;
there were just no egos there, and yet these people play with
the best people in the world every day of the week!"
For The Horse's Tail, her decision to put down all fifteen tracks
(and 31 tunes) over the course of three turbulent days in the
studio is one that's paid off creatively, although she admits
to a nervousness about the reaction she'll get from listeners,
now that the genie is out of the bottle.
"I have to admit I'm a bit nervous about this. Will people
want to hear the music without really any trimmings? But I just
hope that they'll enjoy the live feel of it. That's what I love
listening to in other people's music."