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Album: It Was Great Altogether!: The Continuing Tradition Of Irish Music In London
Label: Topic
Tracks: 28+35+26

For background, you'll need to refer back to my review of "It Was Mighty!", the first volume of the set forming the latest stage of Topic's monumental Voice Of The People series. On its successor and companion three-disc volume, we find Dr. Reg Hall guiding us through the music made by Irish folk in London from the mid-1960s through to the present day, evidencing the continuing - and flourishing - tradition of Irish music in the capital. This will of necessity be a shorter review than that of volume 1, but suffice to say that the exemplary high standards of presentation and packaging of volume 1 are maintained with volume 2, with the slightly larger (108-page) accompanying booklet once again containing copious notes and a comparably fine selection of photographs.

The late-60s saw something of a change in the social standing of Irish folk living and working in London, for, as Hall posits, "what had been a community of Irish immigrants was now turning into a settled ethnic minority". Although the "old" music was still played in London pubs (untouched by developments like the more aggressive marketing of music back over in Ireland, which were eventually to lead to its globalisation), there were noticeable shifts in repertoire, principally in (for instance) the replacement of waltzes and marches by "recently discovered" Kerry slides and polkas - as the first two discs of this set illustrate. Musicians recorded during this period and appearing on this set include some carryovers from the previous decade (Jimmy Power, Bobby Casey, Julia Clifford, Martin MacMahon, Tommy McCarthy), alongside the likes of Tommy Healy, Danny Meehan and Maureen Minogue, also banjoist Liam Farrell, fiddler Brian Rooney and accordionist Joe Whelan - the latter musicians providing continuity into Disc 3 of this set. There's a greater incidence of "small grouping" recordings here (whereas the bulk of Volume 1 consisted of recordings of solo players); the O'Leary clan is well represented, and Reg Hall's piano can be heard on a number of tracks recorded during the 60s and 70s.

The original 50s workers started their own families en-situ, and a second (and subsequently third) generation of musicians emerged. As disc 3 (whose contents were mostly recorded in the past decade or so) proves, the Irish traditional music scene continues to flourish, in the hands of these second- and third- generation musicians, some of whom had been taught more formally in classes introduced by Tommy Maguire and Brendan Mulkere from the late 70s; many, while taking their cues from the 50s and 60s pioneers, "have developed skills, styles and maturity of their own within the values of traditional music". On this third disc, then, we encounter - among others - James Carty, and fiddler (and London Lass herself, guiding light of the annual Return To Camden Town festival) Karen Ryan. The proud attachment of these descendants of the original community to Irish music on both sides of the water, and their "second-nature" respect and admiration for the older players and their music, is pronounced. The venues may be different nowadays, but the music is still flourishing, and it's still "great altogether"!

David Kidman