Follow your heart: a moment of madness is better than a life of logic. Brendan Begley

Traditional Irish musicians or dancers will know that certain tunes – old or new – are so expertly crafted and follow such an implacable logic that it is sometimes very difficult to escape their circular and intoxicating flow. Released in 2010 on, West-Kerry singer and accordion player Brendan Begley and Dublin fiddler Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s exquisite A Moment of Madness seems to revolve around such tunes.

Brendan Begley & Caoimhín ó Raghallaigh - A Moment of Madness (2010)
Brendan Begley & Caoimhín ó Raghallaigh – A Moment of Madness (2010)

All the music on the album has been honed and played in front of live audiences as part of a series of tours that date back to 2007. Focusing here on a specific Cork and Kerry repertoire of polkas, jigs, hornpipes and marches, A Moment of Madness pays homage to past masters of the Sliabh Luachra style such as Paddy Cronin, Denis Murphy, Julia Clifford or Johnny Leary who have composed or championed these tunes. The playing is also reminiscent at times of another classic accordion/fiddle duo Jackie Daly and Séamus Creagh (1977).

As on his recent recordings – solo or with the contemporary Irish music acts he is associated with (This is How We Fly, The Gloaming, Triúr) – Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh plays the fiddle as well as a 10-string custom made Norwegian Hardanger fiddle.

The recording includes a few great compositions such as Brendan Begley’s own three part jig Tonn Cliodhna, vividly introduced by the accordion player as follows:

I composed Tonn Cliodhna myself, with the help of my daughter (also named Cliodhna), in connection with a sea journey I made with Danny Sheehy in a ‘naomhóg’ (or currach), from Donegal Harbour to Rathlin Island, tracing the path of Saint Colmcille. There are three parts to this tune, the first being where the boat is tied to the quay, and no one is in danger. In the second part the water is deep, and there’s a touch of fear connected with that, and in the third part you are in the middle of a storm, with your heart in your mouth, as people often are in such situations.

Doing away with the tacit convention that each tune should be repeated three times over before moving on to the next one, “Cronin’s slippery jig”, “O’Sullivan’s March” or “The P&O Polka” are played on their own and repeated 7 to 9 times over, allowing the musicians to explore every rhythmic, dynamic and melodic nuances of the dance tunes.

“When playing with the force of Nature that is Brendan Begley, every note is an adventure, every tune a rollercoaster […] it’s raw, it’s wild, it’s alive.”

“It’s nearly a slip jig, you could say. But it goes astray, and beautifully so. A single extra beat. A slippery and elegant beast. But what else would one expect from the bow of Paddy Cronin, master of the slippery and elegant” writes Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, introducing Cronin’s slippery jig:

Euphoric and exuberant at times, A Moment of Madness is a delightful recording from a high spirited duo in full flight. The CD album is sold out but the digital version is still available on Bandcamp.