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The London Lasses in New York - Reviewed by Gwen Orel

London Lasses  A small but appreciative audience were treated to some rare, wonderful traditional Irish music on September 7th at Satalla.  The main act were the beguiling group The London lasses and Pete Quinn, but before they appeared, Brian Conway and Brendan Dolan played a wonderful set.

Conway is an Irish-American fiddler who plays in the highly ornamented Sligo fiddling style.  His lively playing was remarkably varied, but my favorites were the haunting slow airs.  His faster tunes were powerful too though, and his double-stops were particularly strong, mixing perhaps a bit of old-timey charm into the mix. Conway also played beautifully some Scottish tunes.  Brendan Dolan accompanied Conway on keyboards very deftly.  Conway’s debut CD, “First Through the Gate” (2002), was named CD of the Year by the Irish Echo.  He deserves a bigger audience.

The headliners, the London Lasses with Pete Quinn, were new to me.  What a treat!  Since the concert their latest album “Track Across the Deep” has not left my ipod.  They all hail from London, but the music they sing is Irish.  Just as New York has children of Irish emigrants, so, obviously but somehow not so, does London—at least since the 1950s when there was a mass wave of emigration.  The music the London Lasses play is Irish via London, just as Conway’s is a bit of Irish via America.

Vocalist Kathleen O’Sullivan is the most striking representative of this blend.  She speaks in pure cockney (something many Americans have only heard in Oliver Twist), but when she sings her accent and demeanor is absolutely Irish.  My guest for the evening is Irish herself and she found the transformation remarkable and funny as well.

The band is led by Karen Ryan on violin and whistle. Baby-faced Maureen Linane plays accordion--she doesn’t look old enough to be in a bar, but her playing is surely confident; Pete Quinn (married to Karen) accompanies on keyboards. The rest of the band was not in its usual line-up—Sinead Linane substituted for Elaine Conwell on fiddle, and Sligo flutist Carmel Gunning filled in for Dee Hawlin.

They opened with a few jigs, including a tune by Paddy O’Brian and a tune without a name that they haven’t recorded yet, supporting the melody with two violins and a flute.   Linane led the second tune rhythmically, and the third tune was energetic and lively.  They had the audience whooping immediately!

Make no mistake:  there is no “girlishness” about the drive of their music.

Kathleen O’Sullivan came up on stage and admits she does say, as Ryan joked, “fid-dool” the Cockney way.  It was her second time in New York, she said, so she could be blasé now (the first time was “the screaming tour”).  After charming us with her humor she sang the haunting ballad “The Red-Haired Man’s Wife.”  Her pure voice, with Irish ornamentation, is angelic and substantive, recalling Capercaillie’s Karen Matheson.  The song also showcased the Irish flute, which commented on the melody as it played.  Quinn’s extended chords added to the piece’s moodiness.

The cheeky, saucy song “The Ball of Yarn” followed.  It is, as O’Sullivan explained, “about what adults do”—it opens with a young man asking a maiden walking by, “will you let me wind your little ball of yarn.”  Not a good idea, ladies… the interspersed instrumental breaks were very upbeat and pleasing.

A slower instrumental, “Bridget Cruise,” by O’Carolan, was evocative and sweet.  Some waltzes from London by fiddle player Danny Meehan were lovely too.Some of the most enjoyable tunes of the evening appear to be yet unrecorded, including one called “The Mickey Dam” with a refrain about a lion—a cheeky travel song. Another standout song was Kathleen a capella, in Gaelic, about a mermaid.  It was called “The Woman of the Sea” and even without translation it tugged on the emotions.  Good to know there’s clearly a third album coming our way. Gunning played a lovely tune she wrote for her sons, called “John, Paul and Leonard” on the Irish whistle

The ladies finished off the evening with a fast rake of reels, led by Karen on the violin.  This group really does have it all: charm, musicality, humor and personality.  They are a treat to see live, and “Track Across the Deep” can hold its own with any Irish band going.  Don’t wait to try them out.

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