Paul Brady and the Liberty Belles


To the traditional singing devotee, King Tut's tomb swinging open was nothing to Paul Brady's excavation of The Missing Liberty Tapes in his attic last November. There, under some old LPs, was the recording of a concert Brady had played in Liberty Hall in 1978. The recording marks the high point of his career as a traditional singer - soon after that he moved into the folk/rock idiom, and never again performed many of the songs on the playlist.

Brady's traditional voice was arguably the finest male voice of the folk revival. Since he abandoned the traditional repertoire, he has had the allure of an extravagantly talented dead singer for traditional fans. The Missing Liberty Tapes magically catch his voice at its peak - there is no finer recording of Arthur McBride. Listening to the CD over and over, listening to Paul Brady perform his contemporary repertoire, and then going along to Paul Brady's revival of the concert he played in 1978 at the weekend, there was much to learn about the essence of traditional singing.

Brady's Liberty Tapes voice is clear, as rhythmically regular as an instrument, rich with ornamentation - but it has that quality of distance which often marks traditional music, as if the performer is visiting the work, not making it his own.

On Sunday night at Vicar Street, Brady's folk/rock-influenced voice made songs such as The Lakes of Ponchartrain and Arthur McBride more personal - less ornamented but more idiosyncratic.

He can't revisit the voice of his youth, partly because he's older, but also because he has moved on. (Interestingly, Andy Irvine's voice sounded like it always did.) Instruments have longer memories, and it was wonderful to see the line-up almost reformed (Matt Molloy was missing): Donal Lunny, Noel Hill, Paddy Glackin, Andy Irvine, Liam O'Flynn. They are dazzlingly talented multi-instrumentalists, as is Brady.

It was breathtaking to see Brady, Lunny and Irvine jumping like rodeo riders from mandolin to guitar, Lunny from guitar to bouzouki and mandolin on the Balkan jam which follows The Creel.

In some ways, the concert was a private trip for the boys down Memory Lane. The rigid following of the original playlist meant there was little space for invention, only for send-up.

It was a privilege to see those Titans at play, but the real find of the season has been that missing recording, which fell into Brady's hands, it seems, when he was ready to live again at peace with his silver-voiced youth.