All class of music at winter school


The traditional group Altan are at the centre of the Frankie Kennedy Winter School, which ended at Dunlewey, Co Donegal, on Sunday. And while the school commemorates a former member, there is more to it than that.

Altan's music departs widely from tradition in its execution but it has its origins in deep wells of the pure Donegal drop. The school's events stretch right across the spectrum from tradition to innovation so that you might find yourself one minute whooping to the beat of Altan, one of the biggest roots bands in the world, and the next sitting silently as a young sean nos singer from the area forgets his words and starts again. Both events are accorded the same importance.

The last concerts of this year's school sum up the variety you can expect. On Saturday night, Altan were not afraid to go for bald tradition, particularly when Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh sang unaccompanied the heart-breaking old Irish song O'Boyle's Daughter, with lines like:

"And my heart will break into a thousand pieces

If I have not the right to lie on your bright breast

But Altan also showed how they can popularise traditional tunes by building into them drama, suspense and sex appeal.

On sets like Drowsy Maggie and The Dark Haired Lassies, fiddlers ead Ni Mhaonaigh and Ciaran Tourish seems possessed, their notes somersaulting over each other faster and faster.

Altan join slow highlands with fast jigs, or they introduce jagged key changes with all their conscious theatricality of say the Russian gypsy band Loyko. And they get their response. "I want you to go clean buck wild," announced an Tourish, and that's what we did.

As the concert ended, the fiddlers' bows sliced over their fiddles three times and they fell forward limp as rag dolls.

The quiet, respectful atmosphere at the Tommy Peoples gig on Sunday afternoon could not have been more different. Here a lone fiddler carefully followed the lines of tunes introduced with the words: "Here's another few tunes." Yet Peoples's playing - he was one of the motors of the Bothy Band - has been a key influence on Altan.

Paul O'Shaughnessy then joined Peoples. When he laughingly brought a tune to an abrupt end, another fiddler, Dermie Diamond, shouted: "The old handbrake turn, Paul?" He was then press-ganged up to the stage.

There is no formality here as the people all know each other or feel they know each other.

Ni Mhaonaigh punctuated her gig by raising her champagne glass to the gallery, from which one of Frankie Kennedy's sisters was jokingly heckling, and toasting her with the traditional Irish toast Frankie apparently taught a worthy East European mayor during one of their tours: "Jam roll!"