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SEÁN POTTS - Number 6

SEÁN POTTS - Number 6
Na Píobairí Uilleann NPUCD018

Seán’s distinctive tin whistle playing has been a feature of the Irish traditional music scene for over half a century now. The former founder member of The Chieftains and Ceoltóiri Chualann is highly regarded the world over, especially for his expressive and wholly intuitive playing of slow airs. In that respect, Seán seems to have been around forever, and his playing has indeed set a timeless benchmark. Glancing at the title of this record, you might be forgiven for thinking this new release from this legendary near-octogenarian (he celebrates his 80th birthday in October this year) represents album number 6, but – incredibly – he’s never before produced a solo album (the closest he came was the famous 1974 duet LP with Paddy Moloney!), and the numeral actually refers to Seán’s grandfather John’s house in Dublin, which was not only a stopping point for musicians passing through the city during Seán’s own formative years but also the place where John taught the uilleann pipes, an instrument for which although Seán has an enduring love he abandoned its mastery in favour of the tin whistle, to the playing of which instrument he subsequently brought the influence of the fingering of the chanter. This special facet of his technique has proved highly influential, and Number 6 (which, entirely fittingly therefore, appears on the label of Na Píobairí Uilleann, the society of uilleann pipers) contains plenty of instances. However, although the emphasis is rightly on Seán’s unique style and the sound of the tin whistle thus takes centre stage, this is not a disc of unadulterated solo whistle playing, for Seán has the benefit of accompaniment from four other musicians at various points.

There’s his son Seán Óg on pipes, John Blake on guitar and piano, and Paddy Glackin on fiddle, while on just one track (a magisterially powerful rendition of the air Aisling Gheal, from the repertoire of Seán Ó Riada) Peadar Ó Riada plays the organ of University College Cork’s Honan Chapel. For the most part, these extra musicians are to be found joining Seán on the pairs of dance tunes, which comprise 11 out of the disc’s 20 tracks; there’s a wonderful feeling of joy in the playing that takes its cue from an ease of accomplishment, giving rise to particularly invigorating renditions of the reels Jenny Picking Cockles (with pipes and guitar), The Pretty Girls Of Mayo and Sporting Nell (with fiddle and guitar) and the Cooley’s Reel set (with piano). These performances have all the sparkle and togetherness of straight live recordings, although there’s a bit of multitracking (piano and guitar) on occasion.

As for the airs themselves, in virtually all cases these are performed solo by Seán (exceptions being the march-like Eibhlí Gheal Chiúin Ní Chearbhaill, on which he’s accompanied by John’s tellingly rich guitar chordings, and the fine account of An Chéad Mháiri de’n Fhómhar that closes the disc, on which he’s joined by Paddy). The recording is abundantly faithful to the intensity and special nuances of dynamic within Seán’s playing; there are a few mildly intrusive acoustic blemishes on Mo Mhúirnín Bán, but these don’t seriously spoil the impact of that individual performance or of the remainder of the disc.

Number 6 sure provides a fine showcase for Seán’s playing, which I can only describe as (still) miraculous and breathtaking, an inspiration to the aspiring and practising musician alike as well as a convenient and welcoming stopover for the listener too.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 86 of The Living Tradition magazine.