Irish Music Magazine October 2019.
QUAREHAWK Own Label, 13 Tracks, 45 Minutes
Maybe Michael Walsh caught me at the exact moment when I would be fully perceptive to Quarehawk, but, in all honesty, I wasn't prepared for the raw emotion of my first listen.
With traditional music at the core, and Walsh's wooden flute the mainstay, this thirteen-track album is a quarehawk' in more ways than one, as the musical, poetic, reflective and emotional layers unfurl.
Heritage and home play a huge part in its components, with The Lathe Revival parts One and Two recorded on the kind of technology that was used to record old 78s. There's a distinctive crackle and when Michael plays the raw Marian's Favourite and Crowley's Reel. This rawness is also brought out in the tune choices with the Ships in Full Sail and Paddy's Return, there's a breath of Sligo here coupled with the lasting legacy of the style of one of Manchester's legendary traditional teachers; Marion Egan.
When Michael opens his heart the CD becomes art, it's a place where the unripe emotion seeps in. The title track, Quarehawk, it's a poem, a narration over three original jigs (keep a listen out for Kepa Junkera on trikitixas - love it!). Here we have the reality and reaction of human interaction that can set you on edge and it comes again on The Visitor, opening the wounds of grief, as lost loved ones are conjured up from the everyday mundane life of suburban living rooms. These two pieces will resonate long after a listen. There's more; an outstanding multi-lingual rendition of The Shores of Lough Bran, a hauntingly beautiful cello and flute combination in Tribute to Peader O'Donnell, the Asturian effect with the Barralin set and a reflective rendition of England's Motorway all add to Walsh's diversity and depth. The artists and production that form the circumference of the music are too many to mention but check out Michael's website and you'll get a great idea of its high-quality.
This album moved me like no other, maybe it's because the album's themes brought out synergies to my own personal past, maybe, however I think it's more to do with Walsh's creative ability to craft and deliver in a way that connects, and, with Quarehawk, connect means a punch in the gut and a tear to the eye. When you can draw out raw emotion like that as an artist; you're a winner.
Folk Radio UK Review by Dave McNally 2nd August 2019
Back in May, we featured an “enthralling and thought-provoking” video of the debut live performance of flute player Michael Walsh’sQuare Hawk (watch here). The album of the same name, featuring many of the same musicians, is a similarly distinctive triumph of musical variety and playing. Quare Hawk is built on a very solid Irish traditional foundation but is in no sense just another traditional album.
The music we hear at the start and then at the end of the album (an alternate mix of the title track aside) sounds like a recording from the classic era of Irish traditional music records made in the U.S. by the likes of fiddle players Michael Coleman and James Morrison in the 1920s and 1930s. The two tunes, Marian’s Favourite (written by Tony Sullivan) and the traditional Crowley’s Reel, are two halves of live 78 rpm recording made in 2016 at the Lathe Revival Studios in Newcastle – recorded on a 1938 Presto recording lathe, with a single microphone. The lovely playing, by Michael and Paul Daly (from Mayo, now resident in Manchester) on flutes and Amanda Lewis (from Newcastle) on fiddle, transports us to that different time and place and is a strong pointer of the importance of the source of the music. You can find out more about the Lathe Revival at latherevival.com.
The Shores of Loch Bran is best known from the version sung by Dolores Keane on De Danann’s 1975 debut album and is a song which for Michael is associated “with my uncle Frank Mollohan, he can be persuaded to sing this at the end of a party”. Here it exemplifies how effectively Michael and his co-producer Mike McGoldrick make the eclectic elements of Quare Hawk work as a whole. It begins with Michael playing a Chinese Hulusi (gourd flute), supported by quiet, murmuring keyboard from Anthony Davis. He then sings the first verse solo, with the second verse sung in Irish by the incomparable Armagh born, Manchester based, singer and flute player Rioghnach Connolly – who Michael describes as having “encouraged me to find my own voice”. Leticia González Menéndez then sings a verse in Asturian, followed by a haunting cello break from Liz Hanks (who has played with Martin Simpson and Liam Gallagher amongst others, and is Michael’s neighbour) and a final lovely harmony duet verse sung by Michael and English fiddle player and singer Bryony Griffith. As if that wasn’t enough, legendary Basque trikitixa (accordion) player Kepa Junkera guests on the track.
Michael describes growing up learning Sligo style traditional music in Manchester and he wears that, and other Irish traditional flute playing inspirations, on his sleeve, citing “Roger Sherlock, Tony Howley, Matt Molloy, Michael Tubridy, Peter Horan and Kevin Henry”. There’s a very fine set made up of Boys of the Lough and Trip to Birmingham. The first tune Michael learnt from the playing of the late, London based, Sligo flute player Roger Sherlock who “set the standard for Irish flute playing for me and his solo album ‘Memories of Sligo’ (1978) is my favourite flute album of all time”. The second tune was written by another Sligo player, Josie McDermott after he ended up getting a taxi from London to Birmingham for a gig, after his flight from Ireland was diverted due to fog.
The Boys of Blue Hill, Michael recalls listening to, as a youngster, as Tony Howley (yet another Sligo flute and sax player, based in Manchester) “played it down the phone to me and I remember thinking how on earth would I ever be able to play like that.” Tony sadly died last year, but I’m certain he’d be suitably impressed by Michael’s version played here on whistle. Personal aside: I knew Tony for many years as the man who always won the best allotment prize at our allotments and only discovered he was also a prominent musician after he had died – a lovely man, made of many talents. The Boys of Blue Hill is played in a set with The Stockport Hornpipe, a seemingly displaced tune, as although it is named after Michael’s home town, it is actually a Scottish tune. Both are played in the English traditional style, accompanied by Bryony Griffiths on fiddle and Will Hampson on melodeon – “I’ve grown to love English folk music” Michael says, perhaps a necessity after he married a Morris Dancer.
New versions of old tunes sometimes succeed so well that they sound as if that is how they should have always sounded and that is saying something when the original is Moving Hearts Tribute to Peadar O’Donnell (composed by Donal Lunny and from The Storm, 1985). O’Donnell’s life as an Irish Republican and socialist activist was remarkable: he began as a trade union organiser in 1918, was Chair of an Irish anti-Vietnam group in the 1960s and in between was in the Irish Republican Army during the 1919-1921 Irish Civil War and fought in the Spanish Civil War. With simply Michael on flute and Liz Hanks on cello, the inherent beauty in Donal’s air is fully realised – beautiful, evocative playing. Talking about the tune, Michael talks about going to see Moving Hearts in Manchester in the 1980’s: “I thought I was going to explode with the emotion, sound and pleasure I experienced that night.”
The music of Asturia is another thread in Michael Walsh’s musical journey. The connection comes from Michael spending time in Asturia and for the last 4 years taking a PhD in identity, nationalism and music in the contemporary Asturian folk scene in northern Spain. Barralin/Pasucais De Uveu are two Asturian tunes, the first by J.M. Tejedor and the second traditional, that Michael learned from Asturian group Llan de Cubel. Michael is joined by that band’s fiddle player Simon Bradley, Leticia González Menéndez on pandeiro, Ruben Bada on bouziki and Helen Gubbins on button accordion. The track is a delightful addition to the assortment of genres on the album.
The phrase Quare Hawk, used by Michael’s father Patrick, can mean many things: crafty, clever, a bit odd, a bit strange. Michael Walsh’s debut album is all of those things and a lot more besides. What unifies the wealth of components parts on Quare Hawk is the personal, the story of Michael’s life and music. Michael describes the album as charting: “the last three years of my life. Celebration, loss, moving on and finding my own voice.” Family is central to what matters most for Michael: the title track is a set of three jigs he wrote in tribute to his two children and his wife. He describes Mike Garry’s poem The Visitor helping him deal with the loss of his father who died in 2017 and to whom Michael dedicates the album. On the album, the poem is spoken by Mike, with Michael on flute, Liz Hanks on cello and Mike McGoldrick on drone, guitars and samples. The opening line alone powerfully evokes that feeling of wanting to still be in connect with people we have lost: “My father is with me, he visits me, calls to me from the dark”.
It may have taken Michael Walsh a long time to make his first album, but he has delivered a warm, unassuming collection of tunes, songs and spoken word. Quare Hawk has a striking coherence across a multiplicity of influences and styles – you can never be quite sure what is coming next. Michael describes the tune written for his son in the title track set as, in part, offering “encouragement to be his own man” – on Quare Hawk Michael Walsh is definitely his own man.
Penny Black Music. Review by Nicky Crewe. 27/8/2019
Michael Walsh’s father came from Mayo to England in the late 1950s, part of the Irish diaspora who settled in the North West of England. Michael was born in Manchester and brought up in Stockport, learning and listening to Irish music. His teachers included Marian Egan and Tony Ryan. He was inspired and influenced as a teenager by the really strong Irish music scene in Manchester. Nowadays he lives in Sheffield, married with a young son and daughter. His father died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2017. This album was planned but the loss of his father changed the shape of it in unexpected ways as he dealt with the grief.
There’s a deeper story to the album and its music. As well as being a fantastic musician, Michael Walsh is a very honest man and he’s not shy of sharing. ‘Quarehawk’ was launched at the recent Cambridge Folk Festival, and he also appeared on a panel there discussing musicians and their mental health. The music scene is an uncertain world and depression, drugs and drink play a part in it. Honesty and openness can help, and listening to Michael Walsh being interviewed on BBC Radio Sheffield recently helped me to put some of his story together. I also saw him perform a warm up gig with Irish American and Sheffield based fiddle player Liz Hanley at my favourite local venue, Cafe #9.
A breakdown some years ago led to him walking the Camino de Compostela. On the walk he met a fellow traveller who invited him to his wedding in the Asturias region of northern Spain, an autonomous region with a strong sense of identity. There he met traditional musicians and made connections with his own Irish musical roots. This meeting led to him studying for a PhD at the University of Sheffield Department of Music, researching identity, nationalism and music in the contemporary Asturian folk scene.
So he’s a mix of a talented musician, a teacher, an academic, a bereaved son and a family man. You could say he’s a ‘quarehawk’.
A meeting at a local Sheffield playgroup led to collaboration with neighbour and cellist Liz Hanks. The album brings together musicians from across his life and history, including Michael McGoldrick and Tom Wright who encouraged him back into the studio after the death of his father.
There are a couple of surprises too. Kepa Junkera, Basque trixitixas/accordion player appears. Mike Garry, who some of you may know from touring with John Cooper Clarke and through his poetic tribute to Tony Wilson, ‘St Anthony:An Ode to Anthony H Wilson’, contributes a spoken lyric, ‘The Visitor’.
Michael Walsh has also found his own voice on this album. A shoulder injury meant he couldn’t pay his flute, so he developed his singing.
The opening track, ‘Marian’s Favourite’, is a short flute tune recorded direct to a vinyl lathe by Newcastle’s Lathe Revival. The next to final track ‘Crowley’s Reel’ was recorded live in the same way, and both pieces transport you to another time and place, the best kind of pub session.
‘Quarehawk’, the title track, includes tunes written for his children as well as a spoken word poem about identifying as a quarehawk, full of honesty and mature acceptance.
‘The Shores of Lough Bran’ is as haunting as any Irish song you will ever hear, all about loss and leaving. It is made all the more poignant by its arrangement. Michael sings in English, Asturian singer Leticia Gonzalez Menendez sings in Asturian dialect and Manchester’s Rioghnach Connolly sings in Irish. It’s heartbreaking because it is about loss of language, family and identity as well as leaving a home land as economic emigrants.
There’s a possible Stockport hometown connection to ‘The Boys of Blue Hill/The Stockport Hornpipe’, in spite of the tune being held in a Scottish archive.
Mike Garry wrote the words to ‘The Visitor ‘in response to Michael’s request for a song to honour his father. It’s a ghost story, the return of the friendly dead, the deep desire for connection beyond the grave through memory and hallucination.
Barralin/Pasucais de Uveu shares some Asturian folk music.
‘Tribute to Pedar O’Donnell’ by Moving Hearts’ Donal Lunny is a tribute to the Irish Republican hero from Donegal. From the sleeve notes I realise that Michael and I were both at a very memorable Moving Hearts gig at International 2 in Manchester in the early 1980s. More connections.
Ewan MacColl’s ‘Come My Little Son (England’s Motorway)’ is a heartbreaking insight into family life of the 1960s, when absent Irish fathers were working on the motorway system and building sites. One of my own father’s favourite songs too.
There’s Sligo style flute playing at its best on ‘Boys of the Lough/Trip to Birmingham’ and ‘Ships in Full Sail’.
The final track revisits ‘Quarehawk ‘and Kepa Junkera’s contribution to it, recorded before his present bout of ill health.
It’s a great album. It has its share of grief and sorrow but it is also about how those feelings can be transformed through music and words.
Michael Walsh is one of a growing band of musicians who are using the traditional music of their heritage and taking it somewhere contemporary, brave, groundbreaking and experimental.
The support and involvement of friends and family is very obvious in the album with its honest and helpful sleeve notes. It’s something special to witness and it is a great example of what collaboration and connection can achieve.
Celtic-Rock.de ( Kuec) 7th September 2019.
Quarehawk lässt sich grob mit “schräger Vogel” übersetzen, eine merkwürdige Person mit einem ausgeprägten eigenen Willen. Michael Walsh, in Stockport bei Manchester aufgewachsen, benutzt diesen irischen Ausdruck seines Vaters zur Selbstbeschreibung.
Sein erstes Soloalbum ist entsprechend ungewöhnlich. Er schreibt in Sheffield an einer Doktorarbeit über Musik aus Asturien (Spanien) und ist ein hervorragender Flötenspieler. Außerdem singt er sehr überzeugend.
In jungen Jahren erhielt Michael Walsh Unterricht im sehr einflussreichen Sligo-Stil, der sein Spiel prägt.
Sein Können auf Whistle und Holz-Querflöte kann man grade durch das gemäßigte Tempo ermessen, die Atemtechnik, die feinen Verzierungen, die ihn in die Nähe der großen traditionellen Spieler bringen. Walsh verbindet diese Verwurzelung aber mit originellen Arrangements-Ideen und seiner Liebe zur asturischen Musik. Dabei wird er von einer ganzen Reihe von Freundinnen und Freunden unterstützt. Nicht ganz unbekannt sind Koproduzent Michael McGoldrick und der spanische Akkordeonist Kepa Junkera. Keyboard, klassisches Cello oder Fiddle sind ebenfalls zu hören.
Auch bei der Aufnahmetechnik hat Walsh ungewöhnliche Wege gewählt: zwei Tracks wurden auf Vinyl mitgeschnitten und klingen wie aus den 1930er Jahren, Kratzgeräusche inklusive.
Michael Walsh hat auch einen engen Bezug zu Sprache und Poesie. Er deklamiert den Quare Hawk und lässt Mike Garry sein Gedicht The Visitor vortragen. Auch das von Walsh gesungene Englands Motorways hat biographische Bezüge. Ein weiterer Höhepunkt ist die irische Ballade The Shores of Lough Bran, dreisprachig mit drei Gastsängerinnen – und einer unglaublich gut passenden chinesischen Flöte im Hintergrund.
Walshs Album zeigt einen sensiblen Menschen, der Tradition, persönliche Aussage und Offenheit verbindet. Herzerwärmend.
Irish Echo Newspaper (USA). 15th October 2019 (Daniel Neeley)
In the player this week is “Quarehawk,” the new album from flute player Michael Walsh, and it’s a fascinating and compelling bit of musicking. According to the album’s liner notes, quarehawk, a term Walsh took from his father Patrick, has several meanings, including “crafty, clever, dangerous, a bit odd, a bit strange. It can be a compliment, a slight, a warning or a term of endearment.” It’s important to start with this, as the term has special significance: Walsh’s father, who moved to England from Carnacon, Co. Mayo, in 1957, died unexpectedly during the album’s production. A jarring experience, it also brought immediacy to the intricate, unresolved complexities that seem to have characterized Michael and Patrick’s relationship. Walsh explores them here, with the “quarehawk” concept being the organizing force that ties the album together.
Walsh was born in Manchester and raised in Stockport, England. He has a very established musical background, including being an All-Britain Senior Flute Champion and a finalist in the 2016 Seán Ó Riada Competition. He’s been in touring bands, played in traveling shows, and was even a featured performer on the soundtrack of the television program “The Irish Empire.” In addition, he is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Sheffield Department of Music, where his specialty is Asturian Folk and Irish Traditional Music.
All of this comes to bear on “Quarehawk,” which is a study of contrasts. On the one hand, there are a number of tracks that feature Walsh’s tasty flute playing in a fairly basic way and seem to honor the teachers of Walsh’s formative years. “Marian’s Favourite” and “Crowley’s,” tracks that were recorded direct to vinyl for the album, bookend the album with stylish presentation. “Paddy’s Return / …” and “Ships in Full Sail / …” are really nicely delivered with minimal arrangement. (Mike McGoldrick, who co-produced seeveral tracks, plays bodhrán on some of these.) “Barralin/Pasucáis de Uviéu” explores Walsh’s more recent interest in the music of Asturias. It’s a lovely track with great feeling.
These are counterbalanced by the quarehawk tracks, which are conspicuous and jarring and provide a hard chiaroscuro that affects the collection’s perception as a whole. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the album’s titular track “Quarehawk,” which features three jigs of Walsh’s own composition, named for his children and wife. He’s joined here by Kepa Junkera on trikitixa (a Basque accordion) and Simon Bradley (fiddle) who provide a hypnotic base over which Walsh reads a bracing confessional poem in which he seems to struggle with the memory of his father. “Your machismo choked me,” he declares. “I am that young man you humiliated,” and yet “though my wings are out stretched now and I can look you in the eye, my feathers remain ruffled because I am a quare hawk.” It is a powerful track that sets an incredibly powerful tone.
Another example is “The Visitor,” which comes a bit later. Over Liz Hank’s elegiac cello playing, the track features poet Mike Garry reading a piece of his own that looks at fathers, sons, and loss. It takes a more ameliorative tone that complicates the hard edged sentiment of “Quarehawk.” Later still, Walsh sings the song “Come My Little Son (England’s Motorway).” It’s an important song, as his father worked on the construction of England’s M1 and it presents still another side – one that is far more understanding – of the father-son relationship here. It expands the album’s expressivity but also complicates the overall picture. Even “The Shores of Lough Bran,” which combines each of Walsh’s interests in English, Irish, and Asturian music and features him singing in English, Ríoghnach Connolly singing a verse in Irish, and Leticia González Menéndez singing one in Spanish, echoes this quarehawk theme, with its hopeful expression of loss.
“Quarehawk” is an excellent album with a brilliantly realized concept. It stands alongside a growing body of albums I’ve seen that address trauma in its different forms, including Susan McKeown’s “Singing in the Dark” (2010) and Cormac Breatnach’s brilliant “The Whistle Blower” (2018), in that it takes complex personal emotions and works through them in compelling ways. Here, music isn’t simply a method toward resolution, but resolution in itself. Folks interested in great playing and contemporary trends in traditional music will thoroughly enjoy this album, but it will likely have deeper meaning for those who struggled after personal loss. Definitely one to check out. To learn more, visit www.michaelwalshmusic.com.