Duo Live Reviews - Máire & Chris
Máire has been performing as part of a successful duo with guitarist Chris Newman, "the John Williams of folk guitar” (Inverness Courier) since 1988.
THE BELFAST TELEGRAPH (Ireland)
“This celebrated harp/guitar duo took the place by storm. Stately Carolan tunes, jazzy Django-ish numbers, dazzling Doc Watson style flat picking fliers, driving Irish dance tunes - this pair can nonchalantly do the lot. Their musicianship was enviable. Guitar players applauded and went sadly home to burn their instruments!”
- Neil Johnstone, of BELFAST FESTIVAL AT QUEEN'S CONCERT
CLASSICAL GUITAR MAGAZINE (England)
"After last night's wonderful guitar recital, an evening of Celtic harp and guitar was always going to be a contrast, but just how much of a one, surprised me completely! Chris Newman is a guitarist who crosses many musical boundaries, but Máire Ní Chathasaigh's electric Irish Harp managed to do things I have never heard a harp do before.
Using a discreet but important sound system, the pairing never outbalanced one another. This was a very well prepared duo, that have been performing together since the mid eighties. Their set consisted of no less than eighteen items, but the accent was one of constant fun for the players and the audience throughout. Obviously the Irish Jigs and Reels were plentiful, as one might expect but the surprise elements were hearing the harp play chromatic melodies as evidenced by James Scott Skinner's The Acrobat. Originally this was a violin piece full of semi -tonal sections in the melody. As the Irish Harp has no 'black' notes but every one of its 36 strings has a lever that can move the string semi-tonally the acrobatics involved were largely those of the player's, as her left hand flew around moving levers up and down frighteningly fast whilst her right hand played the complex melody. The gasps from the audience, particularly from the other harp players, made one realise that here was a very special performer indeed.
Of course Chris Newman was in every way a perfect partner, firstly happy to provide tellingly beautiful accompaniments when required to sit in the background, and yet wonderfully up - front in many of his brilliantly played solo excursions, many of which were written by himself. In this respect mention must be made of the delightful Albatross Waltz, and the cunningly named Stroll On, both evidence of his considerable talents both as player and a writer. However when one thinks of the Irish Harp, one inevitably comes across Turlough O'Carolan, much of whose music has found its way onto the guitar. Here we got a chance to hear it as it should be played on its native instrument. So many times on the guitar it is made to sound too baroque, too classical, owing perhaps to the fact that only the melodies of the pieces were written down, so very often inappropriate harmonies have found their way onto the guitar, added by people who should leave well alone. So it was refreshing to hear them harmonised and performed by a master of her instrument, who has spent all her life following the traditions of this music, and who showed these works in a completely new light. O'Carolan's Farewell to Music in this respect proved a highlight in an evening brim full of highlights.
All I can say in conclusion that I was alternately astonished and delighted with the entire concert. The skills with which they interacted, and the beautiful music they performed left a lasting impression on me and surely anyone else who was privileged to witness this extraordinary event. Full marks to Chetham's for a great weekend and here's hopefully to the next one!"
- Chris Dumigan, of INTERNATIONAL HARP & GUITAR FESTIVAL 2003 CONCERT, Chetham's School of Music, Manchester, England
THE WEST AUSTRALIAN
“Máire and Chris play a breathtakingly stirring blend of traditional Irish and Scottish music and hot jazz. In the year or so since I saw them last I think they’ve got faster - something I didn’t think was possible. They sizzled along at a frightening pace, without losing any clarity or separation of the instruments, swapping the melodic line effortlessly... Stand-out instrumentals were the brilliant A Sore Point, a lovely Scott Skinner set of strathspeys & reels, the spectacular Turkey in the Straw - and the achingly beautiful Carolan’s Farewell to Music: Máire’s mastery of the courtly works of 17th century harper Turlough O’Carolan is undiminished. In the faster tunes her technique, keeping crystal sharp melody and rhythmic & harmonic devices all up in the air, is unique. How she gets to change the semitone levers in the middle of fast flowing tunes, without a third hand, is beyond me. All this is leavened by Newman’s subversively witty introductions delivered in a deadpan torrent of words that almost matches the notes from his guitar. He has the great gift of being informative and hilarious simultaneously.”
- of PERTH CONCERT, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
CHRISTCHURCH PRESS (New Zealand)
"The audience were charmed and dazzled by the speed, the deftness, the emotional range of their playing... Máire's clear, warm and expressive voice... Their stagecraft was masterly and their introductions informative and funny."
THE GLASGOW HERALD (Scotland)
"Máire and Chris opened their set with a supposed warm-up which sounded like they'd been limbering up all night, tossing the melody between them with percussive brio. The results they achieved from The Turkey in the Straw also were remarkable. Turlough O'Carolan's lovely Eleanor Plunkett and a song or two from Ní Chathasaigh gave them breathing space between some death-defying sprints through the Scott Skinner book. If The Mathematician, with its dazzling single-string patterns, seemed as much a feat of memory as a musical exercise for Newman, the Ní Chathasaigh's role in The Acrobat, in which she retuned every second note with a series of levers, must constitute a Mensa qualification test."
- of CELTIC CONNECTIONS FESTIVAL CONCERT, Glasgow
THE STAGE (England)
“A truly electrifying combination. The kind that has even the most hardened folk-phobe admitting that maybe traditional music does, after all, still have a lot to offer.”
- of TRINITY ARTS CENTRE CONCERT, Tunbridge Wells, Kent
THE IRISH TIMES (Ireland)
“Turlough O’Carolan, that gifted renegade from the Old Irish Order, made some heart-wrenchingly beautiful music. He survived as a harpist-composer until the early part of the 18th century by blending his traditional Irish heritage with the popular baroque music of the day. So it is that every year for the past 19 years, a select horde has sought out the village of Keadue in a forgotten corner of north Roscommon for the O’Carolan International Harp Festival, inaugurated in memory of the blind harpist who learned his craft there at the behest of the local grandees, the McDermott Roes.
On Saturday night two of the most distinguished of today’s O’Carolan interpreters, Máire Ní Chathasaigh and Chris Newman, performed in Keadue Parish Church. Although on their CD The Carolan Albums, they stick to playing O’Carolan classics straight, in performance they choose from among the most poignant and irregular of his tunes, Eleanor Plunkett, beautiful either in the icy perfection of Ní Chathasaigh’s harp, falling like shards of glass through the stillness of the church, or in duet with Newman’s jazzy guitar towards the end. Their virtuosity leads them on. Ní Chathasaigh chomps on the bit of the harp’s respectability, and plays storming jigs like The Rambling Pitchfork, and reels like Seán Dwyer’s and The Spike Island Lasses. Her technique is fascinating, the furious picking of the melody with the right, and the judicious layering of counterpoint with the left, finishing with a dramatic embrace of the strings to stop the resonance. Newman glories in the possibilities of his guitar, for percussion, for accompaniment, for melody; pushing a James Scott Skinner Scottish reel for all it’s worth, it begins to sound like bluegrass, with the harp like an outsize mandolin. In pushing their instruments to sing all the ways they can, Newman and Ní Chathasaigh are without doubt remembering O’Carolan as he deserves.”
- of O’CAROLAN FESTIVAL CONCERT, Keadue, Co. Roscommon, Ireland
THE WEST AUSTRALIAN
"Irish harp virtuoso Máire Ní Chathasaigh and English guitarist Chris Newman combined blinding technique with sure intuition, moving from courtly music to sizzling Irish reels and freer hot jazz improvisation...Their only concert spot [at the Fairbridge Festival] brought an extended standing ovation from an audience near the end of two and a half days of great music"
- of FAIRBRIDGE FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE, Perth, Western Australia
EDINBURGH EVENING NEWS (Scotland)
“Fine work by this celebrated duo: Newman led us on death-defying sprints while Máire confirmed her status as one of the world’s greatest harpists.”
- of EDINBURGH HARP FESTIVAL CONCERT
IRISH MUSIC MAGAZINE (Ireland)
"There I was at the end of the concert standing at the back of St Maelruan's Church in Tallaght, Co. Dublin, talking to Máire Ní Chathasaigh, stumbling over my words like a little kid face-to-face at last with his great hero, but unable to say all those things he'd always wanted to say because he's so overwhelmed by occasion. But she was just as class an act off stage as on and graciously accepted my poor efforts at putting words on my feelings of admiration and ... well, awe.
Thankfully, I had come down to earth sufficiently by the time the entire audience had retired to the Church of Ireland community hall round the back for a cup of tea, and I was able to maintain a modicum of equilibrium and tell her partner, Chris Newman, about how much I had enjoyed the presentation. Mind you, I had to wait my turn before I could tell him, because everyone wanted to convey the same sentiments to him and Máire. Once we had started chatting, it was plain sailing and we were quickly swapping one-liners to beat the band. Yes, I know you'll say I'm supposed to be critically dispassionate in what I write about performers, and so I shouldn't be coming across so effusively and so adulatory in what I write. And yes, I agree; but blame them, not me, for Pete's sake! (Pete who?) Have you heard them play? On disc or in person? I had heard them on disc a few times, having played them on my RTE programmes over the years, but - and you'll hardly believe this - I had never owned one of their recordings. Until now. Nor had I heard them in person either. I can see you all now (in your hundreds of thousands) through a cloud of drifting dandruff shaking your heads in disbelief and dismay. And I'm sorry, truly sorry. I am.
Chris is a very funny man, and quick-witted, too. He reminded me a little of Mike Harding, and he has that same fast-talking, wise-cracking humour that one associates with inner city people who often appear to live by their wits, or at least have be as nimble of wit as they are of foot in order to survive. (However, Chris isn't inner city anywhere; he's from Watford, so there; but that's another story.) When I got to the venue, waiting at the church door of St Maelruan's were the vicar, Rev William Deverell, and Michael Coleman from South Dublin County Council; William providing 'the hall' for the concert, while Michael and his colleagues at the County Council were providing a free show to the citizens of Tallaght and surrounds. (Those of you who doubted there was a god, hang your heads in shame, and apologise to Mayor Jim Daly, the South Dublin County Councillors, and the Co. Council staff. And Rev William.) When William welcomed the assembly to the ... church, he used a line I suspect he's trotted out before: "It's nice to see so many people in the ...er, seats. How I wish it was like this every Sunday." (The plate, William, I said soto voce. Pass around the plate, for God's sake - well for your own sake, at least. The people will be delighted to express in a practical way their appreciation for 'the loan of the lend of the hall'. Carpe diem, William. But it was no use.) Chris played a Scott Skinner number called Bonnie Banchory, and he was altogether hilarious as he talked about wanting to name one of his own compositions after his native place and calling the tune Bonnie Watford. "But I decided against it," he said, "because somehow, it just didn't seem to have the same ring to it." So he named it Stroll On instead and that led on to another funny story about the origin of that title. (But if you want to find out about it, you'll have to attend one their performances.)
I have indulged myself endlessly and with complete abandon listening to Chris and Máire's two CDs The Living Wood and Live in the Highlands, and plan to treat myself and the family through time to their other albums; these two recordings are earlier works, but at the concert they played numbers from more recent ones, including some from their very latest CD, Dialogues /Agallaimh. If you are an aficionado of this extraordinary pair's playing, then you'll want to get this recording. It isn't every day one gets to hear musicians whose playing and singing are so moving, so wonderfully executed with such technical brilliance and beauty, that they actually bring tears to one's eyes; they did to mine, and that evening in Tallaght will remain a lasting and unforgettable memory. Gura fada buan iad beirt."
- Aidan O'Hara in Irish Music Magazine, July 2003, of ST. MAELRUAN'S CHURCH CONCERT, Tallaght, South Dublin, Ireland
SOUTHERN DAILY ECHO (England)
"Two fantastic musicians sparkled in the Ashcroft’s intimate theatre with a Celtic blend of jazz, country and baroque.
Chris Newman displays a phenomenal technique on acoustic guitar and a charming line in amusing, informative and anecdotal patter. Swinging the Lead is bouncy and clear, The Albatross Waltz is ferociously fast, and Pass the Pick is a sizzling showstopper.
From 17th century jigs and reels, through 19th century hornpipes, to modern original material, Máire Ní Chathasaigh’s Irish harp transcends time and plucks directly at the heart.
The 18th century Hidden Pearl is touchingly beautiful, Máire’s clear floaty vocals caressing melancholy Gaelic laments, and the solo harp in the 17th century Blind Mary created a hush in the spellbound crowd.
The encore, Eleanor Plunkett, produced one of those occasional, unforgettable moments when the music touches an audience so deeply that moist eyes shine in the darkness."
- Brendan McCusker in the Southern Daily Echo, February 3, 2004 of ASHCROFT ARTS CENTRE CONCERT, Fareham, Hampshire
LIVE IRELAND (Chicago, USA)
"Surely, Máire Ni Chathasaigh is the greatest Celtic harpist of our age. No fooling. And, we’re not the only ones who think so, as she was named 2001’s TG4 Traditional Musician of the Year! She and her partner, the fantastic Chris Newman, on guitar, have carved a niche in traditional and folk music that leaves them at the top of a wonderful mountain.
There are several albums. Máire's first was the solo, The New Strung Harp in 1985. The others include their latest, Dialogues and a riveting solo album featuring Chris on guitar in the aptly named Fretwork. Through virtually all their albums, guest stars sit in on some of the cuts, and none more well known than Maire's sister, Nollaig Casey on fiddle. Máire also has a lovely singing voice. But, this is all about her harp, a Camac brand, made in France. (For the guitar fans, Chris favors a Martin OM42.) All of the albums feature a large dose of traditional music that is unequalled. The duo has been playing together since 1987. They are in incredible demand on festival stages world wide. The variety on these albums and in their personal appearances is staggering. A gorgeous air will be followed by a Latin-flavored jazz piece, such as Banana Yellow on the album, Dialogues. Or, another jazzy, Swinging The Lead. Variety and master musicianship. These two have conquered their instruments.
It is, however, in live performance that the two are shown to best advantage. We had heard of them and were, based on our aforementioned ignorance of the harp, modestly interested in catching them in concert. They were at Milwaukee last year. So, we idled by to see what the fuss was about. BAM! We were gob-smacked. Totally. Music at its best will do this. We were speechless and could hardly applaud. In fact, we were secretly wishing the audience would not applaud, as that would allow the duo to play more! We are always frustrated at trying to tell in words something that the ear hears. Suffice it to say, words fail. You are thinking, (as were we), " Sure, they're probably really good----but how good can this be?" The answer truly, truly is in the hearing. We were watching the two again at this summer's wonderful Dublin, Ohio Irish Festival. We were loving every moment of it. And then---we started to try to figure out what it is that Máire does that is so different. Sure, no other harper sounds like this. But why? How? We may have an answer. We started to notice on a lot of tunes that Máire is holding her right hand differently than other harpers---and it hit us. At least a partial explanation is found in that positioning. Close your eyes and imagine the harpers you have seen, and how they use their right hand. It is sideways, or mostly parallel to the harp. Máire often turns her hand in a virtually 90* angle to the harp and actually finger picks it like a guitar, especially on the faster tunes This method on guitar is called, Travis Picking. On the harp, it is called a revolution. It accounts for her blindingly fast and sure work on the instrument. Put that method together with Chris Newman's magic on guitar, work together on that sound for 16 or more years and wait for people who think they know what a harp-guitar duo will sound like to hear you . Then watch your audience head off for the music stalls to buy your albums--all your albums!!
Every month, we are blessed to hear the greatest trad musicians in the world. Albums, too numerous to review, pile up around us like autumn leaves. The tradition is in such good hands. Young musicians like Michelle Mulcahy and her gloriously gifted sister, piper and flautist, Louise, ensure that the music will only grow and get better. But, there are also the supreme talents, like Chris and Máire who are perfecting their traditional work constantly----and also expanding and taking the music in new directions. Only the very, very best can do this. We have told you for years that there are two main streams in trad. One is the perfection of the trad form and exploring it and renewing it through the essence of the tradition itself. Fiddle players like the fantastic Jesse Smith and groups like The Brock-McGuire Band are doing this. The pure drop. Played with passion and intensity. Kevin Henry of Chicago comes to mind. The real deal. Then, there are those masters who walk a different line. Be it a fiddle genius like Liz Carroll, flautist Niall Keegan, a group like Flook or a harp player like Máire Ní Chathasaigh, these musicians become specially talented in the pure drop, and then want to expand it. Stretch it. Less sure hands stretch it to the point where it breaks. The wonderful thing is that you hear people like Chris and Máire and you know you are in the hands of masters who are showing you something new. It fits. It is logical and brilliantly creative at the same time. It grows the tradition and your understanding simultaneously. We know this sounds like over the top p.r. work for Chathasaigh and Newman. So be it. Ask anyone who has seen and heard them in person. Failing that, get one of their albums. You'll know. Instantly.The other albums, The Carolan Albums, The Living Wood, Live In The Highlands and Out Of Court are also available through the duo's online website with secure ordering. Just go to www.oldbridgemusic.com. It is all there. In the States, you can also order through Elderly's in East Lansing, Michigan. You DO know about Elderly's, don't you? Hm? Wherever you are around the world reading this, if these two are appearing anywhere near you, get up, dust off the jeans and get there! Just unbelievable.
Rating: Four Harps on every note they've ever played!!" - Bill Margeson
PLYMOUTH EVENING HERALD (England)
"Pinch me, I must be dreaming: a pair of world-class musicians performing in a village hall in Cornwall.
To add to the unlikely setting there was a singular pairing, of guitar (Chris Newman) and harp (Máire Ni Chathasaigh).
Could it get more strange?
It could - Harrowbarrow and Metherell Village Hall echoing to Irish reels, American bluegrass, Belgian-style (Django Rheinhart-influenced) jazz, Scottish reels and English hornpipes, music from the 18th to the 21st centuries, from folk to classic and even a touch of rock.
Newman showed why he is one of Britain's most revered acoustic guitarists and Ni Chathasaigh lived up to her billing as Ireland's Traditional Musician of the Year for 2001.
An audience of around 100 were in thrall to music of grace and pace, of aching lament and cheerful abandon.
We'd been told that the duo, just back from a tour of Belgium and Holland, would only do one encore.
But with the audience roaring their approval they did two, topping a set that stretched to almost two hours. Spellbinding.
The Cornish arts organisation Carn to Cove supported the concert and the evening was in aid of the hall's expansion plans."
- Martin Freeman, Plymouth Evening Herald, December 10, 2002
Biography of Máire and Chris as a duo