Michael Walsh

Michael Walsh : Quarehawk

Quarehawk is flautist Michael Walsh’s debut. He is 53, and was prompted to record it by friends after the tragic death of his father, Patrick.

The title is a phrase Patrick himself used - it means crafty, clever, strange. The album is certainly all of these things, and also a triumph of traditional musicianship.

There are four reasons you should have a copy.

First, the music itself.

Walsh grew up in Manchester steeped in Irish music, but Quarehawk also has English, Austurian and Basque influences, represented in traditional pieces and self-penned compositions.

The result is sometimes experimental, but always has a rare life and sense of flow to it - exemplified by one of the album’s high-points, The Shores of Lough Bran, a hugely effective mix of Chinese, Austurian, English and Irish instrumentation and spirit.

Evidence of the album's quality is immediate - the opening moments of the record are sublime, as The Lathe Revival Part 1: Marian’s Favourite, recorded live to vinyl lathe, takes fast, full-flight - like a sepia photograph that freeze-frames all the cartwheeling joy of a late night pub session.

Second, the musicians who have contributed.

Irish Mancunian multi-instrumentalist Mike McGoldrick, Basque Trikitixa (accordion) player Kepa Junkera and Armagh born singer and flute player Ríoghnach Connolly all add their thread to Quarehawk’s magisterial weave.

Liz Hanks' cello is a revelation whenever it is deployed. Walsh's flute dances as if channelling a thousand years of delight.

Connolly's affecting vocal for The Shores of Lough Bran is worth the CD's price alone; if this was a vinyl album, you’d soon wear the grooves of that track smooth. The same goes for the spare reading the lament of abscence, Ewan MacColl's Come My Little Son (England's Motorway), is given.

Third, two spoken word pieces add depth and perspective.

The first encountered, Quarehawk, is a poem written, spoken, then finally sung by Walsh himself - an oddly moving, defiant riposte from an outsider, framed by a set of superbly life affirming jigs.

Then, guest Mike Garry's The Visitor, backed by flute and cello, is a heart-rending piece of reflection and emotion about his dead father, that helped Walsh come to terms with his own loss;

'My father was a fighter, hands like bricks, buckets for fists,
Heart of fire, glowing golden, flowing,
and he loved the best he could.
For he knew little of love and hungered the most basic of things,
The very fundamentals, the glue that binds the heart and soul together.
But he did the best he could,
and I believe he loved.

Fourth and finally, if you thought you'd never again have the joy in your heart that you felt the first time you heard Raggle Taggle Gypsy ecstatically slide into Tabhair Dom Do Lámh on Planxty's debut, or be swept up in an exhilaration akin to Moving Hearts live (which Walsh himself references in the sleevenotes), then you were wrong. Both these emotions are kindled in the tunes and songs recorded for Quarehawk, as moments of euphoria abut those of fathomless sadness.

It’ll take a year of listening to be sure, but Quarehawk is possibly one of the finest albums I have ever heard; an astonishing testament to what someone who wholeheartedly commits their life, by accident or intent, to deeply understanding traditional music can achieve.

Walsh dedicated Quarehawk to his father; it is a fitting commemoration of the passing of a life, and a fervent celebration of those that remain still.

Michael Walsh & Quare Hawk Live at Not Quite Light Weekend 2019