‘The Wishing Well’ – Live at the Dock

– Michelle O’Brien & Laoise Kelly


“The Wishing Well is the title of a jig composition of Tommy Peoples and the album title chosen by his former pupil Michelle O’Brien and her collaborator Laoise Kelly. An apt title for more reasons than one.  This is an inspired pairing not just of instruments (harp and fiddle), or of players, or of even of mutual compatibilities’ of personality, gender or generation. No ……these two are kindred spirits and we the listeners are the beneficiaries of their deep connection which is evident on every track of The Wishing Well. This is their first recording together and it is to be hoped the first of many.

This album and their ongoing collaboration opens up new space for both musicians. For Michelle O’Brien it offers an opportunity to venture beyond the impositions of the session, to choose her own territory and to push out the boundaries of musical expression. This is hugely liberating for any musician serious about their art. Michelle O’Brien has seized the opportunity with both hands and it shows on her spirited fluent playing. The Wishing Well lets her hear her own voice and she possesses a fine voice indeed. The album is, as all good traditional albums are, a homage to all the players and teachers who have preceded the present generation. The Wishing Well is no exception. The towering figure of Tommy Peoples is invoked both in the playing and in the selection of tunes and more elusively in the pervasive musical understanding that operates at a deeper level than mere analyzing style and content will reveal.

Laoise Kelly comes to the relationship and this recording from the opposite direction to Michelle O’Brien. Much of her work is done as a solo artist and as a high profile player of an instrument which carries enough cultural baggage to crush a more tentative artist. Fortunately she has never taken any of that nonsense on board. As an artist she has always bravely sought out the role of the non conformist to the eternal benefit of traditional music in general and harp music in particular.  ‘The Wishing Well’ is a new departure for her which sees her in a dynamic partnership with another musician. The effect on the playing is of two players in total sympathy each with the other; each is responding to and playing off the inventiveness of the other.  Across the wide variety of traditional music the so called noble strains of geantraí, goltraí, and suantraí,  tone and register are in perfect harmony.  From the deep sweet expressiveness achieved on airs like ‘Is galar Cráidhte an gradh‘, the ‘Fairy Queen’ and the heart stopping beauty of ‘ged a theid mi dhan leabaidh’s gann a thig an cadal orm’ to the rhythmic ferocity of the ‘Tiarna Mhaigh Eo’, on to the chasing counterpoint of the dance music tunes like ‘Green Fields of Glentown‘ or ‘The Wishing Well’ there is an impressive unity of purpose.

Their playing has the grace and charm of flight and all the solidity of masterly technique and deep grounding in tradition.

Which brings us back to the Wishing Well invoked in the title. Traditional music has often been likened to a well and it is a good analogy. Wells are springs whose source is far underground but yet which from this great distance pour forth clear sweet water which is endlessly renewed. Water and music both are associated with healing and magical properties and so it is with this new Wishing Well. It can be listened to many times and like the well it will refresh and restore the spirit. Read backwards it still makes sense; it is a wishing well which is well wishing. Listen and hear and delight in the result. ”   –   Nuala O’Connor