By Shelley Marsden
New release offers a definitive take on the John McKenna, the ‘superstar’ of the Irish flute
The Music and Life of John McKenna: ‘The Buck from the Mountain’ is a new two-CD release and book on the legendary Irish flute player John McKenna (1880-1947) from the John McKenna Society, based in Drumkeeran, Co Leitrim. Matt Molloy has called this new collection a ‘must listen’ for anyone interested in the traditional flute, and he’s not wrong – this guy was a pioneer of the instrument.
Vibrant, virtuosic, and infectiously rhythmic, the gifted music of John McKenna made him the first superstar of the Irish flute. One of the premier stars of the legendary golden age of Irish traditional music in New York in the 20s and 30s, the Leitrim-born flute-playing genius left an unsurpassed legacy that is the first major corpus of recorded Irish flute music in existence, which is for the first time presented in full in this lovingly assembled release.
McKenna’s legacy of recordings, and his style which married a sweet tone with a remarkable, rhythmic drive, made him undoubtedly one of the most influential flute players ever in Irish traditional music. For this release, his music has been meticulously re-mastered to state-of-the-art standards, ensuring a top quality listening experience which brings a clarity and immediacy to McKenna’s music never heard until now.
The new release includes the musician’s complete corpus of 44 commercial recordings, some extremely rare, as well as a substantial accompanying book containing an extensive biography, as well as an analysis of his music style and legacy together with music transcriptions of his tunes.
Contributors to the accompanying book – which explains his music as well as offering up some fascinating biographical background – include many of modern-day traditional music’s top performers on the Irish flute – Matt Molloy, Mick Woods, Harry Bradley, Patsy Hanly, Lorraine Sweeney, Mick Mulvey, Gregory Daly and Conal Ó Gráda, as well as commentators like Jackie Small of the Irish Traditional Music Archive.
Conal O Grada in the book’s last page shares, a little technically yet warmly,why McKenna’s music spoke to him: “His playing had an immediate appeal to me, with its urgent, driving rhythm managing to be both relentless and light at the same time. I loved his use of rhythmic as well as melodic variation and I loved the bark he used on bottom D. You know – I think I just loved John McKenna.”
The Music and Life of John McKenna: ‘The Buck from the Mountain’ will be launched on Saturday August 16 at the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, Sligo Town. Time and venue are to be confirmed.
For more and to buy a copy, visit www.johnmckenna.ie.