The New Demesne

Field Recordings made by Alan Lomax in Ireland 1951

ITMA-ACE CDs 201 1 & 2

There is a full review of this 2-CD set elsewhere in these pages (HERE) but its existence as a project has a long and interesting history.  Its name is a bit of a conundrum as well.  Demesne is a Norman French word meaning 'all the land retained and managed by a lord of the manor under the feudal system for his own use, occupation, or support'; the word is equivalent to the more modern 'domain'.  How an Irish reel got this name is probably moot, but The New Demesne tune goes back quite a way in the form of Miss Corbett's Reel which was published in John MacGlashan's Collection (Edinburgh 1798), and subsequently appears in The Gesto Collection (Skye 1895) and Ryan's Mammoth Collection (Boston 1883), though it is suggested that The New Demesne is the older title.

Whatever - the choice of this title for this collection owes more to the 'New' part of the name than any reference to the feudal system.  It was, if not the first, certainly among the earliest examples of magnetic tape recording and LP microgroove media presentation of Irish music and song, and certainly the first of what has become known as sean-nós (old style in Irish) performance.

I said that the project has a long and interesting history; these recordings were made over seven decades ago, yet this is the first time they have been widely available as they were recorded.  They were to be published as the first in a series of LPs: The Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music (1954), and appeared in some 26 different guises since, up to and including the 1998 Rounder Records publication.  This last was received with horror by this MT reviewer for a number of reasons - principally because few tracks were presented in their entirety.  The reason given at the time was that the LP format was limited in duration, and it was better to have more songs and tunes available on the discs, than fewer complete ones.  I'm not sure that I agree with this argument, but would also comment that LPs of one hour duration were perfectly possible for solo and small group performances - I know this because The Old Swan Band's first LP, No Reels,was of one hour's duration!  But when the Rounder set was re-published on CD, this argument became meaningless, yet the same cut-down format was retained, despite there being plenty of room on the half-full CD discs.  You can read my review HERE.

As you'll see, I thought the Irish CD in the World Library of Folk and Primitive Music series was by far the best of the three, though still marred by incomplete versions and notes that tell us more about Lomax and less about the performers and their music than I find acceptable, and still has some similar inaccuracies to the English and Scottish ones.

The Ken Ricketts & Marya Parker review of the present 2-CD set gives a detailed account of what's on it, and tells the story of the Irish journey that Alan Lomax made in 1951.  Finally, I'm rather at a loss as to why songs by Alan Lomax and Robin Roberts should have been thought suitable for inclusion.

Rod Stradling - 1.3.22

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