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Caves of Cong, The Living Tradition

Issue 105

This is a debut release from Josie and Brian, who are Belfast-based and play fiddles and uilleann pipes respectively. A native of County Clare, Josie is an All-Ireland champion who is also a respected teacher and community music leader. Brian is a Derry piper who also is an All-Ireland champion, with several musical credits, including Welsh band Yr Hwntws and the Conservatoire de Musique de Genève. Both Josie and Brian tutor with the prestigious Scoil Eigse.

This cracking CD largely draws on older manuscript collections of Irish music, playing many tune sets which are not so well remembered nowadays. But don't let this fool you into thinking that this is a dry academic presentation - the selection fairly sparkles along, yet it is tightly controlled throughout, allowing the pace to suit the melodies, and also letting the listener appreciate the sheer quality of what's on offer.

Josie also plays an octave violin which provides a stunning depth of tone, and a restored Stroh violin, allowing her subtle variations in timbre. Brian swaps between D and Bb pipes for a broader range. They are joined in parts by Edel McLaughlin on piano and piano accordion, Alan Burke on guitar and Mary Nugent on flute.

The overall effect is an extremely well-balanced selection, paced to perfection, which includes dance variations such as double jigs and hop jigs and other rarities on the modern scene. The repertoire is fresh and eclectic, the playing is just sublime. This is an album from which listeners, dancers and players can all take inspiration.

Gordon Potter
The Living Tradition

Caves of Cong, Irish Music Magazine

Issue 232, September 2014

Roche, Petrie, Goodman, O’Farrell and Bunting, great collectors who were active from the late 18th and well into 19th centuries. Throw in Seamus Ennis for a mid-twentieth century flavour and what you have is a broad sweep of some lesser known tunes from key sources, many of whom have been forgotten for far too long. On this album fiddler Josie Nugent and piper Brian Stafford have gone back to those older manuscripts to produce an intriguing and often beguiling album.

The combination of pipes and fiddle is as natural as any when it comes to music of this vintage and with the addition of Edel McLaughlin on piano and accordion there is a nod to modernity, equally so the guitar of Alan Burke. Mary Nugent rounds out the ensemble with flute which would be contemporary with many of the tracks from the oldest collections represented here.

This is no slavish early music concept album, the line up hints at the possibilities to be had from some outstanding tunes. The tunes are taken at a pace which brings out their full colour, on the 19th century music hall tune The Rocky Road to Dublin Stafford’s pipes work the variations which are often lost with break neck piping. Nugent’s fiddling on Fitzgerald’s Hornpipe distils the darkness out of the tune and is one of my favourite selections on the album.

A great joy of the album is the rediscovery of different dance forms, some of which were sometimes castigated during the formative years of the Fleadh movement and have been lost to two or three generations of musicians. For example there is the Acorn Stomp from the Roche collection and Annie Laurie here played as a quadrille, collected by Nigel Boillier in County Down. Annie Laurie should be careful I can see this being hi—jacked in Killarney and it ending up as polka. Reels do predominate on the album and there are some wonderful discoveries to be made here, with The Green Pigeon/Fair Maids of Ireland being worth repeated listening.

There are jigs too, one The Old Foxhunters Jigg, retains the original spelling and is a different tune than the well known Keating party piece. The duo don’t shy away from slow airs either, which is refreshing balance to a an album of dance music, Stafford’s pipes are rich and full on the evocative title track The Caves of Cong. Josie Nugent adds the unusual Stroh fiddle to Oh My Darling Left Me, the title of which is written in the Old Irish script, a charming twist there. The Merry Old Widow set is the most lyrical on the album and the most flowing ensemble piece on show here.

In summary this is a welcome addition to any collection of CDs, and it opens the door to a world of music that is waiting to be re—discovered. The tempos adopted here make this a terrific source for players who are looking to learn some new tunes.

Stafford and Nugent have blown the dust off the old manuscripts, reviving some seriously impressive tunes in the process.

Seán Laffey
Irish Music Magazine, September 2014

Caves of Cong, Piping Today Magazine

Piping Today

There's a relaxed quality to this recording of Irish pipes and fiddle, an almost homespun feel from two experienced and confident musicians. Fiddler Josie Nugent, from County Clare, is now based in Belfast and has teamed up with Derry piper Brian Stafford for a collection of tunes from old manuscripts which includes many unusual variants perhaps not heard for generations. The Petrie collection, the Goodman manuscripts, and Tunes from the Munster Pipers have provided versions of Kitty Lie Over, Brose & Butter and more. There are reels and jigs enough here, but also a larger number of barn dances, quadrilles, hop jigs and airs than most Irish CDs allow. Many of these melodies are simple and easy on the fingers, but their sweetness is reason enough to record them. The Caves of Cong maintains a gentle pace throughout, nothing startling, and the time passes very pleasantly.

This duo produces a rich rounded sound, helped by piano and guitar accompaniment, as well as a spot of flute from Josie's sister Mary. Both pipes and fiddle have a mellow tone, Stafford's concert set without the stridency of most modern instruments, and although their music has an edge at times it's never harsh. The languid Clare fiddle style blends with quite tight fingering on the chanter, a relatively closed style which is softened by pipes by Derry maker Finbar McLaughlin. Duets and solos span unusual tunes such as Fitzgerald's Hornpipe and The Green Pidgeon as well as the more well-known Fermoy Lasses and Foxhunter's Jig. The airs My Darling Left Me and The Caves of Cong, collected by Petrie and Roche respectively, give Brian Stafford a chance to demonstrate his innovative piping skills, bending notes and experimenting with harmonies on the pipe regulators. Nugent's fiddle and octave fiddle are delightful on the classic Boy in the Gap and the American old-time Acorn Stomp, but it's the combination of fiddle and pipes which really makes this such an enjoyable album. The leap from Mary with Porter into the spirited Kiss the Widow, or the final trio of Goodman reels, are moments to relish.

Alex Monaghan
Piping Today

Caves of Cong, Fiddle On Magazine

Issue 45, Autumn/Winter 2014

Best of the issue

The best album in this issue has been awarded to Josie Nugent & Brian Stafford for their album The Caves of Cong. Congratulations to them.

Here we have Irish Traditional Music on Uilleann pipes and fiddle that will please those who have a liking for "the pure drop" - firmly within the tradition, delighting in the subtle exploration of the tunes themselves. Both Josie - fiddle, and Brian - pipes, have impressive paper credentials but all that matters here is the sound on disk, and it’s a delight. A fine selection of tunes, well chosen speeds, too much of nothing, and just the odd rough edge to keep it real. We're quite used to English musicians exploring old tunebooks but this duo have done the same in the Irish tradition. There are several tunes here from James Goodman, a 19th century lrish clergyman, piper and fluter who’s manuscript collection of music ran to about 2000 items. There are also items from Petrie’s "Ancient Music" but it's definitely no dry academic exercise, these tunes are full of life. Some tunes are well known, but in enjoyably different versions, such as "Foxhunters’ slip jig” in the opening track. "Sean Reid’s reel” at track 11 is a fairly conventional version, but I’ve no objection to hearing one of my favourite tunes played so well! As well as the usual jigs and reels you’ll hear quadrilles, hop jigs, airs and some contrasting tracks, the "Old Foxhunter’s Jigg," an unfamiliar and nicely old fashioned tune that sounds quite English with piano accompaniment, and two barndances titled "The Acorn Stomp" played by Josie on octave fiddle that make it impossible to sit still. £15 inc P&P via the website. I'm very glad this one came my way.

Tom Bell-Richards
Fiddle On Magazine

Caves of Cong, Folkworld

FolkWorld #55 11/2014

"The Caves of Cong" is the debut album from Josie Nugent and Brian Stafford, a fiddle and pipes duo based in Belfast in Northern Ireland. Josie Nugent, originally from Co. Clare in the west of Ireland, is a multiple All-Ireland champion. Having chosen the fiddle as her favourite instrument, she grew up surrounded by traditional musicians such as Tony Linnane, Jackie Daly and Derek Hickey. In 2013, she was appointed musical director for the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann's closing ceremony "The Bridges of Derry". Brian Stafford is one of the most respected uilleann pipers from Derry. He has travelled a varied musical path since having taken up his instrument. Actually he employs an authoritative and masterful piping style, drawing on many different influences outside of the Irish piping tradition. However, he never lost contact to the roots. "The Caves of Cong" then is a journey back to the music from the old 19th century collections, much of which dates from an era before the Great Famine of the 1840s, Roche, Petrie, Goodman, to name a few. A new world, to put it ironically; some of the tunes are unusual versions of familiar melodies, others have rarely been played in recent decades. Their selection, well researched, feels fresh. Though predominantly reels, there are set dances, barn dances and quadrilles too ("Acorn Stomp", better known as an old-time tune these days), and a couple of slow airs. "Ó! mo ċailín d'imṫiġ sí!" (Oh! My Darling Left Me!) blends Brian Stafford's Bb pipes with Josie Nugent's Stroh fiddle, a fiddle that amplifies its sound through a metal horn, exploring harmonies and ornaments. Overall, their performance is simple and straight-forward, always at gentle pace, and a fitting homage to those days of yore without being alien these days.

Tom Keller

Caves of Cong


It’s powerful altogether to see musicianers rooting and plundering in the old (and new) collections like weans with new toys. It is also powerful to hear dacent tunes one doesn’t know, instead of the nearly standardised menu that has gone the rounds too often.

Not only that, but other dance types besides double jigs, reels and hornpipes. Here we’ve a side order of hop jigs, quadrilles [gorgeous, another helping of these please], Afro-American barndances [demmed tasty!], and for the case-hardend musical epicure, obscure versions of other tunes all of which provided congenial stimulation to the jaded palate of this particular senescent fluteplayer!

Lakhs of Brownie Points earned already. But then we come to the noise they make, which is deuced pleasant, bejakers. Nice rhythms [spelled right first go, there!], delightful speeds, a gentle hand with the accompaniment. The best of good taste, sez I. I’ll finish as I started. Powerful is what it is.

Rev Gary Hastings

Josie Nugent & Brian Stafford
the space between the notes…

Fiona Heywood
The Living Tradition, Issue 105

It is a project borne of a long love affair with the collections and one which adds something really valuable to the catalogue of traditional music CDs being released today.

“the space between the notes” is very evident and is partly what marks this CD out as different. Brian and Josie noticed that the tunes they found in the manuscripts didn’t fit the way tunes are played in the more contemporary style of traditional music.

Though the Goodman tunes feature prominently in this collection, Josie and Brian have also plundered some of the other old collections – namely those by O’Farrell, Petrie and Roche - but in a slight twist, they have also included tunes by a modern day collector, Nigel Boullier.

there are other features that make it stand out as different. Brian plays uilleann pipes both in D and in Bb – both sets, but particularly the Bb set, having a mellow and warm sound. In addition to her usual fiddle, Josie also plays the octave violin and the Stroh fiddle (a fiddle that is amplified through a metal horn, devised in the days before microphones) – both adding distinct textures to the sound and particularly effective during the slow airs on the album.

And so they play their part in the process, in the passing on of these traditional tunes as they were at that point in time.

Read the full article online at:


Eileen McCabe
Irish Music Magazine, Issue 233, October 2014

There’s something quite magical about the musical layers that can be uncovered when you embark on a journey of discovery into the origin of tunes. The variation in interpretation and influence becomes apparent and quite often the original rendering can be noticeably different to the contemporary sound.

The tracks on the album include a compilation of lesser known Barn Dances, Quadrilles, Airs and Set Dances; add to this the work on the experimentation of instrumental combination along with key changes and Caves of Cong becomes even more intriguing.

A haunting blend of the B♭ pipes with the Stroh fiddle creating an atmospheric soundscape is showcased in the unusual air Ó! mo Chailín d’imthigh sí!

Official "Online Album Launch"

Tony Lawless
Trad Connect, September 14 2014

For this recording Josie and Brian have come up with a great selection of new tunes from the collections of Goodman, Petrie and others. The combination of instruments, and in particular the Stroh fiddle give the album a unique sound.

With this launch is included an exclusive track from the album … The Green Pidgeon/Fair Maids of Ireland both of which are are taken from the Goodman Manuscripts.

Read the full article online here