Volume 92, Issue 71

Wednesday, February 3, 1999


View behind bars

Fiddlin' through history

Tuck overcrowds master

Academy Awards need to get in shape

Fiddlin' through history

Martin Melhuish
Quarry Music Books
$21.95/232 pgs.

Canadian music writer Martin Melhuish presents Celtic music fans with a delightful book on the ancient and still popular musical genre.

Through profiles of traditional Celtic music, Celtic Tides tells the story of the invasion of bagpipes and fiddles into the old and new worlds.

Beginning with photographs of today's most influential Celtic musicians, including such artists as The Chieftains, Enya and The Rankins, the stage is immediately set to depict a world of strong songwriters, backed by a world of tradition.

Martin Melhuish features extensive and insightful interviews with many influential Celtic artists, such as Mary Jane Lamond, Dougie MacLean and Ashley MacIsaac. The book also contains a complete guide to international Celtic music festivals, a comprehensive discography of Celtic music and even a list of Celtic sights, pubs and museums.

Undoubtedly, the book is at its best during its thoughtful interviews. Careful reading of the interviews with controversial Celtic musicians, such as MacIsaac, will reward the reader with a whole new respect for the music and its musicians.

For instance, one gains a clear conception of MacIsaac's reasons for using the "techno fiddle." Although criticized for his betrayal of traditional Celtic music, MacIsaac explains he still pays tribute to his mentor, Cape Breton fiddle legend Buddy MacMaster, through the modern approach.

Specific insights to the growing popularity and exposure of Celtic music also serve as one of the book's strengths. The author cites the presence of Celtic music in recent blockbuster films such as Titanic and Braveheart as great outlets for reaching the general public.

Through these penetrating insights and the clear writing style, Melhuish successfully communicates his arguments to readers. Melhuish identifies the fiddle with country music, which is the "tidemark" of Celtic music in America.

The main problem with the book is its handling of Celtic history. Melhuish's historical assessment is both too general and too confusing. He tries to cover some 3,000 years of Celtic history in a few dozen pages, making for a very broad and vague overview. Further more, his tendency to jump from the past to the present is frustrating and at times boring for the reader.

Historical writing aside, Melhuish manages to enthuse the reader into further exploring Celtic culture. As Lamond explains, Celtic music is so quickly embraced by all types of people because it turns back the clock and provides comfort in an overwhelming world. Celtic Tides is a great book in understanding the reasons for the music's recent success and popularity.


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Copyright The Gazette 1999