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Well, this Article is supposed to be about Brian Finnegan’s new album, The Ravishing Genius of Bones. The great temptation is to write a travel article, instead. Finding Brian Finnegan. Unbelievably, I found myself on a splotchy cell phone connection to Brian when he was in Moscow. Moscow! “I’m over here doing some concert work with Boris Grebenshikov. He’s great! You should see where we’re playing! It is like the Royal Albert Hall of Russia!” Moscow?
The Irish music lover well knows Brian’s name from his 13-year stint as a founding member of the incredibly popular band, Flook. The four all-instrumental albums of the group are treasured for their musicianship and innovation. All natural enough, as they were formed by Brian, Sarah Allen and Michael McGoldrick. It started as a project for the trio called, Three Nations Flutes. “We’d no idea at the time where the first few gigs would lead, but folk seemed to dig that we could cover a lot of sonic space with the three flutes, so we drafted in Ed Boyd on guitar to lend us more dynamic and changed our name to Fluke. (Flook’s spelling came later.)We were incredibly lucky that the right people were nurturing us in those early days, making things happen. It also helped that Mike had just won the BBC Young Folk Musician of the Year Award, so in our first year together we were playing the big stages at festivals like Cambridge and Sidmouth. ...we really hit the ground running!” Making it all short, the band then added John Joe Kelly on bodhran, and the rest is….well, you know what the rest is.
It is so tempting to write the whole article about Flook. There is no more popular group in those 13 years on the scene than Flook. Every Award. Every major festival. Always asked back. Huge concerts. The whole bit. When they announced they were retiring the group in 2008, the news hit like a thunder clap. You always assume there must have been some aggro. Fights? Tensions? Boredom? No. They all remain extremely close to this day. Look, 13 years IS 13 years in a business where you can often be surprised if a group stays together 13 months. They had all become extraordinarily popular as studio musicians and guest stars for other musicians. Sarah had a baby. Life was moving on. So did Flook. Are they really still close? Well, John Joe and Ed Boyd are on this album almost as much as Brian. Sarah is Brian’s agent, helping manage various components of his career. Brian concludes it all best from a perspective gained after two years away from the group. “The 13 years I spent with Flook are like an island now. They cast light on everything that went before and everything that is still to come for me in music. I know that it’s unlikely that I’ll ever devote myself entirely to only one band again, but back then we were on fire with the adventure of it all; Flook was the only thing we had time to do. We’d be out on tour for 3/4/5 weeks at a time, and then home for 4 or 5 days and away again. In the considerable space that Flook left behind in 2008, I discovered for the first time I could say yes to other projects. It took a little while for the colour to come back to life after Flook, but the last two years have been as diverse and varied as I could have ever imagined, and I’m loving the freedom to wear a few different musical hats.”
But, enough about Flook. We LOVE Flook, but…. discipline here. This is about The Ravishing Genius of Bones. You have to be wondering, as did we, where did that title come from? Brian’s sister, Morna is a gifted poet, and the title comes from a line in one of her poems, Tomas. The album is nine cuts, all very different. Obviously, flutes and whistles create the basic ambience. We counted 26 guest musicians on the cover list. There is a Finnegan sound to it all. It IS similar---a little---to Flook. How could it not be? Most of the tunes are by Brian, after all. And, as with Flook, it is creative, traditional and innovative, all at the same time. It is like, well, Finnegan himself. Growing up in Armagh, he found the whistles early thanks to extremely supportive parents, and so he and his siblings were off to the races. All of this propelled through the iconic Vallely family, the Armagh Pipers’Club and his teacher, Eithne Vallely .You know the story with musicians well by now. Tons of sessions as he goes mad for trad. Fleadhs. Early concerts. Contacts. Magic times for all young musicians. All of Brian’s music is deeply grounded in trad. But, then…..then the other parts kick in. A musician once said, “He took that reel and turned it absolutely inside out. 180.” True. We assume that was said as a compliment, as it should have been. The soft spoken flautist looks at the future, and states, “Right now I’m an open book. I’m doing some work with my favourite singer in all the world, Cara Dillon. I’ve a little bit more work out east in Ukraine and Russia coming up with Boris Grebenhikov. Some fantastic gigs in Hungary and later in Asturias over my birthday with the dream team of Ed and John Joe from Flook. And a trip to California in October to play some gigs with ace guitarist, Bill Coulter.” This all comes, apparently, pretty naturally to Brian. Unselfconsciously, places and artists he is performing with fall from him in passing. The Ukraine. Siberia. (Siberia?) Asturias. California. The world.
Of course, he is a wonderful musician. A marvel, really. Were he not, none of this would be happening. But in the album, all the old fire and passion is still there. Leavened now with the magic ingredient of maturity. A year ago, he married the other half of his heart, Eva in Mexico. He is living now back home in Northern Ireland. When he is there. Siberia?
There is an arc to all of our lives. Brian’s arc seems about half way composed. Be it this new album, or his coming work with a new group, Kan, or his full schedule of studio and concert work for and with others, this is a very, very busy and successful musician. One of the most obvious views of his professional maturity can be found through all of these guest musicians on this album. Unlike so many solo artist albums, Brian gives each plenty of light to shine. When you are a master musician you become generous with your guests. Perhaps no quote expresses this better than when we asked him how he planned to move forward with the career. What were he and agent, Sarah cooking up? “I don’t know what’s round the next corner. I don’t harbour any ambition as a musician; I still have so much to learn from so many. But someone very wise once told me, ‘The Bird Of Paradise does not light on the hand that grasps.”
You an get this album on Brian’s MySpacepage, www.myspace.com/briantfinnegan. Full distribution will have it officially on August 9th when it will also go on sale digitally, iTunes, Amazon etc. as well as your favorite traditional music outlets.
The Ravishing Genius of Bones gives us this remarkable musician as he is today. Tomorrow will be fun, just to see where he goes next artistically and geographically. Siberia? The world.
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