New compendium of songs collected by Frank Harte

The new book A Living Voice (right), Dónal Lunny and Frank Harte (top left) and Terry Moylan (bottom left).

A new compendium of songs assembled by the great Dublin singer and collector, Frank Harte, has been published by a Dublin company, Craft Recordings with the assistance of An Góilín Singers. Edited by the former archivist at Na Píobairí Uilleann, Terry Moylan, the new book, A Living Voice: The Frank Harte Collection provides words, musical notation and background information on 198 songs as well as supplementary notes furnished by Jerry O’Reilly and Terry himself.

While Harte collected an extensive array of songs, the selection covered in the book are the songs that Frank himself chose to record on his nine albums together with the songs he chose to include his printed collection, Songs of Dublin, originally published in 1978 and reprinted with additional songs in 1993. The new book also includes a further batch of songs (featuring words and music) which Frank sang on extant audio and video recordings of television and radio programmes as well as private recordings in order to provide a comprehensive representation of the songs sung by the Dubiner.

The nine albums are Dublin Street Songs, Through Dublin City, And Listen to My Song, Daybreak and a Candle-End, 1798: The First Year of Liberty, My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte, The Hungry Voice and the posthumously released There’s Gangs of Them Digging and When Adam was in Paradise.

Frank Harte (Photo: Colm Keating).

Apart from the quality of the singing and the song choices, Frank Harte’s albums were renowned for their comprehensive and detailed sleeve notes. Indeed Dónal Lunny, who accompanied Frank on many of his albums, told Fonn recently that Frank “always wrote such brilliant notes to go with the albums that I used to joke that he was giving away a free CD with his book.”

Harte’s approach to song was encapsulated in the words of the Kerry poet, Brendan Kennelly: ‘All songs are living ghosts and long for a living voice’. The quality of Frank’s singing was recognised with the award of the All-Ireland title for Men Singing in English at the Fleadh Cheoil in 1973 – the first Dubliner to win the title – and subsequently in 2003 with the award of the TG4 Gradam Ceoil as Traditional Singer of the Year. In 2006 –the year following his death – An Góilín Singers in Dublin initiated the annual festival in his honour which continues to this day.

Shortly before his death in 2005, Frank expressed the hope in a conversation with Terry Moylan that the sleeve notes from all of his albums would be combined in a single volume. So Terry has realised that hope in the most compelete manner – extending the scope of the project to include songs associated with Frank which he never managed to record and to provide staff notation and the words for almost 200 songs along with additional notes and comments.

The volume – which also benefits also from Terry Moylan’s thoughtful design along with photographs from Colm Keating – is set to become a bible for singing enthusiasts, both amateur and professional, throughout Ireland and beyond. The book may be ordered online from the Irish Traditional Music Archive at https://www.itma.ie/shop/a-living-voice-the-frank-harte-collection.

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