Dezi Donnelly
& Mike McGoldrick,
Champions of the North
(Magnetic, 1995)

Champions of the North features the Irish music of a young Dezi Donnelly and Mike McGoldrick. According to liner notes, the CD was released in 1995 but was recorded in 1989 when both gentlemen were less than 18 years old! On first hearing the CD, I thought that the music was fairly decent, but sounded a little rough. When I discovered how young the artists were when the album was created, I was truly impressed! And considering the recording equipment of the '80s, I can now understand why the sound is not as crisp as I'm used to.

The liner notes are full of information about the pair. Dezi and Mike have known each other since they were in kindergarten. By the time they were 9 and 10, they were named "North West Champions" at a music competition. Their hometown modified that to "Champions of the North" and hence the name of this CD.

Dezi's instrument of choice is the fiddle. In fact, he was All Ireland Champion before he turned 12. Mike, in contrast, can't seem to pick a favorite instrument. On Champions of the North he plays flute, bodhran, congas, tin whistle and a drum computer. Mike has been named All British Champion for his skills on the flute, whistle, bodhran, drums and lilting. This implies that not settling on one particular instrument has not necessarily been a bad thing for Mike.

Champions of the North is a very short CD, clocking in at just over 30 minutes. There are only eight tracks. The first seven contain various jigs, reels and airs as you might expect on a CD of Irish instrumentals. Also, as is common with Irish music, each track is a combination of several shorter pieces. Track 8, "Acid Reel," is the only track where the duo puts a different spin on more traditional fare. This piece has a repetitive techno/dance beat with the Irish fiddle and flute taking a back seat. Actually, the seat is so far back that, in my opinion, the track shouldn't be on the CD at all. It ruins the flow of a good Irish music experience. "Acid Reel" isn't bad music, it simply doesn't belong here.

Several guest artists appear on Champions of the North to help Dezi and Mike out. Dave Smylie and Mark Stagg both play bass. Chris Comac plays guitar and congas. Michelle O'Leary handles the keys while Eamonn O'Neill plays the piano. Interestingly enough, Mike, Dave and Chris are founding members of the group Toss the Feathers. I believe that band's motto is "...taking Irish music to the extreme."

Dezi Donnelly and Mike McGoldrick's first recording is an album worth looking into, but I suggest you check out Toss the Feathers first. If you like that music, then you might be interested enough to take a listen to some of the growing pains of the band's younger selves.

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 25 January 2003