Cathy Jordan


Press Release via AS Written, April 2021


CATHY JORDAN has been the front-woman with traditional super group Dervish for nearly 30 years, and has dedicated her life to the nurturing and preservation of traditional music, and in particular, traditional songs. During her lifetime she has collected hundreds of these songs which otherwise might lay undiscovered and unsung, gathering dust in the archives.

          Her latest project – THE CRANKIE ISLAND SONGS – sees her collaborate with visual artist PETER CRANN in order to add yet another dimension to these beautiful gems. Any entwining of Cathy and Peter’s talents guarantees a project worth getting excited about. Cathy, after all, is one of Ireland’s most distinguished creative musical forces of any genre or era. And Peter is that ever so rare triple-threat of gentleman, artist, and craftsman in one, with a gift for evocative simplicity.

          This latest collaboration between the pair – named after a piece of vintage magic-making machinery, the memorably monikered CRANKIE BOX – bears all thehallmarks of both.

        The CRANKIE SONG PROJECT is an adventure that leads you into the realm of Irish history and mythology. It combines words, music and hand-drawn imagery to bring to life old Irish story-songs. This project will safeguard those songs, keeping the folklore behind them alive, while also presenting and preserving them for future generations in a way that is both authentic and newly evocative.

         In essence, a crankie box is exactly what it sounds like – a box which requires cranking in order to work, hence ‘crankie’ has become the term now most often used to name this very old art form. Originating in Europe in the late 18 th century, they were referred to as moving-panoramas during the 19th century. There were mid-sized moving-panoramas with scrolls around 18 inches in height. These were sometimes called ‘parlour panoramas’, and would have been used for smaller performances in the home or on the street.

          Amazingly, there were also larger moving-panoramas, ones of a size big enough to take up a whole stage, with scrolls 8 feet high or more, and hundreds of feet long. And in some cases, over a thousand feet long. Painted on canvas or muslin in the 19th century, it is believed that not more than 20 or so of these larger scrolls have survived to the present day.

          A crankie box is a simple mechanism that consists of two spools, upon which is wound an illustrated scroll, up to five metres in length. This is cranked by hand while the story is told, or a tune played. Or, as is the case with Cathy and Peter’s Crankie Song Project, while a song is sung, allowing a spool of images to play out in time with the music or song. A crankie box also acts as a kind of animation, and is the oldest form of movie-making. With what it may lack in sophistication, it more than makes up for in charm and immediacy. The cranking action is primitive, but what happens as it begins to work is a kind of magic that draws you deep into the unfolding story. The result is an intimate, almost dream-like form of storytelling, brought wonderfully to life in this project by Cathy and Peter.

          With these Crankie Island Songs, Cathy and Peter – with the support of the Arts Council of Ireland – have married their artistry, coming together to recount in sight and sound some of Ireland’s oldest story-songs via the portal of a custom-made crankie box. Nine of these videos are already available on YouTube (at Crankie Island Songs ) with more to follow.

          Crankie boxes are fashioned from up-cycled materials which are often found in charity shops. One of the boxes featured in this project was created from an old suitcase that once belonged to Cathy’s aunt, Eileen. In the skilled hands of Tony Travers, however, it has been turned into something new and wonderful, a way to bring to life old Irish tales in a way that is beautiful, elegant, and often heartbreaking and haunting.

          The latest song which Peter is working on illustrating will feature a scroll that comes in at seven metres in length. Also used in the project is an antique Spanish Cine Nic projector which allows a piece to include the added element of animation, a thrill which is particularly enjoyable on Eileen Óg (The Pride of Petravore). This project began by featuring three songs from Cathy’s native Roscommon; Eastersnowe, the beautiful unrequited love song Úna Bhán, and the above-mentioned Percy French classic Eileen Óg. The project also includes Pat O’ Brien, Fill A Rún Ó, and Deartháinín Ó Mo Chroí.

          Further counties have been featured since the project got underway, with a total of nine ‘crankies’ having been created to date. The long-term plan is that eventually songs from each county in Ireland will be available on an interactive map of the

          Crankie box performances can take place in any number of settings and as part of any number of occasions too. There is a ‘magic-lamp’ feeling to watching a crankie song come to life, with Cathy’s beautiful voice reaching all the way down into the pain and heartache of a millennia of souls, drawing you into the story as she sings, while Peter’s illustrations bring the song to visual life as they unspool before you.

          This project also includes beautiful musical collaborations with the likes of John Doyle, Mike McGoldrick, Nuala Kennedy, Claudia Schwab, Irene Buckley, Slow Moving Clouds, and Roger Tallroth.

The next song in the series – which is coming very soon – is one which is sure to raise a smile! And, as usual, all will be revealed on the Crankie Island Songs YouTube channel.

~ Subscribe to CRANKIE ISLAND SONGS on YouTube today, to experience the emotional power and pull of this storytelling genius for yourself.


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