Noel Kelehan, who sadly passed away in February 2012, was former conductor of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and former musical director of Radio Telefís Éireann. A highly gifted jazz pianist and arranger and a much-loved, modest and self-effacing Dubliner, he conducted many of the Irish entries to the Eurovision Song Contest, beginning in 1966.
In fact, he had the distinction of conducting five winning Irish entries, in 1980, 1987, 1992, 1993, and 1996. In 1984 he wrote the string arrangements for U2's album The Unforgettable Fire.
This 1979 album, recently released on CD, sees the man leading on three Kelehan original compositions, a pair of tunes by Mike Nolan, with an attractive arrangement too of an Irish ballad.
There's nary a hint of hard bop in the smooth dynamic of pieces like One for Willie and the nine minute Spacer’s Delight. The latter is playful in tone and seems to somehow exult in and celebrate a simple, boyish joie de vivre. One senses, ever so peripherally, the modish influence of Chick Corea.
The opening track also clocks in at just over nine minutes, a `Trad Arr' version of the traditional Irish lullaby, The Castle of Dromore. The track gets into its stride with Keith Donald’s extended sax solo - a bright, fluid cascade - followed by Mike Nolan’s more stately run on that delightful sounding instrument, the flugelhorn. The bundle of solos ends with Noel Kelehan himself, riffing busily on piano. All three gentlemen are aided and abetted by John Wadham on drums and Frank Hess on bass.
There is something Irish about the record, as though it were recorded on a soft day, a watery sun threatening to break through the clouds. The music is unchallenging in the very best sense of the word, hospitable, inclusive, yet bold and super-confident in its presentation.
You cannot have an Irish record without some strains of melancholy, and I Only Have Time To Say I Love You is a moody, Milesian thing of beauty. The band had already been gigging for three years when the album was recorded, but it sounds fresh as a daisy today, 35 years on from its recording. By the time the final track, Triers not Fliers, hits your ears, the sun has well and truly broke through.