Susan Motherway chats with Flook and Patsy Reid ahead of their Irish Tour this May

Susan Motherway chats with Flook and Patsy Reid ahead of their Irish Tour this May
Susan Motherway, lecturer in Music at MTU Kerry, spoke with Flook alongside special guest Patsy Reid about what audiences can expect to hear during their upcoming Music Network Tour.

This Music Network tour represents a departure from convention by featuring the renowned band Flook alongside special guest Patsy Reid, rather than assembling individual artists without prior performance history together. However, audiences need not fear, there will be no loss of originality, innovation, or creativity. Rather, they will get a bird’s eye view of a collaborative process that has been evolving over time. Patsy’s previous collaboration with Flook on the track Ellie Goes West, included on the band's last album Ancora (2019) and guest appearance on Brian Finnegan’s album Hunger of the Skin (2021) lay the groundwork for this dynamic partnership.

The coming together of these artists is not just dynamic, there is a musical compatibility evidenced in their shared approach to traditional music arrangement and their eagerness to explore diverse performance techniques, repertoires and styles. There is also a profound camaraderie amongst these artists; a respect and devotion to each other’s abilities and creative voices. Patsy noted “It is an absolute treat for me because Flook is literally my favourite band. I have a box in which I’ve kept special things over the years. Sometimes things get chucked out of the box, but there is still a little ticket, and it says Flook 10th anniversary tour … their album Haven was like the soundtrack to my time in Manchester”.

The Concept

Flook enthusiasts are likely familiar with the band's origins, stemming from the innovative Three Nations Flutes tour masterminded by Becky Morris in 1999, which showcased talents from Ireland, England and Scotland (despite the absence of a Scottish member). In a poetic turn of events, the ensemble has now completed a full circle, with representatives from each of these nations. While Flook has often been considered an Irish traditional band with an exotic twist, the musicians themselves recognise that their musical backgrounds stem from different musical lines and that this has afforded them the freedom to transcend geographical borders and defy categorisation.

As Brian states “There's a lot of fermentation that goes on between our albums, where we are thinking about music that really inspires us. … sometimes it is Hungarian, sometimes it is from Mali. Years ago, someone said to us, why would you record a tune that is from Moldova? You are never going to play it as good as traditional musicians from Moldova. But it never occurred to me that we were trying to play it that good. I think when you are in love with music the judgmental brain just switches off. You feel a tune at a very deep level, and you play it, you want to play it because it is beautiful. And it is not because it is Irish, English, or Scottish.” Patsy's solo venture, The Brightest Path (2014), provides further insight into this ethos. While rooted in tradition, the album also ventures into uncharted territories, exploring the vibrant sounds of jazz and Indian music. This dual commitment to tradition and innovation allows each artist to navigate a realm of hybridity, fostering a space where originality thrives.

The Musicians

Irish traditional flute player Brian Finnegan and Scottish fiddler Patsy Reid are deeply rooted in their respective traditions. While Brian cites Matt Molloy and Sean Ryan as influences and Patsy is cited as continuing the bow stroke of Gow and Skinner, it is Manchester-born John Joe Kelly’s bodhrán grooves and nuanced tonal shifts that aspiring Irish bodhrán players eagerly strive to emulate. The classical training of Sarah Allen and Patsy Reid shines through in their arrangements which skilfully weave melodic layers and harmonic accompaniments into traditional material. Additionally, Ed Boyd's mastery of fingerpicking guitar, Brian's fascination with Breton music, and Sarah's exploration of jazz elements all leave distinct marks on their musical journeys.

When it comes to Flook performances, it is their unparalleled musicality and virtuosity that leave audiences spellbound. Whether it is Sarah's remarkable stamina and skilful use of slap tongue technique on the alto flute or Brian's electrifying flutter tonguing and percussive techniques, each member brings a unique energy to the stage, creating an unforgettable experience for all who listen. When asked how she would cope with Flook’s challenging key choices Patsy noted “I thought that I was going to need two fiddles, but so far, everything is sitting under my fingers just fine, I am regularly playing in string sections where there are five or six flats, so I am used to it. But I might [keep] the two fiddles so I can tune one up or down a semitone; not because I cannot play in the other keys, but I would miss that open string drive, the ringing that you get.”

The Rehearsal

During rehearsals, Flook remains anchored to the core of their signature style—the intimate dialogue between two flutes. Sarah states “I think the sound of Flook needs to be clear. We do not need too many basses because you have the alto flute, and we do not need drum kits, because we have John Joe.” Bringing Patsy into the group dynamic has been seamless due to her versatility and sense of ensemble playing. Brian states “The reason that we love playing with Patsy is that she moves between genres effortlessly, it is like water. She brings that very beautiful classical feeling to her arrangements, and then she has got all that punch of a trad player, all that fire. She is always experimenting and thinking about how she can arrive at a point by doing something that is unexpected, and I love that because it is dangerous, and when music crackles like that, it is just the best.”

Engaging with Flook reveals a sense of spontaneity and fluidity in their music—an ever-evolving creation unfolding in the moment of performance. Unlike bands that merely reproduce recorded tracks live, Flook takes a refreshing approach, experimenting with material during live performances before solidifying it for recording. Audiences on this tour are granted a rare glimpse into this organic process, as Brian states some of the music “has absolutely no road miles, it will not have been gigged’’ and sets successfully chiseled out on stage may make it onto the band’s next album, slated for recording with Patsy in the Autumn. As Brian states “It is always nice to record new material, but if it has never been played live, I am always full of trepidation that it is not up to speed and after mixing it you may realise that it is pedantic. Playing live allows the set to change and reveal its personality, and to have Patsy on new sets is going to be really brilliant.”

The Music

So, what should the audience expect to hear? Well, the group has selected some well established Flook tracks, Ed and John Joe are working with Patsy to showcase her Scottish repertoire and the group are sharing new compositions which should form the basis of new tracks. One to watch out for is Baby Ewan, written for Patsy’s nephew, that has been trapped in a hard drive up to now. When asked if Patsy will join Flook on previous tracks she states “Yeah, there will be times where it is great to hammer the tune and just do more with it, to drop down the octave or add harmonies or countermelodies like Sarah does, but I do not want to squash what Sarah's doing either. I want to do justice to the recordings, not reinvent the wheel or come up with something that is not needed. I am also bringing a tenor guitar because I think it is quite nice texturally, and there are a few places in the recordings where Ed's had fun layering stuff, textural stuff that has never been realised live before. I also selfishly love to play instruments that I do not play regularly, so it is really fun.”

The Tour

The Music Network tour with Flook and Patsy Reid is more than just a concert series—it is more of a musical experience with each event presenting something new. For Sarah, the collaboration brings a new experience as it brings another woman into the band - “after 29 and a half years of those three. I love the three guys, obviously, but it is going to be great to have different chats.” For Brian, the tour enables him to fulfil his desire to undertake a tour at home in Ireland. He says “We have never done a full tour in Ireland, we have dipped in and out for long weekends with Flook, and we might have had four or five gigs in a row together, but this feels like a proper tour. Being on the road in Ireland is just magic.”