Trad Irish Music

Ryan Young. A CD Review.

IG3C9221_1

It’s not everyday that an album comes along that completely stops you in your tracks. That you just listen to over and over again and keep discovering something new. There was a real buzz at the Traditional Irish Music Festival in August 2017 about this album and the room was packed out at Peppers Bar on the Thursday evening with people peering in the window to get a look.

IG3C9272_1

He was supported by Clare ‘royalty’ Mary MacNamara and Dennis Cahill and I listened from outside the door along with the others who couldn’t get in.

IG3C9258_1IG3C9246IG3C9239_1

I didn’t remember meeting Ryan Young. But he assured me we did, two years ago at Feakle at a Martin Hayes workshop. And we have been Facebook friends since then so we must have met.   In 2015 Ryan was visiting Ireland for the first time from his home in Loch Lomond in Scotland and meeting Martin also for the first time.  Too shy though to speak to his idol he sat through the three days silently.

A lot has happened for Ryan since then. I met him again this year at Feakle and as before he sat in on Martin’s workshop. This time though it was a different matter.  Martin was well acquainted with him.  In the last two years he has achieved second in this year’s BBC Musician of the Year, supported Martin and Dennis Cahill at Celtic Connections and produced a CD after a You Tube clip was spotted by renowned producer Jesse Lewis.  And he deserves every ounce of this success.

Although hailing from the Highlands he is an adherent of the Clare style of fiddle playing, particularly East Clare. He had grown up with recordings of PJ Hayes, Paddy Canny, Bobby Casey and Martin. It was inevitable that he would bring this style of playing to his native tunes.

IG3C9201IG3C9331

And that’s what his eponymous CD does. But for me it is done in an extraordinarily sensitive and sensual way. The clarity of sound and the sweet accoustics reflect that it was recorded in the Opera Theatre at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  This, with the brilliant controlled and expressive playing make this an outstanding recording.

The music is sometimes irresistibly Scottish but, even though all the tunes are ‘Scottish’, it often doesn’t sound like it. One can imagine purists would not be too impressed. Many of the tunes though are familiar sounding;  I am sure I heard elements of Rakish Paddy in there somewhere.

It is of course hard not to reference Martin Hayes while you are listening but there is so much originality and thought in the music that it does take on a life of its own.  There are a number of longer tracks that explore different rhythms and textures in the same way that Hayes and Cahill do and the use of the piano at times is particularly pleasing.

But for all this, it is not Clare Music, it is not Scots, it is Ryan Young. That’s quite an achievement.

 

 

Categories: Stories, The Fiddle, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Music Today 3pm.

This is a little story of a hidden Ireland. It’s not really hidden you just have to take the blinkers off every now and then and follow your nose. Sorry about the mixed metaphor.
I spend quite a bit of my time in County Clare just driving around some of my favourite places, the Burren, the coast around Spanish Point, the hills behind Doolin. Just looking. I love to head down a boreen I’ve never been or follow a hunch in the hope of finding something new.
As I was doing just this on a wet and not terribly inviting midweek day in July, I drove past the beautiful Kilshanny House just outside Ennistymon. A sign caught my eye. Music Today 3pm.   How could I drive past that. I always have the fiddle with me. I live in hope.

IG3C1573
I have been here many times. I know host Mary Butler and it is a great venue for a session though these day they happen rarely.   But this was really unusual.  Of course I went in. Mary explained that she was having a busload of visitors, from New York as it happened, and she was putting on a meal and entertainment, She was happy for me to stay and even to put up with me taking a few photos.

IG3C1091

The coach arrives

What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, As the bus pulled up driven by the irascible Gerry, the visitors entered Mary’s wonderful stone-walled and comfortable space, lined with books, ephemera and priceless reminders of Irish culture, heritage and especially music. And speaking of music They were greeted by fiddles and piano and songs provided by two Clare musicians of the highest quality, Sharon Howley who plays with the Kilfenora Ceili Band, probably the most famous Ceili Band in the world, and Therese McInerney, who has just released a cd.

IG3C1010

Clare musicians, Therese McInerney and Sharon Howley

 

IG3C1019


I watched as the guests took their seats and feasted on Mary’s wonderful food, home made Irish bread and a choice this day of fillet of salmon or loin of pork, fuelled by liberal supplies of Guinness and wine.

IG3C1246

 

IG3C1177

Host Mary Butler serves home made bread.  

IG3C1374

Your salmon sir.

IG3C1288

Or the pork

 

 

IG3C1423

Dinner in the library

 

Gerry, ever the perfect host turned out to be a great singer and he cajoled other singers from the floor including yours truly.  I well and truly gate crashed the party and joined the musicians for a few tunes with my fiddle. Now that was fun.

 

IG3C1543

The multi talented Gerry.  Bus driver, singer and raconteur

 

 

IG3C1452

Bliss

 


This is Ireland. An afternoon of pure music, food and good company that came out of nowhere. These tourists, who lingered over the meal for three hours, went away very happy and I am sure many will be back.

Music Today 3pm.

IG3C1570

 

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Tom Carmody – Home in a box.

I first met Kerry accordion player Danny O’Mahony in Birmingham in 2016 at a Festival, where he surprised with an amazing set in concert with renowned fiddler, Liz Kane. I then heard him again more recently at Ballyferriter in West Kerry. It was here he played his mighty Tom Carmody accordion. It was hard not to notice it. As dazzling as his playing.

IG3C7280

Intrigued, I chatted to him afterwards about this instrument, and my interest was piqued so we agreed to meet at the Rowan Tree Café in Ennis for a chat. I want to write here about the story that unfolded. It is a story of a tradition that spans time and continents. Of happenstance and passion. Of connections and stewardship. And of rescue and revitalisation.

IG3C7273

I have to start somewhere so who was Tom Carmody? Danny explains. Tom is not well known today but he was a master accordion player born in 1893 in Dromlought near Listowel in Kerry and emigrated to New York in 1925. He immediately made an impact and during the Irish recording boom of the 1930s appeared on many 78s with James Morrison.  New York was a melting pot of Irish melodies; and new tunes and new influences made for a vibrant scene. Indeed, Danny says that Tom introduced James to the tune “Stick across the Hob” which was to become the famous ‘Morrison’s Jig’. One can only assume Tom was in much demand as he became the first to play Irish music at the Waldorf Astoria and was employed to organise music there.

Flashy players required a flashy instrument. And Tom had the flashiest. He commissioned an Italian maker in New York, F Iorio, to make this instrument for him. It was loud and brash as was its exterior. Gaudily decorated with the Irish and American flags and detailed inlays in mother of pearl on the fingerboard incorporating a harp and shamrocks. The name TOM CARMODY is boldy emblazoned across the instrument where it will have maximum exposure. It is a work or art. But the story behind it is just as interesting. It was nearly lost.

IG3C7299aIG3C7293IG3C7292

Tom returned to Kerry in the 1970s and died in 1986. This was the year Danny started to play the accordion. Danny grew up with no knowledge of this Kerry man, despite the fact he was a distant relative. He is a grand nephew. Growing up, Danny tells, his father was an accordion player with a overriding passion for the instrument. There were three gods in his house. As in most Irish homes silence was demanded for the Angelus when it came on the radio but in the O’Mahony home, silence was also demanded if there was a tune from Joe Burke or Tony McMahon.

Twenty years later Danny discovered the legacy of Tom Carmody and in 2006 he found the location of the Tom Carmody box. Following the death of Tom’s wife in the 90s it had passed to Denis Moran, her nephew. Denis did not play and it lay forgotten in a shed behind his cottage.

Danny approached Dennis to ask if he could borrow it with a view to photographing it. What he discovered was the accordion in its original case in a very sad state. It was all there but held together with binding twine and caked in dust and grime and a home for live insects.

It was almost too late. Its fate was somewhat ironic. From what we know about Tom and from contemporary photos he was a very dapper and meticuluous man, always well presented and his instrument always in immaculate condition. No doubt he would not have been pleased to see it now.

Denis agreed to let Danny take it away. It was cleaned it up and this revealed it to be in marvellous condition externally but totally seized up. Seeing it now Danny, was desperate to get it back to playable condition. Further negotiation ensued and with some trepidation it was agreed to let Danny take it for two weeks to see what he could do. With the help of accordion guru from East Clare, Charlie Harris, they feverishly went to work and brought it back to life, carefully cleaning and tuning the original reeds which were underneath it all in perfect condition. The only part that needed replacing was the left hand leather strap!

It must have been a remarkable experience to hear that box sing again just as it did in the 1930s.

Danny was concerned that it would continue do deteriorate if kept under the same conditions. He broached this with Denis asking him if he, Denis, could keep it in his bedroom with him so it was not subject to extreme temperature variation. The answer was “Oh no, I couldn’t do that”.  But Denis had done his homework and was happy that Danny would be a suitable custodian of the instrument and gave it to his care.

Danny also obtained valuable material on Tom including photos and all his recordings so since then he has researched his legacy and Tom’s tunes on Tom’s box are a feature of some of his concerts. The work of this forgotten box player lives on.

IG3C7288

I love stories like this. But it could have been very different but for Danny’s persistence and a little bit of luck. If you get the chance to hear him, go listen.  You might be lucky and hear him play the Tom Carmody.

Meanwhile you can check out his website at http://www.dannyomahony.com/

 

Categories: Real Ireland, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Tour through Sliabh Luachra. Russian Collusion?

Anton Zille is from Moscow. He plays the fiddle, is a regular visitor to Ireland and is totally obsessed with Irish music. Not just Irish music but music from Sliabh Luachra. He runs Sliabh Luachra sessions and dances in Moscow and is a fund of knowledge on the genre.

Sliabh Luachra  is an ill defined area in the heart of Munster, straddling the Cork-Kerry border. Here a unique musical and dance tradition evolved, perhaps, due to its isolation. Perhaps also because of this isolation it remains preserved to this day. Numerous dance sets survive with local variations and with local tunes for accompaniment.

IMG_0850

Catherine Mosksovskova and Anton Zille outside Padraig O’Keeffe’s house, Glentaune.

 

Oh yes, Anton.  I had spent the week with him and another visitor from Moscow, harp player Catherine Moskovskova,  at the Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh in Ballyferriter, near Dingle.  This was back in February 2016. When I mentioned to Anton that I knew nothing of Sliabh Luachra, he seized the opportunity. “Oh there’s a session in Newmarket you might like on Monday. Why dont you give me and my friend Catherine, a lift there?” “And I will show you Sliabh Luachra”.

It did cross my mind that there was something ironic about being shown the hidden secrets of an area, that most Irish know nothing about, and having the culture explained to me by a fiddling Muscovite.  Naturally I agreed.

Mea culpa time. I have already admitted I knew nothing about Sliabh Luachra.  Its music, its geography, the culture. Of course I had heard of Padraig O’Keeffe and Johnny O’Leary and Jackie Daly and Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford (I even own a copy of Star Above the Garter on vinyl). But growing up in the Australian trad music scene, such as it was, no one played polkas except beginners and if they did play them they didn’t know how to play them properly. This was reinforced when I moved to Ennis, where it is rare to hear a polka or slide in a session.  When you do, often as not, someone would raise their fingers forming a cross as if to ward off vampires.

But Sliabh Luachra is not just polkas and slides. Reels, hornpipes and jigs get a good look in. There is a wonderful book on Johnny O’Leary’s music by Terry Moylan. His repertoire showed a surprisingly even distribution of polkas, slides, jigs, reels and hornpipes, though slides and polkas together made up nearly 50%.   This pie chart shows this.

2017-05-30 (2)

Tune types in Johnny O’Leary’s repertoire.  Data from Johnny O’Leary of Sliabh Luachra by Terry Moylan.

 

In fact the arrival of polkas and slides was probably in the late 19th Century.  Prior to this manuscripts from Sliabh Luachra are devoid of these tunes and dominated by reels, jigs, airs and programme music.

The name Sliabh Luachra. One translation is ‘mountain of rushes’ which would be fairly apt as it is covered by bog and beds of rushes.  Another says the name comes from Ciarraí Luchre,  a pre-celtic god who also gave Kerry its name.   In any case the area was largely uninhabited until the 16th Century and then stayed a remote outpost away from the gaze of the authorities.  It wasn’t until the 19th Century that roads were built and the area became noted for butter production.

Culturally the area has a unique heritage. Famed for it’s literature and poetry as well as its music.

So Monday night in Newmarket found us in Scully’s pub.

 

IMG_0756

Scully’s Bar Newmarket.

 

Behind the simple unpretentious façade is the perfect session pub. The music is in the back room as it has been for over forty years. Large enough to accommodate twenty musicians comfortably. This night there were a dozen.

The pub has been in the Scully family for over nearly 100 years. Sessions started at the behest of Jackie Daly, who lived five minutes away in Kanturk, in the early 70s and have been held every Monday since.

It became THE gathering place with Jackie Daly joined by Johnny Leary, Julia Clifford, Jimmy Crowley and many others. With many of the attendees being taught by Padraig O’Keeffe there was a direct link to the master. It is kept alive today by stalwarts like Timmy O’Connor, who unfortunately wasn’t there this time, and Ray O’Sullivan and John Walsh, who led the session this time.

This was a gathering of musicians who wanted to play together for the sheer fun of it. So of course it was a bit up and down. There were some beginners and they were given quite a bit of scope to start tunes. There was Marie Forrest on the piano; she’s been coming for 36 years. This added a strong rhythmic element and you could just imagine the floor filled with dancers.

Of course there were polkas and slides but there was a good mix of all the old standards. Many of the polkas I didn’t recognise, but many I did.  It certainly helped that I play regularly with Jackie Daly, who now lives in Miltown Malbay in County Clare and plays in Friels Pub every week. What I really loved was the sharing culture of this session. If people didn’t know the tune then it was played again, slower, for people to pick it up. Perhaps this was a hangover from the days when people such as Jackie and Johnny O’Leary were the custodians of the tunes and passed them to the next generation.

The pace was gentler than I expected. Sweeter. Not at all like the West Kerry version with its preponderance of accordions and driving rhythm (Cooney/Begley influence?) .

This seems to be the only regular session in the Sliabh Luachra region which was surprising for an area with such a rich tradition.  A bit like East Clare I suppose where it is hard to find a session outside of Feakle.

Next day Anton, as promised, was my guide on a tour of the area. There were so many familiar town names. Ballydesmond, Scartaglen, Newmarket. All with polkas and slides named after them. Apparently the local set dances had no names and the early collectors identified them by the locality. The tunes attached to these sets were then somewhat arbitrarily named also. Many tune names became attached to towns only as a matter of convenience so not too much can be read into the name.

We had to visit the holy shrine. The birthplace of Padraig O’Keefe. The house where he was born in 1887 is at Glountane Cross. It is still there. Just. He lived there until he died in 1963.

IMG_0824

IMG_0827

Padraig O’Keeffe’s house.  Another view.

IMG_0818

Commemorative plaque at Padraig O’Keeffe’s house

IMG_0829

Padraig O’Keeffe’s house.  Beyond repair?

 

His father was the headmaster of the nearby national school and Padraig became a teacher there in 1915.  We visited the school which is also a crumbling ruin.

IMG_0865

National School at Glountane. 

IMG_0873

Interior of National School, Glountane

IMG_0900b_1

Anton Zille at National School Glountane

 

He was not happy in the job and left about 1920 to become and itinerant fiddle teacher.  For the next 40 years he walked up and down the hills of Kerry/Cork sometimes as much as 30 miles a day.

IMG_0930

General view Sliabh Luachra

 

IMG_0797

Padraig O’Keeffe walked these roads for forty years

 

By all accounts he was a good teacher and developed his own style of notation.  A system of 4 spaces between 5 lines to show the strings and the numbers 0 1 2 3 4  to show the fingers.  A number of his manuscripts survive and are housed in the Irish Music Traditional Archive.  These images come from their online copies.

pok_bk_one032

From a manuscript showing Padraig O’Keeffe’s unique notation.  Courtesy ITMA. 

pok_bk_one019

Another page from the same manuscript.  Courtesy ITMA

 

He frequently played in Jack Lyon’s Pub in Scartaglen which is still there.

IMG_0932

Lyon’s Bar Scartaglen.

 

Among his pupils were Denis Murphy, Murphy’s sister Julia Clifford and Johnny O’Leary.

Sliabh Luachra is not just Padraig O’Keeffe and the music.  There are a lot of interesting things to see.  It gets quite hilly to the south with the Paps of Anu dominating the landscape to the south.  The name originates from the similarity of the two mountains to the shape of the breasts of the legendary pre-Christian goddess Anu (Danu).  THis is the same Danu that gave her name to the Well known traditional band, the River Danube and Denmark!  You can drive through these mountains though the roads get a bit rough.  We visited Shrona Lake.  Ruggedly spectacular.

IMG_1005

The Cork and Kerry Mountains

IMG_1001

The Paps of Anu

IMG_1085

Walking in the Paps

IMG_1142

Lake Shrona

 

Then there is An Cathair Cubh Dearg.  Also known as The City, this site with the Paps as a backdrop is said to be the first place populated in Ireland and the  oldest centre of continuous worship in the world!  Tuatha De Danann (descendants of Danu) settled here 10,000 years ago.  The ring fort wall dates from this time.  It was later used as a place of Christian worship.

IMG_1044

Ring fort wall at The City.  Paps of Anu in the background.

IMG_1067

An Cathair Cubh Dearg, showing ancient wall and Christian elements. 

 

So that’s it.  Sliabh Luachra.  Great music, heritage, landscape.  And thanks to Russian ‘collusion’ I now understand it better!

Categories: My Journey, Sessions, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Musical Week in Clare, Ireland

I have lived for the past 2½ years on the coast near Spanish Point in County Clare. There has been a constant stream of visitors during this time. Some were family, some good friends but some were strangers. Some stayed for a night, some for more than a week. All leave as life long friends.  I have hosted 76 guests, many more than once.

They are all people I meet through music, or the music session, or during my travels in Ireland. They have come from Ireland, Australia, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, United States, UK, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Denmark and Czech Republic and each has a story. Every single one of them has enriched my time here and it has been a joy to have met, enjoyed their company and shared a shared passion for things Irish.

IG3C7323

French Windows

 

Just last week I hosted three wonderful friends, Julie, Romain and Anna from Carcassone in the south of France. Of course we played tunes, that’s what they came for, but we cooked, imbibed, sampled cheese (sorry, fromage!), and exchanged stories.

IG3C7715

The sun came out on the last day.  Lunch on the porch.

IG3C6964a

Cheese, wine and bread from Carcassone.  View from Caherush. 

IG3C7044

 

It didn’t matter that it rained. I am grateful that we were able to experience an ideal slice of Clare music and musicians in the week they were here. This is what is so special about this place. So many memorable moments, but come next week and it will be the same, but completely different.

So many highlights. Sunday. A pub session in Miltown Malbay at Hillery’s with Conor Keane and Jackie Daly firing on all cylinders, Julie and Romain brought some elegance to the proceedings as they danced a mazurka, French style. Monday.  Fitz’s Bar in Doolin, Tuesday. The cosy Cooley’s House in Ennistymon. On Wednesday a trip to Ennis – a chilled out session at Brogans did little to prepare my guests for the madness of Moroney’s in Ennis where the victorious young Clare hurling team were in full voice and there was some fiery sean nos style dancing from Canada, US and Ireland. A visit to the Burren Thursday and sharing some tunes stories, songs and poems in the kitchen of the irrepressible Oliver O’Connell . And they joined in on my regular Thursday house session with some local West Clare musician friends. The craic went until 4am.  Situation normal.  Oh and what a way to finish! A phalanx of pipers led by Blackie at the Friday Piping Heaven Piping Hell session in Ennis.

IG3C6600

Sunday.  Jackie Daly, Conor Keane and Dave Harper at Hillery’s Bar in Miltown Malbay.

 

IG3C6580

Sunday. A French mazurka in an Irish pub.

IG3C6792

Monday.  Tunes in Fitz’s Doolin.  Photo Anna. 

IG3C6875

Monday.  Fitz’s

IG3C7173

Tuesday.  Cooley’s House.  Ennistymon.  Photo.  Anna.

IG3C7224

Wednesday.  Eoin O’Neill, Brid O’Gorman, Jon O’Connell.  Brogan’s Ennis

IG3C7283

Wednesday.  Anne Marie McCormack, Marcus Moloney and a member of the young Clare hurling team.  Moroney’s Ennis.

IG3C7606

Thursday.  Joining Oliver O’Connell in his kitchen.  Photo Anna.

IG3C7694

Thursday.  House session at Caherush.  With John Joe Tuttle, Ciaran McCabe and J-B Samazan. 

IG3C7721

Friday.  Piping session, Blackie O’Connell, Tom Delaney and friends.  O’Connell’s Bar, Ennis,

 

For me these musical experiences are enhanced immeasurably when I am joined by those who approach the music with the same ardor as me. It is my privilege indeed to host such people.

IG3C7340

New friends.

IG3C6692

Blue and green. 

 

Categories: My Journey, Sessions | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Glenties and the Blue Stack Mountains; The beating heart of Donegal fiddle music.

I hadn’t planned on going to Glenties. Don’t get me wrong it’s a delightful place in the west of Donegal set in mountainous country and its lovely leafy village setting is a surprising contrast to the treeless wild of this part of the world.

I had just spent a wonderful week of music at the Scoil Gheimhridh Ghaoth Dobhair (a winter school for traditional music at Gweedore) and was ready to go home. It was the last night and the final session was coming to a natural exhausted conclusion. I was saying my goodbyes when Sile Friel of the renowned Glasgow/Donegal based Friel Sisters asked if I was interested in attending a session the next night. This is how the conversation went.

Sile        “I’m trying to organise a session with a few of us and the Campbells at Glenties”

Me         “Um. Who are the Campbells?”

Sile        “You’ve never heard of them? Jimmy and Vince are fiddling royalty up here”

I felt embarrassed by my ignorance. But my interest was of course piqued and my travel plans instantly changed.

Next morning I headed south taking a detour to the Glengesh Pass (between Glencolmcille and Ardara), which ironically I had visited earlier in the year on a miserable summer day in stark contrast to this glorious winter’s day. Well worth the detour.

ig3c9620

Glengesh Pass.  On a sunny day in the middle of winter.  January 2017

 

ig3c7771

Glengesh Pass.  The same view on a foggy day in the middle of summer. August 2016

 

But my main objective was a little pub a few kilometres from Glenties in the middle of the Blue Stack Mountains.

I spent the afternoon discovering the Blue Stacks, also known as The Croaghgorms. It is the most significant mountain range in Donegal, separating the north from the south. Typical bare, rounded hills with the characteristic remote wilderness feel to it that makes Donegal so appealing. The special winter russet colour which takes on a red tinge when the sun shines.  And not a tree, except the occasional pine forest.  I took random roads, which turned into random lanes and then random boreens. It was beautiful but scary. The roads were so narrow that there was no chance for two cars to pass and there was bog on either side. And being so remote there were few houses and fewer laybys. I drove in fear of meeting someone and having my reversing skills challenged over distances measured in hundreds of metres.  This world though is well off the commuter trail and the major road traffic was of the four footed kind.

ig3c9732ig3c9649ig3c9676

ig3c9663ig3c9657ig3c9683

I arrived at the Glen Tavern (everyone calls it Dinny’s despite that name not appearing anywhere on the building) a respectable period before the nominated time of 7 pm. Of course I should have known better.

I had plenty of time to get to know the owners, Annie and Mary because it was at least an hour before the first patron arrived let alone musician. And then some. Of course, I was made to feel very welcome. I guess an Aussie fiddler tuning up was a bit unusual.  Or maybe it wasn’t.

ig3c9967

Mary and Annie.  Mine hosts at Dinny’s

 

The first surprise is that you enter the pub through a little shop. Just your basics mind you, but a shop nonetheless.

ig3c9950

Open for business.

 

As well as a shop and a bar it is also a residence. A door to the right took me into the now empty bar. Cosy and inviting with those corner lounges so typical in Ireland just waiting to be filled with musicians. This looked like a great place for music. But not right now.

I settled down for a chat with Mary and Annie and a glass of Jamieson and heard the stories of this place and its music. In my ignorance I had not realised that these mountains and this pub were at the beating heart of Donegal fiddle music.

ig3c9958

A bar with an house fiddle is my kind of pub.

 

The legendary itinerant master tinsmith and fiddler Johnny Doherty lived in these parts and played here and the Campbells (who Sile had mentioned) are a direct link to that legacy. Vince and Jimmy learnt their music from their father who played with him. Johnny had stayed with the Campbells as he had in many houses across the mountains.  I had inadvertently walked into this time capsule.

Gradually people arrived. Peter Campbell, Jimmy’s son, also a fiddler and Condy Campbell; not sure where he fitted in but he took up what looked like his regular spot in the corner and settled in for the night.

Two hours now and the musicians who were coming from Gweedore had yet to arrive. Occasional texts from the Friels advised they were ‘on their way’. But this is Ireland. Turns out they called in to visit Danny Meehan, another legend of Donegal fiddling and he wouldn’t let them go. I’m sure there’s a great story there.

So it was well after 9.00 pm when they finally arrived and then another half hour before the tunes began.

The place had gradually filled (I’m sure there were a few more Campbells among the crowd) as the pipes and fiddles took over. Joining Sile Friels on pipes and sister Clare on fiddle were brothers Fionnán and Iarlaith Mac Gabhann, from Dublin, on pipes and flute.

ig3c9822

Peter Campbell, Fionnan Mac Gabhann, Clare Friel, Sile Friel and Iarlaith Mac Gabhann at Dinny’s

 

The music was sensational. We were in full flight with, of course, a heavy smattering of highlands, mazurkas, flings and a waltz or two, which , for the most part, I had to sit out. We even played Donegal’s only polka. Well that was what I was told. We got the story of that tune from Condy but I have to be honest, I can’t tell you any of it because with his thick, but delightful, brogue, I didn’t get a word.

The musical visitors had decided to move on so about 11 they started to pack up ready to go. Then Jimmy Campbell arrived. That changed everything. “Just one for the road”.  Jimmy insisted that they keep playing and he just sat and listened. In that peculiarly endearing Irish way he would interject with “lovely”, “lovely”, which is surely the ultimate accolade. And it was meant.

ig3c9889

Jimmy Campbell watches and listens.

 

He was persuaded eventually to grab a fiddle. “I can’t play” he said wryly. “I can’t play like that”.

But he did and he could! No one joined. It was our turn to admire and just listen. He played solo and he played with son Peter.  The boys from Dublin had never been to Donegal before and I could see the reverence and joy writ all over their faces at hearing this music. I felt the same. Here was a whole world of playing I knew nothing about.

ig3c9907

Father and son.

 

ig3c9933

A good tune followed by a good laugh.

 

Of course no one left and the musical conversation continued until 1:30 am. Even the goodbyes took an hour.

I had the chance to sit and chat to Jimmy. A nicer gentleman would be hard to find. Nearly 80. He had left Donegal and lived in London much of his life but was now back home. His son Peter, born in England, followed him back. He is full of tales. A session with Jimmy is an experience. It is beyond now. Every tune has its moment. Often there are no sets. Just a single tune. We hear about where he learnt the tune or who wrote it or the story behind it or where the name came from. The tune is a window into a social history. With his words it ties us to people, time and place.

It was a special evening. Two worlds meet with both embracing each other. Music was just a facilitator for people to connect at completely different levels. A good session is more than just playing tunes together. This was a good session.

The beauty is though that I can take something away with me. On the wall is a framed musical notation of a tune, The Jack in the Tavern, written by Jimmy. It’s on my to-learn list now.

ig3c9945

To think that but for a chance conversation with Sile I would have missed this. That’s how it is in Ireland.

Happenstance and serendipity.

There is a music weekend every year in the Glen Tavern in September and I have marked it in my calendar already. Try and keep me away.

Hopefully I will have learnt Jimmy’s tune and a few more highlands and mazurkas by then.

.

Categories: Sessions, Stories, The Fiddle, Trad Irish Music, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Singing Circle at Kilshanny, Co Clare. Entry to another world.

ig3c9079_1

Early in November I went to my first organised singing session since I came to Ireland. I know that’s a terrible admission especially as my start in Irish music came from my interest in folk singing back in the 60s. It was from singing Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs and Pete Seeger and Ewan McColl, and then traditional Australian songs, that I discovered the original “protest” songs coming from Ireland and Scotland. Of course the fiddle sort of took over but I still love singing and squeeze the odd song into a trad session if I get the nod.  My knowledge of the singing session was scratchy to be sure and probably an entrenched stereotype.   You know; finger in the ear stuff and all 47 verses of Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor.

So when Mary Butler, proprietor of Kilshanny House near Ennistymon, asked me to come along to the once-a-month Kilshanny Singing Circle, I had no great expectations. It was certainly a world away from the Pub Trad Sessions, my natural habitat.  

ig3c8910_1

Mine hosts,  Aidan and Mary.

A crowd slowly gathered on the chilly November night. Many turned out to be singers but others were just there to listen. Indeed there were at least 25 singers (actually 24 singers and one Singer – sorry that’s an attempt at humour), some sitting in a circle as you would expect in a session but many others just hovering or sitting at the bar in relative anonymity.

ig3c9283_1

ig3c9021_1

Enter a caption

ig3c9046_1ig3c8973_1ig3c9336_1

 

The night was masterfully run by local Ennis based singer, Noirin Lynch with a velvet glove.

ig3c9071_1

Noirin Lynch

Just an aside. It is the bane of singers in Trad sessions that everyone talks through songs. Sometimes no amount of shushing or whooshing or glass tinkling will shut up the crowd and many a great performance is lost. Not so here. Every person in the pub this Friday had come to listen or sing, so all that was needed were a few gentle reminders. To some this is not the atmosphere they want, and maybe that’s you, but that’s the beauty of Ireland. There are plenty of options; plenty of other pubs where the TV is blaring and you can turn your back to the music. But if you want to hear wonderful singers at their best in total silence then there is no better place than here.

The concept of the Singing Circle is far more democratic than the more ad hoc music session.   Noirin identifies all the singers, in the room,  sees who wants to sing and calls on them to do so at the appropriate time. Always conscious of mixing it up and giving everyone a fair go.  She is constantly roving the room looking for new additions.

ig3c9468_1

Noirin’s list

These nights of music are a celebration. For me, mainly of the incredible talent that lurks hidden in the cottages of Clare. And I have to say whatever I am exposed to another layer of the culture and performing arts in Clare it comes from deep in the soul of the people here.  Nothing special, it’s just part of their makeup.  In West Clare and North Clare I have many times seen spontaneous sean nos dances from kids of all ages up to 90,  I’ve seen sets and half sets where there shouldn’t have been room and I have heard gems and disasters of songs from people sitting quietly all night waiting to perform their party piece.

While there were many widely known singers from inside and outside Clare here this night,  the majority were just unsung (no pun intended) heroes for whom singing is just part of what they do between selling real estate, farming or driving trucks or bringing up their kids. The special guest for the night was Roisin White from Miltown Malbay (honoured with a Gradam Cheoil for singing in 2015) and she treated us to a wide range of material, strongly and beautifully delivered.  

ig3c8922_1

Roisin White

ig3c9371_1

Roisin White

There were  other visitors, Ciarán O’Maoileoin,  Aoife Caomhnach and the well known, Ann Skelton  from Dublin.  And regular Clare visitor Steve Brown from England and Jan van der Klei from Holland.

ig3c9389_1

Ciaran O’Maoileoin and Aoife Caomhnach

ig3c9139_1

Ann Skelton

ig3c9065_1

Steve Brown

ig3c9394_1

Jan van der Klei

But as I said I was most impressed with the home grown talent.  Noirin Lynch herself set the tone of the evening with the anthemic Nora Daly which she learnt from the singing of Micho Russell and Peggy Macmahon.

My name is Nora Daly from the Parish of Kilmaly

and my father is a farmer and the crossest man in Clare

If he saw you here beside me I’m in fear that he might chide me

so please go down and walk a bit before we reach the fair. 

ig3c8762_1

Noirin Lynch

Everyone sings along with this one.  In fact if you are from Clare, I bet you hummed along as you read it.    There was a preponderance of songs on subjects of local interest. I couldn’t possibly talk about each singer, so let me mention just a few. John Casey, originally from Lisdoonvarna grew up with the travellers and remembered them vividly as a child. Sixty years later he met one of them again and was inspired to write his song “The Tinker” which he sang for us.  John told me later that a cousin from Australia was the extraordinary Father Ted Kennedy who did remarkable work with the Aboriginals in Redfern. When he died in 2005, 1,500 people attended his funeral.  Interesting synchronicity there with the status of Travellers and Aboriginals. 

ig3c9447_1

John Casey

 

We had Gerry Devitt with that marvellous song about Joseph McHugh’s from Liscannor. And the delightful and much loved John Joe Scanlon from Fanore, who treated us to a wonderful bit of the, almost lost, art of lilting. 

The fantastic songs of Micheal Marrinan got an airing with  Ciarán O’Maoileoin singing Miltown to Sweet Ennistymon and The Binding Twine sung by Steve Brown complete with with prop of a roll of genuine binding twine!

ig3c9313_1

Ciaran O’Maoileoin

ig3c8822_1

Steve Brown and the Bundle of Twine

With the memory of the death of local football legend Anthony Foley still fresh there was a heartfelt and powerful recitation from Michael Scanlan of Killaloe of his own song and, further reflecting the place GAA takes in Irish culture, we had Marian Egan sing ‘Cuchulainn’s Son’  a song about Wexford hurler Nicky Rackard from it’s golden era in the 1950s. It was written by Marian’s late cousin Tom Williams.  Marian is now a Clare woman living in Kilfenora since 1997.

ig3c9411_1

Michael Scanlon

ig3c9358_1

Marian Egan

We had some delightful comic songs;  Sean Maclaghlan with  Big Bellies and Spare Tyres (though I have to say that only with some reluctance did he get the ladies to answer back with the ”spare tyres” bit)  and that old favourite, the Lottery Ticket.  from James Blackwell of Ennistymon. 

ig3c9197_1

Sean Maclaghlan

ig3c9404_1

James Blackwell

The tone of the night was best illustrated with the welcome received by newly arrived Ursula. An occasional singer from Dublin but now living in Kilshanny, she must have been surprised at the warm reception.  She was introduced around and sat down in the inner circle and coaxed into singing a couple of songs which she carried off with aplomb. What better way to welcome someone into your community than to share a song with them.

ig3c8955_1

A warm welcome

I really like the photo I captured of Ursula with a cup of tea in her hand beside a framed photo of Robbie McMahon of ‘Spancil Hill’ fame. Turns out he is Mary’s uncle.  Don’t you just love the connections in this place. I think I’ll call it The dreamer and the Dreaming

ig3c8865_1

The dreamer and the Dreaming.

And they even had room for some Aussie guy who had the cheek to sing an Irish song about a road that “runs down to the sea”.

There were of course many others and here are some more photos. Singers are difficult to photograph. Always moving unpredictably, eyes closed, bad light. I think though I have captured the mood with these shots.

ig3c9013_1

Almyn Wilson

ig3c9030_1

Joe O’Connor

ig3c9122_1

James Blackwell

ig3c9166_1

Emer Ni Mhaoileoin

ig3c9253_1

Paddy Williams from Kilshanny

ig3c9311_1

Patsy Carrucan from Fanore

Singing Circles as they are called, abound in Clare. They are generally held once a month, but you could easily attend one or two a week if you wanted. The better known ones are in Ennis and Cooraclare and there is also an excellent Sunday singing session at the Crane in nearby Galway.  So if you come to Clare and want to try something different, you can be assured of a warm welcome.

ig3c9129_1ig3c9136_1

I’ll definitely be back to Kilshanny House.

And one final word. Why is respect demanded and given for a song but not always similarly for a tune?

Categories: My Journey, Sessions, Trad Irish Music, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

In search of the Nyah. A Fiddle Workshop with Brendan Mulkere.

In my time in Ireland over the last 2½ years I have been privileged to have listened to and played with so many wonderful musicians. I have also been to many workshops and had fiddle instruction from some of the greats. These have included one-on-ones and group lessons with top fiddlers such as Martin Hayes, Siobhan Peoples, Tola Custy, Yvonne Casey, Zoe Conway, Brid Harper, Gerry O’Connor, James Kelly, Paddy Glackin, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Jesse Smith, Dylan Foley, Eileen O’Brien, Yvonne Kane, Paddy Ryan, John Carty, Manus Maguire, Liam O’Connor, Aiden Connelly and heaps more.

I’m certainly not going to rank them. Each is a master of their art and I learnt something from every single one of them. As I have said before, my own level of playing is my own fault, not those of the many people who have assisted me along the way.

ig3c7519a

But nothing prepared me for the workshop I attended at the Cooley-Collins Festival in Gort, Co Galway, last week. It was given by Brendan Mulkere. Of course I had heard of him and had met him briefly once or twice, but truth is I knew nothing about him. I knew he was based in London but recently he has moved back to his homeland of County Clare. So I found out what I could despite the lack of information on the man on the Interweb.

As I say he is from Clare. He moved to London in the 70s and started teaching Irish music.  His school became very successful with hundreds of students.  He taught everything as he himself plays fiddle, box, banjo, whistle and God knows what else. His music school became legendary for producing many outstanding players who went on to professional careers, such as John Carty, John Whelan, John Blake, Niall Keegan, Claire Egan and many who didn’t but nevertheless soaked up his extraordinary passion and love of Irish music.  He promoted Irish music, bringing all the top bands of the day, such as the Bothy Band and DeDannan to London before they were well known. And for all this, I believe he has never issued a solo or group recording other than with the highly regarded Thatch Ceili Band in the 70s. This says a lot about the man.

He has given up teaching now, so this was a rare opportunity and I expected a lot of interest.

We assembled in the Gort Convent School on the Saturday morning of the three day weekend . There were three of us. Only three! There was a former student of his from the 70s now living in Ireland and a young girl from nearby. And me.

ig3c7531

We strapped on our seatbelts and for eight hours over the three days he took us on a musical journey like nothing I have ever been on. There have been many different approaches in the Schools I have attended. Many are attended by young prodigies or wanna-be’s, desperate for new tunes  that no one else knows . Some are quite different though, like those of Martin Hayes for instance, you hardly touch your fiddle as he shares his wisdom and insights and maybe teaches one tune. Or  James Kelly,  who focusses on getting fundamentals right. We spent a whole day on rolls and another day on triplets. Or Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh who talked about dynamics and extending the voicing capabilities of the fiddle.  Others may give you an insight into local traditions such as at Donegal with Brid Harper or in Ballyferriter where Aiden Connelly gave the best explanation yet of how to play a polka.

Brendan was different to all of these. There was a whirlwind of tunes, most of them common. He deliberately targeted tunes such as the Kesh and Star of Munster and tunes that most of us already knew. But he didn’t care if we did or didn’t.  We could learn them in our own time.  There was no instruction on technique or tone or intonation. It was about reinventing the tunes to get to that place where the music is coming from the heart. He has strong opinions, about the quality of much of the music played in sessions and decries the influence that pub session has on the sound and delivery of traditional music. He focussed on harmonic variation and constantly stressed the need to keep surprising the listener and yourself. It’s about keeping interest by taking the tune somewhere unpredictable.

ig3c7066

He played us tunes showing his variations and we motored through tune after tune. Slowing down and repeating bits and dwelling just long enough for us to understand what he was doing – dropping to the G string, adding a chord, inverting the triads, varying the bowing, slurring or not slurring, articulation, changing to the 2nd position; all of this without actually laboriously repeating phrases until we got it in the traditional way. We then got mountains of homework, with his variations notated and scored. Enough to keep me busy for the next 2½ years. Not mind you so we can just ape him but as the first step in understanding how to put our own stamp on a tune.

I could rave on for ever, but what a generous man. Generous with his knowledge, with his life’s work and with his friendship.

I have hardly put the fiddle down since I came home.

Why did I call this ‘In search of the Nyah’? The Nyah is that indefinable thing that makes Irish music ‘real’. I think it encompasses terms such as feel, soul, groove, heart, swing, draoicht. It’s the title of my proposed book.

But when you hear the nyah you know it.  I thought it was just the rhythm, so I spent a lot of time on that and it has taken me closer but still the search continued. Or maybe it was ornamentation, so I worked on that. Of course it is all of this and much more.

Brendan has given me a window into it and I will open that window as wide as I can.

ig3c7083

Categories: My Journey, The Fiddle | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Legend, the Master and the Pupil. Culture Night. Ennistymon 2016.

So, What’s an Australian blogger doing writing about Irish Culture? Well any culture really. OK Let’s get the jokes over.

What is the difference between yoghurt and Australia?         Yoghurt has a little culture

“I don’t despair about the cultural scene in Australia, because there isn’t one here to despair about.” said the dancer Sir Robert Helpmann in the mid-1960s,

And I could go on.

As of now, though I think Australians punch above their weight in artistic endeavours as we do in sport.   Hollywood and Broadway are filled with Australian actors. I hear Australian music all the time on radio and people don’t even know it is. “Oh are ACDC Aussie?” “Love that classic Irish song Band Played Waltzing Matilda” etc….

So there. I am going to talk about Culture Night here in Ireland anyway.

Culture Night this year was Friday 16th September and it is an annual fixture sponsored by the Irish Government. It’s a terrific innovation. Free events are held all around the country covering all branches of the arts. In fact 3,000 of them in 1,300 venues. I chose to spend the evening in and around Ennistymon in West Clare.

ig3c8160

ig3c8443ig3c8509

Ennistymon is a pretty town hidden in the hills at the southern end of the Burren. The town dates from the 18th century and is built around a bridge crossing of the Cullenagh River and its famed Cascades. It has always been a market town but the famine hit hard with 5,000 dying in its various workhouses in the five years from 1847.  Subsequently it prospered and is now a lively centre of commerce. The “Troubles” came to Ennistymon in 1922 when the British, in reprisal for the ambush at Rineen, near Miltown Malbay (which killed six Black and Tans), burned a number of pubs and houses.  The only troubles now are whether a bridge widening should be permitted at Blake’s Corner.

It is noted for the pretty shop fronts but as in most Irish villages and towns today the struggle for survival in rural Ireland is evident in many of the abandoned shops.

I visited an art exhibition in the Old Court House. It was an exhibition by Clare based artist Martina Cleary. There were really three exhibitions. Each with a different personality. One explored her attempt over ten days to recreate the search in 1926 in Paris by poet and author Andre Breton.  He became infatuated with a girl called Nadja and it became the subject of a book. She has created a number of panels using maps and photographs where she retraces and reinterprets the story. I loved the way she blended her own photos with contemporary photos, mainly old postcards.

This was a theme similarly explored in the exhibition of the photos of Dorothea Lange, a renowned photographer for Life Magazine, who came to Clare in 1954. Martina has revisited the places and themes to create modern versions of these images, many in black and white and many with a suitcase which was her constant companion. She has also cleverly woven her own images with historical images in a number of long collages.

I loved this exhibition. The pieces were quite eclectic and inventive in the use of multimedia, postcards, photographs, rocks, string, paper, books and found objects. One piece I particularly loved was of an open book with the words and images flowing out of it.

ig3c8098

I can’t actually recommend you go see it because it was its last day.  Sorry about that.  but do keep an eye out for her.

I then decided to treat myself to a nice meal at Byrne’s Restaurant overlooking the Falls. I was very impressed. I am a sucker for duck and will order it whenever it is on the menu. This duck confit was one of the best meals I have had in Ireland. Well done to the chef at Byrne’s and others for keeping alive the culinary arts in remote Ireland.

ig3c8292

On my walk back to the car I stumbled upon a street session at the market square organised by the local Comhaltas Branch. There were some familiar faces there and I was asked to join. So a quick trip to the car and I had my fiddle, trying to balance it with my camera to get these few shots. I never cease to be amazed by the quality of musicianship and dancing I keep coming across in Clare. This was a classic example of the depth of the musical culture here and how vibrant it is today.

ig3c8547ig3c8606aig3c8634a

But my main destination for the evening was Kilshanny House, so my stay was short. This is a pub on its own in the middle of nowhere just a few kilometres from Ennistymon. These sort of pubs are a dying breed and struggle to survive but fair play to owners Mary and Aidan who have promoted good food and music to attract clientele.

They would have been happy this night. Blackie O’Connell the renowned Ennis based piper and the doyen of the local piping world was hosting Davy Spillane. Davy, a master whistle and piper set the trad world alight with Donal Lunny and Christy Moore and the extraordinary sound of Moving Hearts in 1982.  He provided many solo albums and collaborations since. With massive names such as Kate Bush, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Enya, Steve Winwood and Chris Rea. And Riverdance. And that tune Equinox on Bringing it All Back Home from 1991. A huge favourite of mine and almost an anthem for me.

He lives in West Clare but rarely plays publicly now, so this was a chance to see and hear him.  Blackie and Davey were the stars, though a number of other local pipers participated. The word had got out and the pub was nicely full. I saw many fellow musicians in the audience.

From almost the first note without any fanfare you could tell this was going to be different.  It was music from another realm. Fast or slow it didn’t matter. As the night wore on Blackie and Dave entered into a special place. They sat close together, facing each other, their pipes almost physically entwining just as their sublime music did. This music came from inside them and we were allowed to witness it. It was totally absorbing and spellbinding. Energy and fire. Many times, the other musicians just stopped and listened. And then Davy would play that Low Whistle. Extraordinary sound with incredible economy of finger movement. It wasn’t just Davy though. It made you realise what a phenomenal piper Blackie is.  During a break he wowed the crowd with the full version of the Fox Chase. Barking dogs and all.

ig3c8655aig3c8696aig3c8699ig3c8750ig3c8733ig3c8793

Oliver, Blackie’s dad, came over and whispered in my ear at one stage, “have you ever heard anything like this before?” And this wasn’t just a proud dad talking. I know, speaking to Blackie afterwards that it was special for him too.ig3c8775a_1ig3c8781

The two masters were joined for a couple of tunes by Kevin Nunane.  Kevin, didn’t look ten yet and is a student of Blackie’s. This is the future of piping and to have the three generations of pipers there playing was as profound an expression of the depth of Irish Culture as you will ever see. The Legend, the Master and the Pupil.

ig3c8711ig3c8712

I’ll leave it to WB Yeats to have the last word

But he heard high up in the air
A piper piping away,
And never was piping so sad,                                                                                                                                 
And never was piping so gay.

 

Categories: Concerts, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Protected: Tale of two sessions

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Categories: Real Ireland, Sessions, Trad Irish Music

Blog at WordPress.com.