Posts Tagged With: fiddle

Them’s the Rules. No Instruments Allowed.

Tell me I am not paranoid but musicians really are at the bottom of the heap. We all know about the difficulties often experienced trying to take a fiddle on a flight. But here’s one roadblock I’d never come across before. Actually not one but two.

It’s my last day of a holiday in New York. My plane doesn’t leave until 6.30 pm so I have a few hours to kill. Why not take in the iconic Museum of Modern Art or MOMA?

Checkout is 11am but the hotel will kindly hold my bags.  As I am depositing them the Bell Hop hesitates over one.

“What’s in there?” he says, pointing to the violin-shaped object in front of us.

“A violin” I helpfully offered.

“Oh you can’t store that without paying a fee.”

“Why not?”, I asked.

“Because it’s an instrument”.

He could offer me no valid reason other than that so I eventually located a supervisor who confirmed that they didn’t accept instruments. His answer to my question “Why not?” was that “Instruments are not luggage. They are not shaped like a suitcase!” However apparently with the payment of a fee suddenly they take on the shape of a suitcase? Anyway I wasn’t going to pay a fee and it was not heavy so I would take it with me. Big mistake!

MOMA was a bit over a kilometre from the hotel so I walked in the soft rain just a few city blocks. There was quite a queue stretching down the pavement and when I eventually got inside more queueing for the cloak room and then more queuing to get tickets. Apparently every other visitor to New York had the same idea about what to do on a wet Labour Day Sunday.

So I get to the cloak room, deposit my coat and camera bag but, pointing to the violin-shaped case the cloak room attendee says, yeah you guessed it. “What’s that?”

By now I was ready with the answer; “A violin”.

“Oh you’re not allowed to bring them into the gallery”.

“OK” I said “that’s why I wanted to put it into the cloak room”.

“Oh well we don’t accept them in the cloak room. They are not allowed in the gallery. Period.”

I looked over her shoulder at the hundreds of odd shaped bags, umbrellas, strollers and garments wondering silently why a small violin couldn’t be lodged there somewhere. Well actually not silently, but my protestations fell on deaf ears.

She was adamant. “Them’s the rules”.

I could see we were going round in circles here so I said I would find a manager. One helpful gent in the queue suggested I was wasting my time because “they were the rules.” I thanked him for his assistance but went to find the manager anyway.

This took some time but when he was located he confirmed that that was a ‘rule.’ “No instruments”. He added that they didn’t want to take responsibility for any damage. As I had observed that there were no baggage handlers from United Airlines in sight I was prepared to wear this risk.

He paused and my pleas maybe wore him down. He relented.  Bless you Franklin from MOMA.  He told me to follow him. We went to a white door marked Staff Only and he swiped his card. “Leave it here” he said “it will be safe.”.  Music to my ears.  So I rested it in the corner of this store room beside a folded up stroller and some brooms. Relieved, I queued again for my ticket.

Ironically as I waked around this extraordinary collection of art I kept being reminded of the great interest visual artists have shown over the years in musical instruments, often placing them at the core of their work.  This puts into sharp focus the reticence of the administrators of the gallery that displays their work at having an instrument anywhere near the building.  Here are a few examples from Picasso, Matisse and more modern works from Adkins.

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Three Musicians. Pablo Picasso

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Music (Sketch).  Henri Matisse

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Sus Scrofa (Linnaeus). Contrabass, wild boar hide and skull, and wood. Terry Adkins.

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Guitar.  Pablo Picasso

So there you go. It would seem that in the US ‘rules is rules.’ And no one seems prepared to buck them no matter how absurd. There was no empathy with my predicament. Except thank God for Franklin.

It sometimes pays though to have a bit of a tilt at windmills.

Categories: America, My Journey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ryan Young. A CD Review.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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.

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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.

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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.

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Clare musicians, Therese McInerney and Sharon Howley

 

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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.

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Host Mary Butler serves home made bread.  

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Your salmon sir.

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Or the pork

 

 

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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.

 

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The multi talented Gerry.  Bus driver, singer and raconteur

 

 

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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.

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

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.

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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Father and son.

 

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Glencolmcille, Donegal. Fiddles in the Glen. And Much Much More.

First I should apologise to my blog followers. I have been travelling and attending many festivals over the last two months so I have neglected you.  It has been an amazing Summer with visits to Festivals in Dungarvan, Doolin, Spiddal, Miltown Malbay, Tubbercurry, Drumshanbo, Achill Island, Glencolmcille and Feakle.  I have many stories and photos and I will try and bring my readers up to date over the next little while.

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In the first week of August I went to Glencolmcille in the south west of Donegal. There is a Fiddle Festival there which I had yet to attend, but not only that it is a place of remarkable beauty.

I had been there before but it was the depths of winter and it was so cold with biting wind and lashing rain and I had a cold and the memory is generally not a pleasant one. I should add also that it was the first place in Ireland that I missed playing music. January 2nd 2015. After almost eight months.

I had driven up from Achill and the most glorious weather welcomed us on the Monday. I had a carload from Italy, France and Spain that were also visiting the Festival. The first thing that struck me about this place was the awesome grandeur and beauty. It was just too beautiful. I didn’t know where to start exploring it. It’s rather like turning up to a session with a dozen great fiddlers and you leave your fiddle in the case, because you don’t know where to start. It’s just too intimidating and daunting.

I was originally booked into a Bed and Breakfast but a friend convinced me to give the Dooey Hostel a go. I have shied away from hostels because I never sleep, with snorers and tossers-and-turners and people coming in late and getting up early, but I went along with it. It is truly a unique place. It is built into the hill with the natural rock being one wall and the other side giving magnificent views over the strand and the bay one way and the glacially scoured valley the other way. There is a crazy paved floor as you would have out on the patio and ivy and all sorts of plants growing up the walls. The walls are damp with the natural seepage and there is piping to take away the water when it rains, which gives the sound of an ever present waterfall. It is on many levels with four dormitories each with their own shower toilet and kitchen, another generous kitchen, some private rooms and a gorgeous common room that overlooks the bay. There is plenty of eccentric and eclectic memorabilia and trinkets everywhere. 

 

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Dooey Hostel, Glencolmcille

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The view from the Common Room of Dooey Hostel

 

Miraculously I didn’t have a snorer in my dorm so I slept brilliantly.

The hostess is Mary, quite an institution in this part of the world. And mad as a March hare. You can’t really describe her but she is as wild as the Atlantic and had us in stitches much of the time. “I just compost people who fall out of their bunks”, she says. The residents were an interesting lot too. Many there for the fiddles but many just travellers. By a country mile, the majority were from France. Some spoke exclusively French which was a bit annoying for me but it was a diverse bunch with many interesting stories. I met of course loads of new friends and I could not help but become part of the craic.

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I decided not to do the classes and Monday was so beautiful I had to get out and about. I was told of a lovely beach called Port, so that’s where I headed. Google Maps misled me though (I have to blame someone) and I ended up high on a remote bog.   As I was sinking deeper and deeper into the unsealed road I decided to retreat. A 21- point turn executed with fear of my wheels leaving the road and of getting stuck in the ditch. But there’s always a reason for things happening in Ireland and I spent a lovely hour exploring photographic possibilities in this remote part of Donegal.

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On returning to Glen I found myself following some road signs to the Holy Well of St Columbcille. This was not what I expected as after quite a walk I discovered the well site protected by a massive Donald Trump style wall. Continuing the walk I ended up at the Tower, which was built to keep a lookout for Napoleon and the invading French. One would have to say it was unsuccessful as the French continue to invade! The views from the top are impressive though.

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St Columbcille’s Well

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View towards Port Beach

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As far as the music goes this festival or school is completely different. First it is fiddle only. Second it is Donegal style and tunes only. It is classes morning and afternoon so if you don’t do the classes the place is pretty deserted except for the tourists. It is pot luck after that. There are only two pubs so it is hard to miss a session. After about 9 pm it kicks off. Roarty’s was the spot and on the Monday night there was a session there with 45 fiddles. For a brief time there was a single guitar. It was a unique sound. Not to everyone’s taste, I know but how often do you get to hear that in Ireland. I recognised about 10% of the tunes, but played along where I could. A who’s-who of Donegal fiddling was there. Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Martin McGinley, Ciarán Ó Maonaigh,  Conor Caldwell, Danny Meehan.  But it was hard to get a seat so I did a lot of listening.  The tunes are infectious and probably easy to learn but the fiddling is not my style with its sawing bowing.  But it was great to be there.  Some of the best sessions though were in the Common Room of the hostel or outside overlooking the bay.

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Fiddlers in the Glen

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The bad weather closed in (well it is Ireland and it is summer) and Wednesday started out very unpromisingly. But it looked to be brightening up so I decided to go to Maghera Caves of which I had heard a bit about. When I announced my intention at the Hostel I immediately had half a dozen takers to come with me. In the end  I was accompanied by Blandine from France, Alex from Italy (the Great Bastoni! but that’s another story), Tall Paul from Holland and People Katherina from Germany, a 20 year old on her first solo overseas trip who, the day before, had walked 27km with her 20kg pack in the driving rain.

The weather did not ease up. The rain came and went with and without wind and we had in total 15 seconds of sunshine. The caves were not what I expected. They are only accessible at low tide which luckily it was, They seem to be caused by erosion along faults associated with dolerite dykes and sills in very siliceous sediment. They are right on a really wide beach. Stunning. The wind at times whipped the sand along creating and eerie landscape.  And there was a labyrinth, similar to the one on Keel Beach on Achill.  Someone put a lot of work into it but I can only guess how long it will be there before the sea subsumes it.  On the way there was Assaranca Falls: a ferocious waterfall fed by the heavy rain at the time. Unfortunately photographing it was tough in the weather. We went cross country then to the majestic Slieve League cliffs. Conditions were attrocious with the mist descending, sometimes to a complete whiteout. I loved it though; when the clouds parted to reveal the rugged landscape for a few moments and then closed in. Thee was no pattern to it but it provided everchanging vistas and light. Then a visit to the gorgeous beach at Malin Beg which I have to say would rival Keem Strand on Achill for a place nearthe top of the list of best Irish beaches I’ve seen.

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Assaranca Falls

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Near Ardara

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The road to Maghera

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Cave at Maghera Beach.  One of 27

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Dolerite sill and later crosscutting dyke.

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Sheared dolerite dyke and cave.

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even the water is green!

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Maghera Strand.  A wicked wind!

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Maghera Strand.  Another view

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Labyrinth at Maghera Strand 

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Have you seen green like this?

 

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Heather on the Moor.  Slieve League

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Slieve League

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A few minutes later.  The clouds descend

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Try standing up!

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A soft day at Slieve League

 

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Malin Beg

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Malin Beg

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Malin Beg

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Weathering bands in schist.  With sandhopper

 

I enjoyed this place so much that only playing a few tunes in the evening didn’t seem to matter. We sat up chatting in the Hostel till about 4am and the sweet Katherina, full of self doubt about travelling Ireland on her own yet so confident to walk such huge distances could not contain herself. Every few minutes saying “I am so happy”. In fact she held on from going to the toilet for an hour because she was worried we would go to bed and the night would end.

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Monarch of the Glen

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The Festival overlaps with Feakle Festival which is one of my favourites so on Thursday I headed off back to Clare.

I will definitely return to Donegal. Maybe next time I’ll get to Port Beach without getting lost……..

Categories: Real Ireland, The Fiddle, Trad Irish Music, Uncategorized, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh 2016, Ballyferriter, Co Kerry

This is my second time at Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh, held in February at Ballyferriter on the beautiful Dingle Peninsular.  I said in my blog a year ago that it was one of the best and nothing has happened to change that view.

What was different though was that this year the Festival lost its funding from the Arts Council .  This was a heavy blow and there was some doubt about how the quality of the festival would be affected.   The organisers however redoubled their efforts and raised the extra money from various sources so there was no real visible evidence of the funding cuts.

it was great to catch up with the many familiar faces that make an annual pilgrimage to this Festival and the quality of the musicians attracted to the Festival remained outstanding.

The Scoil is actually two distinct events.  There is of course the school which runs for three days and finishes with the traditional performances in the Church  on Saturday at lunch time and parallel to this is concerts and events with a strong Irish cultural focus centred around the West Kerry music and dance tradition.  And there is the bonus of the sessions which are legendary.

I will say a few words about the School.  I had Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh as my tutor.  He is an inspirational character and for three days we explored the fiddle and what it was capable of.  how to discover new ways of expressing ourselves.  So many variables that come in to play and the many choices we can make in playing each note.  He has made me think quite differently about my approach.  I also had a master class from Paddy Glackin.  This was a nerve wracking experience as we were each asked to play a tune which he then proceeded to critique.  It was a bit of a buzz for me spending a couple of hours with Paddy.  His album with Jolyon Jackson, which I have on vinyl is one of my all time favourites.

I only went to a couple of events this time.  I enjoyed immensely  a presentation of songs, poetry and music which told the story of 1916 written and performed by Mike Hanrahan and Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich.   And the concert on the Saturday night was a cracker though I was not familiar with any of the acts other than Dermot Byrne and Florianne Blancke.  This led to some wonderful surprises.  The standard was incredibly high and included a virtuoso performance of Scottish fiddle from Ian MacFarlane.

Mark my words Ballyferriter is different.  It is a festival where everyone comes away happy.  Musicians, singers, dancers, listeners.  It is a festival for the locals and they embrace it and it is a festival for the loyal visitors who come year after year.  The sessions are never so crowded that you can’t find a seat and there is huge respect for the music.  The Irish language is everywhere  and many times announcers would forget (?) to translate.  It didn’t matter.  It is in a spectacular location; though other than the first Wednesday there was no sunshine until the Monday when everyone had Ieft.  More than anything else for me though, it was the quality of the sessions and accessibility of the musicians.  Leading by example the Begleys were everywhere.  Breandann, Seamus, Maibh, Cormac, Neil;  as were the headline acts who all participated.  There was no session trail and sessions popped up organically.   The four venues were all so close you could check them in a minute or two and decide where to settle.

This one is a permanent fixture on my Calendar.  We have a year to work on the Arts Council to restore funding to make it bigger and better.

Congratulations Breandann and Niamh and team.

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Not everyone likes the bagpipes

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Hands and hearts.  

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

Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, Kilkee; November 2015 – A Review

Winter has arrived on the west coast of Clare.  After an unseasonal spell of sunshine and balmy weather, well into the second week of November, the wind from the Atlantic has now brought the rain, sometimes horizontal, and hail and with it the cold air.  So situation normal really.  But none of that matters.  Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill played  at Kilkee on Thursday night 12th November, about a half hour’s drive away and thanks to fiddling friend Yvonne, who solved my transportation problem, I found myself upstairs in Cultúrlann Sweeney staring with eager anticipation at two empty seats on the bare stage. Kilkee is not on the must-visit venues for international music stars but how lucky West Clare was to have enticed them this time.  The theatre is located behind and above the local library and is a terrific space with capacity for 102 lucky patrons.  The place was full of people and full of expectation.

I have heard Martin and Dennis a number of times in Australia but never in Ireland and never in such an intimate space.     This was the perfect place for their music.  You could almost feel it wash gently over us while almost in harmony with the rain and occasional rumble of thunder from outside.

A live performance of Martin and Dennis is truly a captivating, almost mesmerising, experience.  He plays long sets which build slowly, generally with an air to start and then through a succession of slower tunes, which may be barn dances or jigs or slow reels, picking up the pace and the intensity, building excitement and usually finishing with feverish reels.  An example from the first half started with the slow  air, The Lark in the Clear Air and then a jig from Peter O’Laughlin (the name of which I missed)  to Micho Russel’s version of The Boy in the Gap, which as Martin explained has had all the unnecessary notes stripped out, then Charlie Lennon’s Road to Cashel and finishing with Toss the Feathers and a truly wild, Wild Irishman.

All the way Dennis’ inspired accompaniment enhances the journey.  He assists in creating texture and sometimes filling space and other times creating it.  Always with great sensitivity.  Less is more with Dennis and his ability to create mood and anticipation with a single chord or even one note and also to drive the tunes with a pulsating beat is extraordinary.  At times you are not even aware he is playing as he just reinforces the internal rhythm that Martin’s virtuosic playing engenders.

I attended a workshop with Martin earlier this year at Feakle Festival and it was an experience I will treasure.  His knowledge and understanding of the music is deep and he was more than willing to share his insights.  I was particularly taken with the way he explained how he finds what he terms the ‘groove’.  This was in ample evidence this night with both Martin’s feet moving in perfect synchronicity and creating an almost percussive base to the music. All the time his body sways and moves as the music appears to take him over.  In contrast Dennis is a model of intense concentration.  They sit angled toward each other and their eyes hardly ever leave each other reinforcing the extraordinary musical connection.  Martin even joked about it on stage calling it telepathy.  Indeed Martin announced what tunes he will do and then promptly does something else and unfazed,  Dennis is there.

There were many familiar tunes to those aware of Martin’s body of work.  It was especially exciting for me to  see the links many of these have to Clare and to hear of the players that influenced him such as his father and Micho Russell and Patrick Creagh.

Martin was in a relaxed mood engaging the audience in a conversation, at times the sort of interchange you might have in the front bar of Peppers, in Feakle, between tunes. I loved his explanation as to how he ended up as a musician working for tough man Johnny Moloney from Carrigaholt which convinced him there was a better life. Dennis was quite happy to let Martin be the front man.

Audience response was vigourous.  Excited cheers rang out after each number almost as a collective release of  breath, which the audience held throughout the set.  Perhaps the sound of breathing would put them off their music?

The lonesome touch that Martin is of course famous for was there however often his  playing was feverish. But there was always that groove, that lilt and the ‘nyah’ in abundance.  The playing of both was technically brilliant.  Not one wrong note or one note out of place.  This was as good as it gets and as a wannabe fiddle player truly an inspirational performance.   He is constantly varying in particular with the bowing sometimes getting exquisite tone with just the slightest movement of the horse hair and then using long bows to provide dynamic variation.  He is a magician.

A word on the sound.  It was so good and so unobtrusive I was never conscious of the fact they were miked up.   I really felt I was listening to a truly acoustic performance. That was quite an achievement.

The final set of the night kicked off with one of his signature tunes, Port na bPuca, played with intensity and passion with its invocation of the sounds of the wind and the ocean. This was followed a a haunting slow jig and then into another jig and then seamlessly into Lafferty’s Reel, but typical of Martin, almost unrecognisable at times, as he plays in unfamiliar keys and wanders in and out of the tune, and then another reel and then he brings it back with a slow march with a strong pulsating accompaniment from Dennis, then a slip jig  with that lovely rolling rhythm and then he builds it up again into another reel and then into P Joe’s Reel, paying homage to his father, and then into Brendan McMahon’s Reel, an East Clare favourite, which he took into unknown places and then finished with yet another reel which I didn’t recognise,  this time displaying full pyrotechnics. The crowd would not let them go and gave a prolonged standing ovation.  A breathless Hayes returned for an encore asking what they would like to hear.  Names came from all directions: “Sailor’s Bonnet”,  “Morning Star”, “Farewell to Miltown”.    So that’s what we got and a few others thrown in finishing, of course, with a spirited rendition of the Bucks of Oranmore.  Another ten minutes!

And afterwards they mingled in the foyer making one lucky girl’s night by signing her pink fiddle.  What’s left to say?  A memorable concert that’s for sure.

All I could think of afterwards was that I had better get home and practice.

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Categories: Concerts, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Willie Week 2015 – Chasing the Dream or Living the Reality?

My silence of the last few days does not mean I have nothing to say about Willie Week. Firstly I just haven’t had the time but I am also having trouble formulating the words to describe the experience.

What a difference a year makes; last year I was chasing a dream this year I lived the reality.

As a Willie Virgin in 2014 I found it overwhelming.  The sheer quantity of music, the crowds and the whole atmosphere was almost crushing. I had only been here a little over a month and my insatiable desire to participate in sessions and to play with Legends and Gods led to much frustration. The crowds were oppressive, particularly in the popular pubs such as Friels and the Blondes and at night it was a challenge at many levels. OK I was naiive.

This year was different though;  I decided not to do the School which immediately meant I got more sleep and was able to ease into the day. I was at my home which is only a short drive away and had a houseful of guests so that added an extra dimension. Beanie and Anne and Jeff from North Carolina, Ana Carolina from Brazil and Bardon from UK and Julie from Denmark. I was able to retreat to my little oasis and chill out if needed.  Sometimes play a few quiet tunes and eat properly with some magnificent cooking from my housemates.

Yes the crowds were there, and the weather was bad and despite spending a lot less time looking for the killer session I actually played in better sessions and enjoyed them more.  I was much happier to stand and listen. Of course there were sessions I would love to have joined such as with Seamus Begley and Clare Egan in the new room in Fries or with Frankie Gavin and Noel Hill or the street session with Anton Mac Gabbhann, but there were many I did such as with Jacky Daly and Matt Cranitch. Some of the best sessions however were with people I had never met but are now good friends. That’s how it works at Willie Week.

I started a few sessions myself in the afternoons and that was a new experience. Just quietly playing a few tunes with a friend in the kitchen at the Blondes or at the back of Martin Flynns and feeling the session grow around us. The evenings however were chaotic. There were times you could not move in Friels and being on the street was challenging so most evenings were spent in Mullagh or the Quilty Tavern. At Quilty I could play with Johnny Connolly, Johnny Og Connolly, Colm Gannon, John Blake and avoid the crowds.

The Willie Week experience happens on many levels. There are actually a number of parallel worlds and sometimes they don’t meet. There is the Summer School with over a thousand pupils mainly kids many of whom never leave it; There are the concerts and recitals and ceilis, there are the sessions in Milltown, there are the mini festivals at the Bellbridge, Mullagh and Coore, there is the dance festival at the Armada and there is the private world of the house sessions in the many cottages around.  But mostly there is the catching up with people not seen for a year. People go there for any of these reasons and are rewarded accordingly,

There were many highlights. Meeting Tommy Peoples for one. But perhaps for me what will stand out was dropping in to Friels on the last Sunday afternoon. I was getting ready to drive to Tubbercurry but just had to have one more dose. There was no music but sitting in the front bar was Padraig Mac Donnacha. who I had met at Ballyferriter, and he invited me to join him for a few tunes. Initially there was just the two of us but then Thiery Masure and a few others sat in. I won’t overplay it but itnwas special moment for me.

So that’s Willie Week for 2015.  I get it now.  I get the mystique and the draw. Such that I know where I’ll be in the first week of July next year.

Just a few of the many photos I took. I know I missed many opportunities but you cant be everywhere. The photos of me were taken by Anne Gerhardt.  Thanks Anne.

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Categories: Festivals, Sessions, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Willie Clancy Summer School – Monday.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The sun was shining, not too much wind – I’ll ride to Miltown! It’s only five kilometres. Great. No problem with traffic or parking. What was I thinking!  I rode home in the driving rain at 1am buffeted by squally winds in the pitch black being overtaken at breakneck speed by an endless stream of Willie-ites heading back to their cottages, caravans or campsites. The Bellbridge was a safe haven about halfway so the obvious solution was to sit there, soaked through, in the warm pub and play tunes with complete strangers. A silk purse from a sow’s ear?

In between though I experienced just a little of the magic of Willie Week. I played with Sean Moloney from East Galway in the sun at the back of the Blondes, I saw Frankie Gavin and Noel Hill at Michael A’s (no chance of a seat there!) , then there was Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Eileen O’Brien at Friels and Jacky Daly and Matt Cranitch at the Yard and…….

In the evening we were treated to a smorgasbord of fiddling styles from some of the best in the country and beyond. It is so good to hear all these fiddles back to back. I know it’s unfair but highlights for me were Tara Breen and the wonderful sweet fluid playing of Yvonne Casey and then Claire Egan. Perhaps I’ve been in Clare too long.

Then I finished the night with a session at the Bellbridge; but I’ve already mentioned that.

And this is only Monday.

Just a handful of photos.  I will wait until the end to sort them all.

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

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