Posts Tagged With: fiddle

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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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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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

Doolin Folk Festival 2015, Day 2

Only a few words today. I am going to let the pictures talk. I’ll just say that the full house yesterday was treated to an incredibly strong showing of what ‘Folk Music’ is today in Ireland.

We had solo singer-songwriters such as Fiach Moriarty, we had a dose of Sliabh Luachra with Brian O’Leary’s band and then the perfect hangover cure with Colm Mac Con Iomaire. This group deserves special mention. All eleven of them had made the trip to Doolin and their eclectic and extraordinarily beautiful arrangements of ‘trad meets trance’ was a real eye-opener.

We had ‘modern’ trad with the Four Winds reprising their gig of a couple of weeks ago at the Fleadh Nua in Ennis and if anything they lifted it a notch from that show. I especially loved Farewell to the Gold, a song I have been singing since the early eighties. We had the Lost Brothers, two guys who definitely weren’t lost. Two brothers, two voices and two guitars; lovely stuff. We had more brothers with We Banjos Three (who are actually four – explain that; oh sorry, this is Ireland!) , where ‘trad meets old timey’.  Their extraordinary virtuosity makes them a standout wherever they play.

Then we had Cork man Mick Flannery and his band, another unknown to me.  Not easy to follow the Banjos but they delighted their loyal fans.

The highlight of the day for me though was Fiddler’s Bid, four lads from Scotland and the Shetlands who, surprisingly, all play the fiddle.  They were supported by some of the finest harp playing you will ever here and a rhythm section with guitar and bass and sometimes piano . But wow! Four fiddles, sometimes in unison, sometimes weaving in and out with harmonies and chords but always electric, energetic and enervating. I had heard them at New Year in Donegal a the most amazing Hogmanay and they certainly did not disappoint this time. Not much more to be said. Oh except the night was finished with Aldoc (for me at 1:30) with Alan Docherty’s amazing flute at the core, but with a lot more going on around him.

Today was another perfect gaggle of gigs. Not everything is to everyone’s taste. But as I said yesterday that’s what makes a great Festival.

One last thing. I met heaps of fantastic people yesterday. From all over Ireland and the world. I also took lots of shots of people of all ages enjoying the craic. I will put some of these up on my blog in the days to come. Without these wonderful people there would be not be a Festival.

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Fleadh Nua 2015 Day 8

Sunday. A late start.

Got to town about 3pm and managed to catch the last of the session at Knox’s with the Healeys, Tom Delaney, Derek Hickey, Caroline Keane, and heaps more, but there was a long wait for a seat. And when I did get one it finished. C’est la vie. Nice to listen though for a change. Lovely rousing version of Black is the Colour from Niamh Parsons.

So off to the CD launch at The Old Ground for Neansaí Ní Choisdealbha’s new recording. She had enlisted Eoin O’Neill, Jack Talty and Michael Hynes to help out and then we were progressively joined by flutes and fiddles from the floor until there were maybe 30 musicians. This was something else. It was a Who’s Who of Clare music with a number of welcome visitors from other counties and other worlds. Richie Dwyer, Danny Meehan, John Carty, Tony Smith, Denis Liddy; and that’s just the fiddle players. To hear Lord McDonald played by so much talent was a special experience. There was some great dancing and a wonderful recitation from Oliver O’Connell who was the host for the event. I could have stayed and listened all day and it was all I could do to stop myself running back to the car to get my fiddle and join them!

Downstairs the music continued with Eileen O’Brien, Mary MacNamara, Sorcha Costello and Geraldine Cotter, But I had to drag myself away from there for the Bobby Casey Tribute concert and CD launch. A four hour extravaganza with an incredible array of musicians who knew or were influenced by Bobby. I won’t list everyone but check out the photos. I am sure you will see many familiar faces.

On the way home I popped into Cruises for Los Paddys de las Pampas and they had the crowd bopping as usual and then it lifted a notch when three quarters of the Four Winds joined them on stage. A fitting way to end the day.

The Festival is winding down. Monday brings Recovery Sessions and time to reflect on what has been a wildly successful Festival. It augurs well for the Fleadh Cheoil next year. I kept visualising the streets pedestrianised and packed with thousands and music coming out of every pub. Good luck Alan and the team!  Ennis is definitely the right place!

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Baltimore Fiddle Fair

Baltimore lies in the very southwest corner of Ireland in one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland – West Cork. It is a very pretty town nestled on a protected harbour with a strong maritime heritage. Very popular with the yachty set but for one weekend a year the sound of clinking gins-and-tonic is replaced by fiddles and pipes. That is the Baltimore Fiddle Fair and that’s where I headed for the last Festival of my first year in Ireland, which is rapidly coming to a close. And a fitting way to end the year it was.

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Four days of music centred on the fiddle and covering many genres. We heard Old Timey, Cape Breton, Bluegrass, Swedish, Gypsy Swing, Scots and a variety of traditional Irish. There were fiddlers of the class of Gerry O’Connor, Zoe Conway, Liam O’Connor, Danny Diamond, Dermot McLaughlin and Shane Cook. The core of the festival was the concerts though I have to admit I only attended one, so I can’t really comment on them but the one I did attend was a show stopper. Warmed up by the fiddle and pipes of Liam O’Connor and Sean McKeown the crowd was blown away by Swedish superband Väsen.  I had never heard of them (shame on me) but I know them now.  Slick and professional and as tight a sound as you will ever hear, with five string viola, nyckelharpa and guitar combining effortlessly. This music was a revelation with its dynamic range and variations in tempo and rhythm. I was truly ‘polskafied’.

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I attended five workshops. A big stretch but I was able to get exposure to Donegal style, Old Timey and Cape Breton as well as picking the brains of Gerry O’Connor and Zoe Conway. I never tire of these workshops. Every time I learn something.

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But of course as always it was the sessions that kept me occupied. Every day from around 1 pm there was continuous music in the venues around the Square and in the evenings, after the concerts, Casey’s Hotel raged with as many as four sessions until at least 4am every night. There were visitors from all over the world and I met some wonderful new people including John from Wales, Patrizia and Angelica from Austria, Julie from Denmark, who is cycling around Ireland (https://www.facebook.com/TourdeFolk), Liam from Queensland, Kathleen from Boston, Larry from Tipp, the delightful, Joleen, Karen and Lorna who make up the Henry Girls from Donegal and caught up with old friends again such as Trish from Dublin, Clare from Cork and Aina from France.

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You meet all kinds at a festival such as this and for me that is what makes travelling to them worthwhile. Every evening, we were joined at Casey’s by Jeremy Irons. Self-effacing and just happy to sit in on the edges of the session and find his way in and out of tunes. Clearly revelling in the craic and a world that is a long way from Hollywood.

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And I had the great pleasure to meet renowned Danish artist Claus Havemann. I chatted to him outside Bushes Bar as he stood there having a cigarette and staring across to Sherkin Island where he has had a home for thirty years and spends his time when not in Denmark. He told me of his journey in art over the last forty years which took him from Surrealism to Realism to Modernism to Minimalism to his current works which reinterpret the masters. He told me that he once painted a picture during his Minimalist period called ‘Yellow’ which was essentially dozens of layers of blue paint. The title made perfect sense to me when he explained that yellow is opposite blue on the colour wheel. I have included a couple of his paintings. I especially like the Velazquez ‘copy’, one of a series in which he paints in the style of the master but puts in modern references such as a Picasso and Miro on the wall and his interpretiaon of the Vermeer as a portrait of his daughter.  See more at  http://www.claushavemann.com/

Click for a closer look and zoom

Click for a closer look and zoom

Speaking of Sherkin Island, one of the highlights of the Festival was a session at the Island Rest Hotel. Sherkin is only a few minutes by boat and has about 90 residents. I met many of them that night as they lapped up the seriously good music from the visiting musicians shipped over (literally) for the event. There were some great contributions from locals also including songs and some impromptu dancing from Mary and her artist friends. I have never been to a session where I was picked up and delivered back by boat and the memory of this one will stay a long time.

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I was intrigued by the Algiers Bar where I also played, having spent quite a bit of time in Algeria during my geology days. Turns out this pays homage to the notorious event in 1631 known as the Sack of Baltimore when Barbary pirates (comprising Dutch, Algerians and Ottomans) attacked Baltimore and captured 108 English settlers who were transported back to North Africa as slaves. Funny how we think of slavery in terms of Africans being sent to the new world, but in the century from 1580 to 1680 there were up to a million Europeans taken as part of the Barbary slave trade. Baltimore was abandoned and the village deserted for generations.

The face of the festival is Declan McCarthy.  It was his brainwave back in 1992 and he is still running it. And what a trooper he is. Everything  (well nearly everything) ran smoothly. The venues, the workshops and the support of the town. Hat’s off to him! Speaking of the venues some of the workshops were held at the magnificent stately home Inish Beg and at the famous Glebe Gardens. Along with the church, sailing club and a specially erected marque they really got it right with, of course, the fabulous location.  And unlike many other festivals where you’re lucky if you can buy a bucket of chips there were great food options with the Glebe Café a standout.IMG_9923

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I was absolutely shattered at the end of this week. Workshops every morning and some afternoons, sessions all day and surviving on just a few hours sleep. To fiddle a bit with the words of Richard Thompson in Beeswing “you wouldn’t want it any other way”.

 

Categories: Concerts, Festivals, Sessions, The Fiddle, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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