Posts Tagged With: Irish music

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I could go on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Achill Island – a story of butterfly collections, Jehova’s Witnesses and old postcards.

During late July I spent a week on Achill Island in the west of Co Mayo. My reason for being there of course was music, a Summer School called Scoil Achla. This was my third time and I have spoken at length about it in my previous blogs. Indeed raved about it, so I won’t repeat that here. Just type Achill into the search box!  This time though I didn’t attend classes and to say I needed a break after the summer touring would be putting it too mildly. This was the perfect place to spend time away from the music but to have it on tap at the same time. At least that was my intention.

After my previous visits I thought I knew Achill. But what I discovered here was another Achill, not the one I had written about before. Oh that was all here too, the wonderful music and the undeniable beauty of this place as a Summer holiday destination.  So let’s get that over with.  Here are some shots that showcase Achill Island.  Hopefully you will hop onto the internet, book your accommodation and plan your trip as soon as possible.  But before you do read on……

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This time I got to know the people.  I met some genuine Achill characters, people that shape the place now and reflect where it has come from.  In particular there was John O’Shea, quintessentially Ireland and quintessentially Achill. A more delightful person you will struggle to meet. He lives in the appropriately named “Beach House” and he welcomes you to his house with his whole being. Never short of a quip, or a quick riposte, or a yarn he would entertain and educate for hours given the chance. I was introduced by a friend and we connected straight away. He has a passionate interest in the history of Achill and collects photos, postcards, books and ephemera relating to this. This parallels my own interest in the early history of the Goldfields of Western Australia as well as our similar collecting interests.

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So I spent quite a bit of time in his home as he generously allowed me to view his collections and we swapped stories.  He talked of the original settlement and the sale of the Island to the Rev Nangle and the establishment of the first village. Paintings by Alexander Williams and postcards dating  from 1903 to the First World War speak eloquently of an Achill which though much has disappeared is readily identifiable today. IG3C4770IG3C4778

One story that stuck with me was of a cruel landlord. Many of his tenants were killed in a tragic accident that took 25 lives. Because these families had lost their breadwinners and could not pay the rent they were evicted. This was 1847! in the height of the famine. He showed me a wooden bowl and a spoon made of horn, from this time, used to eat soup. This puts stories like this into harsh reality.IG3C6257

John is a truly charming man with a great line of patter and is quite one with the ladies. He is legendary for inviting visitors to the island to view his ‘butterfly collection’.  So for his 77th birthday his many friends on the island got together and created a butterfly collection for him. Each butterfly is cleverly designed to tell a story and is an individual work of art and he now proudly displays his ‘real’ butterfly collection.IG3C4755IG3C4744

He is also a man of spirit, a spirit I suspect comes from a harsh life in a remote place. He single handedly appealed a decision of his home insurers following their refusal to pay for storm damage and has taken it all the way to the High Court where he has tasted victory against the whole legal system railed against him. What we would call an Aussie Battler.

A lasting memory for me was of how he handled a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses at his front door. They arrived moments after me so I was standing in the foyer listening. There was a father and his daughter. Two other daughters in the car if they needed the heavy artilery. They said they were from Germany but initially didn’t say what they wanted. The man’s first question to John was whether he had a God. A man of faith, John answered he did. “Does your God have a name?” John was well aware where they were headed and he dodged around the answer, quoting passages from the Bible, which completely threw the evangelist’s well rehearsed patter. The man was searching for passages to respond with on his tablet (that’s the android version not one of stone!) but was not able to recover. At the same time he charmed the daughter with handshakes and blessings and she could do nothing but smile. He had them on the ropes now as he asked whether they were Jehovah’s Witnesses knowing full well they were. When they affirmed, “Yes”, he said, “I have read the Watchtower and I think you have a different view of God to me”.  As the man tried to fight back then came the knock-out punch. “I’m so sorry I don’t have time to talk with you, my Australian cousin is here”.  I bet they don’t meet many like that.

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There were so many highlights of my time on Achill. Here are a few that randomly jumped into my brain

  • Having a sean nós dancing lesson in one of the local pubs, from Pauline, a local artist and then being joined by some random punters for an impromptu performance.

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  • Fired up by this I then did two proper sean nós dance workshops offered by the School. Thanks Pauline for dragging me along.

  • And then a bit of a dance on Keel Beach.IG3C6400
  • The Red Fox Gallery and Press and Frances and Antic-Ham who run it. Two people in such obvious harmony and in harmony with their special place over looking Doogart. Francis collects polaroid cameras and they produce the most stunning Polaroid photography and art in book form.IG3C5493

  • A walk on Keem Beach, one of the most beautiful in IrelandIG3C4870IG3C4910aIG3C5206

  • The constant mist that hangs over the hills; lifts like a dancer lifting her skirt and just as quickly letting it fall.  And occasionally she puts on a spectacular show in the evening light.  IG3C4617IG3C5555IG3C5469IG3C6091IG3C5549IG3C6301IG3C5313

  • Impromptu sessions in quiet pubs.

  • Noisy sessions in packed pubsIG3C5411IG3C5410IG3C5414IG3C5349

  • A lovely vegetarian meal with my new friends at Pauline’s house with views over Keel and then songs and tunesIG3C6282IG3C629413918672_10153802382657634_1999679985_o

  • Hot soup in the Beehive CaféIG3C6106

  • the labyrinth at the end of Keel beach. Mirroring the twists and turns of life and our endeavours to reach the centre.  IG3C6442IG3C6430

  • The evening light turning the cliffs yellow and red and reflecting on the shallow strand.IG3C6321IG3C5908IG3C5920IG3C5930IG3C5947

  • Fish and chips for my birthday at Geilty’s Pub. The best I have tasted in Ireland.  And at the same meal, my introduction to banoffee!

  • Nutella and banana pancakes sold from a caravan at the camping ground at Keel. No pictures sorry.  Too busy scoffing them down.
  • The sound of Paul Dooley’s Brian Boru harp,  Absolutely entrancing to all ages….IG3C5685a

  • Brendan Begley singingIG3C5579

  • Sessions in the Wave Crest Hotel, which only opens for the Scoil Acla week.IG3C5595

  • The Richview Hostel and the many international visitors who inhabited it

  • A swim in Keel Beach with Bridge and Siofra. Everyone else was wearing wetsuits! Still can’t believe I did that.13879371_1016935231760452_1295093538081463806_n

  • And I was still talking to Bridge afterwards so it was pizza with them at Pure Magic CafeIG3C5545

  • A visit to the workshop of Johnny Butler who took the time to show me how Uilleann pipes were made. A true craftsman.

  • A couple of hours at the Inishbiggle Festival including tunes in the tent and skipping rope.

Actually there’s a whole lot more but that gives you the gist.  I have said enough.  If you have lasted this long then you deserve a medal.  Achill is a special place and a special time.

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

Fleadh Cheoil na hÉirean. Ennis 2016

I usually don’t do diary-type blogs.  But for the Fleadh in Ennis I will make an exception. This is essentially a rehash of my daily posts on Facebook but many of my blog followers are not on Facebook so I am repeating it here for you. Apologies to those who have read it before.

August 13th 2016.  Day 1

Just the beginning…  The first night of the Fleadh for me was at PJ Kelly’s Pub.  Mental. Pub was packed by 9:30 for the regular Saturday session with room for only half a dozen musicians. Great craic but I can only guess what it will be like later in the week.

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August 14th, 2016.  Day 2

I’ve said this before, but what happens outside a festival can be as good as being there. This night was a completely different chilled out experience with songs and tunes at one of my favourite haunts, Cornerstone Bar Lahinch. With Eoin O’Neill, Brid O’Gorman, Willie Cummins, Noirin Lynch, Lorraine Battersby and Luka Bloom seeking respite from the mayhem.

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August 15th, 2016.  Day 3

There is a great buzz in Ennis and today I felt it for the first time. It was a glorious sunny day and the town looked a treat. Streets adorned with bollards. Ha. No seriously; shops were painted, there were window displays everywhere, some pop-up shops selling music stuff and there were people on the street. I went to a concert in glor with Christy McNamara, Yvonne Casey and Eoin O’Neill.  Great music. Narrowly missed Martin Hayes, doing a spot for FleadhTV, looked in at Knox’s, played some tunes at Cruises with Denis Liddy and family, Brid O’Gorman, Lorraine Battersby, Caoilfionn Mooorhead, Veronika von Ruden and Kathleen Bremer and listened to The Fiddle Case in the Sanctuary. In the process I wandered around town and caught a bit of the vibe. Like a street carnival.

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August 16th, 2016.  Day 4

The sun beckoned; so today I ended up on Lahinch Beach with my Fleadh houseguests from Czech Republic (Iva and Tereza) and from Germany (Katherina). It was a very high tide and the sea was rough and smashed against the rocks. The red flag was flying so there were just a few mad surfers in the water. I now see why Lahinch brings the surfers. We found a patch of sand near the river mouth and I ended up in the water for my second swim of the summer. Hardly the sun bronzed Aussie but it was a perfect tonic. Eventually we ended up in town for Supermacs and to catch the last of the evening light. Crowds are bigger today and the buskers have hatched. They are everywhere. Then the rain came around 930 and scattered them and the pubs filled. It was tunes at Cruises again and then we ended the night with Los Paddys de las Pampas. Thanks Lorraine for dragging me onto the dance floor. I hope the bruises have recovered. There’s no doubt about where this Fleadh is being held. Ennis is writ large. Thanks to Tereza for the photos with me.

 

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August 17th 2016, Day 5.

Stayed away from Ennis today but not away from the music. My cottage was filled during the afternoon with the fiddle and pipes of house guests Haley Richardson  and Keegan Loesel from New Jersey in the States practicing for their Competition spots. Keegan had entered eight! JC Talty would have been very pleased. And in the evening a very special session at Duggan’s at Spancil Hill where Haley and Keegan and I joined in with Yvonne Casey, John Weir, Christy McNamara and a few other lucky people. There were some some gorgeous songs and a sean nos dance from Kristen, another visitor from Boston. Back into the mayhem tomorrow.

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August 18th, 2016.  Day 6

Every day is different, Today started with threatening weather and a battle with the Fleadh traffic. Eventually I found a park miraculously two minutes walk from town but it still took half an hour to get through the throng at 3.30 to the Tune Challenge organised byBoston-based Tommy McCarthy. We were supposed to play Humours of Tulla but we played some reels and barn dances and listened to some songs and then just as we were all ready to launch into it the  rain came. Ten minutes later it was fine again. Oh well. This is Ireland. Then I had the most fabulous time dressing up in ridiculous clothes and rehearsing for the Chapel Gates Wren Boys gig (All Ireland Champions you know) and then on to the Gig Rig at 9pm for the absolute highlight for me, of the Festival. What a thrill playing in front of the jam packed street. Many thanks to all the wonderful people who allowed me to participate. Too many to thank but in particular Grainne Fennell and Joan Hanrahan.  Thanks also tomy friend from Boston, Kristen, for grabbing my camera and taking some amazing shots. The street party continued until late in the night as the rain held off. Even the security guards were getting into the silent disco!

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August 19th, 2016.  Day 7.

At the heart of the Fleadh is the All Ireland Competition. It’s why Comhaltas started the whole thing back in the 1950s. Today I went to the Fiddle Competition. I watched extraordinarily talented kids perform with aplomb in the Under 15s, with my house guest from South Jersey in the US, Haley Richardson coming in second. And then second again in the Slow Air. Congratulations Haley. Amazing playing. There were sessions everywhere like at Nora Culligan’s with Claire Egan, Jack Talty and Paraic Mac Donnchadhna and  Friends but try finding a seat! Dodging the showers I settled in for the night at PJ Kelly’s with Eileen O’Brien and Deirdre Mc Sherry etc. Great tunes in a great pub. The picture of the lad with the massive trophy is of William who had just won the U15 Mouth Organ!

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August 20th, 2016.  Day 8.

No tunes for me today. Just caught the end of the Under 15 Ceili Band Competition. Absolutely jam packed tent. Congratulations to winners Tulóg Ceili Band from Tulla. Up the Banner! Another showery day but the music continued in the pubs and on the street, in tents, in a caravan at the back of the Old Ground Hotel and even in the shops where I stumbled on the Toyota Ceili Band from Japan. The ferrets were captivated. The crowds were a real challenge and by 9pm many pubs had closed their doors and just weren’t letting anyone else in. So I settled into a corner of Cruises with some new friends and enjoyed the party until the small hours. A quiet day tomorrow? Maybe!

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August 21st, 2016.  Day 9.

Wet, wet, wet. So not a lot of time on the streets today. I spent the afternoon checking out the merchandise tent (been there, done that, got the t-shirt) and catching some of the sean nos dance competition. Class. The evening I headed to Miltown Malbay in the pouring rain for a concert by the Tulla Ceili Band. Except it wasn’t a concert it was a mini-ceili. With a few guest acts. This was such a wonderful contrast to the streets of Ennis and very few of the Fleadh visitors made the trek. This was real. No need for the whoop-whoop of FleadhTV. I even got up and danced the Siege of Ennis (appropriate?) A first for me. Then a mighty session at Friels Lynch’s with Joanie Madden and couple of the other Cherished Ladies and Haley Richardson.  I like to think of this Fleadh as a Plum Pudding. A great big blob of delicious sweetness but with explosive surprises dotted through it. This was one of those plump little raisins……..

Thanks to Kristen and an anonymous punter for the last two photos.

 

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August 22nd, 2016.  Day 10

The Final Fling!

Monday was such a glorious day of sunshine I didn’t make it in to Ennis until 6.00pm. After saying goodbye to my Fleadh houseguests, Donn and Haley and Lynette and   and Keegan, the afternoon was spent on the shoreline at Caherush but I needed just one final fling. So I headed to town. It was quieter on the streets but the pubs were still doing a roaring trade until the rain returned and Ennis regained some semblance of normality. I played a bit in Nora Culligan’s before doing a final wander and returning home well sated.

Some final words. There is something different about a Fleadh in your own home town. I enjoyed it so much more than Sligo. This was a truly unique week. OK I didnt play much and I went to very few concerts but just being part of something like this was enough. Despite the occasional cold and wet there was warmth and welcomes everywhere. It didn’t matter that you couldn’t move in the pubs or get a seat. Everyone was here to enjoy themselves and they did.  This is the natural home of the Fleadh.

See you next year. And 2018?

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

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

Sometimes it’s not the destination.

I love the Summer in Ireland.  Not because of the weather, obviously although as I write this 28 degrees is predicted for Drumshanbo and the Irish Met Office has issued a Yellow Weather Alert for the heat!  No, it’s Festival road trip time. From early June to the end of August I am hardly at home.  There’s Dungarvan in Waterford, Doolin Folk Festival, the Spiddal TraidPhicnic, Willie Week of course, Tubercurry, Drumshanbo, Achill, Glencolmcille Fiddle Week, Feakle Festival and the Fleadh.  At least this year the Fleadh is close to home in Ennis.  It’s an exhausting time but there is time for rest in there at places such as Achill.  I have attended classes in the past at all of these places but for now I just go to the odd workshop or find a quiet place for some tunes until the mayhem of the evenings.

But of course as I have said before sometimes the most enjoyable parts of Festivals are the this things that happen around them.  Including the journeys.

A case in point.  As Tubbercurry wound down I was inundated with requests for lifts from visitors wanting to go on to Drumshanbo.  I could have filled the car twice.  This year I found myself in the company of three delightful ladies.  Miki from Japan and Stephy from Switzerland, regular travellers to Ireland for the dancing  and tunes, and first timer Julia also from Switzerland.

I love their stories.  The passion for the music, their discovery of the Irish tradition in far away places and their pursuit of it in both their homelands and Ireland.  They become part of the Irish scene as they are welcomed back year after year to renew musical connections. 

So here I  was heading out of Tubercurry for what should have been a short one hour drive.  The price of travelling with me though is that you can expect a short one hour drive to be anything but. this time I had three willing partners.  We stopped at the old churchyard at Gurteen and at the impressive ruins of Boyle Abbey.  I managed to convince the attendant that the Japanese and Swiss girls were my daughters and he let us in on the Family ticket.  Of course he knew they weren’t.  The quiet ambience there was disturbed by the three girls performing a sean nos dance they had just learned to the strains of the Battle of Aughrim.  I dout if the Monks would have approved and we fully expected to be shut down but we were in fact welcomed by the Administration and patrons alike.    

This day was full of surprise as summer fleetingly arrived to provide blue skies as  a backdrop.  I’ve said it before and I never refuse an invitation and this time the day ended with us being joined by Satoshi from Japan at the end of a remote boreen near Carrick-on-Shannon at the house of one of Stephy’s dance friend’s for a magnificent three course banquet with, believe it or not, a choice of beef or fish for main followed by a house concert and session. 

And then normal transmission was resumed with tunes in one of the local pubs in Drumshanbo until 3 am.

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Categories: Festivals, My Journey, Real Ireland, Stories | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

My First Gig with a Ceili Band

I’ve done a lot of things in Ireland that I had never done before. I’ve blogged about most of them. Participating in the Guinness World Record attempt for the biggest session, been a Wren Boy, slept in a 16th century castle; but there’s one thing I hadn’t done. Until last night.

Friday 24th June 2016 and I was on stage with the brand new Lissycasey Ceili Band under a marquee at Lissycasey, a village to the south of Ennis in Co Clare. The occasion was the first Lissycasey Music Festival, a community organised event which will showcase traditional, country and a range of other music. For the occasion they had erected a giant marquee. Not just an ordinary marquee mind you but a glass walled one complete with chandeliers. And a dance floor. And an optimistic amount of seating which by the end of the night was fully rewarded with bums on seats.

Talking to some Lissycasey locals I was told that regular marquee dances were the social events of the 1940s and 50s, with dance bands and show bands entertaining all ages. Indeed many people met and courted under the marquees. This event harked back to those days, with the majority of the patrons well old enough to have been at those dances and probably were. I imagine it recaptured many nostalgic moments. Maybe many of them met their partners there.

The event had added poignancy as it celebrated and honoured a much loved daughter of Lissycasey, concertina player, Dympna O’Sullivan, who so sadly passed away last year.

I have always had mixed feelings about ceili bands. There is some disdain towards them in some quarters but I have to say my first experience playing in one was an absolute blast. From the moment that wood block sounded its click, click-click  heralding in, in perfect unison, fiddles, concertinas, accordions, flutes, and keyboard belting out familiar tunes in perfect unison (well most of the time) at a brisk pace and with that characteristic ceili rhythm, I was flying. There was a Caledonian Set and the Siege of Ennis and some waltzing and there were smiles all around the room.

It was much faster than I usually played. Not a problem. I was carried along with the other musicians and even got most of the changes right. And boy don’t you love those tune changes. And that feeling when the music ends in perfect agreement with the dancers. I’m hooked.

After us there was a band featuring Don Stiffe and the dancing continued with plenty of enthusiasm.

Thanks to Joan Hanrahan for the invitation to play and to the many wonderful Lissycasey musicians who welcomed me, a refugee Aussie, aboard. And to the organisers who did such a fantastic job. It is amazing what people can do on their own with just the support of local sporting and cultural bodies, looking for no kudos other than to provide something to their community.

This is the real culture of County Clare.

Thanks to Martin O’Malley for the photos of the Band (photos 6 – 10).

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Categories: My Journey, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Doolin Folk Festival 2016 Day 2

The day kicked off with a start that couldn’t be more local.  Moher comprises many musicians resident in Clare and well known to Doolin session-goers. The group of eight musicians used their number and skill to produce a surprising nuanced and textured sound which, when it needed to, could rattle the tent pegs.

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After that though I left familiar territory. Ye Vagabonds, another brotherly collaboration, grabbed a stunned audience from the first number which was a haunting and mesmerising version Barbara Allen. This was a Child Ballad reborn and what followed was a spellbinding set, perfect for a drizzly Saturday afternoon.

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More surprises followed with Breaking Trad, who mixed it up with an exciting, energetic delivery and yet could slow it down beautifully, as with their version of Clare to Here.

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In my ignorance I had never heard of Freddie White. Another surprise that knocked me backwards. A fantastic stage experience from a master of his craft. Beautiful songs, some his own and many known to the audience, who sang along with gusto.  An added bonus for me was that he was an absolute joy to photograph with an ever-changing face full of  life experiences and wonderful expression.

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Then there was Dervish who for 27 years have been belting it out producing music from the top drawer. Kathy Jordan was in fine form and there was something for everyone. Particularly fine was her rendition of Down by the Glenside.

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I was a bit dubious as to how Hothouse Flowers would fit in but how brilliant were they. A passionate, exciting, captivating performance from a truly great rock band led by Liam Ó Maonlaí .   An inspired choice for this festival, it really was a privilege to hear them live.  I have to say though it was very hard to dance while juggling two cameras I can tell you.

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For me that was enough but I stayed long enough to catch the beginning of Marc O’Reilly. The crowd looked like they were settling in for a long night.

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

Doolin Folk Festival 2016 Day 1

This is my third year at this Festival, which has rapidly become one of the must-attend events of the Festival year.  Day 1 delivered everything it promised.  Local stars included Tara Howley and friends (and family, Sharon Howley and Eimear Howley) and Tara Breen and the Tri Tones.  There was the extraordinary virtuosity of Cathal Hayden, Mairtin O’Connor and Seamie O’Dowd.  Luka Bloom weaved his magic to his local legion of fans and there was the surprise packet that was Scottish band Lau with its inventive mix of traditional and new instruments.  The night was capped with a return of ALDOC with Pauline Scanlon up front.  And a song from a Norwegian choir thrown in.  For those who weren’t there here are a few photos to show you what you missed.
Roll on Day 2.
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Categories: Concerts, Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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