Posts Tagged With: Seamus Begley

Feakle Matters

Since I last posted on Willie Week I have been to schools and festivals at Tubbercurry, Drumshanbo, Achill and Feakle.  So I have a bit of catching up to do. I will start with Feakle and post on the other festivals as I have time.

As I write this, the sun is shining and the Quilty coastline looks stunningly gorgeous outside my study window. I should be out there and I will but first I need to say a few words about Feakle before it becomes too distant a memory. Does Feakle matter? (well I thought it was funny at the time – last year in a Guinness-fuelled creative frenzy the idea of a local newspaper with the name Feakle Matters popped up so it seemed logical as the heading for this blog) The answer: yes.

Feakle is an otherwise sleepy village with the four pubs and a fifth, the famous Peppers, about half a mile down the road. It is legendary as the home of PJ Hayes and his illustrious son Martin, and the surrounding villages are the home of many musicians, now and in the past, some of them icons of Irish music. On this weekend it is a one lane street choked with musical pilgrims visiting the spiritual home of East Clare music and the Tulla Ceili Band.

Feakle markets itself as an International Festival. That ‘international’ flavour comes from the hoards of overseas visitors who come specially, though there was one international act ‘The London Lasses’. The music however is pure Irish. I won’t say pure Clare, because visitors from Kerry and Sligo and Galway and elsewhere see to that, but the influence of Mary MacNamara, Martin Hayes and the legacy of Paddy Canny and PJ Hayes shines through everywhere.

There are many highlights and I can’t begin to list them. You could have done a lot worse than to just grab a seat in Peppers and stay there for the full four days. You would have heard Seamus Begley, Martin Hayes, Cliare Egan Paraig Mac Donagh, Derek Hickey Gerry Harrington, Conal O’Grada, Benny Macarthy, Andrew MacNamara, The London Lasses, Pat O’Connor, Mark Donnelan, Cormac Begley, Anne-Marie McCormack, Eileen O’Brien, Dave Sheridan, Charlie Harris, Joan Hanrahan, Brid O’Gorman, Conor Keane, Joe Fitzgerald and the rest.  What separates Feakle from the other summer schools and festivals is that people here come for the music. Yes they come for the craic and the Guinness but there is a reverence here that I didn’t find everywhere and often the music was so good that the pub was stunned into silence without the need for a chorus of ssshhhsshh’s. Peppers is one of the best places to listen to Irish music. It is intimate but there is room for both the listener and the player and there is room for the occasional set dance. Sessions at Festivals can be a mixed bag and there are always some that disappoint (I will talk about this in another blog) but here at Feakle the quality is so high that whether you play or listen you can’t fail to be satisfied.

For me. Two days of workshops with Martin Hayes and a day from an equally impressive Yvonne Casey was a major highlight. Martin spoke at length of his approach to playing and there was much wisdom. We were also treated during his class to an impromptu concert from Martin and Mary MacNamara.  Wow.  Yvonne’s workshop complemented this beautifully and I came away inspired just as a School should.  Best of all there was a tutor’s session where a privileged few of us had the opportunity to play for two hours in PJ’s Corner with Martin and his nieces Aiofe and Ciara. It was 4pm so the pub was quiet and it was sublime, respectful and not just a highlight of the festival but of my stay in Ireland.

I was also very lucky to catch up with Joe Fitzgerald. Joe lives in Melbourne with his brothers and is at the centre of the session scene there. He was making a rare visit back to his home near Feakle and I was surprised with the reverence he was held in here. We had a great chat and it turned out he was a sometime prospector and had worked the area around Kookynie in the WA goldfields where I cut my gold exploration teeth in the early 80s.  TG4 were filming him for a documentary and afterwards he joined in a session in Peppers. This session was memorable as it had Aiofe and Ciara Hayes and Amy and Sarah Donnelan and other young Feakle/Tulla musicians and amply demonstrated the continuity of the musical tradition in this part of the world. Almost like a handing over of the baton from Joe to the new custodians of this great tradition.

While on the young players, there was a tremendous opening concert with groups of local young musicians, many of whom are County and Provincial champions and will no doubt come home from Sligo as All Ireland champions. Mary MacNamara and Eileen O’Brien and all the others who put so much time into ensuring the young inherit the strong local tradition of quality dance music, with the characteristic bounce and ensure that it is played with honesty, passion and heart are to be commended and thanked.

Feakle is a great meeting place and if the weather is good there is no better place to spend time than on the benches outside Peppers. May this continue well into the future.

There’s plenty more I could say and should but I’ll just put a few pics up. I was so busy playing that I left the camera behind on a number of occasions so I haven’t caught everyone or every great moment but I think you’ll get the picture.

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Categories: Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh, Ballyferriter, Co Kerry

I have just returned from another festival/school, this time at Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsular in West Kerry.  And it really was a beauty.  It is called the Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh which translates slightly optimistically as Spring Music School.

The Dingle version of Spring involved rain, hail, mist and wild winds whipping up the Atlantic, but in the warmth of one of the many sessions you didn’t notice. Ballyferriter is almost the classic Irish village, with mandatory three pubs, hotel, church and shop. What sets it apart is its glorious setting right at the western end of the peninsular sandwiched between Slea Head and Mt Brandon . When the rain stopped as it did on a couple of occasions and the mist lifts, Mt Brandon, all 952 metres of it, stands proud with is snow capped peak and to the west the beaches and hills beckon. It is obvious why this area was chosen to film the seminal classic Ryan’s Daughter. It is also very compact so everything is within staggering distance and this is important when you are trying to find your way home at 6am.

Everyone said I would love Kerry and I do. This festival was a wonderful introduction to the Kingdom and the music.  This blog is just about the Festival.   I will post some pictures later of Dingle’s spectacular scenery.

The Scoil Cheoil Earraigh seems to hold a special place for many people. For some it is the only festival they attend. Of course there is a strong local contingent but there are also visitors from many other counties and from the UK, France, Russia, Germany. So what is it that brings them here?

It is not a huge festival and it benefits from this. It was very well organised with no obvious hitches. The workshops over three days were with top class tutors. How many opportunities would a guitarist have spend three days with Steve Cooney? Many of the tutors performed in a number of impressive concerts along with other headline acts. The stamp of the Begleys was everywhere.  I’m not sure what the collective name for a lot of Begleys is – perhaps a boggle of Begleys but whatever it is it translates to pure musical genius. Along with Seamus and Breanndán with their vibrant and pulsating rhythms interspersed with wonderful soulful songs sung in Irish was Breanndán’s son Cormac displaying his virtuosity on a range of concertinas and other members of the extended Begley family popping up in various sessions. But it wasn’t just the Begley show. Other guests included Galway’s Páraic Mac Donnchadha on the banjo, Connie O’Connell renowned fiddler from Cork, Steve Cooney, back together in a big way with Seamus and adding his driving rhythms to a variety of other artists and in sessions, Harry Bradley , musician of the year last year, Tommy McCarthy a traveller singer with an extraordinary presence, and a huge repertoire of songs and fascinating stories and Brendan Powers from NZ master harmonica player across many genres stirring up the trad scene by utilising technology to take the music into uncharted territory. There were also informal concerts in cafes which was a great counterpoint to the frenetic energy of the sessions.

I just loved the way the whole festival was conducted in Irish. It didn’t seem to matter that you didn’t understand much of what was going on. This was West Kerry being West Kerry and while visitors were welcome it was very much a showcase for the unique heritage of this part of the world. This was reflected in the music which was of course riddled with polkas and slides, the spontaneous dancing of sets and half sets – vigorous and energetic, reflecting the music, the craic and the warm welcome all visitors received. I attended a lecture on the origins of polkas and while I didn’t understand a word I picked up enough from the slides and musical examples to be totally riveted.

The workshop was one of the best I have been to in the last year – and I have been to plenty. We had two tutors. Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, well known for his many musical collaborations including more recently the Gloaming, who explored dynamics and how to extract more feeling. We didn’t learn a tune but it was a revelation. And young Aiden Connolly showed the group (exclusively adults) how to play polkas and slides – something that had never been explained so clearly to me before. I came away inspired which is what a good School should do.

There was a concert on Saturday, in the wonderful setting of St Vincent’s church, of all the workshop groups led by their tutors. This was the most successful format of any I have seen where similar things have been tried. Everyone played in their seat eliminating massive logistical problems. The highlight was the finale with all groups led by Breanndán Begley playing a stirring version of Fáinne Geal an Lae.

What to say about the sessions. These were numerous and exhausting. All the ‘stars’ who appeared at the concert joined into various sessions. Something that doesn’t always happen. Those who were at the Bar an Bhuailtin on Saturday night will never forget the musical treat provided by Begley, Cooney, O’Connell and a host of others until six in the morning, There was a session in Tig an t-Saorsaig with a contingent of musicians from Thurles where sets of reels lasted forty minutes without a break and another session at Tigh Ui Cháthain led by Cormac Begley on his bass concertina and Páraic Mac Donnchadha on banjo which must have gone for eleven hours and it would not surprise me if they didn’t repeat a tune in that time. Spellbinding. But for me the real highlights were playing in quiet sessions such as with Alph Duggan on the Thursday and with Fergal, Breige and Anja on the Sunday with hardly an audience just sharing tunes and songs.

As I say I have never played music in Kerry before so I should talk a little about my introduction to their music. While the Corca Dhuibhne (Dingle peninsular) is not part of the Sliabh Luachra, the more widely known home of polkas, the West Kerry Gaeltach has a long musical tradition and much in common. The music played here historically was for the West Kerry dance sets and comprised mainly polkas, slides and occasionally hornpipes. For many years this music was considered ‘foreign’ having been thought to have been brought in by the occupying military forces, but the Goodman collection of the late 19th Century demonstrated a rich tradition which was largely ignored by collectors such as O’Neill and Breathnach. Polkas were among the first tunes I learnt many years ago when starting out on the fiddle. They were considered easy. And of course in Australia no one knew how to play them properly so they were pretty awful. I couldn’t play reels, so in my various bush bands we used polkas instead. We got away with it with the unsophisticated Aussie audiences but it was hardly satisfying. So I developed a dislike for them and it seems this is shared by many over here as well. Even in Clare you rarely hear them unless you’re playing with someone from that tradition such as Jacky Daly. Hearing these tunes however delivered by masters steeped in this tradition and on its home turf was a revelation.   The tunes are full of an internal energy that drives the music forward all the time. They are infectious. The rhythm sucks you in and drags you onto the floor to dance. I wouldn’t say I have come away converted but I will take this body of music much more seriously and revisit those hackneyed tunes I rejected so many years ago. Thanks Ballyferriter.

I say well done to the organisers for a memorable experience. I understand the lure of this place and its music and I too will be back.

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

Feile Na Tana, Carlingford Co Louth.

Carlingford is the prettiest of towns in the very north of the Republic of Ireland. It is situated on a beautiful Lough and across the water is Northern Ireland in the shape of the Mountains of Mourne. It has ruined castles and abbeys and medieval gates and quaint contorted narrow streets and beautiful done up pubs and a backdrop of the Cooley Mountains dotted with the patchy remains of a recent snowfall. The perfect location for a Festival?

The Feile Na Tana is a new weekend winter school and was held in Carlingford on the first weekend of February. It is the brainchild of renowned fiddler Zoe Conway and her partner guitarist John McIntyre. She managed to assemble an extraordinary array of top class musicians for a programme of workshops and concerts. Zoe herself, Seamus Begley, Noel Hill, Mary Bergin, Gerry O’Connor and many others gave one day workshops to packed classes. There were a number of concerts where the talents of these musicians were on display to an enthusiastic audience of grateful locals.

The opening night had Zoe and John with some local young talent. I was blown away by the two youngsters who kicked off the night (sorry can’t remember their names) particularly the bright yellow bodhran doing a remarkable impersonation of John Joe Kelly. There was also a group of young musicians from Dublin, Caiseach, who put in a great set and Zoe and John did not disappoint.

Workshops the next day were split into two sessions – a great idea. I can only speak for the Fiddle but the tune choice from Zoe Conway was excellent and there was plenty of good advice to improve tone and feel. Well worth the trip alone.

The main concert was played to a packed house and was kicked off with a work entitled “Re imagining Songs and Music of Oriel”. It was performed by a huge ensemble of students from four local schools and included some of their own compositions. This was a wonderful experience for the kids and well received by the audience, filled no doubt with many proud parents. A great initiative and something that will hopefully stay with these kids and fan the musical fire within them. There was also a smaller group of young musicians from Wicklow and some wonderful songs from renowned local singer and author Padraigín Ní Uallacháin. And then the main act of the night, a brilliant performance from Seamus Begley and Donogh Hennessy joined later by the incomparable Noel Hill.

The tutor’s concert on the Sunday afternoon however was the highlight for me. An extraordinary line up of talent playing together and individually left the crowd wanting more.

I met some great new people especially at the Session on Sunday at Omeath, about ten kilometres away, including Rose, Clayton and Stuart from Boston, Kenji and Satoko from Japan and local musicians Gearoid, Ciaran and Andrew among others.

Thanks Zoe and John. See you next year.

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Categories: Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Scoil Gheimhridh Ghaoth Dobhair. Winter School, Gweedore.

I posted the other day on the final night of the Winter School in Gweedore, County Donegal. Here is a selection of photographs from the earlier days of the Festival which ran from 27th December 2014 to 1st January 2015.

I am going to let the photos do the talking but as you will see it was a fabulous event. Can’t speak for the other workshops but Brid Harper’s fiddle was outstanding. Concerts and recitals from Boys of the Lough, Liz Carroll and Brid Harper, Harry Bradley, Brendan Begley, Seamus Begley, Seamie O’Dowd and great sessions where humble plebs like me could find themselves playing next to these guys or a host of others, perhaps less well known but just as good. A smooth, well-organised Festival. Great job Conor Byrne and all the volunteers who made it all happen. There were even a couple of days of sunshine.

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Categories: Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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