Posts Tagged With: Tola Custy

Fire, Fury and Hope.  An Australian Story.

It is mid-January.  As I write this there is heavy fog outside my Katoomba cottage in the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.  It is a little chilly and the ground is still wet from a couple of days of rain.  Seriously, rain!  It doesn’t feel like summer and it certainly doesn’t feel like the Hellfire of the past three months.  Memories fade; tinged with relief that maybe the threat has passed.  But we shouldn’t forget.  How could we?

This has been a summer like no other.  To watch the destruction and heartache wreaked on thousands of Australians on our screens and to feel the fear of not knowing if your own property was to be in its path is indeed heart wrenching.  Statistics can tell us some of the story.    23 dead, 11 million hectares burned, 2,000 houses lost, one billion animals killed.

But this was a crisis that affected a whole nation.   Smoke shrouded cities, oppressive heat, evacuations, rescues, thousands of volunteers, roads closed, livelihoods ravaged, ash falling from the sky.  We will feel the effects on people, animals, land and community for many years. Can you believe that they are considering putting Koalas on the list of endangered species, with so much habitat wiped out? Among the gloom though we can be grateful for some miracles.  The stand of the remarkable Wollemi Pine, discovered only a few years ago, but there for over 60 million years, was saved from the Gospers Mountain megablaze.  Such things can’t be put into words.

Personally, I am one of the lucky ones. I had only been in my new house a week when the threat became real.  On two occasions I had the car packed ready to evacuate.  Musical instruments, computer hard drives (years of photos), books?.  What do you choose and what do you leave?  But miraculously, the settled strip along the Great Western Highway was spared, thanks to capricious winds and the incredible efforts of fire fighters.

My own personal relief was tempered though by the daily images of the suffering of others.

Last week I drove down to Melbourne and on the way I paid a visit to Adelong, a delightful village in the foothills of Kosciuszko. The Snowy Mountains Highway was partly open, though all roads in and out of the Park were closed.   Adelong was spared with the fire stopping just a few hundred metres away, though towns such as as Batlow, Tumbarumba and Talbingo weren’t so lucky.  Normally abuzz with tourists it was busy this day but with fire crews and water tankers.  I did my bit for the ravaged rural economy here and stopped at the cafe for a toasted sandwich and filled with petrol.  And as the temperature headed to 40 degrees on yet another potentially ‘catastrophic’ fire day, I took time out to visit the evocative ruins of the Adelong Creek Gold Mine from the 1870s.  Ravaged historically by a number of fires, it was spared this time.


The fires were out here and I went for a walk in the Blackened Forest nearby.  From a distance the damage doesn’t seem so bad.  But as your eyes become accustomed to the scorched treescape and burnt out grasslands, you start to notice the charred devastation.


In the space of a couple of kilometres I saw three farmhouses burnt to the ground. Totally lost, while a neighbour just across the road survived.  Sheds, farm equipment, cars, tractors and miles of fences.  Lost.


Walking the ground makes it real. Twisted metal. melted plastic tanks. A burnt dog kennnel, remains of swings and trampolines.  Sad relics of a rural family idyll .  A property with the name ‘The Poplars’ on the mail box; gone.  Everything except a row of the eponymous poplars.  I was struck by the overpowering stench of death.  Sometimes you see the cause; perhaps the carcasses of  cattle and sometimes you don’t, but it makes for a reality that you can’t get on a TV screen.



I was torn.  As a photographer I wanted to record images of this devastation but at the same time I felt like an intruder into a world of pain and grief and that I had no business being there.

But what it did do was reinforce to me that we mustn’t forget.

That’s why I am posting this blog.  I know many have donated to the myriad of requests for help and the response around the world has been astonishing.  But such is the immensity of the disaster that it is the proverbial tip of the iceberg.  Local, city and national fund-raising efforts have popped up everywhere.  And musicians have been well to the fore.  Fair play to Queen, Alice Cooper, k d lang, and Olivia Newton-John etc who will play at a nine-hour concert in February, but I want to give some publicity to the Irish Traditional Music community of Melbourne.

Not just a one-off event but THREE concerts on three consecutive Saturdays.  First show this Saturday 18th January will feature Irish stars Tola Custy, Pat Hunt and Maggie Carty among a host of local Melbourne talent.  The concert starts at 5.00 pm and will be followed by a monster session.  And you know how good sessions at the Jar are.  I was lucky enough to be there on Wednesday last with Tola, joined by Paddy Fitzgerald and it was a humdinger.  Here are some pictures of what you can expect on Saturday.  If you can’t get there it will be live streamed.  How about that?  That’s 6 am in Ireland.  Perfect to go with breakfast on Saturday morning while Storm Whatever rages outside.  Follow up shows will include one on 1st Feb to support Nariel Creek, site of the Nariel Creek Folk Festival, which was curtailed when it had to be evacuated this year.

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Hope you can find the time to support this event.

Categories: Australia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Frank Custy. A Legend. “The best day of my trip”.


Frank Custy is a legend in Clare music.

Never moving far from his birthplace at Dysart the man has nurtured and inspired hundreds to play and participate in Irish traditional music. A visionary who, as a schoolmaster at nearby Toonagh, integrated music into the teaching day and beyond.  Many came under his spell.  Sharon Shannon, Gary Shannon, Siobhan Peoples, Sean Conway, Yvonne Casey, Tola Custy and Mary Custy and hundreds who are not household names – all going on to make their own mark on Clare music. His work was recognised with the Mór glor award for his contributions in 2016.

But the thing is he is still doing it.

At Fleadh Nua held in Ennis in May Frank runs the Foinn Seisiún, held every afternoon during the Festival.



Frank on the banjo and friends

This is a slow session aimed at developing musicians where they can get confidence in playing or singing in front of others in a supportive environment. It is always well attended. Anything could happen. Everyone gets a go to try out a new tune or a song.  No matter the age.  There are no barriers. You might even get an Australian singing the Clogher Road.

Or you could get a Connemara Set or a Seige of Ennis, with unsuspecting visitors being cajoled into it.


The joy on the faces of Jo from Birmingham or Megan from Texas, new to Irish dancing,  as they are swept up onto the floor,  says it all.


Jo from Birmingham in good hands



Megan from Texas and Jo from Birmingham, learning the steps for the Siege of Ennis.


All ages enjoy it.  

I met TJ,  travelling here with Megan from Texas.  They dropped into Ennis for a day.    As TJ said. “the best day of our trip”.

Who knows how many have gone on to play Irish music or learn to dance after having heard Frank and having the “best day of their trip”.

A big thank you to Frank Custy.


Categories: Real Ireland, Sessions, Stories, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sessions Sessions Sessions!

Session at The Diamond with Blackie O’Connell, Siobhan Peoples and Cyril O’Donoghue

Siobhan Peoples and Cyril O'Donoghue Fleadh Nua 2014

Siobhan Peoples and Cyril O’Donoghue Fleadh Nua 2014

Blackie and Siobhan

Blackie and Siobhan

Yvonne Casey and Josephine Marsh at Brogan's Fleadh Nua

Yvonne Casey and Josephine Marsh at Brogan’s Fleadh Nua

Siobhan Peoples and Tola Custy at Faffa's.  Final session at Fleadh Nua 2014

Siobhan Peoples and Tola Custy at Faffa’s. Final session at Fleadh Nua 2014

Yvonne Casey and Josephine Marsh

Yvonne Casey and Josephine Marsh

Mary and Scorcha

Mary and Scorcha

Session at Brogan's with Tom Delaney and Eric Healy and friends

Session at Brogan’s with Tom Delaney and Eric Healy and friends

Session at the Old Ground with Mary MacNamara and her daughter Scorcha and Geraldine Cotter.

Session at the Old Ground with Mary MacNamara and her daughter Scorcha and Geraldine Cotter.

Blackie O'Connells pipes at the Diamond Bar Ennis

Blackie O’Connells pipes at the Diamond Bar Ennis


Session at THe Copper Jug Ennis with Andrew MacNamara and Tara Breen

The momentum of the Fleadh and the buzz around Ennis built as we approached the weekend. The crowds got bigger and the sessions got better.    I went to 24 sessions during the 8 days and I can honestly say I didn’t go to one I didn’t enjoy.

The Fleadh Nua has been a terrific way to start my Ireland journey. I have been overwhelmed by the people and the music and it is everything I had expected or hoped for.  I have played with most of Clare’s top musicians and others less heralded but just as good.  I have met a lot of interesting people from Europe and the US (Hi Veronika and Holger, Thomas, Thierry, Sally Ann, Caroline, Kieran, Jessica) all with a singular passion for Irish music and all keen to learn more in their own individual way.  I have been welcomed by most her who are happy to share the music.  I have met some wonderful Irish people who drive from all over to listen to the music for the Fleadh.  They are so knowledgeable and like it that you are interested. I have watched my fiddle playing grow.  The nerves are still there when asked to start a tune but a week ago I never dreamed I would be playing alongside the likes of Siobhan Peoples, Tola Custy, Blackie O’Connell, Josephine Marsh, Mary MacNamara or Eamonn Cotter and holding my own.  Or listening to some wonderful singing from Niamh Parsons and Noirin Lynch and many others. Or the impromptu dancing of the gorgeous Lenka. The variety of approaches to the music is incredible From the driving pipes and fiddle of Blackie and Siobhan to the gentle flowing pace of Mary Mac and Geraldine Cotter and the sweet tones of Yvonne Casey’s fiddle with Josephine’s exquisite box playing.

After this concentrated week the music is starting to get into my head.  I am recognising tunes and playing along (well sort of) after a few hearings.  Whether they stick is another matter but the process of learning by ear, something I have struggled with for many years is beginning to happen for me.  What helps is that they play tunes here often five or six times, sometimes more.  It is not until the third or fourth time that you can really feel the groove and the intensity builds and the music suddenly lifts.  This is lost when the tune is only played twice.  As Josephine said when I discussed this with her during a break after a particularly satisfying set “Why stop if you’re enjoying it?”

The way music is weaved in and out of the fabric of the culture in this part of the world is revealed every night and day.  One strikes up a conversation and it soon gets to “you here for the Fleadh?” And they will proceed to tell you where the best music is.

The pleasure that musicians get playing with each other is obvious as is the respect that they seem to hold for each other.  This is reflected in the multitude of different collaboration in the many different locations. For example I have seen Siobhan Peoples play with Murty Ryan, with Blackie O’Connell and Tola Custy at different times.

The Café sessions where the music is taken out of the pubs and away from the constant pub noise reveals its soul and demands undivided attention have been an unsung highlight.

I continue to be inspired.

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

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