Posts Tagged With: traditional irish music

Music Today 3pm.

This is a little story of a hidden Ireland. It’s not really hidden you just have to take the blinkers off every now and then and follow your nose. Sorry about the mixed metaphor.
I spend quite a bit of my time in County Clare just driving around some of my favourite places, the Burren, the coast around Spanish Point, the hills behind Doolin. Just looking. I love to head down a boreen I’ve never been or follow a hunch in the hope of finding something new.
As I was doing just this on a wet and not terribly inviting midweek day in July, I drove past the beautiful Kilshanny House just outside Ennistymon. A sign caught my eye. Music Today 3pm.   How could I drive past that. I always have the fiddle with me. I live in hope.

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I have been here many times. I know host Mary Butler and it is a great venue for a session though these day they happen rarely.   But this was really unusual.  Of course I went in. Mary explained that she was having a busload of visitors, from New York as it happened, and she was putting on a meal and entertainment, She was happy for me to stay and even to put up with me taking a few photos.

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The coach arrives

What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, As the bus pulled up driven by the irascible Gerry, the visitors entered Mary’s wonderful stone-walled and comfortable space, lined with books, ephemera and priceless reminders of Irish culture, heritage and especially music. And speaking of music They were greeted by fiddles and piano and songs provided by two Clare musicians of the highest quality, Sharon Howley who plays with the Kilfenora Ceili Band, probably the most famous Ceili Band in the world, and Therese McInerney, who has just released a cd.

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Clare musicians, Therese McInerney and Sharon Howley

 

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I watched as the guests took their seats and feasted on Mary’s wonderful food, home made Irish bread and a choice this day of fillet of salmon or loin of pork, fuelled by liberal supplies of Guinness and wine.

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Host Mary Butler serves home made bread.  

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Your salmon sir.

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Or the pork

 

 

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Dinner in the library

 

Gerry, ever the perfect host turned out to be a great singer and he cajoled other singers from the floor including yours truly.  I well and truly gate crashed the party and joined the musicians for a few tunes with my fiddle. Now that was fun.

 

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The multi talented Gerry.  Bus driver, singer and raconteur

 

 

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Bliss

 


This is Ireland. An afternoon of pure music, food and good company that came out of nowhere. These tourists, who lingered over the meal for three hours, went away very happy and I am sure many will be back.

Music Today 3pm.

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

Tom Carmody – Home in a box.

I first met Kerry accordion player Danny O’Mahony in Birmingham in 2016 at a Festival, where he surprised with an amazing set in concert with renowned fiddler, Liz Kane. I then heard him again more recently at Ballyferriter in West Kerry. It was here he played his mighty Tom Carmody accordion. It was hard not to notice it. As dazzling as his playing.

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Intrigued, I chatted to him afterwards about this instrument, and my interest was piqued so we agreed to meet at the Rowan Tree Café in Ennis for a chat. I want to write here about the story that unfolded. It is a story of a tradition that spans time and continents. Of happenstance and passion. Of connections and stewardship. And of rescue and revitalisation.

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I have to start somewhere so who was Tom Carmody? Danny explains. Tom is not well known today but he was a master accordion player born in 1893 in Dromlought near Listowel in Kerry and emigrated to New York in 1925. He immediately made an impact and during the Irish recording boom of the 1930s appeared on many 78s with James Morrison.  New York was a melting pot of Irish melodies; and new tunes and new influences made for a vibrant scene. Indeed, Danny says that Tom introduced James to the tune “Stick across the Hob” which was to become the famous ‘Morrison’s Jig’. One can only assume Tom was in much demand as he became the first to play Irish music at the Waldorf Astoria and was employed to organise music there.

Flashy players required a flashy instrument. And Tom had the flashiest. He commissioned an Italian maker in New York, F Iorio, to make this instrument for him. It was loud and brash as was its exterior. Gaudily decorated with the Irish and American flags and detailed inlays in mother of pearl on the fingerboard incorporating a harp and shamrocks. The name TOM CARMODY is boldy emblazoned across the instrument where it will have maximum exposure. It is a work or art. But the story behind it is just as interesting. It was nearly lost.

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Tom returned to Kerry in the 1970s and died in 1986. This was the year Danny started to play the accordion. Danny grew up with no knowledge of this Kerry man, despite the fact he was a distant relative. He is a grand nephew. Growing up, Danny tells, his father was an accordion player with a overriding passion for the instrument. There were three gods in his house. As in most Irish homes silence was demanded for the Angelus when it came on the radio but in the O’Mahony home, silence was also demanded if there was a tune from Joe Burke or Tony McMahon.

Twenty years later Danny discovered the legacy of Tom Carmody and in 2006 he found the location of the Tom Carmody box. Following the death of Tom’s wife in the 90s it had passed to Denis Moran, her nephew. Denis did not play and it lay forgotten in a shed behind his cottage.

Danny approached Dennis to ask if he could borrow it with a view to photographing it. What he discovered was the accordion in its original case in a very sad state. It was all there but held together with binding twine and caked in dust and grime and a home for live insects.

It was almost too late. Its fate was somewhat ironic. From what we know about Tom and from contemporary photos he was a very dapper and meticuluous man, always well presented and his instrument always in immaculate condition. No doubt he would not have been pleased to see it now.

Denis agreed to let Danny take it away. It was cleaned it up and this revealed it to be in marvellous condition externally but totally seized up. Seeing it now Danny, was desperate to get it back to playable condition. Further negotiation ensued and with some trepidation it was agreed to let Danny take it for two weeks to see what he could do. With the help of accordion guru from East Clare, Charlie Harris, they feverishly went to work and brought it back to life, carefully cleaning and tuning the original reeds which were underneath it all in perfect condition. The only part that needed replacing was the left hand leather strap!

It must have been a remarkable experience to hear that box sing again just as it did in the 1930s.

Danny was concerned that it would continue do deteriorate if kept under the same conditions. He broached this with Denis asking him if he, Denis, could keep it in his bedroom with him so it was not subject to extreme temperature variation. The answer was “Oh no, I couldn’t do that”.  But Denis had done his homework and was happy that Danny would be a suitable custodian of the instrument and gave it to his care.

Danny also obtained valuable material on Tom including photos and all his recordings so since then he has researched his legacy and Tom’s tunes on Tom’s box are a feature of some of his concerts. The work of this forgotten box player lives on.

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I love stories like this. But it could have been very different but for Danny’s persistence and a little bit of luck. If you get the chance to hear him, go listen.  You might be lucky and hear him play the Tom Carmody.

Meanwhile you can check out his website at http://www.dannyomahony.com/

 

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

The Music House Returns to Doolin

Though the pub session is now considered to be the customary gathering place for playing Irish traditional music it is actually a recent innovation.  Probably dating from the 50s and 60s when expatriate musicians gathered in London pubs to share the tunes they played back home.  Many returned home and the pub session took off in Ireland  and it became the centre of musical life.  Before this most music was played in the home.   Some houses would be well known as music houses and musicians, local and visitors, would gather there to share tunes or the kitchen table would be pushed aside and a set would be battered out on the slate floor.

Well known Doolin flute, whistle and spoons player, Christy Barry is trying to bring back this tradition by opening his house to guests to share his tunes and stories.  I was lucky enough to attend the one of these nights when Christy and his wife Sheila entertained 18 guests in his cosy living room and, with the help of some fiddler friends,  kept the crowd of mostly Americans enthralled for almost two hours and served some delicious local cheese, smoked salmon and a glass of wine.

Christy is a direct link to the Doolin of the 70s.  He personally knew and played  with all those whose portraits hung on his living room wall including Willie Clancy and the Russells.  And he spoke fondly of them.  Christy’s monologues between tunes could go anywhere and that is part of the charm of nights like this.  They are not scripted and you could go again on Monday and I am sure it would be very different.

The concept of the ‘house concert’ has become popular particularly in the States but also in Australia and I am sure elsewhere,  where a home owner brings an international performer into their home,  does all the organising  and the artist gets all the proceeds.  This is different.  This is Christy and Sheila sharing  their home with visitors  but the formula has all the signs of being a great success.  With initial recommendations through the B&B’s the numbers at this Good Friday event surprised Christy.  Perhaps the lack of alcohol anywhere else in Doolin (or the whole of Ireland for that matter) was a factor but I think the chance to hear Christy and friends play music and talk about his life, the people and the music was the main inducement and it will continue to draw people.

Christy was very generous in inviting people to join him for a song or dance and many stayed on afterwards to linger and chat.

It was a memorable night for those who were there and visitors to Doolin now have an alternative to packing into a noisy pub to hear Irish music. The intention is to do this three times a week, so if you are in Doolin during the Summer, check it out.

 

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Categories: Real Ireland, Sessions, Stories, Trad Irish Music, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Am I playing fiddle better?

Those following me on Facebook know that I was unable to find a session to play at on January 2nd 2015, while I was in Glencolmcille in Donegal. This meant my run of continuous nights of music came to an end. I thought I would be disappointed but after 231 nights I gave it a good run. And in any case I started again the next night so I have only missed the one night in the last 244!

But it’s not about setting records. It gives me an opportunity to look back on my time here in Ireland and see whether my immersion in in the music has led to an accelerated improvement. Logic says that it should have. I started thinking about this after a friend commented on my six month post asking just that – whether I thought I had improved.

An extremely difficult question for me to answer. Perhaps I need to put it in context. I started playing guitar when I was 15. My dad agreed to this so long as I had classical guitar lessons. So I did that for nearly two years. While I enjoyed the classical repertoire my real interest was ‘folk music’, as it was understood back in the 60s, and I played and sung Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, Peter Paul and Mary and acoustic artists such as Cat Stevens and the Mamas and Papas. I also used to sing Dubliners and Clancy Brothers songs but I really ‘discovered’ Irish music when I heard the Chieftains in 1974. I was at Uni and this was the start of a love affair with the fiddle. I got hold of one and started teaching myself tunes from ‘Begged, Borrowed and Stolen” a beginners tune book popular in Australia then and now. It was a slow and painful process but by the end of the 70s I could scratch out Drowsy Maggie and King of the Fairies. As a young geologist my early years were spent in mining towns such as Cobar and Kalgoorlie in outback Australia. In each of these places I formed Bush Bands which were generally a four or five part acoustic band which used folk instruments along with Australian innovations such as the bush bass and the lagerphone. We held bush dances (equivalent of a ceili) and sang Australian and Irish songs but the tunes were pretty basic. I got stuck in this groove for many years and though we were moderately successful in our remote locations I never advanced my tune playing beyond beginner level.   Then when kids came along the fiddle hardly got touched. It had always been my dream to play well. Ok that was then, this is now.

Now I am in Ireland I have that opportunity. But I soon realised coming here how much I had to fix before I could really go forward. Both my intonation and tone were woeful and although I had been listening to recordings for many years and thought I had an understanding of the music this ‘feel’ did not translate to my playing.   Recognising the things that needed fixing was the first step.

So what has changed since I came to Ireland? I have been to hundreds of sessions, workshops and lessons. Playing in sessions is a double edged sword. I have picked up many new tunes. I can play faster, if that’s a virtue, and I have hugely increased my ability to learn by ear. Previously I learned new tunes from the dots and it took ages; and I never really learnt them properly. Now I find myself playing along with tunes that I don’t ever remember learning. This is a great feeling. However in a large session I have trouble hearing myself and can’t really tell if I am playing in tune or not let alone whether I am playing the right notes. Also there is a temptation to fudge bits you don’t know. Hence I record many. I have hundreds of hours of session recordings and am gradually going through these to identify the commonly played tunes and sets in Clare and try and learn them.

This partial learning becomes exaggerated when I try and play the tune on my own. My problems are obvious so I have been working hard on a few rather than the many. On the advice of a couple of tutors I am also concentrating on scales in the basic keys and I can really feel this making a difference.

So am I playing better? Let me put it this way. I think I am. I am playing in tune better. I have slowed down. I am listening better. I am listening to a lot of the old fiddlers on cd and the newer ones as I try and expose myself to as many different ways of playing as possible. I ‘know’ more tunes but still get flustered when asked to start one. A consequence of accumulated hours of listening is that there is a resetting of the brain from thinking about the music as a collection of notes to a series of phrases linked by short runs. A retuning of the learning process from the eyes to the ears. I am playing with a much lighter bow. I am feeling the rhythm and while I know I am still not sounding how I want to, I am happier with the sound I am making. It has been frustrating but at the same time it drives me to practice harder. Constantly in my mind are the words of Lahinch fiddler Yvonne Casey who told me to ‘feel every note; to love every note’. I think I have laid the groundwork and I expect exponential improvement over the next six months. That’s when I am hoping the immersion will pay off.

My goal in all this is to play the best I possibly can.

As a post script I was playing in a session the other day with Jackie Daly and Maurice Lennon among others at Friels in Miltown Malbay.  Jackie launched into Mason’s Apron (the two part version) and as I joined in the realisation suddenly hit me that here I was in a session in Ireland with legends of the box and the fiddle and it was sounding pretty darn good. A year ago I was struggling with this tune. These are the moments that make it all worthwhile.

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Categories: The Fiddle, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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