Posts Tagged With: traditional irish music

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Jo from Birmingham in good hands

 

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

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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.

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

Springboard Fiddle Retreat 2018. A Dive into the Unknown.

I had high expectations. An intensive four days of workshops from Caoimhin O Railleagh, Four nights of ‘luxury’ on the shores of Bantry Bay. Meals. All the ingredients were there. Food, fellowship and fiddle.

Would my expectations be met?

I am a bit of a workshop junkie and I am guessing that over the past four years I have had instruction from well over forty different fiddlers while living in Ireland. But Springboard Fiddle Retreat sounded different. Workshops in Ireland generally follow a set pattern, in place since the Willie Clancy Festival started nearly fifty years ago. Bring in a name fiddler, for up to a week. Three hours a day; usually a mixed class of fiddlers or wanna-be’s of all ages and stages. The teaching is based around learning new tunes but there is rarely time for individual instruction or to gain a deeper understanding of the instrument.

But Springboard did not follow this formula.  As I said it is residential and there were only a dozen of us.  It was a Thursday afternoon and fiddlers from all over Ireland, a couple from Scotland and from the  US and a couple of ex-pat Aussies joined others at Linden House on the shores of Bantry Bay in West Cork.  The location was hard to find but stunning.   I have separately blogged on this little corner of Ireland and the beauty of Glengariff and the surrounding forest, so you can see more HERE.

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The calm waters of Bantry Bay at Glengariff

But it wasn’t just the location. The house was purpose designed to accommodate up to 20 people. There were two wings and multiple stories and it made a beautiful architectural statement as it stepped its way down the contours of the land melding into the forest and surrounded by beautifully tended gardens and tall gaunt oaks.  There were a number of large living spaces with giant picture windows taking in the vista and plenty of nooks to meet and play fiddle in small groups or withdraw for some quiet time. Everything was provided for a wonderful livable escape.

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Linden House.  The venue for the retreat

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The view from the main living area

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A perfect place to think, read, and play.

Then there was the food. Oh dear. Expectations regarding this weren’t that high when I read it was vegetarian. Nothing against vegetarianism, but I will be honest, I do enjoy the  meat-and-three-veg world . But as it turned out absolutely nothing to worry about here. We were incredibly well looked after by chef Jenny and her assistant Anda. The food was truly a marvel. It was prepared with great thought and obvious love. A riot of colour and flavours with some ingredients I have never even heard of and others used in ways you wouldn’t have imagined.  All combined with skill and originality. The food was indeed part of what was a total experience We were constantly reminded of the parallels between our explorations with music and the eating experience. Each day one ingredient was chosen as a theme and dishes reflected different and sometimes surprising approaches to the use of this. Just as we would choose a theme for the day on our journey with the fiddle.

Speaking of the fiddle that’s what we were there for, so let me talk about that.

Caoimhin is an accomplished and widely respected traditional Irish fiddler. His collaborations are many and include musicians from wide backgrounds such as piper Mick O’Connor, West Kerry box player, Breandan Begley,  sean nos singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, Clare fiddler Martin Hayes and musician/physicist, Dan Trueman.  He plays with The Gloaming.  His music is rooted in the traditional world of piping and Sliabh Luachra but he has explored Norwegian and Icelandic music, the Hardanger fiddle and plays in various cross tunings.  He has always been seeking new ways of voicing the fiddle.  As a result he has developed a unique and recognisable playing style.

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Instructor Caoimhin O’Railleagh as a snow shower passes through

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A reflective moment

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The beautifully carved scroll of Caoimhin O’Railleagh’s Hardanger violin

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Caoimhin O’Railleagh’s violin.  Five strings are just not enough.

Very quickly I realised this fiddle workshop would be different. Caoimhin is a brilliant, relaxed and engaging teacher with an innovative approach. The time available and the ambience allowed plenty of space to explore concepts that were very new, to me at least. We spent little time actually playing. But always new concepts were put in the context of playing traditional music. We spent a day on cross tuning. For myself I stuck with GDGD but others went off in all directions. Indeed people were playing together with wildly different tunings producing surprising outcomes. There were no boundaries. We were encouraged to play tunes we knew opening up new possibilities and to then try our hand at composing melodies.

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Caoimhin O’Railleagh makes a point.

Another day we looked at tempo and the concept of expanding and contracting time. We were introduced to the Cyclotron, software by Daniel Trueman, that enables you to vary the space between notes within a tune and ultimately the rhythm and feel. We looked at discovering amazing sounds by exploring the real estate of the fiddle and the bow. We looked at difference tones – notes that only exist in the mind, and we looked at poly-rhythms.

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Sounds heavy but it wasn’t. There was were five hours each day of classes, but it went so quickly.  And it wasn’t all work.

Afternoons were filled with activities; organised or less-organised. There were ad hoc workshops including ‘dalcroze eurythmics’, yoga, role play games or you could brave the cold (it actually snowed one day) for a swim with the seals. Or you could just go off and practice.

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A quiet place to play 1

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A quiet place to play 2

 

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A class in ‘dalcroze eurythmics’?

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Or time for a dip?

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Jotting down some wise words.

The evenings sometimes went in surprising directions; activities including table rugby and games that totally messed with the brain in quite different ways.

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Ireland vs the Wallabies in Table Rugby.

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A highlight was the Dining in the Dark experience. On this occasion we were treated to a wonderful five course degustation menu prepared and presented by Jenny and Anda, who were the only two ‘sighted’ residents of the house for the night. There were plenty of surprises with our taste buds made keener by the darkness.  A butter tasting. Who would have thought? Kale served three ways. A colcannon to die for. A sweet dish which baffled me but turned out to be carrageen pudding and a cheese plate highlighting how good Irish cheese actually is. The meal was interrupted at one point by a spellbinding soundscape of wild fiddle from Coaimhin the sound coming from everywhere as he strolled around the house. Then there was what seemed like an eternity of silence. This was brought to an end by tentative noises made by just one or two at first but then by the full ensemble with whatever came to hand, ultimately turning into an untamed cacophonous symphony of sound and noise of Dada-ist proportions rising out of the darkness.

It is hard to quantify what one gets out of such an experience. I didn’t learn any tunes. There were no sessions in the traditional sense. But I didn’t come for that. What I did get were immeasurable experiences of sharing music and musical thoughts, new ways of looking at timing, rhythm and tone, An insight into new paradigms of playing music and lifetime friends.

A true springboard.  Definitely a dive into the unknown.

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The Springboard Fiddle Retreat was held on 15th to 19th March 2018.  Check their site http://www.westcorkmusic.ie/retreats/springboard for info on 2019.

 

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

Ireland. A Feast of Festivals

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Visiting an Irish Music Festival should be on the must-do list for any visitor to Ireland.  It is not easy however to find information on these, especially the smaller ones.  I am often asked by my friends in the blogosphere what is on and when during their proposed visit.  I’m happy to help where I can but I thought a list might be useful to anyone planning a trip.  On researching this I found a number of sites where festivals are listed but they are incomplete or not up to date.  I am sure I too have left some out and I’ve only included those from March through September 2018 but if you are aware of a festival that I’ve missed let me know and I’ll add it.

Do try and incorporate a festival on your next trip;  you’ll be made very welcome.

Festival Location Start Finish
Shannonside Winter Music Festival Six Mile Bridge, Clare January?
TradFest Temple Bar Dublin January?
IMBOLC International Music Festival Derry January?
Packie Duignan weekend Drumshanbo, Leitrim January?
Feile na Tana Carlingford, Louth February?
Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh Ballyferriter, Kerry February?
The Gathering Traditional Festival Killarney, Kerry February?
Concertina Cruinniú Miltown Malbay, Clare February?
Russell Memorial Weekend Doolin, Clare February?
Welsh Annual Singers Weekend Ballyvaughan, Clare February?
Mount Leinster Traditional Music Festival Borris, Carlow February?
Tionól Niocláis Tóibín An Rinn, Waterford February?
Éigse an Spidéil, Spiddal, Galway 14 Feb 18 18 Feb 18
Corofin Traditional Festival Corofin, Clare 27 Feb 18 4 Mar 18
Aran Celtic Music Festival Inis Mor, Galway 9 Mar 18 11 Mar 18
NYAH Traditional Music Festival Cavan 10 Mar 18 17 Mar 18
Kilkenny Tradfest Kilkenny 17 Mar 18 18 Mar 18
Ceardlann Earraigh Celbridge, Kildare 23 Mar 18 25 Mar 18
Inishowen Singing Festival Donegal 23 Mar 18 26 Mar 18
Blossom Harp Festival Tuamgraney, Clare 23 Mar 18 25 Mar 18
Feile Patrick Byrne Carrickmacross, Monaghan 24 Mar 18 25 Mar 18
Maurice O’Keefe Weekend Kiskeam, Cork 31 Mar 18 1 Apr 18
Carlow Pan Celtic Festival Carlow 3 Apr 18 8 Apr 18
Clifden Trad Fest Clifden, Galway 5 Apr 18 8 Apr 18
Cruinniú na bhFliúit Flute Meeting Ballyvourney, Cork 4 Apr 18 7 Apr 18
Consairtin Ennis, Clare 6 Apr 18 8 Apr 18
Ballydehob Traditional Music Festival Ballydehob, Cork 13 Apr 18 15 Apr 18
Kilfenora Music Festival Kilfenora Clare 27 Apr 18 30 Apr 18
Feile Neidin, Kenmare Irish Music Festival Kenmare, Kerry April?
Fleadh nagCuach (Cuckoo Fleadh) Kinvara, Galway 4 May 18 6 May 18
Joe Heaney Festival Carna, Galway 4 May 18 7 May 18
Cup of Tae Festival Ardara, Donegal 4 May 18 7 May 18
Feile Chois Cuain Louisburgh, Mayo 4 May 18 7 May 18
Carrigaholt Oyster & Trad Festival Carrigaholt, Clare 5 May 18 7 May 18
Cos Cos Sean Nos Festival Drumcliffe, Sligo 7 May 18 13 May 18
Fiddle Fair Baltimore, Cork 10 May 18 13 May 18
Feile Chnoc na Gaoithe, Tulla Trad Music Festival Tulla, Clare 11 May 18 13 May 18
Skerries Traditional Music Weekend Skerries, Dublin 18 May 18 20 May 18
World Fiddle Day Scartaglin, Kerry 18 May 18 20 May 18
World Fiddle Day Glenties, Donegal 20 May 18
Fleadh Nua Ennis, Clare 20 May 18 28 May 18
Michael Dwyer Festival Allihies, Cork 8 Jun 18 10 Jun 18
Doolin Folk Festival Doolin, Clare 15 Jun 18 17 Jun 18
Con Curtin Festival Brosna, Kerry 23 Jun 18 25 Jun 18
Jim Dowling Uilleann Pipe and Trad Festival Glengarriff, Cork 25 Jun 18 29 Jun 18
Craiceann Summer School Innis Oir, Galway 25 Jun 18 29 Jun 18
Blas International Summer School Limerick 25 Jun 18 6 Jul 18
Cross Traditional Music Weekend Cross, Clare 29 Jun 18 1 Jul 18
An Chúirt Chruitireachta (International Harp Festival) Termonfechin, Louth 1 Jul 18 6 Jul 18
Feile Brian Boru Killaloe/Ballina, Clare, Tipperary 4 Jul 18 8 Jul 18
Traidphicnic Spiddal, Galway 6 Jul 18 8 Jul 18
Scoil Samraidh Willie Clancy Miltown Malbay, Clare 7 Jul 18 15 Jul 18
Ceol na Coille Summer School Letterkenny, Donegal 9 Jul 18 13 Jul 18
South Sligo Summer School Tubbercurry, Sligo 15 Jul 18 21 Jul 18
Fleadh Cheoil Na Mumhan (Munster Fleadh) Ennis, Clare 15 Jul 18 22 Jul 18
Ceili at the Crossroads Festival Clarecastle, Clare 15 Jul 18 22 Jul 18
Joe Mooney Summer School Drumshanbo, Leitrim 21 Jul 18 28 Jul 18
Fiddler’s Green Festival Rostrevor, Down 22 Jul 18 29 Jul 18
Meitheal Summer School Ennis, Clare 23 Jul 18 27 Jul 18
Scoil Acla Summer School Achill Island, Mayo 28 Jul 18 4 Aug 18
Donegal Fiddle Summer School Glencolmcille, Donegal 30 Jul 18 3 Aug 18
Belfast Summer School of Traditional Music Belfast 30 Jul 18 3 Aug 18
Sliabh Luachra Summer School Rockchapel, Cork July?
Laois Trad Summer School Portlaoise, Laois July?
Phil Murphy Weekend Carrig-on-Bannow, Wexford July?
Kilrush Traditional Music and Set Dancing Festival Kilrush, Clare 1 Aug 18 7 Aug 18
Sean McCarthy Weekend Festival Finuge, Kerry 3 Aug 18 6 Aug 18
James Morrison Traditional Music Festival Sligo 4 Aug 18 6 Aug 18
O’Carolan Harp Festival Keadu, Roscommon 4 Aug 18 6 Aug 18
Feakle International Traditional Music Festival Feakle Clare 8 Aug 18 13 Aug 18
Scully’s Trad Fest Newmarket, Cork 9 Aug 18 13 Aug 18
Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann Drogheda, Louth 12 Aug 18 19 Aug 18
Feile Ceol Na Locha Tourmakeedy, Mayo 13 Aug 18 17 Aug 18
Masters of Tradition Bantry, Cork 22 Aug 18 26 Aug 18
Crotty Galvin Traditional Music Weekend Moyasta, Clare 25 Aug 18 27 Aug 18
Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival Ballyshannon, Donegal August?
Seachtain Ceoil Chois Fharraige Spiddal, Galway August?
Fingal Fleadh and Fair, Swords Castle, Dublin 6 Sep 18 9 Sep 18
Gig’n the Bann Portglenone, Antrim 13 Sep 18 16 Sep 18
Johnny Doherty Music & Dance Festival Ardara, Donegal 21 Sep 18 23 Sep 18
Ceol Na gCruach The Glen Tavern, Donegal September?
Dingle Tradfest Dingle, Kerry September?
Tuam Trad Festival Tuam, Galway September?
Gerry Whelan Memorial Weekend Cootehill, Cavan September?
Feile Cheoil Larry Reynolds Ballinasloe, Galway September?
Frank Harte Festival Dublin September?
Music Under the Mountains Wicklow September?
Cork Folk Festival Cork, Cork September/October?
O’Carolan Harp Festival Nobber, Meath 5 Oct 18 7 Oct 18
Glenties Fiddlers Weekend Glenties, Donegal 5 Oct 18 7 Oct 18
Ed Reavy Traditional Music Festival Cavan 19 Oct 18 21 Oct 18
Foxford Traditional Weekend Foxford, Mayo 18 Oct 18 21 Oct 18
Sligo Live Folk Roots and Indie Festival Sligo 24 Oct 18 29 Oct 18
Cooley Collins Festival Gort, Galway 27 Oct 18 29 Oct 18
Willie Keane weekend Doonbeg, Clare 27 Oct 18 29 Oct 18
Feile Strokestown Strokestown, Roscommon October?
Achill International Harp Festival Achill Island, Mayo October?
Scoil Cheoil na Botha Scotstown, Monaghan October?
Patrick O’ Keeffe Traditional Music Festival Castleisland, Kerry October?
Ennis Trad Fest Ennis Clare November?
William Kennedy Piping Festival Armagh 15 Nov 18 18 Nov 18
Drogheda Traditional Music Weekend Drogheda, Louth November?
Éigse Dhiarmuid Uí Shúilleabháin Ballyvourney, Cork December?
Scoil Gheimhridh Ghaoth Dobhair Gweedore, Donegal December?
Trá Buí /Pearse Holmes memorial Traditional Music Weekend. Dohooma, Mayo December?

And for those interested in a different experience you can attend any of the County or Provincial Fleadhs, which are to enable qualification to the All Ireland Fleadh, which is in the list above.  Here are the dates.

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

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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