Traditional Irish Music
As we have members here now, from all over the place, I thought it might be interesting to get an idea of just how many different ways there are for folks, from musical & non musical, Irish & non Irish backgrounds, to become inspired enough to, at first, take an interest in this music & then, secondly, to go that extra mile & want to actually learn to play it.
If nothing else, this'll be one way of paying tribute to & saying thanks to, your inspiration.
So to get us started, here's my story, which will hopefully inspire you to want to tell your story here, too.
I spent my first 18 years living in Scotland & although my Great Grandfather was a Fiddler & my Grandfather played Fiddle & Highland Bagpipes, I only ever heard my Grandad play his Fiddle once. So, although I may have had music in my genes, my inspiration clearly had to come from elsewhere. Like the rest of the World too, I also had a little Irish blood in me, with my maternal Grandad being from Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, but one of his talents wasn't music. ;-)
I always instinctively loved music, whether the small Orchestra that played at the annual Circus (Yes, they really did use live musicians back then!) or the wonderful sound of the full size Church Organ & all those lovely Hymn melodies or Scottish Music which was on the TV & Radio regularly back then. However, when I left Scotland at 18, musically speaking I was only really interested in listening to Singer Songwriters like Bob Dylan.
Dunsany Castle, Co. Meath.
Then, in the summer of 1970, while working as a Gamekeeper on the Dunsany Estate, Co. Meath, I found myself listening to Ciarán Mac Mathúna & his wonderful show Mo Cheol Thú around 8 am every Sunday morning. Now that might seem like an early start to some folks, but of course, as a Gamekeeper, I'd already been up & working since 6am, so I listened to Ciaran as I ate my breakfast.
Ciarán Mac Mathúna.
So when most other 18 year olds would have been into Pop & R&R, I found myself being drawn more & more towards traditional music.
For those of you who have never heard of Ciaran or his radio show, which incidentally ran for 35 years, I have posted a YouTube video/audio clip from one of his last shows.
Now I know it's very hard for young folks today, to think themselves back into the way Ireland was 40 years ago, but believe me, it was a very different world back then. Dublin was more like a big Market town, full of magic, charm & innocence, than the sprawling, drug gang ridden metropolis it is today. Out in the country where I was, most folks went to Chapel twice a day, back in the days when the Church really was feared.
In any case, I found his shows absolutely magical & looked forward to them eagerly each week. They were a real education to me, a stranger in a foreign land & opened up a wonderful new world of music to me & not just the music either, but Ciaran brought all aspects of Ireland's culture into those shows.
Certainly, I have heard & seen hundreds of great musicians since the summer of 1970, who have inspired me, but only for Ciarán Mac Mathúna, I might never have been exposed to them.
It was because of Ciaran, that I went along to my local session there, in Dunshaughlin, a few times & to my first Dubliners Concert the following year, while working as a Falconer in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary & at was at that concert, that I was finally inspired to think about actually learning to play this music myself, thanks to one Barney McKenna.
So I'd like to say a huge THANKYOU to Ciarán Mac Mathúna, only for him, I probably wouldn't be playing music today.
So who or what was your first & most important inspiration?
Well, Dick, to start your ball rolling...
I must be part of some other world ;-) , since AFAIK, I have no Irish or Scottish blood in me at all. In fact, coming from SW England, that’s about as far away as one can be, within the British Isles!
I do come from a fairly musical family – but almost entirely in the classical style. My grandmother was a good pianist, and my mother played the piano and ‘cello. My sister is also a good pianist and amateur orchestral violinist, while my father’s hobby is making violins. So there has always been music and instruments around. There was always a little ‘picturesque’ sympathy for folk music, though no active involvement.
I started on piano lessons at about five, but hated practising and gave up after a couple of years. It did give me the basics of music theory, though. I think my parents despaired at that point and directed their hopes towards my sister, because the nothing happened until one day, aged about 15 I picked up a relative’s guitar and had a twang, with some success. Rather relieved, my parents offered to buy me one, and I was sent off to Saturday morning group classes which got me going with the basics.
My father’s family comes from Dorset, and the link into Irish music came through that. My aunt is a keen Thomas Hardy fan, and at some point in the late ‘70’s, she bought a book collection of his tunes (he was of course a musician himself). This sat in my cupboard for quite some time, until one day I tried twanging out some tunes, only to find that I really liked them and could play them quite easily.
Eventually I ‘bullied’ a couple of classically trained school friends to play them with me (I wasn’t even aware of the significance of their instruments at that time – violin and flute) and we made a half-decent noise – to the extent that the next thing we knew, the music master at school had scheduled us for the school concert. Probably one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, but we went down well, and were invited to play at other local events. Eventually the band grew to seven people, three fiddles, two flutes, a double bass and me on guitar; made a bit of a local reputation for ourselves. Got me hooked on playing in bands... It didn’t take long to find out that many of Hardy’s tunes actually had Irish or Scottish roots, so I went looking for more, aided by one of the flute players, who had relatives in Killarney.
My first Irish recording was, of all things, a cassette of the Gallowglass Ceili Band, followed by The Dubliners, and eventually I plucked up courage to buy a Bothy Band album, rather worried that I might be getting too much into the hard stuff :-) . I eternally regret that I was about two years too late to hear them live.
Much of my student grant was spent in Revolver Records in Leicester, along with entry to Leicester Folk Club, which gave me my first live experiences of the music. All the big names of the mid 80’s went through there at one time or another. We had another band as students, and even managed to beat off the cynicism with which a lot of our fellows treated folk music at the time.
Very little has happened for the past 25 years, due to lack of time and like-minded fellows, though I continued to work away at the mandolin throughout. I was also in a choral society for about ten years, and have always gone to live music, but last summer (call it mid-life crisis if you want!) I bought a home recording studio and made some multi-tracked recordings (link below) , which in turn determined me to get back playing properly, and I now have both regular sessions and a new band in rehearsal. Also six months into learning the fiddle.That’s it!!!
Firstly Dick thanks for starting some of these discussions. I don't know where you get the time to do all the internet stuff you do with the number of site you are running, as well as the one's such as this that you are contributing to. I think it is best for these subjects to come from the members rather than me posting all the time.
Anyway I have grown up with music around me from an early age. My day played saxaphone and accordian in Manchester in the 50's and 60's.
Saxaphone was common in those days as part of ceilí bands. When he returned to Ireland in the late 60's he set up a band in Castlebar with two others. As the family grew up we learned an instrument up to the early eighties when the whole family comprised the band. we had drums, keyboards, bass, lead and rythmn guitar. Played mostly weddings, pubs, parties etc. We toured the Irish centres of the UK in 1984 playing to a couple of thousand people in Leeds Irish centre. As part of the set we did 15 minutes of trad with my Dad on accordian, brother on banjo, rythmn and drums.
Never fully appreciated the trad in those days and so I went to college into Springsteen, Patti Smyth, Smiths etc and on to London in '86, hanging out in Camden town listening to blues, rock etc watching the start of line dancing by the teddy boys and girls in Camden on a Sunday afternoon.
Had my guitar with me and did some busking on the tube and in Covent Garden
Around the same time I started to do some reading on Irish history and started to get a little bored with rock and pop stuff. In delving into that music I started to end up back with Hank Williams, early Dylan, Clancy Brothers, Ewan MacColl. On a drunken night in Finchley I did a song on guitar in a pub and some guy was playing the fiddle. The next morning I woke up and said to myself "I'm getting me a fiddle". I worked in Holburn at the time and hired a fiddle at lunch time that day, which you could do in those days for a £20 deposit. That evening I had my first lesson with a well know teacher called Pete Cooper., and within 24hrs of that night in the pub I was playing.
Following that I moved from Finchley to Kilburn to be nearer Aras Na Gael, and Irish centre where Brendan Mulkaire taught fiddle and a whole range of instruments. He also was the first to teach John Carthy and nearly ever London Irish musician at some stage.
Had some fantastic years there and had lessons from Brian Rooney, Lamont Gillespie and others that we used to hang around with. Played as part of a Ceili band that competed back in Ireland.
Had some great trips around the UK as well competing. The band comprised the very talented with the not so talented and you can guess which category I was in .
All that ended in '95 when I moved back to Dublin. Kids, work etc ment music took a backseat for a good 10 years, playing every now and again with some friends. Got back into it again a couple of years ago as the kids started learning, and this has kicked it off again big time.
So a fantastic journey. Still into all kinds of music and have a serious record collection. After all those years still a very average player with the goal of real improvements over the coming years. TradConnect has been fantastic for me in exposing me to all kinds of people, music and websites and this keeps the fire stoked. Lets hope it burns for a long time to come.
Hi Tony, there was clearly no shortage of musical inspiration in your family.
RE: Pete Cooper, I see he's heading for North Antrim in September:
A ye it's a fantastic journey alright & perhaps the best part about it all, is the fact that the journey never ends, cause you really never stop learning. If you have the right approach, you are always striving to play a little bit better than you did yesterday & of course there are always new tunes to learn.
As for all my time on the Net, just one of the joys of having school holidays, plus the fact that my own family has now flown the nest .... Oh yes & of course, I don't watch very much TV! :-)
Well Dick, I can't imagine why anyone would be interested in my story, but you did ask!
Like Ian, I am 100% English, back as far as I am able to trace. The surname is, I believe, of Danish Viking origin. I did come from a musical (ish) family. My mother and father both played a bit of piano and in later life bought one of those dire electronic organs. No doubt it was revenge for my pipes. My grandmother was a piano teacher and, in the days of silent cinema, a cinema pianist. My grandfather (on the other side of the family) was the leader of the St John's band at Ireland Colliery - a tentative link indeed with the Emerald Isle, made even more tentative by the fact that his instrument was the Cornet (99 perhaps?).
When I was at school I was unlike all the other kids (still am!) and the chart music never did anything for me at all. Believe me, I tried, but never found anything attractive about it except for Pans People. It would have been in my middle teens that I found that the music I did like listening to seemed to fit under the title of "Folk". It took a few more years to realise that of this "Folk" music, the stuff that I liked best always seemed to come from Ireland.
Just as I was leaving school, I chanced to strike up a friendship with a few lads who all played a bit. Nothing Irish but more accoustic stuff. They also played in R&B bands as well but I never adopted that. I decided to try and learn something so that I could join them in their accoustic moods and came up with Mandolin. About the same time I started going to a local folk club in Chesterfield and met more influences. One in particular was a gent by the name of Richard Cryan. He was very into Irish music and was half of a local duo called "Moonshine". He actually briefly gave me Mandolin lessons but, more importantly, introduced me to Planxty. It was actually my Mandolin teacher that recommended I try whistle (gives you some idea how the lessons were going!!).
It was around 1987 when I discovered the Irish Club in nearby Sheffield. I had been hooked on uilleann pipes since first hearing O'Flynn on those Planxty albums. I think a friend of mine advised me to go to Sheffield as he had heard they had a pipers club. Well, I actually got to meet and play with some great guys in Sheffield. An "All Ireland" piper (Martin Frain) an "All Ireland" bodhran player (Kieran Boyle) and my pipe maker (Brian Howard).
I met my future wife a few years after that and the playing stopped for about 20 years. It would be about 18 months ago now that I decided I needed to do something before I got too old for it.
I'm back now, and enjoying it so much that I doubt I will ever go away again. It's been like falling in love again - and at my age!!
Thanks Ian, interesting stuff there.
Like you, I had a year of Piano lessons when I was about 10, but although I did enjoy playing & would regularly compose wee tunes for my teacher, I quite naturally hated reading the dots & much preferred to work by ear .... in any case, after a while, I decided I'd much rather be playing Football & stopped going. Probably just as well .. in the long run. ;-)
Thanks Michael, .... so we have a Viking in our midst eh!
Well, they say that the Vikings did play Whistles, so that might explain a few things! :-)
Unlike you, I was daft about Pop Music, all through the 60s 1st Singles I bought were Batchelor Boy by Cliff Richards & Apache by The Shadows ... then of course The Beatles had me hooked. Later it was the Singer Songwriters I took much more interest in ... songs with a story & some meaning.
Oh & I was lucky enough to become interested in time to see Planxty live ... & the Bothy Band too.
As a matter of interest, a local Fiddler here also stopped playing for 20 years, but he's been the anchor of his local session now, for the past 20 years. It's never too late, as they say. ;-)
I was lucky enough to reach Ireland a little earlier, in 1969, but like you, I also attended Scoil Eigse in Buncrana in 1981. However, I went to the Fiddle class with old Tom Glackin, Paddy's dad & I remember he was one serious man. There was no messing about in his class. I also remember walking past an open window one day & seeing/hearing Noel Hill playing a Scottish Strathspey straight out of a manuscript & not making too bad a job of it either ..... for an Irishman! ;-)
Unfortunately I didn't find any good sessions that whole week, but did find two crackers at the weekend, which made up for it. I also remember Antrim Fiddler Jim McKillop taking to the winners stage & staying up there for hours .... I don't think they could get him off! :-)
By the way, we have a few LPs of Breton Music here, including at least one by An Triskel. I spent the summer of 1980 in Brittany & just loved the place & the music.
I got introduced to Irish and Scottish traditional music as a boy and teenager in the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums in Virginia, USA from 1970-1978, and am still active in the alumni corps. Of course much of the revolutionary war era military music had its roots in Europe, of course. And military band musicians were often used for dance music. In addition to playing field music, I also played in small groups, and for dance troops, and also as a "street fifer" in the historical museum area, you might call it 18th century "busking".
From 1972-1978 I studied under a man named John C. Moon who served as the Director of the Williamsburg Fifes and Drums. Major Moon was formerly Drum Major of the Scots Guards and Queens Drummer. He introduced me to a broad range of traditional music, taught me whistle and 5key band flute and brought a whole bibliography of traditional music of european origin. He would bring in guest artists in the summers, one of whom was breton fiddler Ron Ganella, who greatly influenced my playing style and love for the music.
Here is a link to a video of an interview that was done with Major Moon several years ago where he gives a colorful account of his life in the Scots Guards which started at age 14. The interview is little lengthy, but worth a look if you have the time:
There's hardly a tune or session I play where I don't have some recollection of Major Moon and his positive influence on my enjoyment of the music. He is still living in Virginia and occasions the Fife and Drum reunions and I had the pleasure to march behind him as he drum majored, perhaps for the last time, in 2008.
I could say that it's been a long, strange trip Dick. Actually the story is a very short ODD trip that began about two years ago.
This is not a fictional tale... seriously weird stuff happens to me every day. ODD COINCIDENCE seems to come by me naturally almost daily. Maybe it's just the types of folks who may like to chat with me.
You asked for a story Dick, so here it is...
It was in a hazy, crowded Cincinnati pub, when I met a curious gentleman from Boston by the name of MacNeil who was standing up at the bar.
MacNeil had spent some time overseas in the U.S. Navy. I learned much about his life over several months, since we would always chat for a little while whenever we came across one another. He enjoyed spending his free time drinking Chardonnay, smoking and studying the intricasies of the generalized conditions of humans and all of nature. He also spent countless hours studying the interests and habits of everyone around him. I chatted with him now and then for a couple of years. Before he left the pub, he would purposefully rap his knuckles on the bar three times, and then, in his bold voice, he would always ask the bartenders "Am I good with the bar!?"
One night, he told me that he was headed for California to make a new start. He looked at me very intensely and he said: "Connie, could you tell me one thing, from when you were a little girl, that made you very happy, and that you are not doing now?" Without hesitation, my answer was " playing my violin or fiddle". MacNeil then cupped my chin with a hand on each of my cheeks, and then wisely replied: "Then THAT is what you SHOULD do." I bumped into him a couple of times after that, and I haven't seen him since.
I thought about MacNeil's words. I had heard there was a school of Irish music in Cincinnati, so I decided to give it a try in honor of my vanished friend MacNeil... and besides, I might even learn to play a few Irish tunes for my friends during the next St. Patrick's Day celebration.
I now know that what I considered to be Irish music was very lacking in general. I liked alternative rock, dance music and mainstream American folk styles of music. I had mistakenly considered that the limit of Irish music must be large musical, festival and show tunes, sad "Danny Boy"-style ballads, and raucous drinking songs. Sorry, I am cringing about it now.
During the first few weeks of studying the Irish traditional style of fiddling, my "Irishness" inside of me totally begin to blossom. The heartfelt music, political and whimsical songs and tunes astounded me! It was the first time I'd seriously ever thought about my heritage. By falling into the music so effortlessly, I felt like I was coming home for the first time!
I've yet to go to Ireland, but my maiden name is an anglicized version fo the Irish Gaelic word for son of the priest, or "Mac an T Sagairt'. I didn't even know that until last summer. The traditional music and it's beautiful instruments playing just makes me feel so good, it's beyond description, like a missing piece of a puzzle just found!
So, I guess I owe thanks to the curious vanishing MacNeil. Wherever he is, I hope that he is faring well and that he "is still good with the bar".
I'd also love to give a nod to my Riley School of Irish Music in Cincinnati for teaching and sharing music the Irish tradition.
(...and, I'll give a little wink to my little girl dreams too).
Thanks for your reply Russ.
The Fife & Drum eh. Well, you'd fit in well up here in Ulster, after all we have a few thousand "Street Fifers" active here around July, each year! ;-)
My wife plays Fife at all our sessions & we have a couple of Fifers from local Marching Bands who join our sessions from time to time, so there is a little crossover going on, but sadly not everyone is open minded enough to welcome them in to their sessions here.
There's something about the style of blowing you have to adopt, to get those little critters to work though, that makes me think that every tune a Fifer plays, just comes out like a March. Of course I'm always pulling my wife's leg about that too.
Anyway, an interesting tale indeed & certainly not the usual route to Irish Trad, but hey, that's what makes it all so interesting.
Hi Connie, thanks for the story, but hey, didn't your Mammy tell you never to talk to strangers .... especially in a Bar! :-)
So that's your punishment ... you've been cursed with an everlasting desire to play Irish Tunes on the Fiddle ........... & there is NO CURE! :-)