Traditional Irish Music
"The music of John Carty needs very little introduction. Born in London he was part of the vibrant music scene there in the years before his return to Ireland in the early 90's. Early inspiration and mentoring came from his multi-instrumentalist father who was a member of the Glenside Ceili Band in London in the 1960’s. His discography shows an impressive array of albums that started in 1996 with the inspirational fiddle album Last Night’s Fun and continued to this day with each recording more impressive than the next. However it is John’s participation in the session scene of the late 80’s that forms the basis of this interview.
One regular session he participated in took place at The Good Mixer in Camden Town. John played weekly with Noel O'Grady (bouzouki), Henry Benagh (fiddle), & Marcus Hernon (flute). In those days some sessions had the musicians on stage with minimalist amplification, as was the case here. Sessions predominantly have a lifespan as musicians come and go and The Good Mixer session started to draw to a close in 1989. The economy back in Ireland was starting to turn and as a result people were starting to return home. It would be some years before the Celtic Tiger took hold, but even at this early stage sessions like The Good Mixer started to lose musicians and so it too drew to a close.
To mark the end of this session John, Noel, Henry and Marcus decided to record the tunes that they had been playing week in, week out. They convened at John’s house where they played for an afternoon. They recorded the tunes that formed a part of their weekly session and then they all went their merry ways. That recording remained boxed up in the attic until a recent discussion compelled John to take it out and play it. It remained in considerably good condition and has now been released as a full album. We reviewed it recently and it could easily be album of the year for 2015, some 26 years after its recording. We have since added the album to our Download Centre on Tradconnect and the response from broadcasters around the world has been hugely positive.
We spoke to John Carty about that period in London. The sessions in The Good Mixer started a year or so before John and Marcus Hernon joined. They replaced Tommy Keane and Michael Hynes, both of whom had returned to Ireland. John says that “at that time sessions were played on the stage with mics although there were no introductions to tunes – just play. This led to a certain type of atmosphere where you could be heard however noisy the audience were.”
At this time the session was changing from the old guard of what had been established in the 60s in London to what it is today, he said. “You could say we were the ’new kids on the block’ at that time, finding our feet in the scene which was still very vibrant with plenty of places to play all across London. It was much more spread out than it is today with different people playing in north, south, east and west of the city. Nowadays there are fewer places to play but chances are you’ll get to meet up with everyone there.”
John is more nostalgic for the 1970s in London which is when he discovered music and was lucky to be able to walk in on a highly sophisticated and vibrant music scene. “That period has become one of the most important periods in the development of Irish music in the twentieth century”, he says.
“I remember hearing the likes of Bobby Casey, Julia Clifford, Brian Rooney for the first time and that has stayed with me. I also remember the pure excitement of walking down the long corridor in The White Hart in Fulham to the back bar where the music of Raymond Roland and Roger Sherlock was lifting the place as they hammered out old favourites, and then being asked to play with these guys! It is only now I realise the importance of the company I was privy to.”
The Good Mixer however was special. “Almost anyone could turn up”, he says “This session was garnering attention in different quarters. As well as the true followers, it gathered other music followers as it was advertised in alternative places like Time Out. Camden had been the home for Irish music in the 60’s, and in the late 80’s was a really happening and trendy spot for all types of alternative music with music clubs all over the place. So we’d get all sorts popping in for a listen. Shane McGowan visited a good few times and asked Henry Benagh and Tommy Keane to appear on some of the Pogue’s recordings. It was a hot spot for music followers, particularly the upcoming generation and was a must stop venue for any musician passing through London. Dermot McLaughlin, Arty McGlynn, and a very young Kevin Crawford come immediately to mind. The music played was very tight. Tommy, Michael and Henry had a carefully chosen repertoire which we played and added to.”
The musicians would meet up during the week to rehearse and get tunes together for the Saturday night, which in a way was unusual. At the start of 1989 John says that there were rumblings of people moving on and they knew it was coming to an end. They felt the music had something and they wanted to capture it and have a keepsake of that time just for themselves. There was no studio in those days and all they had was a neighbour John knew who had an eight track Tascam and a couple of mics.
The result all these years later is an outstanding album of traditional music that is rightly receiving the praise that it deserves. The group disbanded and a year or so later John returned to Ireland to live. This for John was a childhood dream and he welcomed all the differences and embraced it full on. Everything appealed to him and everything was tried. He swapped the pubs of London for the fields of Roscommon and took to growing his own food and keeping livestock. “My neighbour remarked at the time when asked what was I like as a farmer - he’s Ireland’s worst.”
We close out the interview by getting John’s opinion on the present state of traditional music in Ireland. Have we lost the heart, or community values that were at the core of the music?
“There has never been more people playing ‘Irish Traditional Music’ commercially as there is today,” he says. He feels all sorts of music comes under this banner. “What this term means to me is completely different than what it means to a lot of people. There seems to be a place for everyone as the market is now worldwide. The community aspect in some of the strongholds such as East Galway and the North West are definitely not as strong. People now hear music from everywhere and are choosing their style, or perhaps following the current trends rather than playing a strictly regional style. Some of the best Sligo / North West style players are not from there at all and could be from London, the USA or virtually anywhere in France, Moscow or Japan.”
The Good Mixer is now on general release and will be launched at the Willie Clancy week, with the possibility of a short tour later in the year. Copies are available from www.johncartymusic.com and all good record shops!"
Broadcasters can be freely download this album in our Download Centre.
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