2015 in Review : On tour with Andy Lamy and his New Blackthorn Stick

Swapping the salubrious interiors of New York’s finest concert halls, where Andy Lamy normally plies his trade, for the snug interior of The Cobblestone Pub in Dublin, is quite a change. A woodwind soloist on the roster of Artist International Management, Lamy is a member of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, Saint Louis Symphony, Royal Opera of London, and Artis Quartet Vienna.

This year he released a traditional clarinet album called The New Blackthorn Stick and then took it on a short tour of Ireland from Dublin, to multiple venues along the west coast.  We reviewed the album earlier in the year and also gave it an Official Online Launch, which you can read.  His tour this summer took in a number of pubs and arts venues as well as the odd festival. It made him take a serious look at his Irish roots and his inner desire to immerse himself in the culture. Beyond the pubs he ended up centre stage at this year’s All-Ireland Fleadh, nearly getting into sticky water along the way.

“I’ve ended up in situations on TG4, and Raidió na Gaeltachta, where my lack of Irish expertise has been a source of consternation and flushing in the face. How wonderful it would be to spend some extended time in Ireland, perhaps in Connemara or in Donegal!”

That lack of expertise is a reference to language and cultural oddities and not music. As an Irish traditional musician, he has studied with renowned tin whistler Mary Bergin and New York/Sligo-style fiddle master Brian Conway, in whose traditional music session he performs regularly.  On the 17-track recording, Lamy performs fast dance sets, lyrical, and slow airs in both solo and group instrumental combinations, featuring legendary master musicians who taught and inspired him in his pursuit of adding the voice of the clarinet to Irish traditional music.

This week The New Blackthorn Stick has been added to our Download Centre on Tradconnect and is now available to participating broadcasters as a free download, to play on radio stations globally.  To mark this occasion we spoke to Andy about the album and also about his recent Irish tour.  

The initial idea for the recording came from suggestions by Tommy Peoples and Mary Bergin.  It took 16 months to record the album, and there were some dynamic events that occurred during the process. The sudden illness and passing of Felix Dolan, who had been a part of the project since its inception, delayed the album and changed its character—the initial list of collaborators broadened from 5 to 18.  Before Felix passed Andy wrote a tune dedicated to him.  The tune, called Felix Gone Fishing, ended up on the album, performed by a large collection of players wishing to honor him.  “So in a way, Felix is also on the album”, he says. Here is his Fleadh performance, featuring that track.

Andy explains: “In the planning phase my collaborators and I took a long time to prepare and to delve into the various tunes.  A lot of them were New York Sligo tunes that I learned directly from Brian Conway and his session in White Plains, NY at Dunne’s Pub.  Also, several of the key melody players such as Mary Bergin and Dermot Byrne sat down with me to discuss tunes and settings.  Then, before recording for the album, I spent time studying scratch recordings of the tunes—played by my collaborators—to match their phrasing as closely as possible.”

There were also other powerful influences from musicians that he really admired, including Tommy Peoples, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Matt Molloy, Oisin McAuley, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, Sean Keane, Frankie Kennedy, Willie Clancy, Michael Coleman, and Neillidh Boyle, to name but a few.

Overall, the goal was to create an album that would show the gamut of what the clarinet could potentially do in Irish Traditional Music.  He adds that “this was not the first appearance of the clarinet in Irish music—since brothers Paul and James Ryan had played clarinet and saxophone with the Paddy Killoran Band in the 1930’s—but I wanted to make fitting tune choices that would show off the clarinet’s ability to play in the same wide range as the fiddle, and then add to that a sonority and resonance akin to that of an accordion or a piper.”

With regard to the Irish tour the core group that performed with him included Dermot Byrne, Floriane Blancke, Mike Stewart, Bríd Ní Mhaoileoin, and Seamus McGuire, and they were joined by Mary Bergin, Cathal McConnell, Dylan Foley, Dylan Gully, Martin Tourish, Tony Byrne, Junior Davey, Shane McGowan, Tom Mulligan, and other musicians along the road.  

“It was actually a great chance to travel for a bit and to play with musicians like Dermot Byrne and Floriane Blancke — and to see and hear them in action in rehearsals, concerts and sessions. They were exceedingly welcoming to us. Dermot can say so much with his instrument and really gets some beautiful blends with the clarinet. Floriane is an amazingly creative, exceedingly lyrical harpist with an instinctive feel for fast dance tunes and slow airs alike. We had the chance to fine-tune arrangements of slow airs for our concerts and then got to road test them in Kinvara and Doolin, and took them to the stage at An Taibhdhearc Theatre in Galway City with Mary Bergin, and on the Main Stage of the Fleadh in Sligo Town.  There we were featured in a wonderful segment on Fleadh TV—it was well received and our segment apparently set new Fleadh TV viewership records!”

When it comes to the difficulties of integrating the clarinet into traditional music we asked what the challenges were for Andy, and if people accepted this new and rather unique sound? He said : “It seems that the reason clarinet is not heard more in Irish traditional music is that aside from very rare clarinets in C or A (less rare among classical players),  99.9% of clarinets are pitched in Bb—an absolutely horrifying transposition to make for the common tune keys such as they are. Thus, I usually play a clarinet pitched in A for common session tunes.”

All of the credible comments that Andy has heard have been respectful, although he explains that there are always those who resist new instruments (just as they resisted the recently naturalized electric piano, banjo, low whistle, bouzouki, etc.).  

“Most folks seem to be open to hearing some clarinet, but when I play at unfamiliar sessions where I might be visiting, I generally play only whistle until I’m invited to play some clarinet, just to be sure.  By and large, however, many of the very best traditional musicians that I have met (such as Tommy Peoples, Mary Bergin, Brian Conway, Cathal McConnell, and Dermot Byrne) also happen to be the most open-minded toward at least some measure of innovation…and these same people have also helped to guide my phrasing and style decisions in hopes of a successful outcome for this experiment with the Irish clarinet.”

Moving on from this recording Andy will be getting involved in a number of collaborative projects in the coming months.   First up is the recreation of Paddy Killoran’s “Pride of Erin Orchestra” —which according to Andy “involved some of the greatest fiddlers of the day in the 30’s—and also included clarinet and saxophone.” Some great fiddlers and box players of the present day will also be on hand, as well as banjo, piano and more.

Also underway is a collaboration with sean-nós singer, Doimnic Mac Giolla Bhríde who is releasing a new album in the autumn.  It has clarinet and traditional singing along with pedal steel guitar, a little bit of a Donegal and Nashville fusion. Andy was impressed by his Dominic’s work both as producer and arranger, and particularly with his orchestration and voicing of the clarinet parts for the recording.

The New Blackthorn Stick can now be Downloaded by clicking on the logo below

For Broadcasters that are part of our Download Centre it is FREE to Download. Follow the link below and ensure that you are signed in to Tradconnect.


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