Talkin' Trad : Leonard Barry on his New Road album and band.

Traditional albums bring together various ensembles of musicians.   Accompanists are required to provide the necessary texture and base on which the music of the main recording artist can rest.  Sometimes those relationships develop as the recording of the album proceeds and with it new ideas emerge.  It the case of Leonard Barry and his New Road album the musicians involved have taken it one step further.  New Road, the album has now evolved into New Road the band.  In a recent press release the musicians involved have stated that such was the success of the album they felt they had to continue as an outfit.  This new band will consist of Leonard Barry (Uilleann Pipes); Conor Byrne (flute); Rick Epping (vocals, harmonica & concertina); Andy Morrow (fiddle); Seamie O'Dowd (guitar & vocals). 

They state that "musically melding so well in the studio and on the album launch tour, the obvious next step for these musicians was to continue on the road. With plenty of common ground already underfoot (Dervish, The Unwanted, Luka Bloom, Christy Moore), barriers there are none, and a whole new musical journey was easily embarked on.  As Rick Epping puts it: “With the faint strains of music yet to be discovered, this new road is one I’m delighted to be travelling.”

At the heart of this, it must be said is Leonard Barry.  He brought them together and will no doubt be a driving force in their next project or concert.

Leonard is from Kerry and is among our finest uilleann pipers. He has toured internationally and has collaborated on many albums and projects.  We caught up with him recently and started out by asking why it has taken so long to get back in the studio, and what he has been up to in the intervening years.

“It was 2002 when I released “Mind the Pipes” and up to then I had been playing professionally for a good few years” he confirms. “As my first record it served me very well and I played a lot of festivals that year. However at the end of that period I decided to go to College”

 

Leonard went to Trinity College to do a Diploma in Addiction studies.  When that finished he was offered a job with the Dublin Simon Community, a charity organization that works with the homeless of Dublin City. He went on to work in emergency hostel accommodation and then onto the Outreach team where he set up a street based needle exchange for heroin users who were sleeping rough. That took up a few years and up to last February he was running a group program in a Detox centre for street drinkers also for Dublin Simon Community.”

 

As with most musicians these days traditional music can’t always be a full time occupation, especially at the outset of a career.

 

“I suppose life took me down another path” he says. “I met my now wife Sorcha and we have a 6 year old girl Niamh. So I suppose a lot changed for me in the last 11 years.  All of a sudden I had responsibilities.”

 

He kept himself busy with the music playing regularly in places like the well known Cobblestone Bar in Dublin.  He undertook a few projects abroad, did some teaching and failed to find the time to go back into the studio.  So what changed we ask.

 

“I left the job last February” he says.  “It had run its course and I needed the change.  I had a good few tunes I had been playing that I felt I wanted to record. The idea was to tie in with musicians I had been playing with for quite a while as well as others from the old days.  So when I left work it felt like the right time to record”.

 

The route Leonard took with the album vis-à-vis his many collaborators intrigued us considering the many solo or near solo piping albums that have been released of late. We ask was it a conscious decision to bring on the team of players that eventually ended up on the album?

 

“I wouldn’t say it was a conscious decision” he says. “It was a natural decision for me. I’ve always enjoyed playing with other musicians and it wasn’t that I decided on a team of musicians. They’re all friends of mine who I’ve been playing with for many years. I’ve always enjoyed their company and their music, both of which are important to me. For instance I met John Carty one night in Dublin when Dervish were launching their Leitrim Equation CD and we talked about how we both liked the banjo and pipes together. We had talked about it before, God it was 1997 when we were at the Shetland Folk Festival.  John was over with At the Racket and I was over with another gang for what turned out to be a great weekend”.

"I’ve always enjoyed playing with other musicians and it wasn’t that I decided on a team of musicians. They’re all friends of mine who I’ve been playing with for many years".

“Cathy Jordan introduced me to Rick Epping one day at a session in Shoot the Crows in Sligo and I really liked the sound of the pipes and harmonica so that’s how that came about. I’ve been playing with the rest of the lads for years so it just happened.  There are more people that I‘d spoken to and play with as well but the people that ended up on the album were the ones that were around me at the time.

We ask about the tune selection and the way he mixed the various duets and trio’s up on the album.  For anyone who has not heard the album yet, this variety adds great depth and interest to the recording.

 

“I suppose the process was a mixture of talking about what tunes we would do and playing them together and that dictated what was done with the tune. With regards the mixture of solos, duets and trio etc. I had a fair idea what I wanted the recording to sound like and I wanted to keep it raw I suppose.  The tunes dictated what was done with them really. Each tune combination took a life of its own and with each musician we would have a chat and would let the music dictate to us what was done rather than impose a load of ideas on it”.

 

“Keep it simple maybe! For some of the lads, we had been playing the selections for a while, like the reels with Andy Morrow and the jigs with Conor Byrne. Tony O’Connell suggested the set dance, Rick Epping, Seamie O’Dowd and Cathy Jordan just played Planxty Davis one night and I thought I want to do that. So it varied really”.

 

On the specific tunes Leonard felt that there were no difficulties in getting the right mix or balance, partly due to the engineering skills of Leon O’Neill who did every part of the recording process and was very much involved.

 

“The versions of the tunes used were ones I had been playing for a good few years and would not be uncommon in some parts of the country. For instance the four Parts of Apples in Winter is common in the Sliabh Luachra area. The version of The Limerick Lasses would be well known in West Limerick as it came from Martin Mullvihill from Glin Co.Limerick. John Carty gave the version of Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine via Harry Bradley and also The Dog Amongst the Bushes, a tune which is played in different keys in different parts of the country. The version Mount Fabus Hunt was introduced to me by Tony O’Connell for the recording of Bernard O’Sullivan and Tommy McMahon called Clare Concertinas”.

 

“There are a mixture of tunes I had been playing for years with some of the lads and others that were introduced to me when we spoke about doing a set of tunes. We just sat down before we went into the studio and played a few tunes and went with what worked, kept it simple really”.

 

“Our view was to let the instruments and the tunes do the talking and everything else will look after itself. That was it really. We did have a look at different things in the mixing of the recording but we always went back to basics, just as it was recorded”. 

 

“It’s straight forward Traditional Music played on the Uilleann Pipes along with other instruments that maybe one doesn’t hear with the pipes every day and others that one hears a lot”.

 

The promotion of New Road the album will continue apace, no doubt in the company of his fellow musicians that make up New Road the band.

 

New Road the band will concentrate on the music of Sliabh Luachra but will also take a wider scope with songs from Sligo and America and some new compositions as well.

 

New Road can be purchased at http://www.custysmusic.com and you can also read our album review.

The band New Road play Whelans Dublin on 25th February with very special guest Christy Moore.  tickets available at http://www.whelanslive.com/index.php/new-road/

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