This year is turning into the year of the guitar for me. Most of the music I'll be working on this year heavily involves the instrument that brought me into music and inspired me to begin composing. In my current role as Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Musician in Residence I'm composing a guitar ensemble piece to record with my good friend Ciaran Swift and his students of the Guitar Training Centre in Dún Laoghaire.
As part of the residency I'm sharing a Youtube & Spotify playlist once a week featuring music that inspired me since I first picked up the guitar. The playlists each have a different theme, from childhood pop/rock favourites to classical, jazz, trad, African, Funk, Indie music and my Heavy Metal teenage years! There are some different tracks on the Spotify and Youtube playlists to lend variety and because some tracks on Youtube aren't on Spotify! I start with my childhood guitar heroes.
The Stranglers - Golden Brown
This is the first song I remember hearing as a young child that really caught my attention. I heard it on the car radio and wondered what it was. It took me a while to find out, maybe a few years, we didn't have the internet back then! When I finally tracked down a tape of The Stranglers I played this song over and over and quickly learnt Hugh Cornwell's beautiful, jazzy guitar solo. I also learnt to transfer the main harpsichord part onto guitar. My first transcription!
Dire Straits - Single Handed Sailor/Follow Me Home
Mark Knopfler was my first guitar hero. My Dad liked Dire Straits, so I heard classics like 'Sultans of Swing' and 'Romeo and Juliet'. In 1985, when I was 8, they released the 'Brothers in Arms' album and 'Money for Nothing' propelled Knopfler to superstardom. The album that really stuck with me is 'Communique', which I got on cassette then. It's one of their least known albums, but I love the dual guitar playing, like on 'Single-Handed Sailor' and the hypnotic 'Follow Me Home'.
Paul McCartney (with Dave Gilmour) - No More Lonely Nights
When I was a child Paul McCartney was huge. He was, in my mind at least, bigger than The Beatles, because the only thing I knew of the Beatles was the records in my Mum's vinyl collection that rarely got played. It wasn't until my late teens that I 'discovered' the magic of The Beatles. I loved Paul McCartney's music as a kid and remember when 'No More Lonely Nights' was on Top of the Pops. The guitar solo really stood out to me. I think then I thought it was Paul McCartney but several years later found out it was Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd.
Kate Bush (with Dave Gilmour) - Running up that Hill (live)/Love and Anger
Kate Bush was an amazing artist for a young child to behold in the 80's. Her videos for Cloudbusting and Running Up That Hill were like nothing else. Then I saw her play the track live on TV, little knowing that the brilliant guitarist was the same guy playing with Paul McCartney. Gilmour doesn't play on the album version though, but he does add his distinctive guitar to her song 'Love and Anger' from 1989's 'Sensual World' album. I also unknowingly saw Gilmour playing with Bryan Ferry during Live Aid. Of course then there were also Pink Floyd songs on the radio like 'Another Brick in the Wall' and 'Learning to Fly'. Looking back I can see Gilmour's guitar sound was embedded in my mind long before I knew who he was!
Eric Clapton - White Room (live)/Behind the Mask
Another of my Dad's favourites, I became a big Clapton fan too, though I rarely listen to him anymore. I remember hearing 'Behind the Mask' on the radio when I was a kid and I also remember his Live Aid set with the Cream classic 'White Room'. My Dad brought me to Wembley Stadium to see Clapton in a double-header with Elton John in 1992. 15-year-old me didn't like Elton John's music so I was pretty bored by his set, but when Clapton came on I was transfixed. Funnily enough, nowadays I'm more likely to listen to something from Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road than any Clapton though!
Thin Lizzy - Still in Love with You/Jailbreak (live)
One day my parents brought me to a ballet performance that my sister was in. I had no interest in going, but all that changed when word got around that Phil Lynott was there. My Mum brought me up to meet him, I'll never forget that moment, he had such a kind, generous smile and deeply penetrating eyes. Not long after that we were listening to the radio and heard the terrible news that he'd died. That was my first experience of someone I'd met dying. I listened again and again to Thin Lizzy's 'Live and Dangerous Album' after that. 'Still in Love with You' is a song I used to skip as a child, as an adult though I just love the song and the brilliant dual guitar playing of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson.
Queen - One Vision (live) - Bohemian Rhapsody/Radio Gaga (at Live Aid)
It's hard to underplay the impact Live Aid had on me and so many others. It was an incredible event that my 8-year-old brain cells still remember vividly. Queen's set stole the show of course and I begged my parents to get me their next album 'Live Magic' when it came out. Brian May's guitar playing is so powerful on this live album it surely gave me an ear for the heavier side of rock music that I'd turn to in a few years. I also loved 'Radio Ga Ga' and the Live Aid version is glorious.
Paul Simon - Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes/Under African Skies
My parents both loved Simon and Garfunkel, my Dad's party-piece was singing 'The Boxer'. When Paul Simon made a big comeback in 1986 with his Graceland album it united my family's musical taste for one rare moment! It's difficult to explain to people who weren't alive then how new it was to hear and see a White American singing with amazing musicians from Apartheid-era South Africa. Simon almost single-handedly opened up the world to African music. Years later I would delve deep into the numerous guitar styles that spring from Africa. Graceland was my first taste of those chiming guitars.
Run DMC with Aerosmith - Walk This Way
Hip-hop was quite a fresh, new thing in the mid-80's and Run DMC were the biggest hip-hop group of their day, thanks mainly to this huge hit with Aerosmith. They practically invented a new genre with this mix of rock guitars and rap. This song made me simultaneously get interested in Rap and Heavy Metal and I bought tapes by them both. You Be Illin'!
Fleetwood Mac - Big Love
Fleetwood Mac were another of my Dad's favourites and I would have liked hearing the great guitar solo inThe Chain as a child, without knowing who the guitarist was. Then in 1987, when I was 10, they made a big comeback with the Tango in the Night Album and the wonderfully weird single 'Big Love'. The guitar playing on this track is incredible. In later years I'd really learn to appreciate the talents of Lindsey Buckingham, perhaps the most underrated guitarist in rock music. I've seen him live with Fleetwood Mac twice, he's an astounding performer, as his live solo version of'Big Love' testifies to.
It's been quite a while since I updated this blog page. I thought it'd be good to share some guitar videos I've recorded at home during the Covid-19 lockdown. I call these Dave Flynn's Lockdown Tunes - They are a mix of Irish trad, brazilian music and original compositions and improvisations I recorded over the last month or so. I hope you find some joy from this playlist. Stay safe and well friends.
The greatest Irish composer of the 20th Century passed away, aged 102, on Friday 31st May 2019. His name was Paddy Fahey.
He didn't compose classical music, he composed Irish jigs, reels and hornpipes. Composers of traditional/folk music are rarely acknowledged as 'great' composers like their classical counterparts are. However, the genius of a 'folk' composer like Fahey is beautifully summed up by this quote about folk tunes from the iconic Hungarian composer Bela Bartók;
“In their small way, they are as perfect as the grandest masterpieces of musical art. They are, indeed, classical models of the way in which a musical idea can be expressed in all its freshness and shapeliness – in short, in the very best possible way, in the briefest possible form and with the simplest of means.”
Fahey's compositions are of the highest level in Irish folk music, they are thus among the grandest masterpieces of Irish musical art. Therefore, shouldn't he be acknowledged as one of Ireland's greatest ever composers, regardless of genre?
I'd love to see Fahey recognised as a national treasure. Unfortunately Ireland has never really treasured its instrumental composers, be they composers of classical, traditional or jazz music. As an Irish composer, Paddy Fahey means as much to me as Yeats and Joyce mean to Irish writers. Fahey is one of my heroes. I know I'm not alone in that.
Fahey's music is played by practically anyone who has played Irish music over the past 50 years, whether they know it or not. His tunes are ubiquitous in Irish trad sessions, they have been recorded by nearly all the greatest Irish trad musicians of the past 50 years. His music has quietly seeped its way into the annals of Irish folk music without any fanfare from the man himself.
In a world when self-promotion is necessary to most careers in music, Fahey's case is quite extraordinary. He never sought publicity or fame, never pushed his music commercially. He just played it among friends, friends shared it with other friends and within 50 years or so it has become played all over the world by thousands of musicians, of all ages.
If he were a classical composer there would be statues to him, paintings in national galleries, commemorative stamps etc. Yet, as I write this, there is nothing in the major national media outlets about his passing, other than a small notice, in the Irish language, placed obscurely on the website of our national broadcaster RTÉ.
However, I doubt Fahey would be bothered by this. He was a humble man who rarely appeared in public, never made a commercial recording, never published his compositions and didn't even give names to his dozens of jigs, reels and hornpipes. They're all simply known as 'Paddy Fahey's' (sometimes misspelt as Fahy's).
I don't have a personal connection to him, I never met him, but his passing is, to me, the single biggest loss to Irish music since the blind harpist/composer Turlough O'Carolan died in 1738. So I am in deep mourning for the great man, his legacy and beautiful music.
Paddy Fahey and me
I would like to share a few thoughts on how Paddy Fahey's music has profoundly influenced my work.
I first noticed Fahey's music through Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill's classic album 'The Lonesome Touch'. It begins with this, perhaps Fahey's best known reel.
From the outset you can hear the beautiful melodic sweep of Fahey's music. It moves quickly from the lowest note on the fiddle, the open G string, up two octaves to the G on the E string and back down again. The tune meanders effortlessly to its perfect conclusion, like a river that knows the exact best route to the ocean. However this tune only scratches the surface of Fahey's melodic gifts.
The second Fahey tune on 'The Lonesome Touch' is what really drew me into the magic of Fahey's music.
(It is the second tune in the video below, starting at 1'09")
There is an indescribable quality to this, and indeed most other Fahey tunes. Some say it's haunting, or otherworldly, or melancholic. Perhaps 'The Lonesome Touch' is the most apt way to describe it. Fahey's tunes work best played by a lonesome fiddler.
It was another lonesome fiddler whose playing of Fahey's music fully convinced me of Fahey's sublime genius. Breda Keville comes from the same area of Ireland Fahey was from, East Galway. On her album 'The Hop Down' she plays Fahey's music in a gorgeously authentic way. Her approach to pacing, phrasing, ornamentations and pitching are quite different to how most violinists play, even within Irish traditional music.
To a classical musician who doesn't understand Irish folk music it might seem 'out of tune' at first, but every note here is perfectly pitched and articulated according to the mystical East Galway style. It's the 'in-between' notes, bends and ornaments that give it such an otherworldly quality.
For this reason it's pretty much impossible to play Fahey's music authentically on an instrument which doesn't have the flexibility to 'bend' notes like this. Typically that would rule my instrument, the guitar, out. Nevertheless, I became so enamoured with Fahey's music that I was compelled to learn his music and adapt it for the guitar.
I went on a mission to find as many Fahey tunes as I could. That drew me to recordings by the Kane sisters of Letterfrack, who recorded many of Fahey's tunes. They even played with Fahey on what may be his only televised appearance, and only national recognition, when he was named the first ever TG4 'Composer of the Year' in 2001.
Then, I heard through the trad grapevine that there were 'field' recordings of Fahey out there, including a CD of him playing many of his own compositions. These recordings were made by Maria Holohan for a Masters Thesis she did at the University of Limerick in the 1990's - 'The tune compositions of Paddy Fahey'.
The thesis contains 60 of Fahey's tunes notated and recorded. Each one is a gem and Fahey's playing of them is a revelation. He sounds unique. I have read there are now over 100 Fahey tunes. Indeed, some of the tunes I found on recordings are not in the thesis. One such tune is this gorgeous reel in F, which Matt Molloy recorded as a 'hidden' track at the end of 'Little Musgrave' from the classic Planxty album 'The Woman I Loved So Well'. (The tune starts at 9'40")
With all this info to hand, a decade ago, I arranged and recorded 20 Paddy Fahey tunes and released them on the album 'Contemporary Traditional Irish Guitar', alongside music by other great Irish tune composers like Tommy Peoples, Charlie Lennon and Liz Carroll.
Soon after, I thought it'd be fantastic to have a collection of 'The Complete Works of Paddy Fahey'. For years I'd considered trying to initiate such a project by visiting him to seek his blessing. Alas, I never plucked up the courage to meet him, I didn't want to bother him at his home. I felt a meeting would happen if it was meant to happen, but it was never meant to happen. I didn't get to meet my Irish composing hero, but I nearly did on two occasions.
Around 2006 I found out about a night in his honour being held in Craughwell, East Galway. So I booked myself into a B&B, took a 2 hour, 2 bus journey to get there and promptly arrived on time to a near empty hall. At 7.30pm, when the concert was scheduled to start, the compére, Mattie Joe Sheamus, announced to the small crowd that unfortunately Fahey wasn't able to make it (hence the small crowd). I was thwarted in my first attempt to meet the great man.
Then, in 2012, came a golden opportunity to finally shake Fahey's hand, when he was honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the Cooley-Collins Festival in Gort. There, Martin Hayes spoke eloquently about Fahey's music, comparing him to Beethoven by playing his famous G reel right after the main melody from Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Martin explained how he saw Fahey's melodies to be as good, if not better, than Beethovens. He convincingly suggested if Fahey was brought up in 18th Century Germany he would likely have become a great composer of symphonies and concertos, such was his gift for melody.
Following this, the legendary Paddy Fahey received a standing ovation from the large crowd as he went over to Martin to accept his award. I took a photo of that moment where the two long-haired fiddle legends shook hands. A large queue of people soon formed to join Martin in shaking Fahey's hand and thank him for his great legacy. Yet, something prevented me from joining the queue.
Of course I regret not ever meeting him, but I don't regret not going up to shake his hand that night. The queue looked quite overwhelming, and it probably was for Fahey, who was quite frail at the time. It just wasn't the right situation for me to meet my hero. As it turns out, there was never a right situation.
Instead, I paid tribute to him the best way I know how. I composed a tune in his honour called 'Fahey in Feakle'. I placed it in my orchestral work 'The Clare Concerto'. Martin Hayes aptly led this tune during the premiere of 'The Clare Concerto'.
That premiere was one of the highlights of my life. Of course it wouldn't have been possible without Fahey's influence. In that piece I tried to show what it might be like if composers like Fahey were orchestral composers., blending a modern style of Irish tune composing with a modern style of orchestration.
I've never orchestrated any of Fahey's tunes though, I started one once but decided it'd be best to leave them as they were. They don't need a big orchestration, they stand alone as perfectly formed mini-symphonies and no one sounds better playing them than Fahey himself.
Due to the elusive nature of the man and his music, it is difficult, if not impossible, to convince anyone outside of the Irish traditional music world that Fahey was the greatest Irish composer of the 20th Century. He was never invited to join the so-called 'elite' government-approved body of Irish artists 'Aosdána', yet his body of work and influence outstrips most of those within Aosdána.
Most classical composers I know would balk at the idea that a composer of jigs and reels could be considered a 'great' composer on a par with a classical composer. However, that is their loss, they'll never truly understand what Bartók meant when he praised folk music composers so highly.
Paddy Fahey was the personification of perfection in Irish music. Every note he composed was perfectly placed, there was nothing superfluous and nothing needs to be added to it. This is how classical musicians often describe Mozart's music.
So, perhaps a way of getting Fahey the household recognition he deserves is to say he was the Mozart of Irish music. Eventually, as he becomes the household name he deserves to be, there'll be no need to call him the Irish Mozart. He'll just be known as Paddy Fahey, the greatest Irish composer of the 20th Century.
Dave Flynn, 1st June 2019
P.S. Listen to this rare archival compilation of the great man himself and judge for yourself
One of my proudest achievements is producing the album Pouric Songs with my band D.F.F. A new version of the album has just been released. It's re-mastered, re-ordered and re-edited. Below I share the story of Pouric Songs to celebrate the release and explain the re-issue.
The 1990's Roots of Pouric Songs
Long before I composed orchestral music or Irish trad tunes I wrote and sang indie pop songs. I cut my teeth at Dave Murphy's legendary International Bar songwriter nights in the 1990's and early 2000's. Regulars at those nights included Glen Hansard, Damien Dempsey, Ann Scott, Declan O'Rourke, Gemma Hayes, Mundy, Roesy and Paddy Casey.
Such was the status of Dave Murphy's Night, you'd never know who might turn up. I'll never forget the nights Christy Moore and Paul Brady turned up out of the blue to join the songwriters queue and try out some new songs, sans mic, in front of the intimate hushed crowd.
There was a great democracy about the night. It didn't matter if you were famous, if you produced a great performance of a good song you'd get as good an ovation as anyone. It was a brilliant way of testing new songs and learning stage-craft. Those were halcyon days for Irish songwriting.
Enter the lyricist
Dave Murphy's International Bar nights are where I debuted many new songs, including some I wrote with Pádraic O'Beirn. I met Pádraic at a songwriters week organised by IMRO in 2000. That week was an incredible coming together of songwriters. In the daytime we'd collaborate with other songwriters. Each night there'd be open mic followed by house parties where the guitar was passed around. About half-way through the week I found myself sitting opposite Pádraic at lunch. We immediately hit it off and Pádraic asked me if I'd look at some of his lyrics. I'd never set another person's lyrics to music before but I thought I'd give his a quick look over to see if they inspired me.
Within a couple of minutes of scanning through his lyric collection I stumbled across a beautiful, poetic lyric called Lullaby. The rhythm of the song matched perfectly with an instrumental in 5/8 time I'd recently composed. Within a short space of time Lullaby was finished, soon after that I'd set another lyric, Woodlands,. We debuted the songs that night and we knew we'd stumbled onto something special. With Pádraic's lyrics collection I'd found a goldmine of inspiration and eventually I'd set 11 of his existent lyrics to music. Within a couple of years I'd set 11 of his lyrics. Pádraic's lyrics lent themselves to eclectic music, from folky-dream pop (Beauty Becomes You, Stone Walls), jazz-pop (Woodlands, Harvest Do) and energetic Afro-pop (Mad for You, Phantom Moves). With Pádraic's lyrics collection I'd found a goldmine of inspiration. I just needed to find the perfect band to play it.
The Magnificent Seven
The path to forming D.F.F. was a bit like Yul Brynner's search for the Magnificent Seven. It gradually unfolded over time as I met various musicians with different skill sets.
In 2000 I put together a band with musicians who played with some of the great 90's Dublin songwriters. It included future D.F.F. members Ciarán Swift, Cion O'Callaghan, Aidan Dunphy and bassist Brian O'Toole. They were big session players in Dublin's 90's music scene who'd collectively played with Mundy, Paddy Casey, Fionn Regan, Declan O'Rourke, Roesy and others. A bit like a 90's Dublin version of the famous 'Wrecking Crew', the house band for Phil Spector and the Beach Boys. We recorded demos and did a few gigs but nothing really came of it as my college commitments took over. A decade later I reformed the band, with a couple of star reinforcements.
From Sweden to the Congo
There were other songwriter nights in Dublin in the late 90's including Ken Burke's open mic in Molloy's of Christchurch. One day Ken offered me a slot in support to called Damien Rice, who was starting out as a solo artist after leaving Juniper. It was there I met his then cellist, Vyvienne Long. After my set she came up to me and told me she liked my songs and if I ever needed a cellist to give her a call. Soon after Damien became a huge success and Vyvienne was touring the world.
A decade later I met Vyvienne again at the Secret Festival in Sweden. The festival brought musicians from across Europe together to collaborate in a kind of 'Eurovision meets Big Brother' experiment! We were cooped up in a house together for a week before playing three gigs at secret locations on the island of Öland. We all played on one of each other's songs. I chose Stone Walls. It was there I realised Vyvienne's voice and cello would work brilliantly on all of Pádraic's songs. Soon after that I reminded her of the offer she made a decade ago. Now free from touring commitments with Damien Rice, she happily joined my band.
Around 2009 I met the amazing guitarist Niwel Tsumbu, who had come to live in Ireland from the Congo. Several of the songs I'd written with Pádraic were influenced by Congolese guitar playing, so I asked Niwel would he like to jam on them with me. I visited his home, we jammed, we clicked, it was magic. Niwel is the greatest guitarist I know, he can play anything! Soon afterwards Niwel joined Cion, Maírtin Tourish and I to perform some of Pádraic's songs at Africa Day in Dublin's Iveagh Gardens. That sowed another seed for the album to come.
The final piece of the search for the Magnificent D.F.F. 7 came into place when Vyvienne asked me to support her on an Irish tour. Cion joined me on those gigs. Vyvienne's bassist at the time was Dan Bodwell, who I'd played with before in an Irish Composer's Collective concert. There was something about how Dan's double bass and Vyvienne's cello and voice blended that convinced me Dan was the man to be D.F.F.'s bassist. Finally, after 11 years of searching for the perfect band D.F.F. was assembled in 2011.
Recording in an un-Real World
In 2012 we got together to begin rehearsing the songs in Dublin. It wasn't long before the band really clicked and we were producing some great music together. Then we travelled to Peter Gabriel's astonishing Real World Studios to lay down most of what become Pouric Songs.
Recording in Real World was a sublime experience. I've never been in a studio like it before or since. The engineer Patrick Philips helped get a great vibe going and he loved the music. Real World is a hub of creativity. At times we shared the dinner room with Kaiser Chiefs and Simple Minds guitarist Charlie Burchill who were preparing new material in Real World's songwriting studios. It was an elusively tempting peek into the wonderful world of successful rock stars.
After five glorious days in Real World we had most of the album tracks down. We followed the Real World sessions in 2013 with a few days recording in Grouse Lodge and Sun Studios, I was honoured that Dave Murphy agreed to do some backing vocals in Sun Studios. (You can hear Dave's low bass voice in the 'Freaky Funk' section at the end of Beautiful Freaks Like Us. He's also on The Mad Magician, Phantom Moves and Quartz). I returned to Real Word to mix the album with Patrick. Then it was mastered by Fergal Davis, cover/booklet designed by my sister Fran, the CD was manufactured and distributed around Ireland and digital stores. It took 15 years from the first song being composed to the album release, it was well worth the wait though!
The President Calls
When it was released in 2014 we got some great reviews across Irish publications (including Hot Press, The Sunday Times, The Irish Times), we featured on RTE's TV Show The Works and even made it into the tabloids with an interview for The Irish Mirror. An Irish tour and festival appearances followed. We seemed to be on the up and up when we got invited to play for President Michael D. Higgins at his summer garden party. At first I thought the invite email from the President's office was a hoax, but a quick phone call confirmed it was a genuine invite.
D.F.F. all looked set to be a great success, but somehow in the end, it wasn't. Despite all the acclaim and publicity mainstream radio wouldn't play Pouric Songs. Producer after producer said no to what we thought was a radio-friendly single Mad for You or the funky follow-up Beautiful Freaks Like Us. Without that radio support Pouric Songs faded away into obscurity. It didn't hit the zeitgeist. It was a critical success but commercial failure. Disheartened by it all I left D.F.F. aside.
The Return of the Magnificent Seven
Earlier this year I orchestrated two of Pádraic's songs for The Irish Memory Orchestra. This caused me to listen back to Pouric Songs a few times. It made me think it deserved another chance to be heard. I thought maybe the reason it didn't catch on was the track order and the length of some of the songs. So I experimented a bit to find a better track order and edit some songs
So that's how we've got to this new 2018 re-issue. The original release still stands but maybe this new version is a more accessible starting point, maybe it's better as a shorter album. Time will tell.
I hope radio producers, broadcasters, press, bloggers and listeners will give it another chance. You don't need to take my word for how good the record is, these press quotes speak for themselves
'A true melting pot of music, DFF is a new supergroup marking the point where everything from chamber pop and Irish trad to the influence of Congolese "guitar sorcerer" Franco converge in glorious sound' - Hot Press
'The band's purposeful debut album zings with vibrance and originality' - The Sunday Times
'Sophisticated yet instantly accessible, the enchanting Pouric Songs is surely one of the finest pop debuts to come out of Ireland in many a moon. In times when the world often seems to have gone truly mad, D.F.F.'s rainbow music is a joyous balm' - All About Jazz
Pouric Songs (2018 version) is out now on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and all the other main digital platforms. The original Pouric Songs is still available on CD and download through Bandcamp. Take your pick!
p.s. A while ago I removed all my albums from digital services as I didn't like the deal I was getting through my old distributor. The deal with Symphonic is better than what I'd had. Most people just aren't buying CD's anymore so, despite my misgivings about streaming I've figured it's better for people to hear the albums than not. So over the next while my albums will re-appear online. Pouric Songs is the first of the re-issues. Thanks for reading.
In 2011 I had a 'vica voce' exam to decide whether I'd be awarded a PhD. At the end I was asked to leave the room so the panel could confer. Soon after, I was asked to return.
As I walked in, the external examiner welcomed me with a warm smile, a handshake and three simple words 'Congratulations Dr. Flynn".
That examiner was Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, a towering figure in Irish music and education and a kind-hearted soul who passed away yesterday 7th Nov 2018, long before his time.
I met him once more after that when he kindly agreed to give me some 'Post-Doctoral' advice. He first spent time explaining the potential educational benefits of my PhD work, yet to my surprise, he encouraged me to follow my work as a composer, rather than pursue an academic career.
He explained how the administrative demands of academia can be detrimental to composing and that my ideas around music education might be better served outside academia. I'm glad I took his advice, as this led me to stop looking for academic jobs and instead develop the Irish Memory Orchestra and its 'Apprentice Schemes' and focus on composing.
I didn't know him outside of these two meetings but by all accounts he was a wonderful man, a real force of positive energy. He was also a fantastic musician who redefined how Irish traditional music could be played on the piano. He also pioneered new ways of merging traditional, classical and jazz in his compositions.
I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to know him better, however I'm very grateful to him for being so kind and generous with his time.
R.I.P. Mícheál, your life's work lives on........
Ireland lost one of its greatest ever musicians on Friday 3rd August 2018, Tommy Peoples. Though I didn't know Tommy well, the news of his passing gradually engulfed me in a kind of numb grief I hadn't experienced since James Byrne died a decade ago. Grief not just for the gentle soul I'd briefly had the honour of knowing, but grief for the end of an incredible musical legacy.
When James Byrne left this earth a huge store of music and folklore left with him. His death created a void that will never be replaced.
The same is true for Tommy Peoples. If anything the void is greater because Tommy was not just a remarkable fiddle player and encyclopedia of tunes like his friend James Byrne was, Tommy Peoples was one of Ireland's most original composers of 'traditional' music. Scratch that limitation, he was simply one of Ireland's greatest ever composers.
The only musician to win a TG4 Gradam Ceoil as a performer and composer, he was also the only traditional fiddle player/composer to be admitted into Aosdána, the so-called 'elite' body of Irish artists. Though the merits of Aosdána are much debated, the admittance of Tommy Peoples into Aosdána in 2012 was hugely significant to many in the traditional music world. Peoples himself reacted with typical modesty when speaking with the Journal of Music.
‘It’s not something I’m very familiar with,’ Peoples declared. ‘I’ve no familiarity with procedures or for that matter behaviour. I’m hoping it’s kind of low key.’
Peoples' significance as a musician has been much spoken about since he passed away. He's undoubtedly one of the most influential fiddle players in the history of Irish music. From his fiery, edgy style with The Bothy Band in the 1970's to the delicate, achingly poignant style of his later years, few others have reached the depths of expression Tommy Peoples reached in over 50 years of music making.
I could go into an academic treatise about his compositions but, if you know and love traditional music, they speak for themselves. If you don't know and love traditional music you likely won't understand why I speak of Tommy Peoples as one of Ireland's greatest composers in any genre. That's your loss.
Instead I'd like to share a bit about my experience of accompanying him on stage and learning one of his tunes directly from him.
In 2012 I put together a tour called 'The Tune Makers' with the help of Arts Council funding. Tommy agreed to join Liz Carroll, Máirtín O'Connor and I for two dates on the tour, in glór, Ennis and Ionad Cois Locha, Donegal.
As part of the show Tommy had a solo slot of about 25 minutes. When we got together on the day of the first show I was both over-joyed and a little apprehensive when he asked me to accompany him on guitar. I'd heard from other guitarists (and seen evidence in concerts) that Tommy didn't rehearse much with his accompanists, he often decided what to play on the spot.
For a seasoned accompanist in Irish music this wouldn't usually be too difficult a task as, the more you play Irish music, the more you learn how to anticipate the harmonic changes inherent in traditional melodies. Accompanying on the fly is a common skill we develop in sessions.
The difference with Tommy was his extraordinary imagination and flair for very unusual melodic directions. When you accompany a musician like Tommy you have to REALLY listen and expect the unexpected.
I did this with him for a total of about 50 minutes over two concerts. It was a hair-raising yet magically transcendent experience. In those brief moments I felt an incredible connection to a kind of spontaneous, soulful creative genius that I've never encountered before or since.
I was particularly moved by his own compositions, some of which he didn't give a name to at the time. Often in unusual keys and modes for Irish music like F or Bb, with very unusual twists, turns and leaps and occasionally daring to go where most Irish fiddle players don't go - higher than first position. Tommy's tunes are a beautiful harmonic minefield to negotiate as an accompanist.
I didn't speak much with Tommy at the time, he was a man of few words, but the words he used were kind and knowledgable yet peppered with wry humour. There was certainly sadness in his eyes and music, but I detected an equal amount of joyousness too. A feeling reflected in these wonderful words about Irish music from Peoples the Philosopher.
“The music expresses joy, terrible loss, hope, love and defiance. It has stayed with us when we had our own people crushed by oppression, our language killed by force and intimidation… Irish music was a joy to me… it spoke to me of the people who bore all this hardship and came through singing.”
A few years before the Tune Makers tour I met Tommy for the first time at a masterclass in the Balor Arts Centre in Ballybofey, where he was musician in residence. As luck would have it there were only two other people there, so we were treated to a very intimate audience with him.
Though my own fiddle playing ability was very limited then (and the others weren't much better!) he patiently thought us a beautifully melancholy jig he composed called 'The Kinnycally'. A common trademark of an artistic genius is they are often highly self-critical and modest about their creations. Tommy came across that way as he taught us his new jig with almost painful reluctance. “You probably won't like it” he said. Little did he realise how awe-struck we were by his music and presence. After he played it with tentative humility, I sat there scratching through it with nervous embarrassment.
Shortly afterwards I asked Tommy for his permission to record it for my Contemporary Traditional Irish Guitar album. Thankfully he agreed. It's the only recording of the tune I know of, it surely won't be the last. Many of Tommy's wonderful tunes are collected in his book Ó Am go hAm - From Time to Time. Essential learning for anyone interested in the art of tune composition.
I'm so grateful to have briefly known, played with and learnt from Tommy Peoples. I'll forever cherish those intimate moments I shared with a true genius of Irish music.
Your soul lives on in your music and family
The Kinnycally Jig - Tommy Peoples
A news story today about the great actor Anthony Hopkins has triggered an interesting memory from my musical past that I'd like to share.
The story leads with this provocative headline -
Anthony Hopkins doesn’t know and doesn’t care if he’s a grandfather
The journalist goes on to detail how Anthony Hopkins is estranged from his daughter Abigail, a musician and actress.
I was interested to read that they are estranged because many moons ago, when I lived in London, I found myself 'auditioning' to be Abigail Hopkins' guitarist!
If memory serves correctly I responded to an online ad from a songwriter looking for a guitarist. The songwriter was called Abigail Hopkins. Given her surname I naturally wondered whether she might be related to Anthony Hopkins. The chance of meeting Mr. Hopkins through her wasn't my motivation for replying to the ad though. I was just looking for work as a guitarist. So I contacted her and she responded and asked to meet me. The name 'Anthony' didn't enter our emails.
A day or two later she visited my Finsbury Park apartment to audition me. As she entered the apartment I was taken aback at her resemblance to Anthony Hopkins. She looked like a young Anthony Hopkins playing a red-haired, goth drag queen. Yet still I had no confirmation she was his daughter, or perhaps niece. I kept quiet on the matter and decided it best not to mention him. After all, I was only really interested in getting work as a guitarist.
So Abigail sat down and chatted with me for a while. Very soon into the conversation, without any prompting, she confirmed her father's identity.
'In case you didn't know I should tell you Anthony Hopkins is my father' she said, 'I'm trying to make my way without using his name though.'
'Oh really that's very interesting, I didn't know!' said I in the higher than necessary pitch of a pubescent teenager.
It was clear that she didn't really want to talk about him, so I left it at that and suggested we try jamming on one of her songs.
Even though I was technically the one auditioning I sensed she was a bit nervous as she took out her pristine nylon string guitar. She made a modest comment about her limited guitar skills and then launched into a strange, atonal song.
It'd be fair to say Abigail's singing talents don't match her father's acting talents. She sang with a tormented wail, the kind that quite a lot of people seem to like for reasons I'll never understand. I remember thinking early on that her style really wasn't something I was into. The feeling was probably mutual.
We jammed away to a few songs and had a pleasant conversation but within an hour or two Abigail Hopkins was gone. I never saw her again or heard about her music again.
The Silence of the Jams.....
Afterwards I must admit my only regret was that I never got to meet Anthony Hopkins.
News reports would suggest however that even if I had ended up being Abigail Hopkins' guitarist, I still wouldn't have met Sir Anthony Hopkins!
The end of streaming is nigh
Recently I instigated a process that will remove all my albums from streaming services. This includes Spotify, iTunes, youtube, Amazon etc. Within the next month or so my music will disappear from these platforms (with the exception of some youtube videos).
My reason for doing this is simple, all these companies are ripping artists off. Music streaming, though good for record company pockets and major label artists, is not good for independent artists. The CEO of Spotify Daniel Ek is worth nearly $3 billion, yet he claims that Spotify couldn't operate if they paid more to artists.
What's really happening here is the huge income being generated through streaming is going into the pockets of executives, not artists. Record companies have cut deals with Spotify and other services that only benefit them and their major acts.
The record profits in the music industry aren't going back to artists, especially not independent artists. So if you'd like independent artists to be able to continue making records then please support us directly.
If you've enjoyed streaming my music on Spotify, iTunes etc. and would like to keep listening to it please buy it directly from me at a show or through my website
It's only the price of a couple of coffees or beers!
I'm still using CDBaby and Bandcamp to sell mp3's directly because they are independent, their sales seem to be transparent and go straight to artists.
CDs are only available directly from me at a show or my website. If you order directly from me I'll send you a signed copy too!
Without this kind of direct support from you I can't continue to make records. It's not about making profit, it's about being able to continue to make art in an aggressively anti-art digital age.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and for supporting the work of independent artists.
p.s. This isn't a publicity stunt a la Taylor Swift, the Spotify devil ain't gonna negotiate a better deal with me!!!
Tonight, 11th July 2017 at 10pm Ireland's finest radio broadcaster Carl Corcoran will, for one last time, present The Blue of the Night on RTÉ Lyric FM.
It is a sad and momentous moment for Irish music.
No other broadcaster has given so much support to Irish musicians as Carl has done over the past decade on this seminal late night radio show.
I'm just one of countless Irish musicians he has regularly played side by side with J.S. Bach, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, the Bothy Band and other musical legends from across the wide spectrum of classical, traditional, jazz, folk, pop and other music from around the world.
Beyond that, no other broadcaster I've heard has Carl's ability to mix these vastly different genres so seamlessly that you rarely, if ever, feel compelled to 'touch that dial'.
Carl's abilities as a broadcaster are literally second to none. Being a night owl who travels a lot I've heard late night radio on stations across Europe, the USA, New Zealand and Australia. Whilst there are some excellent broadcasters like Verity Sharp on BBC's Late Junction and WNYC's John Schaefer, Carl easily holds his own at the top of the list of international late night broadcasters. It's no wonder people tune into him all over the world.
Carl is a sorcerer of sound, a living sound-cloud, a masterful genre-hopper who can make sense of the muddled puzzle of a Spotify-fueled modern world so full of music it can be hard to know where to begin at times. Now that he's leaving Lyric FM, against his will, there's a huge hole to fill. I don't envy the person who has to take over from Carl. His boots will be as hard to fill as Alex Ferguson's were at Man Utd, a poisoned chalice if ever there was one. His replacement could become known as the David Moyes of Irish radio........
It's impossible for RTÉ to replace Carl and it was very foolish of them to let him go. Carl Corcoran IS The Blue of the Night. Without him it's just another radio show. No matter who they get to replace Carl, Irish radio just won't be the same. As far as I'm concerned 'The Blue of the Night' ends as a radio show on 12th July 2017.
Often, when he goes to an ad break Carl says 'don't touch that dial'. Tonight, for the last time, I won't touch that dial. But once Carl Corcoran's final 'Blue of the Night' comes to a close and Carl goes to a permanent 'Blue of the Night' break, the dial will be turned to silence.
Thank you Carl Corcoran for your many years of support and brilliant broadcasting, your warm radio voice will be very, very sadly missed. Go n-éirí an bóthar leat.............
Epilogue: Messages in a Blue Bottle
Just as a mark of the man, I'd like to share two emails Carl Corcoran sent me 'out of the blue' in 2010. I'm sure he won't mind me sharing this correspondence.
Email 1: First Contact
The first email I ever received from Carl is the first correspondence I ever received from an Irish broadcaster (unless a childhood autograph from Mike Murphy counts!). Carl's email came after my friend and former manager Eamon O'Donnell, unbeknownst to me, called into RTÉ with one of my CD's. As fate would have it, it ended up on Carl's desk and he's been playing my music ever since.
Date: Wed, Feb 3, 2010 at 2:59 PM
Subject: CD Delivery
I received a copy of your CD "Contemporary Traditional Irish Guitar"
- dropped into Donnybrook. I don't know if you arranged/did that - but
many thanks. I have enjoyed listening to it and will be adding it to
the Playlists in the coming weeks.
My first ever message to Carl in reply shares a sentiment that many other musicians will identify with -
Many thanks for your email. Great to hear from you and I'm delighted
you enjoy my CD. I'm honoured that you are adding it to your playlist.
I often drive late at night after gigs and sessions and tune into the
Blue of the Night, so I look forward to hearing myself on your show
Email 2: The Warmest and Heartiest of Praise
Carl stayed true to his promise (not all broadcasters do) and he has played my music far more than any other broadcaster. Many musicians will tell you the same of their music. His support led me to invite Carl to the premiere of my fiddle concerto Aontacht, performed by Martin Hayes and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra at the National Concert Hall later in 2010.
Following the concert Carl sent me this email 'out of the blue'
Date: Thu, Nov 25, 2010 at 2:07 PM
Heartiest congratulations on last night's SPECTACULAR! It was seriously excellent. Like you, I have the highest regard for the talents of Martin, and the magic of Hayes and Cahill. To hear them, and the music, in the context of orchestra was an exhilarating experience. Your composition and arranging skills captured the essence of the music and the musicians better than any such trad/classical combinations I have heard. The "marriage" of the genres was true to the spirit of the music and the tradition - well done. This was achieved mainly due to your knowledge of the music, your innate sense of music and your talent as an arranger/composer. Due praise should be heaped on the composer, soloists, orchestra and very especially for David Brophy whose enthusiasm and passion for the works infused the musicians on the stage and the audience alike.
Thanks for the opportunity of being present for this unique experience. I look forward to a recording of the works, which I hope is imminent.
Kindest regards and continued success.
I received many messages of congratulations after that concert. None were as, knowledgeable and heartfelt as Carl's. His warm, genial, velvety voice reflects the man he is.
p.s. to Carl - A recording of the works was imminent but unfortunately still hasn't seen the light of day and I don't know if/when it ever will, but that's another story involving the lack of foresight of the Powers That Be in RTÉ which you may be able to relate to!!!!!!
Greek philosopher Socrates once said 'No one ever raised a monument for a critic'.
Then Jean Sibelius famously paraphrased,
'Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic.'
Now, the critics think they have forever got one up on Socrates and Sibelius because film critic Roger Ebert had a statue built in his honour.
Yes that's the same Roger Ebert who gave bad reviews to classics like The Godfather Part 2, Blade Runner, The Usual Suspects, Reservoir Dogs, The Good the Bad and the Ugly and Full Metal Jacket!
Apparently the critics say their 'beloved' Roger deserves his statue, but the critics, as is often the case, are wrong.
So critics, pay attention to my update of the Socrates/Sibelius critic critique.
'The only reason a statue was put up to Roger Ebert is because no statue was ever put up to a critic.'