Showing posts from February, 2020

Ó Riada an cumhachtach, 3/4

Seán Ó Riada launched his new ensemble, Ceoltóirí Chualann, in Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel on 10 September 1961. What Ó Riada called a “folksy chamber orchestra” would turn his vision of Irish traditional music into reality. The membership was fluid and we cannot be sure who participated in that inaugural concert. But some or all of the following were probably involved. Apart from Ó Riada himself who arranged the music and played the bodhrán, the early line-up comprised Paddy Moloney (uileann pipes), Michael Tubridy (flute), Seán Potts (tin whistle), John Kelly and Martin Fay (fiddles), Sonny Brogan and Éamon de Buitléar (accordions), and Ronnie McShane (bones). As harpist Gráinne Yeats reflected later, it was ‘the first group which presented solo players who remained soloists, yet also played together in a completely different way from ceilidhe bands’.[1]  Listeners were wary at first but generally liked Ó Riada’s new sound.  After one of their radio appearances a newspaper critic w

Ag rith i dtreo na bhFlaitheas

On a cold, dark morning in the winter of 1964-65, I was racing through the snow-covered streets towards the local Catholic church. As an altar boy, I had been given my assignment for the week: the early Mass, Monday to Friday, and it was already coming up to seven o’clock. I couldn’t be late on the first day! For an eleven-year-old boy my responsibilities were pretty serious. When I arrived at the sacristy adjoining the church, I had to whip off my jacket and put on the soutane and surplice which I carried in a black cloth bag thrown over my shoulder. Then I would light the large candles on the altar in preparation for Mass. I also had to make sure the two little glass jugs, or cruets, were filled with water and wine for the ceremony. When everything was ready I returned to the sacristy to await the arrival of the celebrant, usually one of the parish curates. The priest made his own preparations in another room within the sacristy. Those preparations were a kind of pre-ritual in wh

Ó Riada an cumhachtach, 2/4

Seán Ó Riada was not always Seán Ó Riada. He was born John Reidy in one of Cork city’s three maternity hospitals. He inherited his love of music from both sides of the family – his parents were amateur musicians and his mother in particular encouraged her son’s burgeoning talent. The young Reidy learnt how to play piano, violin, and organ. As he became proficient in his chosen subject he developed a taste for jazz. He was an excellent pianist and performed cha-chas and rumbas for the dancers who congregated in Cork’s Arcadia ballroom. Under the expert tutelage of Aloys Fleischmann, père et fils , his education progressed through school and university. His natural brilliance impressed all who appreciated the art and craft of music-making. But deep within this prodigious tyro, the strains of Ireland’s cultural heritage lay waiting for release. One of the first signs was Ó Riada’s relationship with the Irish language. During the 1950s curiosity turned to obsession when he embraced his

Ó Riada an cumhachtach, 1/4

The pop music revolution of the 1960s, spawned in Liverpool and London, spread quickly around the globe. In Britain and the USA, in particular, groups such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys began to change the face of modern music through their own highly inventive and original material. Ireland, as a minor appendage to the larger English-speaking world dominated culturally by these two countries, should have succumbed quickly to this potent new musical form. But we didn’t. In these articles I explore why the pop juggernaut was at least slowed down when it hit our shores. Although local bands, such as Them and Taste, enjoyed some success with their own songs, there was no huge upsurge of original pop talent such as could be found in our larger neighbours. Instead Irish audiences were content to enjoy the international hits of the day through the filter of their favourite showbands. Showbands were essentially slimmed-down versions of the big bands of the 1940s and 1950s. Those front