THE IMPORTANCE of Irish traditional music to the Irish Diaspora cannot be over stressed. Great musicians such as Tommy McCarthy, Mick Conneely, John Gannon, and Peter Carberry played key roles in fostering a sense of Irishness for their communities in London, Manchester, and Boston.
Next week’s Galway Sessions festival, which runs from June 16 to 23, celebrates the music of the Diaspora, culminating in all-star Great Gathering Concert at the Town Hall Theatre on Saturday June 22 at 8pm, featuring the Cartys, McCarthys, Conneelys, Carberrys, Gannons, as well as other household names in the tradition.
Headlining the concert is John Carty, winner of TG4’s Traditional Musician of The Year Award and founder member of popular band At The Racket. Born in London, John has established himself among the elite in Irish trad through his mastery of fiddle, banjo and flute. He will be joined on stage by Alec Finn of De Dannan.
‘I could have seen
Ahead of his forthcoming Galway appearance, Carty took some time out to talk about his London upbringing and how it shaped his artistic development. I began by asking whether, in his formative years, he ever delved into the myriad other styles of music available in a cosmopolitan capital like London?
“I was really weird, I was only ever into Irish music,” he replies with a laugh. “I’m actually more into other music now than I was back then when I could have gone to see bands like The Clash.
“Because I grew up with music in the house I was always very interested in it. I was also very lucky to meet a wonderful music teacher from Crusheen called Brendan Mulkere. He was a great teacher, he tried to get the best out of you. London was a major hub of Irish music at that time, lots of traditional musicians from all over Ireland had settled there and they would all be playing their music recreationally at the weekends.
“I had uncles from Connemara and they used to take me along to sessions and I would hear all these great musicians. Brendan Mulkere was also a promoter and that was the time when De Dannan and The Bothy Band and Planxty were all starting off and he organised a lot of their early trips to London.”
Carty expands on the impact made by this new wave of Irish acts such as The Bothy Band.
“I remember seeing The Bothy Band for the first time,” he says. “The music scene in London then was mostly old style and now we had bouzoukis entering the scene and that caused a lot of raised eyebrows.
“There used to be quite a diverse audience at those gigs. You’d have fellas from my father’s generation there in their suits and you had the younger folk fans because these bands were playing at the big festivals, Cambridge and the like. People didn’t take long to realise something really special was happening. All the musicians in those bands were supreme musicians.”
Carty also fondly remembers the music devotees that made up much of the audiences.
“You’d go into pubs and most of the audience knew what you were playing,” he observes. “Most of the audiences we get now are usually musicians, but at that time you had great listeners. Maybe they had never got a chance to play music themselves yet they knew the music in their heads and to get praise and approval from those great listeners you’d be thrilled.”
Back to his roots
Having grown up in London, begun playing there, and proving himself to be an outstanding multi-instrumentalist, ultimately Carty upped sticks and came back to Ireland, settling in Roscommon.
“I had always wanted to live in Ireland though I was about 30 when I moved back,” he tells me. “My wife and I had a child on the way and it seemed an obvious time to make a move. I always wanted to play music on a more professional basis and if I had stayed in London I would probably still just be doing pub sessions and the like. When I moved back here I started getting the opportunity to record albums, that wouldn’t have happened had I stayed in London.”
Carty enthuses about sharing the stage with so many other fine musicians in the Great Gathering Concert and it is, without doubt, a stellar line-up. Other highly respected London musicians include the McCarthys - Jacqueline (concertina ), Marion (uilleann pipes and whistle ), Bernadette (fiddle and piano ) and Tommy jnr (fiddle ).
Fiddler Mick Conneely, a native of Clifden, will appear with his daughter, banjo player Bernie. Also featuring is Annette Roland on banjo and vocals along with Leeds accordionist Verena Commins, guitarist James McClelland, and special guest Dessie O’Halloran, another legend and veteran of the London-Irish traditional music scene.
Peter Carberry will be joined by his daughter Angelina Carberry on banjo, and accompanied by John Blake. From across the Atlantic, Boston-born Colm Gannon will lead a team of Irish-American musicians. Completing the line-up are Rue De Canal a Franco-Irish band based in Brussels.
Tickets are €20 and available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie