The world of Irish traditional music is this week coming to terms with the loss of one of Alec Finn, one of its most influential masters over the last four decades.
The founding member of De Danann passed away aged 74, last week and he was remembered fondly at his funeral in Galway this week. The moving ceremony was attended by among others, president Michael D Higgins, his wife Sabina, and a whole host of grieving stars from Irish music.
A bouzouki player, guitarist and artist, founding member of De Danann, and a musician who contributed to some of the most influential recordings of Irish traditional music over the past 45 years, Alec Finn’s playing was characterised by a rare subtlety of sound.
Uniquely in Irish music, he played the round-backed Greek bouzouki, with three pairs of strings, tuned DAD. In the mid-1970s in An Spidéal, Co. Galway, he co-founded De Danann with Frankie Gavin, Charlie Piggott and Ringo McDonagh. They were soon joined by Dolores Keane and released their first album in 1975. Last summer, Finn, Gavin and Keane reunited for a performance at Traidphicnic.
The group’s debut album was followed by key recordings such as Finn’s duo recording with Gavin in 1977, De Danann’s The Mist Covered Mountainin 1980, Star Spangled Molly in 1981 and Anthem in 1985. Finn also contributed to seminal albums such as Noel Hill & Tony Linnane and Feadóga Stáin by Mary Bergin.
It was Finn who had the idea for De Dannan to record a version of the Beatles song ‘Hey Jude’, which brought the group to wider attention in the early 1980s.
With a background in blues music, Finn described his approach to accompanying traditional music as combining various factors:
It’s a mixture of chord, rhythm and countermelody. If I can, I’ll put in as many harmonies to whatever the lead musician is playing, [and] try and give it a bit of colour, but not dictate the rhythm…
Six weeks ago in NUI Galway, Finn and Gavin launched their second duet album together, Traditional Irish Music on Fiddle and Bouzouki – Volume II, 39 years after the first.
Last week, the TG4 series ‘Sé Mo Laoch dedicated a programme to his work. His musicianship, and the recordings of the band he co-founded, continue to have an impact across the world of traditional and folk music. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.