Photographs by Gerry O'Beirne.
Hello everyone. I've sorely neglected this web site for a long time but getting around to fixing it up a little today. There are new tracks to listen to and new photos and it's all shiny and newish. Also there's an album in the works and i'll let you know more about that soon. Sending love to you all, Gerry
It's been ages since I gave any news in these pages so apologies for that. I came home from the states in May and did a tour with Irish Music Network which was a lovely experience, playing with legendary nickelharpa player Olov Johansson from Vasen, Conor Byrne on flute and Tom Morrow from Dervish on fiddle. There was a quick visit to Transylvania to play with the orchestra and choirs for Shaun Davey's Voices From The Merry Cemetery - sadly I missed the Irish debut of this remarkable suite in St Patrick's Cathedral last November. By now we all feel really at home in Sibiu and with those great musicians and singers. You'll find me for much of this summer as usual in the Dingle Peninsula and playing quite often in St James' Church in Dingle. When I get a better internet connection I'll put up some photos from these recent travels. Hope to see you down the road, or better again in Dingle!
Singer/songwriter Gerry O'Beirne (vocals, guitars, ukulele) from Co. Clare and American fiddler Rosie Shipley (fiddle, vocals) have been working together for years and finally they release their first album together. O'Beirne composed six of the 13 songs and tunes, put two poems to music and they completed the program with five traditional sets.
Patrick Kavanagh is the author of the beautiful poem "Free Soul" and O'Beirne added a melancholic tune played by guitar, fiddle and Trevor Hutchinson on double bass; his tender singing is borne by Shipley's angelic background vocals. My favourite song is "Black Water", a kind of psychedelic folk song with hauntingly beautiful singing, hypnotic finger-picking, fine fiddling and Hutchinson's terrific double bass. Traditional dance sets from Ireland like "Tom Billy's" or the "Cape Breton Set", where Shipley attended a Gaelic Arts college, include intoxicating jigs. reels, hornpipes, strathspeys and slides. Another highlight is "American Tunes", a set of two Appalachian traditionals. National Steel Guitar, Fiddle and acoustic guitar produce an unbelievable bluesy groove. Shipley's fiddling is awesome and O'Beirne adds some virtuoso Bluegrass on ukulele. "Alfred Hitchcock's Polkas" is an original set by O'Beirne starting with a melancholic slow polka and accelerating to a breathtaking speed polka.
Two first class musicians hosting one of the best Irish double bass players have created an extraordinary album with innovative Arrangements and hauntingly beautiful songs.
I'm not noted for social networking, indeed I hardly do it at all, but if you would like to listen to some pieces of music that may not make it on to an album any time soon, here's a couple of videos taken in my summer retreat in Co Kerry. I hope you enjoy them.
An old Irish air, Marbhna Luimnigh, played on my gorgeous old National Steel guitar. I don't have enough hands to bring this instrument on the road, but it's an essential part of my music at home. I bought it many years ago from a dusty old man in a dusty old shop in London. That was a very good day.
and a new ukulele piece:
Years ago I used to wander up the coast from LA to Portland to play music with Kevin Burke and Andy Irivine, and from there we would go on tour around the states. The music was sleek and jaunty and fun and the trio was never recorded, more’s the pity, though I produced an album for Kevin, Up Close, that among other things had the harmonica-playing Murphy family from Wexford with their celebrated reels, and I added some electric guitar and drum machine on one of those late night sessions. It’s a track I really love. You hear those tunes played a lot in trad sessions nowadays, but I always miss the electric guitar, though I might be the only one who does!
We used to hang out at a somewhat anarchic wine-lovers’ restaurant that proudly boasted the most brusque service in America, The Vat And Tonsure, now sadly closed forever it seems, and one of the friends we made at that time was Bronnie Griffin, a teenage fiddle student of Kevin’s who was already a good old-time and bluegrass fiddler but took to the Irish thing like a happy splashing duck to water and was immediately good enough to play with himself. Now she has made an album and kindly asked me to produce and arrange the music. I think it’s really good and upbeat and fun, reminding me a lot of the times we had back then and full of Bronnie's generous spirit. I play along a fair bit too and Kevin doubles up some fiddle lines and harmonies on a few tunes, and then there are contributions from other good friends like Elizabeth Nicholson who provides airy dexterous harp. It’s very unusual too in that there’s a running theme of cats through all the titles (Bronnie is a big animal protection and rights supporter) and Kevin chips in by reciting The Owl And The Pussycat and some other cat poems in his inimitable growl. It’s worth checking out some of the tracks here. I think they are really pleasing.
The music has been flowing all summer in Dingle. I love playing in St James’ Church, a small perfect space for music, the crows calling outside in the dusk only slightly ominously, two poles in the middle of the room which sadly have never been exotically danced around, so far as I know, and usually a good audience. This week I’m looking forward to some solo sets so I’ll bring more instruments – the National Steel to play a slow air on slide guitar, the Tiple with its almost medieval flavour, the Elephant guitar and twelve-string and ukulele. I’ve written a new uke piece this week that reminds me of perhaps the theme music of an imaginary Luchino Visconti movie, if Visconti had a soundtrack featuring ukulele, which I will be the first to admit he didn’t and wouldn’t, but still it reminds me of him. I’d love to see a nice melodramatic Visconti season in the Dingle Cinema, the best cinema in the world. I’m looking forward to playing with some of the other performers too this week in the church: Laurence Courtney’s big voice is one the local treasures and he’s not heard often enough on stage. Eilis Ní Chinneide is singing better than ever, and Aoife and Deirdre Granville are really good musicians, and all of them fine people for the crack. As in fun. There have been some wild nights in the Shebeen of course with Mr Begley and family, and when you head for Baile na mPuic out across the brow of the peninsula and see the Blasket Islands in the golden dying light of the day, well there are no words for it. Here's a picture of late summer here with the fuschia and montbresia blazing away:
I had a memorable gig too with Béal Tuinne in Gougane Barra this summer where we stayed up quite late, and the quartet with Shaun, Rita and Eoin at the Clifden Arts Festival.
But the highlight of the season was a visit to Romania to play Shaun Davey’s “Merry Cemetery of Sapanta” suite, and this time in the Merry Cemetery itself. The journey started with an overnight train from Bucharest to the town of Sighetu. Joining us on the train was a band called Mambo Siria from Southern Romania. Around midnight they took off their shirts and started to play. They’re a terrific band and really a brass band in a train carriage is the most fun your ears can have while you’re on a train lurching from side to side drinking alcoholic beverages and trying to take a picture of them. Have a look at them on youtube too. It’s worth it, trust me.
It was hot in Sighetu, near the Ukraine border, and we knuckled down to rehearsal with the orchestra and choir, and played in the cemetery the next day. Here’s a picture of just a couple of the “merry” graves. Notice there's a poem about each person with their image, and some of these are set into song by Shaun. Notice too that it's a modern cemetery, so you'll see images of children who have been killed by cars as well as people operating machinery.
When we played the songs, each one set to a poem about the person who is buried there, I wondered why all cemeteries are not like this, and why we don’t play music all the time to celebrate people who are gone, music all about those people. It feels really good to do it.
A view from the stage at the concert that night:
A highlight too was a visit to the communist museum, the only one in the country, which was a poitical prison in the bad old days, one of many such prisons. Interesting to see photos there of the Ceausescus having a great old time with Richard Nixon on a state visit, and a not uncomfortable looking Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip enjoying their visit to the palace. That’s who these people really are, you know, no matter how cuddly they may appear to be in cute movies. You really don’t have to sup with murderers and tyrants if you don’t want to. If we achieved nothing else in Ireland, at least we got rid of that royalty nonsense. The prison yard:
Visiting Romania was a privilege and great fun again this year and no small thanks to “shadow”, our interpreter and minder Ioana Nistorescu.
We’ll be performing the Merry Cemetery of Sapanta suite and other music in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin on the 27th November, along with the novice priests’ choir from Sibiu (they’re not allowed to become priests in the Romanian Orthodox Church until they’re married), and the RTE Concert Orchestra conducted by the redoubtable David Brophy, with Rita Connolly, Noel Eccles and Liam O’Floinn. We hope Shadow will come along too with the Romanian contingent to look after us all.
My friends John Dillon and Vivian Nesbitt have a great radio show broadcast from Taos, New Mexico called Art Of The Song. John has written a book about creativity called The 20-20 Creativity Solution. Check it out here: http://www.1shoppingcart.com/app/?af=1224448
Some of the proceeds from the book will go to keep Art Of The Song: Creativity Radio on the air. Well worth supporting.