Saturday, June 18, 2005

Sliabh Luachra State of Mind

All text copyright Ita Kelly (c) 2005

The dancing and listening music of Sliabh Luachra, hearty and wholesome, bounces off Paudie O’Connor’s CD ‘Different State’. Indeed it is a different place and a different state of mind. Slides and polkas dominate the horizon and the music of an older generation, many now gone, are recalled. “The repertoire of different versions of tunes I play” says Paudie O’Connor, “is purely down to the fact that I was fortunate enough to have played with an older generation of musicians. Whatever I play myself, or the interest I have in it, I believe it’s all attributable to the likes of Johnny O’Leary, Jimmy Doyle and their generation of musicians.” Paudie’s experience is enviable in that he spent so much time since first taking up the accordion at the age of seven, in the company of older musicians, absorbing their vast knowledge and love for the local music of his home place in and around Ballyhar in Co. Kerry. “Ballyhar is the next parish over from Scartaglen where my father Patsy came from, and my mother was from the neighbouring parish of Currow. After they got married they moved to Ballyhar,” explains Paudie. “All my mother’s family played accordion so when I was seven or eight I was bought an accordion and sent off to music classes.” His first teacher was Pádraig Moynihan in the National School and later he was tutored by Anne McAuliffe.

His interest in the local music grew from being asked to play for polka sets at an early age. At school if there was a set to be played, he was the one called upon to do so and that opportunity built his confidence. “The pub laws were different in those days too” says Paudie, “and in fairness to my mother and father, they were great for bringing us to music sessions and getting us to listen to musicians. Every Thursday night Jimmy Doyle used to play in Moynihan's bar in Kilcummin, it was a great session and there was very good set dancing. There was another session in the Shoemaker’s Bar in Castleisland on Tuesdays and again we’d be brought there. John Brosnan played there, as did Denis McMahon and John Regan, local musicians. You’d hear a lot of music naturally rather that getting the force fed stuff you get through classes. As well as that you saw a social side to the music from a very young age. 95% of the music I play, I learnt in pubs as a kid, especially the more interesting tunes, the ones you mightn’t hear too often. You don’t learn that stuff on CDs, you pick it up on the way by meeting decent people. Now that opportunity is going to be hard to find for young people.”

Paudie did the Fleadh Ceoil scene until he was about fifteen but got sick of it. “When I was playing in Fleadhs, I found myself changing my style of playing just to suit competition. I didn’t really see why I had to play in a Tipperary, or an east Galway or whatever style just to suit competition. If I played Kerry music most of the people adjudicating wouldn’t be interested in it. Now I love all the other music but I couldn’t see why me from Kerry would have to play music from another part of the country. I think it has had a big impact on the local music down here in so far as most younger musicians these days can’t play a lot of their own local music, the pressure is on them to play non-local music if they want to compete in competition. It demeans and downgrades the local music in their minds. I think it has definitely led to the music around Kerry and Cork not developing as it should over the last 15 to 20 years.”

“Local music is about playing the melody and about being as rhythmical and pleasing to a dancer as possible, it’s not about impressing your ability on the dancers, its about playing good music for the dancers to dance to.”

Paudie studied Economics and later did a post grad in Computing at the University of Limerick. For six years he absorbed the myriad of styles of the musicians he met there from all over the country. He then moved to Dublin where he now lives, and onto another thriving music scene. “I play with all the Dublin crew of musicians, Paul O’Shaughnessy, Harry Bradley, John McEvoy and Aoife.” Aoife is Aoife O’Keefe from Tralee and a fiddle player. At the time of writing (mid June) Paudie and Aoife were in the throes of preparing for their wedding. During the summer of 2003 Aoife and Paudie featured in the RTE series of concerts ‘The Late Session at Liberty Hall’. Peter Browne who was producing that show suggested to Paudie that he record a CD because of the likely interest in his repertoire of tunes. “That was basically what kick started me into doing the recording, people had often told me that what I played was different to what others were playing.” Pat Aherne, who produced ‘Different State’ for Paudie was also whispering in his ear about recording and Paudie began to round up a selection of tunes representative of what he normally plays. “I had never really sat in a studio before” continues Paudie. “Pat got me to go to his house, he has a mini studio there and he told me to play what I thought I might put on the album. I went away on holidays with the recording and listened to it, and when I came home we both decided that adding instrumentation or a lot of backing wouldn’t really contribute a whole pile. It was really solo playing and adding a lot of instruments wouldn’t really add to the music itself.” The result is a very wholesome and direct melodic album with touches here and there from Paul de Grae on guitar, Aoife and Paudie’s sister Noeleen O’Connor on fiddles and Joe Sullivan from Gneeveguilla on flute, with whom Paudie has been playing regularly for years. His repertoire of tunes and versions of tunes is gleaned from all those musicians with whom he has spent many hours over the years.

The late Johnny O’Leary was one strong influence, a man with a remarkable memory and a remarkable repertoire. “I often heard him play three different versions of the same tune one after the other that he heard from three different people. Then he’d have a story about each of the individuals involved. He knew them all so well and he probably had the best memory of any man ever. I believe he remembered tunes by occasions and people, tunes would come into his head if you reminded him of a story. He was an invaluable link to the past and a terrible loss.”

John Brosnan, the box player Paudie met through the session in The Shoemaker’s bar, was another major influence. “I think he introduced a new style of playing to the local region” says Paudie, “He has that lovely crisp, melodic, very rhythmically strong style unlike any other B/C player I had heard around the area. People who play either style, talk about how different they are and it’s just different notes. Regardless of what style you play, you try to emulate a certain sound or create a certain sound. I play B/C, most players who have that lighter sound I have usually play C#/D. The first guy I heard getting that sound was John Brosnan. It fascinated me. After my father died John came visiting and brought me a tape of John Joe Kimmel. As I listened, the penny dropped, John was influenced by those early 1910/1920 recordings and his style of ornamentation was that crisp execution of ornamentation that was associated with that era rather than the post 1950s B/C ornamentation. I had my own style already but I took aspects of John’s playing and I started listening myself then to P.J. Conlon, Joe Derrane and all that sort of music. It probably all adds to making the sound a bit different.”

Paudie plays music almost fulltime now, in Kerry and Dublin mostly and at festivals around the country. His favourite weekend of the year is predictably the Pádraig O’Keefe festival and he launched his CD earlier his year at another Kerry festival, The Gathering in Killarney. Looking to the future, Paudie wants to learn more Kerry music and to spend as much time as he can with older musicians. “I’d love to see other younger musicians recording albums in a similar vein with regard to repertoire” he says, “I think everyone has a duty to record a CD and make a contribution to the music. I think if you’re going to make a contribution, everyone has it in them to bring something unique of what they do themselves from their local area. Everyone has learnt a few tunes from an old man down the road, I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t and they all have their own little twist. It would be great if everyone could bring something like that to the party.”

‘Different State’ from Paudie O’Connor is on Push Button Records PBCD1975.

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