Thursday, September 21, 2006

Brock and Scahill and their Humdinger…

All text copyright Ita Kelly (c) 2006

Humdinger! Now there’s an unusual word. A word used to describe something amazing, somebody or something exceptional or outstanding. That’s what we have in the new album from Paul Brock and Enda Scahill. Oh, it’s a humdinger all right. Could it really be the first full album of traditional music on melodeon and banjo? Isn’t it amazing that until now nobody else thought of recording at length this combination of instruments with the short, clipped, jolly sound that together recreate, in this instance anyway, the sound of a golden era some eighty to one hundred years ago? ‘Humdinger’ exudes that early happy go lucky sound of twenties and thirties America when traditional music merged with music hall and Irish emigrants brought a colour to Vaudeville that will never be forgotten. It was the first time Irish traditional music was recorded extensively and Irish musicians became ‘stars’. Little did they know the long lasting effect they would have shaping the sound of traditional music ever since. Musicians tend to return to this era at some stage in their musical careers. There will always be a fascination with this time because it was the time of the earliest recordings and the first benchmark for the hundreds of years that preceded it. It was the first point of preservation, the first snapshot and so has become the reference point for all the music that has come since then. Radio, a new medium to appear at that same time further allowed a communication of this music to a wide audience. Growing up in the fifties, Paul Brock remembers the excitement of new recordings and the weekly traditional music shows on the radio. For Enda Scahill ‘Humdinger’ has been his avenue into the past guided knowledgeably by Paul.

The pair first met and performed together about seven years ago when Enda was invited to join Moving Cloud, who at the time were in the final throes of their existence. Kevin Crawford had moved on to Lúnasa and Enda filled the gap created. Following the demise of Moving Cloud, Paul, with fellow founding member Manus McGuire, formed a new group, The Brock McGuire Band. Enda continued with them and every year they undertake several tours mostly to America.

Paul, an accomplished musician with several All Ireland titles to his credit, recently completed his Masters degree in Music Performance at University of Limerick and as part of that course had to do a field study on a musician. “He rang me up” says Enda, “and asked me would I be interested. It was good for me in the sense that he asked me a lot of questions on style, technique and repertoire. Because I teach banjo myself, I always try to improve the way that I teach. The best way to do that is to learn what you do yourself, try and figure it out. It really helped me to have a right good look and technically assess the way that I play the banjo and put words on that.”

“I picked the banjo and Enda” Paul explains, “because it was an instrument that up to that point didn’t seem to be studied in any great depth. As well as that, I had been working musically with Enda.”

“That took me down the road of having an in-depth look at Enda’s playing and out of that, I started to look at the banjo itself, to put it in some kind of context and see where it came from. Side by side, I was also revisiting as part of the research, the melodeon and in particular the work of John Kimmel who was the very first melodeon player to be recorded.”

Its not surprising then that Kimmel is cited several times throughout the sleeve notes on ‘Humdinger’ along with The Flanagan Brothers, Dan Sullivan’s Shamrock band and many other early recording artists.

Another part of Paul’s course involved recording a number of pieces of music and again he spoke to Enda about that. “It would be an opportunity” says Enda, “to put material together with a view to going on and doing an album.” Paul smiles when I ask him about the music and suggest that on this project at least he is deeply influenced by that early golden era of the last century. “If you ask me how I have that interest” he says, “from the very time I started playing Irish music, when I was growing up in Athlone as a young boy, I was very lucky. A friend of my father’s was a Sligo fiddle and box player and he used to come to our house, a man called Frank Dolphin. He took me under his wing at a very early age and he gave me my early repertoire. He used to bring 78s to our home and we had a wind up gramophone and I still have part of that collection from way back. As the years progressed, you’re constantly looking for inspiration, for repertoire, for players of different styles and so on. Apart from looking at people around you, it is inevitable to look back and I’ve looked back over the years and I continue to look back to what I describe as that golden era in America in the early 1900s, because so many musicians set the standards at the time. They set the bar, so to speak, to this day.”

Enda Scahill in contrast grew up in the 1970s, starting on the tin whistle in school and progressing to the banjo when only eight years old. He studied classical music and attended St. Finian’s College in Mullingar. He accumulated no less than five all-Ireland titles on banjo and released a solo album ‘Pick it up’ in 2000. All his siblings play music and for nineteen years Enda performed with the Galway folk theatre group Siamsa. “When I was growing up, the music I heard was DeDanann, that was my touchstone, never knowing where they were taking their inspiration from. Since I started playing with Paul and doing this recording, it has given me more of an appreciation of where the music comes from.”

Both Paul and Enda recognise the compatibility of their music and their instruments together. “Paul’s style of accordion playing really appealed to me” says Enda, “the rhythm of it and it sits very well with the banjo. He has a bouncy style with kind of sharp rhythmical triplets which really matches what I do on the banjo. It just sits together very well”

“Enda is an extraordinary musician” says Paul, “I’ve seen his interest in the instrument and how he wants to raise the level of appreciation of it. I think he’s doing amazing things on the banjo. I’m very happy with the level of affinity that there is in relation to what we’ve tried to do with this look back at that golden era and not to slavishly imitate, because we’ve tried to do it freshly and a bit differently.”

The tunes on ‘Humdinger’ can only be described as classic – many will be very familiar to the listener, several will bring a smile to your face as a well known melody finds its way between the jigs and reels. There’s lots of energy in the music and a good element of fun thrown in as well. Accompanying the banjo-melodeon duo is the veteran percussionist Tommy Hayes and on piano, Ryan Molloy, a young and gifted musician from Pomeroy in Co. Tyrone. “The way Ryan plays, the piano is very much a third instrument rather than a backing instrument” says Enda. “It’s in the front line of the tunes.”

Following their launch in Galway’s Róisín Dubh in September, Paul and Enda have some Irish performances lined up and the wheels in motion for some serious touring next year.

Click here to buy Brock and Scahill's Humdinger at the .tradnet store on Amazon.