Mick O’Brian – My 10 favorite musicians in 10 days.

Could I really write these posts without mentioning the man who originally taught me? Of course not! He’s a musician that few outside the traditional music scene would recognise easily but he’s a man who has been one of my main influences even though the last time he taught me must have been fifteen years ago. Hopefully he doesn’t read that as I’m sure he’d rather not remember how long ago that was.

I’m talking about Mick O’Brian in this post. Not because he taught me but because he was one of the reasons I fell in love with the sound of the pipes. I heard his amazing skill echoing around the corridors of the school and the infectious and full sound of the full set always made me stop for a moment in admiration even from a very early age.

Mick O’Brian is from a very musical family and in fact I’ve had the pleasure of playing music with his brother John recently in a small pub on the quay in Dublin called the Ferryman on a Saturday night. Like Maurice Lennon who featured in Tuesdays post, Mick has music in his blood and it really shows.

Mick has recorded four albums that I’m aware of. The first one has to be my favourite though. Called the May morning Dew it actually features a slow air by the same name that is still my favourite air of all and it’s one I continue to play more than any other at gigs. I love this album because it has a nice variation of whistle and pipes. It also benefits from backing by a very nice guitar player and the selection of tunes is brilliant.

Some of my favourite tunes are definitely Bumper Squire Jones-An Sean Duine-O’Sullivan’s March. These start off with lovely basy guitar playing and drones but with the second tune the lack of the guitar and the extensive use of the regulators providing chordal accompaniment really lightens the tone. The technique could be more complicated in these tunes but it doesn’t need to be. If you listen carefully you’ll notice that he uses grace notes sparingly but there’s a pattern to them. For example, sometimes there at the start of a note and other times they help to break a note in two for effect. Sometimes he only does it every second note or sometimes he’ll put the grace note exactly in the same place as the tune comes back around again. I wonder at times if he realises he’s doing it. It’s something I’ve tried to aspire to occasionally but I find it takes a lot of concentration. It’s often easier to spoil a tune with over complication than it is to break it down to that level of sophistication while keeping it that light and simple. Sorry. I’m probably making no sense at all. Ok. I’ll try to explain this once more. In these tunes Mick could have put in triplets and crans all over the place but although these feature in certain parts, their underutilized and instead more subtle forms of ornamentation can be heard. Even when you don’t recognise the piping skill demonstrated in his playing you’ll still appreciate the flow of the tune as a result of his style.

I’d like to mention one more of my favourites from the same album. It’s a set called Micko Russel’s-Moneymusk. I just love the piano that’s backing these tunes. Seriously, if you have never heard this CD, please go buy it today and listen to that track. Its number 7. You’ll love the piano on it.

One of his later CD’s was the ancient voice of Ireland. This was done for RTE I think and from what I gather; Mick may not have had as much input into the resulting arrangements however I have to say that it’s one of my favourite albums to listen to when I just want to relax for a while. One of the tracks is a bit strange but I like listening to the instrumental versions of these commonly known Irish songs. For example, I love the sound of the pipes in She moved through the fair. I also love the melody of The Coolin but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like that tune.

I have to admit, I have something bad to say. I’m sorry but I’m not a huge fan of the CD’s that Mick O’Brien has done in collaboration with Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh. Musically, their very good and for purist Irish traditional musicians their brilliant. However, and I have to be very clear here, In my opinion as someone who likes nice backing by other instruments such as the guitar, I find the two albums Kitty Lie Over and Deadly Buzz just a little dead for my taste. I listen to them, their lovely tunes and both musicians are brilliant, and they just don’t rank up there in my favourites.

Finally, it’s only fair that I show a video of both Mick O’Brien & Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh as well.