• Category Archives Music
  • The Lion King in Dublin

    Emma, Jenny, Nicky and I went to the performance of the Lion King in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre or as I rather call it, the Grand Canal Theatre last night. We chose that show because there was an audio description facility. This meant that we were each given a small headset with the exception of Emma of course so that we could hear descriptions of the activity on stage. Audio description of this type of show is brilliant as obviously, although the music is the primary focus, the plot is almost equally as important and without the audio description many of the subtleties such as movements, scene changes and gestures can be lost leading to a less than fulfilling understanding of what’s going on. This was probably the first time I’ve ever enjoyed a musical as much and it’s in no small part due to the fact that I was able to keep up with the plot so easily. Of course, one of the other reasons is that the music and the story line in the Lion king are so good! The music and the musicians that performed it just couldn’t be better.

    I really liked that although the story line was rigidly followed, as it should have been, the cast related to the audience and broke away from the story line in two obvious parts. The first was when the character Zazu made a joke that the stage curtains were like a bad ikea shower curtain. The second time that they really diverted from the story line was during one of the last scenes where Simba is beginning to fight back for his kingdom. He tells Timon and Pumba to create a diversion. They offer to wear drag and dance to river dance. At that, they come back on stage dressed up in Irish dancing costumes dancing to the main river dance theme. Both diversions were absolutely hilarious and they really helped to encourage the audience.

    The singers and performers were absolutely astonishingly good. African songs seem incredibly difficult to sing but they did it flawlessly. The character of Rafeeky completely blew me away. Her range and skill was nothing less than an ultimate pleasure to listen to.

    You know that music is good when you feel cold all over while sitting in a really hot room. For many of the performances last night I was freezing. I would definitely go to another rmusical again. Especially if they are as well described as the Lion King was last night.

  • Get the first album from Eitleán

    As many of you know, for over a year now I have been playing music with a few great friends. Our band is called Eitleán. Watch out for us. With the news I am going to tell you today we are launching a major campaign to increase our exposure in the Traditional Irish music scene.

    I am absolutely delighted to tell you that on Saturday we release our very first album. This has been in the works for a year now! We took our time getting it ready because as we recorded new tracks our style evolved. We wanted this to be very evident on our first release.

    The album is called The Devil Set. It got its name because of the last track. Because it gets quite fast, Trudy, our accordion player nicknamed it The Devil Set. The name has stuck and it suits the informal nature of the band quite well.

    The CD will be in shops next week for just €10.00 but if you want to grab a copy online, you can download it from the Eitlean website for just €8.00.

    This weekend, we are welcoming people home in Dublin airport on Saturday and Sunday morning and on Sunday afternoon we jet off to Paris to perform twice before returning home on Tuesday evening.

    Oh. One more thing. If your quick, and you like or share the Eitleán Facebook page before Saturday you’ll be in with a chance of winning a free copy of the album.

  • Achil island and Scoil Acla. My thought’s.

    This post is written for The DarraghOHeiligh.ie website and blog. This site is focused on the Irish traditional music that Darragh plays with the aim of highlighting and promoting his music. More information regarding this site will be available shortly.

    I’m just back after a really fantastic week in Achil. I attended the 26th Scoil Acla. It’s similar in a lot of ways to the willy Clancy week. A number of master musicians give up their time to teach tunes and technique to other musicians of varying degrees of experience. Someone like myself gets the opportunity to focus on learning new tunes and tightening up on technique and the beginners get the opportunity to play music with other people of the same level in a very friendly and helpful environment.

    Scoil Acla is more focused on learning and music than other festivals I’ve been to of this type. This is probably due to the fact that Achil island is very rural. You really need a car to travel between the different venues and you are very lucky if you find a foot path.

    Classes last about three hours with a half an hour break in the middle. There are classes for every Irish instrument you can think of I think.

    When I got to Achil I was very worried at this remoteness because as I don’t drive for obvious reasons, it would mean that I had no choice but to rely on the people I was with. Fortunately, they couldn’t have been nicer so it wasn’t a problem. Still, people who know me will understand that I hate relying on people to get around. It took a while to get use to.

    There were a few other things that took some time to get use to as well. I don’t want to seem big headed but I was well above the standard of the pipe classes in my opinion. It took me a few days to realise that I could still get something out of them. It was actually one of the friends I was traveling with who changed my outlook on the entire week with one simple statement. “It is what it is”. Yes. That simple. I decided after some thinking to make the best of it and from then on my outlook completely changed. I hovered around different classes for the rest of the week recording as many tunes as possible so I could learn them in my own time and I sat in on a class with my original Uilleann pipe teacher, Mick O’Brian. This was the best thing I could have done. He was very critical of my playing. That’s not to say it was bad, he just picked up on every possible thing that I could improve on. This is exactly what I wanted. He didn’t let me away with a thing! This meant that new tunes I learned were played exactly as he wanted with the technique he so expertly plays. It was really nice to push my playing and to find fault with the technique I have developed in the past twelve or thirteen years since my last lesson.

    One thing I was surprised at was the lack of sessions in the afternoon. This was for two reasons. Firstly, because of the distance between each pub it was harder for sessions to start spontaniously. The second reason was that to my amusement, people were actually working on the tunes that they had learned in the morning. I was amused because at most other festivals people spend the morning learning and the afternoon meeting other people, playing music and socialising. I kind of admired the culture that has built up at Scoil Acla. Again, I think it is very related to the type of environment it is hosted in.

    I met some lovely people over there. So many of the up and coming Irish musicians that I met were from other countries! France, Italy and even Japan had great representation. It’s so funny to introduce yourself to a lovely fiddle player or harpist at the end of a set of tunes to hear a foreign accent respond to your greeting.

    I don’t think I’ll be back at Scoil Acla next year but I really enjoyed it this year! I really think every musician should be willing to go back for a lesson about every ten years. It’s a surprisingly rewarding experience to have new ideas to incorporate. No matter how good we think we are, there’s always someone who does something better. Someone asked me why I was bothering to take a class. My response was simple. The day I stop learning is the day I stop playing. No matter how experienced you are or no matter long your playing there’s always something new to try.

  • Uilleann pipes – Made in Japan.

    It use to be a joke among musicians that it was only a matter of time that if you looked at a set of Uilleann pipes, sooner or alter you’d see a sticker saying made in Japan. well, that time has come! But it’s not what you think. A maker by the name of Makoto is making some of the nicest pipes I’ve ever played. Their such a comfortable set and they sound so nice that I knew I was going to come home and write a quick blog post as soon as I could. Go visit Makoto’s site and see for yourself.

    A nice piper, a nice pipe maker and seriously, he slaggs as good as any Irish person. 🙂

  • Music or Technology.

    Work to live. Don’t live to work and equally, play to live. Don’t live to play. This is my new aspiration. I’m lucky. I love my job but lately I’ve been spending far too much time working and not enough time playing. Finding a better balance is something I need to prioritise sooner rather than later.

    I don’t mind saying that for a long time now I have been giving serious consideration to moving away from my career in computing into the life of a full time musician. It is a very attractive option but it would be a huge change with a lot of draw backs. My father once said that in his opinion. Being a musician carried limited opportunities for advancement. Once you reached a certain level there was no possibility for improvement. I’m sure he wasn’t just talking about musicianship, technical ability and skill. He was quite rightly pointing out that especially in Irish traditional music; there is a certain limit to the size of the proverbial ladders that someone and clime. Once you reach that peak there is nowhere else to go. In the Information technology industry, the ladder is much higher leading to many more possibilities for improvement, promotion and let’s faces it, increased remuneration. There is also a lot of competition in Irish music. That’s a great thing. Don’t get me wrong. It means that the quality of the music is constantly improving at a rate that can be described as nothing less than astounding. Just listen to the children being taught at the moment. Their incredible! It would mean that I would need to ensure that I actually practise once in a while though.

    Working with computers every day is posing its own set of problems. I am continually hampered by the fact that the assistive technology that I depend on so much is in a constant state of catch up with the rest of the world. Almost every new application that is released by Microsoft, Symantec, Mcafee, Trend micro, HP, Dell, VMware and IBM causes yet another problem for me as a screen reader user. It has reached the stage that I need to regularly enlist the assistance of users of iPhones and iPads who can take the time to talk to me over face time so they can see the errors on the screen when my assistive technology cannot read them. I ask you this openly. How can we expect employers to see us as having the same potential as people who have sight when a new application is released and a screen reader user can’t access over 50% of the interface. When you administer dozens of systems, how can your employer be expected to look the other way while you struggle to use simple parts of applications because the screen reader can’t read what’s on the screen. I am frequently in the position where it probably looks like I’m just being lazy or wasting time but in actual fact, I’m prolonging a particular job because during my spare time I’m trying to write a script for my screen reader to get around some strange application. Or, worse, I’m waiting until I can get someone to quickly let me use their eyes for 2 minutes. See, I’m stubborn. I hate admitting that I can’t access systems. I’d rather be seen as incompetent, lazy and slow before letting people see that I’m struggling with accessibility. It’s probably silly and without doubt a lot of you think I’m crazy. It’s probably also true that a lot of you are wondering why I’m writing so bluntly with a basic admission that I’m finding it almost impossible to do my job. Simple. I find it almost impossible but I’m absolutely completely committed to doing the very best I can and until that stops, I know I will succeed. That’s not me being over confident or having a big head, I’m simply saying that I can’t afford to give up. I spoke to someone on Twitter two weeks ago and although he doesn’t know me, he was able to see my frustration within ten minutes. I don’t know who this person is really. I don’t’ know how much experience he has or even where he’s from. He however said something that hit home to me. He told me to be careful. “Constantly fighting accessibility battles can very easily burn you out”. How true this is! I would bet that all my stress is caused by trying desperately to access systems. I’m quite good under pressure. Outages, major changes, upgrades and problems don’t bother me too much. They all have a logical solution and it’s not like with the day to day work problems come up every day. Accessibility or the lack thereof is just driving me crazy. I sometimes fear that I may have hit a glass ceiling in this type of work. I can see… excuse the pun… what’s above me and I know how to get there but I can’t get past the step that I’m on now. It’s not like I couldn’t go in and configure a Dell KVM. It’s not difficult. But, the interface is QT based so I can’t access it. See what I mean? That brings me to a very quick point that I wanted to make: This is not the fault of the assistive technology developers. If leading companies such as Microsoft do not use good design practises in all of their applications how then can we hope for any other company to? Making an accessible application is not difficult. It just takes consideration. That’s a topic for another day though.

    So, you can see my dilemma. Play music full time, earn less money with fewer prospects for promotion or enhancement or feel like I’m banging my head off a wall every day trying to make a square peg fit into a round whole. I’ve often said that I’m lucky. I love my job. I love working with computers but the more I achieve and the higher on that ladder I keep talking about I clime, the more I seem to hit this inaccessible wall.

    Another very important point to consider is, music is my escape. I heard it described yesterday as like jumping off a peer into a deep river. You start off in one world but when you hit the water you are in a completely different world with different rules, different movements, different priorities and different goals. Hold breath under water. Breathe while swimming. Use different muscles. Music is like this. While playing music the same rules don’t apply as working. It’s a very focusing activity. I would be very afraid I’d lose that escape if I played music full time. Where would I go to relax then? Back to a computer? Could the worlds work in reverse?

    My mother commented before that until I suddenly announced one day that I had made my mind up to go to college and study computing that she always felt that it was a fore gone conclusion that I would be a full time musician. That’s interesting isn’t it? Here’s a little known fact. Out of both my parents, I would consider my father to be the more musical one. So, that perspective surprised me a lot. In a way, I considered myself very lucky. By fourteen or fifteen, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I even knew the course number. DK054.

    It’s an interesting question and an interesting choice. I don’t expect I’ll answer it any time soon. I’d still like your perspective though.

  • Eitleán – The reason that I have been so quiet.

    I probably have no readers left on this site at all and you know what? I don’t blame you at all. I haven’t been posting here because I’ve been very busy with other projects that seem to be running at the same time.

    I thought I should write something to tell you a bit about what I’m doing. Today’s post will be about the music side of things. I’m playing with two lovely people who live in Dundalk. Andrew Grafton and his girlfriend Trudy Maguire. Their full time musicians who play every kind of music from rock to classical to jazz, to the blues. Trudy even sings in a quire and is an active participant in the Irish accordion association. Andrew is kept busy as he is probably one of the most talented videographers and sound engineers on the east coast. He’s also one of the nicest guitarists I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing music with.

    About a year ago we began playing music together. I originally stood in for another musician as he was traveling quite a lot but as time moved on we began to get together more and more. About two months ago we finally settled on a name for the band on the way to the airport for the last of a string of gigs around St. Patrick’s Day. The name is Eitleán. This is Irish for Airplane. For those of you outside Ireland, this is pronounced etchelawn. Yes, it’s a funny way of thinking up a band name but it has stuck and it suits the nature of the band because we’re all messers when you get right down to it.

    We have been working on a new CD for the past few months as well and we’re hoping that will be released very shortly. In anticipation of the launch and in an effort to raise awareness of the band we have been hitting social media networks. You may now find us on Facebook, Twitter, Sound cloud and our Eitleán website which is still in the process of being built.

    This is the part where I ask you to get involved. Listen to our tracks on sound cloud, follow our twitter account and like our page on Facebook. Eitleán music is definitely here to stay and hopefully this is just the start of what is to come.

    Social networks

  • A musical perspective.

    During the week leading up to St. Patrick’s day I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to play music every day. Between sessions, practising, gigging and teaching it seemed like I didn’t put down the pipes once. To say that I enjoyed it wouldn’t be good enough.
    I’m playing music with two friends at the moment. Both of them sing and one plays the guitar and the other plays the accordion. Their brilliant fun to be around and their playing really suit my mischievous style. When playing together the band is called Eitleán. For those of you using a screen reader to read this, I am sorry but you won’t get the proper pronunciation. Eitleán is Airplane in Irish. I’ll explain how we came up with that name shortly. The band sings a combination of songs from Mary black, Paul Brady, Christy Moore, the Dubliners, Cara Dillon, Julie Fowlis, and dozens of other well-known folk singers. We also play a lot of Irish traditional tunes. We generally try to keep the music diverse so it is rare that during a gig or session you’ll hear a lot of one kind. For example, last night we played a Romanian tune, Something from Spain, a lot of Irish traditional tunes and songs such as Go lassie go, The island, Fisherman’s blues, Rainy night in Soho, Whisky in the jar, Spanish lady and the Irish rover. As you can hopefully see, the range of music is spread right across the Irish traditional and folk genres. The instruments in the band are: Uilleann pipes, accordion, whistles, low whistles, bodhran, mandolin, piano and guitar. Not all at the same time though. There’s only three of us and we’ve only a certain amount of hands. You can see then why I absolutely love nothing more than sitting down at a gig or session with these people. It’s very rewarding playing with two really brilliant musicians. We’re constantly thinking of new ideas and always pushing the boundaries of the sound.

    The band is only on the go for about six months now so the number of gigs etc. that we’re getting is still quite low. Plus, I’m working full time so I’m not giving it as much attention as I would like. Still, it’s keeping me entertained. The other two are full time musicians. It’s what they do every day so as you can imagine, they have their fingers in quite a lot of pies.

    So, as I was saying, I spent the entire week playing music. From a session in Macs in Dundalk on Friday night the 9th of March right up to the last gig on Sunday the 18th of March. I won’t bore you with all the details. The highlights were playing in the airport on Thursday and Friday morning to greet tourists and emigrants returning to Ireland, the Brilliant session on Friday night, the four or five sessions on St. Patrick’s day and the very enjoyable day I spent with the other two in a modern and very well run recording studio in Dundalk on the Sunday.

    While working in a job that seems to constantly have me stressed or worried over something, music is the one thing I can fully depend on to get rid of all apprehension. I don’t remember the last time I was so relaxed. Two weeks in a hot country wouldn’t distress me like that week did. I’ve often thought of playing music full time but I know I never will. I’m one of the luckiest people in the world. I work in an industry I really love and when I’m finished work, I get to entertain and teach people with a hobby that I love just as much. It’s a very rare opportunity. I wouldn’t want to jeopardise the enjoyment I get from playing music by having to depend on it as an income.

    Before I finish, I better tell you how we came up with the name Eitleán. We had been discussing suitable names for months. Trills and triplets, the button folk, bits and pieces, Folken trad and probably dozens of others but nothing was really sticking. We had one hour to come up with a name on Friday for a recording that the Dublin airport authority wanted to prepare so while driving up the M1 and throwing the most stupid of names around for the craic someone asked what the Irish for air plane was. And so a name was agreed!

    I chose the title of this blog post because for a very short time I got to see through the eyes of full time musicians. I was absolutely amazed by the amount of work they put in. Before they turn up to a gig the preparation is quite obvious. You practise, test out the gear, tune instruments, clean everything so it’s presentable and all that kind of thing. What you don’t see is the conversations at 4:30 in the morning about a YouTube video that has just been found with a style that makes you think of a song or a tune in a completely different way. You don’t really see that the band they are playing on Wednesday night with is completely different to the band their playing in on Thursday night and between Wednesday and Thursday they may have played at a funeral, a corporate event or simply a family reunion. I know that one full time musician is in three full time bands and he’s in about four or five session groups. He could be playing hard rock on Mondays, Spanish guitar on Tuesdays, pop on Wednesdays, Country on Thursday, classical on Friday jazz on Saturday and Irish traditional tunes on Sunday. Between all of this he might need to learn twenty songs for the next week and prepare a new composition for a film. It is simply amazing that these people get to have a life at all. The life of a musician is very busy and very demanding. Even as a musician myself, I wasn’t aware of the amount of work a full timer puts in.

  • Catching up.

    I haven’t given you a general update in quite a while. Sorry about that.

    So, what’s happening? Good question. I’m not sure where to start. Fortunately, I’m still working. Recent stats released recently have put unemployment in Ireland at 14%. That’s the highest levels in twenty years I think they’ve said. So, the fact that I’m part of the lucky ones is definitely something to be happy about. In fact, I am very happy because I’m very fortunate to be doing reasonably well when the rest of the country seems to be suffering. Work is still actually really enjoyable. Sure, I go in some mornings and the last place I want to be is sitting in the office but I’m glad to say that after four years the job is still challenging and the environment I work in is quite decent as well.

    Outside of work things are going just as nicely. I’m playing a lot of music at the moment. I’m teaching people on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I’m practising with a band on Thursday and I’m usually playing at a gig and a session a few times during the weekend. I’m fortunate to be playing a lot of music with two good friends of mine. One plays the guitar and the other the accordion. Both of them sing as well so they add a great variety to the music.

    When I’m not at work or playing music, I’m working on technology projects or working for local companies. I’ll tell you a lot more about this shortly. Again, it’s interesting, demanding and challenging so I’m loving every moment of it.

    Of course, a few things aren’t going so well but that’s only to be expected and accepted. If you don’t have the bad you can’t appreciate the good as they say.

    I have a few meetings this afternoon. They are going to make a few plans start moving in the right direction. Hopefully in about a month I’ll be able to tell you more. In fact, hopefully a month from now I will be able to fill you in on a lot of things that are about to change.

    How are you?

  • Gigs for Temple bar Trad fest 2012

    The temple bar trad fest was on in Dublin over the past few days. It seems to be getting bigger and better every year and this time around it didn’t disappoint.

    The line-up this time began with a lovely relaxed piping recital by the renound Uilleann piper Mick O’Brian. HE played in city hall for 45 minutes to a room filled with people who genuinely appreciated pure Irish traditional music. Mick is a versatile musician and he seems to be comfortable playing in any setting but he excels when letting his pipes reach their full potential by filling a particularly big room such as that in Dublin’s city hall. His masterful playing of the chanter, drones and regulators is why Mick can captivate an audience for 45 minutes when playing solo. Yes, you read correctly. He had no backing at all. It was just him on his own on stage for 45 minutes. If I had one complaint for this gig it would be that the volume of the amplification could have been increased a lot more. It didn’t do his playing any favours. The highlight was the slow air he chose at the start. I have a recording of that somewhere so check back for an update to this post in a day or two. He also played a tune, or a combination of tunes called the fox chase. This is probably the most complicated arrangement to play on the pipes but showing his skill yet again, he pulled it off easily.

    The second gig on Wednesday night was in the idyllic setting of Christ church cathedral in Dublin city centre. From 8PM we were entertained for two and a half hours by the very interesting Safire and Michael McGoldrick. The night began with Safira and their very unique style. They play modern contemporary versions of classical and traditional music from around the world. Two sisters both playing the fiddle they bring a great energy to their performance. My personal opinion is that it wasn’t the time or place for their type of music but I’m very sure there’s a market out there for them. They have just returned from a year and a half in America and their style of entertainment and performance reflects this without a doubt. They use backing tracks for all of their pieces but they were so loud that it was impossible to hear where the backing track started and where it ended. It was impossible for me to determine what parts the sisters were actually playing because their music was so intermingled with the music played by the backing track. I If was sceptical I’d wonder if they were actually playing at all. I don’t want to be harsh or mean. I’m sure their great musicians but I would have liked them to demonstrate their music without the safety net of a backing track. Even for one tune. Finally, I would say that sex sells and it seemed that that’s the kind of thing they were trying to put out there so maybe I was completely clueless because although their dresses was described to me, I obviously didn’t get the desired effect. In saying that, a man sitting near me didn’t seem all that impressed either. Seriously, I know I’m being more negative than usual but I honestly wish them well. I would go to them again but only to give them a second chance as if I was in their position I wouldn’t like to be judged by the outcome of one gig.

    The last performance of the night was by Michael McGoldrick on flute, whistles and pipes, John Joe Kelly on bodhran and Ed Boyd on guitar. A climactic thrill from the start to the finish this gig was something I had been looking forward to since the last time I heard Michael McGoldrick playing in a quiet venue during the Fleadh in August. Amazing! Shocking! Exhilarating! Brilliant! Energising! These are only some of the words that I would use to describe their performance. Every single one of them played well. By the time Jerry O’Connor joined them for a few tunes near the end of the gig the huge church was humming with the thrill of music. It was either the thrill of music or the feedback from the speaker in front of me. Either way, there was a hum or it wasn’t off Michael McGoldricks feet after he took his shoes off on stage. Sorry, you won’t get that unless you watch a few of the videos on this post. John Joe Kelly’s bodhran solo lasted about five minutes and he captivated and ensnared every single person for every single second of it. The applause given after it reflected it and Michael even commented afterward that it was without doubt the best response John Joe had ever received after a solo. I personally think it was one of the best solo performances he’s ever given and he definitely deserved the recognition.

    It was lovely to hear Michael McGoldrick on pipes for a change. He only played a set of two tunes but it was still a rare pleasure. Did you know he is a lefty? Forgetting his amazing talent for playing, he has an even more amazing talent for picking tunes. The tunes he played on the pipes were excellently chosen and the change between each tune was just perfect.

    We didn’t get back until 1AM on Thursday morning and getting up for work was very difficult but I still feel energised and yes, although some will laugh, even inspired after listening to such brilliant music played by master musicians.

    On Saturday we travelled to Dublin to take in more music from trad fest. Saturday was more sessions than gigs though and it was nice to visit the Palace bar in Temple bar to play music with people from all over the country. The best thing about this kind of event is tunes are heard that are more prominent in other parts of the country but are almost forgotten in Dublin and Louth.

    One of the best things on Saturday night was walking around Temple bar between sessions and finding a group of young teenagers sitting on the steps of Temple bar square playing a few tunes. A few feet away, a young girl of no more than six was playing a few tunes as well. I love to see that kind of thing. Young kids enjoying the friendly atmosphere and getting fun out of the music.

    Again, please remember to check back soon. It takes a while to prepare each video so I haven’t got them all done just yet but I’ll upload as many as I can over the next few days. You can also visit my Youtube channel for more videos.