Brian Conway is one of the finest County Sligo-style Irish fiddlers in the United States and abroad. The winner of several All-Irish Fiddle contests in Ireland, the native New Yorker has been playing fiddle since was ten, continuing a musical tradition that Irish musicians brought to this country and which has continued to evolve here. He brought his fiddle to the KRWG studios to talk with Intermezzo host Leora Zeitlin about the music he plays and the musicians who taught and inspired him, including his father. And while here, he demonstrated a little bit of the unique Sligo "accent" that defines Sligo-style fiddle-playing.
A set of reels recorded in Tommy Doyle’s on May 7th, 2009.
Michael Coleman’s recordings from the early 1920’s set the standard for all the traditional Irish music that would follow. Coleman emigrated from County Sligo, Ireland, to New York City in 1914 at the age of 23. In New York, recording companies were eager to sell records to immigrants nostalgic for the music of home. Coleman became one of the first Irish musicians to be immortalized on the shellac of a 78 rpm record.
Coleman played a style of fiddle music particular to county Sligo. “The Sligo style is upbeat, it’s very rhythmic, uses a lot of ornamentation,” says Brian Conway, a musician from New York who plays Sligo-style fiddle.
It was a tradition passed down from mentor to student, not on paper. “The music is not played as it’s written on sheet music,” says Fiona Ritchie, producer of the public radio show The Thistle and Shamrock. “When you had no way of recording it, the only way to memorialize it was to put it on sheet music, and then it loses that sense of rhythm that can only be captured by hearing it.”
So when Coleman recorded the song “The Boys of the Lough,” he was crystallizing a tradition. “This was really a turning point for Irish music, because music could travel out from the communities where it had just been a natural, unremarkable part of life,” Ritchie says.
Ritchie credits recordings by Coleman and other Irish emigrants with saving traditional Celtic music. “Once you partnered up these early recordings with radio, you had the music coming back to its home again and reinvigorating the music,” she says. “So many of these communities had been depleted, with young folks going away and taking their music with them.”
Coleman was prodigiously talented, and thanks to those early recordings, his influence hasn’t waned. “Michael Coleman’s influence on traditional Irish music could be compared to Miles Davis in jazz, the Beatles in rock ‘n roll,” Conway says. “His influence is still felt today by those who may never have actually listened to Coleman play, but just through what they’ve learned from other people.”
On Growing up in Birmingham, on the Sligo-Roscommon style, on slowing down Seamus Tansey records, on the Birmingham Ceili Band and Táin Ceili Band, on Peig McGrath, on women in traditional Irish music, on piano accompaniment
and on Michael Grinter and Rudall and Rose flutes.
The Gloaming is Martin Hayes, fiddle, Iarla Ó Lionáird, vocal, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, hardanger fiddle, Dennis Cahill, guitar and Thomas Bartlett, piano.
Live performances in The Music Show studio:
- Song 44: Trad arr. The Gloaming
- Sailors Bonnet Trad arr. The Gloaming
Music from the Sligo fiddler Michael Gorman, an out-of-copyright recording made in 1956 in cahoots with Margaret Barry on tenor banjo.
- Lord Gordon’s
- McFadden’s Fancy
- The Lark In The Morn
- The Broken Pledge
- Michael Gorman’s
- The Pigeon On The Gate
- McFadden’s Reel
- The Burnt Cabbage
- The Mountain Road
- The Strayaway Child
- The Chanter Song
- The Woman Of The House
- The Boys Of Ballisadare
- Bonnie Anne
- The Sligo Maid/Gan Ainm
- The Star Of Munster
- The Humours Of Lisnadare
- Roaring Mary/The Maid Of Castlebar
- Carracastle Lasses
- Jenny’s Welcome To Charlie
Irish tunes on the harmonica - seriously awesome. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Eddie Clark, New York’s Irish music scene in the ’80s; Bill De Blasio’s busted progressive cred and The Catskills Irish Arts Week.
The story of two Irish traditional music sessions; one in California, USA and one in Waterford, Ireland.
Eight leading exponents of Irish traditional music brought an exquisite program of music to the Sydney Opera House under the umbrella of Masters of Tradition during the 2009 Sydney Festival.
Dancing at the Crossroads explores Irish and Irish-American music. In Episode 3, we take a trip to New York’s Rockaways, once known as the Irish Riviera. Featured artists include Paddy Noonan, Joanie Madden and Cherish the Ladies, Michael Coleman, The Flanagan Brothers, Mickey and Mary Carton, the Noel Henry Showband, Hellcat Maggie, Brendan Ward and his Orchestra, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra.