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The Irish way

Around the same time as my musical tastes were developing, there was a parallel craze for Irish music. The Bothy Band, Planxty and The Chieftains had massive followings among the twenty- and thirty-somethings. I’d heard a bit of their music, but found it difficult to listen to; the tunes, especially the reels, seemed too fast and “difficult”. It was no accident that The Old Swan Band’s album was called No Reels. Looking back, I think my problem was that I couldn’t play these tunes on my G/D melodeon and none of these iconic Irish bands even had a melodeon in their line-up; I had nothing to imitate.

Then came another discovery: on a trip to London to look for interesting folk records in Collets bookshop – pre-Amazon days!– a came across a fascinating album by a solo Irish melodeon player called Jackie Daly. It was called Music From Sliabh Luachra. Here was an Irishman playing tunes some of which I could actually play. I also discovered that although Jackie’s instrument looked more or less like mine it was called a “button accordeon”.

Johnny Ringo MacDonagh and Jackie Daly

In Ireland a melodeon is a one-row box. From that point onwards there was no stopping me. I discovered that Jackie Daly was one of the musicians who played the soundtrack to the TV series The Irish RM. I never watched the programmes but I did buy the cassette. In addition to Jackie Daly, the musicians included fiddle player Frankie Gavin and his brother Sean Gavin, also on accordeon, Declan Masterton on uillean pipes but also Howard Evans, Andy Findon and Roger Williams, who were effectively the brass section of Home Service, a bad which had evolved from The Albion Band, and rather surprisingly John Kirkpatrick. What an amazing line up! Looking back it wasn’t that amazing – the mix of Irish and English musicians reflected the Irish/English theme of the TV series and the theme tune, Haste to the Wedding, reflected the same close connection between the two nations. Surely this was an English tune, after all it was played by the great concertina player William Kimber.