“The more I play this music the more I want to do less on the fiddle”: Martin Hayes in interview with Peter Browne

Peter Browne’s interview on his Rolling Wave programme of 24 March on RTÉ Lyric FM with Martin Hayes brought out some very interesting stuff.

Here are a few of the things Martin said about The Gloaming and about Peadar Ó Riada’s compositions that I found most interesting. To hear more on those topics and all of what he had to say about his relationship with Ireland and about recording his father’s playing, visit the RTÉ website here >>>

ON the origins of The Gloaming:

There was definitely no master plan… Iarla was saying we should put something together… Himself and myself and Dennis was the idea. And I thought about it but I didn’t think that Dennis and myself were ideally suited to accompany Iarla in the [ideal] way … A few days earlier I’d been in the studio with Thomas Bartlett … I knew Thomas had that contemporary–world music background as well and that he could work with Iarla … Then I realised I was going be just one fiddler trying to play tunes in middle of all this and I thought … Caoimhín would be great to put a bit more weight back in the tunes area … to balance it out …

ON Thomas Bartlett:

Thomas was quite familiar with Irish music, which wasn’t a million miles away from what they’d call New England contra dance music that encompasses an element of Scottish music, Irish music, kind of Americana in some way, I suppose, a dance music certainly… I knew it was going to add something to the band, bring some different element. He will respond to certain tunes and other tunes he won’t respond to… It was a curious thing, every time I’d play a tune of Peadar Ó Riada’s he would respond. And then with other tunes he wouldn’t … hear anything in them … and maybe legitimately so. It’s just kind of an overall aesthetic musical feeling that he has …

ON connections between different musics:

There’s a lot happening in other worlds of music that can have direct connection in our own little world of music, because in the end it’s always about the elemental quality of making musical experience, if I can call it that, or feeling or expression. You can have feelings listening to one form of music that are very close to how you feel when you’re listening to Micho Russel or to the Bothy Band or …. If you’re listening to Moving Hearts and you’re listening to Weather Report, your experience isn’t a whole lot different, oddly enough. You feel these connections. So I had that feeling about Thomas, that there melancholic, reflective Junior Crehan world was not a world totally removed from his sense of music in his band, Doveman, which is very moody and introspective.

ON The Gloaming’s sound:

There is a kind of a minimalist kind of feeling all around in the band. I think we’re all very happy to play very little. It’s something we value musically, I think. Because it’s so easy to clutter this up; it’s so easy for everybody to play a million notes and have it make no sense. So being satisfied to play very simple parts: It’s a kind of a mature musical approach… where you can sit on the stage and play a handful of notes for five minutes knowing that pretty much anybody could do this, but anyway it so happens that I’m doing it. A lot of people don’t do it because they don’t feel comfortable doing it, but I think Caoimhín and myself don’t really care too much. Everybody in the band is a kind of minimalist, so it allows the band to gel without everybody being on top of each other… It’s not like anybody has to say ‘Do this’. These are the instincts of all the members in the band really. It was something I did think about in the beginning, was the idea of everybody having a kind of a shared aesthetic sense. You can easily have a situation of three or four people agreeing and then watching the fifth person trample something. So I just didn’t really want to have that situation. So fortunately it has worked out that way, that every single arrangement there has been worked out collectively without any single person saying ‘Do this’.

ON not measuring success in terms of audience numbers or (“dare I say” – Peter) money:

I’d have no objection to making a whole lot of money and having millions of people turn up. I’d certainly wouldn’t object to that. I certainly I think it’s fair to say I’m not governed by that. I wouldn’t create music based on that idea. I wouldn’t make musical choices just to make that happen. This band was much as risk as it was anything else. It doesn’t look like much of a risk now, but it felt like quite a risk… I felt like I was putting my neck on the line. There was massive potential for embarrassment. But, there was none so we’re very fortunate that way.

ON The Sailor’s Bonnet track from the album:

The way we played that tune and the reasoning behind it was something very simple. First of all, it was an incredibly common tune so that everyone that ever played Irish music can play this tune. The idea was to play the tune in its component phrases, very slowly, so that the natural beauty of the composed melody could clearly be heard by anybody from here to Timbuktu. So that you could hear how incredibly beautiful this melody is and yet this melody has become mundane to all of us. I’m just flabbergasted by the quality of composition in Irish music period. And just how amazing the tunes are. And the more I play this music and the longer I’ve been in it the more I want to do less on the fiddle. It’s really just not about my playing or anybody’s playing. My playing is about making sure that the melody can have its full expression… letting the natural beauty of the melody be heard.

ON Peadar Ó Riada’s music:

When it comes to traditional it passes all tests… Peadar is seasoned and he has internalised this music very deeply. So when he writes he just pours out these melodies and can do it quite rapidly it seems. Everyone of them, because of the older structures which he uses, if you started throwing them into the middle of the Goodman Collection no one would notice any inconsistency whatsoever. Whereas if I took Paddy Fahy or Reavey and tossed them in there you’d say, This is most unusual relative to all the other tunes. What he managed to do was create a new body of work, but one that is incredibly consistent with what we would say is the bedrock of this music in terms of melody … and this music is about melody. I truly, truly love Peadar’s tunes. I could play them all the time. I could happily just play his repertoire and nothing else and be very fulfilled.


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