Monday, March 22, 2010
A Confession to the World’s Greatest Irish Violin Player
By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- I must confess that one of my favorite albums of the past eleven years is an illegal recording, a bootleg if you will, of famed Irish violin player, Martin Hayes and his accompanist, Dennis Cahill.
It all begins in California. While living in Modesto, I was a self-described “traditional Irish music freak”. Other than my family, my faith, my work as a teacher, and my own musical pursuits, there was nothing that preoccupied my time more than listening to traditional Irish music.
I loved the all aspects of the music, from the culture and history of the music, to the various bands themselves: the older (Planxty and the Bothy Band) to the then contemporary outfits (Dervish and Altan) to the “new kids on the block” (Lunasa, Danu, and Solas). I couldn’t’ get enough. For a time, I even joined a local group, Green Stone, playing mandolin and flute.
So when Nic Caciappo, a friend of mine, a local record storeowner, began to book traditional Irish performers for concerts in Modesto, I was beside myself.
It was in that Central Valley California city that I was able to see some of my musical heroes of the day: Dervish, Altan, Patrick Street, Kevin Burke, Tommy Peoples, and many others.
At the time, I wasn’t familiar with the music of Martin Hayes. So I picked up the recording, Lonesome Touch. I was hooked and fascinated, and still consider it one of Martin Hayes’ and Dennis Cahill’s greatest works.
When the concert on March 5, 1999 came around, I was full of excitement. The venue was at the State Theatre in downtown Modesto, a newly renovated art deco theatre, first dedicated in 1934.
Because I was a friend with the booking agent, he invited me to come out early and meet Martin and Dennis.
I remember Martin signing my copy of A Pocket History of Irish Traditional Music, by Gearoid O hAllmhurain (I actually got both of them to sign it—meeting Mr. hAllmhurain later).
To say the least, the concert was epic. There is no other better word to describe the evening than ‘heroic.’
From the first note played on the violin to the guitar’s final strum; the night was, for me, superhuman. How could a violinist create such atmosphere with amazing, intimate technique? How could an accompanist follow, with such precision, every note and nuance of the violin? The duo was connected like nothing I had heard or seen.
The audience went wild. And I marveled for days. I suppose years.
Imagine my surprise to find out that the evening concert was recorded. Though I still don’t know all the details of the “who and how” at the time, I didn’t care much. I had to get a copy.
I asked my friend for a copy and he gladly complied, letting me know the recording was not for sale, but simply a memento of the night.
From that moment on, I have listened to the recording more than 200 times. I love it. I am not sure if it is the memory of the whole evening, or the fact that you can hear my own whistle and screams. But the fact remains: it has place of high esteem in my CD collection. It is something I will always treasure.
Throughout the years I have always wanted to do two things: give Martin and Dennis a copy and confess that I had—technically—an illegal copy.
Confession is an interesting word. It is an expression based in Middle English and Anglo-French origins, taken from the Latin, confessus. In its simplest form it means to “tell” or “make known”. In the Biblical sense, it means to “acknowledge sin or shortcomings to God” or to “declare one’s faith”.
So when I say I wanted to confess to Martin and Dennis, I guess I mean it in both senses of the word: “to tell” them I have the recording, in order to give them a copy, and then, to “confess” that I have an illegal recording—a sort of “I’m sorry.”
Imagine my excitement when I found out that Martin and Dennis were to play a concert in Albuquerque, my new place of residence. I had to go! It was a must.
So on March 19, 2010, eleven years after my first meeting, I went to the Cooperage on Lomas and Louisiana with my wife and a couple of friends to hear the duo that struck my fancy many years ago.
The first thing I did as I walked into the Cooperage was look for the duo. I heard them practicing off to the side of the stage, behind a sheen black veil. To my surprise, I was able to walk right up to them.
I quickly declared, “Gentlemen, I must confess, I have a bootleg recording of yours that I have waited eleven years to give you.” They both looked up, perplexed. “Oh,” Martin said. “Where is it from?” “The State Theatre in Modesto, California,” I replied. They looked at each other—jogging their memories—and replied, “I don’t recall that particular concert; it’s been so long ago.”
I smiled and said, “I don’t expect you to remember. I just wanted to let you know I had it and wanted to give it to you. I think you will find it’s a great recording and it is truly an amazing concert.”
From there I gave them a brief overview of the concert and the evening—a date in history now—then parted.
As snow began to fall outside, the music heated up to a roaring level inside. It was another night to tuck away in my memory!
Since the mid-1990’s, Martin has racked up accolades fitting to his talent.
According to the Hayes/Cahill website, Martin is “the recipient of major national and international awards: most recently the prestigious Gradam Ceoil; Musician of the Year 2008 from the Irish language television station TG 4; previously Man of the Year from the American Irish Historical Society; Folk Instrumentalist of the Year from BBC Radio; a National Entertainment Award (the Irish “Grammy”); six All-Ireland fiddle championships—before the age of nineteen—and cited by the Irish Sunday Tribune as one of the hundred most influential Irish men and women in the fields of entertainment, politics and sports in the year 2000, as well as one of the most important musicians to come out of Ireland in the last fifty years.”
As I sat listening to the evening unfold, I knew one thing was sure: my confession was complete. Martin even signed the newest, non-bootleg, CD Welcome Here Again. I found the title fitting. His final words to me were, “Best wishes.”
To learn more about Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, go to their website: http://www.martinhayes.com
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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.