Dónal’s First Musical Memories and Influences
06th November 2019 - 16:52
What’s your earliest memory of music? Where did music begin for you?
My father, Dan, singing ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye’ when I was about three years old. I’ve had a bit of time to work out a harmony for that one! It all started with him.
Around the house, my mum and stepfather were listening to music like Planxty, the Dubliners and the Chieftains. That was the heartland of what I grew up with, and I absolutely loved it. I got to learning the songs and I’d sit there listening with headphones on - I was a fairly geeky kid.
Music started to happen in school, and I got involved in the choir. Then I got a music scholarship to Sedbergh, a public school in Cumbria, when I was 11. I was taught classically there, but I was still very much listening to the Irish stuff. I was fortunate to have a very good violin teacher, Granville Morris, who really enjoyed the relatively free form of traditional music. He was an absolute genius, and a brilliant gypsy jazz violinist.
So, I was exposed at a very early age to the combination of classical, traditional and gypsy jazz. When I look back at my own playing now, I think that’s what I’ve ended up with!
I also really got into the English folk-rock scene when I was around 12 or 13. Artists like Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny in particular, Fotheringay, Pentangle and Richard Thompson were borrowing from the Scots, English and Irish traditions, and would take old ballads and reinvent them in a contemporary format with full-on rock bands and so on. I loved that, because ballads are what I’ve always really enjoyed, apart from the fiddle melodies.
I moved to Scotland, to Arran, when I was 14, and I discovered that so much of this music that I had been reading off the page or listening to on albums was actually happening in people’s houses and pubs. I’d never witnessed live music happening for real when I lived in England. The whole thing just came to life.
The next chapter: Backstage At Crofters Music: Connecting the Dots Between Traditions