Paddy Murphy: In Good Hands

Field recordings from a Pioneer of the Irish Concertina

The Clare People, 1 December 2007
by Mark Keane

AS a pioneer of modern Irish concertina music, Paddy Murphy had left an impressive legacy amongst musicians, friends and the traditional music diaspora, on his passing in 1992. An inaugural All-Ireland winner for the concertina in 1954, then again in ‘55, ‘57, ‘58 and ‘60, Paddy was at the vanguard of exploring his instrument of choice, championing a unique crossrow fingering system that was unlike anything used by his peers. He later taught and passed on his magisterial talents to the next wave of Clare concertina pioneers, including Noel Hill, Miriam Collins and Gerald Haugh. But despite his widely regarded status as a legend of the concertina, something was missing.

“I remember going back home to Clare in 2003 and giving a workshop to some kids who played concertina,” explains Dr. Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin, well-known musician, author, musicologist and good friend of Paddy Murphy. “The quality of their playing was fabulous; they were doing things that mature players in their 50s and 60s would be doing. I then asked them had they ever heard of Paddy Murphy. Not a single hand was raised. It struck me. I came away thinking from that there’s a bit of the story missing here.”

With little of Paddy’s music available in the public domain, the danger of his legacy fading into obscurity was a very real one. Gearóid, along with Murphy’s life-long friend Peadar O’Loughlin, took it upon themselves to create a fitting tribute to Paddy, his talent and his musical journey. The end result is the CD Paddy Murphy: In Good Hands, a collection of field recordings and interviews that will be launched in Paddy’s native Kilmaley on December 8.

“It was a real labour of love putting it together,” admits Gearóid, a Clareman who now works in the University of Missouri-St. Louis as a Professor of Irish Studies and Music. “Paddy Murphy and these players were my heroes when I was growing up. This CD is a very small component of a man who had a lot more to give.

“In a sense this gives him a bigger voice, and it’ll give people an opportunity to hear how wonderful he was. In his own quiet world, here was a man who had an exceptional gift, and this gives people a chance to share that gift.”

In Good Hands, with its combination of field recordings resurrected from reel-to-reel and cassette archives, interviews with Paddy, photographs and a lengthy biog, hopes to readdress the imbalance in the annals of traditional music history, more in favour of one of the masters of the concertina. Gearóid, who himself learnt from Paddy and went on to become good friends
with the man, remembers him fondly, and memories have been rekindled during the production of the CD.

“He was a very shy man, very modest, without an egotistical bone in his body,” says Gearóid. “He was uneasy around microphones, which probably contributed to the lack of recorded material, and I guess that was down to his sense of privacy and modesty. He had a great curiosity about the world. He was a very welcoming man and always had time for people who played music.”

He may have been unassuming, but his influence on concertina music cannot be understated. “Paddy was a vital link in the chain in the revival of concertina music,” suggest Gearóid. “For example, he would have been responsible for everything Noel Hill had as a young player, and then Noel went on to develop his own style. He was sought out by people from all over Ireland to pass on his craft. “Just the year before he died, himself, Paddy Canny and Peadar O’Loughlin came out to France to play at an international folk festival. It was a massive event and they were treated like kings. They played in front of several hundred people and it was a great final high point for Paddy.”

The CD is unique in that it captures Paddy in his essence; recordings from bars and country kitchens, filled with warm ambience from the environments where he felt most at home. Over five hours of material was collated from various sources, and then began the long process of picking out the bits that best do justice to Paddy and his talent. “Paddy never went into a studio, so we didn’t get to use all the bags of tricks that you might use today,” admits Gearóid. “The recordings are taken from all sorts of places, from 1958 up until the 1980s. I mean, so much traditional music takes place when people are chatting, having cups of tea and even a bit of dancing going on in the background. We’re happy with it. We feel it’s an honest representation of Paddy, and at least we’ve put his music on the map. “The other alternative was to leave it where it was and in another generation he’d be forgotten about.”

Paddy Murphy: In Good Hands on Celtic Crossing recordings will be launched in the Kilmaley Inn on December 8 and all are welcome. It will be for sale at Custy’s Music Shop in Ennis immediately after the launch.

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In Good Hands

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