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Interview with Paddy Callaghan ahead of the Easter Rising Centenary
On the 4th of March, the National Folk Orchestra of Ireland is playing in the UK for the first time since it was set up in 1980s by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (Association of Traditional Irish Musicians), in a special first performance of a new piece by noted Irish composer Michael Rooney, ‘Macalla’ 1916. The piece will be played to commemorate the Easter Rising, which started on the 24th of April 1916 and lasted for 6 days, in which members of an Irish Republican group tried to seize power in Ireland, predominantly in Dublin. Whilst this was not successful, it was the first major physical uprising in the lead up to Ireland becoming a republic, and thus an important shift in power relations.
The Easter Rising remains important in the Irish consciousness, something which Paddy Callaghan of the National Folk Orchestra talked to us about. He explained that it was a ‘Seminal event in Irish history, and very culturally important’, highlighting that ‘it wasn’t just the suppression of rights and land, it was also cultural suppression, which explains why much of the movement was led by poets and musicians’, therefore an orchestra commemoration seems particularly poignant.
The concert will take place at the Barbican. In the Orchestra’s first performance outside of Ireland, it seems a fitting location for a project that is being done ‘in the spirit of partnership and reconciliation’ according to Seamus Brogan, Chair of the Comhaltas Britain 1916 commemoration committee. Paddy expressed his eagerness to bring the music to London, explaining that ‘It’s hugely significant to be able to bring it to London as it just shows how far we’ve come in the last 100 years’.
Following the performance in London, the Folk Orchestra which is made up of around 65 of Ireland and Great Britain´s best young folk and traditional musicians, is going to tour Ireland, a prospect Paddy is very keen on. He explained ‘I’ve toured all over Europe and the States, but I’ve never actually done much touring around Ireland so that should be great. Logistically it’s very different [from touring with a band] because there’s 65 of us, but we’re a really close knit group. Although there’s a lot of us there’s a lot of comradery.’
Folk music is becoming more and more popular at the moment and is particularly strong in Ireland, where it is ‘Absolutely shining!’. Paddy described how ‘when Comhaltas was set up in the 1950s, modern life didn’t have much of a place for tradition. When I started playing it was uncool, it was seen that I was playing a weird instrument, whereas now it’s cool to play folk music. It’s something that really has grown and continues to grow’. Paddy is a multi-instrumentalist and plays the button-hole accordion in the orchestra, which consists of classical and traditional instruments, including the harp, fiddle, accordion, concertina, bodhrán, banjo and Uilleann pipes.
As folk music grows in popularity, there are still few folk orchestras, and it’s a whole different experience to playing in a folk band or group. ‘It’s a very different ball game. You need a lot more discipline in a band. Whereas there’s more depth in an orchestra, and it’s difficult not to get carried away by the emotion’ Paddy told us. The Folk Orchestra differs from a convention orchestra further by not using written music, and instead keeping the tradition skill of playing from memory alive. We asked Paddy how is it different playing from memory? Does it affect the way to play as opposed to using music? ‘Well most of the musicians, probably all of the musicians are used to playing from memory, but this is different because it’s completely new music. Usually, there’s be one or two new bits but you’d know the bare bone of the tune, but this is completely new for everyone’.
Certainly, Michael Rooney’s music does a fantastic job of combining traditional folk music with brand new concepts, and it looks like Macalla 1916 is going to be no difference. Paddy described working with Michael as ‘Amazing! He’s one of the finest composers in Ireland. He’s frightening, he has a very creative mind. He’ll be sat in a rehearsal and just come up with two part harmonies for things he’s not even listening to. Frightening, but amazing!’. Widely regarded as one of the foremost traditional composers of our time, Rooney’s piece ‘showcases the vitality and relevance of traditional Irish music’. It is an ‘extraordinary composition not only commemorates the historic events of 1916, but also celebrates the transformation of the relationship between Ireland and Britain’, and definitely not to be missed.
Unusual and important, this is one of the most interesting folk events to happen in 2016, and set to be a fantastic concert.
Tickets are priced at £25, available from Barbican Hall box office: www.barbican.org.uk / 020 7638 8891
Written by Molly Lempriere.