Published: December 4, 2020
There’s no denying that Noel Hill has become one of the most influential Irish concertina players in the world of traditional Irish music. His influence is far reaching and second only to the iconic Mrs. Crotty.
The most important legacy that any musician can leave in their wake is a generation of younger musicians following in their footsteps. Noel Hill has most definitely achieved this.
The virtuoso concertina player from Co. Clare has gained legendary status thanks to his musical prowess. Concertina players everywhere strive to emulate his iconic playing style. His influence on traditional Irish concertina playing today cannot be overstated.
So who are the concertina players following in his footsteps? Keep reading and I’ll introduce you to some of the best concertina players on the scene today.
These brilliant musicians are setting the scene alight with their innovative playing. From newcomers to unexpected names, these concertina players are well worth knowing. Their playing will delight and inspire, just as Noel Hill’s has before them.
Musical Heritage: Jack Talty
It’s only right that Noel’s nephew himself would take the lead. Jack Talty is a masterful concertina player from Lissycasey in county Clare. He began learning the concertina from his uncle, Noel Hill, at the age of 10. Immersed in the tradition from a young age and surrounded by a thriving traditional Irish music community, Jack thrived. Today he is one of the leading concertina players within the tradition:
A true Jack of all trades, Talty is an accomplished arranger, composer, producer, researcher, sound engineer and teacher. A master of them all, his heart lies with traditional Irish concertina playing however.
In 2011, Jack founded Raelach Records. As artistic director of the music label, he has produced many brilliant records including an exciting collaboration, Na Fir Bolg, with fellow concertina player Cormac Begley.
While an entire album of concertina duets might seem like an unusual concept, it works. These two concertina players, both from esteemed musical families, add a new dimension to concertina playing. Their musicality shines through, as does their deep love and understanding of the tradition itself. The end result is magical:
In 2016, Jack also released his debut solo concertina album, In Flow, to rave reviews, and rightly so.
In Flow reflects the many years of dedication Talty has given to traditional music… and to developing a distinctive musical voice of his own within an approach that is passionately engaged with the music of his predecessors and contemporaries.
– Toner Quinn, Journal of Music
While Noel Hill’s influence is evident in Jack’s playing, it’s also clear that he is driven by his own passion for the music and his dedication to his craft. In the short video below, Jack speaks about why he plays music and offers some brilliant advice to those just starting out on their music journey:
The Rhythm of the Dance: Caitlín Nic Gabhann
No list of brilliant modern day concertina players would be complete with our very own Caitlín Nic Gabhann. Some of you might recognise Caitlín from our online concertina lesson series and as a regular guest blogger. Her vibrant concertina playing has undoubtedly earned her a place on this list.
A three time All-Ireland champion on concertina, Caitlín is also an accomplished dancer who has toured the world with Riverdance. It’s this skill as a dancer that likely contributes to her characteristic rhythmic style of playing:
Caitlín was born and raised in Co. Meath where she first learned music from her father, renowned fiddle player Antóin Mac Gabhann. She learned her dancing from her mother, Bernie, who was herself immersed in the set dancing style of Co. Clare.
In 2012, Caitlín released her debut album which was labelled the ‘top Irish traditional album of 2012’ by The Wall Street Journal. It’s not hard to understand why!
This vibrant album is full of life from the very first track:
There’s an exciting energy to Caitlín’s playing that is evident throughout the album, even on the slower, sweeter tracks. Have a listen to Caitlín’s own composition, Sunday’s Well to hear for yourself:
The Irish Concertina Ensemble
Caitlín has many exciting musical collaborations under her belt including several albums with her husband, award-winning fiddle player, Ciarán Ó Maonaigh. One of her most interesting projects however is an innovative concertina quintet – the Irish Concertina Ensemble.
If you thought a concertina duet was unexpected, a concertina quintet is definitely unprecedented in Irish music. Some might despair at the thought, but it’s a concertina player’s dream:
The Irish Concertina Ensemble, or ICE, is made up of five world renowned leading exponents of the Anglo Concertina – Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh, Pádraig Rynne, Tim Collins, Edel Fox, and Caitlín Nic Gabhann.
The quintet released their debut album in 2015. Zero features a mix of traditional Irish tunes and newly composed repertoire, all arranged for five concertinas. It definitely succeeds in pushing the boundaries of traditional Irish concertina playing. It’s certainly an experience to hear these tunes in the hands of not one, but five master concertina players:
Musical Exploration: Pádraig Rynne
Another Co. Clare native, Pádraig Rynne is an exciting and innovative concertina player renowned for his experimental sound:
Pádraig has collaborated with some of the greatest traditional Irish musicians out there – Donal Lunny, John McSherry, Sylvain Barou – the list is endless, both as a producer and as a member of a number of exciting ensembles.
His musical explorations increasingly lead him down a path that is less and less traditional at every turn. This isn’t a criticism by any means. A little creativity never hurt anyone! Pádraig’s music would definitely struggle to be defined as ‘traditional Irish music’ however.
Pádraig’s music draws inspiration from a variety of genres and musical styles, particularly electronic. His passion and prowess for music technology is particularly evident on his solo albums. His continued experimentation leads to refreshing explorations of traditional repertoire:
Whatever your opinion may be on his style of music, there’s no denying that Pádraig is a virtuoso concertina player who has succeeded in taking Irish concertina playing to new and exciting heights. His musicality is enviable. Don’t worry, his traditional roots are never too far away:
Dual Citizenship: Niamh Ní Charra
Niamh Ní might be an unexpected entry to this list for some. Niamh is best known for her years spent as the fiddle player with Riverdance. She’s also a master of the Irish concertina however. While touring the world with the iconic Irish dance show, she introduced audiences to her brilliant concertina playing and gained a well earned reputation as a virtuoso of both instruments:
Niamh grew up in Killarney, immersed in the Sliabh Luachra music tradition. (Sliabh Luachra is both a mountainous region in the southwest of Ireland and an iconic, highly rhythmic playing style. Think polkas and slides played at breakneck speeds.)
She began learning the fiddle at the age of four, and progressed to the concertina – sharing her love for music between the two. While Niamh’s concertina playing also draws on more modern influences, you can definitely hear that highly rhythmic Sliabh Luachra flavour to her playing:
A multi-award winning multi-instrumentalist, Niamh has talent to burn. In 2014 she was awarded Female Musician of the Year in the Live Ireland Music Awards. Keen to display her prowess on both instruments, Niamh released her debut solo album From Both Sides in 2007.
This album masterfully highlights her skill on both instruments, and is bursting with beautiful, expressive playing, at which Niamh excels. Have a listen to this haunting rendition of Caoineadh Eoghan Rua – one of the best interpretations I’ve ever heard of this beautiful air:
The Banks of the Liffey: Sarah Flynn
So many prominent Irish concertina players hail from Co. Clare that you’d be forgiven for thinking we only give a concertina licence to those from the Banner County. Our next concertina player however, hails from North County Dublin, and believe me it’s a long long way from Clare to here.
As the capital city of Ireland, Dublin has long been a melting pot of regional Irish music styles, producing high calibre musicians who draw on inspiration from across the country. Typically, most of these musicians end up looking west, or, in this case, southwest to Co. Clare.
Sarah Flynn began playing the concertina at an early age under the tuition of Aoife O’Connor and none other than Noel Hill himself. With influences including Noel Hill and fiddle player Bobby Casey, it will come as no surprise that Sarah has a keen interest in concertina and fiddle music from County Clare.
Despite the strong influence of such stylistic musicians, Sarah has succeeded in developing a unique and innovative style of concertina playing:
Though a noted solo performer, one of Sarah’s most exciting contributions to traditional Irish music comes in the form of a partnership with Dublin fiddle player, Doireann Glackin (granddaughter of the great Seán Ó Riada), The Housekeepers.
The Housekeepers is more than just an album. It’s the culmination of an exciting research project that examines the repertoire of five female musicians from the 20th century and explores their role within the world of traditional music through a new lens.
The tracks journey through various Irish regional styles including the West Clare, West Limerick, East Galway and Sliabh Luachra traditions. Most importantly however, they do so specifically from the perspective of female musicians and their contributions to the traditions.
The combination of Sarah’s unique playing style and her retrospective creativity definitely makes her a young concertina player to watch.
Following in their Footsteps
If like these brilliant concertina players you’re feeling inspired to pick up a concertina and embark on your own musical journey, why not take a look at our Online Concertina Store and see what we have to offer? We have concertinas to suit all levels and abilities. There really is an instrument for everyone.
We also have an exciting offer for any beginner concertina player out there. For a limited time, with every purchase of our beloved Wren Anglo Concertina, our Swan Concertina or our intermediate Phoenix Concertina we are offering a free series of online video lessons with none other than Caitlín Nic Gabhann.
Caitlín’s expert guidance is guaranteed to take your concertina playing to the next level and make you a concertina virtuoso in no time!
[Featured image: niamhnicharra.com]