There’s no shortage of great banjo players in the Irish music scene to draw on for inspiration. One of my personal favourites however is the brilliant Enda Scahill.
Enda’s revolutionary banjo playing is iconic, not only in its virtuoso levels of technical skill and musical ability, but its electrifying toe-tapping energy.
What makes his banjo playing so revered? Keep reading to find out.
Enda Scahill is a four-time All Ireland Champion banjo player from Corofin, Co. Galway. He began playing music at the tender age of six, and has shown an unbridled enthusiasm for it ever since.
Enda began his musical journey in primary school on both the tin whistle and the piano.
It was from multi-instrumentalist and Mayo native, Bernie Geraghty however that he learned his banjo playing. From the moment he first picked the instrument up, something clicked.
He would eagerly practice banjo for an hour or more a day and became increasingly frustrated with his piano practice. The piano, Enda claims, curtailed him with too many rules. ‘It didn’t suit the banjo rebel in me.’
It became clear from a young age that his heart lay with his newfound love, the Irish tenor banjo. The poor jilted piano was rejected in its favour, though not abandoned entirely. Thus began a lifelong love affair with one of the greatest folk instruments in the world.
Enda’s passion for music, as well as his innate musicality, shines through in everything he does.
His groundbreaking debut solo album, Pick It Up, was released to wide acclaim in 2000. It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years since this gem of an album was released. It’s most definitely one of my favourite banjo albums of all time.
Whatever your feelings may be towards the Irish tenor banjo (though I’d hope they’re positive since you’re reading this), Pick It Up should be on everyone’s recommended listening list. If you don’t believe me, why not have a listen for yourself?
This is my personal favourite track, a most beautiful rendition of Liz Carrol’s famous Air Tune, preceded by a Reel Gan Ainm:
One rave review of the album from Irish American News stated that ‘Enda does things on the banjo which should be impossible’. This is evident throughout.
Enda’s virtuoso abilities and technical skill shine through on every track, as well as the joy that he clearly feels when he plays. He truly is a banjo wizard.
If there was ever any doubt before, this album cemented Enda’s reputation as a master banjo player.
Playing with the Greats
A huge musical influence for Enda (and indeed every banjo player) was the legendary Gerry (Banjo) O’Connor. Gerry has inspired and influenced countless generations of tenor banjo players, the world over.
Like Gerry, Enda was intrigued by the broad range of banjo repertoire that exists in the world of bluegrass, country and jazz and began to explore these other exciting playing styles.
Enda has played with the best of the best in the world of traditional Irish music, including The Chieftains, Frankie Gavin, Stockton’s Wing and the Brock Maguire Band.
In fact, it was this collaboration with melodeon player Paul Brock and pianist Ryan Molloy that earned him the coveted Album of the Year title in The Irish Times, as well as Instrumental Album of the Year in Irish American News.
Their album Humdinger is the first ever full recording of banjo and melodeon music. It drew its inspiration from the early recordings of melodeon and banjo music produced during the golden era of Irish music in North America in the early 1900s.
The resulting sound is a toetapping, thoroughly traditional exploration of Irish music by three virtuous players.
An electrifying rendering of tunes from different – though related – traditions as they flow from the hearts and fingers of these virtuoso musicians at the very top of their game.
– PJ Curtis
Not all of Enda’s collaborations have been quite so ‘traditional’ however.
We Banjo 3 – or is it 4?
Enda is the founder of the exciting ensemble, We Banjo 3. Despite what the name implies, this ensemble is actually most frequently a quartet, made up of two sets of brothers.
Enda is joined by his own talented brother, virtuoso fiddle player Fergal Scahill. Enda’s talent on the banjo is matched by Fergal’s skill as a fiddle player. Have a listen to this brilliant brotherly duet:
Brothers Martin and David Howley make up the rest of this brilliant group.
We Banjo 3 has something impossibly beautiful at its heart, what they do they do better than anyone else.
– Wall Street Journal
As you can imagine, with four players of such a standard in their ranks (they hold more All-Ireland titles between them than I can count), the music they create is electrifying!
They seamlessly merge the shared traditions of Americana, Bluegrass and traditional Irish music, creating music that excites and delights audiences both sides of the Atlantic:
The band has six acclaimed albums under their belt (go listen to them all – I honestly couldn’t pick a favourite) but live performance is where they truly excel. If you ever get a chance to see We Banjo 3 perform live, don’t miss out!
Enda’s own attitude to performance is a refreshing one. Funnily enough, it’s a different Gerry O’Connor (Gerry Fiddle) who taught him one of his most valuable lessons. No less than we would expect from the brilliant Gerry.
His mantra is: every gig should satisfy two of the three Ps. Profit, profile and pleasure. If you find a gig that satisfies all three, you’re flying! Gerry’s words of wisdom also included an important lesson in humility.
Enda says he does his best to remember that at every gig, somewhere in the audience is someone who has saved up for a long time to afford the ticket to that concert.
Enda and the gang always strive to play for this person. They claim this concept not only keeps them humble but also helps them to deliver a fresh, captivating performance each time they take to the stage.
Why not have a listen for yourself?
Words of Wisdom
When he’s not performing Enda is putting his years of expertise and thoughtful reflection to use as a teacher. He’s always keen to share not only his knowledge and expertise, but also his passion and enthusiasm.
In 2008 Enda published his Irish Tenor Banjo Tutor. This book is now the top selling Irish banjo tutorial on the market.
It’s the perfect tool for beginner banjo players, providing them with essential foundation techniques for successful banjo playing. It describes the exact method of holding the banjo and the pick, correct picking patterns and relaxation, and the fundamentals of ornamentation.
A true teacher however, Enda had yet more banjo wisdom to share. So he published Volume II of his banjo tutorial series.
Volume II is designed to transform beginner or intermediate banjo players into seasoned musicians. It takes the foundation techniques set out in Volume I and demonstrates how to use them to bring musicality and individuality to your playing.
Enda’s unique teaching method is simple and effective and makes learning the banjo accessible to musicians of all ages and abilities. Speaking about why he wrote these brilliant tutorials, Enda said:
Banjo can be a tough learning curve at first. It’s an unforgiving instrument that will torture you if your technique isn’t spot on.Once you get the correct foundation in place progress can be very swift and really enjoyable … Excellent technique leaves room for a player to begin to explore their own styles and musical taste.
One of the most special elements of the world of traditional Irish music is that no musician is ever solely focused on themself. They’re always concerned with sharing the music with others, teaching them all that they know and passing on their gifts and talents.
Enda Scahill is no exception and there’s no doubt that he has helped to keep the banjo tradition alive by not only inspiring, but also nurturing so many players. Fair play Enda!
If you too are feeling inspired by this brilliant banjo player, why not check out our Online Banjo Store and see if something catches your eye? We have both new and vintage 17 fret and 19 fret Irish tenor banjos on offer.
We even have a five string banjo for those who may prefer to follow in the footsteps of the famous Luke Kelly (of The Dubliners).
You can also buy a copy of Enda’s Irish Banjo Tutor to help you start out on your musical journey. Once you have basic technique under your belt, you can check out my Top Beginner Tunes for Irish Tenor Banjo recommendations. You’ll be a banjo rebel yourself in no time!
[Featured image: endascahill.com]