Monday, July 2, 2007

Photos of Ireland Now Available

Here are some photos I took during various trips to Ireland between 2004 and 2007. These are now available to purchase on PhotoShelter (see link on my web site): http://www.celtograss.com/Photos.htm

Saturday, February 10, 2007

An Evening with Niamh Parsons

This week I met well-known Irish singer Niamh Parsons. She leads a session each Tuesday at the Dame Tavern in Dublin. One of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.

She even "slagged" me within the first 10 minutes ("slagging" is a Irish form of poking fun or insulting you in a friendly sort of way).

She's also a fantastic singer. See: http://www.niamhparsons.com

Saturday, February 3, 2007

How I Spent My Birthday With The Taoiseach of Ireland


The next night (Monday, January 29th), got even more exciting.

This happened to be the day that Na Piobairi Uilleann was dedicating their recently re-modeled building on 15 Henrietta street -- a wonderful Georgian-style building built in the early 1700s.

The Taoiseach of Ireland, Bertie Ahern was there to deliver the dedication speech. The place was packed, and there were Irish music "celebrities" everywhere (whoops -- I did it again). I saw Paul Brady, Sean Potts (the elder), Sean Og Potts, Robbie Hannan, and many others.

Eliot seemed as cool as a clam -- at home with just about everyone there. (Understandly so. Eliot's own music is featured in the archives, and even his writing contributions appear in their publication "An Piobaire"). but I was so dazed and awestruck I almost choked on my drink.

What an extraordinay experience -- to be part of an amazing moment of history for Na Piobairi Uilleann (see: http://www.pipers.ie ). I was truly honored and humbled by the passion behind this organization. There is no other organization like this -- dedicated on such a multi-faceted scale to a single instrument: The Uilleann Pipes, and to the preservation and promotion of one of Ireland's most beautiful cultural treasures and the most enduring symbol of Irish traditional music.

I had always enjoyed the uilleann pipes -- the intricate and rich instrument, as beautiful and wild as the Irish landscape itself. But that night -- I developed an extraordinary appreciation for the uilleann pipes.

This is one birthday bash I will never forget!

(a few photos)











Driving Mr. Grasso

January 27th-29th was perhaps the most fun birthday weekend I've ever had (I just turned -- gulp -- 37 on January 29th!)

Saturday, the 27th -- I rented a tiny car and drove over 100 miles to the University of Limerick where my friend Eliot Grasso (uilleann piper) was attending a masters program in ethnomusicology.
It didn't take me too long to get used to driving on the left hand side of the road -- with the steering wheel positioned on the right (thank goodness it was an automatic transmission!). I only got honked at once, someone gave me "the finger" in Dublin, I went through one red light, made one turn onto the wrong lane of a road -- but other than that, I did just grand.

I spent a few hours with Eliot and Kate at their apartment, walked around Limerick a bit, picking up a rare copy of "The Petrie Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland" -- which Eliot highly recommended -- at a Celtic bookstore in town.

I had originally planned to drive up to Doolin (in County Clare) and spend the night at a B&B there. However, I had began toreconsider after Randal Bays told me all the great musicians he knew in that once famous music town are now dead -- except for one great fiddle player named James Cullinane. Also, Eliot just happened to be needing to go back to Dublin the next day -- so I decided to just crash at Eliot's place for the night and just drive him back.
I was glad I did. I was glad to have the company on the drive out the next morning --- besides, Eliot is a better driver than I am (and unlike me, does not suffer from A.D.D.). I only got white knuckles just once or twice around some narrow bends as we drove by the 600-feet-high Cliffs of Moher.
The night before, dug up a nice collection of piping and fiddle music from Willie Clancy, Seamus Ennis, Robbie Hannan, Johnny Doran, James Cullinane and others. It was the most profound harmonic convergence of sight, sound and history as we drove through County Clare, through the town of Miltown Malbay (home of the Willie Clancy Summer School), AND listening to Willie Clancy's piping, AND sitting in a car next to a world-class piper himself (Eliot Grasso), as he described the intricacies of the uilleann pipes, and the subtleties in style that differentiate the sounds Seamus Ennis from Willie, from Johnny Doran, etc. It was absolutely amazing, and surreal.
I had made plans to visit the Poulnabrone dolmen, Clonmacnoise Abbey and a few other places. However -- I'd forgotten how long it really takes to get around some of these small roads in the west of Ireland, and had to drop a few items off my agenda, since we wanted to arrive in Dublin by 4pm or shortly after. The detour to the Cliffs of Moher was absoultely stunning, however.

We also made a brief stop at some castle north of Doolin -- where we got out of the car and literally walked around the entire castle. I had hoped to find some door leading inside -- but we ended up merely circumscribing the entire castle wall without finding one. (I guess that's what a castle is for -- to keep the enemy out. Duh!).
Later one, we started heading toward the N6 back to Dublin. It was then that Eliot noticed this curious little piece of paper stuck under the windshield wiper blade. What in the world was that for? I didn't remember doing anything illegal.

"Hey! What's that piece of paper stuck on the windshield?" Eliot remarked (it was on his side of the car). "WHOOPS! --- There it goes!" (as it sailed off the wieldshield, lost forever somewhere into County Clare).
Oh dear.
It's been a week now -- and the Garda (Irish police) have not shown up at my door yet. So I'm guessing it was just an innocent piece of trash or some irrelevant advertisement.

It was about 2pm -- we were just past the town of Athone. We wanted to get back to Dublin for a special recital at Na Piobairi Uilleann (Dublin's Uillean Piper's Society) -- which was going to feature Frankie Gavin on fiddle and Sean Og Potts (son of the great Sean Potts -- founding member of the Chieftains and an original member of Sean O'Riada's group "Ceoltoiri Cualann". ). His uncle Tommy Potts, a Dublin fiddler, composed the tune "The Butterfly" (which happens to be on my latest CD!).
We finally made it back to 15 Henrietta Street in Dublin (home of Na Piobairi Uilleann: http://www.pipers.ie ) about 4:30pm -- only to be greeted by a sign that said "Sorry -- house full". Undaunted, Eliot knocked on the door anyway -- and we were let inside to sit on the stairway just outside the recital room (we couldn't see a thing -- and a half a dozen people were lined up the stairs). There was some piper playing at the time.
Finally, at about 5pm -- Frankie Gavin comes down the stairs with his fiddle.

Now: Eliot had given me a big talk about avoiding this foolish notion of idolizing Irish musicians -- that they're just ordinary people, a part of a big community, and that we shouldn't get caught up in all the glitzy, singular celebrity mindset that plagues the rest of the music industry. Still: I couldn't help feeling just a bit faint and fluttery in my stomach as Frankie Gavin stood just a few inches away from me! (and I ALREADY feel that way just standing in the presense of Eliot, practically the greatest piper on the planet -- and who makes a pretty decent batch of scrambled eggs on top of that!

After Frankie played his 30 minutes, we finally managed to squeeze into the room to watch Sean Og Potts play the uilleann pipes.

The Humors of Trim



Saturday, January 20th, I decided to take a bus trip to Trim -- a small town about 30 miles northwest of Dublin. There is a traditional Irish tune titled "Humors of Trim" (more traditionally known by the title "The Rolling Wave" -- which was recorded by the piper Willie Clancy.)

There impressive Norman castle built in 1173. So well-preserved and impressive is this castle, it was used in the 1994 filming of "Braveheart".
Except for a brief 20 minutes of sunshine (which literally came out of nowhere) it was the most rainy, windy, blistering cold weather I've ever been in. My umbrella was literally blown backwards and ripped to shreds. By the time I got back to my apartment, it was not much more than a stick with some black fabric hanging off it.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Ireland: The First 3 Weeks


I arrived in Dublin, Ireland on January 8th.
Much to my dismay, however -- my guitar didn't arrive with me!

Although on other occasions, I might have been tempted to panic, I actually managed to remain quite calm and cool and simply filled out the missing baggage form at the front desk. I was told I could check the status on
www.mylostbag.com. Perfect!

I logged on the next morning and found out they had delivered it to my hotel in the lobby.
Everything was there -- in one piece.


This week has seen some of the most windy weather I've ever seen, with just a few breaks of sunlight here and there. Temperature in the low 40s.