Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Micheal O'Domhnaill 1952 -2006
I was saddened to hear that a longtime idol of mine, much beloved by all who follow Irish music, Micheal O'Domhnaill, had passed away this July ( I hadn't heard until a week ago) as the result of a fall at his home in Dublin.
Micheal was a singular guitar stylist as well as a fine singer, often in Gaelic, of little heard traditional tunes passed down from his family who hailed from the gaelic-speaking sector of Donegal.
His great gift was to accompany virtuosos such as Tommy Peoples, Paddy Keenan, Paddy Glackin, Matt Molloy, and Kevin Burke and make them sound even better. He strummed with a subtle drive that propelled the melody forward like a polyrhythmic wave rather than a steady predictable chunk-beat. His choice of chords was almost modally jazzlike - minor 11ths and 9ths derived from DADGAD tuning and others that would have bent the ear of a Ravel or Bill Evans - but it was accenting and painting the tonal backdrop of the melody of the tune that was his priority.
He was also a soft-spoken and considerate person, an excellent foil for the laconic wit of his story-telling fiddler par excellence partner of years past, Kevin Burke.
I've a very fond memory of briefly meeting Micheal back in 1980 when he and Kevin came to came to Santa Cruz Ca. on their tour of the States (they soon made Portland their home for many years).
They were to play in a church/venue that night. Sheryl, myself and our 1year old daughter Laurel were in a long line outside waiting to get in. Micheal and Kevin, themselves, came up alongside us and asked where they might find (what else?) a pub within walking distance for a quick drink and we pointed them in the right direction.
Just before the doors opened, the guys came back and they were very appreciative. Micheal said there were actual "cowboys" sitting next to them at the bar and described their attire wide-eyed as if he'd seen the Second Coming of Hopalong Cassidy.
Inside, they took to the stage and tore down the house. This audience was already hip to these guys and their former stardom with the Bothy Band (and this was way before Riverdance and other near collisions with utter Celtic schlock)and they were so taken by them it seemed they wouldn't let them go; the encore was like another show unto itself.
When we started Subterranean Jazz back in 1997 (?) I'd been thinking about improvising off of trad irish tunes for some time. In particular, I'd been greatly inspired by the jazz-like arrangement O'Domhnaill and Burke made of the slip-jig tune Promenade from the same-titled album from 1980. I fooled with merging Promenade (with different chords) and another slip-jig, Kid On the Mountain, and we all threw together a tune called The Irish Kid that made its way to our recording, Subway Sonnets; at the very least, a sapling transplant from O'Domhnaill and Burke sprouting up from the Great West home of gunfights and rugged trails.
* here is a recent recording of Micheal O'Domhnaill accompanying Paddy Glackin on fiddle found on youtube. You also get to hear a bit of gaelic spoken after and some playing from the group Altan who were also there.
* above, an early picture of Micheal (in the bright shirt at top right)
with the Bothy Band circa 1976. Kevin Burke far left, Donall Lunny, Paddy Keenan with the pipes, Matt Molloy with flute, and Micheal's sister Triona O'Domhnaill at the top.