Fear Inis Bearachain

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It was always my intention to begin playing the melodeon when my father no longer could. Sadly, that time came sooner than any of us could have anticipated. From after the Willie Clancy week in 2018 till the middle of September that year I devoted some serious attention to the melodeon, listening and playing along to my Dad’s wonderful recordings.

For contrast and out of sheer fascination I listened to some of the much earlier recordings of P.J. Conlon, the original melodeon maestro from Milltown, Co. Galway, who recorded in America in the early twentieth century. In choosing material for this album I reflected on how best to pay homage to my father’s unique musical personality, his effortless flow, his unaffected style infused with a perennial freshness and grace that is inimitable. Should I try to imitate that? I could not, nor would I or he wish me to. I decided that a tribute recording to Johnny Connolly, the Melodeon Player, ought to be a celebration of the instrument he is often credited with reviving, in recent times. It should also be a celebration of the rich Conamara musical tradition with which his name and reputation are inextricably linked. So the result is an album of variety and contrast, with an emphasis on Conamara music expressed through the wonderfully inventive settings of Seáinín Phat Mhyla McDonagh (a cousin of my father’s). There are also jig versions of iconic sean-nós songs and tunes by composers Máirtín Shéamuis Ó Fatharta and Marcus Hernon, as well as some of my own.

I have also included music recorded early in the last century by melodeon virtuosi such as P.J. Conlon and J.J. Kimmel. The element of unity in this diversity is the melodeon itself, my dad’s beloved instrument. In the brief time that I have been playing this one-row accordion, its versatility and scope have surprised me. My father had an almost magical ability to overcome its limitations in a musically satisfying manner. This is the great challenge the melodeon poses and it compels you to find musical solutions that might not occur to you with the wider palette of a diatonic accordion.

I’ve been very fortunate to be joined by some of the finest musicians in the country on this recording. This is in keeping with my father’s lifelong practice of playing in duets and trios as much for the camaraderie as for the musical support it offered. In some of my solos I have strayed into areas of the melodeon repertory not explored by my dad and I know this would please him and excite his curiosity.
I hope, as any son might, that some aspects of his style might have found their way into my own interpretations. There is no attempt at deliberate imitation; my dad needs no such flattery nor I the derision such a futile attempt might invite! I offer only fidelity to the traditional style he embodied, a style that I, and many of my musical friends, cherish.