SLIGO FIDDLE PLAYERS
Kevin Burke is one of the best known and widely admired contemporary Irish fiddlers. He was born to Irish parents (from Sligo) in London in 1950. He moved to Ireland in 1974, playing in a duo with Christy Moore, and then in 1976 replacing Tommy Peoples as fiddler with The Bothy Band. He can be heard on the classic albums Old Hag you have Killed me and Out of the Wind, into the Sun
On of his finest pieces of work was his 1978 solo album If the Cap Fits. It was designed deliberately to have some of the feel of an informal session, including long strings of tunes (the last track is an 11 reel medley!), with supporting instruments coming in and out.
A chance meeting with Arlo Guthrie in an Irish pub led to a visit in 1973 to the US, and since 1979 he has been resident in Portland, Oregon, performing in a duo with Micheal O Domhnaill and with, among others, the groups Patrick Street, Open House, and Celtic Fiddle Festival.
Although brought up in London, Kevin Burke has a lot of Sligo in his playing, both from childhood trips to the County, and from listening to the early recordings of Michael Coleman, Paddy Killoran and James Morrison. He describes the style as being “the best of both worlds”- lying in between the driving rhythm of Donegal and the smooth lyricism of Clare. He regards his playing as being “based on” the Sligo style, but admits to being influenced from many different directions.
One particularly distinctive feature of his playing is the strong backbeat he applies to many reels, with emphasis on every third quaver (doo-ah DAK a, doo-ah DAK a). The emphasised beat is usually played with an up bow (by contrast to Frankie Gavin, for example, who will play the same pattern but with and emphasised downbow). The strong beat is also often emphasised by the playing of an adjacent open string as the bow digs in. You can hear this to good effect on his versions of Pinch of Snuff and The Mason’s Apron.
Kevin Burke on “The Nyaah”
Kevin Burke started out playing classical violin, and at first Irish music was something of a mystery, as he explains on his website:
In Jessie's (classical violin) lessons I had learned that I should play just what is written down - no more, no less. From the Irish players I learned to treat the printed page simply as a guide and to add grace notes and triplets more or less when I felt like it! They also had a list of terms that I hadn't heard in my Violin classes - shakes, rolls, crans, to name a few and there were other odd words I heard them use quite a bit, strange words like "The Nyaah" and "Corfibbles".
"The Nyaah", apparently, was very important. Nobody seemed to be clear on what it was but all the good players had it and you were no good without it! This was very tricky. Where would I get "The Nyaah"? Where would I find it? Well, some of the older musicians advised me and encouraged me that when playing I should "lean on it" and "give it stick". I was told to "twist it and turn it" (and "kick it down the hall" said someone else.)
All this was a long way from the language Jessie used when talking about music. But it was helping. I knew I was gradually playing better when one day I heard some old lad say "He has the Nyaah!" I didn't know what it was, I didn't know I had it, I didn't know where I had found it, but I believed him!