Respected Guitarists in Celtic Music

Respected Guitarists in Celtic Music

Hello,

My name is Kirstin, and I’m a music student at the University of Oregon. This year, I will be doing a project where I look at a number of guitarists who play in the Celtic music scene, and analyze what they’re doing, what chords and rhythms they choose, etc. I’ll be looking predominantly at accompanists, but would love to include people who also play melody/solo.

The reason I’m posting this here, is I’d like to get an idea of who some of the more respected guitarists are in Celtic music, from people who are involved in the Celtic music community. I’d love to even get the name of a couple of sets which you think really showcase the artist’s ability or talent (and I wouldn’t say no to a few lines of why you like them or what you think of them, either).

Thanks so much for any assistance!
Kirstin

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Robin Bullock and Al Petteway come to mind immediately. Both play mostly fingerstyle Celtic. Robin Bullock plays taditional music in altered tunings to achieve a "Harp" sound.
Al Petteway writes a lot of his music with a Celtic flavor.

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Tony McManus does Fingerstyle, Flatpicking and Accompaniment all to a high level.
But you have a problem here in that you first have to define "Celtic". Good luck with that. It has been debated here before and no adequate resolution found. I would choose either Traditional Irish or Scottish or Cape Breton music community if its not too late to make that change.

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Arty Mcglynn, Steve Cooney, Jim Murray, Chris Newman, Luke O’Neill, (Australia), John Doyle, all these people are well known for backing the Dance Music of Ireland. I don’t know whether you would classify it as "Celtic Guitar" but its definitely Irish Rhythm Guitar.

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Oh, and of course you’re very own Dennis Cahill, whom I think may come from your very own state Kirsten. All of the above have vastly differing styles from the fierce trad. to the esoterically ambient. I also heard a recording once of the banjoist Seamus Egan (not the Solas one, the other one) and he had an impeccable guitarist backing him as well whose name escapes me. I believe they live in the Northwestern United States somewhere.

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Ah yes, I’m aware of the "how do you define Celtic music" debate. And luckily, for this project, I don’t really need to specifically look at one particular regional variation (for lack of a better term) of Celtic music. In fact, I’ll probably be incorporating some sort of discussion about each of those styles in my paper. I’m not writing a masters or doctoral thesis, so I don’t have to be as concerned with getting really, really specific and indepth about each regional style

Thanks for all of the suggestions so far!
Kirstin.

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Saw Sharon Shannon, Mike McGoldrick, Dezi Donnelly and Jim Murray last night. All were awesome, so I can totally back up the endorsement for Jim Murray on guitar - he was absolutely amazing.

You wanted comments as to why we like people: Jim Murray’s playing was extremely innovative, incorporating elements of rock and jazz as well as some parts of, apparently, an older tradition, when he mimmicked the style and sound of harpists. He used, in other words, a very full musical palette.

And yet his playing never *over-rode* the melody; it only ever *supported* it, which meant that, despite the innovative nature of his playing, it was always idiomatic. I must admit, I’ve never heard anything quite like it.

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Others that come to mind might be Donough Hennessy, Matt Heaton, Zan McLeod, Gavin Ralston, and Paul Meehan. Information about all of them can be found via google, of course…

Pete

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Although, the ones I mentioned are all people who record. And there is potentially a huge difference between the playing on recordings vs. "in the scene" in sessions…

Pete

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‘Ah yes, I’m aware of the "how do you define Celtic music" debate. And luckily, for this project, I don’t really need to specifically look at one particular regional variation (for lack of a better term) of Celtic music’

So we can assume you’ll be looking at people like Dan ar Bras?

Anyway, as far as Irish music is concerned I’ll stick an oar in for Paul de Grae and Ado Morris who can both carry along music without overwhelming it.

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I’d add Aaron Jones (of Old Blind Dogs & his CD with Claire Mann), and Kris Drever (of Fine Friday). Philip Masure. Donal Lunny. John Blake. Donal Clancy. Paddy Kerr. Declan Courell. Donncha Moynihan. Simon Wroe.

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Ged Foley, Paul Brady.

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Paul de Grae - plays live with Jackie Daly, and teaches in the Catskills every summer. A gentleman and wonderful guitarist.

He let me play at his session in Tralee every week, putting his guitar aside for most of the session, for about six months, before he asked me to take turns with him!
I supose he thought I was a blow-in and would blow away soon enough!

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And not forgetting the Godfather of DADGAD in Irish music, Michael O´ Domhnaill.

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Tim Edey is also very good.

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I second that Kilfarboy - Dan ar Bras - a hero of mine

Dick Gaughan’s "Coppers and Brass" was a milestone recording in my musical development too

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BTW,
You should consider Tenor guitar too…
John Carty, Alec Finn etc etc

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As far as i’m concerned, the best guitarist for accompanying trad tunes is Ciaran Swift. It’s a mystery to me how no one knows him but really he has everything down to a T: precision technique, and and a feel for tension and release that makes it happen for me…

This tension and release is caused by contrasting the structural chords of a tune with tension building sequences centering around chords 4 and 5 or at least holding a good dominant pedal before resolving on the first beat of the A part again… usually that means, structural chords in the A part and tension building on the B part.this gives a great sense of structure to a piece harmonically..

his dynamics and rhythm also reflect the structure of the tune brilliantly. and just incase you’re hearing the words structure and technique and thinking - boring! he’s the player with the most fire, feel and sense of excitement in trad music full stop.. was giggin with him last night and found it hard to stay on the seat myself with his energy.

we are going to record together soon but in the meantime, it’d be well worth taking a trip to ireland to hear the real thing… recordings only give you so much anyhow..

rant over!

Martin.

p.s. my nominee for best bouzouki and guitar player; Antoin Bracken but that’s a rant for another day!

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Are there recordings where we can hear these two players Martin?

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My list would include, in addition to many of the fine guitarists listed above, Daithe Sproule, Randal Bays, Pat Egan, John Sherman, John Blake, Eamon O’Leary, …

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JIM MURRAY FOR ME……also john doyle, tony byrne.

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Ian Carr - a fantastic accompaniment style, and is (in England at least) regarded as the most versatile guitarist around - certainly one of the most imaginative. Check out Fyace with Karen Tweed or the Syncopace LP.

Chris Newman - (already mentioned) possibly could be seen as Ian Carr’s predecessor, has a mixed bluegrass and swing background along with trad. Excellent tunes flatpicker and good accompanist as well. See work with Maire ni Cathasaig (sp?)

Marc Clements - one of the better known Scottish guitarists, fuses the Willie Johnson Shetland style with a somewhat softer touch. See Blazin Fiddles LPs.

Willie Johnson - The original guitarist! Was also a jazzer and used a lot of swing style accompaniment. I think he’s on a few Aly Bain CDs, but there aren’t that many formal recordings of him.

Martin Simpson - probably regarded as the master of English fingerstyle gutiar these days - mainly song accompaniment, but has done some tune playing & tune accompaniment.

Kris Drever can also be found playing with Lau.

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Seamie O Dowd

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For me:

Arty McGlynn
Ross Martin (Daimh)
Michael o’Domnhaill
Xel Pereda (Llan de Cubel)

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You should listen to "In Play" with John Doyle and Liz Carroll. It’s really easy to listen and hear all the guitar work, compared to a bigger band. Just a thought…

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Ross Martin (Daimh) is my fovourite. Great at judging when to drive the tunes and when to let them open out. Ed Boyd (Flook) and Tim Edey are great too.

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Don’t forget all the other amazing Breton guitarists! Soig Siberil,
Jacques Pellen, Jean-Charles Guichen, Gilles Le Bigot, Yvon Riou, Eric Marchand - there are a whole bunch of them and they’re all excellent.
Soig Siberil is my favourite though - very classy, inventive and dynamic player.

BTW I’d also mention Paul McSherry, Eoghan O Brien, Gerardy Thompson, Stevie Dunn and "Nipper "Quinn - all home grown talent.

Knut Reiersrud and Roger Tallroth are also worth hearing as they play styles I think most on this board would enjoy and connect with.

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Pat Broaders, Jesse Langan, of course Denis Cahill, all living in Chicago presently!

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Soig Siberil. I wholeheartedly agree with Conan.

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I concur with mickray, listen to the Masters of Celtic Guitar album, produced by Donal Clancy recently on Shanachie records. And agree with nofrets that the Liz Carroll/John Doyle "In Play" is a good example of the "jazzy" end of the accompaniment spectrum. Doyle has also done some fine accompaniment of singers on albums by Heidi Talbot and others. And Dennis Cahill, of course for accompaniment. Tony McManus is the current God of fingerstyle playing in this music, in my humble opinion, but of course, anyone who plays Scots music on a guitar in fingerstyle must tip their hat to the late, great Tony Cuffe, who played with the group Ossian. And Randal Bays does a great job of this music on guitar, without as much attention as he probably deserves.

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Sarah McQuaid, Gearóid Ó Maonaigh, Ian Smith, Eamon McElholm, Alan Burke, Mark Kelly, Duck Baker, Stephen Flaherty, Noel Ryan, Tim Edey - that’s just off the top of my head - the list is probably endless.

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Mick Moloney.

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There does not seem to be any consensus on what exactly ‘celtic music’ and ‘celtic guitar’ are,other than a bundle
of opinions and argumentative voices illustrating many viewpoints.
On one level,’celtic’ has come to be a term marketing people use to tell shop staff which shelf to place the CDs on.
Like ‘travel’,in a book shop,it’s a vague diffuse term covering anything with a dreamy New Age feel.Harps,ruined
mansions,rocky seascapes,the sort of imagery used to sell chocolate,carrying on the myth and romance of some
imaginary Celtic Twilight.
On another level,it can be speculated that the actual Celtic peoples of Iron Age Europe,possibly did have some
musical elements in their culture,and that there might be authentic remnants of a common tradition represented in
the cultures of Welsh,Irish,Scottish,Manx,Breton,and other folks pushed to the margin of Europe along the Atlantic
fringe,maybe in the scales that are most favoured and the absence of some musical features
But how contemporary ‘celtic guitar’ can be defined, I do not know,other than by saying it’s not Rock,or Jazz,or Blues
or Classical,or Other.
If someone plays genuine archaic tunes from Wales or Ireland,on an electrified vintage Gibson with a drum machine,
is that Celtic Guitar? http://www.docgrooms.com/dgdd.htm
Or if David Russell,dressed in a tuxedo (or whatever that uniform is called) plays Irish melodies in a classical style
on a classical guitar in a classical music venue,is that Celtic?
I know what ‘sounds’ celtic,to my ears.But it’s a very subjective judgement,to do with elusive qualities like the ‘feel’
of the playing.There’s a lot of players who play some celtic stuff and also some very non-celtic stuff.Nothing wrong
with that.And there’s the players who specialise in providing backing rhythm at sessions,which is a very different job
to working out solo guitar arrangements of traditional melodies.
Just relying on memory,I’d say that Donal Clancy’s CD ‘Close to Home’ is truly irish tradition,in so far as that means
anything.My all time favourite guitarist is Alec Stone Sweet,who plays some celtic melodies with great refinement,
sensitivity and a unique technique.I’d say that Steve Baughman’s ‘Neil Gow’s lament upon the death of his second
wife’ is a masterpiece.I doubt any acoustic fingerstyle player could do a better job.There’s hundreds and hundreds
of very accomplished players.Iris Nevins who makes her own guitars,Graham Dunne,Tony McManus is awesome,
Dick Gaughan,Jon Hicks,Arty McGlynn,Randal Bays,Eileen Niehouse,Christopher Dean,Martin Simpson,John
Renbourne,Anthony Griffiths,Tony Cuffe,Keith Hinchliffe,Dennis Cahill,I’m sure many more I’ll remember just as soon
a I’ve posted this…
(Kirstin,If you have not already,you could ask the question at Celtic Guitar Talk forum)

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Peerie Willie Johnson accompanies a couple of tracks on the (early) Cathal McConnell album On Lough Erne’s Shore. Cracking stuff too.

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Damn it - I am too late. Almost everyone that I was going to mention has been named.

In particular I was thinking of Ross Martin, John Doyle, Tony McManus, Tim Edey, Donough Hennessey, Ian Carr and Kris Drever.

Names not mentioned yet though would include Anna Massie, Jenn Butterworth and Innes Watson - all fairly young and highly accomplished musicians on the scene here in Scotland. Anna in particular has so much energy in her playing and her melody playing is incredible.

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I’m glad someone mentioned Philip Masure,one of the best.As for the ‘Celtic’ tag,I know of a cd shop with Kathryn Tickell in the Celtic section.I pointed out to the owner that she is English and plays mostly Northumbrian music, but he said it must be Celtic because she plays the pipes! the shop is in Holland though.

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Pierre Bensusan

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I’d like to add Darin Kelly to the list. He’s as solid as they come and is much sought after on the East Coast. I also didn’t see James Reilly or John Brennan on the list, both solid players as well.

Brian Boyce

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Pierre Bensusan recorded some Irish tunes on his first two albums,he’s wriiten some vaguely ‘Celtic’ tunes but I gave up on him when he drifted into the field of New Age earwash.

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Hmm.You being provocative?🙂There’s not many guitarists who can play such fast complicated stuff.But what you’re describing is called ‘selling out’,isn’t it? Some people want to earn a living from playing music.That means they have to provide what will sell,what the audience wants to hear and pay for,hence the Christmas CDs
with syrupy renditions of Danny Boy or New Age sludge.I guess the thread hinges on ‘respected’.I respect Pierre Bensusan as a good guitarist.I agree he’s not entirely ‘celtic’ though.But let’s look at another name,Duck Baker,much admired guitar player and teacher.But when he plays what he calls ‘celtic’,I don’t hear celtic,as i understand it.He bends and snaps notes as if it was blues,and the rhythm is somehow all wrong.Still a good guitarist,all round,and highly regarded.

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I’m not sure Duck Baker would really classify himself as a celtic guitarist (although he plays "celtic" tunes) - much in the manner that Renbourne, Jansch etc wouldn’t either. He is, however, as you say a brilliant teacher - very much like Renbourne (although his teaching skill comes from an entirely different direction).

I would second Anna Massie - very good guitarist, skilled accompanist and has probably the most driving tune picking technique I’ve ever heard. If you get the chance, have a look at Ian Stephenson (most recent Kathryn Tickell band CD) - he’s another very skilled accompanist.

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Yes,well that’s the crux of the problem outlined above.Does anyone classify themselves as a ‘celtic’ guitarist? And what does it mean if they say that?I agree completely,Jansch,Renbourn,etc,etc,
most folk style guitarists will play a few Irish or Scottish tunes,but wouldn’t say of themselves they’re ‘celtic’.But then,Renbourn said Tony McManus is the world’s best celtic guitarist,does that make ‘Goodbye Mr Porkpie Hat’ celtic? Honestly,I’m not just trying to be tricky here.I wish I knew better what ‘celtic fingerstyle acoustic guitar’ is,in the sense of what gives it some boundaries somewhere.It’s a lot easier to see clearly that say,John Doyle,is playing in a definite Irish style,or that Arty McGlyn is flatpicking definite Irish traditional tunes.But Celtic fingerstyle is relatively new,and not just Irish.Do you think it’s a significant force,like Alan Stivell revitalised ‘celtic’ music,or just a few tunes that just happen to be played on guitar that slip into the cracks between genres?
Yes,I’ve heard just a little of Anna Massie and Ian Stephenson and like it a lot.

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El McMeen plays (mostly Irish) fingerstyle guitar.

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Pat McManus from Fermanagh. That just about concludes this debate…… apart from….. no…… he can’t be……. oh my good gawd…. he is…… never thought I’d see the day…….. Brilliant. Nice one, Jose

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Ed Morrison, absolutely the best.

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Look at all these guitar players you like! So you don’t hate all guitar players after all.

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sb: Give em 5 minutes and a different post, and they’ll be foaming at the mouth again…

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I second Brian’s mention of Darin Kelly. In addition to having all sorts of basic guitar skill and an amazing knowledge of music theory, he has three important abilities many guitarist don’t have.
1) He knows the tunes.
2) He knows the tunes.
3) He knows the tunes.

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What an amazing thing this thread has been. Hardly a single guitar bashing whisper.
Now is someone game enough to start a similar thread for the "respected bodhran-ists in Celtic Music?

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I wanted to say thank you to everyone who’s replied. I can see that I have some work cut out for me looking at the guitarists that have been mentioned.

Thank you also, to those who also brought up some points (that I hadn’t thought of) that I’ll have to take into consideration as I’m crafting this project. I’d like to respond further, but my brain is just mush from the day 🙂 When I get a coherent moment, I’ll write out another post.

Thanks!

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Kirsten,

Martin Simpson has already been mentioned, but he’d definitely be on my my list. When he plays a melody, he really tries to capture the drive of a fiddle tune or the plaintive singing od an air. As someone else said about another player, "He knows the tunes." I’d also suggest checking out Steve Baughman.

There are a couple of videos from Stefan Grossman’s Vestapol company: "Ramble to Cashel" and "the Blarney Pilgrim". I know the Portland, OR Library Central Branch has them in VHS format (I live up in Vancouver, WA). You may be able to get them via Inter Library Loan. Both Martin and Steve appear on the two videos.

Hope this helps.

Mark

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Lovely post, wolfbird. *Doffs hat with a flourish*.

Bert Jansch…..a teacher??
There used to be a notice in Collett’s Record Shop in London.
"Bert Jansch does not give guitar lessons"
Apparently young wannabees were always approaching him for lessons, and he would say "Sure, meet you at Collett’s tomorrow morning."

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I’m glad Wolfbird mentioned Dick Gaughan. It may not be what he is best known for, but anyone who has heard his ‘Coppers and Brass’ would surely agree that, in addition to his skills as a songwriter, singer and accompanist to his own singing, he is a consummate player of tunes on the guitar.

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If truth be told the best guitarists for trad would be Johnny Fean and Richard Thompson.

Just listen to the "tunes" by Horslips and Fairport.

Wonderful.

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"I’m not sure Duck Baker would really classify himself as a celtic guitarist…" I doubt he would use the term.

There’s an interesting article Duck wrote abiuyt the "celtic music" on his website: http://www.duckbaker.com/. Use the bridge pins to navigate to Writings and Reviews, then click on Celtic.

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I am aware of the playing of some but certainly not all those mentioned above, so take my comments as those of someone with somewhat limited exposure.

Let me wax lyrical a bit about John Doyle as both a rhythm and lead player. He has been mentioned above, but not done justice in my opinion. Doyle, to my ear, is the one of the most powerful and exciting accompanists on the scene in Irish music. In addition to inventive driving chordal rhythm, he also contributes both percussion and bass, just by the way he plays the guitar, in a way that I have not heard elsewhere. To take nothing away from the other members of Solas (listen to Solas and Sunny Spells& Scattered Showers), he often sounds like half of the band sound. He seems to be a very large part of determining the flavor/mood/feeling of any tune he backs. He can do fast, slow, gentle, fingerstyle, and easily move between about 10 different tunings (it may actually only be 8) with nary a pause.

He is also an amazing lead player. Listen to A Fair Wind/Convenience Reel on his solo release A Wayward Son. Beautiful lead work, and anyone that can hit the trebles like he can, with the middle note damped to faithfully reproduce the effect of the pipes, seems to be very rare, imho.

Others have described Doyle as an amazing musical talent. Every time I see him in person, this seems an understatement. And he is also extremely entertaining on stage, especially when Liz starts talking about cheap underwear.

When I tell you I also graduated from the U. of O. (1971), you will no doubt give this opinion the credence it deserves, but I really think that Doyle has taken Irish guitar to a whole new level. Not everyone seems to approve of what he has done, but anyone with his creativity will have detractors. I would think any serious study of Irish guitarists would be lacking if Doyle was not included.

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Thanks to snakefingers for the pointer to the Duck Baker which I’ve just read three times.Seems very clear he doesn’t like the term:"the use of the word celtic contributes nothing to our understanding of any traditional music".
However,
I find his reasoning very strange,and his conception of history and culture quite bizarre.Some of the statements seem very muddled and only make the confusion surrounding the term ‘celtic’ even worse,e.g. suggested substitution of ‘Gaelic peoples’.He seems to think that ‘celtic’ music is relatively recent,the last three of four centuries.Personally,I don’t find that opinion very convincing.If a spoken language can survive for several thousand years,I don’t see any great obstacle to songs or melodies being passed down over similar long periods,but,like many intangible aspects of culture,they would not leave traces that could be cited as evidence.

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Not a guitarist , so excuse me for blundering in on your thread. 1st of all Kirstin, I believe Duck Baker fits the bill ; "Respected Guitarists in Celtic Music". His recordings of O’Carolan should remind everyone that guitars are not excluded from Irish music ~ they just happen to be in the shape of a harp. He reverses the process.
I noticed a tangential discussion on the term Celtic.. Duck Bakers’ essay on "Celtic" is … complex. I will give it several readings. He does discuss the recent as well as historical connection. One of his protests of current usage is commercial exploitation. For example;
Celtic Airs, Jigs, Reels & Hornpipes on DVD
Taught by Duck Baker
http://guitarvideos.com/video/dvd/909dvd.htm
Finally someone who has brought intelligence & ‘wit’ to an otherwise contentious subject.

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Get hold of the CD "Return to Kintail" by Alastair Fraser and Tony McManus. Wonderful fiddle-playing and superb, appropriate accompaniment. The alpha and omega.

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Steve, if you can appreciate Tony’s splendid playing on that record, how can you tolerate that bloke on your record?

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Snakefingers…. Stefan Grossman, known more for ragtime and blues, and the producer of all those great teaching videos…. he can switch hats and become one mean Celtic tune player.

Martin Guitars is just coming out with the Stefan Grossman model too. http://guitarvideos.com/00martinguitar.htm don’t faint at the pricetag! He specified all the fine points so it is sure to be great.

Thanks for the mention wolfbird! 🙂

John Renboune and Tony McManus are geniuses, and maybe I missed something but has anyone mentioned Randall Bays? He can really spin out a great tune on guitar. Very amazing!

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My favs too Iris—-you might want to check out Dean Magraw,
working seemlessly with John Williams on the "Raven" disk.
He chords and leads with taste and verve.

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I’ll have to add Shane Mcgowan form Sligo to that list.
Check out his playing on Oisin McAuley’s(Danu) newish album.

P

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That’s from,not form…

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Jim Murray, Tim Edey, Paul McSherry, John Doyle, Steve Cooney, Tony Byrne, Ed Boyd, Sean McElwain, Seamie O’Dowd, among others would be my favourites,

Jim Murray is my personal favourite, fantastic player.

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Another vote for Donough Hennessy. Great energy, counter rhythms, sustain, changeups, all in a very supportive way.

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recently heard this guy! John Sanders! Brilliant! possibly one of thee best nylon string guitar players out there!

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Éire: Micheál Ó Domhnaill
Arty McGlynn
Daithaí Sproule
Paul Brady
Donnogh Henessy
Alan Burke
John Spillane

Breizh: Saoig Siberil
Jean-Charles Gwizien(guichen)
Gilles Le Bigot
Nicolas Kemener(quemener)
Roland Konk(conq)
Patrice Marzin
Dom Duff
Dan Ar Bras

Cymru: Llewen Steffan
Alba: Donnie Munro