Fiddlers in the Smoke: any info?

Fiddlers in the Smoke: any info?

There are a bunch of really great fiddlers on both the "Paddy in the Smoke" album and some of the other Topic compilations about which I know next to nothing. Jimmy Dunlevey, Andy Boyle, Con Curtan, Ed Murphy, Denis MacMahon, and even that Mando player Father Tom O’Keeffe, I think that’s his name, don’t have the list in front of me now. I don’t even know much about Martin Byrnes (and also I’d love to find his CD somewhere, anywhere). But I particularly notice the playing of Sean O’Shea, whose set of reels with Bobby Casey on PITS is quite something to behold. His playing sounds very distinctive, a bit on the dirtier, flatter side, with a rather noisy, slightly raspy tone, with lots of triplets and some nice rolls. That track is one of the best on an album of best tracks in my opinion.

Anyway, does anyone know anything about these guys - where they came from, whom they learned their music from, etc.? I’m really just curious, and I like to put things in context.
Thanks in advance!

Re: Fiddlers in the Smoke: any info?

I haven’t had time to go through and look for those names specifically, but I know Reg Hall has some info on the musicians on Paddy in the Smoke in his "A Few Good Tunes of Music" book. Here is a link to the book on the topic records site that you can look in.

http://www.topicrecords.co.uk/a-few-good-tunes/files/index.html

Re: Fiddlers in the Smoke: any info?

Sorry, that book title should be "A Few Tunes of Good Music".

Re: Fiddlers in the Smoke: any info?

PlanxtyPipes, thanks for the link. I hate to say this, but that’s not helping me. I’m blind and can’t see the images - I probably should have disclosed that sometime in the past on this site..

Re: Fiddlers in the Smoke: any info?

Con Curtin was a Sliabh Luachra native and quite a character by all accounts. At one time he ran a pub in London called, I believe, the Big Balloon, and there is a tune called Con Curtin’s Big Balloon (no. 821 in this collection, https://thesession.org/tunes/821).

Andy Boyle was one of the stalwarts of the London scene, perhaps one of the rank-and-file fiddlers. In an interview with Reg Hall which (if I remember correctly) appeared in the liner notes of one of Danny Meehan’s recordings, Danny affectionately described him (again from memory) "essential" - "part of the artillery".

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Re: Fiddlers in the Smoke: any info?

Hmm…can your reader use a PDF instead of the images on that link? I just realized I have it saved in PDF form and could send it to you if you like. There is some information about Martin Byrnes, Andy Boyle, Con Curtin and Sean O’Shea for sure. I just ran a search and found all of them in the book. There are bits of information like the following about O’Shea:

"A fiddle player born of Irish parents in London, he was brought up in the post-war London-Irish music and dance scene, receiving some musical tuition from Harry Jenkins of the Gaelic League and playing as a child in the ceili band at the Servite Hall in Fulham.
However, he responded to the immigration of rural musicians by joining them and adopting
their values. He was, and still is, a strong player with a large tone and a vast repertory and, in partnership with a succession of outstanding accordeon players, Martin McMahon, John Bowe and Jimmy Sullivan, he drew capacity crowds to five sessions a week at the King’s Head."

There are quite a lot of references though and lots of information about Irish music in London in the post-war era and the people who played it. There is a whole chapter called "The Adaptation of Rural Music and Dance in London, 1945-1980".

Re: Fiddlers in the Smoke: any info?

I have just been perusing my PDF copy of Reg Hall’s "A few good tunes" (all 1014 pages of it) and it contains anecdotes and factual information about most of the people whose names you mention, Daniel.

Edit: PlanxtyPipes got there first. Cheers.

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Re: Fiddlers in the Smoke: any info?

Stiamh, never made the connection between that tune and the fiddler. Probably should have. Otherwise, many thanks to both of you for your kindness and help!

Re: Fiddlers in the Smoke: any info?

Sean O’Shea was still playing sessions in London from time-to-time until quite recently. I last saw him perhaps 8-10 years ago at a session in Ealing. I heard that he moved ‘back’ to Ireland in the last couple of years.

Con Curtin moved back to his native Brosna, Co. Kerry, where there is a festival in his memory (although it apparently began whilst he was still alive) http://concurtin.com .

Re: Fiddlers in the Smoke: any info?

CMO, didn’t realize Con had passed. Good fiddler. I wish Sean had made more recordings though…

Re: Fiddlers in the Smoke: any info?

Sadly, the overwhelming majority of the players that you mention - and we should, of course, add Bobby Casey to the list - the greatest of them all, IMHO - are now dead or not playing anymore. And not forgetting the great Michael O’Gorman, who I didn’t ever hear live. I was fortunate enough to catch most of them in the early 1970s, which was a magical time for pub music in London, as were the 50s and 60s. Fortunately, most of them have been captured on CD, so you can listen to their music. Most of the CDs, particularly those compiled by Reg, have good notes, thpugh I don’t know whether you will be able to access them.

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Re: Fiddlers in the Smoke: any info?

Barry, yes, of course, Bobby Casey To this day I model a lot of my style after the spirit he conveyed in his music. I did not mention his name here only because I had more information about him at my disposal than for the rest of them.