Most Underrated Fiddle Player

Most Underrated Fiddle Player

This is kind of a random question, but who do think is the most "underrated" fiddle player, if there is any. My personal answer would be Brian Conway (even though many people already know about him). Let me know what you think.

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all right, I’ll bite. Underrated, that’s a harsh term in many ways. I always detested the chant at a sporting event. I don’t know Brian Conway. What band does he play with? The first thought that I had was a fiddler named Yvonne Casey who played for a while in Celli Bandits. I saw them in Doolin in 2001 and was amazed. She is certainly not the Martin Hayes, Liz Carrol, Kevin Burke solo player, but I like the groove she clicks in with the rest of the group. "Hangin’ at the Crossroads" is a great CD in my opinion. Not sure how much she played outside of small bars and pubs in Co Clare.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfIJ54ugWvI

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Not sure I understand the premise of the question. Certainly there are brilliant players out there who don’t receive the notoriety or the financial benefits that Frankie Gavin or Kevin Burke do, but I don’t think anyone here would consider them "underrated." Maybe "unknown" is the word you’re looking for.
A couple of strong fiddlers whom some people in the States might not know, whom I hadn’t heard of nearly soon enough before, would probably be MacDara O’Raghallaigh and Pat O’Connor. Check out "Ego Trip" and "The Green Mountain". They’re certainly not underrated. Maybe just "underpaid."

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It’s most likely that one that I’ve never even heard of.

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I apologize for my bad word choice. By "underrated" I really just mean players who are relatively unknown but are still amazing musicians.

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The problem I still have with that is that I have known quite a few musicians (not just fiddlers) who were ‘amazing’ but not really ‘rated’ at all. Fame is not always a goal for many ‘amazing’ muso’s.

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> Fame is not always a goal for many ‘amazing’ muso’s.

Rather than amazing, perhaps the right adjective might be ‘sensible’.

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Agreed.

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I must admit to being the same as TMitchel in that I’m "Not sure I understand the premise of the question". As such I have no idea how to answer it. But I would like to add this perspective:-
I notice that you are a first time poster (and welcome to the site) so you may not be aware that within the community of ‘The Session.org’ we have quite a few of what I would personally judge to be ‘amazing’ musicians. I don’t want to mention names, but I know from recordings I have heard from some of these people that I often feel in awe of their skills. But the thing I mostly respect about them is that despite their skills they always seem to be humble. I doubt that being underrated or overrated would bother these people too much. I have often wondered why they would even thank me when I express my sincere ‘amazement’ of their ability and my enjoyment of their playing. It is simply the (my) truth. To me, one of the best qualities of an accomplished musician is humility, and if such musicians don’t actually seek approval or fame then why would I see perceive them as underrated or overrated? All they are interested in is playing their music. And in the end ‘rating’ other people is all just subjective and a case of who you like or don’t like. Who I don’t like are those who overrate *themselves*. Other than all that I just appreciate good playing.

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Brian Conway is indeed a great fiddler, a pupil of Andy McGann, who was a pupil of Michael Coleman. Brian has several recordings to his credit.

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So in what way is he underrated?

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I think both Yvonne Casey and Edel McWhinney have never received the recognition their respective talents deserve.

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As far as a genuine traditional regional fiddler from the old days who just missed out of the fame of being "discovered" by the Folk Music Revival, being recorded by musicologists, and so forth I will put forth my Grandfather. Born in a log cabin in Deepest Darkest West Virginia, son of a Civil War veteran, went to work in the coal mines at age 8, a locally well known and respected musician equally proficient on fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and banjo, he died in 1958. He was never recorded, never made the rounds of the festivals, due to dying so young.

Another fiddler I’ll put forward is West Highland fiddler Farquhar MacRae. I heard him playing in a pub in Fort William in 1986, I was captivated. Accordionist Jack Stitt was there too, they had a band of sorts.

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I agree that ‘underrated’ is a bit of an inappropriate term, since it suggests that a player has somehow been misappraised. There are plenty of exellent players that are not well known, simply because they have no interest in promoting themselves - and some of them do eventually become well known through the merits of their playing alone.

Yvonne casey is getting quite a few votes here and I am going to add mine. Also, from the same neck of the woods, James Cullinane is an outstanding player. From the other end of Clare, Marc Donnellan, who leads a great session (and the Tulla Ceili Band) but is rarely heard on his own. From London, with Galway roots and living there, Claire Egan.

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Pre-Covid - you could go into any session in Galway and find a few.

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My first thought…why is Natalie MacMaster so much more popular than Donnell Leahy?! Obviously, she had a more successful career, and I adore her playing, but that guy…he’s got it and he’s brilliant!!!!!!

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Not that’s he underrated or anything, but he obviously, in my mind, isn’t as celebrated as she is.

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why is X so much more popular than Y?!

The simple fact is at a certain point success has less to do with individual musical skills and more to do with the marketing machine working for you or against you. And given the two of them are married, I suspect they find what they have works well together, which is more important than maximising their individual profiles.

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She has like, a dozen or so albums and Leahy (as in Donnell with his siblings) only had 3. But I guess for whatever reason, at that time it was more in her favor and the majority preferred her stuff?

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There are several reasons any player becomes celebrated: breaking new ground, being first at something, being in a successful band, being a dynamic performer and of course being a great musician. Just being a great musician generally puts one on a lower rung. As an example, if you’ve ever seen Natalie McMaster live, you are unlikely to forget the experience.

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Claire Egan and Grainne Murphy are two names I don’t see mentioned enough.

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Well, I’m pretty underrated. I have to admit I’m not that good - but I’m not as bad as people say … !

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I’ve seen them both live (Natalie and Donnell) last year and I will never forget it! Incredible!

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Both Natalie M. and Ashley MacIsaac came along at a time that was just right for them. They were introducing a type of music to a broad audience that was unfamiliar with it but was ready for it, and that took to it. Donal Leahy, OTOH, came up in a family that performed a mix of Canadian "Old-Tyme" fiddling and C&W songs. They had a great act, and it fit into a market and circuit that was well-established - but it did not have appeal outside; it would have been seen as a bit ‘corny’, tbh, beyond the agricultural fairs and rural community festivals, etc. Donal came to ‘Celtic music’ later, and, as great a player as he is, does not represent anything markedly different from what many other fiddlers are doing - most not with comparable proficiency, but similar in kind. I don’t say that to take anything away from him, but to explain why he has never gotten quite the degree of attention that Natalie has. I don’t think he would disagree with anything I’ve said, although I’ve never met him.

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Meself, too paraphrase Judge Smailes, "it sounds like you are no slouch yourself". And now that I think of it, the "Overrated" chant is the one I abhor. And I do agree with an earlier statement that the overrated fiddle players or musicians tend to lack humility. I tend to go for ITM for the reasons that many who play it are low-key, giving and helpful, as well as self-deprecating. And thanks for the name drop of Brian Conway, silky stuff. And I admit, I am unknown and un-amazing.

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@ Lolly Olivia, I totally agree with you about your comments on Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy. I’ve had the same thoughts. Donnell is fairly astounding.
Re: Meself’s claim that , "I’m not as bad as people say" …….. Yes, some people underrate my playing too, but I just think, "What would they know?" More commonly some people overrate my playing but again I just think, "What would they know?" It ALL equally annoys me because I don’t play my fiddle with any intention or obligation to entertain other people. I do it because I love it.

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Lineage has an impact too: MacMaster is a famous name in Cape Breton music.

It would be like another Keenan coming along, people will give a listen.

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The very word "underrated" isn’t too useful. The word conflates commercial popularity with a folk genre, an oil and water comparison. I imagine that players who reach a certain level of inspiration borne of years of competence don’t care all that much about popularity.

That being said, as a long-time fiddler I return to Paddy Canny, Bobby Casey, and John Carty for inspiration. Two of them are dead and past caring about ephemeral crowd popularity, and Carty is as popular as he wants to be, I imagine!

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The Kane sisters.

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If you like Brian Conway, you might also really enjoy Tony Demarco. He’s another player from the "NY Sligo" school with dashes of Tommy Potts added (he also recorded an album with Brian years ago)

One of my personal favorites that I don’t hear mentioned enough is Danny Meehan from Donegal. He’s got such a unique style & is instantly recognizable. So much music & technique packed in. A living legend, for me at least

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“I don’t play my fiddle with any intention or obligation to entertain other people. I do it because I love it.”
Right on, Gobby. The heart of it. Music for the joy of it, eh?

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I’ve been listening to Mairi Rankins recent album, The Cabin Sessions, and it’s totally lively, addictive CB fiddling!
I’d never heard of her before…since we’re at it, how popular is she?

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The comments about success being inextricably linked with the marketing machine and, to put it bluntly, opportunity, ring true to me in discussing one of my favorite fiddlers of all time whose name has not as yet appeared on this thread, Donegal fiddler Néillidh Boyle. In one sense I don’t think many would call him underrated, he’s certainly acknowledged as a master, but I know few who have actually listened to "A Feeling in the Blood", the complete album of his music produced by Cairdeas, all the way through. People have instead heard the fabulous tracks put out on compilations of 78s, but I would argue even if they love those tracks, they haven’t actually heard him until they listen to the whole album. I’m not sure whether I would have liked him as a person, as he is quite judgmental to say the least, but his music is worth it.

Anyway, these comments on success and marketing made me think of the observation that Rab Cherry and Dermot McLaughlin made in the booklet for the above album of Boyle’s music. Boyle was born in the USA to Irish emigrants, went to Ireland at a young age, then attempted to come back to the US as a citizen but couldn’t because of a fire which destroyed the records of his birth. Contrast that to Michael Coleman, born in Ireland, emigrated to the USA and recorded prolifically in New York and we all know how much of an influence he had on the course of Irish music. Rather ironic, isn’t it, that an emigrant to America achieved such success while an Irishman born in America but with no record of citizenship is still relatively obscure. Food for thought, at the very least.

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I’ll pass on the term "underrated". Maybe "undiscovered" or "not-everyone-knows-of-but -ought- to"? I’ll put in votes for Claire Egan, Yvonne Casey, and Tony DeMarco (still have his book on Sligo style). In C’Breton, there’s the Beaton sisters(Dawn and Margie), Andrea Beaton, Kimberly Fraser, and Paul Cranford. I left off Howie and Brenda because I think they’re more well-known. Most all of them are down-to-earth and happy to share their knowledge.

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Mairi Rankin is certainly known among those who make a point of ‘following’ Cape Breton fiddling. In Cape Breton fiddling, there are a couple of names that are widely known to the outside world - Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac - then there is one other name that is widely known among outside fiddlers: Buddy MacMaster - wait, Jerry Holland as well - and then there is a whole host of professional-level, if not actually full-time professional, fiddlers of the Mairi Rankin, Beaton sisters, Andrea B., Kimberly Fraser ilk, who, as I say, are known to the aficionados. Really, there’s no end of them, and there are more coming up all the time. But there’s only so much recognition to go ‘round … !