MARTIN Hayes talks fondly of returning to the studio with Peadar Ó Riada and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh. The ‘studio’ was the haven of the Ó Riada home in Cúil Aodha, and the three illustrious musicians share bonds of friendship and admiration. In 2010, they released their first album together, a collection of Ó Riada’s compositions, Triúr sa Draighean, to critical acclaim.
In December, 2011 they returned to An Draighean, the house named after the blackthorn, to record a follow-up. “There’s a room there called Seán’s Room, or also the library,” Hayes says, referring to Ó Riada’s father, the composer and cultural catalyst Seán Ó Riada. “It’s full of books on history, psychology, music, world religions, philosophy, with instruments galore and a roaring open fire. There’s not a lot of room in there for anything else. It’s full of history and warmth and it turns out the acoustics are very good too. We’d just sit and play, looking out the window at the trees.”
A continuation of their first album, this consists of another 20 tunes from Ó Riada. Hayes says those tunes, though new, could have come from a 19th century manuscript. The trio share an appreciation of such music. “We’re all interested in old styles and ways of playing and in the melody itself. We have the same kind of focus and attention. I think if you were to blindfold us, we’d all tend to like the same kinds of things, which isn’t usually the case with musicians. We’d equally appreciate the same particular twist or turn in a melody,” says Hayes.
Comparing the new album, Triúr Arís, to the first, Hayes says: “Maybe the difference is that, at this stage, we’ve got to know each other’s playing, it’s easier for us to come together in a better way.”
The three musicians seem to conjure music from a similar internal ‘well’. Ó Riada, who plays concertina among other instruments, talks about the tunes having come from the back door of the mind. Ó Raghallaigh, who plays his unearthly hardanger fiddle/viola d’amore hybrid on the album, seems to be channelling music from another dimension.
It is a kind of playing Ó Raghallaigh first heard from Hayes when he was 11 years old, and he credits Hayes with being a great influence on his music. “I’d say when music is flowing well it’s the only thing you’re aware of,” Hayes says. “You don’t have separate thoughts, you’re simply thinking and being the music. When you get into the right frame of mind, you inhabit the music and it inhabits you.”
For a traditional musician to record alongside the composer is unusual. “That’s a first for me,” says Hayes. “It was really nice playing Peadar’s tunes, he’s happy to hear people take his music and shape it, he’s not possessive.”
The album is dedicated to the memory of Muiris Ó Rocháin, folklorist, teacher and founder-director of the Willie Clancy Summer School. He died in October 2011 and is described by Ó Riada in the liner notes as the leader of the Gaelic Nation.
“Sometimes we’d only have learnt the tune in the half hour before playing it,” Hayes says. “We’d often have to say, ‘okay stop, how does it go again’? Caomhín was the only one who never seemed to have to do that ... Peadair was doing a lot besides playing. He’d be stoking the fire and cooking food for us all.”
The recording process was carried out by the musicians themselves, pooling their resources of microphones and computer technology. “There wasn’t a lot to the recording,” Hayes says. “Someone would say, ‘did you press record yet?’ and sometimes it would be running for a half a day, catching conversations and everything. We’d no engineer, there were no mechanics, we wanted the process to be straightforward and natural, more of a truthful expression of who we are.”
Was this approach unusual to Hayes? “In the past, I might have been more conscious and wanted to go back and re-record parts. In fact, we didn’t listen back to it at all at the time. Just the week, after you’d get a copy in the post from Peadar saying, ‘here it is.’ We put it out without polishing or airbrushing, so the listener can put it on and just be there in a room with three musicians,” he says.
Triúr Arís — album launch concert tour: Carnegie Hall, Kenmare — Feb 1; Cork School of Music — Feb 3; Tulla Court House — Feby 4; Abbey Theatre, Dublin — Feb 12.
Ag Cuardach Crot Ceoil, a documentary film on the project, will be broadcast on RTÉ on March 20.