Before Dallahan there was Jack Badcock and Ciarán Ryan a young and extremely talented Edinburgh-based duo, making waves on Scotland’s folk scene. Guitarist and singer Jack, spent his early years in Co. Kilkenny in Ireland, before eventually making his way to Scotland, having first spent the second half of his formative years living in Leeds. From our conversations it’s hard to pick up on his gradual migration, as his accent has the softness of the Edinburgh burr, but is distinctly Scottish. We’re talking on the eve of a sold out Celtic Connections performance and Jack is pleased to have a day off as he explains, “There’s been a lot of rehearsing and we’ve managed to fit in the odd session too, but gig wise the focus is totally on Glasgow for the moment.”
Along his journey to the Granite City, he found folk music and Jack admitted his original love was somewhat different, “Rock music was my first love,” he confesses, “Inspired by the likes of Greenday and Iron Maiden, I started on electric guitar but it wasn’t until I discovered folk and traditional music that I really found an interest in playing and performing. Andy Irvine And Paul Brady was one of the albums that really enticed me to traditional songs. It’s perhaps a measure of how quickly he’s developed that Jack made it to the 2014 final of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award winning praise for both his fine voice and guitar style, delivering some captivating interpretations of both old and new songs.
It was in 2011 not long after moving to Edinburgh that he met the versatile Ciarán Ryan who plays banjo, fiddle and mandolin, who had also moved to Edinburgh from Brechin in Scotland’s North East. “I grew up an a household where there were lots of various instruments,” Ciaran reveals, “and these became my childhood toys.” Feted as a young virtuoso he’d already won the title of All Britain banjo champion for his age group in 2006 and has continued to develop into an extremely fine and skilled musician and composer by the time he met Jack.
They first came together towards the end of 2011 at Edinburgh’s Sandy Bell’s pub – famous for its traditional music sessions – and as two mostly self taught musician, quickly formed a strong musical bond. As Jack explained, “We were the only two of our age group at that time, so we naturally gravitated towards one another,” adding, “We used to play together a lot, spending most nights of the week in pubs for drunk tourists and also busking by day.”
On the session scene, they also met Jani. A Hungarian national with a strong pedigree in Balkan music, Jani’s background is in some ways similar to Ciarán’s and he tells me, “My dad was a full time musician when I was a kid, so pretty much that’s why I started playing too.”His circumstances differed, however, as, “Back in those days the only option in Hungary was to learn classical music, so that’s what I did and finished university as a classical player.” By then he’d already grabbed the initiative and significantly reveals, “In the mean time I also started to play mainly Irish trad material.” Along the way he’s picked up various traditional styles from Kevin Madden, Hans Joergen Christensen, Marius Mihai, whilst also naturally crediting both his father and one particular university professor called Ferenc Szecsodi for broadening his palate.
Jani has 15 years on Jack and Ciarán and already had his own highly regarded band going, playing a fiery Balkan infused brand of folk music that never failed to get people on their feet. Some of the best musicians around passed through the line up as they played ceilidhs everywhere across the UK and also hit the stages of all of the big Scottish festivals, making regular TV appearances as well.
As Jack tells me, it was an invitation from Jani that got Dallahan up and running, “In spring 2013 Jani asked Ciarán and I if we would record some tracks for him as part of his sound engineering course at Edinburgh College. He really liked the tracks so we decided to form a band there and then.” Jack continues, “We fancied some button box in the band and just by chance, Tomás Ó Briain turned up in Edinburgh from Dublin, also playing in sessions, so we recruited him. Jani had known of Balázs for a few years and had him in his mind as a bassist for when a new project came along and Dallahan turned out to be that project. When we had the five piece together, we turned those duo tracks recorded with Jani into Dallahan’s first EP and things blossomed from there.”
That final member of the original quintet is Balázs Hermann, another Hungarian, who has played contrabass and upright and electric bass guitar in a wide diversity of styles, performing music on stage from a young age. As he explains, “I went to a music primary school, sang and studied classical cello, then picked up bass guitar at 12 years old. I practiced a lot and got more and more interested in bass playing and started performing and touring Hungary when I was 16, playing original music. I took private lessons on the double bass for a few years from age 20 and have been playing both kind of basses actively ever since.” He adds a completely different dimension to the sound as he doesn’t come from a folk music background and rates jazz-funk bassist Wilbur Bascomb and Beastie Boys Adam Yauch as his inspirations.”
While Tomás recorded When The Day Is On The Turn with the band, his tenure didn’t last long and the most recent recruit is the new box player Paddy Callaghan. Jack picks up the story, “I met Paddy during the BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year Award competition and he was an obvious candidate when we needed a new box player.” Paddy Callaghan is actually a multi-instrumentalist from Glasgow. In common with many from the West of Scotland, his family origins are in Ireland. As his website reveals, “Family connections brought Paddy to the St. Roch’s (Irish Minstrels) branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann at the age of 5, where he first learned to play traditional music under the tutelage of the legendary Frank McArdle.” He started out on tin whistle, but it’s the button accordion for which he is famed.
Paddy cements the Irish connection and that’s perhaps the most unusual edge to Dallahan as, despite their Edinbugh base, it’s from the Emerald Isle that they draw the majority of their inspiration. Jack talks about their collective mental songbook, with Jani having by far the biggest repository of knowledge, largely through 15 years more experience. Whilst he brings a little of the Hungarian folk music heritage, even he is thoroughly versed in the Irish tradition. “Between us we’re influenced by the likes of Liz Carroll and John Doyle and Solas of the traditional music world,” Jack tells me before continuing, “and the progressiveness and artfulness of the likes of Lau and Punch Brothers.” He takes it further, “We all know what we like and it’s getting the balance between the two styles. We are very open and surprisingly there are very few musical disagreements.”
Jack makes it all sound so simple as he tells me, “Ciaran and Jani are the band tunesmiths and usually it’s quite an easy natural process when we arrange the sets. The guitar and bass accompaniment usually falls in to place quite easily without being contrived. We’ve developed a mutual sense of how we like the tunes to sound which we’ve come to describe as ‘Dallahanified’. We use other people’s tunes and traditional ones as well but usually like to choose the more obscure numbers from our collected repertoire.”
Perhaps it is all that simple, after all their individual pedigrees point to an exceptionally talented band, but the fact remains that this Scottish combo with their Irish roots have impressed all comers so far. The good news is that there are now some English dates being booked (see below). I can’t wait to see them.
Interview by: Simon Holland
Upcoming Tour Dates
13 – London, Courtyard Theatre
14 – Sandwich, St Mary’s Arts Centre
15 – Anchor Inn, Wingham
16 – Cambridge, Portland Arms
17 – Liverpool Leaf, Liverpool
20 – Penrith, Up Front Arts Centre
02 – Edinburgh, Edinburgh Tradfest
03 – Brew at the Bog, Inverness
04 – Inverness, Brew at the Bog
22 – Stromness, Orkney Folk Festival
More dates here: www.dallahanmusic.com