He was born in Feakle, Co. Clare, his father was a fiddler with the Tulla Céilí Band for fifty years. Not surprisingly, he began playing the fiddle at a young age. Martin Hayes was just 7 when he picked up the fiddle and began absorbing the music from local bands, radio programmes such as The Long Note and records by the likes of Paddy Cronin. By fourteen he was playing in the Tulla band and touring. After later dabbling with Celtic rock (Midnight Court) he released his self-titled debut album in 1992.
Since then he has become one of the most significant players in Irish Traditional music, something of a legend no less, backed by several solo albums and collaborations – most notably with longtime collaborator and guitarist Dennis Cahill and as a member of the phenomenal landmark band The Gloaming.
Fast forward to December, 2016:
Martin Hayes and his collaborators gather in Bantry House, a historic 18th-century house on the edge of Bantry Bay, West Cork. The four sit in a circle in the Library with fires blazing at both ends of the room. In the recording process they play each traditional piece a number of times and each time something different emerges.
Martin Hayes (fiddle) is arguably Ireland’s most influential traditional musician known for his soulful and minimal approach to the music. Dennis Cahill (guitars) is Hayes’ longtime duo collaborator. Doug Wieselman (bass clarinet) is a composer, arranger and musician from New York best known for his work with Anthony & The Johnsons, Wayne Horwitz and Laurie Anderson. New Yorker Liz Knowles (hardanger d’amore) plays with the finesse of Irish fiddle music combined with the tonal richness of the classical violin. The Blue Room is a recording of those sessions. Each piece played a number of times and recorded live in the room.
The Blue Room is Martin Hayes’ first new project since the remarkable success of The Gloaming. With that project securing two Number One albums in Ireland, a Choice Music Prize and selling out a seven-night run at the National Concert Hall last year. This is another new step. Intimate in feel and panoramic in scope, The Blue Room is traditional music one might expect to know but is a sublime surprise.
How the Quartet Came Into Being – Martin Hayes
“I have been playing music with Dennis Cahill since 1988. We’ve been working our craft as a duet for most of those years. We’ve tried to sculpt a sound that is somewhat minimalist but based on revealing the latent expressive potential of the melody. To do this we try to strip away anything that obstructs or obscures the melodic line. In our performances, we then attempt to get out of the way to allow for a natural free flow of music. The most important thing is that we are fully present in the moment and that there is plenty room for spontaneous things to emerge in that moment. We want each phrase of the melody to emerge as freely as possible with the guitar accompaniment helping to highlight the melodic phrase and helping to magnify the expression and feeling that the melody suggests to us. The rhythm underlying how we play is a distillation of the rhythm I came to know during my adolescent years playing for the incredible set dancers of County Clare. They responded to music in an exuberant, uninhibited, personal and non-performance manner that really showed me what this rhythm is. I always try to play as though I am freely dancing and singing at the same time. The body holds the rhythm and the heart generates the feeling in response to the beauty of the melodic line. Dennis Cahill’s playing and partnership over the years has been an invaluable support to me in realizing all of these musical goals. This is the starting point from which this quartet emerges.
I met Doug in 2011 as I was walking on stage at Le Poisson Rouge in NY to perform as part of Philip King’s Other Voices series. I walked past him to my chair at the centre of the stage without ever noticing what instrument he was playing. He was there performing alongside Thomas Bartlett as part of the house band for that night. Shortly after I began to play I started to hear the sound of a bass clarinet coming over my right shoulder. He was instinctively playing with a powerful rhythm that echoed the rhythm of those set dancers I had known so long ago. He coloured out the harmonic world around the tune as if he’d known these tunes his whole life. I was having an incredibly instinctive and sympathetic dialogue with a musician that I had yet to say hello to and whose name I didn’t know. This was my first musical encounter with Doug Wieselman.
In 2016 the University of Limerick foundation offered me a three-year affiliated position as University of Limerick Artist. I have a long association with the university and was honoured to receive their endorsement which also came with some financial support for musical projects that I may wish to pursue. My wife Lina had heard me perform subsequent to the La Poisson Rouge gig with Doug at the Irish Arts Center in NY. She loved the music we made and saw how excited I was about playing with him. She suggested that I get Doug involved in my UL artist project. I’d wanted to create something with Doug for some time and eventually settled on the notion of a quartet. I just needed one other person.
I met Liz Knowles way back in the mid 90’s at a music camp in Nova Scotia. She was then a violinist coming from a classical background with a curiosity for Scottish and Irish traditional music. This kind of transition isn’t easy but Liz immersed herself into this music with full commitment and enthusiasm. In the years since she has gone on to forge a very successful Irish Music career in North America and is now regarded there as one of the foremost fiddlers in the genre. She is an incredible violist and violin player who can play traditional music as good as the best but who also carries with her a wonderful knowledge and skill for early music, baroque and classical music. Playing music with her is a delight, one minute she is she’s playing a counter melody, the next she’s mirroring my version of the melody, or playing a rhythmic pattern. She manages to deploy all of her diverse musical skill in a way that helps give this ensemble its unique sound. Her playing in the quartet is integral to keeping the traditional melodic line knitted into the arrangements.
Our first rehearsal together was at the University of Limerick in 2016. In advance of this get together I had sent some melodies to everyone so that they would be familiar with the tunes. There were no instructions given as to what anybody should play. My strong belief was that this project should be able to accommodate each musician in freely expressing the totality of their musical selves. This was an experiment and also an act of trust that the musical knowledge and background of each individual would eventually coalesce into a coherent sound. When we got to the first rehearsal we sat in a circle and began to toss our ideas into the centre. After about two days of playing it became clear that the sound emerging kept traditional Irish music at its centre while containing elements of chamber and jazz music. In fact the sound didn’t fall easily into any one category, instead, a unique sound was beginning to emerge from the confluence of these four different musical backgrounds.
I have a long-standing relationship with Bantry House that goes back to 2003 when I first started curating the masters of Tradition Festival there. My wife Lina and I have enjoyed spending time there and have gotten to know the family quite well, we love the house and it’s magical gardens. Lina felt this would be a great place for us to record the quartet. I have performed in the library many times and love the atmosphere of that room, there is an ambience and feeling there that is very conducive to making music. We sat in a circle in that beautiful library with two open fires blazing at either side of us and began to play much as we had done when we first met in Limerick. In the recording process, we played each piece a number of times and something different would emerge each time. In some ways, this recording resembles a live recording in so far as it is not edited together or created with the aid of any studio tricks. The only difference is that we had plenty of time to approach each tune in different ways and experiment until something emerged. Each track is essentially a live performance. Every night after dinner we sat by the fire with the rest of the crew, with Lina and Myles O’Reilly ( filmmaker) and his wife Aideen and listened to the recordings of the day. We could hear how the music had absorbed the atmosphere and character of this beautiful old library and its gardens. Our close proximity to the sea during a week in December just before Christmas has also contributed to the feeling of this recording. The title of the album ‘The Blue Room’ is connected to all these feelings and to the stunning Blue room in Bantry House.
It is an honour and a privilege to play with these three great musicians. I conceived this idea and have been the driving force behind the project but the music that has emerged is truly the result of a free and equal collaboration.”
Martin Hayes holds a Residency at the National Concert Hall, Dublin for the 2017/18 Season. The Residency includes the debut of the Martin Hayes Quartet on October 28th. The Blue Room is released by 251 Records in partnership with NCH.
Further concerts in the Martin Hayes NCH Residency include the debut of his collaboration with NYC string quartet Brooklyn Rider on January 25 and present a new concert of collaborations in May. Further international dates will also be announced soon.
The Martin Hayes Quartet project was been supported the University of Limerick Foundation where Hayes was an affiliate artist in 2016.
DATES: 28th October – Dublin, National Concert Hall
Martin Hayes: http://www.martinhayes.com
Martin Hayes Residency at NCH: http://www.nch.ie/Online/Martin-Hayes-Residency
Pre-Order the Album: https://kontraband.store/martinhayes/the-blue-room/the-blue-room-cd