Tucked away in Coatesville, about an hour off of Philadelphia’s beaten track, lies Coatesville Traditional Irish Music Series, one of the Irish music world’s true gems. Five to six times a year, organizer Frank Dalton presents the best in traditional music to audiences keen for the sounds of trad. This Sunday, October 16th, for the 44th offering, Sligo-style fiddler Oisin Mac Diarmada will be performing a solo concert.
Perhaps best known for his playing with Teada, the band he founded in 2001, Mac Diarmada is making a flying solitary visit to the U.S. in the next week. Booked for the Northeast Tionól in The Catskills from October 21-24, his stop in Coatesville will be his only concert this time over.
Mac Diarmada is a man in demand. And rightly so. In addition to his work with Teada, he’s highly sought after as a teacher for workshops and festivals, as a lecturer and also as a producer with his company Ceol Productions Ltd. Born in County Clare, he started playing the fiddle at age 6, and it wasn’t long before he discovered the Willie Clancy Summer School in Milltown Malbay.
“That was the very popular event even back then. It’s been going on since the 70’s, and I started probably around 1986. It was a really great way of getting exposed to the larger musical community. It was there I got to see some of the great West Clare fiddle players who were still alive at that time. I’m thinking of people like John Kelly, Bobby Casey, Joe Ryan, Junior Crehan. It was a great introduction to the sort of breadth of the music, the scope and the interest that people have. So that became a sort of yearly pilgrimage to me. And ever since 1997, I think, I’ve been teaching there every summer. There’s a few of those kind of weeks in Ireland, but Willie Clancy is the most prominent and established.”
Mac Diarmada spends a good portion of the year touring, with the longer trips taking place in the U.S. He estimates that over 3 months, and some years it’s closer to 4, are spent in the States. He’s just home from a week in Germany, teaching at a workshop event over there. This Saturday, the night before he arrives in Coatesville, he’ll be in Sligo performing with The Innisfree Ceili Band at the Peter Horan Memorial Concert.
“It’s going to be a big night. Dervish will be there, and Michael Flatley. It’s a commemorative concert for Peter Horan, who passed away a year ago. They’re doing a fundraiser for the local hospice (Northwest Hospice) where he was cared for.”
And there’s no rest when he returns home, either: “I’m going to Russia the following week, to St. Petersburg, with Teada. It’s our first time there.”
After that, a few weeks off, and then it’s back here for the highly celebrated annual Irish Christmas in America tour that Mac Diarmada has produced for Teada since 2005. This year promises to be especially sensational with the Teada musicians being joined again by Seamus Begley and Brian Cunningham, and, debuting for the first time in the States, the highly acclaimed group Lumiere. Singers Pauline Scanlon and Eilis Kennedy, along with Donogh Hennessy (formerly of Lunasa), have recorded one beautiful CD, the stunning self-titled “Lumiere,” and are currently working on a follow-up.
Lumiere isn’t the only one with a new CD in the works, either. “Over the last little while, during the summer, myself and Seamus Begley recorded a duet album. It’s just waiting to be mixed now. Donogh Hennessy recorded the album for us, and will be mixing it; it should be released fairly soon after that’s finished.”
“Seamus is great,” Mac Diarmada affirmed. “It’s been a real treat to get to know him and to play with him. He’s such an amazing singer and musician. And a superb man to tour with, as well.”
“This year, for the Philadelphia area, we’ll be in Wilmington at The Grand Opera House (on December 11). We’re also in D.C. for our yearly appearance at National Geographic. And we also have another yearly appearance at The Strand in Lakewood, New Jersey. It will be brilliant having Lumiere with us this year.”
Mac Diarmada thrives on his life in motion. “I do quite a few music related things, as many things as I can get done. It’s a bit of a balancing job, but I think it saves it from being the same. I’ve never gotten to that stage of being in any way bored with it yet. It’s always exciting. It’s good musically, as well, to be playing a few different types of things with some different people as well. So, overall, I think it’s a healthy thing.”
And the music is the top priority for the fiddler from Clare, also steeped in the Sligo tradition, who seeks to understand not just the notes, but the background of the music as well.
“It’s a process that goes on over a number of years. Some of the information you seek out deliberately while others you stumble across and just assimilate over the years. It’s an informal type of learning in a way, but it’s very much part of the background and part of the context, and part of the color of being interested in the music. There used to not be a lot written about traditional Irish music, until the last couple of decades. Now, there’s more being written about it, both in an academic sense and in sort of general music publications. Before, the stories behind the music were mainly passed on informally.”
And what about original tunes from Mac Diarmada, who has written music in the past? “It’s been a good few years since I’ve written any, but I’ll get back to it!” he assured me. “There’s no panic. But it’s a lovely thing to do. Sometimes you just need an excuse to do it. And I just haven’t had that excuse for awhile.”
For more information on this Sunday’s concert at Coatesville Traditional Irish Music Series, go here: http://www.ctims.info/
Information on Teada’s upcoming Christmas in America tour can be found on their website: http://irishchristmasinamerica.com/