By Frank Dalton
Under my window a clean rasping sound
when the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
my father, digging. I look down.
By God, the old man could handle a spade,
just like his old man.
My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
than any other man on Toner’s bog.
The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
the squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
—From Digging, by Seamus Heaney
Nobel Prize winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney knows that unlike his father and grandfather, he is no farmer. His often-quoted early work ‘Digging’ is meaningful for Randal Bays, whose own working man father “had a hard time watching his son go down the road towards the life of a musician.”
Randal is an American fiddler who has mastered the genre of Irish traditional music to a point where he now plays as well as any native. He has a number of successful recordings to his credit and has played and toured with many of the great names of the music, like fiddler Martin Hayes, button accordionist James Keane and guitarist/singer Daithi Sproule.
Randal’s amazing skill at the Irish style has been honed by more than twenty-five years of fiddling and listening, and the sharing of many a late-night session with the finest traditional musicians. Last winter Randal sat down in the studio again and recorded “Dig With It”, an impressive collection of jigs, reels, hornpipes and marches, and two beautiful slow airs.
The opening track on this thoroughly enjoyable CD, “Master’s Degree March,” is an original composition, as is the reel “Friday Harbor.” The remaining tunes are mostly traditional, or every bit as good as traditional, having been originally crafted by the likes of legendary tunesmith Ed Reavy, fiddler James Kelly, and East Galway fiddler and accordion player Tommy Coen.
“The Blue Whale” is the work of Willie Bays, who appears on that track with his proud father. The accompaniment on the CD is tasteful and unobtrusive throughout, supplied by Canadian musician Dave Marshall (guitar, tenor banjo). Randal himself displays not only his great prowess on the fiddle, but also his talent on the guitar and harp.
The Cork Examiner (Ireland) has called Randal Bays “a rare beast, a master of the fiddle”, while here in America Fiddler Magazine says he is “among the best Irish style fiddlers of his generation.” Randal has clearly earned recognition on both sides of the pond as a musician of uncommon talent.