2011 saw the release of the latest album by Frankie Gavin and De
Dannan 'Jigs, Reels & Rock n' Roll' on the Tara Music
label. The album is the culmination of years of work by Frankie
to put the De Dannan back where it belongs as one of the foremost
performing groups of Irish traditional music.
Frankie, who was born in 1956 in Corrandulla, Co. Galway, comes
from a musical family: his father played fiddle, and his mother
and all of her family played also. Frankie himself started playing
the tin whistle at age four, making his first T.V. appearance three
years later. At the age of ten years old Frankie began to play fiddle
and by the time he was seventeen he was placed first in the All
Ireland Fiddle Competition and in the All Ireland Flute Competition,
both on the same day.
Mainly learning by ear, he was strongly influenced
by the 78 recordings of Michael Coleman and James Morrison. Sessions
in the Cellar Bar, Galway and later in Hughes’ pub in Spiddal led
to the formation of De Dannan in 1973.
His Currandulla connection came in useful when De Danann were looking
for a singer, and it was he who came up with Dolores Keane from nearby
Cahirlistrane. When De Danann brought out their first album, her singing
of The Rambling Irishman gained a lot of airplay for the group. Although
De Danann has had many highpoints over a quarter of a century, particularly
with the singing of Dolores Keane and Maura O'Connell and the box
playing of Mairtin O'Connor, Frankie’s powerful virtuoso fiddle playing
has always been at the core of the De Dannan sound.
He has recorded 16 albums with De Dannan as well
as a number of solo albums, and three collaborations: one a tribute
to Joe Cooley entitled ‘Omos do Joe Cooley’ with Paul Brock; a fine
collaboration with fellow De Dannan member Alec Finn; and one with
Stephane Grapelli exploring the languages of jazz and traditional
music. He has also guested with The Rolling Stones on their ‘Voodoo
Lounge’ album, with Keith Richards on ‘Wingless Angels’ and with
Earl Scruggs the great banjo man.
Exposure to American audiences began in 1976 when
he played with De Danann at the American bicentennial celebrations
in Washington DC, with artists such as Junior Crehan and Micho Russell.
Frankie has also been invited to play for numerous State officials
including President John F. Kennedy on historic visit to Ireland
in 1962, French president Francois Mitterand and England's Prince
Charles. Of a special event in America, United States Ambassador
to Ireland, Jean Kennedy Smith is reported to have commented that
"The best all 'round performance of the entire week at Kennedy
Center was by DeDannan."
2009 saw Frankie Gavin back on the road and with new
De Dannan members. The new line up which features Frankie Gavin
(Fiddle/Flute/Whistles), Damien Mullane (Accordian), Eric Cunningham
(Percussion/Flutes/Whistles), Mike Galvin (Bouzouki/Guitar) and
Michelle Lally (Vocals). In Frankie's own words "This recording
marks a special time in my musical life and follows a period where
it wasn't possible for me to perform as part of De Dannan, a band
I first formed and played with in Connemara in the early 1970's."
"Innovation may be the buzz-word in Traditional music, but Frankie
Gavin's digressions are not in the common areas of tempo and superficial
style-impressions. His contemporary borrowings of art-deco and music-hall
Irishness are re-jigged in original avenues of exploration. His dextrous
treatment of troublesome tunes might get even the Pope out on the
floor, his orchestration could break hearts. A superbly uncompromising
player, he makes refreshment of the old by picking out and polishing
every detail and setting it off in a steady, listenable pace. Gavin
edgy and brilliant on both fiddle and flute, with always the most
meticulous attention given to tone and variation. Live, his tune sets
are perfectionism that drive and are driven by an audience spontaneity
that spurs Gavin to push fiddle from shriek to rasping bass. Tears
and cheers erupt spontaneously, the goodwill of his mixed-age audiences
has always been great sauce. Like herding the mythic creac, Frankie
Gavin here whoops a great retrospective before him into the Ogham
of Celtic Valhalla."
Fintan Vallely, Sunday Tribune
Frankie Gavin - The Tolboth Theatre, Stirling, Scotland October
"Because he's known as 'The prince of Irish fiddlers', and
produces what's ben called 'Irish fiddling as good as it gets',
there was high anticipation at Stirling's Tolbooth theatre for the
Frankie Gavin show. The crowd wasn't disappointed, for with his
accompanist Brian McGrath on keyboards he gave a glittering performance
over nearly two hours.
Yet it was all so laid back. He sat, almost reclining as if in an
armchair, the while creating the most spectacular sound from a bow
which mostly seemed to be moving within barely four-inch compass.
The amazingly tricksy fingers seemed equally effortless. They weren't,
of course, as when he played 'Carolan's Concerto', using roughly
twice the number of notes that even oul' Turlough had planned for...
(During this, there was metaphorically the sound of fiddlers in
the audience snapping their fiddles over their knees, and vowing
to never touch the instrument again!).
True to his philosophy, epitomised by the album 'Fierce Traditional'
of going back to his roots of Irish fiddling, he began with a piece
from one of his heroes Jimmy Morrison, then did some numbers by
the Flannigan Brothers (other heroes of his) like 'The Belle of
Athenry'. explaining his affection for his almost Vaudeville / Music
Hall style from Irish immigrants in Twenties America. He told me
later "We need to return to that straightforward style of playing,
away from all this over-produced 'Celtic' mush. What does 'Celtic'
mean for God's sake? Fortunately, there's a backlash against this
screwing around with the music. Like with Harry Bradley the flute
player, and Micheál Ó Rahilly, a young Rathcarn concertina
player, they don't mess around".
Well, there was certainly no 'messing' from Frankie either, in the
way he did the fine reel 'The Dunmore Lassies' or the song 'The
Snowy Breasted Pearl' as an air, or the jig 'The Green Fields of
After the interval, Frankie started with the jig 'The Frost is all
Over', then did the simply lovely (Coleman?) reel 'Lucy Campbell'
then the aptly named 'Wonder Hornpipe' and finally 'The Foxhunter
Reel' which seemed to include every known form of ornamentation!
He next accompanied Brian on the banjo with some marches. These
were a little disappointing, perhaps because the banjo mike kept
cutting out. Later Brian genuinely showed his prowess with a set
of (unnamed) reels. Frankie then played the mighty songs 'Róisín
Dubh' and Sliabh na mBan' as slow airs, dedicating the latter to
his dad JJ.
The evening finally closed with Frankie thanking various people
and organisations for the tour, then going straight into that amazing
Carolan rendition... It had been a great evening, enhanced by frankie's
rare charm and wit, and had proved to be exactly as the sage had
said: 'Irish fiddling as good as it gets'..."
Steve McGrail - Living Tradition