From County Kildare, master uilleann piper Liam O'Flynn was born
into what he describes as "a very definite thing." His father was
a schoolmaster and fiddle player and his late mother, who played
and taught piano, came from a family of famous musicians from Clare.
And so, with the likes of Junior Crehan in the background, not only
was the house full of music but the young O'Flynn was keenly aware
at an early age of his rich tradition and lineage.
After a time on the tin whistle and
a short spell 'scraping' at a small violin, Liam finally got started
on the uilleann pipes. He had an obvious gift for this most stubborn
and complicated of instruments, and was encouraged by all around
him, notably by the Kildare piper Tom Armstrong. It was clear from
an early age, that a great piper was in the making and for Liam,
eager to learn, there was that steady feeling of getting better
almost by the day. At the age of eleven, master-classes began in
earnest with Leo Rowsome.
The lore of the piper is endless
and weighty, and pipers themselves are entirely conscious of the
power of their craft. As the young Liam began to meet legendary
figures like Willie Clancy and Seamus Ennis, he became acutely aware
of his position in the scheme of things. His subsequent close friendship
with Seamus Ennis (which began as a Master/pupil situation) taught
him that there was much more to being a piper than playing tunes.
As Liam puts it, "Seamus Ennis gave me much more than a bag of
In his teens, Liam and his pipes began to attend music 'seisiuns'
in the Kildare village of Prosperous. Here, for the first time,
he met many of the people with whom he would later make his name
and tour the concert-halls of the world. These were musicians like
Christy Moore, Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine with whom, in the early
seventies, Liam formed the legendary Planxty. One of Ireland's most
important and influential groups, Planxty brought a style, innovation
and 'cool' to Irish music which was to lead directly to the many
Irish musical success stories during the decades that followed.
But behind the innovation and experimentation
Liam O'Flynn has always managed to remain true to the great piping
tradition. He has taken his instrument into previously unexplored
territory - be it as a member of Planxty, as a soloist with an
orchestra or working with artists as diverse as John Cage, The
Everly Brothers, Van Morrison and Kate Bush. But whatever the
situation, he has remained resolutely true to the music itself.
And it's precisely this mix of credibility and durability which
makes Liam O'Flynn one of our greatest musicians and someone long
regarded among his peers as Ireland's Master Uilleann Piper.
"I always imagine," Liam says,
"that it must have been extraordinary when the pipes were first
developed in the eighteenth century - a whole new instrument and
here's a fellow coming around to the local fair with this amazing
instrument with extraordinary sounds and inbuilt accompaniment.
It became an 'in' instrument that very quickly occupied prime
position in the tradition and people of all stations took to it.
The big houses took to the instrument and they had their own resident
pipers. Then you had the traveling pipers who played at all sorts
of outdoor happenings and they evolved a different style that
was very immediate and quiet open and spectacular. I suppose the
whole idea of power was attached to people who played such an
Liam is always searching for new
arenas in which to take the pipes. With Mark Knopfler he performed
the score to the movie Cal. Other movie scores include The Field,
A River Runs Through It (with Elmer Bernstein), Kidnapped, and
Roses from Dublin (with Vladimir Cosma). No stranger to playing
with orchestras, Liam had already achieved an international audience
when he recorded The Brendan Voyage with Shaun Davey, a groundbreaking
orchestral piece which was followed in later years by three other
Shaun Davey works, Granuaile, The Relief of Derry Symphony and
more recently The Pilgrim. He had successfully brought the pipes
into the greatest concert halls in the world and introduced its
unique sounds to audiences and musicians everywhere.
Other regular collaborators include
Catherine Ennis, daughter of Seamus Ennis and Nobel Laureate Seamus
Heaney with whom Liam has performed in auditoriums around the world
including Dublin's famous Gate Theatre, the Barbican Centre in London
and the Lincon Center in New York.. They first performed together
over 10 years ago in a small church in Kenmare, Co Kerry and regularly
perform together in small intimate venues. Heaney says of the experience,
" I have a strong sense of pleasure and pride in sitting beside
a piper of Liam's mystery. The pipes call and raise the spirit.
They also quieten and open up the daydream part of people."
For Liam too, playing the pipes is
a very special experience. "When I'm playing," he says, "I'm
certainly lost within it. The only way to describe it, is that it's
like looking inwards. I think when a performer engages with the
audience, and vice versa, it's like a spell is cast and a terrific
passage of feelings moves from the musician to the audience and
Liam O'Flynn has made over fifty recordings.
Among his most recent albums are Out To An Other Side, The Given
Note and, most recently, The Piper's Call. With the formation of
The Pipers Call Band, a special video was made with guest appearances
by Carlos Núñez, The Irish Chamber Orchestra, Sean Keane and Matt
Molloy of The Chieftains and Mark Knopfler. The Band features top
musicians like Arty McGlynn, Rod McVey and Steve Cooney. Video
clips of Liam from 'The Piper's Call' are now available on our
In 1999, Liam was at the heart of a
very unique performance at London's Royal Albert Hall. For the very
first time there was a special evening devoted to Irish music as
part of the BBC Proms and it was Liam and the Piper's Call Band
who were chosen for this quiet momentous event. They were, as ever,
rapturously received. But whatever the arena, Liam O'Flynn remains
a gentle and modest soul. Whatever the occasion, a 'seisiun' in
Prosperous or the inauguration of a President, his mind is focused
on just one thing. "You're after something in the tune,"
he says, " and, at the end of the day, you are just the servant
of the music."
In 2000 Liam was awarded the Gold Insignia of the University of La
Coruna, in Galicia, Spain, for his contribution to the Arts. On October
25th 2002, Liam performed the world premiere of his first solo major
musical composition 'Endurance' to honour polar explorer Ernest Shackleton.
Endurance was specially commissioned by the Athy heritage Centre and
supported by the Arts Council of Ireland and the Bank of Ireland.
On March 15th 2003, Liam appeared at one of Europe's
newest and largest festivals, 'Celtique Nuit' with the Lorient Festival
orchestra . The Festival took place in the Stade de France in Paris.
The concert also featured Liam's good friend Carlos Nunez as well
as Alan Stivell and Sinead O'Connor. In June 2003 he took part in
in the Opening ceremony of the Special Olympic World Summer Games
held in Dublin's Croke Park.
July 2003 saw the release of an album by Liam and
good friend Seamus Heaney. The album 'The
Poet and the Piper - Keeping Time' was released on the Claddagh
2004/05 has seen Liam team-up again with the original
Planxty members, Christy Moore, Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny for
a number of high profile concerts. 2007 saw Liam receiving The TG4
Gradam Ceoil Award for Musician of the Year.
2009 was a busy year again for Liam with many varied
live shows. Most notable have been his performances with 'Voices
From The Merry Cemetery', a collaboration with old friends Shaun
Davey, Rita Connolly, Sean Keane to name but a few. The title for
this ensemble comes from their first performance at the funeral
of Liam's father Liam O'Flynn snr. Such was the quality of the music
played on that day, that they have decided to share the craft of
music-making again in a brief series of very special concerts. Their
combined talents and repertoire are certain to generate memorable
and emotional occasions whenever they perform.
In 2012 Liam teamed up with Andy, Donal and Paddy
Glackin on fiddle to form the band LAPD
who have been giging regulary around Ireland.