For this sixth episode of Irish Music Stories (a shorter summer special!), I talked to some of trad music’s most inspired accompanists. It was great to hear about the inner game of backing from Matt Heaton, Neil Pearlman, Keith Murphy, and John Doyle.

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Now, singers and accordion players can *also* certainly ride a rhythmic wave in a session, or sculpt a song with color, texture, and deep care for the storyline. But there’s a particular experience that chordal players have with Irish music. I wanted to understand that feeling a bit more.

John Doyle from Irish Music Stories podcast Episode 6: The Backer

John Doyle

John Doyle talks about the meditative quality of backing:
“When you play in a good session, when it’s super rhythmic, you get into this flow state, especially when you’re rhythmic. It’s a very Zen-like, momentary space.. I think it’s a place where very few people get to in life. And then it’s broken when the tune ends… and of course, there’s an enjoyment, the love of music.”

Pianist Neil Pearlman (who also hosts a great podcast called TradCafe) shared his thoughts on how a broader perspective shapes players and playing: “Traditional music is cultural music… knowing other people who play, dance, or speak with an Irish accent all go into some subtle sense of feel in the music.”

And guitarist Matt Heaton says, “There are such cool things you can do with harmony. You can add tension, you can build suspense, you can make something sound bright and happy.. you can shine a light on certain aspects of the melody, sort of illuminate it.”

Matt Heaton from Irish Music Stories podcast Episode 6: The Backer

Matt Heaton

I hope you’ll join me as I talk with Matt, Neil, Keith and John about how they think about backing traditional music.

Whether you already play guitar, sing ballads, or dance steps.. or if you don’t know anything about Irish culture… these conversations concern deep listening, community, and flow state.

Full music and poetry credits below. Here are John Doyle (lefty guitar) and Matt Heaton (on bouzouki) and accompanying accordion player Jimmy Keane, who is one of the brightest musical lights and whose beautiful hornpipe for his dad Horse Keane starts this set. THIS is what melody is all about—and how sensitive and resplendent backing only enhances what is already completely rock steady, exciting, and beautiful.

Here’s Keith Murphy singing three songs at the Northern Roots Festival he’s developed in Brattleboro. The set starts with “The Land of Fish and Seals.” Here’s rhythm, melody, story, sentiment— oh, and foot percussion in the last song, “Go From My Window”—  from just one stellar musician:

And here is Neil Pearlman with wonderful fiddler Katie McNally and Shauncey Ali on viola, playing a concert in Madison, WI

Next month’s episode will air Tuesday August 8. It’ll be a feature on uileann pipers.

If this is your first IMS episode, I hope you’ll also check out:
Episode 01-Trip to Sligo
Episode 00-Introducing Irish Music Stories
Episode 02-Cuppa Tea with Karan Casey
Episode 03-Every Tuesday at Nine
– Episode 04 – Cuppa Tea with McKinneys and McCarthy
– Episode 05 – Handed Down


Music Heard on IMS Episode 06
all music traditional, unless otherwise indicated

Song: “Lily of the West,” from Lovers’ Well
Artist: Matt & Shannon Heaton (this track with Keith Murphy)

Tune: “Mist Covered Mountain and Tell Her I Am,” from Dearga
Artist: Matt & Shannon Heaton

Tune: “Run to Fly,” from Run to Fly
Artist: Alba’s Edge (feat. Neil Pearlman)

Tune: “The Phoenix,” from January EP
Artist: Assembly (feat. Keith Murphy)

Song: “Buonaparte,” from Bound for Canaan
Artist: Keith Murphy

Tune: “The Rock Reel Set,” from Lake Effect
Artist: Liz Carroll with John Doyle

Tune: “Johnny Going to Ceilidh,” from Demo circa 2008
Artist: Matt Heaton, Flynn Cohen

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:Thank you for listening And thanks to Matt Heaton, Neil Pearlman, Keith Murphy, and John Doyle for the thoughtful and enjoyable conversations.  Thanks, too, to Flynn Cohen (another excellent backer) for the great tune he played with Matt at the end.

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Thank you for reading and listening! I hope you’ll come back for next month’s episode, available Tuesday August 8, 2017.