“Irish Music” review

Irish Music Magazine

Book Review – Accompanying Irish Music on Guitar, Author Frank Kilkelly

Review by Ita Kelly

There are still those who do not welcome the guitar as a suitable instrument for traditional music in Ireland.  Frank Kilkelly in his book “Accompanying Irish Music on Guitar” tells us how he himself was once ejected from a stage during a period when Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann outlawed the use of the guitar!  Its introduction is relatively recent, but in honesty since the sixties it has been a kind of saviour enabling musicians to bridge the gap from a minority, enclosed environment to the wide world of popular music.

For such a slim volume Frank’s book packs in an enormous amount.  There is no need to look any further for history, background development of technical detail on guitar playing in Irish music.  I suppose the real delight in this book is how easy it is to access and follow information and instruction at whatever level you enter the guitar arena.

This book is certainly something you could teach yourself with, particularly using the accompanying CD because you have a forum in which to play with some great soloists without having the embarrassment of trying to do so publicly.

Frank is entirely practical in his advice.  Three basic rules he tell us are “Listen, Listen, Listen”.  Could these be lessons for life I ask?  It is certainly sound advice for instrument playing.  Listen to others and listen to yourself.  “Record yourself” Frank says and listen back to how complementary your playing was to the soloist feedback in the first degree, nothing better for self improvement.

The first thirteen pages are a written introduction to the practical instruction which follows in the form of tunes and styles.  In it Frank outlines the emergence of the guitar in Irish music, the leading players and their contribution and the basic concepts needed to understand what accompaniment is all about.  Then there is a guide to choosing equipment from the guitar itself to the plectrum you use, tuners and amplification.  The all-important practice routine is tackled in a highly practical way, find a place, a regular time and make a plan, set a target for yourself.  Use of a metronome seems to be essential, to set your own internal rhythm, a key for any musician.  Tablature and notation is explained in detail and here is where your practice plan comes in , otherwise you will bow out at the first hurdle when you realise how much there is to comprehend and implement.  The structure of Irish tunes is explained as are easy to remember rhythms to identify the different types of tunes, reels, jigs and hornpipes.  Strumming and finger picking then get the run through and here is where you make the choice about what will suit you.  There is no doubt you don’t just develop a rhythm of your own without practising some basic ones first.  The objective is that eventually it will come naturally as fall into rapport with the musician you are playing with, but before you are ready to do that that the spade work has to be done in terms of graft and repetition of basic rhythms and sequences.

“Think of this book as a starter pack for a language course” says Frank.  You are given some basic grammar and vocabulary then it’s up to you to put it into practice and pick up the rest by absorption, listening and experience.

“I couldn’t hope to create a directory of styles where you could exclusively call one Arty McGlynn’s or Dennis Cahill’s or whoever” says Frank.  What he does do is encourage the study and development of style.  In fact his wish is that “by the end of the book a student would be better equipped to both develop their own style and to figure out the subtleties of any other style they may come across.”

Frank Kilkelly has two musical loves – traditional music and swing jazz.  His home in Castlebar wasn’t really a traditional music hothouse but there a burgeoning nest of talent in the area and Frank honed his skills at sessions and in the homes of friends there.

Frank is in demand as an accompanist with a variety of bands.  He has toured with Sean Keane, Alan Kelly and Christy O’Leary.  You are as likely to meet him at a jazz or modern gig as at a traditional one, invariably he will be on the stage.  He put this book together because he felt there was “very little written about this developing art”.  And because he always has been a rhythm player rather than a melody player, he knew there was little on the subject in terms of accompaniment.  Well that’s changed now! (Back to reviews)