Magpie Magazine

June 2000 (Issue 25)

Brave New Guitar

Music, Review by Ita Kelly

Nothing is assumed in Frank Kilkelly’s new book Accompanying Irish Guitar on Guitar except that the reader is eager to seriously learn something of the accompaniment of Irish traditional music on guitar.  Frank puts it well in his foreword: “Don’t forget,” he says; “whatever you’re learning, you’re learning it so that you can forget about it when the times comes to have some fun!” The fun follows the serious practise, and there’s a full-page guide given on ‘developing a practice routine’, so no excuses!

The guitar is a relative newcomer to Irish traditional music and was much frowned upon when it was first introduced.  Even today there are pockets of opinion about its inclusion in the ‘sacred’ tradition.  Nevertheless its impact on and sympathy with the solo instrumentalist cannot be denied.  The folk and ballad boom of the sixties was responsible for guitarists becoming involved with accompaniment of traditional music although there were early recordings made in the United States featuring guitarists as early as the 1920’s.  Donal Lunny once recalled to me being thrown out of the Pipers Club in Dublin’s Church Street because he was playing a guitar.  Frank Kilkelly himself tells us in his book that Comhaltas Ceoltoiri­ Eireann banned the guitar at one time; “I myself was witness to this,” he says; “when a performance organised by Comhaltas was once halted while I was removed from the stage!”  Times have changed, but so too has guitar accompaniment, a range of players since the 60’s have developed and augmented accompaniment styles.  Frank profiles a number of these from central figures like Paul Brady and Micheal O’Domhnaill to the younger Ian Carr and Donogh Hennessy. He presents four tunings which progress from standard tuning to DADGAD tuning by dropping one string at a time.  Suggestions are given for right hand styles suited to each tuning and the accompanying CD recording allows the student to take a closer look at accompaniment styles used and to practise along with tunes.

“My main idea in putting this book together was that no-one else had done it.  The rhythm part of playing guitar is the hardest part to teach and is also the part most frequently omitted.  In this tutor each page is self-sufficient.  All the information you need is given to study and play the accompaniment.  I wrote down all the chords from the actual tune recordings, the way I played it and then any little things that are highlighted or unusual.  All the chords you need to play the set of tunes are there on the same page even though some of them are on the next page again.”

Years of teaching at workshops gave Frank an insight into the needs of developing guitar players.  He is an accomplished guitarist himself, originally from Castlebar, Co. Mayo where his neighbourhood had its share of musicians when he was growing up. He has played with Alan Kelly, Sean Keane, and Luke Daniels and currently works with Christy O’Leary. He spent several years in London where he played a lot of swing jazz. Recently he has teamed up with Sean Lennon and Damien Evans to play Hot Club Jazz, Grappelli and Django style, it sounds good too. He is a familiar figure around Galway, playing or listening!  Frank’s tutor should be invaluable asset to guitar players be they from a traditional background or not. (Back to Reviews)