Jim McGrath Biography (Courtesy of the Artist's site, 2006)
The first time that Jim McGrath heard the sound of the accordion was at a rehearsal in a band room where members of the Monea Accordion band gathered. His father, Ben, affectionately known as "Sketch" McGrath was the band leader and Jim’s eldest brother played accordion in the band. They played push and draw style accordions with two row of buttons, tuned in the key of B and C or C sharp and D. The band played at local venues in Fermanagh and neighbouring counties and Jim, still a very small boy, went along at every opportunity.
At home in Cullen, the McGrath family had a portable gramophone which was used to animate musical gatherings in the house. Jimmy Shand, the Scottish accordion virtuoso was the musician who made the greatest impression on the young Jim McGrath. Peter Wyper, another Scot was often chosen from the family’s growing collection of 78 rpm records. Another influence was the accordion playing of Frank Quinn from Longford.
Aged 16, Jim taught himself to play the guitar and the banjo. From 1978 to 1980 Jim worked in London and he recalls how he bought an album entitled "The Orkney Strathspey and Reel Society" which was released on the EMI label in 1976 and which delighted him so much he played it over and over again. Back in Fermanagh Jim began to play the family Hohner accordion and was soon emulating another local player, Larry Hoy. Radio broadcasts by the late Joe Cooley who was born in County Clare but lived for many years in New York, playing mainly in the Bronx, were an inspiration to Jim.
Jim has played mostly in pubs and at weddings, ceilis and set dance sessions not only in Fermanagh but all over the north of Ireland. He has been invited to perform in Europe and in the USA, notably in North Carolina and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
A keen collector of ballad sheets and local songs and tunes, Jim McGrath’s repertoire is vast. Fellow musicians are astonished by his retentive memory and his unfailing generosity in sharing traditional tunes. In 1998 he collaborated with Cathal Hayden (fiddle), Gerry O’Donnell (flute and whistle), James Blennerhassett (Double Bass) and Tommy O’Sullivan (vocals) on a CD entitled "Erne". In 2000 that repertoire was extended with contributions from Maurice Lennon (fiddle), Alan Burk (vocals and bodhran), Darragh Murphy (Uillean Pipes) for an album in the BMG Explorer collection.
With this album Jim displays his skills not only as a a player but as a composer. All of the tunes are original compositions which by their eclectic nature reflect both the Irish and Scottish musical traditions in Ulster. Scottish pipes and snare drums are as much in keeping with the overall style as the Irish Bodhran. A melody maker par excellence, Jim McGrath breaks the mould of traditional ceili dance music with glorious tunes that reflect his own generous spirit, a genuine sense of place, and the pure good fun of the best community gatherings.