MARTIN HAYES

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Martin Hayes

Biography

The Fiddler with the Awesome Touch
PLUS: Hayes & Cahill Biography (Courtesy of Artist's site, 2005).

It's the moment when every musician would like to be a fly on the wall. You've made your demo tape and sent it to the record company you think might be the most receptive. The jiffy bag gets opened. Do the contents go in the bin, into some slush pile or - please, if there's a god - on to the tape deck?

It's the tape deck. At this point in Martin Hayes's tale, it's tempting to imagine that the listener responded in much the same way as Dickens' publisher receiving a hand-written manuscript with a note saying "I've written this story about a miser at Christmas" or a potential backer hearing that Edison had a few ideas.

For those who don't know Hayes, here's a quick introduction courtesy of some press quotes. "Unspeakably beautiful traditional Irish fiddling" - and that from Guitar Player, a magazine for which there are two types of musician: guitarists and backing musicians. Then there's "Martin Hayes is a god" from the far from gush-prone Mojo magazine, or the New York Times' discovery of "a Celtic complement to Steve Reich's or Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain."

Converts to Hayes may well opine that these compliments are the least he deserves. The fiddler, for his part, gives the impression that he might be embarrassed by them. As he walks on stage, his body language says, "hope you don't mind but I'm going to play a few tunes and I might just knock your socks off. Sorry."

The story of Hayes and his demo tape is no more assertive. He just sent it to Green Linnet Records, the Connecticut-based Scots/Irish music specialists, on the off-chance that he might get a bit more work out of it. Almost a decade on and four CDs into his Green Linnet career, he has all the work he needs.

Prior to this mailshot in the dark, Hayes had spent twenty-odd years filling the reservoir from which he dispenses melodies with the utmost care and affection. Expression and a sense of melody are everything; there's no flashy technique or cheap excitement.

Rather, tune sets such as the eleven minutes plus sequence beginning with Paul Ha'penny on his sublime 1997 recording with guitar playing partner Dennis Cahill, The Lonesome Touch, gradually build to the kind of climax that caused one observer to comment that Hayes must use KY Jelly instead of rosin on his bow.

Born in East Clare, Hayes began playing the fiddle at the age of seven. He was, he concedes, far from being a model student to begin with. In the first three years he learned tunes at the rate of one per year, and his less than enthusiastic facial expressions while practising deterred his siblings from following in his footsteps.

Things changed in his teens when his father enlisted him into the Tulla Ceilidh Band, a popular and extremely busy attraction locally and revered further afield too. Hayes became fanatical about the fiddle, spending every non-gigging evening playing, mostly with older players, and learning not just the tunes but the stories behind them and their reasons for playing them.

In his twenties, by this time having emigrated to Chicago, Hayes turned to rock 'n' roll and generally did the teenage things he felt he'd missed out on. Then, having got that out of his system, he returned to his musical roots. His meeting in Chicago with Cahill, a player with a background in jazz and blues, has been, he says, a great source of musical inspiration. Their understanding seems telepathic. Hayes sees their playing together as simply a conversation.

"Offstage, we are as likely to be talking about jazz musicians like Keith Jarrett, John Coltrane and Miles Davis or U2, Bach or Beethoven as we are to discuss Tommy Potts's fiddling, the rhythm of the great set dancer Willie Keane or the innovation of the Bothy Band," he says. And onstage, all these influences are condensed and distilled, embraced into the tradition.

"You have to make the tunes your own," he says. "Otherwise the tradition becomes trapped in time. The tradition shouldn't be just handing on tunes, it should be handing on creativity as well. If you're allowed to create and be expressive within it, it lives on more healthily."

© Rob Adams

PLUS
Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill

Irish fiddle virtuoso Martin Hayes and American guitarist Dennis Cahill possess a rare musical kinship, ranking them among the most memorable partnerships of our era. Together they have garnered international renown for taking traditional music to the very edge of the genre, holding listeners spellbound with their slow-building, fiery performances. The duo opens the doors of traditional Irish music and releases its pure, distilled beauty while incorporating sensibilities from the worlds of classical, blues and jazz. The New York Times calls them "a Celtic complement to Steve Reich’s quartets or Miles Davis’ ‘Sketches of Spain.’"

Martin Hayes’ accomplishments extend far and wide, both artistically and geographically. He has been an All-Ireland fiddle champion six times over, and has taken home a National Entertainment Award, the Irish equivalent to the "Grammy." He and Dennis have also appeared internationally on television and radio, including NBC Nightwatch, PRI’s A Prairie Home Companion, and the BBC’s Jools Holland Show. The duo has collaborated with Sinead O’Connor, Iarla O’Lionáird and photographer Steve Pyke in a special stage performance and film of Timothy O’Grady's book, I Could Read the Sky, an acclaimed novel of Irish emigration. Martin has also appeared as a guest artist on recent recordings with Darol Anger and Irish composer Gavin Friday.

Born in Ireland and now residing in Seattle, Martin plays in the slow, lyrical style of his native East County Clare. He grew up playing traditional music with his father, P.J. Hayes, leader of the famed Tulla Ceili Band. The younger fiddler has a great reverence for the old players, whose music contains the longing and essence that moves you at the level of your soul. Martin brings that same depth to his own playing, rendering it unique with passion and intimacy.

Dennis Cahill is a master guitarist, versed as well in classical, blues and rock as he is in traditional music. A native of Chicago born to parents from County Kerry, Ireland, he studied at the city’s prestigious Music College before becoming an active member of the local music scene. Cahill’s innovative accompaniment is acknowledged as being a major breakthrough for guitar in the Irish tradition. In addition to his work with Hayes, Dennis has performed with such renowned fiddlers as Liz Carroll, Eileen Ivers and Kevin Burke.

Martin met Dennis in Chicago when he first moved to the States in the 1980s. They formed a jazz/rock/fusion band called Midnight Court, in which they experimented with a variety of new music styles. Eventually, though, they both turned back to their traditional roots, and after recording two acclaimed solo albums, Hayes began a new musical relationship with Cahill. The news of their riveting, galvanizing performances spread like wildfire on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1997 they released The Lonesome Touch (Green Linnet), a recording that has helped take Irish music beyond the world music realm by exposing its inner meaning in an accessible way to listeners of classical, jazz and modern music.

The musical rapport between Hayes and Cahill is so strong that it is often said they appear to be playing one instrument, "working on a seemingly telepathic level," as CMJ describes it. While Martin pursues a melody, Dennis explores the harmony and rhythms within the tunes. He seems to know intuitively Hayes’ next move, consistently matching it with astonishing skill and grace. Their live performances weave tunes that stretch up to thirty minutes long, in what Hayes describes as "a three-way conversation between the two of us and the music."

They have brought their audience into the dialogue with the recording of Live in Seattle, their second duet recording, and the first to capture the fire and chemistry of their live concerts. The disc was recorded during a concert at the Tractor Tavern in Martin’s adopted hometown of Seattle, and reflects both the intimacy of their live performance and the exponential power of the duo’s imagination. Hayes and Cahill work off each other like two jazz masters, exploring the tunes, spinning medleys that expand and contract with intensity. "Our allegiance is to the spirit of the moment," says Hayes, "Our primary wish is that the musical experience be one that lifts our spirits and those of the audience."


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