Ireland is full of fine musicians who, unlike prophets, are honoured in their own country but not so much elsewhere. Stevie Dunne is one such. With two studio albums and an American Irish Music Award to his credit he chose a rather more low-key venue to record his third. The Crosskeys Inn is located half an hour from Belfast and is a place where Stevie has played his banjo and guitar for many years. Accompanying him on this session are Brian McGrath, Cyril O’Donoghue, Gerdy Thompson and John Joe Kelly, whose driving bodhran playing holds the whole thing together.
As he launched into ‘Jim Donoghues’ I thought the sound was disappointingly thin but I’m prepared to accept that the sound man, Cormac O Kane, was still twiddling his knobs at that point. He certainly was unable to edit out the small children during the beautiful and quiet ‘Sally Gardens’. Actually Stevie makes about point of that as they are his sons and he wanted them there and, presumably, heard. After a few bars things improved immensely and the musicians got into their stride. That said, this is very much Stevie’s album and the accompanists show great restraint doing just what is required to support his playing.
Some of the tunes are Stevie’s own but the majority are traditional as in ‘I got it from the playing of so-and-so’. Of course, so-and-so probably got it from such-and-such who presumably learned it from someone else. That’s how it is with Irish music in particular – the tunes are there and musicians like Stevie keep playing them. By the time the band hit the railroad rhythm of ‘The Dog Among The Bushes/The Wisemaid’ I was convinced. This is real music played in a thatched pub in front of an appreciative audience – what more do you need?
‘The Dog Among The Bushes/The Wisemaid’ – live on TV:
Stevie Dunne is regarded as one of Ireland’s finest banjo players. Hailing from the small fishing port of Clogherhead in County Louth, Stevie now resides just outside Belfast where he has been a pivotal member of the traditional music scene for over 20 years. He began playing guitar at the age of 12, and was given his first banjo at the age of 13, when his late uncle John Dunne a fiddle and accordion player, heard him picking tunes on his guitar. Stevie instantly fell in love with the banjo and set about learning tunes and developing his style and technique. It has been said that Stevie’s banjo playing is energetic, yet subtle and with a distinct regard for the tradition. Having developed a strong following nationally and internationally, he receives numerous requests from around the world to teach and tour. A recent prerecord for TG4’s FleadhTV from the pier at Clogherhead received such widespread appraise that Stevie was invited to perform on the live show at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Drogheda.
Stevie has released two studio albums to critical acclaim – About Time in 2010 and Banjo in 2012. His first album won him a prestigious Irish Music Award in America. This latest offering is his first live album and he adds “I have been playing in The Crosskeys Inn for years. It wouldn’t be my local, however each time I have played in the bar the acoustic resonance and atmosphere has always been fantastic. I think this is partly due to the rich heritage that the bar has. It’s the oldest thatched pub in Ireland and has always been steeped in a rich tapestry of traditional music, song and dance. I have hosted many sessions there over the years, particularly as part of the Gig ‘n the Bann Festival”.
Recorded on the 8th April 2018, this record portrays Stevie’s ability to weave and meander around the tunes with the lightest of touches, when called for. Coupled with raw energy and magnetism, he produces a refreshing and invigorating sound. He is joined by some of Ireland’s finest accompanists – Brian McGrath on Piano, Gerdy Thompson on guitar, Cyril O’Donoghue on bouzouki and John Joe Kelly on bodhrán.
Stevie adds “The funny thing about this album is that we never played a note together until the night before the recording. I sent the lads the tunes and the night before Gerdy, Brian and John Joe came around to my house and we ran through the sets. It was clear that we immediately locked horns with the rhythms and chord progressions. Cyril came up the morning of the recording and fell straight into line with the rest of us and hence Live At The Crosskeys Inn was born. I think this is what makes the album work. We were all relaxed going in, we ran all tracks of the album once and then hit record! I think this album captures the warmth and atmospheric presence of the bar. It’s also quite open and on some tracks you can hear my 5 and 7-yearold sons having fun in the background soaking up the vibe of the day. I wanted my family and friends to be included on the album and my mother can be heard at the end of a number of sets particularly enjoying the music”