PASSIONATE about playing himself and bringing the music of others into the public domain, Eoin O’Neill is a big part of the scene in Clare.
“I arrived in Doolin on December 28, 1979. I thought I was coming for an afternoon and I’m still here,” he says of his arrival in this county.
That wasn’t far off 40 years ago and he has been playing here since, while he also hosts shows on local radio.
“I’m more passionate than ever. I’m lucky in that I have a couple of shows on Clare FM and that allows me to feature the local musicians, especially the local ones that should be featured and aren’t featured enough. I’m allowed to play whatever I want and I appreciate that so much.”
A bazouki player, he has a few new albums coming out.
“At the moment, I have two albums completed and ready for release. One is with a band I play with, The Fiddle Case, which features our song Liscannor Bay, which we brought out as a single a while ago. It features Quentin Cooper, Jon O’Connell and Adam Shapiro.
“The other album is something I’m very happy with. It’s with a flute player from Liscannor called Bríd O’Gorman. She is a really beautiful flute player and the two of us went into the studio, completed an album and it is ready to be brought out soon.”
Music in this county is noticeably different from elsewhere, he feels.
“The most distinctive thing about Clare is that there is music everywhere. No two musicians play the same anyway, but there is a thing going on in Clare that gives space to the music, gives space to the notes. They don’t rush it. I am a rhythm player and it gives me a great opportunity to express myself the way I want.”
On his radio shows, he relishes the chance to give some rare but deserved exposure to local talent.
“I love the chance to play people that don’t get played regularly, from Lisdoonvarna, from Feakle, all the small villages. We all know there are characters in all those villages, I love playing those characters. Generally for me, it’s the character of the musicians that I like, the way they live their life and the music is a fundamental part of it.”
He likes to mix things up and play sequences of music that certainly wouldn’t be heard on other shows. For example, he recently played fiddle player James Cullinan, followed by Kurt Cobain.
“I just mentioned they were the same age. James Cullinan is a master fiddle player and Kurt Cobain has a master stroke on his guitar, really simple and honest. It’s nice to compare people. Before, I would have played Neil Young and followed that with John King, the box player.”
More diversity should be allowed on the radio in general, he feels.
“I think radio is too narrow. Everybody loves music but we don’t hear proper music on the radio anymore. It’s all the same stuff, playlists and stuff like that. People enjoy someone that has opinions. It’s like the football. I like Eamon Dunphy because he has an opinion. If I have an opinion on the radio, it’s generally positive. I only play music I love. On the traditional programme on the Friday night, I love what I’m playing and I love it on a Sunday morning.”
Eoin was the winner of the MÓRglór award last year for outstanding contribution to traditional music in County Clare.
Hugely honoured by the award, he was also very surprised when he was given the news.
“It was a huge big deal for me. Frank Custy got it this year and I’m delighted he did because he has done so much for musicians and music people. For me, it was a great experience with nearly 500 people coming to Glór for my night. I was able to present the music I love with 15 or 16 of my musical comrades and it was a great opportunity for me to present music as I like to see it on stage.
“It was a complete shock because I would have thought of myself as being on the outside of the music scene. I’m not from Clare but I love the music in County Clare. I don’t even look beyond the borders for music, I never need to. There is so much here and it’s exactly what I’m looking for. It has got the rhythm and the soul and feel that I love. When they invited me in to Glór for a meeting, I thought they were offering me a position to judge who should get it. When they told me it was me, I nearly fell off the seat.”
He is really looking forward to the Fleadh, which will be the biggest traditional music event seen in Clare for many years.
“I was going to Fleadhs for about four years before I realised there were competitions. It was only when I heard some friend of mine was in a competition I realised there was a lot more to the Fleadh. It’s a great festival, great fun.”
By Owen Ryan