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George Benn, at front, organiser of a fundraising CD recording with Ballyea Choir and Friends in aid of Children's Cancer research at Crumlin Children's Hospital, Photograph by John Kelly

‘Slatted Shed Sessions’ in tune with children’s charity

A WEST Clare slatted house will double as a recording studio next week, when a group of musicians and singers come together to produce an album to raise funds for research into children’s cancers.
The idea is the brainchild of Miltown Malbay native George Benn, who has recently received the all clear after being diagnosed, in recent years, with cancer. Now a long-time resident of Ruan, George is a member of the choir in Ballyea. Over the last few weeks, he and his fellow members, musicians and friends have been busy rehearsing for the 14-track album.
The slatted shed, which is owned by choir member Martin Casey, has been centrally important as a venue which facilitates social distancing for the group of around 20. “But for Martin, this wouldn’t have been possible,” George said.
Originally, George planned to hold a church concert. “Covid got in the way,” he outlined.
“Then I thought, ‘Why not make an album?’ Everyone got behind that idea, but we needed a bigger venue and that’s where Martin’s barn comes in. It’s around 200 by 100 feet, with lots of fresh air and space for social distancing.”
The preparations have gained momentum in recent weeks and according to George the rehearsals have provided a “great relief” after the long months of lockdown.
“The buzz is also building ahead of the recording date. The studio will come to us,” he said.
“We’ve had a sound check and the only worry now is hailstones hitting the roof while we’re recording.”
The album which will be called ‘Ballyea Choir and Friends’ CD for Cancer Research will raise funds for Crumlin Childrens’ Hospital.
“I discussed this with my own consultant and he told me Crumlin is the best place because they do a lot of great work there,” he said.
“We’ll be launching in early December and aiming to raise between €10,000 and €20,000. That would really make a big difference to the hospital’s really important work.”
Very well known in traditional music circles, George retired from the live performance circuit after 55 years in a number of bands from The Healy Brothers to Dave Culligan and the Banner Men. A hectic schedule also saw him performing with Martin Hayes in the US and playing a number of cities, including Nashville. “I play the guitar and I sing,” he outlined. “I’m very average at both, but I’m consistent and a non-drinker. That’s how I sum it up. I was reliable, which is almost as important as being able to play.”
George settled in the Ennis/Ruan area, where he met his wife Pat, and also spent time in the 1970s in the legendary Kilfenora Ceili Band. “I was a singer with them for a while,” he said. “My friend, the long-time member Michael Butler asked me to join and I was also friends with Kitty Linnane. It was a really great time.”
After leaving the live music scene, George joined the Ballyea Choir, which he described as “the finest group of people and the finest group of musicians”. “I wouldn’t have been a regular church goer at first,” he said, “but now I have a different perspective.”
George said the support and friendship of fellow members has been instrumental in getting him over a number of health challenges, including heart surgery and prostate cancer. “They really took me from a bad place,” he explained. “As well as the operation and cancer, I’ve had problems with my blood and the attitude and help of my friends has meant so much. It’s great to have that kind of friendship and support.”
The choir was also the genesis of the current musical project.
“It all started off when there was one particular man who has a great voice, but was very nervous about singing solo,” George outlined. “I told him to come to my house for a sing-song. Then we got the use of a 50-foot loft that one of the members has over his garage. A small number of us, who are all choir members, started to get together there and we called ourselves ‘The Loft Pod’.”
When the loft proved too small for the full choir, Martin Casey’s hay barn came to the rescue, with some members dubbing rehearsals ‘The Slatted Shed Sessions’.
The tracks on the album have been carefully chosen and will combine individual and group performances.
“We have nice variety on the track list,” said George. “We have eight principal singers doing solos and duets. We have performances by the choir as well as a trad performance led by Michael Butler. We will also have music from a group called Killone. I’ll perform myself and Fr Pat Malone will also record a track. In addition, Mike Hanrahan has given us permission to record his new song, ‘A River Rolls On’. Our lead singer Marie will perform on that track as well as my daughter Louise on flute and Muireann on the harp. It was such a kind thing for Mike to do for the cause.”

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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