A Life of Music: Martin Tourish Interview


Plus: Sahara and video plugged by Luke Fraser.




Martin Tourish talks to The Celtic Music Fan about composing, performing and the top 5 albums that influenced him musically.

It is great when few conversations happen beyond the interview. Our guest this week is prolific musician/composer Martin Tourish who is in the middle of his PhD studies. He lent his time to answer several questions related to his career and Irish music in general. He has just started mixing his new album. We had a little craic about Donegal winning the All Ireland Gaelic football final. So everyone over there is happy! Christmas is a great time to visit the place for the Frankie Kennedy Winter School.

According to Martin: “In Donegal they pass one fiddle around everybody in the room and everyone has to play whether they can barely play a tune or are brilliant. There’s always huge respect.” He is working on a lot of projects. I got to hear songs from An Tain. It is about the Irish saga set into music. Years ago I was over Makati and stumbled upon a copy of The Táin (1969, Oxford University Press) by Thomas Kinsella and that book opened  the whole new world of Irish myths to me. So to know that a musician is doing another interpretation of that is amazing news.  According to Martin: “This album that we made is based upon the book but it’s sung here using a proto-gaelic language as found in the oldest known text.” The song interpretations he made for this project are haunting, beautiful and captivating. The interesting use of modern and traditional instruments are fascinating. So are the vocals and scales that were applied. There’s so much atmosphere and richness in the melodies. So even if you don’t understand Gaelic you will be able to follow the plot as long as you have read the book.

I also have the honor to hear his Midori Suite. The Japanese/ Irish piece he wrote for a charity in Japan. The classical training he had took a front seat here. Martin could well be a movie composer of epic scenes. I love the combination of Japanese and Irish styles especially the part with the harp and female vocals. And then I got the Raincoats of Dijon – a track he recorded for Naxos with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. This is another moving piece of a different style. It’s a waltz that crosses between Strauss and Disney Classics. With all these in mind, I realize that one day Martin Tourish will be making lots of music that other musicians will play. So yes I am crossing my fingers.

Here’s a little trivia: When he was in the Philippines, he was with Cape Breton fiddler Gillian Boucher, Irish fiddler Fergal Scahill, Mickey Martin and the sean nós dancer Emma O’Sullivan. They were playing a charity concert for the kids of smokey mountain so they formed the band just for that. He actually only met them either on the plane or over in Manila. A Trad session in a jeepney is one of his goals! He further stated that he enjoyed the experience and he felt totally at home.

Now on with our interview:

Hi Martin, welcome to our artist of the week interview. It is an honor to have you as my guest. I read your bio and it describes your life as one devoted to music. How’s the experience writing articles for the “Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland”?

It’s an honor to be your guest! It was a great experience to write a number of articles for the Enyclopaedia of Music in Ireland. The research unearthed a great deal of new information on the subjects, only a small amount of which could be included in each of the articles. Regarding the article that I wrote on the piano accordion, reading the first description of the instrument being performed in Ireland was one of those magical moments. I often pass the venue in Dublin in which it was first heard and imagine the music that might have been played!

You came from Donegal which brought us legendary bands like Clannad and Altan. I see that your cousin Ciaran plays for Altan. Your childhood must have been a very musical one.

Donegal is an amazing place and recently, I had the honor of playing a concert with Altan and Clannad at the Fleadh in Cavan. There actually wasn’t music in my immediate family but that was probably a good thing. I had no idea that there was any difference between genres and so I played everything I heard and could reproduce. This openness to every type of music has stayed with me since. Once the heart is in it, it will be good!

 Your first album was released in 2005 which gained top reviews and honors. You are working on a new one right? Please tell us what listeners can expect in this new album.

The new album has been developed over the past four years and it is quite different to Clan Ranald, and maybe quite different from anything else! The aim of the album was to try to be as honest as possible in trying to capture the spirit of the music, moment, and musicians who took part. It’s almost entirely comprised of my compositions, with some reworking of traditional material. Really, it documents the interactions and experiences of the past four years and I hope that people will enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed it. We’re mixing it at the moment so stay tuned!

You’ve been around the world and one of those places you’ve been to was the Philippines! How was the experience?

The Philippines trip was amazing and I remember every minute of it! The people were really warm and friendly and in particular, I remember stumbling across a singer/songwriter night in a bar in Makati City and playing piano in the house band before going to the birthday party of one of the musicians! I really hope to make a return visit at some point in the future and this time, stay longer than four days!

What is it about being in the trad scene that you like?

I’m actually involved in many different scenes in Ireland but it’s the people that make each scene a joy to be involved in. The trad scene in Dublin is particularly interesting because being a small city, musicians from different scenes get an opportunity to meet and explore each other’s traditions. Everything seems to exist side-by-side and one can dip in and out of each when the mood is right!

 What do you plan to accomplish before the year ends and what’s in store for 2013 for you musically?

I hope to have both my PhD and album completed before the year is done and for 2013, I’m hoping to focus almost solely on music. As always, I’ll be playing with various musicians under my own name and with a wide variety of other musicians, bands and projects, specifically with the bands of which I’m a member: The Convergence Ensemble, and Deep End of the Ford. I’m working around the clock on plans for 2013 but at the moment, they’ve to be kept under wraps. But every year something amazing always seems to happen and if that trend continues, it’ll be better than anything I could have imagined!

What are the challenges composing music in the traditional style and do you have other musical styles that you are working on as of the moment?

Well I never compose music as a task, it just flows out in response to something when it’s ready and sticks if it’s good! It’s the most natural thing in the world and when I compose a piece of music, it’s usually fully formed. A few days ago I wrote eight tunes in about two hours for a sean-nós dancing tutorial DVD by the dancer Mary Beth Taylor, which is to be released before the end of the year. The chemistry and rhythm from her steps made the music flow and those are always special moments. Following from my Japanese – Irish piece called The Midori Suite, I’ll be writing a concert length program of material in this style. I’ll also be in Italy in October producing an album of songs by the novelist Oscar McLennin, and working on a program of world music in Brittany in November with the clarinetist Dylan Gully. Plenty of diversity!

Can you name us the top 5 albums that influenced you?

Altan’s Runaway Sunday (But really all of their albums!)

Mary Black’s Mary Black Live (particularly for Steve Cooney’s song Just a Journey)

Frank Cassidy’s Níl Gar Ann (aesthetically and creatively)

Alyth McCormack & Triona Marshall’s Red & Gold (a masterclass in tone, colour and great story telling)

Zbigniew Preisner’s Requiem For My Friend

I enjoyed chatting with Martin Tourish and I am sure this interview has given you an idea about his music and projects. You can listen to his music through:


Sample videos:

Featuring Ciarán Tourish (fiddle), Martin Tourish (piano accordion), Tim Edey (guitar), Tríona Marshall (harp), Alyth McCormack (voice), Thomas Charles Marshall, Philip Horan (shakuhachi), Fran Marshall (voice) & Morgan Crowley (voice) performing ‘Suite for Japan’, composed by Martin Tourish. This was recorded at the Aid Japan for Children concert at St. Ann’s Church, Dawson St., Dublin, to aid and support Japanese children effected by the 2011 earthquake & tsunami. Recorded and edited by Martin Moylan on behalf of Aid Japan for Children, and provided subsequently to LiveTrad.com.

The last part of the concert was with a special appearance by
14.08.2010, Kilcar, co.Donegalh

A Great Documentary which Martin also appears in.

A documentary by journalists / film makers Malou Fickling and Robert Gustafsson about Traditional Irish music in a changing Ireland. Set in rural and urban Ireland (Donegal and Dublin) this piece takes a look at the history, themes, preservation and evolution of Irish music. Musicians interviewed include Martin Tourish (TG4 Young Musician of the year 2008), Danny Diamond and Dinny McLaughlin.

Language: English Version

This production was entirely conceived, shot and edited by Malou Fickling and Robert Gustafsson. It was created for a final college project for Journalism and Media Production at Linnaeus University, Sweden.

For more information email Malou Fickling at Malfic@hotmail.com


Proud to announce the release of Sahara’s latest CD ‘A New Beginning’ – now available from iTunes, Amazon and other music outlets!!

Samples are available in the link below. I found them totally uplifting and beautiful. The production is superb. A must have for those who love genre bending music that exudes warmth and elegance.


Connect with them through:




Upon Recommendation from Luke Fraser

Casual lookin’ Luke.

Luke Fraser plays guitar/vocals for The Bombadils and Raftmen. Once in a while he drops by for a chat. This is one of the videos that made it to our conversation.

From “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn”, recorded live at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 19, 2009. Tunes composed by Liz Carroll; choreography/improv by Nic Gariess.

For information about tickets, CD recordings, and celtic radio programming, visit http://www.wgbh.org/celtic

Copyright 2010




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