Dundalk, Scotland,Canada and anywhere in the world, Nuala Kennedy plays music for every ear.
Help me welcome this fantastic musician this week. She is Nuala Kennedy. She became the focus of my interview request after seeing a post by The Riverside Celtic Society announcing her Canadian tour. It’s to promote her third release “Noble Stranger.” After seeing her youtube videos and listening to her tunes, I told myself that I have to get her story. She would make a wonderful featured artist. I was right.
You had a show in Canada this 24th of February! You must been very excited to greet your Canadian listeners. After all we know how Canada and Ireland are linked closely.
It was great to visit Canada again. It’s a fantastic country with a wonderful connection musically with Celtic music in Ireland and Scotland, especially on its Eastern seaboard, in places like Cape Breton Island and Newfoundland. I love the diversity of Canada, from Vancouver and the stunningly beautiful west coast, to Toronto and Quebec. I’m looking forward to touring and exploring more there, but I do have a special fondness for Cape Breton, its culture and people resonate with me and I love playing there.
You have a jazzy approach to Irish and Scottish music. Where did all the vibes come from?
I wouldn’t say my approach is jazzy, but I guess there’s a few different influences in there side by side with the traditional music. Edinburgh in the late nineties was an incredibly inspiring place to be a traditional player, with a lot of sessions and different musicians crossing paths and playing together. That was a hugely influential time for me. I always had an interest in other types of music too, in songs, contemporary music and in American folk music from the sixties and seventies.
Dundalk is the same place where The Corrs originated. It must be a wild place for Celtic music.Can you give us a background of your musical development? Do you think that the environment plays a big role in an artist’s artistic direction?
Definitely. I learned to play the whistle at around age seven, with a local teacher Mary Grennell. She taught me tunes out of the back of a shoemakers shop at the end of town. After I had a few learnt, I joined a local ceilidh band, ‘Ceoltoiri Oga Oghrialla’ which had some great older players as members. People like Tiarnan O Duinnchinn and Suzanne, Lisa and Patrick Conway, Brendan Needham. Fantastic players all, and I think I learned a lot from playing alongside them in the band, without even realising it really.
I was also encouraged to be independent and think for myself from an early age, by my parents but also by teachers and particularly my art teacher in secondary school who was a big influence on me. I loved the practical aspect of creating, the fact that you have a tangible finished ‘something’ at the end of a period of work. In Edinburgh, where I first went to study at the College of Art, it was difficult not to be influenced by all the amazing music that was in the city at that time. I returned often to Dundalk, where I grew up, and played with Gerry O Connor, with whom I now perform in the band Oirialla. I still go home very regularly, and it’s very satisfying to play traditional music from my own native area.
What do you look forward to this year in terms of live shows and recordings?
I’m currently working on a duo record with Mike Bryan, the guitarist from my band. It’s called “A Wee Selection: Some Scottish Tunes on Flute and Guitar” We recorded a bunch of our favourite traditional Scottish tunes. I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished CD! In a couple of weeks, we are launching Oirialla’s new CD. (Oirialla is an Irish trad. band featuring Nuala, Gerry ‘fiddle’ O’Connor, Martin Quinn and Gilles LeBigot) We are having a home town gig at the Square in Dundalk, as part of the Homecoming Festival. And I’m particularly excited about making my first trip to Alaska in September to play with John Doyle and Eamon O’ Leary. In October I’m taking the Snowflake Trio to Celtic Colours International Festival on Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia. It’s one of my favourite places in the world. The Snowflake Trio is myself, with Frode Haltli and Vegar Vardal, two incredible Norwegian musicians.
Can you cite other artists whose works inspired you?
Oliver Schroer was a huge inspiration to me. I also love Will Oldham’s singing and writing. I met the Birds of Chicago at Folk Alliance in Toronto this year, and really enjoyed their music. I’m a fan of lots of strong female singers and traditional musicians such as the late Ishbel Macaskill, Fiona Hunter, Kathleen MacInnes, Cathy-Ann MacPhee, Christine Primrose, Margaret Stewart, Padraigin Ni Uallachain, Catriona Mackay, Lori Watson, Shona Mooney… Also accordionists Martin Quinn and Julian Sutton. Of course Cathal McConnell continues to inspire me, especially with his musical musings on well known traditional tunes. I love his sense of creativity and the detail in his music.
Top 5 albums you are listening to right now?
Some of my favourite albums at the moment include Mary Custy and Eoin O’Neill, Oliver Schroer’s Hymns and Hers, Rickie Lee Jones’ Traffic in Paradise, Devon Sproule “I Love You’ Go Easy”, Oliver Swain’s CD ‘Big Machine’ and Nels Andrews’ Scrimshaw.
I am curious how you would describe this as a flutist: What’s amazing about the flute?
That it’s a physical extension of the human body, powered by breath? That every aspect of my particular flute was made from scratch by hand by one artist, including all the keys and silver work. (It’s a Chris Wilkes flute.)
What other instruments do you love to play?
Where can listeners buy your album?
They can get my album through: http://www.nualakennedy.com/store.htm
Your message to the readers.
Support live, local and independent music and art!