Benny McCarthy

  It is very difficult to summarize all the things you can get up to over the years especially if you squeeze a lot of great things into every moment, a big philosophy of mine for sure! It is very interesting where life's paths can bring you and all the things that can happen along the way.Here is my attempt at telling my story with some photos & audio samples to help illustrate. 


Hope you enjoy! 


Benny

   I was born in Co.Waterford in 1975 and grew up in the beautiful towns-land of Deelish set in the Comeragh mountains just outside Dungravan in Co.Waterford. My first school was Garranbane NS, a picturesque countryside school not far from my homeplace. Like many kids growing up in the 1980's I loved BMX bikes, Top Of The Pops, karate films, break-dancing and all the other popular things of that era, Irish music didn't grab me at that time for some reason? For my 12th birthday I got a present of a new electric Casio keyboard, this was a great gadget and also my first musical instrument! It was when I left primary school and started secondary school at St.Augustines College in Abbeyside that the opportunity for music classes in Irish music came about. They were held in St.Laurence's Hall in Ballinroad nearby every Monday evening with local flautist and teacher Mattie Fahey, I went there with my brother Stephen on Banjo and sister Sharon on Tin Whistle. There was  a 1970's Hohner B/C Double Ray accordion on top of a bedroom wardrobe at home and I picked it, this was an instrument that fascinated me. The tune that really inspired me at first was the popular  Bord Na Mona TV Commercial tune by Dubliners Fiddler John Sheahan, 'The Marino Waltz',  I remember hearing this live at Mattie's music class and him telling us if we practiced we would have it by following Easter, that was inspiration enough for me. After a short time I had it on both the accordion and electric keyboard!  

 A whole social outlet opened for me as young teenager and soon I found a whole group of young people playing traditional music, most had a few years head start on me so I heard some really great young players at sessions and competitions, I really had to catch up so that drove me to learn lots of tunes. The Clare accordion maestro 'Bobby Gardiner' was also starting to teach in Co.Waterford at this time so I decided to further my accordion journey and get classes from him, every Saturday morning at the back of Kent's pub which only opened for these classes, our Mother used to bring us there and wait for hours in the car, we had huge support at home!   My Father picked up a late 1950's 2 coupler Paolo Soprani and Maurice Walsh, a Garda Sergeant in Ballymac at the time, tuned it up lovely for me. These red 4 voice B/C Soprani accordions were the popular boxes at the time, there wasn't many wooden accordions to be seen around then.

  At St.Augustines School I quickly made friends with the few Irish traditional musicians and we all competed as a group in the school Slogadh competitions. Little did I ever think that future bandmates would be myself, Donal Clancy and Donnchadh Gough. I think for my parents I must have been a dream teenager in that my hobby was Irish Music, something they loved themselves also. My summers were spent camping at all the events I could get to, everything from Willy Clancy Summer school Co.Clare to the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoils. I had some work during the week days playing music for tourists in my local pub, it really was Irish Music all the time! 

My Brother 'Eamon' and his fiancé Michelle were killed tragically in a terrible car crash in November 1991, this was a huge shock to us all and at 16 years of age this really had a profound effect on my life, music was so important and consoled me continuously through the long grief of this loss. I remember hearing the music at their funeral mass and how comforting and important it was, I think I knew then subconsciously that music had to somehow be a big part of my life?

  At an All-Ireland Fleadh in Clonmel, Co.Tipperary not long after my Dad bought me a 10-Key 4-Stop Hohner Melodeon after seeing I had a keen interest in the instrument. I took to the melodeon straight away and soon found common tunes with Tomás Clancy from Stradbally, he was a great mouth organ and composer. I also played melodeon for brother Stephen whom had a keen interest in sean-nós (Old Style) Irish dance. We used to love watching Irish music shows on RTE television  like 'The Pure Drop', 'The Mountain Lark' and 'Corner House' and on RTE radio we listened to 'The Long Note', 'Ceilí House' and a few others. 

I made it down to the first Phil Murphy Festival in Carrick On Bannow in Co.Wexford which held a workshop with the great Sliabh Luachra accordion player Jackie Daly, it was here that my life change accordion-wise anyway, I discovered the C#/D press n'draw style of accordion for the very first time from Mr Daly, it blew me away to be honest. This was an older style based on the 10 key melodeon system basically so it was definitely for me. I left Co.Wexford that weekend basically with the challenge of a new box style and a great new cassette tape of more wonderful harmonica music 'The Trip to Cullenstown' by Phil, John & Pip Murphy. I set out to get one of these press n'draw accordions, the first one I bought was an 1950's Hohner in the key of D/D# from another great accordionist Eoin O'Sullivan from Michelstown, Co.Cork. All the press n' draw accordion players like Joe Cooley, Jackie Daly, Martin O'Connor and Tony McMahon, Joe Derrane, Aidan Coffey & Eoin O Sullivan played as major influence on my style along with my teacher Bobby Gardiner also of course.

 I was so fortunate over the years to make lots of great friends with many musicians, young and old. Some of the great older players I met included Johnny O'Leary and Denis Doody from Sliabh Luachra, Tulla Ceili band PJ Hayes from Co.Clare and all the old Waterford musicians of course. It was at some of these fleadhs and festivals that I  first met up with Daire Bracken, Tom & Eamon Doorley, Noel Ryan, Oisin McAuley and many other great musicians of my generation. I also met up with the late Tommy Robinson in Miltown Malbay who was selling accordions that lay on the roof of his estate Mini car. I traded my 1950's B/C Paolo Soprani with Tommy for a couple of smaller two voice Hohner accordions. I always preferred the drier subtle sounding accordions and I loved how it played with fiddles, flutes and other instruments. I wasn't going to win a Fleadh Cheoil by using this style or type of accordion but I really didn't care about competitions, music meant more than that to me! I had these Hohner accordions tuned up by the late Arthur Hogan, he lived in Glencairn near Lismore,Co.Waterford. Arthur saw the I had a keen interest in accordion repair and was very generous in showing me some great tips in accordion tuning. 

    During these years weekly sessions were prominent throughout Co.Waterford and I remember heading off with my family almost every Saturday evening to some of the great pubs and dances in villages all over the Co.Waterford. We met up with many great Waterford musicians, Mickey Dalton is a great character and box player in Co.Waterford and he played a very encouraging role in my early years, nights in Mooney's Pub in Ring or McGraths Black Hill Pub in Dungarvan joining in with Mickey and friends was a great experience. Another great character in my life was the publican 'Frank Cooney', he was from Gort in Galway and he bought a pub' The old Dungarvan Oak' in Dungarvan Town and shortly after moved to another pub 'Tigh An Cheoil' in the Gaeltacht region of An Rinn. Frank knew all the musicians and was very encouraging to me growing up and he introduced me to many visiting musicians especially all the box players! I had some really memorable sessions at his pubs and heard some really great performances there by the best in the business.

 In 1993 I finished Secondary School and I really didn't think I had a High enough score in my Leaving Certificate exams to get accepted into 3rd level studies. I got a 'real' job in August 1993 at Dawn Meats Factory at Carroll's Cross in Co.Waterford only to find I had also received a place on the Production Engineering course at Waterford Regional Technical College. I worked up until college started and had made enough money to pay for a new wooden custom accordion by the French company 'Saltarelle' which I had ordered. The new C#/D Salterelle 'Bouebe' was delivered down to Co.Waterford by none other than accordion wizard Mairtín O'Connor, he was playing a concert in Tramore and is Saltarelle's Irish Agent, I had a choice from a few of the accordions out of this first batch Salterelle Boebe's to come to Ireland. During this year I also made my debut TV appearance on RTE television with my old friend Tomás Clancy as part of 'The Fleadh' program, we played 2 original tunes composed by Tomas which he affectionately called 'Clancys 1 & 2'. Myself, my brother Stephen and sister Sharon had a little group in 1993 with Pat Ryan & John Nugent called "The Spuds Are Boiling', we played and won a bunch of talent competitions and had many great sessions around Ireland.

 Later the same year I was asked along with Ciarán O'Gealbhain to play for some local figure dance teams in Co.Waterford for Scór competitions, both Bunmahon Senior team and Stradbally Junior team won the All-Ireland finals dancing to our music. 

   I remember going to Dingle & Ballyferritor in West Kerry for a fantastic May Bank holiday weekend in 1994 with Ciarán O'Gealbhain, Dónal Clancy & Donncadh Gough and few others, we were all fondly called 'Buachaillí Na Rinne' for the weekend. We had fantastic fun and all the energetic set-dancing was such fun to play for. We hung out with the mighty box player Padraig O'Shea and friends for the weekend, mighty  craic altogether!   

   Another team of figure Dancers from Modeligo, Co.Waterford invited myself & Ciarán to play for them on their visit to Brittany in France in summer of 1994. The boat sailing was 16 hours and all the time on board was spend with a big session of Irish and Breton musicians, Brittany became one of my favorite places to visit and I have a lot of great friends there.

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This same summer myself, Donnchadh Gough and Donal Clancy got our first big gig abroad at Mulligans Irish Pub in the Altstadt region of Düsseldorf in Germany, we were fairly wet behind ears in those days!

   I also had become great friends with the Ryan family of musician's in Clonmel, Co.Tipperary. They were all members of the Knocknagow Ceilí Band and in 1994 asked me to join the band. We recorded an album in the Gaelscoil in Clonmel that same year, the recording featured great musicians like Jack & Pat Ryan, Billy Clifford, John Nugent and many others. We played regularly with the Knocnagow in RTE radio's 'Ceilí House' hosted by Peter Browne and later Kieran Hanrahan. 


 I lived in Waterford City whilst in college there in 1995. I played many sessions there in some of the great pubs like Crokers, Mullanes & TH Doolans. The weekends were taken up with session gigs, concerts & ceilí's with my friends in Clonmel mostly. I recall hearing all about the Eurovision first performance on 'Riverdance' from college friends, I missed seeing it on TV as I was probably playing somewhere! The plans began in early 1995 for the trip to Lorient in the summer. The name 'Danú' was given to the band by our friend the fiddler Trisha Hutton from Carlow town. The original four people in Danú at Lorient 1995 were Daire Bracken, Donal Clancy, Donnchadh Gough & myself. On route to Lorient via Dublin we had a session with the Doorley brothers at the Comhaltas Culthurlann in Dublin, a promise was made there that evening that if a return visit to Lorient happened that Tom and Eamon Doorley would be added to the line-up. Danú was a big hit at Lorient and the four piece assured the return visit for 1996. We went into Liam Clancy's studio in September 1995 for a bit studio experience and to record a few demos. 

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The All-Ireland Fleadh the same year was in Listowel, Co.Kerry and I enjoyed this huge weekend with all my family and friends in the lovely old Carmody's Pub, a real memorable time.

   Finished with my studies I moved to Clonmel, Co.Tipperary and began working for a US Company called 'Seagate Technologies' in Jan 1996. Around this time Myself and Donal Clancy were also asked to join up with bodhran player Damien Quinn, vocalist Laura Thomas & Scottish fiddler Gavin Pennycook all based in Galway to form a new band which ended being called 'Amba'. Trips between Waterford and Galway were regular to rehearse. Amba was short lived unfortunately but we managed to make a short album and perform a few gigs. 

  Danú's return visit to Brittany in France became an important event for Danú, the band won 'Boolee Des Corrigan' a prize and were crowned 'best new band' of the festival. The last few months of 1996 saw Danú perform some Irish concerts with all earnings being put into the bands debut album and being recorded in Liam Clancy's studio in An Rinn in Co.Waterford. Danú performed regularly in Quays venue in Galway, the Friars Feile Festival in Ennis, Co.Clare and a few Waterford shows also. 

   Monday night's session in Lonergans Pub in Clonmel became a residency for me alongside Pat Ryan John Nugent and a host of great local players. We used to play Wednesday nights (and eventually Friday nights) Melody's Bar in Ballymacarbury and at weekends we could end up anywhere between Mulligans Bar in Amsterdam to The Foot Bar in the Glen Of Aherlow,Co.Tipperary. We were always going someplace and it was always great fun! 

 I was 21 years old in 1996, a job, my first car and my very own mobile phone, life couldn't get better! 

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My Dad died at the end of August 1996 and this was another great shock to myself, my whole family and all our friends, playing music yet again made a real difference during this difficult time and I also knew then my good day job would have to go and my gut and heart both told me to pursue music as my career, I handed in my notice to the Seagate company by the end of 1996.

   In January 1997 I was free as a bird I was full sure the future was going to be interesting, fulfilling and lots of fun! In March Danú had its first US tour mostly in California, we had our brand new debut album to sell which was really exciting. We had a great time in this wonderful new world, we were quite innocent at the time and people really were loving our music and our approach as a band. The Danú debut album was really well received and festivals all over started to take note of the band.

In April 1997 I did a short tour of three cities in Austria with some of the Danu members Donnchadh Gough & Timmy Murray and Offaly fiddler Dave Sheridan. 

  In May I was back in the USA again in St.Louis doing a 6-week residency at the famous music venue 'McGurks Irish Pub', this time with Tom Doorley & Timmy Murray. Our photo is on the wall of John D McGurks Pub in St.Louis someplace I'm sure?

 In July Danú had an outstanding concert in Saint Chartier in France, It was here I met the owners of Salterelle Accordions and the box builder Bertrand Gaillard. I got a little present of a tiny Saltarelle there and put a custom Saltarelled 12 bass box on order. I was very interested in Bertrand Gaillard's accordions but he didn't build my preferred 2 voice sized accordion at this time, we joked about it and I asked him to let me know when he decides to build my type box to contact me. Danu made their very first appearance Tonder Folk Festival in Denmark, it was an amazing experience and I can still remember our welcome to Denmark that year, amazing! 

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Rattle the boards, a group with Pat Ryan, John Nugent and myself recorded and released a Debut Album to a packed Regal Theatre in Clonmel in 1998. The album simply entitled 'Rattle The boards' received great review from music critics and music fans all over, we recorded it in Harmony Row Studios in Ennis,Co.Clare. 

Danú did a debut tour of Denmark in March 1998 also, it was a result of our successful performances at Tonder Festival, the band had many Danish fans. We were also asked to give a special performance at the celebrated Vossa Jazz Festival in Norway, Elvis Costello was headlining Vossa the same year. Danu introduced a new line-up at their return visit to Tonder Folk Festival in Aug 1998, my old friend Ciarán O'Gealbhain and the great US fiddler Jesse Smith joined the band. Tonder was really great as always, I met with an accordion hero Joe Derrane from Boston. It was also in Tonder that I met Florian Furst of 'Pure Irish Drops' Tour and he actually invited me to come on his tour the following year. Work started in 1998 on a new Danu album after we signed a record deal with US record label 'Shanachie Entertainment' , this was a really exciting time for me and the band.

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1999 saw Danú perform tours of USA, UK, Poland, Denmark, Norway & Switzerland. A highlight was when we closed mainstay Sunday night at the Cambridge Festival in UK, James Taylor and his band were playing before us imagine! The band also enjoyed their first concerts at the famous Washington Irish Festival in the US. Danú was voted 'Best Band' at the Irish Music Magazine awards in 1999.

   In the Autum I went on tour with the Pure Irish Drops project 'Next Generation' with Clare fiddler Michelle O'Brien and fellow Waterford based flautist Aine Fitzpatrick, we travelled all over Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, The Netherlands and The Cech. Republic. 

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My early years as a professional musician were getting really busy. The internet arrived for Danú this year with a website and e-mail introduced as a marketing tool for the band, communications were opening in all directions and the world as we knew it became smaller!


  Danú took over everything from the start of the new millennium with the international release of our album 'Think before you think'.  The US was a growing market for the band with venues and agents all over wanting to work with the band. A tour of Canada's largest Festivals, performances at America's biggest Irish festival 'Milwaukee Irish Fest' and some European shows kept us busy during the summer of 2000. The band started to tour more extensively in the UK near the end of the same year also. 

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The BBC announced Danú as 'Best Band' at its 2001 Folk Awards, an award rarely won by Irish acts, we were doing great in the UK and the tours were selling out. Danú had several extensive tours of the USA in 2001 with our new agent 'Real Good Music Agency', we were touring America for the months of March, April, June, July and September.  We played Tonder Folk Festival in Denmark again this year and fiddlerOisin McAuley joined Danú there. We combined many US tours with Canadian tours as we were on that side of the Atlantic so I made more sense. We performed at Lincoln Centre , Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and many of the best North American festivals during the summer of 2001. Danu was actually due to fly to Newyork City the day right after the 9/11 Twin tour disaster , we could only reschedule our flights for three days after the disaster and we started our tour at a very tough time in the US, we really didn't know what to say so we just let the music do its magic. 


   

The 2002 Danú release by Shanachie Label was "All Things Considered'. an album featuring or great friend and folk legend Liam Clancy, we were recording the album in his studio and we asked him to guest on a track, he dueled the song 'Easy & Free' with Ciarán . We performed on many TV shows in Ireland including a the famed 'Late Late Show'. This year I actually introduced my new 2 voice Bertrand Gaillard, the first of these accordion models to hit Ireland!  
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In 2003 Danú underwent a change of line-up, Donal Clancy and West Kerry singer Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh joined Danú. A new Danú album was recorded and released in 2003 called 'Road Less Traveled' we invited John Sheahan from the Dubliners to guest on the record, we had met and played with him at Tonder Festival the previous year, I had to tell John that his tune was a great inspiration to me when I started out. Danú did a many extensive tours of UK, Europe, US & Canada throughout this year. 

The well known Visual Artist 'Des Dillon' began work on a new Theatre show called 'Teac A Bloc' in 2003.  This theatre show featured all of Rattle The Boards with Des himself, a show set in a county house with all sorts of funny antics, music, song and dance, it was a big hit all over Ireland. Des also as it turned out was inspired to play harmonica by the famous album'Trip to Cullenstown'. Teac A Bloc performed two memorable sketches on 'Late Late Show' in Dec 2003. 

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  In 2004 the BBC crowned Danú 'Best Band' again and added a second title of 'best song' to Tommy Sand based on the version of the song Danú included on 'The Road Less traveled' album. In May 2004 we recorded a DVD in one of our favorite Dublin venue's 'Vicar St'.  We also released an new album of solo performances by the members of Danú, I thought at the time this was a good idea to help show the individual talents within the band, Shanachie releases it under the title 'Up In The Air' in 2004. 

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In 2004 Teac A Bloc released a cd called 'Music Of the Show'.I moved from Clonmel back to my home county of Waterford this year also, I bought a great home in the Sliabh gCua region, an area with great people, rich in music, song & history, there is also a wealth of old pubs full of great characters.

I got married to Anne Lebaupain from Lyon, France in April 2004, we had our wedding in the lovely Kilgobnet Church, the wedding was full of music, song and dance, the reception was fantastic in Clonea Strand Hotel set on the Waterford coast line just outside Dungarvan.

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   The year 2005 saw Danu release the DVD from Vicar St, we called it 'One Night Stand' after the fact that we recorded it all in one night, I designed a cover for the Irish release and acted as executive producer, it was a great experience sitting throughout the edit with the Director Fionn Mac Goilla Chuda. 

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By late 2005 Danú after yet again another busy touring year were back recording this time in Grouse Lodge Studios in Co.Weatmeath. The new record "When All Is Said and Done" had banjo-ace Gerry O'Connor joining us as special guest, the only track from all our albums to have Banjo!