Tommy peoples

Intimate portrait of a musical great

Tommy Peoples’s new album is “Recorded at Fiddler’s Hearth,” while his “Ó Am Go hAm” is a fiddle tutor and tunebook of 383 pages.

By Daniel Neely

Tommy Peoples is one of Irish music’s legendary figures. A member of the legendary Bothy Band, Peoples was born into a strong fiddling tradition in County Donegal, was a longtime resident of County Clare, lived for a brief period in the Boston area, and made several notable solo albums. He was named TG4/Gradam Ceoil's first Traditional Musician of the Year Award in 1998 and its Composer of the Year in 2013. It’s really quite hard to overestimate how important he’s been to the music.

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Fortunately, however, it’s really very easy to enjoy his playing and as of earlier this year, there is much more to enjoy. “Recorded at Fiddler’s Hearth” is Peoples’s new album. A live recording made in 2005 at the album’s titular music venue in South Bend, Ind., the album presents an intimate portrait of one of the greats who puts his maturity, taste and personality on full display on this outstanding offering.

The album is quite simply brilliant. Those who are familiar with Peoples’s music will recognize the superior phrasing, bow work, variation and ornamentation that are the hallmarks of his playing. As one might expect, he applies these elements to a solid selection of tunes, which tell fascinating, evocative stories that become windows onto the tradition. Tracks like “Sheehan’s / …” and “The Boy In The Gap / …” stand out not only for the playing but for the stories behind them. “The Humours of Ballyloughlin / …” is a very compelling rendition of a lovely jig, while “The Fairest Rose,” done both as a slow air and a hornpipe, is gorgeous track. Then there’s “Miss Crawford’s / …” which features some very, very impressive playing, indeed. Peoples can even take a tired session tune like “Christmas Eve” and make it sound special. It’s impressive music all around.

The album also includes several of Peoples’s own compositions, including “The Fairest Rose,” both hornpipes in “The Rumour / …” set, the jigs in the “Dave and Dan’s / …” set, reels like “Black Pat’s,” “Pat McHugh’s,” and others. The tunes are lovely and while their various origin stories are explained in brief in the album’s liner notes, those interested in a more in-depth diegesis on Peoples’s music are encouraged to consult his book “Ó Am Go hAm/From Time To Time” to learn more.

Released in 2015, “Ó Am Go hAm” is an expansive fiddle tutor and tunebook of 383 pages (which includes copious photos and original Peoples artwork) in two sections. The first is instructional. There, Peoples walks users through tunes in a variety of keys, discusses the occasional different version of a tune, explains his approach to bowing for many tunes, and conveys a sense of where his music came from and how it’s all bound together. However, the second, much longer section, is a collection of Peoples’s own compositions, some of which appear on this, and other, of Peoples’s album. He explains each tune in great depth, which gives readers a keen insight not only into Peoples-as-composer, but into who he is as a person. The stories he tells are funny and moving, sometimes comic, other times tragic, but uniformly fascinating as a whole. They reveal a picture of a principled musician who is not only a keen observer of the world around him, but one who recognizes and finds comfort in its poetry. It goes well with the album and although not necessary for enjoying the album on its own, I found it helped enrich my listening experience.

“Fiddler’s Hearth” is a CD of very beautiful solo fiddle playing from one of the music’s true legends. The music is complex and rich, but also eminently listenable and thus a must-buy for any lover of Irish music. While not exactly an official companion, “Ó Am Go hAm” is an important book of tunes that I also recommend very highly. Because it mostly deals with the nuts and bolts of his music it will most certainly have a stronger appeal for musicians, but it is packed with stories, illustrations, photo, and memories that true fans of the music will enjoy. Definitely check them out! Both CD and book are available directly from Peoples himself through his website, www.tommypeoples.ie.