Daithí Gormley’s talent revealed itself early.
By Daniel Neely
Daithí Gormley is one of the great button accordion players in the music today, and he’s recently released “Fiddling Without A Bow,” his solo debut. This album features the sort of no-frills, high-stakes playing that one might say drank straight from the well. It’s music that will perhaps elicit a bit of nostalgia for the old days in the older folks, while at the same time cause a younger player to sit up in rapt attention and wonder how playing like that is done. Either way, this album has quite a bit to offer lovers of traditional music and is worth a close listen.
From Lavally, a townland in County Sligo, between Ballintogher and Riverstown, Gormley was born into a music rich place and into a family with some remarkable musical connections. Sligo is, of course, one of the great homes of traditional music. David Sheriden, his great-grandfather on his mother’s side, was a well-known melodeon player from the area. On his father’s side, his grandmother’s cousin was Sligo fiddle legend James Morrison (a connection that factored into his decision to write his master’s thesis about Morrison at NUI Galway’s Centre for Irish Studies). Indeed, being from Sligo afforded him the opportunity to hear some of the great players growing up and to learn from the likes of accordion greats P.J. Hernon and Joe Burke,
His talent revealed itself early and over the years he’s been a perennial high-level competitor in solo, grupa cheoil, and céilí band Fleadh Cheoil competition. He was Senior Button Accordion champion in 2015 and surely many will recognize him as the leader of the incredible Knocknashee Céilí Band. Formed in 2014, the band has placed second in the All-Ireland Senior Céilí Band competition several times, most notably in 2017 when they famously tied for second with Tyrone’s Blackwater Céilí Band. They’re an extremely impressive band, as you would expect from their leadership and track record of success.
As for the music on the album at hand? It’s utterly fantastic. Gormley’s playing is robust and expressive, and it’s rife with little details that draw the ears. (The album’s title referring to “fiddling without a bow” is apt.) The album opens with the outstanding reel set “My Love Is Fair And Handsome / …” and then its off to the races. “Jacksons / …,” a jig set, follows, and it’s there Catherine McHugh’s piano playing first pops out with great distinction. She features on every track and brings a groundedness that brilliantly enhances Gormely’s vision. Other standout tracks include “The Reel Of Bogey / …,” the waltz track “The Nightingale / …,” and especially the reels “Billy McEvoy’s No. 1 / …,” on which Gormley and McHugh are joined by fiddle player Sorcha Costello. The three of them together sound deadly on what is surely one of the album’s best tracks.
There’s a lot to be said for the tunes Gormley’s chosen here, many reflect a keen understanding of his own accordion playing lineage; others speak to Gormley’s upbringing in Sligo. As an aside some readers will be interested to know that Gormley is the co-author (with Oisín Mac Diarmida) of “Fiddlers of Sligo,” a tunebook that includes analysis and discussion of tunes and fiddle styles from Sligo. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to examine this volume first hand, but it looks impressive and is likely an invaluable resource for musicians (especially fiddle players).
“Fiddling Without A Bow” is a first class release. Gormley’s done a great thing here with his solo debut. His playing is exceptional, the tune selection first rate, and it’s all delivered a great pace with all the lift you could want. Surely, this is an accordion album any fan of trad music will want to have. For more information and to hear more, visit daithigormley.bandcamp.com.
Daniel Neely writes about traditional music in the Irish Echo each week.