Enda scahill

London steps up for ‘new normal’

Enda Scahill is one of the finest and most technically proficient banjo-players around.

Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely

The traditional music community is a resilient bunch, and at this point we’re seeing myriad (and increasing) ways in which we’re adapting to and building on what for the time being is “the new normal.” It’s just great.

Last week I wrote about the herculean efforts the O’Flaherty Retreat had taken to go completely online (www.oflahertyretreat.org, Oct 18-Nov 8), and it turns out they’re not the only festival providing online offerings this fall. In a few short days, the “Return to London Town” festival, presented by Irish Music and Dance in London, will take place Oct. 23–25, and in addition to a number of in-person (but distanced) live events in London, like workshops and concerts, they’re providing a number of great virtual offerings the Echo’s readers will want to be aware of because they can be a part of them if they so choose.

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Organized by the brilliant Karan Ryan, the festival, which for its first 20 years was known as Return to Camden Town, is in its 22nd year. In an email, Ryan described some of the shifting challenges they’ve had to respond to as they prepared for things. Suffice to say, it’s been different than before. “Our plans for this year's Festival have remained flexible for months, changing where necessary at every turn,” she wrote. “We had socially distanced events planned at the Clayton Crown Hotel up until four weeks ago, when the new ‘rule of 6’ government regulation came down hard on the hospitality industry, meaning the hotel had to cancel everything in their calendar this side of Christmas which could be deemed ‘social.’”

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However, it turned out that some of the funding they’d applied for allowed them to make some strategic decisions that enabled them to carry on. For example, it let them approach Cadogan Hall – a venue that normally has a capacity of 900 seats – and arrange for a socially distanced audience of 270 with enough space left over for filming so they could stream to those who wanted it.


In addition, Ryan said that because they had decided months ago not to risk the quarantine situation, they instead came up with the idea for a pre-arranged “Trad Cinema.” “Filming [for the concert] took place at The Dock Arts Centre, Carrick on Shannon, Co. Leitrim, a couple of weeks ago,” she explained. “The end result will be a triple concert of approximately two and a half hours (with some little interview snippets too), which will be shown on the biggest cinema screen in the UK –BFI IMAX Waterloo – to a socially distanced audience of 240 people, and also be made available to stream worldwide.”

The concerts (which will be streamed worldwide!) will feature Dervish, Noreen O’Sullivan, Seán & Frankie Gavin with George Grasso, and Gatehouse (23rd); and John and James Carty, The London Lasses w/ Pete Quinn, and Le Chéile (24th). The virtual workshops (which complement a number of in-person and distanced workshops), will take place on the 24th via Zoom and feature Angelina Carberry (banjo), Éadaoin Ní Mhaicín (harp), Jack Talty (concertina), Shiela Friel (uilleann pipes), Noreen O’Sullivan (whistle), Cathy Jordan (singing), Martin Tourish (piano accordion), Michael Holmes & Brian McDonagh (accompaniment), Liam Kelly (flute), Tom Morrow (fiddle) and Shane Mitchell (button accordion).

There is a lot of great opportunity here for lovers of traditional music to watch, learn and enjoy, and I hope readers will take advantage. To learn more about “Return to London,” its online offerings, and its in-person events, visit www.returntolondontown.org or www.irishmusicinlondon.org.

Speaking of online offerings, this past week Enda Scahill launched his online version of “Irish Banjo Tutor Volume 1.” Called “the first ever comprehensive guide to the Irish Tenor Banjo,” Scahill’s physical book and CD set has had an important impact on banjo players worldwide since its release in 2008.

Scahill is one of the finest and most technically proficient banjo players out there and this platform provides a rare opportunity to really dig deep into the elements of his style (and that of his WeBanjo3 bandmates) and learn directly from a master.


What does the online version of Scahill’s book offer? In addition to a PDF of the book itself, Scahill has found a very versatile platform called “Soundslice” on which to present his lessons. Some readers may recognize this name, as it was what Liam O’Connor used to create the content for the extraordinarily impressive archive of P.W. Joyce’s book “Old Irish folk music and songs” on the Irish Traditional Music Archive’s website (tinyurl.com/PWJoyce). If you’ve seen what O’Connor was able to do there, you’re familiar with what Soundslice offers.

Here, Soundslice lets users to watch Scahill demonstrate his tunes and technique from two angles simultaneously. In addition, they can follow along in real time with notation and tablature. The platform further provides a range of tools that enable users to articulate with the content in a number of ways. For example, one is able to slow down and speed up the video and audio playback without changing the pitch to suit their ability. It’s possible to loop complicated passage to facilitate focused work, see a real-time illustration of the notes being played on the fretboard and more.

This is an incredible resource for banjo players and will be of intense interest for anyone who plays the instrument. Also, having been featured on the ITMA’s website, and now employed by Scahill, I expect Soundslice to become a much more important pedagogical platform in the very near future for all manner of instruments – anyone who teaches will want to look into it. To learn more about Scahill’s impressive course and to see a demonstration track, visit tinyurl.com/ScahillTutor.