Trad: Pádraig Rynne on redefining 'trad' and special show at An Droichead in Belfast

Ahead of their concert at An Droichead in Belfast tomorrow night, Robert McMillen chats to Co Clare concertina man Pádraig Rynne about his new quartet and eclectic career to date

Pádraig Rynne and his concertina in action
Robert McMillen

COMING to An Droichead tomorrow night is a quartet of master musicians, each of whom has gained international recognition for their exceptional talents.

Elaine Hogan and Pádraig Rynne first met while in secondary school and competed against each other with their schools in Slógadh. Conor Crimmins and Tara Breen were in college in Cork at the same time and spent many years playing and sharing music.

Tara and Pádraig have also performed as a duet as well as session musicians in many different bands and albums over the past number of years, so it was a natural progression that all these ties would bring the four musical friends together where they could explore traditional and newly composed melodies with arrangements that reflect their tastes in music.

"We all started with traditional music and for many of us, it's the music we gravitate towards most when the options are put in front of us," Pádraig explained to me earlier this week.

The quartet has produced a wonderful album called Avalla which is is a trad album of traditional Irish music with a mixture of their own compositions, others compositions by the likes of Dónal Lunny, Liz Carroll and so on as well as some traditional tunes.

Padraig has said that Avalla explores traditional, newly and self-composed melodies in the traditional form. The word 'traditional' might give the impression that the music is restricted to a certain rules, but Pádraig disagrees:

"'Traditional' means what you want it to mean," he says.

"I come from Co Clare, which, it can be argued, is a different type of tradition to that played in Kerry, Galway, Sligo, Belfast or abroad.

"Scottish music is also traditional and has many similarities to Irish music. I am not one that believes in rules in music unless you are asked to do it for a specific project.

"When the music is your own that you are creating, you search for connection and follow that. Sometimes it sounds terrible and you bin it and sometimes you get a breakthrough and you build upon it until it's a completed piece of music, be that traditional or any other type of music."

Which brings us nicely to Conscious, which showcases Padraig's interest in electronica and thinking outside the box when it comes to trad music. I asked him what the ambition was for the album.

"Well, Conscious is an album which I worked on over the past four years, so guests on it were asked because I was working with them during that time period.

"For example, you can see many members of the band Notify, which I was a member of at the time playing on the album. There are also some American musicians such as Mark Lettieri from Snarky Puppy, with whom I played with the last time I was to Belfast two years ago, Ariel Possen – an amazing slide guitarist from Canada whom I met at the Cork Jazz fest, Phillip Lassiter, who was head of Prince's horn section, and Dónal Lunny.

"I have been working with Dónal for over a decade in different projects so it was a no brainer drafting him in for two tracks and Jeremy Kittel played the string sections that I had scored out. I toured with Jeremy and he also played on my last album, Notify.

"There are plans for a new band that has grown from the popularity of this album and my previous solo album from 2013. It is a six piece band which has some very exciting musicians in the line-up, including fellow former Notify member Davie Ryan on drums and Graham Henderson on keyboards. We will launch the band next year with some Irish dates all going to plan."

Padraig admits he loved the idea of playing with bands which are so different to each other:

"The reason I've played in so many diverse bands over the years is because I love musical challenges," he says.

"Atlantic Arc is a nine piece band with some absolutely amazing musicians: Dónal Lunny – bouzouki, Ewen Vernal – bass, Davie Ryan – drums, Graham Henderson – keyboards, Sharon Howley – cello, Aidan O Rourke – fiddle, Jarlath Henderson – pipes and vocals, Pauline Scanlon on vocals, myself on concertina and the amazing Una Monaghan behind the steering wheel of the band on sound.

"The music is a mix of our own compositions and traditional songs and melodies from both Scotland and Ireland. I love the challenge of trying to work on the Scottish music especially, as its another learning curve.

"You also have the challenge of large arrangements and compositions from Dónal and Aidan which I find quite challenging but extremely enjoyable to work on. We are going into the studio early next year to make our first album as a band."

However, Pádraig has also stepped back from playing with his band Notify.

"I felt it was a good time for me," he says.

"We had started working on a new album which demanded a large amount of time, but I felt that I wasn't able to commit to the time needed to take the album to the next level that the band needed.

"Because of family, work, studio and other touring commitments, I had to make difficult choices which included walking away from the band. It was a very difficult decision but we are all very close still and as much as the music, I will miss the company, laughs and traveling that we did together.

"Their next album will be amazing based on what I had heard to date! They are some of the best musicians I have had the privilege of working with."

With musicians up for stretching traditional music in new ways, are Irish audiences more open to listening to new forms of music?

"I think so," says Pádraig.

"There is not a huge audience out there anyway for trad music unless you are a Planxty, Moving Hearts, Christy Moore or similar. Many of the younger generation seem to listen to music which is different to the mainstream pure trad music nowadays. I can see those stats on my own Spotify page.

"For example, the most streamed albums that I have released are Conscious [30,000 streams since August], my own solo album, Notify [130,000 streams since 2013] and Bye A While [222,000 streams since 2013].

"If you are to read into this, my trad album Bye A While is listened to slightly more than my Notify album which were both released for streaming at the same time.

"Conscious has punched way above its weight since its release and I would consider that to be much more groove orientated than the others. How do we determine what makes people choose what they want to listen to? Is it a groove, strong melodies, all that surrounds the melodies or the guests on the albums?

"I don't know but I do know that people listen and hopefully they come to listen live too."

:: Pádraig Rynne, Tara Breen, Conor Crimmins and Elaine Hogan, Saturday November 16, An Droichead. Tickets £12 via

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