Trad/roots: Concertina player Pádraig Rynne brings electronica into the mix

The recession gave Pádraig Rynne the opportunity to turn a passion for the concertina he'd had since he was eight into making music his full-time occupation. He talks about marrying the instrument with his his other grá, electronica

Pádraig Rynne and Notify will be performing at the MAC in Belfast on Sunday with the Mark Lettieri trio
Robert McMillen

IT IS incredible how the world of music has changed over the past decade or so. Change has always been part of the way people hear music, since Sligo’s Michael Coleman and others first recorded traditional Irish music on 78s in the USA back in the 1920s.

Since then, we’ve had vinyl records, cassettes, CDs and now many of us stream music through any number of devices at home, in the car or while walking up a mountain.

One man who knows all about traditional music and the technology that goes into making it and brings it to our ears is Pádraig Rynne, a Clare-born concertina player, composer and producer and one of the most influential folk musicians of his generation.

But like all Cláirinígh, if legend is to be believed, Pádraig was inducted into traditional music from an early age.

“I grew up listening to traditional Irish music because my dad Tom was an accordion player and my uncle Joe Rynne was a well-known fiddle player,” he recalls but it was the concertina that drew the young musician.

“Well, I was told I couldn’t play it because it was an expensive instrument – and I remember my parents tried to coax me into playing the concert flute. But there was a guy living nearby called Paddy Murphy, who would have been in his 70s at the time, and he gave me his concertina one evening when we visited his house and that started the romance with the instrument. I just loved the tone of it and the fact that there were so many buttons on it made it more appealing for me as an eight-year old,” says Padraig.

Those kind of evenings sitting around the fire and just playing music is something there isn’t enough of nowadays, we agree.

As he developed his skills, Padraig found himself in demand for playing at sessions and other A-lister musicians were drawn to his talents. But it was fate that made him the professional musician he is today.

“I was working for a local paper in Ennis and when the bubble burst, we were let go,” he explains. “It was a question of going back to another job that I would hate as a graphic web designer or giving music a go full time, so basically, if it weren’t for the recession I wouldn’t be a professional musician.”

With hope and history rhyming, as a certain Bellaghy man would say, Padraig has seized the opportunity and has been playing with such highly regarded bands as Guidewires and Triad as well as the usual traditional mathematics of duos, trios and quartets. But what makes Padraig stand out is his willingness to experiment with electronica, as can be heard in his latest band, Notify, a band neatly described as being “at the crossroads of traditional Irish music, jazz and ambient electronica".

He has an MA in music technology from the University of Limerick – I ask him, what insights has the MA given him when it comes to his own music and to music in general?

“Well, I’ve always had a massive interest in electro-acoustic music and doing the masters gave me the perfect opportunity to investigate what was possible between the concertina and electronics and to bring that into my own music. I’d always wanted to bring electronica and traditional music together,” says Pádraig.

While he doesn’t often use the whole gamut of effects he learned in college, Padraig now uses a computer much more when composing traditional tunes.

While technology is an exciting new add-on to music making, there is an area where its all-embracing influence is not so welcome and that is in how people consume music, how everyone wants everything for free nowadays and the impact that has on professional musicians, and especially traditional musicians.

Pádraig explains what new streaming services have meant for him and how Notify are taking a different approach to releasing music.

“We feel the days of CD releases are realistically becoming less and less of a successful way of releasing music,” he argues.

“Compared to two years ago, all CD sales for us and other groups we are involved in have dropped by 90 per cent roughly. At the same time, our online following in Apple iTunes and Spotify has exploded.

“This is a very difficult shift for us as a band. Financially it means it costs a hell of a lot to release new music and we struggle to recoup the losses. At the same time, it's vital for us to release new music so that we can perform and, to be very honest, we could not cope with our musical lives without being creative and letting people hear it. It all seems pointless otherwise.”

The Notify plan is to record some live music and video which they will be releasing over the coming months. This means the band may be able to “stay a bit more current rather than releasing a full album which gives you a month or so in people's minds before they move onto the next new release".

“We’re hopeful that this new move will benefit us even if it is a risky approach. We are unaware of anyone else doing it so we don't have a template to follow,” says Padraig.

The first video the band has made is called the Aud, which was recorded live in Mother Jones Flea Market in Cork city.

However, one could never accuse Pádraig of navel-gazing. At the minute, as well as a new solo album with his long-standing musical partners, he is working on new albums with Notify, Aeons (electronica and Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, yeah!) and also a duet album with bouzouki-player Mick Broderick.

And great news – Notify are also on an Irish tour where they are collaborating with the double Grammy award winner Mark Lettieri and his trio. Mark is the lead guitarist with the ever popular Snarky Puppy and has worked with Eminem.

The bands play at the MAC in Belfast this Sunday (November 19) at 8pm. It should be a belter.

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