Trad/roots: YouTube has a treasure trove of traditional music, past and present

Stuck for a trad fix? Fear not if you're broke, incapacitated or there simply isn't a gig on near you – YouTube has some surprising gems that'll keep you tapping those toes

Gettin' Jiggy with it, via YouTube
Gettin' Jiggy with it, via YouTube

THERE’S nothing like being at a fiery session or an intimate gig of traditional music and it can happen anywhere. I’ve been at roof-raising decibel-busting, blood-bursting, heart-racing mega-jams in a marquee on the Isle of Skye and in the intimate surroundings of Vicar Street to listen to Planxty on their last – as in, ultimate – return to the stage.

As Andy Irvine said to me later, you could feel the love coming up from the audience on what was an unforgettable night.

Or even more minimalist, well, every gig that I’ve ever been to involving Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh has been special, such as when he played with Dan Trueman at the Duncairn and with Cormac Begley at An Droichead.

But not everybody can get to a gig and what if they want to hear to long-departed heroes of traditional music? The answer, my friends, is of course, YouTube.

There is a vast wealth of traditional music and singing to be found on line with the added bonus that you can see the musicians at work, be it Séamus Ennis (there’s a lot on Ennis on the TG4 Player given it was 100 years since his birth recently) or Junior Crehan or Johnny Doherty.

These people and many more like them were the well from which later generations drew. We can see the early Planxty and the Bothy Band and marvel equally at the music and the hairstyles.

Video lets you experience the various regional styles that are on the wane and you can marvel at everything from Sliabh Luachra polkas (Matt Cranitch on fiddle, bos player Dónal Murphy and Steve Cooney on guitar doing great versions of Many a Wild Night /John Walsh's (Newmarket)/John Walsh's No. 2 (Daly's Mill) is a fine example)? to Donegal Highlands as played by Tommy Peoples and Dermot Byrne on one video.

It is great to see the development of Irish instrumental music from the "tradition" to the current taste for "fusion" and experimentation.

There’s even a video I recorded myself at the first ever Aldoc gig live at Campbell’s in Headford, Co Galway. What a night that was!

Now, I don’t know what the musicians of the 1940s and 1950s would think of Jiggy or Notify or the olllam but the developments and the trips down musical roads less travelled that Irish traditional music has taken are there for all to see and I, for one, love the journey.

Jiggy in particular embue their music with a huge dollop of fun and great videos flying in the face of the “purists”.

But be warned. Not everything on YouTube is the bee’s knees. Amateur “tutors” of various instruments should be taken with a great degree of salt although some, of course, are excellent.

Not everything is totally respectful either, so you can watch Sophia Loren and Sabor Cubano dance to My Love Is In America played by Dublin fiddler Tommy Potts. The results are hilarious.

For singing, the streaming channel is often a joy, especially of you want to go to the roots of the folk revival. For unaccompanied singing, Paddy Tunny and Geordie Hanna are worth listening to, as is Margaret Barry and the wonderful Sarah Makem and Sarah Anne O'Neill but there is so much more.

There are of course many YouTube videos of sean-nós singing and the song Amhrán Mhuinise sung by Connemara’s Síle Denvir from Líadan, has been watched an incredible 389,448 times.

Other favourites of mine include Paul Brady and Capercaillie’s Karen Matheson singing Ae Fond Kiss as part of the Transatlantic Sessions series; Sinéad O’Connor singing on Raglan Road, Cara Dillon singing There Were Roses – but there is literally something for everyone who is interested in trad to be found on YouTube.

Yes, it is of varying quality but well worth an evening in – when there aren’t any live gigs to go to.


I MENTIONED the wonderful Cormac Begley and his whole orchestra of miscellaneous concertinas; he is back at An Droichead, off Cooke Street on the Ormeau Road, in Belfast with fiddler, Liam O’Connor.

Liam and Cormac have forged an exciting fiddle and concertina duet. Liam, one of Ireland’s leading fiddle players, was born into a musical family in Dublin and his solo album The Loom has received five-star reviews and was voted Traditional Album of the Year by The Irish Times in 2017.

Cormac is a bass, baritone, treble and piccolo concertina player from the west Kerry musical dynasty. His debut solo album has also received critical acclaim, amassing nine five-star reviews to date.

They played their first concert together at the National Concert Hall in late 2017 and were both nominated for instrumental musician of the year at the inaugural RTÉ One Folk Music Awards in 2018.

:: The duo play at An Droichead on May 25 at 8pm. Tickets from bit.ly/2Q3uNvs.


AN EVENT I’ve been looking forward to for a while is happening the Duncairn tonight where piper Francis McIlduff will launch his new long, long-awaited debut album followed by a concert with guest artists.

Francis is a son of the McPeake family and plies his trade as one of the best pipers in Ireland, as well as with the bodhran and whistle.

A regular Belfast session player and a member of band At First Light, the renowned musician has eventually completed his first solo album, Theodore Street, which he describes as “a collection of tunes influenced by what has happened over the years with my family and friends”.

It’s a personal collection with every note written, and every instrument played, by McIlduff himself.

:: Don’t miss this very special launch of a quiet man telling his story through music. Tickets from bit.ly/30jql0e