Thursday, 5 April 2012

Thank you Barney McKenna (RIP)

I lost a dear friend today, as did many others around the world, for Barney McKenna made friends wherever he went. I first met him in January 1991, I would never have known the exact date (many years on) but it was then because I had gone to do a short interview with the Dubliners on a Friday evening. Finally, I left them to return back to work on the Monday...

Few people have made such a sudden and lasting impact on my life but you couldn't have found a more down to earth group of people and Barney was at the heart of it all. Playing the fiddle I naturally gravitated to learn from fiddler John Sheahan's playing BUT what an enormous amount I also learnt from Barney. In 2011 they did tours in Scotland and England and I joined them there. After, I went on a search for the old interview tapes from 1991 and was amazed by what I heard. And I wondered, did I have ANY idea then of what I was part of. The recorder was left to run on. The banter and craic was/is as mighty as the tunes which were played. But I also hear Barney, chatting away to me. So many things from these first conversations were absorbed without me consciously remembering it all but what a positive influence. Barney talks to me of the need to play, as often and as much as possible. To play at home and to play in sessions - to enjoy and always have fun with the music. And I know that Barney could never have done anything else with his life - a man you don't meet every day, one born to play, perform and have an ever lasting love affair with music.

Barney, the first time I met him
- in a session which went from Inverness to Aberdeen 

Listening to the tapes 20 years on - I couldn't believe how relaxed I am amongst such talented, highly gifted musicians and Barney's playing then - it was amazing. Over the years he'd say "my fingers, my fingers are tired" and indeed his playing did slow but he remained as quick witted, wickedly funny and as entertaining as ever. But perhaps what I liked the most is that he had an amazing memory for all the small details. He met my folks a few times and after they passed on, still he would always talk about them and remember little stories which made me smile. Also, I liked how he would speak his mind (tho' I might not have always liked what he said). The last time we talked he was giving me his unsolicited thoughts on what I should do with my life. I had a notion to move to Ireland but he was saying "no, not just now when there are so many economic problems". But isn't that the mark of a true friend, when they say "no, I think you're wrong on that one". Dear Barney, I will miss so many things about you. So often late to arrive, your wandering off so folks would be sent to look for you and almost, a capacity to be irritating at times because you would so just 'go do your own thing'. Yet already, even in my many tears, I have found myself at times laughing today at some of the many daft and hilarious memories you've left me with from so many meetings, over so many years. YOU WERE SUCH A GREAT CHARACTER (the real deal) and who could ever know you and not absolutely love you? So many tunes, so many laughs, you have left a hole in my world which will never be filled because, without doubt - Barney McKenna you really were a man that people would NOT meet every day, you were such a unique, entertaining and kindly character that anyone would be glad to meet you even just once in their lifetime.

Barney McKenna - Thanks with all my heart
for the music, stories and time you shared with us all

When a person has left us, it is very traditional to say RIP. But this kind of seems inappropriate in the case of Barney - instead, I'd say I hope for Barney that he is sat in the middle of some great almighty session, that his pals who have gone ahead of him are now all reunited around him at last. That Barney is striking up the banjo or playing the box, that the pace of the tunes in his heart are now free to run and dance again at the speed that they once did before his fingers grew tired with old age. And, when the music stops, I wish for some time for Barney to go out fishing, fishing on the sea as he loved to do with his boat. But Barney, you were a fisherman on land as well as at sea - with your tunes and craic, you caught people, gathered them in and brought them to you. You were a friend who I will never, ever forget - a man who left the world a far richer place than it was when you came in to it. Around the world your music and banter has meant so much to so many and your legacy lives on - Thank you Barney McKenna.

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