On a recent visit to Dublin’s ‘Fair City’, I had the privilege of seeing two of the most famous bands in Irish traditional music.
He drew a capacity crowd to the grandeur of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the center of Dublin.
De Dannon started off in a dramatic fashion, with fiddle player Frankie Gavin sending clouds of rosin flying in all directions.
The second set of tunes, including reels and gigs, hark back to the glory days of the Flanagan Brothers of the 1920s and ’30s in New York.
The songs followed by singer Michelle Lally were truly amazing, delivered with a powerful majestic voice that was made in heaven.
After a bracing set of reels that paid homage to my own county men, famed Sligo Fiddle players Paddy Killoran and Michael Coleman, both of whom made impressive recordings in America at the beginning of the last century, Dee Dannon again took a ragged – A roaring version of ‘The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’, one of Handel’s masterpieces.
Tears and cheers spontaneously erupted as Gavin’s virtuoso play captured the goodwill of his mixed-age audience.
The second band, ‘Stockton Wing’, then took to the stage, and the crowd again burst into applause that filled this wonderful venue, Dublin’s second cathedral and Ireland’s largest church.
The band took its name from a line in Bruce Springsteen’s song ‘Backstreets’ – ‘Slow dance in the dark on a beach.’
One of its founders is Kieran Hanrahan, a well-known RTE radio presenter.
The next morning, in the luxury of one of Dublin’s most famous hotels, owned by none other than U2’s ‘Bono’, I met up with friendly Frankie Gavin where we talked about last night’s performance and Dee Dannon’s story Had it.
I asked him what he had in common with Bono and U2.
“I have little or nothing, to be honest with you. I love rock’n’roll, but I’ve been lucky enough to play with the best rock’n’roll band in the world; The Rolling Stones .’
“I was born and raised in Korrandulla, Galway.
“I got a tin whistle for my fourth birthday, and that’s where it all started.
“Music is in my blood because there was a huge amount of music on both sides of the family.
“All my siblings played fiddle and concertino, and I was able to pick up an instrument and play it by ear.
“By the time I was ten, I could master the fiddle, flute and other traditional instruments as well.
“I received some formal training in music, but my ability on the fiddle is mainly self-taught. When I was 17 I placed first in both fiddle and flute competitions in Ireland.
“I am the youngest in a family of four, and everyone in the house used to play. I was heavily influenced by Michael Coleman and James Morrison’s ’78 Recordings from County Sligo.
Frankie has played on several special occasions, including the 1961 visit of US President JF Kennedy to Galway and other presidents.
“I was lucky enough to play for President Kennedy when I was 6 years old, on a trip to Galway.
“I’ve played for a few other presidents since then. George Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
“The first time I got an invitation from the White House to play for George Bush, I couldn’t believe it and thought it was a prank.
“He was having a big dinner party for all his Irish-American friends; it was a wonderful occasion. Bush was a very funny guy.”
Dee Dannon spans several decades and Frankie remembers when the band first took the stage.
Around 1974, I launched the band. I was only fifteen at the time and was still in secondary school.
“We started the session at Hughes’s Pub in Spiddle; Myself, Charlie Piggott, Alec Finn and Johnny McDonagh.
“We seemed to be straight prison. Then we got a gig at a folk club in Dublin and it went from there.”
And the band’s name has its roots in Irish legends.
Frankie says, “The band was named after an Irish mythological tribe, ‘Tutha de Dannan’ and it has stuck ever since and is certainly an unusual name people remember it as.”
Dolores Keane later joined the band.
“Some boys were saying that it would be nice to have a singer with us.
“Dolores Keane was a close neighbor and a close friend, in fact my father had dated Dolores’ mother a while back.
“When Dolores joined us, she was an instant hit and we recorded the song ‘The Ramblin the Irishman,’ which put us on the map, I think.”
Then Dolores got married and went to work in London.
However, in later years he returned to do a few albums with Dee Dannon.
“Mary Black followed Dolores and we had a huge hit with ‘A Song for Ireland.
“Mary went on to pursue a solo career in more contemporary music after a few years. I then found Maura O’Connell singing at a hotel in Sixmillbridge in County Clare. She was just amazing.”
Among the many highlights for the band have been performances with some of the greatest names in the business, including The Rolling Stones.
Being with the “Stones” was absolutely wonderful, but it was terrifying to play with them in front of 80,000 people for the first time at the Oakland Arena outside of San Francisco.
“I remember Keith Richards saying that my instrument would be known as violin in the north and fiddle in the south of England.”
The band’s line-up has changed markedly over the years and Frankie is the only original member left.
“I would say the current De Dannan is the best version of the band. You have seen and heard us now, what do you think?,” he asks.
The fact is, I’ve never seen the original line up, and can only confirm their music on the record. They were a great band to listen to and had class written all over them.
The latest Dee Dannon is so good and talented, it’s hard for me to find fault with them.
Galway’s Michelle Lally has the voice of an angel, and she has a vast and varied repertoire of songs.
He has a voice that stays in the ear of the mind long after you hear it.
Barry Brady from Roscommon is a brilliant box player who raises spirit and gels with fiddle player Frankie. His unique style is based on punchy rhythms and sleek wristwork.
Galway’s Paul O’Driscoll on double bass De Dannon brings a whole new dimension to the sound and has a fine singing voice.
No one could help pointing out the jazz in her makeup.
Colm O’Coim is the youngest member from Kilkenny on guitar and can only be described as brilliant.
His understanding of instruments and finger skills is unparalleled.
In my humble opinion they have redefined the role of the guitar in Irish traditional music
What can be said about Frankie Gavin that hasn’t already been said?
Frankie played with the best from ‘The Rolling Stones’ to Stephen Grappelli.
In addition to co-founding and leading Dee Dannon for several years, Frankie Gavin has had an illustrious career as a solo artist and playing in doubles.
De Dannan’s story has long been cast in stone. The original band lasted more than 28 years, with many changes to the line-up, but still longer than any other Irish supergroup.
Big names like Mary Black and Sligo Man Tommy Fleming played their part in keeping the band in the limelight for years.
Frankie Gavin is a most polite and likable person who simply enjoys his music, and reminds me of the old Tina Turner hit: He’s Simply The Best.
In 2010, Gavin entered the ‘Guinness Book of Records’ as the fastest-fiddle player in the world.