Trad for it


IT’S the town that produced The Smiths, New Order, Joy Division, Oasis and the Stone Roses so when the music scene in Manchester is referenced it’s usually in the context of rock and indie music.

But away from the wailing guitars and stadium anthems the famous city has a world class traditional Irish music scene, fostered by Irish immigrants of the 1950s and faithfully kept alive by their sons and daughters.

This scene has produced no little amount of talent and the Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts devoted last weekend’s City of Traditions, Belfast Manchester and Friends festival to celebrating this influence.

It’s fair to say the sold out weekend of events wouldn’t have happened without the input of world class musician Mike McGoldrick, who not only performed the headline gig on Saturday night but turned up on Sunday morning to lead a workshop in the hope of inspiring the next generation of traditional musicians.

Taking five minutes from his busy schedule, Mike said the trad scene in his home town was as strong as ever and he and his peers were serious about developing the next generation of musicians.

“There’s five of us over from Manchester for the gig and our parents or grandparents are Irish so I suppose it’s through them that we keep the tradition going. 

“When they came to Manchester in the 1950s it was important to them to keep their culture - whether that was through Gaelic football or music or whatever - so we were raised in that environment.

“I grew up in England and went to school in England and grew up loving The Smiths and loving Oasis and loving what people in England loved like football. But with all that you still had those very strong Irish roots and we have always been interested in maintaining those so me and my friends went to music classes every week as children. When we got to 15 and 16 we started little bands and had gigs in pubs and clubs that’s how we got to where we are.”

Mike has appeared on stage with Mark Knopfler and is a former Instrumentalist of the Year winner at the BBC Folk Awards so his legacy is secured. But having grown up in a community were the continuity of traditional music is so important, it is no surprise Mike didn’t come to Belfast on his own.

“We were talking two years ago about doing something between the cities and bringing kids over from Manchester so we could inspire them. 

“We have ten students over with us and today and there has been workshops with musicians from Belfast so they have been learning new tunes and making new friends who they will meet up with when they go to festivals. The connections will just build from there.”

Mike says he has no concerns about the future. 

“The Manchester trad scene is really healthy. Emma (Sweeney) and Fiona (Brown) and Angela (Durcan) who are over with me to perform are teaching up to three times a week back home. Angela teaches traditional music in Manchester to over 150 kids as well as going into primary schools where she teaches banjo, uilleann pipes, flute and concertina. A lot of these kids have no Irish background and are from places like Afghanistan and Africa and all over Europe and they are really talented. It’s brilliant.”

Fostering links between the two cities is important, says Mike.

“Belfast is brilliant. I first came here when I was 18. I had been working in Germany and met John McSherry and we played the same music and were inspired by the same people like the Bothy Band, and Planxty, and the piper Paddy Keane and the flute player Matt Molloy. When I first heard John playing we quickly locked into each other’s style and he asked me if I came to Ireland much and I told him about my summer trips to relatives in rural Mayo and Galway so he invited me to Belfast.

“It was 88/89 before I got here and I’ll never forget it because before I came I new a lot of tunes and thought I was a good player but I remember leaving Belfast thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know any tunes!’. What I heard here was different and I remember buying a lot of CDs so I could learn these new tunes so when I came back to Madden’s and Kelly’s and all these session haunts I would know what I was doing. 

“Now 25 years later I’m here in this beautiful centre that’s keeping the tradition going and you’ve 10 kids from Manchester in there playing with 50 kids from from Belfast so what more could you ask for?”