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The Duncairn

Putting arts at the heart of North Belfast since 2014, come and see what’s going on in Belfast’s Cultural Quarter!

Francis McIlduff: A Night On Theodore Street

Francis McIlduff: A Night On Theodore Street

On a warm night at The Duncairn in May 2019, renowned uilleann piper Francis McIlduff launched his long awaited solo album Theodore Street with a full band of accomplished musicians, specially put together to add ballast to his own pipes, bodhran and whistle. The Duncairn’s photographer Stan Nikolov was there to capture the event.

“They were fantastic,” McIlduff beamed about his supporting band as he talked after the packed out show. “They all gave their time to this and I have to say they were wonderful. They’re all great musicians in their own right,” he went on, pointing out the merits of each one. “I mean David [Preston, the singer, song-writer, producer and multi-instrumentalist] is a great singer songwriter and a great guitar player, but he played bass tonight with us and a little bit of guitar. Jim [Rainey the singer-songwriter who was on guitar and vocals] he of course writes songs and has an album mixed and recorded. He just hasn't released it yet. Then of course my brother, he helped out with everything.” [“My brother and I are very, very close and I wouldn't be able to do anything without him.”] .

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“I can only be happy with how it went,” McIlduff told me as he scanned The Duncairn’s green room for any remaining items. “It’s the first time we’ve played together,” he pointed out. “We've never played on stage together and we had to go through a fairly complicated sound check.”

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“The whole first half of the show was the new album Theodore Street,” he explained of the two elements to the show. For us in the audience it was smooth, warm, natural. Top artists in their natural habitat. In reality though it took a lot of effort on each musician’s part to make this work. “It was difficult to play because on the album I played all the instruments, so asking other people to cover that is kind of unnatural to them. They did a great job though. It took up most of their time to try and copy that because if you’re writing individual music it’s kind of awkward, it’s different from what you’ve heard before.”

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Not every musician would have been up to the job. McIlduff has a particular style of playing and writing that adds to his unique sound, but it also makes things that bit trickier for other musicians to come on board. “I don't really play guitar properly,” he explained. “I use it more like a bodhran. I put it into an open tuning and sort of bang it more than strum it. Or sometimes you have the tune first and then you can come up with an interesting rhythm for something.”

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Guitarist Jim Rainey fully understands what McIlduff is talking about. “It’s been tough because Francis did all the parts on the album himself and it’s surprisingly difficult to play because he doesn't play like a guitar player. It’s been hard work for me to learn and I think it’s because he’s a bodhran player, he's a rhythm player. So he has this idea of rhythms - where I would be doing down-strokes he would be doing up-strokes, it really threw me,” he laughed. “But it was a good challenge and really good fun. When you get a good group of personalities together, practising, and rehearsing, and arranging, and writing, it’s a good bit of craic. “

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“Ever since I heard Francis playing years ago I've admired him as a piper,” Rainey continued.  “So once I heard his album and heard he was maybe looking for musicians to help him play it live, I was 100%: ‘Yes! I'll do that!’  I'm delighted to be involved. We've got one or two shows in the pipeline. We've done a lot of work on it so it would be a shame not to get out and promote it.”

Keep your eye out for shows over the summer and beyond.

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Francis McIlduff on the Music, Ideas &  Lineage Behind his New Album 'Theodore Street'

Francis McIlduff on the Music, Ideas & Lineage Behind his New Album 'Theodore Street'