Martin Hayes - creating Celtic Diologues


In 1991 the Catalan early music pioneer and viola da gamba virtuoso Jordi Savall performed the music for Tous Les Matins du Monde, Alain Corneau’s film about the seventeenth century composers Sainte-Colombe and Marin Marais. The soundtrack went on to sell more than a million copies. One of those copies found its way to the County Clare-born fiddler Martin Hayes, who immediately recognised Savall as a kindred spirit.


It took twenty-two years for these two musicians to share a stage and when they did perform together, at the National Concert Hall in Dublin in August 2013, they found that, despite their very different musical backgrounds – Savall is a product of the Barcelona Conservatory of Music; Hayes learned to play by ear from his late father, P. Joe Hayes, the legendary leader of the long-lived Tulla Ceili Band – they shared something fundamental. It’s this common trait that makes their appearance together in Celtic Dialogues at the Usher Hall on Sunday, August 9 such an intriguing prospect.


“The guiding factor for both of us is that we love a melody,” says Hayes, whose idea it was for Savall to join himself, pianist Peadar O’Riada and fiddler Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh, from Hayes’ BBC Radio 2 Folk Award-winning group The Gloaming, in Dublin. “Playing with Jordi had been on my wish list since I first heard Tous les Matins du Monde. I just loved the incredible sensitivity of his playing and I’m sure it made me ponder the finer points of my own playing. From listening to that album I could imagine his approach working very well in Irish music and of course I turned around and he’d recorded some Irish music.”


For Savall, the attraction of playing Irish music was that, like all traditional music, it springs from ordinary people’s lives and experiences. On a visit to the British Library he was surprised and not a little excited, however, to find a collection of manuscripts, for own instrument, of tunes he had assumed came from an entirely oral tradition. Composers such as the blind harper Turlough O’Carolan, a contemporary of J.S. Bach, had left behind music that, although originally intended as formal works often dedicated to patrons, had passed into the Irish tradition.


“I also found in these manuscripts that there were more than twenty different tunings for the viol, which was fascinating for me,” says Savall. “And because the viol had no uninterrupted sequence of being played from generation to generation, unlike Irish music, I felt I could never be part of the Celtic tradition until I found these manuscripts. So it’s been very exciting for me to discover how to present this music in an honest way – not trying to imitate how players interpret it today but using improvisation and ornamentation to bring out the emotions behind the tunes.”


As someone for whom improvisation and ornamentation, albeit in a stripped down form, has been central to his own approach in his successful duo with guitarist Dennis Cahill, who also joins him in Celtic Dialogues, Hayes recognises in Savall someone who knows how to breathe life into old music.


“We’re coming from different traditions,” says Hayes, “but we found when we played in Dublin that there’s a place in the middle where we can meet and bring our own interpretations. I haven’t worked very often with Andrew Lawrence-King, who’ll be playing the harp in Edinburgh, but I know that he and Frank McGuire, who plays bodhran, are listeners, as we all are, and that’ll be reflected in the music.”


After all, as Jordi Savall puts it, “It’s Celtic Dialogues – we’re not out to create a confrontation!”



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