Many strings to his bow: Martin Hayes on finding inspiration
After a long musical journey, the fiddler Martin Hayes finds inspiration in everything from Bach to Arvo Pärt and Sigur Rós
Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times
A quiet, slow day in Feakle. Few are about in the late-summer noontime lull in this part of east Co Clare. Martin Hayes is waiting patiently outside Pepper’s pub, on the edge of the village. He has a place up the hill from here, he says, but didn’t want to send us up those boreens for fear we’d never find him.
Inside Pepper’s you’ll spot traces of Hayes in photographs and posters on the wall. It’s the local trad-session pub, and the history of Hayes the fiddler has dovetailed with places like this over the years.
It was in rooms like this that Hayes learned his trade and built a reputation for his dulcet, delicate, textured playing. It was rooms like this that helped to make him the champion musician he is today.
These days, though, he and his fiddle are as much at home in concert halls and great houses as in dark, haunted, low-ceilinged rooms like this.
Hayes’s trek began when he left for the skyscrapers and sights of Chicago back in the mid 1980s. The son of the Tulla Céilí Band leader PJ, the young Hayes was one of the most gifted trad fiddlers around, but he felt he wanted something else from life. He has said his early years in the United States were a chance to live out his teens. “I was playing old men’s music when I was 14 or 15, and it does cut you off from your contemporaries,” he said. “Coming out to America got all that out of my system.”
Playing in the rock band Midnight Court helped, but other beacons were blinking at him. After a few solo albums for Green Linnet, Hayes struck up a working relationship with the guitarist Dennis Cahill that has kept both men in good stead over the years.
There have also been a rake of other collaborations and projects. These days Hayes has a berth in the ambitious musical ship called The Gloaming, for example, and plays in the mesmerising Triúr alongside Peadar Ó Riada and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh. Over tea and biscuits Hayes throws in a few more names of recent collaborators. Mattu Noone is an Australian who plays Indian music; Hayes has been working with him on a slew of “east Clare ragas”. The composer and guitarist Dave Flynn is also a creative sparring partner. “He writes things which might seem like what I’d play, but when I try to play them I find they’re not.”
“I get to put on what I consider to be really good traditional music, and I get to listen, which I don’t always get to do. I like that part of it. I like being able to create a nice performance situation for some music which I know doesn’t always get heard. It doesn’t always get understood, either. In the right circumstances, and presented the right way, this is very understandable for most audiences. It’s a very subtle thing to do it just the right way.”