Mean fiddler: Brendan Gleeson hits the road with Dirk Powell
The actor is well acquainted with the fiddle, and will join Cajun and bluegrass musician Powell, with whom he worked on the film ‘Cold Mountain’, for a nationwide tour
Brendan Gleeson: ‘I’d be basic enough as a musician but Dirk is amazing. He’s completely infectious, and always brings everyone to the heart of it.’ Photograph: Barry McCall
Dirk Powell: ‘In places like Ireland, Louisiana and Cape Breton, you can tell that the music is really no more yours than it is the audience’s.’ Photograph: Con Kelleher
Call it what you will – fate, serendipity or impeccable timing – but two musicians are taking to the road shortly, thanks to a series of coincidences that drew them together.
Dirk Powell is well-known to fans of bluegrass, Cajun and American old time music. He’s an Appalachian multi-instrumentalist and singer whose accordion playing has lured many listeners towards the mountains and then the bayous. As a session musician, he has worked with everyone from Emmylou Harris and Jack White to Steve Earle. Brendan Gleeson might have been busying himself carving a career on celluloid, but in between he has become well- acquainted with the fiddle, and is a regular visitor to trad gatherings such as the Willie Clancy Summer School.
“Dirk and myself filmed Cold Mountain in Romania, and spent a lot of the downtime playing and laughing,” says Gleeson. “It followed a weird set of coincidences. A year or two before, the great fiddle player Paul O’Shaughnessy had generously given me an old time CD, a brilliant album Dirk had made with Tim O’Brien and John Herrmann called Songs from the Mountain, inspired by Charles Frazier’s book Cold Mountain. I played it all the time.
“Then I got a call to say they were making a film of the book and I had a part. It was too good to be true. Just before I headed over to Romania to start, who turns up playing a gig in Hollywood, Co Wicklow, but Dirk Powell. We had a brilliant night and took it from there. Turns out he had been signed up for the movie as well.”
Powell was more than happy to find his and Gleeson’s paths crossing in different parts of the globe.
“I’d say that we were kindred spirits right away,” he says with a wry smile. “We’ve had great times in a lot of different corners of the world, from Louisiana to Romania to Dublin. We always just seem to have a similar embracing of the moment, and of life, and that’s now translated into this tour: a chance to take that energy along with the energy of Mike [Michael McGoldrick] and Francis [Gaffney]. What I’m hoping is that this tour will be about the spirit of the moment too.”
Mike McGoldrick of Scottish folk band Capercaillie has recently been collaborating with Powell on the latter’s new album, which he is recording with Jack White, another Cold Mountain acquaintance. McGoldrick has been busy writing tunes in anticipation of this tour, as well as learning some of Powell’s repertoire. He already knows that Powell’s fiddle tunes sit well with his own flute and pipes.