Martin Hayes: On My Cultural Radar

The fiddle player on living in Madrid, his Midas Stage Box obsession, and Reeling in the Years

Current favourite book

I’m reading The Essentials of Theory U by this guy from MIT, Otto Scharmer. It’s about ways of communicating and solving problems in organisations, groups of people, in political groupings. It’s a whole theory of how to deepen the communication between people and get different kinds of results. It’s not exactly light summer reading. I’ve been involved with the Burren Executive Leadership conferences for the last number of years, and these theories underlie our approach. I come in as somebody from the creative arts side of things, and we work with business people and people from all kinds of backgrounds. This book is an outline of the theory, so I figured at some stage, I should know this theory properly.


The last restaurant I was at was a remarkable one called the Inis Meáin Restaurant on the island of Inis Meáin. It has simplicity and excellence and at its heart, but there’s a refinement too. You’re looking out across the beautiful island out to the ocean, across these rocky stone wall fields, and the architecture of the building is as exquisite as the food and the scenery. They only have one menu, and each course combines two main ingredients, which they try to source locally. I loved the endive and lobster; we also had beetroot carpaccio and mussels and clams, and hake with roasted red pepper, and crepe with mixed berries. They’ve decided to do things at the maximum level that you can do them, so it’s really a wonderful restaurant.



I’ll go back to the islands again: the Inis Meáin Knitting Company designs these beautiful sweaters with beautiful colours, which they sell to shops all over the world – all from that little island where they design and make the whole thing themselves. It’s quite incredible. The design of the factory and the materials they use are of the highest level. There’s nothing about it that’s stereotypical, yet it’s of its place, and it’s also completely modern. I came back with a lot of shopping bags, and so did my wife.


I've been listening to music by a friend of mine, Steve Cooney. It's not quite out yet, this album, but I have the tracks. It's a solo guitar, playing ancient Irish harp music. It completely brings that to music to life. I've been playing it to friends, without letting it go further, and it's profoundly beautiful.


I live in Madrid. I’ve been discovering and exploring it for the last few years, and I’m still discovering and exploring it. The character, architecture and feel of things change as you go from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. It’s all about finding all these little tapas places and restaurants you keep running into, each better than the next. There’s a surprising amount of little parks and plazas, just tucked away. You think you know it, then this whole other place opens up with every corner you turn.


I love John C Reilly, because I like comedy and I saw that Laurel and Hardy recently. In that, he wasn’t necessarily funny, but there’s something warm about him. I loved his Johnny Cash’s parody, Walk Hard, too.


I follow current affairs a bit, so I sometimes listen to The Daily, which is the New York Times podcast. I lived in America for a long time, so I follow the conundrum that’s happening over there. The Daily seems pretty balanced. There are other podcasts that I agree with even more, but I don’t necessarily want to agree with everything I hear.


I always bring a gadget with me when I’m playing concerts, like the latest preamp. Right now, it’s the Midas Stage Box, which gives me control over the way my sound is shaped for the audience. It’s important for me as I have a fiddle in my hands, so when I get involved in amplified music situations, I like to extend from the music instrument right into that process, and make the tone and responsiveness of the instrument something that I enjoy hearing in the room. It’s my comfort blanket at a gig; it gives me control, and it’s something to play with on stage.

TV show

If I’m back in Ireland, I love watching Reeling in the Years. All the shows seem to be stuck in the late 1970s and early 1980s so I get to relive my teenage years on screen and watch these events like hurling matches, elections for the Dáil, all this stuff. It transports me right back to that moment. I remember what I was doing, how little I knew, and how much was ahead of me. I had no idea.

Martin Hayes co-curates the Marble City Sessions at Kilkenny Arts Festival, which runs until August 18th. See for more. Martin Hayes & Brooklyn Rider's The Butterfly is released on August 16th.