Kieran Quinn is on a mission to find pianos. The former GAA county player, who helped Sligo win the Connacht final in 2007, is now perhaps even better known as a musician. Next week he begins a 32 Pianos tour, in which he will tinkle the ivories in every county in Ireland over a two-month period.
“Obviously I can’t bring the piano with me, so I am going to a piano in every county,” said the former Sligo midfielder. So far he has sourced 22 pianos and has “a strong lead” on five or six more. “Longford is a bit tricky and I’m also still looking in Armagh, Down and Tipperary,” he said.
The pianos of course must be “half decent” and well-tuned and Quinn is modestly looking for “intimate venues” in the towns where he is not so well known.
Two summers ago, British film director Ken Loach started turning up to Quinn’s gigs in Sligo. Loach was in town to film
, his take on the story of Leitrim man
, who was deported in the 1930s. Loach enlisted Quinn’s help in sourcing musicians for the movie.
The Sligoman got a small role as part of an eight-piece 1930s jazz band, but watching composer George Fenton (Gandhi and Dangerous Liaisons) at work was his favourite part of the process.
“It was a very long day with a lot of waiting around. I think you can see the back of my head in the film.”
Quinn liked the way Ken Loach involved so many from the community in the Jimmy's Hall project. "He was around for two or three months and you'd just bump into him on the street and have a chat. His style is very inclusive."
– his father was a flying doctor there – Quinn has lived in Sligo since he was four. He probably came late to both his passions: GAA and music. As a boarder at Clongowes Wood, he saw more action on the rugby field than the gaelic football pitch as a teenager.
After the thrill of winning the Connacht championship, Quinn decided 10 years ago, at the age of 25 , that if he wanted to be a professional musician he had to make a choice.
“I gave up football because I got some serious hand injuries, and you can’t be at that when making a living from playing the piano,” said the father of two small children, who is married to Fine Gael county councillor Sinead Maguire.
He had taken piano lessons from the age of about eight or nine but rebelled against the teaching methods, which “to be honest did not click with me at all”.
Years later he discovered it was not all about exams and learning to read music, when he realised he could pick up tunes by ear. Now, as a music teacher, “I can’t be a hypocrite”, he said, so he encourages his students to learn by ear if they wish.
Living in Sligo means Quinn is surrounded by potential collaborators in what is a vibrant music scene. His first album, Not Just Black and White, released in 2013, featured 20 Sligo musicians, including Steve Wickham and Cathy Jordan of Dervish. He does a regular Monday night gig at Connolly's pub, in Sligo, with local musician Seamie O'Dowd and is in demand for a huge amount of music projects.
When Spike Milligan’s daughter Jane found a collection of her father’s original compositions, it was Quinn who helped her bring them to the stage during the Bright Side of Life festival in Sligo.
The 32 Pianos tour begins with a lunchtime performance at the Liber bookshop, in Sligo, this Wednesday and a gig that evening at the Sugar Club, in Dublin, where his second album, The Next One, will be launched.
The other 31 venues include Neven Maguire’s restaurant in Blacklion, King House, in Boyle, Huntington Castle, in Co Carlow and, hopefully, an “intimate venue” with a well-tuned piano in Longford.