Interview Barry Mc Cabe - Keltika

The following two-page article appeared in “Keltika”,
which is an Italian magazine dedicated to all things Celtic.

Barry McCabe - Hurrah for Celtic blues!

Hard to imagine: a musical marriage of electric guitar and uilleann pipes, blues and Irish music. A record with a rare intensity and beauty, with two of its beautiful tracks included on our compilation – “Istanbul Blues” and “The Emigrant” (dedicated to the great Irish bluesman, Rory Gallagher).

Interview by Alfredo De Pietra

Keltika readers listening to “Instanbul Blues” on this month’s CD might think that we’ve gone mad ... Blues? Yes, blues - and good blues, real, real good blues, but what has blues got to do with Celtic music? Well on the contrary it has something to do with Celtic music. Be patient, wait two minutes and you’ll be astonished when you’ll hear - no kidding – a Davy Spillane uilleann pipe solo. And what a solo! Plenty of blue notes, in keeping with the (blues) tradition, offering bends and just the right mood for the song. Let’s have a look at some photo’s of this guitarist, Barry McCabe You’ll notice that they’re far from the stereotype of the “typical” musician that usually appears in our magazine; a certain resemblance to Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, big electric guitar, long curly hair and specific 70’s rock star clothes. Well, as you may have noticed, we are witnessing a new fusion, which honestly we couldn’t have imagined before we met Barry McCabe: blues and Irish music, black American music mixed with traditional music from one of Europe’s longest suffering races. The base of this fusion is an honesty and a creativity mixed with great technique (and both McCabe and Spillane have plenty of these qualities) and the results are, of course, nothing short of brilliant. “The Peace Within” is a beautiful record, perfect for the blues enthusiast and stimulating for the Irish music lover. Intrigued by the artistic audacity of its author, we also discovered that Barry is a deep connoisseur of the Italian audience ...

- Barry, your last CD is entitled “The Peace Within” (La Pace Interna); and the word Peace is also mentioned on the cover...

“Yes you’re right, the CD in general and the title track in particular talk about peace. I don't think of peace as an abstract concept. Up until now people have been trying to find it in the wrong way, and maybe this is the reason why they haven't been able to achieve it. Bombing a nation into submission and calling it "peace" when the war is finished and won has nothing to do with peace. On the contrary it's the exact opposite. When you're at peace with yourself, you're at peace with the whole world. Only then will there be peace in the world! That's why I called the CD "The Peace Within".

- Apart from peace, on the sleeve notes you talk about your discovery of a new "musical dimension". So, what can you tell us about this meeting with traditional Irish music?

"Well, first of all I'm Irish, so this is the music I grew up listening to. Even if I've never played traditional Irish music before working on this CD it's in my mind subconsciously whether I like that or not. When I was young, like most teenagers, I loved rock music - the blues in general and Rory Gallagher’s music in particular. The energy of this music appealed to me, and at that time I couldn’t find that power in traditional music. I only discovered its power later, which comes at you in a different way. At the moment I’m listening to some of the Bothy Band's records and I was very surprised when I discovered that one of their records is from 1972, just like Rory’s “Live in Europe”, so these guys were making this great music around the same time and I just wasn’t ‘getting it’. There was a point in my life when I felt the need to really understand who I was - not what my country or family wanted - and it was around this time that I discovered that blues and traditional music had a lot of common characteristics; both can be very melancholic, but by the same token full of fury. Essentially, I was able to connect myself with the emotional content of the two musical styles. Later I discovered, to my surprise, that also on the musical side there's lot of common points. In both cases it's a ‘traditional’ or ‘roots’ music", the connection being the anguish of the two groups; the black slaves in America, and the Irish suffering under oppression".

- But is it really so easy to put together blues and Irish music? No troubles in this wedding?

"For me, looking at the results on "The Peace Within", I think it works. Actually I think it's an amazing combination! Some songs are more suitable for this style of fusion, and I want to try to marry these two styles even closer on my next record. For example my version of "Instanbul Blues", that your readers can hear on the compilation that comes with the magazine, blends the two styles in a beautiful way. A song like "One Of These Days" might sound like a standard blues to begin with but the pipes at the end of the track take it off in a pretty different direction".

- The great Davy Spillane plays the pipes ... What was it like to work with him?

"It was fantastic, really! Davy is a very sweet person and an extraordinary musician. This was the first time I was so close to a set of uilleann pipes. In Co. Cavan, where I come from, people usually play traditional music on the fiddle or the accordion. Anyway Davy is really professional, so it was very easy to work with him. Sometimes he asked me, before recording, if I wanted something special, but actually he always knew exactly what was needed. He never acted like a superstar. Can you imagine it: me working in Davy’s own studio with the most famous uilleann piper in the world! I mean, he’s played with all these great artists like Van Morrison and Chris Rea, and after we did “The Peace Within” CD he played with Bryan Adams! Back to your previous question about the Blues and Irish music; I didn't know that the pipes can only play in certain keys and luckily the songs written for this album were in the right keys for that instrument. This is proof that the gods were guiding me while I was working on this CD".

- Barry McCabe and Italy...

"Well, I love Italy! I'm very lucky to have a great promoter in Italy, and ever since the first tour everything has been very well organised there for me ... and from their reactions it seems the Italian people like my music so it's a reciprocated love. I love the Italian character, outgoing, passionate, boisterous ... sort of the opposite of what we are like in Ireland. We are more reserved, more relaxed. Of course I also love the weather there. You know the kind of weather we usually have, right? And the food! I’ve played everywhere in Italy, not just the usual northern circuit. I remember in particular a few concerts I played in the south of Italy. The people were so happy because of the simple fact that we travelled all the way down there just to play for them. Those were great concerts. I still have great memories from those trips, and just talking about it makes me want to play there again".

- We have talked about "Instanbul Blues". The other track from "The Peace Within" that the Keltika readers can listen to is "The Emigrant" and it's dedicated to Rory Gallagher...

"I fell in love with Rory's music when I was 14. The first record I ever bought was from Rory, and I was a fan of his until the day he died. Now, after working on "The Peace Within", and fusing the blues with traditional music, I can also hear traces of Irish music in Rory's music. Maybe he wasn't consciously aware of it, even if in his final days he was more involved with Irish music. For example, he recorded with the Furey Brothers and the Dubliners. After his death I wanted to write something for him, but I wanted to avoid a maudlin text, so I decided to write an instrumental piece of music for him. Davy is very much involved in this tune (we wrote it together). While he was recording his part I was watching the Atlantic Ocean through the window of his recording studio and at the end his low whistle reverberates, a bit like the sound of the Ocean waves. At that moment I realized that many Irish people had to leave their land and cross those same waves and become emigrants in other countries, which was also true of Rory. That's why I called this tune "The Emigrant". You know Rory also played on one of Davy's record, so in a way I felt by writing this piece of music together with Davy that I’d made the circle complete".

This interview appeared in issue No. 72. Back issues of “Keltika” can be ordered from;
Via 1° Maggio no.9
22073 Fino Mornasco (CO)
Tel: +39 031 881281
Fax +39 031 880593