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The Gloaming's Martin Hayes: Rhythm and Strings

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Tuesday January 31, 2012

from Irish America

Martin Hayes: Rhythm and Strings

By Tara Dougherty

Whether playing solo or with the newly formed The Gloaming, Martin Hayes, the marvelously gifted fiddler, finds his mesmeric rhythm in the Irish tunes he learned from his father – the leader of the famed Tulla Ceili band – and other master musicians in east County Clare.

The first time I heard Martin Hayes it felt like an earthquake. Not ten seconds into his first tune, the ground started to pulsate, the bottles behind the bar were shaking as everyone in the room felt the urge to stamp their feet to the rhythm of Hayes’ fiddle. While there is undeniable electricity in the way Hayes commands an audience, it is juxtaposed with a very distinct gentleness. He plays as if each note is made of glass; mishandle it slightly and the emotion is shattered. As a man, he exudes that same gentleness. Quite soft-spoken and self-deprecating, the County Clare native is uninterested in fame and has no concern with being best. His concern, it seems, is always to connect with people. He works to be better only than himself, than how he played the day before.

Hayes, who now splits his time between Connecticut and Ireland, has lived in the U.S. for 23 years. As well as playing, he composes scores for film and stage. His newest project, The Gloaming, is a dream team of Irish and Irish American musicians. Hayes is joined by Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh on fiddle, his longtime musical partner Dennis Cahill on guitar, the legendary Iarla Ó Lionáird on vocals, and newcomer Thomas Bartlett on piano.

I spoke with Hayes just before the group’s debut at Webster Hall, in New York City.

When did your life as a musician begin?

I started playing when I was seven. My father was a fiddle player in the Tulla Ceili Band so there was always music in the house, always musicians coming and going and people interested in music. I had been hearing traditional music as the predominant music form since I was a little child so it wasn’t something I had to get to know. I grew up in that environment. I don’t know that I exactly learned. I learned some tunes from my father, but there was a lot of just being around it, kind of absorbing it.

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