Born in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, I spent most of my young life around Burt, Buncrana, and Teelin, where my Dad is from, in South-West Donegal.
However, over the years I lived in many places around Ireland and now live in Kinvara, Co Galway. Initially, I went to primary school in Muff followed by secondary school in Buncrana. I, then, proceeded to Sligo Regional Technical College where I trained as a toolmaker. Thereafter, I spent a number of years working in Shannon and Galway.
My early life was very musically oriented, with my father, the inspirational Tomás O’Beirne, (Tommy Byrne), playing the accordion. In fact, he taught me how to play the instrument when I was five years old. We often used to play together so I always felt comfortable playing music. Crucially, I was, greatly influenced by the Donegal travelling artist and musician, Johnny Doherty. Therefore, many of my tunes originally came from him. Music, thereafter, became part of my everyday life and I played gigs regularly throughout my college years. However, I never really considered pursuing a career in music until I joined Altan in 1993. I was always a shy and reserved person and so music became a form of self-expression. It also acts as an escape from everyday life with its pressures and worries. It is vital, therefore, to show people the benefits that can accrue from playing/writing music.
Never making any conscious decision to become a musician, it just happened.
Music is a very effective form of expression; it is, in effect, a way to speak without speaking. However, you need a real love and understanding of its roots. I would certainly encourage other people to write music as it is very satisfying to come-up with new material and to hear it played by others. That said it could be difficult to write new tunes, as it invariably depends on the mood that you are in. The music that I write is mainly Irish traditional acoustic music. If I had the chance, I would love to expand my musical career still further by teaching music, which I do on occasion at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University Limerick .
My good friend, Brian McDaid, from Askeaton, organises most of my tours including the current Irish tour.
This tour, (which has sixteen gigs in all) was initially set-up to celebrate my debut album, on Humming Bird Records, entitled; ‘Dermot Byrne’ (1995). 20 years on, we had such a successful reunion, that we decided to do again this year. My fellow musicians on that album, namely, Steve Cooney and Trevor Hutchinson, play with me again. The former, an Australian born guitarist, bassist, producer, and didgeridoo player, is one of the most dynamic modern performers in traditional music. He has played with Stockton’s Wing, Sharon Shannon, and Séamus Begley, along with many other groups over the years. The latter, hails from Cookstown, Co Tyrone, and was the bass player with The Waterboys for many years, before joining Sharon Shannon`s band. He has played with many other well-respected musicians’ such as; Eric Bibb, Máire Breatnach and Eileen Ivers of Riverdance fame. Trevor is currently a member of superb band ‘Lunasa’.
Awarded TG4’s ‘Traditional Musician of the Year’ (2013), I have collaborated with several artists, from a wide range of genres, down through the years.
These have included Italian Jazz Violinist, Stéphane Grappelli, Irish Rock Band ‘The Stunning’, and Scottish folk and salsa band, ‘Salsa Celtica’, to name but a few. However, I am always drawn back to Irish Traditional Music and have played with many of the greats such as; Frankie Gavin, Sharon Shannon, Séamus Begley, Steve Cooney and Paddy Keenan. Having, recorded several albums whilst playing with Altan, my solo album from 1995, was mostly, recorded live in Cork and in Steve Cooney's studio in Dingle. My favourite album, though, would be a duet album I recorded with French harpist, Floriane Blancke, in 2014. Alongside these, I have performed with numerous other artists on over 90 albums and appeared on TG4’s Bosca Ceoil and Fleadh TV. In the upcoming concerts, I will be playing the single row accordion, which is synonymous with my native Donegal. I, also, plan a new album in the New Year. Half of the material, for which, has already been written, and I have been researching old tunes for more.
Life on the road is not for everyone.
I have toured Canada, England, and Scotland, recently with traditional music now appreciated as far away as Japan, China and even Cuba. However, it can be tiring, involving as it does, a lot of travel, and waiting around in airports. It can be especially difficult on your family, so I try to take a few weeks off in between tours. Social media tools like Skype are also invaluable for staying in touch with loved ones. My own daughter, Nia, now sings and plays the fiddle on her debut album and will tour the USA shortly.
Touring gives me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people from different parts of the world.
Indeed, I have had the pleasure of playing on every continent, including The White House, on several occasions. From a very early age, I always dreamed of being able to forge a career out of playing music, but I never really believed, that it would work out as well as it has done. In this, I feel very fortunate, indeed, with lots of gigs lined-up for the New Year!
Dermot Byrne, Steve Cooney and Trevor Hutchinson, will perform at Friars’ Gate Theatre in Kilmallock for the first time on Saturday, November 19 at 8pm. For booking information please phone: 063 98727 or visit the website: www.friarsgate.ie