Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

‘Ah, it’s wonderful to have the gift’.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this I could buy myself a rather nice gift. It implies that it’s all just the luck of the draw; some of us got it for free and, for the rest, there’s no point in even trying.  And it’s that last part that makes the idea a little dangerous, in my view. It astonishes me how often students who are struggling with a tricky passage of, say, Bach, will exclaim upon hearing me demonstrate it ‘you see, some people just have it’……I’ve been playing for 30 years, might that have something to do with it perhaps? I think it’s a get-out for some students; much easier to focus on this nebulous idea of ‘the gift’ than consider, for example, how much practise they’re doing! Not making much progress? Not your fault, you don’t have the gift, right?!

The other side of this is that we do place a very high premium on things being ‘natural’, regardless of the end result – consider the difference in attitudes towards natural and bottle blondes, for example. And it’s certainly not unusual to hear musicians boasting of being a ‘natural’, as if that really makes any difference to their present level of musicianship. Personally, whenever I have the privilege of playing with a first-rate musician, I don’t waste any time wondering whether they came by their musicianship ‘naturally’, through hard work, or through prayer and fasting; I’m only interested in whether they can do it. I’ve been described as a ‘natural’ myself, chiefly because I come from a family of professional musicians – and indeed it does come naturally to me, now. Now that I’ve grown up in an environment where it was nurtured and supported, and now that I’ve put in my 10,000 hours. It’s rather like saying your accent is natural – it’s natural now, but you weren’t born with it.  The only part of whatever I have that I consider a ‘gift’ is the urge to keep doing it, to persevere in the face of failure. A perseverance that has resulted in a decent level of musicianship. 

Well, if that’s a gift, it’s the hardest-earned one I ever received.


I always get funny looks when I say this, but I’m oddly fond of January. If you’re somebody who likes eating healthily and working hard it actually has a lot to offer as a month 🙂 It’s also the time when musicians tend to get down to projects they want to work on but can’t make the time for the rest of the year round; there’s not many gigs going in January so many of us take to the recording studio around now each year. Early January was spent in Galway with the Lazy Band, a magical few days recording originals and covers in a series of live sessions with engineer Mike Nestor. 3 days, 17 tracks. Intense but rewarding.

lb pic galway1

jack mccarthy, stephen james smith, josh johnston at the Lazy Band recordings sessions, Galway

Next up was a session at Lamplight Studios  to put down some strings on Sive‘s new album which promises to be a stand-out collection of original music. Yes, she’s my friend and I can’t claim an unbiased perspective, but I can honestly say hers is a unique talent.Looking forward to hearing the finished product.

Then over to Jealoustown Studios for some video shoots with Don Baker. So, all in all, loving January so far. The one drawback? Recording studios, apparently without exception, are freezing in January.

Doing it for the love

Posted: May 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

As a full-time musician I do a lot of commercial gigs. No apologies for that. Do I love every note I play? Of course not, but who loves absolutely every aspect of their job? I certainly don’t enjoy the bits that outsiders tend not to realise are part of the job, such as lugging speakers in and out of crowded venues, or driving long distances in the middle of the night. But that’s another day’s blogging….

Here’s something I do love. Next week I’m involved in a singer songwriter gig featuring string quartet, a thing called the Bamboo Sessions. We rehearsed on Wednesday in the gorgeous setting of the Unitarian Church, Stephen’s Green. I sat down with 3 other string players, 2 of whom I’d never met before, and spent the day playing the music of several of Ireland’s finest songwriters, some of whom I’d likewise never met before. If it doesn’t sound self-important I think musicians are rather uniquely positioned in this respect, we can make creative connections with people we don’t know at all if the environment is right. Staging this gig has already been a huge amount of work; for myself, the other songwriters and several string arrangers who won’t be there on the night. We will not be paid a cent, indeed there’s a very strong possibility the event will lose money. But we do it for the love.

bamboo rehearsal pic