Randal Bays has been called "one of the finest Irish fiddlers one could ever hope to hear," by Fiddler Magazine. He lives in Seattle, Washington, and has toured and recorded in the …
Randal Bays has been called "one of the finest Irish fiddlers one could ever hope to hear," by Fiddler Magazine. He lives in Seattle, Washington, and has toured and recorded in the United States, Ireland and Europe. John Coyne was born in Limerick, Ireland, but became a serious player of traditional Irish music after moving to the U.S. at the age of 18. A singer and bouzouki player, Coyne is in high demand as an accompanist, and has worked with Mary McNamara, Mickey Dunne and Frankie Gavin.
Bays and Coyne will perform in Taos on Sunday (Feb. 17), 4 p.m., at the Philip Bareiss Gallery, 15 State Road 150, north of El Prado.
A longtime musician, Bays was playing professionally by the age of 12. He says he was in his 20s and living in Portland, Oregon, when he stumbled into the world of traditional Irish music, and never stumbled out. His style of learning was immersive. He never took a lesson, rather Bays spent a great deal of time around master players, listening to them and mimicking what they did. It was both the melody-driven traditional tunes and this musical culture of traditional Irish music that captivated Bays.
"The heart of the whole thing is what we call a session, but it's different from a jam session," Bays explained. "People don't come in and play whatever they want. You come in and play the same melodies together, over and over. It's a group memory exercise, with alcohol."
He said when he got more involved in it and especially when he started going to Ireland, "what really grabbed me is the fact that it's really the music of passionate amateurs. We have performers and bands that go around, but the real heart of the music, even now, is people who have other lives and they fit [the music] into their lives. They're very passionate about it, so it's not just like a little hobby or something. Even though I'm a professional musician, I like it that people can be that serious about something without being a professional musician."
Nowadays, Bays uses an immersive approach to teaching at the Cascadia Irish Music Week, which he organizes each year as artistic director, bringing together some of the world's best Irish musicians to the Pacific Northwest.
Bays is unusual in that he plays both Irish fiddle and guitar. He open-tunes his guitar so it sounds harplike.
"The fiddle is all melody, but the guitar is more chordal, so more harmony," Bays explained. "The guitar, the way I play it, is pretty intimate. I do what you'd call finger-style. You play both the melody and chords at the same time. It's more what people are used to hearing with an arrangement of music … With the fiddle it's just the melody. The tone of the fiddle is fantastic, I just love it. You can really get wild with the fiddle, too, so you have the whole range of the beautiful and sweet and the wild and totally abandoned as well."
Coyne said he started playing guitar at around age 13. He and a friend busked around Limerick playing U2 and folk songs on their two guitars.
"I didn't get into playing traditional Irish music until I came to the states," he said.
It was then that he learned the difference between a jig and a reel. About 20 years ago, Coyne picked up the bouzouki, now his primary instrument. The bouzouki he plays is a flat-backed Irish-style instrument. A spin-off of the Greek bouzouki, the instrument became popular in Ireland in the 1960s.
Though Coyne did not play traditional Irish music when he was a boy, he did hear it. "It was part of growing up in Ireland, you'd hear it everywhere," he said.
Now that he has a love for Irish music, Coyne especially enjoys returning to Ireland. Coyne and his wife and children, who are all musicians, have made many musical connections back in his natal country.
Bays said he and Coyne met through their teenage sons, who are musical friends. Bays' son plays concertina and Coyne's son plays accordion. Although Bays and Coyne live on opposite coasts, they make a point of booking small tours so they can play together.
This will be Coyne's first time out to New Mexico. However, Bays has a longtime association with Taos and the surrounding area. Starting in 2001, Bays would come out to participate in ZoukFest, organized by Roger Landes. Bays and Landes also performed and toured together.
"Randal has a lot of people here who know him and love him and his music because of the ZoukFest," said Taos musician Jamie Wells, who is helping to organize the Taos concert at Bareiss Gallery.
For their Taos show, Bays will be playing both fiddle and guitar, and Coyne will sing and play the Irish bouzouki. "It will be a fairly intimate affair of traditional Irish music and song," said Coyne. "There will be some history on the songs, a little bit of talk. We try to strike a nice balance."
In addition to their Taos concert, Bays and Coyne will be performing in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
"It should be a great couple of nights," Coyne said. "We don't take ourselves too seriously. So it's not going to be too stuffy."
Tickets are $20, $10 for children ages 12 and under, available through brownpapertickets.com or at the door.
For more information, call the venue at (575) 776-2284. For more information on the artists, visit randalbays.com and soundcloud.com/johncoynemusic.
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