Paddy Keenan is a legendary Irish uilleann piper. He rose to international fame playing with the Bothy Band, perhaps the first group to take Irish “session” music, typically played in a circle, before a live audience, infusing it with the drive and power of a rock concert. Keenan now lives in Loudon when he’s not traveling the world. He recently helped produce a film titled “Dambe: The Mali Project” and he’s one of the featured performers at the Green Tradition Concert on March 5 at the Capitol Center for the Arts. Check out all his projects at paddykeenan.com.
You were born in a town named Trim in Ireland. What kind of a place is that? It’s a small town in County Meath, home to the biggest Norman fortified castle in Ireland.
Our other famous Irish musician was the late Tommy Makem. Were you friends? We were. Whenever we met up we’d make the time to chat over a pint, or three!
You recently obtained American citizenship. What prompted that? I’ve lived in the states for close to 20 years and felt it was time to go for the U.S. passport. It’s also nice to be welcomed back into the country, rather then being asked how long I’ve been out.
People think of the Scottish Highland pipes when you talk about bagpipes. How do they compare with the uilleann pipes that you play? The uilleann pipes are the most complex and complete instrument of all – when in tune.
Celtic music tends to get grouped together. Is it more complicated than that? There’s a very distinct difference between Irish, Scottish and Breton rhythm, that’s both music and dance.
Irish music is often played in sessions. How does that differ from playing for an audience? In the past couple of years I’ve been calling in to The Barley House in Concord to join the lads and lasses who play every week there. I suppose it’s easier to sit and play what comes to mind, without having to worry about satisfying a paying audience
One of your band-mates called you the Jimi Hendrix of the pipes. Was that a fair comparison? Ha! Not sure. I used live in West Cork, Ireland. This was like a magnet for ’60s musicians. In the ’80s I played with some of them: Tom McGuinness from Manfred Mann, Noel Redding from the Hendrix Experience and many more. Sorry, this isn’t answering your question really. I think it might have had something to do with mood and expression!
What do you think is the appeal of Irish music? Can’t really say. People sometimes say to me after a gig, they feel joyous! Merry! And sometimes even tears! Happy tears!
Are there places where Irish piping is more popular than one might imagine? Moscow! They’ve started a pipers’ club since I visited there a couple years ago.