Interview by Barry Egan
Liam O’Maonlai holds his hands like a wild-coiffured Buddhist monk doing benediction.
Then, lost in a spiritual reverie of some description, he starts the notes to The Stranglers’ Skin Deep on the grand piano for the Windmill Lane Sessions.
There is no philosophy. That is the number one philosophy behind it
The track with new project Ré — a veritable super-group of traditional musicianship (Maitiu O'Casaide on pipes, Cormac Begley on concertina, Eithne Ni Chathain on fiddle and Peter O’Toole on bouzouki) — echoes around the studios in Ringsend like some sort of spellbinding trad-music mediation.
I have deliberately avoided describing it as traditional Irish music because, rather, the music of Ré transcends borders of countries, and of minds, and who knows — even souls?
You can see why Ré are currently on a tour of churches of Ireland, called Tunes In The Church. They are playing, among many other dates on this 17-date sonic surge: St Brendan’s Church, Bantry, tonight, going on to St Mary’s Church in Kenmare Place tomorrow, to the John the Baptist Church on Valentia Island on Tuesday — right the way through to the Unitarian Church in Dublin on May 9 and the First Presbyterian Church, Belfast on May 15.
“It is people’s music,” says Liam of Ré’s music without borders. “Folk music, traditional music, is music that is generated by people to sustain the people somehow.
“It is music that is not necessarily played on stage — more often than not, it is played in the kitchen or at the crossroads.”
Liam is on a roll now.
“It is played to provide something so that the people can dance,” he continues. “So that the people can re-imagine where they are at. We’ve come through incredible hardship in this country and our music probably sustains some kind of sanity in our conscientiousness.
“I think that is worthy of mediation, and worth of conceptualising. I think that is worthy of paying attention to — you know, the need for music.
“Traditional music is soul-food,” says Liam adding that Ré is pronounced ‘ray’ and means ‘moon’ or ‘era’ in Irish.
“Traditional music that is played by two, or by three, or by four musicians, for our nourishment. We need it.
“It is our Irish music but it is recognised because it is a people’s music. I think it relates to our DNA. When I hear traditional music from anywhere else, I feel it, and I relate to it because I am educated in this music. It is profound. It really is.”
Eithne Ni Chathain joins in the fray.
“It feels very instinctive,” she adds. “We have such a broad range, such a deep well of tunes and songs to draw from. A song is never the same twice. It is a different moment. And every show with us is different too.”
Asked about the philosophy behind Ré, Liam says without hesitation: “There is no philosophy. That is the number one philosophy behind it.
“The story of Ré is that we came together to be part of a theatre production called Rian. I know all these guys individually, and I called them up to see if we could come together to make some music together — and we did,” he adds.
“We have been around the world. We were playing with dancers. We called the show Rian, then we decided, we should make a record.
“Ré is musicians who love traditional music, basically. Cormac, Maitiu and Eithne are constantly playing. They just play and play, all the time, day and night. They are soloists. They are the best in their field individually.
“Then there’s myself and Peter,” he says of his fellow traveller in Hothouse Flowers, “who are old rock ‘n’ rollers, who also met under a strong traditional influence...”
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