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Martin Fay

The Chieftains' founder member could combine classical and trad to magical effect, writes Barry Egan

FIDDLER Martin Fay, who died last week aged 76, was a founding member of the Chieftains in 1962 with Paddy Moloney, Sean Potts, Michael Tubridy and David Fallon.

Moloney, from Donnycarney, remembers Cabra lad Martin coming over to the house to play.

"He was one of the originals, there was no one like him," Moloney said. "He had the most amazing Dublin wit. When he and Barney McKenna of the Dubliners got together, they were a riot. Martin'd always have us in stitches of laughter. He had a very serious-looking, straight face but he would always have us cracking up, he'd have us in knots. Pretending to be a cat and that sort of thing. He used to keep us going. His memory and music will be with the Chieftains always. He will be dearly missed."

Martin, who had suffered from emphysema for some time, stopped touring with the Chieftains in 2001. The last time he played with the internationally famous group was in October 2002 in Belfast at the funeral of Derek Bell, composer and musician with the Chieftains.

"Overall," Martin said, before he retired, "looking back, I've had a great life with the Chieftains. And, as I say, I love the music we've made. Most of it, anyway. I am doing what I always said I wanted to do, as in, be a professional musician."

Moloney remembered that the last time he saw Martin was just over a year ago. "I had tried to get him to come along to the Chieftains show at the Bord Gais Theatre at the end of May but he just wasn't up to it. His wife Grainne and son Fergal and daughter Dervla came along instead," he said. Moloney, who spoke at his old friend's funeral yesterday in Sutton, added that Martin was classically trained, and that while "trad wasn't really his thing ... he adapted. His playing on slow airs was beautiful. He was able to pin down airs and his fiddle tone was just magical. The first fiddle you hear on the theme music for Stanley Kubrick's film Barry Lyndon is Martin. He was a genius. You could see why he played with Sean O Riada."

Liam O Maonlai of Hot House Flowers concurred. "My mother Eithne knew Martin Fay," Liam said on the phone from New York. "He was a classical as well as a traditional player. O Riada chose him for this reason. He could add the classical sheen to Ceoltoiri Cualann's arrangements, allowing the work to cross over and back to the urban listener and re-awaken the wild soul of the people. I owe to him part of my life's chosen path."

Fay's memories of working with O Riada were almost as entertaining as the music itself. "I was 19, still working in the Abbey and he gave me the wink, over the piano one night," Martin told Hot Press in 2000. "As in 'I want to talk to you'. Then we went up to the bar and Sean says 'have a chaser' and I didn't know what that was! So he hands me a glass of whiskey and a bottle of stout. And O Riada had such an influence on people you couldn't refuse him anything. To walk down the street with the guy made you feel good. There was a great charisma there. So, of course, I knocked back the whiskey and stout for the first time ever."

Martin added that he married his beloved Grainne "when I was pushing 30 and when she was a dancer in a cabaret I was working in. And I fell for her right away." They lived in Sutton, Dublin .

Martin Fay could be quite outspoken. He once said: "I do love what I do with the Chieftains. But in terms of the 'superstar' collaborations I can take them or leave them. I'd prefer to be without them, to tell you the truth. Some of these guys I'd rather not be involved with at all. Because I don't feel they are on our wavelength. They just have this 'rubbing shoulders' with the Chieftains attitude. And we, sometimes, have the same attitude in terms of those 'superstars'. But if we never played with the Rolling Stones, it wouldn't bother me. As for Art Garfunkel singing with us in Carnegie Hall? Paddy may think the audiences expect a 'superstar' during our concerts but what, then, are they coming to see us for? The Chieftains or the superstar?

"I think audiences should come to a Chieftains show expecting to see the Chieftains and if there is something thrown in, well and good."

Sunday Independent