Multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter John Doyle is — for my money — the most exciting guitarist playing in Irish music today. As we head toward St. Patrick’s Day and all things Irish, let’s celebrate his music and work.
I first heard Doyle as one of the founding members of Solas, my favorite Irish band. As I wrote in last fall’s Soundtrack post, Doyle — like all the original members of the band — is worthy of his own feature in this section.
Doyle is renowned as one of the most talented guitarists performing in either the Irish or Appalachian traditions. As an accompanist, he adapts to and compliments the style of those he plays with, but his rhythmic and melodic contributions do much more than simply provide a background, creating complex, fascinating layers within the tunes without ever overshadowing the principal performer.Institute of Musical Traditions
Doyle — a Compass Records artist — has played with a wide variety of musicians in various settings over the years. He has continued to perform with various members of Solas, as seen in the terrific Silver Spear Set with Mick McAuley and with Karan Casey in Sailing Off to Yankeeland.
For a number of years Doyle played in a duo with Irish fiddler Liz Carroll. Their album Double Play received a 2010 Grammy nomination for “Best Traditional World Album.” The Blast of Reels video below is guaranteed to get you up and dancing.
Doyle’s guitar, singing, and songwriting skills really came to the fore as he performed solo. We’ll begin with the traditional Bound for Botany Bay, followed by Elevenses, which is a showcase for his flatpicking skills and is included on his most recent album.
“In recent years, John has focused primarily on writing songs based on the varied experiences of Irish immigrants – his great grandfather on the torpedoed S.S. Arabic in 1915; famine victims on the coffin ships to Quebec; Confederate and Union Irish fighting against one another at Fredericksburg; an Irishman’s journey through the First World War. In reviews, these songs on Doyle’s 2012 release, “Shadow and Light” have been said “to be destined to be classics in the Irish folk music songbook. His talents as songwriter are rare and exquisite.”John Doyle – About (johndoylemusic.com)
To showcase his songwriting skills, here is a version of The Arabic from his 2011 IMT concert; Clear the Way, about the Civil War battle of Fredericksburg and long a personal favorite; and Little Sparrow, written for his daughter.
We’ll end where my connection with Doyle began, as a member of Solas playing some of the best Irish music around on Timmy Cliffords.
Enjoy, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
More to come…
Image of John Doyle credit: John Doyle – Compass Records