Murray Leith and Jo Laing
GLASGOW Irish Bands and Gigs are heading back to Ireland this month to catch up with Bobby’s Folk from Gilford. Bobby (above) has been a regular on the livestreams during lockdown and is finally back in pubs entertaining the crowds.
At what age did you gain an interest in music and why?
I was about 13 or 14 years old. I’d joined the Armagh Martyrs Flute Band along with my younger brother. I played the tin whistle a bit before that. I was taught how to play the flute by Conor McManus. Once I got the basics the tunes where easy to learn. I never really looked back after that.
Who inspired you to play the music you do?
Listening to music in my house when I was growing up such as: The Fureys, Christy Moores, The Dubliners, The Wolfetones, The Barleycorn and Foster and Allen—a favourite of my mum’s—to name a few. Listening to them I’d say has inspired the music I play now.
Were your family musical and how did they shape your career?
My father sang in the church choir for years and he’d often sing at family get-togethers. He had a great tenor voice. When I started singing I said if I’m half as good as my dad I’d be happy with that.
Have you always played as a solo artist or have you played in a band?
I played in a band called Sam Hall just over 20 years ago. At first, we started off as a two-piece for about a year, then we became a four-piece and played together for about two years. Of course with married life and working full-time for us all it was hard to keep going. I kept playing the guitar and learning songs after we split. I played in
sessions and met lots of brilliant musicians. About five years ago me and couple of friends started a band called Peasant Folk. We played on and off for about a year or so. So fast forward to Covid-19 and I started the online sessions. I mostly play now as a solo artist, but there’s been a few times now I’ve taken an accordion player Paul McNally with me to do some gigs.
How did you learn to write your own material?
I wrote some songs when I played in Sam Hall. I would have written the words then put the music to them. After Sam Hall, I didn’t write any songs until I started doing the lockdown sessions on Facebook. I sort of got the urge to start writing them. I’ve met a couple of people through Facebook who have sent me songs to sing. Graham Keating from Dublin, his songwriting is fantastic. He sent me a song called Summer of Tears and I’ve sang it numerous times now.
You play a wide variety of venues in Ireland. Which has been your favourite to play and why?
It’s hard to say. I’ve played in quite a few now since I started gigging again. Every venue is different. Some people want to join in the music, others want to listen and relax and have a few drinks. There’s one venue that sticks in my mind—The Talbot Hotel in Wexford. One of the gigs I played with Sam Hall, the venue sold 800 tickets 1200 showed up. It was a night to remember.
Following on from that is there any venues you’d love to play and why?
At the moment I’m happy to play in venues whenever I can. I would love to play over in Glasgow and to meet those who have supported me on Facebook.
How would you describe the music you usually perform?
I would describe my music as Irish folk and ballads, but I throw some Irish country in my sessions too.
Do you have a favourite song to sing that gets a great crowd reaction? If so what makes it special for you?
I love singing Big Strong Man, it’s definitely one of my favourite songs to sing. It always gets the crowd going no matter when in the session I sing it.
Who’s your favourite musician and why?
I’ve so many favourite musicians, it’s really hard to name one, but when I hear Luke Kelly his voice is exceptional, it stands out a mile. I like Ed Sheeran and Hosier as they’re great singer-songwriters.
The music industry took a real hit during lockdown what do you feel could be done to improve the industry in the future?
There would have to be immediate assistance for full-time musicians. They were some of the hardest hit people during lockdown. The government definitely dragged their feet when it came to reopening pubs and clubs. Lots of the venues were already set up for table service and social distancing and were the last of the businesses to open. With all the precautions that were in place it’s definitely good to keep them in case of another outbreak and threat of a lockdown.
Do you ever watch your online gigs back and think there are things you would change or improve on to make yourself a better artist? If so what would they be?
During my online gigs, I received a lot of requests for songs I hadn’t heard of. I would have asked the people who asked for them to send me a link to the song. When I’d listened sometimes to certain songs, I knew my voice was struggling to hit different notes so I’d sit down and learn them songs in different keys. The online sessions were a good place to practice some new songs I’d learnt.
How do you feel the internet has impacted the music industry? Has it made your job harder or easier?
Oh definitely a lot easier. Most venues can now just go on and check musicians’ Facebook pages or Instagram to see how they are when performing. While Covid-19 was bad for musicians, when they went online they opened themselves up to a whole new audience. Also with Facebook Pages, Glasgow Irish Bands and Gigs and other groups sharing our online sessions, we reached people we would have never reached before. So a big thank you to all those Facebook groups that shared our music throughout lockdown.
You play in St Jarlath’s independent pipe band, An Port Mór Blackwater how did that come about and did lockdown affect band practice?
I joined the pipe band more than four years ago. I play the snare drum. My good friend, Kevin McBride, had been a piper in the band for years and he knew that I played the snare drum in flute bands years ago. Once I joined, I never looked back. Then lockdown came and our practices had to stop, we couldn’t meet up in a group. Then came the clap for carers every Thursday, so we decided, as a band, to play in local villages to say thank you to the nurses, doctors , carers and anyone else who helped those fight Covid-19. We also went to nursing homes and play for the residents. You could see them standing at their windows smiling. It was really hard for them as no family members were allowed to visit. Doing that made it worth it.
Does An Port Mór have a long history in your community and how do they support it?
Yeah the pipe band has being going now for more than 30 years. Local people from nearby villages like Benburd, Tullysaran and, of course, Blackwater make up the band. Some members have had family who played in it before. The community supports us in our fundraising activities. You’d get local businesses donating money to the band for new equipment if it was needed. We always parade for any local festivals or community-run events. We also parade on St Patrick’s Day and other parades during the year.
You released a CD during lockdown called Armagh Martyrs. What inspired you to do that?
I’d written some of the songs when playing with Sam Hall, but I never recorded them. I sang them in my online sessions and people asked me would I record them? I thought about it as I’d another couple of songs written and thought why not. I also wanted to get these songs recorded as they are about local people who fought and died for Ireland. We know they can’t come back, but if we can keep their memories alive with these songs then I’m happy with that.
What interests or hobbies do you have outside music?
I used to play hurling until I busted my cartilage in my knee. I did airsofting for years with my two eldest sons—Call of Duty eat your heart out! I took up archery a number of years ago and I was enjoying it, but Covid-19 knocked that on the head. Now it’s family, work and music that fills my time.
What’s in the pipeline for the future of Bobbys Folk?
I just plan to keep the head down and keep the gigs rolling in and hopefully get to meet more of my fans who supported me through my Facebook sessions. I’m hoping to get another CD done by October as I’ve some new songs to get recorded.
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Murray Leith and Jo Laing