Ómós: Tommy Peoples

Tommy Peoples

Donegal by nature Clare by nurture

Tommy Peoples: born September 20, 1948 – died August 4, 2018

The master fiddle-player, Tommy Peoples, died prematurely in August at the age of 69. One of the most influential artists in his field as well as a prolific composer of music in the traditional style, Quiet-spoken and modest, Tommy’s genuine humility belied a prodigious talent.

Born near Saint Johnston in East Donegal in 1948, Tommy Peoples was brought up in a strong fiddle-playing tradition – receiving his first fiddle lessons at the age of seven from his cousin, Joe Cassidy, who had been taught by their grandfather, Jimmy Peoples.

By the late 1960s, Tommy had joined An Garda Síochána and was posted to Dublin – where his unique playing style quickly established his reputation in the emerging traditional music scene – as a solo performer, as a duo with Matt Molloy and as a member of the Green Linnet Céilí Band and other ensembles.

But perhaps the most significant step in establishing his reputation as one of the leading exponents of his instrument was his decision to join the Bothy Band, as an early replacement for another fiddler with Donegal roots, Paddy Glackin, who was unwilling to commit to becoming a full-time professional musician. Tommy featured on the band’s first album, entitled simply The Bothy Band, before he left to pursue a largely solo career and was in turn replaced by Kevin Burke.

I will never forget finding… the first Bothy Band LP when I was 14. I was blown away by Tommy Peoples’ wild and full-hearted playing. It literally changed the course of my life.

Danny Diamond

Tommy recorded a number of critically acclaimed solo albums, including A Traditional Experience with Tommy Peoples, The High Part of the Road (with Paul Brady), The Iron Man (with Dáithí Sproule), Waiting for a Call, The Quiet Glen and Recorded At Fiddler’s Hearth as well as Molloy, Brady, Peoples, a three-hander with Matt Molly and Paul Brady. He also contributed tracks to a number of compilation albums including Fiddle Sticks and From A Distant Shore.

Many years ago I heard the blues in Irish music when I heard him play a slow air on the fiddle. It moved me to tears.

Maura O’Connell

Moving to Clare in the 1980s, he married Mary Linnane – whose mother Kitty was the long-serving manager and pianist with the Kilfenora Céili Band. As well as playing with the band from time to time, Tommy began to focus on composition – creating many tunes in the traditional style.

Eventually he published 130 of them in 2015 in Ó Am Go hAm – From Time to Time: Tutor, Text and Tunes by Tommy Peoples – a fascinating 350-page guide to Tommy’s unique playing style which combined extensive transcriptions of his compositions with the stories behind the tunes together with his highly original artwork.

Tommy (was) a true original. Ceol na bhflaitheas go gciosfeadh sé.

Ellen Cranitch

In 1998 Tommy received the first TG4 Gradam Ceoil award for Traditional Musician of the Year. In 2013 came another Gradam Ceoil first when he was recognised as the Composer of the Year – the first and so far only artist to achieve awards in two separate categories.

Tommy Peoples (Photo: tommypeoples.ie

After living in Clare for about thirty years, apart from a brief period in Boston – his base for touring North America – Tommy moved back to Donegal where he became traditional musician in residence at the Balor Arts Centre, Ballybofey. He also performed with his daughter, Siobhán, a noted fiddle player in her own right, including on the album, Maiden Voyage: Live traditional music session from Peppers Bar, Feakle, Co. Clare.

A few weeks before his death, Tommy’s extensive contribution to traditional music was recognised at a special tribute at the Willie Clancy Summer School in Milltown Malbay, where he also taught for many years. The tribute was led by his close friend, Paddy Glackin, who also delivered the eulogy at this burial in Drumcliffe cemetery just north of Ennis where he was interred beside his son, Tommy Óg, who predeceased him aged 21. Describing Tommy’s prolific output as a composer and as a performer, Glackin, said he had scaled new musical heights taking us all on “an exotic and at times dangerous but beautiful musical journey.”

Among the many tributes paid to Tommy following his death, was one from President Michael D. Higgins, who noted that “as a master of his craft, Tommy enchanted audiences at home and abroad.”

I will forever listen to Tommy’s fiddle playing in wonder and in awe. Lonesome, hard, ancient and progressive in equal measures.

Donal O’Connor

Tommy is survived by his widow, Mary; their daughters, Siobhán, Neasa and Gráinne; sons, Cronan and Lochlann; nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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