The Sparkling Dawn is a new release featuring music from a house party in Hughie Gillespie’s home in Ballybofey, Co. Donegal, in 1967 after his return home in 1964, from a lengthy stay in New York lasting over thirty years. During his American adventure, Hughie became Michael Coleman’s only pupil.
He is joined on this recording by his own protégé, Frank Kelly from nearby Killygordon, who went on to become All-Ireland senior fiddle champion and has continued to promote his mentor’s legacy since Gillespie’s death in 1986.
While Hughie Gillespie is probably best known for his American period, where he made a number of recordings for Decca in the 1930s, his return to Donegal in the early 1960s during the initial growth phase of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann brought an inspirational tradition-bearer back to the North West at a critical moment in the development of Irish music.
Hughie Gillespie was born in Dreenan near Ballybofey, Co. Donegal in 1906 and was to become one of the most distinguished Irish fiddle players of the gramophone era, despite having one of the shortest careers. It was in 1928 when Hughie emigrated to New York that he met celebrated fiddle player Michael Coleman, a meeting that resulted in a close friendship, lasting until Coleman’s death in 1945.
Coleman’s estimation of Hughie as a musician can be gauged firstly by the fact that he took him on as a student, almost immediately after they met. In the years following, Coleman and Hughie established a rapport as a duet, and although there are no known recordings of the pair, they did play together weekly for live radio broadcasts and other public events. As economic footings started to re-establish themselves following the initial shock of the 1929 Wall Street crash, emerging record companies began signing artists again.
Between 1934-36 Coleman recorded for the Decca Label and although these became his final commercial recordings it was his standing with the label that afforded Hughie an audition with a senior producer. Hughie recorded a total of twenty sides for Decca; two discs in May 1937, a further four discs in June 1938, and his final four in June 1939.
His playing as preserved on those records provides evidence of an individual and captivating performer, his approach both sweet and energetic, his left hand embellishments atypical in comparison to many fiddlers of that era. His rhythmical bowing style, coupled with a lively tempo demonstrate his artistic originality. Quoting Frank Kelly, ‘The records were his own’.
Frank Kelly started playing fiddle at eight years old on a square shoebox fiddle made by his grandfather. He recalls the strings were like ‘bull wire’ and his bow probably better suited for a bow and arrow. Growing up, his house was full of music, often holding two dances a week. “I remember going to bed, no-one in the house only myself and my mother…and waking up at twelve o’clock (midnight) and the house was full.”
He began learning from his brother Eddie and local fidldler John Dan McLaughlin, but would also glean tunes from local whistler John Callaghan. Simon Doherty, fiddle player and nephew of John Doherty was also a regular visitor. But Frank’s principal influence became Hughie Gillespie. In 1964 Hughie and his wife Mae moved back to Ireland and bought a farm in Carrickmagrath, Ballybofey. From that point on, Hughie mentored Frank in much the same way Coleman had fostered Hughie’s talents in the late 20s. And again, the imitation process did not suppress individuality. They became musical companions, meeting up at least two nights a week, Hughie ‘smoking little cigarettes’ and sharing music, until Hughie’s passing in 1986.
- The Galway Rambler/The Copperplate (reels)
- Jenny’s Welcome to Charlie (reel)
- The Old Grey Goose (jig)
- The Boys of the Lough (reel)
- The Stage/Parker’s Fancy/Coleman’s Fancy (hornpipes)
- Dowd’s/The Star of Munster (reels)
- Lord Gordon (reel)
- Mrs Kenny’s (waltz)
- Trim the Velvet/Paddy on the Turnpike (reels)
- Tell Her I Am/Richard Brennan’s Favourite (jigs)
- Ah Surely/The Dublin Reel (reels)
- The Shaskeen Reel/The Bag of Spuds (reels)
- Jackson’s Morning Brush/The Rambling Pitchfork (jigs)
- Lord McDonald’s/The Ballinasloe Fair (reels)
- Johnston’s Motor Car (song)
- Bonnie Kate/The Donegal Traveller (reels)
- Colonel Fraser (Kreisler’s Fancy) (reel)
- Bonnie Maggie Thompson (song)
- The Cameronian/Tom Steele (reels)
- Master McDernott’s/The Sparkling Dawn (reels)
- The Morning Dew/The Woman of the House (reels)
The original recording was made by Geordie McIntyre with subsequent sound restoration by John Blake.
Priced €20, the album is available from https://custysmusic.com/products/hughie-gillespie-frank-kelly-h4-the-sparkling-dawn?_pos=1&_sid=bf3f1a9cd&_ss=r