A St. Patrick’s Day celebration with John Joe Kelly

by Charlton “Chuck” Stanley, Weekend Contributor

“…to say John Joe Kelly plays the bodhrán, is like saying Mount Everest is a bit of a climb” – Sidmouth Music Festival, Paul Saunders, March ’99

ShamrockSt. Paddy’s day is upon us, and in the spirit of the Emerald Isle, some authentic Irish music is in order. Ireland has a long history of treasuring its poets and musicians. The tambourine was the percussion instrument of choice going back into the dim mists of Irish music history. Sometime about the late 19th or early 20th century, the bodhrán as we know it now came into existence. The first recordings of the bodhrán date to the 1920s. The great Irish composer, Seán Ó Riada (John Reidy) declared the bodhrán to be the native drum of the Celts. He described them as having a musical history predating Christianity, and was a native instrument of southwest Ireland.

John Joe Kelly’s interest in percussion began early. When he was seven, borrowed his older sister’s tin whistles. Unfortunately for the whistles, he used them as drumsticks. He managed to dent them in the process. A friend of the family observed John Joe’s interest in drums and bought him a 10-inch bodhrán. A percussion legend was born.

John Joe started the Irish band Flook in the 1990. They recorded several albums which were well received by fans of Celtic music.

John Joe Kelly’s drumming technique on the bodhrán is incredible. He has mastered the fine art of putting gentle pressure on different parts of the inside of the drumhead with his left hand. This technique alter the pitch of the instrument higher and lower, all the while creating astounding rhythm changes with rapid-fire doublets and triplets. A bodhrán drumstick is called a “tipper.” There are many styles of tippers, and many ways to hold one, but normally about two thirds from one end. Unlike traditional drumsticks, both ends of the tipper are used when playing the bodhrán.

John Joe’s bodhrán shown in the video is a Seamus O’Kane, but he has others, including a Hedwitschak.

This first video is of a drum solo by John Joe Kelly at an Irishfest in 2004. The technical difficulty of this drum solo is almost beyond comprehension. It probably can only be truly understood by someone who has played the bodhrán.

This is John Joe Kelley with Irish flute legend Michael McGoldrick at Christ Church in Dublin in 2012.

Disclaimer: I have two bodhráns, a 14-inch and an 18-inch. However, I do NOT have a Seamus O’Kane or Hedwitschak. But, I wish!

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