- Written by Simon Haines Simon Haines
Soon after this, I discovered that the combination of accordion (Jackie Daly) and fiddle (Frankie Gavin) was the melodic powerhouse of a great Irish band I have followed ever since: De Danann. The concert they played at Colchester Arts Centre in 1983 was another revelation. I was a little disappointed to find that Jackie Daly had moved on but been replaced by someone called Martin O’Connor. I wasn’t disappointed for long Martin’s playing and the band’s music was magic. On that night they had two great singers: Mary Black and Dolores Keane.
Frankie Gavin and Martin O'Connor
Jackie Daly’s tunes were manageable for me because the music of the Sliabh Luachra area of Kerry includes lots of polkas and not too many reels. However Martin O’Connor played what I would describe as “less English” tunes – ones that were much more difficult for me to play. It was at this stage that I accepted that I’d have to settle for being fan rather than a player of the Irish accordion music. From then on I followed the band De Danann avidly although they came to the UK quite rarely, finding a warmer welcome and more lucrative work in America and the rest of the world. One of the highlights of the time Martin O’Connor played with the band was their rendition of Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (in Galway). How anyone could play a tune like that at that speed I’ll never know, but all the band’s accordeon players since have managed it.
Arrival of the Queen of Sheba in Galway - De Dannan with Barry Brady on box
After Martin O’Connor left the band, De Dannan had a succession of equally brilliant box players, notably Aidan Coffey, Dereck Hickey and most recent Barry Brady, who plays refurbished 1920s Paolo Soprani instruments.