Published Wednesday, December 2, 2009, 4:18 PM
From time to time, if you are fortunate or astute, you will come across a musician in the Irish traditional music scene who typifies how much the native folk music means to those who are uprooted from its soil in the great Irish diaspora.
Fame, commercial success or recordings are not often not the important criteria here when discussing the importance of such people, but rather the impression they made upon the people they shared their music with over the years.
From their formative years where they were steeped in the music of the homeplace in Ireland, it then becomes a defining characteristic, making them tradition carriers when immigration for work necessitated leaving their native locality.
In that category falls Dermot Grogan, a Mayoman who left us all too soon at age 48 in February, 2006 but is fondly remembered in the release of a new CD recently in Ireland entitled 'Dermot Grogan: A Selection of His Music' that was posthumously released from a series of old recordings culled from a variety of sources.
Grogan was born in August 1957 in Derrytavrane in the parish of Kilmovee in East Mayo very near Kilkelly which we associate with that storied ballad depicting the sorrow and separation of immigration. His parents Bridget and Darby raised four children with Dermot being the youngest, learning the whistle and flute from his father who in 1970 also purchased the red Paolo Soprani B/C accordion Dermot played throughout his life along with the flute he acquired from Tom Duffy of Kilkelly.
Along with his brother Mick, he sopped up the music of East Mayo and the neighboring counties of Sligo and Roscommon that had a common regional heritage and store of tunes and settings. Playing in ceili bands and informal sessions, he was fairly well grounded before immigrating to England to find work in construction.
First to Manchester and eventually to London, he carried the music along with him and joined in with all the other Irish immigrants in England who made sure that the music of Ireland would never die by night as they labored by day.
His reputation as a tasty player on the flute and accordion and source for tunes was building, though Grogan played from his heart and didn’t need to be raised on a pedestal, commercial or otherwise.
He landed in New York in the mid-1990s and ingratiated himself into local session scene around town, befriending many stalwarts who kept the music alive in the same informal but dedicated fashion that he was familiar with back in Ireland or England.
His tunes and fast-disappearing regional style made the rounds and his company was well-sought by those who shared his deep appreciation and respect for the music handed down to him with an obligation to pass it on in much the same manner that would often be outside the glare and tangible rewards of the commercial spotlight.
When Dermot passed away almost four years ago it became obvious that his legacy deserved some more formal recognition than a recording usually brings. So friends Gregory Daly and Paul Waldron (brother of Sheila Waldron, Dermot’s long-time companion) began a quest to gather a representative sample of music recordings from Ireland, England and the U.S. for a compilation that would further that legacy while adding to the rich musical heritage of Irish music.
Twenty-one tracks were eventually chosen, giving a broad and accurate picture of Grogan’s enthusiastic and knowledgeable approach to the music alongside musicians that brought out the best in him as well in a variety of venues.
Musician John Blake helped restore and master this archival project for listening and savoring the music produced by this seminal individual captured here, alternating and showcasing his superb accordion or flute playing prowess.
While he may have roamed far from the fireside where he was reared, it was never far removed from him when he sat down to play. This the predominant feeling that will come over you as you listen to the new recording and soak up all that Dermot put into the music.
Like other posthumous recordings this will be a collector’s item for hardcore fans of trad music, but the primary beneficiary of any sales will be the Mayo Roscommon Hospice that looked after Dermot in his final days as the cancer took him from our midst.
Virtually all the proceeds will go towards the facility, which is something to keep in mind in this season of Christmas where giving becomes paramount too often for commercial reasons.
A stock of CDs have been made available in the New York area through Tony Horswill, a fellow musician and friend of Dermot’s, and a grassroots effort is underway to help sell them for the worthy cause in remembrance of a musical friend.
The CD will be launched and available on Monday, December 14 at the weekly music session hosted by another Dermot friend, Don Meade, at the Landmark Tavern (626 11th Avenue at 46th Street; 212-247-2562 or www.thelandmarktavern.org).
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