I must admit that I am not a red-carpet addict fixated on the endless series of award shows from coast to coast in the New Year promoting movies and music and pitting artists against artists in meaningless ways. It will come as no surprise that I prefer award presentations with a bit of depth and sincerity that don’t seem like popularity contests conducted online or in one person’s opinion.
That is why I always look forward to the annual announcement of the pre-eminent honors in the field of Irish traditional music as selected by a knowledgeable panel recruited by TG4, Ireland’s Irish language television channel.
At a recent press conference in Dublin they were unveiled to the public and will be reconvened at the University of Limerick on April 12 for the presentations of the Gradam Cheoil Awards that will be televised on Easter Sunday evening on TG4, one of the most watched television shows of the year in Ireland.
The top prize goes to Harry Bradley as Traditional Musician of the Year. He is a well respected and formidable flute player from Belfast who has also done estimable work for Na Piobairi Uilleann as an uilleann piper and teacher.
Only 40, Bradley has distinguished himself with three solo CDs, and he just released a new one last month, The First of May, and he has also recorded with Jesse Smith and John Blake (Tap Room Trio) and with Altan.
The Young Musician of the Year award is going to Bryan O’Leary from the Ballydesmond/Gneeveguilla area deep in the heart of Sliabh Luachra territory. Just 20 years, he started on the button accordion 10 years ago after his grandfather Johnny O’Leary passed away, long considered the epitome of Sliabh Luachra box players.
Young O’Leary has faithfully followed in the family footsteps, mastering the music of that region at a very young age, so it is fitting he was selected in a year making the 10th anniversary of Johnny’s passing.
Another category we call a Hall of Fame nomination is reserved for venerable musicians, and there is no one in Ireland more worthy than the Bell Harbor concertina player Chris Droney, who will turn 90 later this year and is still playing away at his home in North Clare and dancing the odd step or set.
Droney set the standard for concertina players in Ireland for decades and has been a vital part in the dance music scene in Clare as well. He recorded three CDs himself with the last one coming in 2006 just before he came over to the Catskills.
In the past couple of years, the selection committee has added a category to acknowledge those who have spent much of their musical lives not only furthering their own careers, but also working hard on behalf of other musicians in opening up opportunities for them in a variety of ways beyond just performance.
In that vein, Dr. Mick Moloney is the recipient for Special Contributions, and as readers of this column will know his work fostering Irish music in America is well documented and appreciated.
The impact of those labors have been washing back on his native shores increasingly, as the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins reminded everyone with his own award to Moloney late last year.
The Singer of the Year is Nan Tom Teaimin de Burca from outside of Carna in Connemara who is steeped in the sean nos singing tradition of that region as well as mainstream singing.
Another new category appearing is for collaboration, and singled out for recognition this year is Goodman Collaboration, a recording sampling some of the 2,000 melodies from pre-Famine times collected by Canon James Goodman in Munster who was a flute player and piper.
Musicians Mick O’Brien (pipes) and his daughter Aoife Ni Bhriain teamed up with Mayo flute player Emer Mayock showcasing some of these tunes on the new CD, and it is the first time these awards have been given to a musical collaboration.