Irish fiddler Kevin Burke is excited about his solo show at GIG Performance Space on January 18 because it gives him an opportunity to showcase Irish fiddle music in a way not often experienced in concert.
“Traditional Irish music is not played by bands but by a solo fiddle,” he explains. “Most people today don’t get a chance to hear Irish music without accompaniment. I’m very aware that it’s a kind of foreign music that you don’t get to hear every day.”
A fiddle player since the age of eight, Burke listened to his parents’ records of traditional Irish fiddle music while he was growing up in London.
“I discovered that Irish players have many ways of ornamenting the notes of a tune and that these are often left out of the music books,” Burke says. “From the Irish players I learned to treat the printed page simply as a guide and to add grace notes and triplets more or less when I felt like it.”
When Burke was a teenager, he started going to pubs with his parents to hear the music of old-time Irish fiddlers. “Most of the people at these gatherings were rural Irish people, typically from families that were large and houses that were small,” Burke adds. “Their conversation and music, their singing and dancing, was their entertainment, and I loved it too.”
In the early 1970s Burke became interested in the music of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie and got a chance to hear Guthrie’s son, Arlo Guthrie, in a dark and secluded Irish Pub.
“Arlo and his friends had been in England performing and decided to come to Ireland for a few days looking for music,” he says. “I found it exciting that Arlo was interested in Irish music. It was a beautiful day and someone mentioned that we should be outside. The pub was across the road from some cliffs. We sat on the cliff tops most of the day enjoying the sunshine, the sea air and each other’s music.”
Not long after that meeting, Burke was invited to come to the U.S. to record an album with Guthrie. “The Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys” (1973) has one solo track of Burke’s fiddle playing.
A resident of Portland, Oregon since 1980 who received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Burke has collaborated with many different musicians through the years.
He’ll be talking about traditional Irish music during his solo performance at GIG.