The last few years have marked quite a journey in the musical life of Tom Byrne culminating on 29.08.09 in the release of his first album ‘Tom Byrne’.

From his early upbringing in Crewe, his life in England and Donegal, it’s a life in which music has been his all - consuming passion.

In his debut CD, Tom is joined by the legendary Frankie Gavin on fiddle and viola, Carl Hession on piano, Paul O’Driscoll on double bass and Laurence Doherty on snare-drum to present a recording rich in sound and texture. Frankie Gavin has also produced the album, which features a mixture of haunting melodies including Tom’s stunning composition “Caoineadh na Neamh – Chiontach” (The Cry of The Innocent), and his father’s beautiful waltz, “The Sliabh Ban Waltz”. 

In addition, there are selections of high - powered dance tunes played with authority, passion and panache featuring Tom and also in duet with Frankie, which are guaranteed to put a stride in your step.

Tom was born 26.2.58 in Nantwich, Cheshire and spent his formative years in Crewe attending St Mary’s Junior School and then St Joseph’s Grammar School in Stoke – On –Trent. On finishing school he attended Newman College in Bartley Green Birmingham and subsequently Oxford Polytechnic and qualified as a teacher.

Music was at the centre of family life in the Byrne house and Tom’s earliest memories are filled with songs and tunes of all types. Tom’s mother was Bridie Canning from Magilligan in Co Derry. She encouraged Tom from a young age to play and was always extremely supportive. The tradition of music was very strong in particular on Tom’s father’s side of the family: the Doherty’s from Malin Head and the Byrne’s from Kilcar. Tom’s father Paddy was naturally creative and fiercely passionate in his interests. He played fiddle and accordion but he was also a singer, poet, writer, storyteller and composer with a limitless enthusiasm for music. Paddy’s mother and father (Tom’s grandparents) both came from very musical homes in areas which were steeped in music. Katie Doherty (Paddy’s mother) was a lovely singer and her brothers Pat and Willy and sister Nellie were all accordion players. Malin Head and indeed the whole Inishowen Peninsula was an area alive with music and the famous John Donovan (singer and fiddler) was a close friend of Tom’s father Paddy.

Equally John Byrne (Tom’s grandfather), a teacher from Kilcar had a deep love of Irish music and culture. Kilcar in S.W. Donegal is an area steeped in music with a long tradition. While living there in 1985, Tom met and played with Francie Dearg and Peter Cunningham two major influences on his father Paddy. Tom’s uncle Michael played fiddle and accordion as does his uncle Cara who is still playing great music.

Tom assimilated all these influences and at 11years of age shortly after receiving a harmonica for Christmas, started playing the chromatic accordion. Entirely self taught, the button accordion has always been his main instrument, however, in the late Eighties he began a 20 year on going passion for harmonica in all its forms, but in particular the diatonic (blues harmonica) and the chromatic harmonica. Tom progressed rapidly on this instrument and developed a major fascination in the infinite musical possibilities afforded by the harmonica, in particular in its expression of traditional music. Whether the tune demanded tone and feeling, rhythm and variation or the greatest complexity, Tom discovered the harmonica without doubt could deliver on all levels.

Tom was inspired by his father’s playing and shared a lifelong musical partnership with his father Paddy until his death in 2003. They played in Crewe and around N.W. England and on returning to Ireland in 1985 with Johnny Cunningham in Kilcar, Carrick and Glencolmcille.

Records of the incredible Sean McGuire and Joe Burke were crucial in sustaining Tom’s interest in traditional music while living in Crewe. On receiving Joe Burke’s phenomenal record ‘Galway’s Own’ by early post, Tom went to school late that day after he had listened to the record in full. There was a ceillidh band in Crewe in which Tom’s father played fiddle and as a result, he was exposed to a lot of music from all over Ireland. Often the Liverpool and Birmingham Ceillidh bands would visit Crewe. Regular visits to the house by the fiddlers Jim Sweeney from Ballinamore and Con McGinley from Clencolmcille were regular highlights of his upbringing. In 1973 at the All Britain Fleadh in Preston he heard the great Des Donnelly playing the fiddle and Des’ fantastic playing was a revelation.

Throughout the 90’s and particularly in the last ten year’s Tom’s collaboration with other groups and musicians has raised his profile and presented his music to a wider audience. He has appeared on a number of music programmes including Geantrai, Ceillidh House and Feilte. During the last two years he has played all over Ireland and further afield including Shetland, France and Rumania where he has received widespread critical acclaim.

At the Ar Ais Aris Festival in Buncrana in 2007, Tom played a number of selections of high powered hornpipes and reels with variations on the harmonica to a packed audience at the Festival Club. He received a rapturous reception and a standing ovation led by Frankie Gavin. This initial meeting with Frankie led to a number of concerts with him and his group Hibernian Rhapsody. Two of the highlights of this collaboration were his second half appearance with Frankie at The Balor Theatre which was reviewed by Tommy Peoples, ‘A Jewel Of A Night’ and as special guest at the main fiddle concert of the Derry Fiddle Fest 2007 held at the Guildhall where he played with Frankie Gavin, Liz Carroll, John Doyle, Tim O’Brien and Carl Hession.

In musical terms, the last few years have been very exciting for Tom and with the release of his debut album he looks forward to a future of further musical collaborations and to his development as a musician, composer and performing artist.


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