Songlines | Tommy Peoples – Remembering the Bothy Band fiddler
13 September 2018

Tommy Peoples – Remembering the Bothy Band fiddler

By Michael Quinn

Remembering the life and music of Donegal fiddle player Tommy Peoples, who passed away in August.

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Eames59/Wikimedia

The ‘Tommy Peoples triplet’ was one of the most distinctive signatures in Irish traditional music over the last half-century. That the formidable technique was the property of its soft-spoken, retiring creator often seemed difficult to reconcile. But it fuelled a career that set the benchmark for fiddle players that followed.

Peoples first caught attention in Dublin’s pub-session circuit and later achieved international recognition in a band that lit up Irish traditional music in the second half of the 1970s. Together with Dónal Lunny, Paddy Keenan and Matt Molloy, The Bothy Band’s fire burned brightly but all too briefly, disbanding after not much more than four years together. A reluctant star, Peoples returned to solo work and smaller collaborations in which his playing seemed effortlessly virtuosic (but never for its own sake) and always intuitively sensitive to mood, tone and colour.

Rooted in the fiddle tradition of his native East Donegal, he also acknowledged Frank Kelly’s Sligo-accented playing and a debt to his near-neighbour Vincent Campbell. But his style was always his own, almost jazz-like in its sense of new-minted spontaneity, a bowing style of balletic gracefulness, fingering of enviable dexterity and a treatment of melody that often bordered on the idiosyncratic.   

His recorded legacy is slight but musically substantial, 1985’s The Iron Man (with Dáithí Sproule) and the Alph Duggan-partnered The Quiet Glen (1998) are both indispensable discs.

Twice-winner of the TG4 Gradam Ceoil composer’s award, Peoples published an essential tutorial – Ó Am go hAm: Tutor, Text and Tunes – in 2015. 

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