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Celine Donoghue





Scotland's Celine Donoghue is an outstanding example of the new young breed of traditional musician and here she tells Alan McIntosh Brown all about it.

Though not yet out of her teens, Celine Donoghue has established herself on the Scottish traditional music scene as a fine exponent of the fiddle. Unusually, however, she has also reached the same successful heights playing tenor banjo. And, what's more, she has recently brought out her debut album, very appropriately named Something Else, in which she figures also as a vocalist. Add to that her place in the line-up of one of Scotland's hottest bands - Calasaig - and you won't be far wrong in your guess that this young lady is going places, and in a hurry.

Celine was born in Glasgow and grew up in the city's East End, but not in a musical family. "I'm the only one who plays music, apart from my cousins next door," she says. Her parents, however, had an obvious influence on her music as she grew up. "Mum and Dad loved the Dubliners and the Clancy Brothers," she says, "in fact, all the Irish bands, as well as the Corries." Both sides of Celine's family go back to Ireland but the closest link is with her grandfather who hails from Manor Hamilton in Leitrim, while the other side of her family go back to Donegal. "I wouldn't say Mum and Dad were really into folk music, but they liked the mainstream ones like the Dubliners," she says, adding with a mischievous smile, "I don't really want to mention Daniel O'Donnell but Mum liked that kind of thing because her father was Irish and she really liked anything Irish."

So why did she choose to begin playing the fiddle? "I just fancied playing it," she says. "Everybody else was playing the tin whistle." Once again the influence of Comhltas Ceoltoiri Eireann comes into play. "I started with Comhltas with Frank McCardle," she says. She and her cousins began lessons at the same time, joining the Irish Minstrels Branch in Glasgow. "We heard there were traditional music classess in Royston in St Roch's School. It was Frank McCardle who basically started a music class." Celine began the study of the fiddle at the age of nine. "The class grew and we used to go to the All Ireland Fleadhs," she says, "but it was mainly for the music rather than the competitions." Subsequently, she has been a finalist in the inaugural Young Scottish Fleadh for tenor banjo in 2001. So, not content with mastering the fiddle, why did this plucky young lady decide to branch out and learn the tenor banjo? "It was something a wee bit different" she says. "There wasn't really anyone playing the banjo and I suppose I'd heard Barney McKenna and I quite fancied it." She laughs as she recalls one of her reasons. "The fingering is similar to the fiddle," she says, "but it's a totally different instrument and I didn't realise that until I'd started!".

And do the banjo players of past and present influence her? "To tell you the truth, I prefer listening to fiddle players," she says, almost apologetically. "I met Gerry O'Connor a few years ago at Celtic Connections when he was playing in a session, but to be honest I don't listen to too many banjo players. I know I should get a slap on the wrist for that!" she chuckles. "I know I should listen to more banjo players but I'm trying to do more Scottish stuff like pipe jigs because the banjo is more heavily associated with Irish music rather than Scottish." I rephrase the question to bring in the fiddle players. "I like listening to Paddy Glackin," she says. "I think he's a great fiddle player, and also Tommy Peoples. Then there's Mairead Mooney of Altan. There's a lot of Scottish fiddle players as well, especially the folk band Ossian with John Martin. And I like older stuff like the early Battlefield Band. Duncan Chisholm is one of my favourite fiddle players too." She talks of her favourite styles. "It was Irish fiddlers I listened to first and I like the Donegal fiddle." Celine has been an enthusiastic student at the Frankie Kennedy Winter School over the past few years. "The first year I went I had lessons from Paul O'Shaughnessy," she says. "I like how the Donegal music is a kind of cross between Irish and Scottish." And yet another talent has emerged in the Donoghue armoury - vocals. "It's a new thing to me," she says, adding, "It's a wee bit of a trial on the album." She quotes her singing influences as the late and much missed Tony Cuffe, as well as female singers such as Dolores Keane, and her fellow member of Calasaig, Kirsten Easdale. the singing began in an unusual way.

"I used to enter because there was no one else going in for the competitions," she says. She plays down this part of her talent. "I wouldn't say I was much of a singer," she says. Listeners to the debut album Something Else might wish to disagree with this last statement. "I would sing the odd song," she says, "but it was more instrumental stuff that I would do."

Mention of Calasaig leads to a question about the difference between playing solo and in a band. "I love playing in a band," she says. "I've played with them since I was 16 and it's very, very enjoyable. I think we all play well together and it's fun when there's a crowd of us on tour. But I enjoy doing my own kind of thing as well. I suppose it's easier trying to arrange pieces when there's just two people rather that five; you've only two opinions!"

At present, Celine is a Third-Year student at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow and she is hoping to be asked to return for her Honours year. "My principal study is fiddle and my second study is tenor banjo," she says, "though we have other classes like performance and all the rest of it." Her banjo tutor is the multi-talented Keith Easdale, fellow member of Calasaig and husband of Kirsten. "He's taught me since I was about eleven," she laughs. "He's a real all round player and I've learned a lot from him." Celine's fiddle tutor in the RSAMD is Perthshire virtuoso Pete Clark, ensuring that the young lady from the West of Scotland will acquire a thorough knowledge of the skilful compositions of Perthshire fiddlers such as Niel Gow and Robert McIntosh.

The debut album has just been released on REL Records and is receiving both critical and popular acclaim, partly due to the guest musicians whom Celine has assembled, including Wendy Weatherby, Steve Lawrence, Mick West and John Gahagan. "I just asked them nicely," she laughs. "I've known Mick and John for years from the Glasgow folk scene. These guys would do anything for you in the way of music and they're so knowledgeable. I think they were delighted to play on the album" One of her other guests is ex-Battlefield Band maestro Brian McNeill. "Brian is the Head of Scottish Music Department at the Academy so he was really happy to play on it as well," she says. "I'm really grateful to them because they're the guys who were basically doing it first. They were there in the early 70's and they were the guys who were out playing; the guys who took the risk and went out and did it."

And it's not only in this part of the world that Celine's talents are being recognised, for this year she picked up the Auleen Theriault Young Tradition Award at the Goderich Celtic Festival in Ontario, Canada. She fills in the background. "The band have been going over to Canada for three years now and Goderich has been one of the festivals we've gone to every year. I think they must have just liked my playing," says this most modest of musicians.

What are her ambitions? "Hopefully to be a professional musician and tour the world," she says with s smile. "I'd love to go over and play in Ireland, because my roots lie there. I think they would quite like the Scottish aspect as well. I think they need to hear a wee bit more Scottish stuff." And the writing side of music? "I've written a couple of tunes," she says, "but I'd quite like to get into composition. I'd love to do a piece with an orchestra, like the crossover thing that Billy Jackson's done."

As an afterthought, Celine tells me of a couple of dates in the near future. On 13 January 2004, along with her mentor Keith Easdale, she'll be performing at the United Nations Building in New York City at the Inaugural Robert Burns Lecture, to be delivered by a certain UN Secretary-General Mr Kofi Annan, before it's back to her home city and another prestigious gig at Celtic Connections on the first day of February. The future for Celine Donoghue looks exceedingly bright, and this most charming and talented of musicians will have deserved all of it.

Something Else (CD)

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further information about this title

Celine Donoghue
An exciting debut album from this young musician set to achieve great things on the fiddle and tenor banjo.  

catalogue number: R2CD2006 (CD) 
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