Hall of Fame - Arty McGlynn

Geoff Harden admires the ubiquitous Omagh musician

A search of my own computer turned up more than a hundred documents mentioning Arty McGlynn: an indication of the all-pervading influence the modest guitarist from Omagh has had on the Northern Ireland music scene over the past quarter of a century.

In fact, he has been entertaining and amazing for longer than that since, like many of his contemporaries from the west of Ulster, he cut his musical teeth playing in showbands for nearly twenty years before emerging onto the folk scene. The Plattermen and Brian Coll’s Buckaroos were among the best known.

Traditional music had been his first influence with his father playing the accordion, his mother the fiddle and her father, Felix Kearney, being a well known singer in the area. In fact Kearney wrote one of the two songs sung by Arty’s long-time friend and mentor, David Hammond, on his remarkable debut album in 1979. The ground-breaking McGlynn’s Fancy set the music world alight with its dazzling interpretations of jigs, reels and more.

McGlynn had picked up on the guitar at the age of eleven, after initially learning accordion (on which he is said to have been proficient at the age of five). After copying guitarists on records by the rock ‘n’ roll stars of the time, he fell under the spell of the great jazz guitarists like Wes Montogmery and Barney Kessel, and it was not long before he was brought into local bands.

Another local friend, Paul Brady, played a big part in broadening his horizons, inviting him to play on his first solo album Hard Station. This, together with the success of his own album, opened many doors for Arty who soon became much in demand to play for many of the big names around Dublin. Over the subsequent years he has played with Christy Moore, piper Liam O'Flynn and others and been a member of a revived version of Planxty as well as Patrick Street, De Danann and Four Men & A Dog. He also spent time in Van Morrison’s band and has become one of Ireland’s top record producers.

Recordings and concert appearances in his own right have had to take second place for much of the time but he has maintained a musical partnership which emerged ten years after his solo debut – with his wife, the Cork-born violinist Nollaig Casey. Their first album, Lead The Knave, caused almost as much of a stir as McGlynn’s Fancy. They followed it up with another, Causeway, six years later. In 2004, Old Bridge Music released a new album by Nollaig Casey, The Music of What Happened. The album was produced by, and features plenty of guitar from, Arty McGlynn; it was greeted with rapturous reviews.

At the Galway Arts Festival in July 2003 Arty was honoured with a tribute concert. It was one of the most star-studded events of the year. John Kelly and David Hammond introduced guests including John Prine, Paul Brady, Liam O'Flynn, Andy Irvine, Sean Keane, Frankie Gavin and Nollaig Casey. A surprise guest was American-based Maura O'Connell, yet another singer who has benefited from Arty’s guitar work.