Hall of Fame - Cathal Hayden

Geoff Harden is dazzled by this Co Tyrone musician

My first experience of Cathal Hayden was when Tyrone fiddler Jimmy Comac brought a fifteen year old banjo player to the Sunflower Folk Club in 1978. Hayden’s playing, even then, was dazzling but it was when he switched to fiddle as his main instrument that people really began to take notice.

Still in his teens, Cathal started winning all-Ireland championships on both his chosen instruments. Music had always been part of his life, growing up in The Rock, outside Pomeroy in Co Tyrone, with both his parents playing instruments and the family business being a bar – with music sessions.

Thanks to people like Jimmy Comac as well as his own energy and prodigious talent, people were soon beginning to notice him outside the session and competition scene. He recorded his first album, Handed Down, at the age of seventeen, with fellow Tyrone man Arty McGlynn at the controls. McGlynn has continued to collaborate with him on many of his subsequent projects.

In 1988 he became a founder member of a super-group founded by former De Dannan bodhran player Johnny ‘Ringo’ McDonagh. Other members of the ground-breaking band included Sharon Shannon, Frances Black, Sean Keane and Mick Daly. Two years later, he and Daly (whose nickname is ‘the black dog’) formed their own band, Four Men & A Dog, with the effervescent Magherafelt bodhran player and singer Gino Lupari.

Their debut appearance at the 1990 Belfast Folk Festival was a sensation and the following year they released Barking Mad which notched up huge sales and was Folk Roots magazine’s album of the year.

The success of that album led to eight years of hectic touring and recording before they decided to take a break in 1998. This was no rest for Hayden, though, as he was in constant demand to play on various albums, perform with other musicians such as accordionists Mairin O’Connor and Alan Kelly and singer/guitarist Micheal O’Domhnaill (of the Bothy Band) as well as piper Paddy Keenan (also ex Bothy Band). He has also acted as musical director for successful plays by Belfast writer Marie Jones.

Calls for Four Men & A Dog to get back together kept coming and in 2002 they decided it was time to pick up the instruments again, but this time on their own terms. They recorded a new album, Maybe Tonight, regarded by many as their best since Barking Mad. And they resumed gigging on a limited basis. Their music is such an infectious mix of styles and delivered with such flair and technical brilliance that it will be a sad day when they play their last show. That should not be for very many years though.