Micho Russell (1915-1994)

24 November 2006, 9:11 PM GMT

Micho Russell (1915-1994)

Micho Russell was born in 1915 in Doolin, Co. Clare. The area is rugged and windswept and looks straight across to the Aran Islands. Both his parents were native Irish speakers but spoke English to their children. The people of the area grew their own potatoes, kept a few animals and cut turf for winter warmth.

Practically every house had a cheap German concertina played usually by the woman of the house. The people gathered in designated houses for a ‘cuaird’ or ‘soiree’ - a night of storytelling, singing and dancing. The youngsters would be listening and gradually become absorbed in the culture. As they got older they were allowed to join and eventually provided the music. Micho heard a tin whistle being played, thought it sounded lovely and got his first Clarke at age 11 from his father. Patrick Flanagan, a concertina player in the neighbourhood, showed Micho the scale and he took it from there. Later he got a wooden flute and in time played for those house dances in the company of his brother Pakie (concertina) and Gus (flute). Up until the 1960’s Micho with his brothers worked the land and played music for pastime and enjoyment. Gradually the house dances waned and music moved into pubs like O’ Connors and McGanns.

Tony McMahon persuaded Micho to do a ‘spot’ in Slattery’s, Capel Street, Dublin in the mid 60’s - Pakie and Gus were just not interested in leaving the homestead. The uniqueness and simplicity of the man and his music astounded his audience and more and more engagements followed. Apart from his music, his listeners were enthralled by his folklore, intros to his pieces and singing of local songs. He did radio and TV broadcasts and became Ireland’s ambassador as he was invited all over Europe and USA. When he was back in Clare, Doolin became a major tourist attraction and a mecca for musicians all the year round. Sadly, he was killed in a motoring accident on the 19th of February 1994.

His Music

Micho’s music is devoid of over ornamentation but its uniqueness is characterised by his use of short phrases, stops and tonguing. It articulates the concertina music of his youth - simple, unadorned but very rhythmic. Even the tapping of his feet for accompaniment is unusual - he used to tap both the down beat and upbeat of the tune.

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