The Maestro

By Earle Hitchner, Irish Echo

“The Case” or “The Maestro” : these were two nicknames respectfully accorded Bobby Casey, the great fiddler from Annagh, Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, who immigrated to London in 1952. Just three weeks shy of his 74th birthday, he died at 8:30 on Saturday night, May 13, in Northamptonshire, central England, where he had been admitted two days earlier to Northampton General Hospital. Bobby and his late wife, Ann, had made their home in the small village of Weedon, Northamptonshire, since January 1992.

A lodestar for Irish traditional music in London and environs, Bobby Casey was the son of John (Scully) Casey, a superb fiddler himself. Though he received some instruction from another talented Clare fiddler, Martin (Junior) Crehan, who often visited the Casey household, Bobby was largely self-taught, honing his technique and increasing his store of tunes through various dances and concerts.

He struck up a close friendship and musical partnership with Miltown Malbay’s acclaimed uilleann piper Willie Clancy (1918-1973), who learned step-dancing from Bobby’s cousin Thady and usually played fiddle and flutebeside Bobby. Clancy immigrated to London with Casey to pursue work during the postwar boom there, but when Clancy returned to Ireland, Casey stayed on in London.

His reputation as a fiddler of extraordinary skill grew rapidly in England’s capital, and his influence on the Irish traditional music scene there is incalculable, affecting virtually everyone who heard him play. For a time he performed in English folk clubs and pubs with fellow Clare exile Tommy McCarthy (concertina and uilleann pipes), whose son Tommy Jr. owns the Burren pub in Somerville, Mass.

There are not many formal albums that feature Bobby Casey’s fiddling: a solo album, “Taking Flight”; tracks on “Paddy in the Smoke” and “Clare Fiddlers”; a cassette of the London-based Thatch Ceili Band; and a track on “Bringing It All Back Home.”

One of Bobby’s best efforts, ironically enough, was “Casey in the Cowhouse” (Bellbridge Records), recorded mainly in the cowhouse behind Junior Crehan’s cottage in August 1959. Of that cassette’s 18 tracks, 14 came from Grundig reel-to-reel tapes made in the Cowhouse. RTE’ producer/engineer Harry Bradshaw cleaned them up as much as possible, and they remain an often exhilarating testament to Casey’s distinctive style and skill.

A master fiddler known for the generosity of his playing, Bobby Casey helped to keep the musical tradition he cherished alive and flourishing far from his native home in Clare. The transplantation was not always easy, but it took root, blossomed, and then spread, perhaps farther than he ever imagined.

He is survived by his two daughters, Angela and Susan, and his son, Seán.