Interview with Mike Rafferty, Part 4: East Galway Music

This interview was conducted by Mike Casey (MC) and Paul Wells (PW).

East Galway Music

Mike Rafferty and Mike Casey playing together. Photo by Paul Wells.

Mike Rafferty and Mike Casey playing together. Photo by Paul Wells.

MC: I was curious as to who your favorite flute players were back home.

MR: My idol was Jack Coughlan. Yeah, Jack Coughlan. There was something special about [his playing]. Of course, I was younger when I heard it. He had a great flow of music, rolling it out. I don’t know what it was that I used to love to hear. Him and Aggie, if you ever heard the two of them together, they complemented each other as well. And I used to say to myself: “If I ever could play like that!” He had a great tone out of a flute. ”The Collier’s Reel,” was something that he used to [play], you know. You’d think that he never took a breath. He could put in the roll where it wanted it, that kind of thing. I don’t know. I liked his style of playing. I haven’t heard anybody play like him.

MC: Well, it seems like there were an awful lot of flute players in your area. More than other areas of Ireland.

MR: I would say there was a nest of them there. There was another guy that never got no publicity or never played, maybe even at house dances. Would play home, or if he had a pint or two in him and happened to have the flute…he’d never bring the flute with him. And he had a lovely style of playing as well, was Paddy Holloran. And he’s passed and gone. That was another guy that inspired me very much, to listen to him. He was a bit older than me. The steady tone, of flowing music coming out of there! He was another good one. And then of course from Woodford, there was another good one, Tommy Gaffey.

MC: Was the flute playing around your area any different than other areas of the country?

MR: At that time, now you could tell what county he came from if he was a fairly good flute player. Like Sligo has a different style, now, for Roscommon…Sligo is much the same. And I don’t know about Leitrim, but Sligo definitely stood out, as a style of playing, in them days, from the style of East Galway, or even around where I come from. We were only five miles from the border of Clare there. There was a couple of friends of mine in the Blarney Star one night when I was playing there. And we talked about where we got our music. ‘Cause I said, we’re only five miles from the borders of Clare, and they were kind of up on the hill and, as you know, we lived down in the hollows. Sound goes up, and that’s how the Clare people learned their music!

MC: How do you describe the flute playing in East Galway?

MR: I don’t know what it was…I suppose everybody had a fancy to their own style or their own area. I don’t know, I never give it attention in a way. I know one thing, Sligo [players] wanted to put in more phrasing, more variations, or whatever you want to call it. You probably heard Seamus Tansey, you’ve heard his recordings. He has a different style. Mike Flynn, I don’t know if you heard of him, he was a Sligo man, I played with him a few times. ‘Twas kind of hard to play when…two flute players that don’t have the same style, ‘twas kind of hard…I found it hard to play with. Michael Flatley had that style too. I never forgot when I was on the tour with him in 1979, he had a Sligo style of playing the flute. And the two of us, it took us a full week before we could play together.

MC: You’re often encouraging us to play slower.

MR: Yeah. You’ll hear a lot of players saying: “Well, I’m playing for the dance, and you have to play it fast.” And it gets into your bloodstream. You’ll play it fast all the time. My ambition is to play it slow. You’re pronouncing it better, you’re gettin’ more feelings, you’re getting more satisfaction, there’s more fun in playing, anyway. You put more body into it, as Joe Madden would say. My belief is if you’re learning a tune, especially learning it, play it slow until you get good control of it. But any tune, whether you have control of it or not, I believe that if you play nice and slow, and often, you have to get better.

MC: It must have been harder to remember tunes earlier on, before tape recorders.

MR: There wasn’t that many of them, I suppose. When there was only that many, you’d remember them. I don’t know how they got the tunes, how them old-timers, that didn’t read or write music. And so that was another drawback if you will. I don’t know how my father got the tunes. Sure, it would take them a long time to get a tune sometimes. But you’d hear somebody whistling it. Jack Dervan now, as I mentioned before, I’d be walking out the road or be going someplace and he’d be in the field workin’, and he’d know I’d be comin’ out or something, he could see. And he’d [say] “ Did you ever hear this one?” That’s how you got that tune.

PW: You don’t read music do you?

MR: No, I can’t read it or write it.

PW: I guess in the old days when you had to rely on your memory, your memory got pretty good.

MR: Yeah, I suppose so, I don’t know. The folks around that I knew of, especially the old ones it just came into their head, and that was it. None of them ever understood music, in writing, anyway.

MC: Do you have a tune that’s been your favorite over the years?

MR: Not really. A lot are my favorites now. When you had less of them you had [a favorite]. But now what happens is you learn a tune, you take a likin’ to it, and it’s your favorite for awhile, and then you go on to the next one. I think some of Paddy Fahy’s tunes are very attractive. And indeed Paddy O’Brien’s, some of them.

MC: Well, Mike, thanks. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.

PW: Yes, it’s great…lovely to sit and talk!

MR: Oh, you’re welcome I’m sure. You’re welcome, I’m sure.