Missed an earlier news item? Visit the news archive.


Banjo legend passes on

Barney McKenna, known affectionately  as “Banjo Barney”  by thousands of Dubliners Fans has passed away on April 5th aged 72. A member of the group since their formation some 50 years ago, in O’Donoghue’s Pub in Dublin’s Merrion Row.  Barney brought not only the banjo but a keen wit to the ballad group. On stage he rarely said much, letting his banjo speak for him, but when called on to add a few lines they were often memorable. He was famous for his stories many were unbelievable but were delivered with such charm as to become known as ‘Barneyisms’.

His legacy is literally in the hands of thousands of traditional banjo players. He is credited as the man who brought the tenor banjo back into traditional music, it had been around in the Irish American dance halls of the 1920’s an escapee from the jazz era, in those days the banjo was tuned CGDA, the maestros of the day preferring rapid fire chord sequences. It was McKenna who popularized the now common Irish tuning GDAE, an octave below the fiddle, which made it eminently suitable for playing melody.

Barney took his tenor banjo around the world with the Dubliners and introduced thousands to such tunes as The Swallows Tail, The Fermoy Lasses and Sporting Paddy  and  his show stopper The Mason’s Apron. A fine player of the instrument he was not adverse to sending it and himself up.

An important musician for sure and an exemplary entertainer. Irish music has lost a legend, and Irish banjo players everywhere should mourn that their musical Godfather is no longer with us.

May he rest in peace.

Permalink - Posted: April 10, 2012 at 10:25 am