Sliabh Luachra "An Instinct for Southern Swing"

by Paul Dromey

Sliabh Luachra "An Instinct for Southern Swing" by Paul Dromey, Irish Music, June 1996 (Vol.1,no.10)

Fiddler player Matt Cranitch grew up in County Cork surrounded by the music of Sliabh Luachra. Paul Dromey reports

"Some people define it as being as much a state of mind as a geographical location. Its music, most notably the dance tunes, slides and polkas, have a distinctive Southern swing". The words of fiddle player Matt Cranitch speaking about the music of Sliabh Luachra, that almost mythical cultural heartland which takes in parts of Cork, Kerry and West Limerick.

Matt CranitchMatt Cranitch is himself widely respected as one of the leading exponents of Sliabh Luachra fiddle. In the Eighties his Gael-Linn album 'Eistigi Seal', on which he was accompanied by his sister Brid on piano, featured familiar and less well-known airs.

"I felt that an established traditional player should do this in order to counteract the playing of popular slow airs by many non-traditional musicians, consequently losing the real heart of the music."

Growing up in Rathduff, Co. Cork, the Cranitch family were initially introduced to traditional music by their father, who plays fiddle and accordion and indeed, his father before him, a melodeon player and step dancer. Matt was given a violin at a young age and classes were arranged for him at the Cork School of Music. In parallel with his classical studies, he was learning traditional fiddle at home and by his middle teens the latter won out.

His early influences were his father and listening to Ciaran MacMathuna's radio programmes, particularly 'A Job of Journeywork". "Through Ciaran's collecting and recording, people were afforded the marvellous opportunity of hearing musicians and styles from all over the country. This was in a time before the tape recorder became a common household item."

Last year, a collaboration with the Abbeyfeale button accordion player, Donal Murphy, formerly of Four Men and A Dog, and guitarist/singer Tommy O'Sullivan from Lispole in West Kerry, led to another fine album 'Sliabh Notes' on the CBM label. Matt has also played with Dolores Keane's band and is a regular with the band Chris Meehan and His Redneck Friends.

Meeting Henry Benagh after a Na Fili concert was the catalyst which was to add a new metaphorical string to Matt's bow. Benagh, a young bluegrass fiddle player from Nashville, asked if Matt would teach him some Irish tunes and bowing technique. So began a reciprocal arrangement which saw the two swapping tunes and knowledge, particularly bowing technique which is the real key to both styles. Matt went on to master old time Appalachian and bluegrass music and replaced Benagh in the now semi legendary Lee Valley String Band.