Lucy Earley on the haunting genius of Davy Spillane on the Uilleann Pipes
I consider myself very fortunate that we were brought up in South Dublin; just twenty minutes from the Wicklow Mountains, and around an hour from Glendalough. There are six kids in our family, and we loved going on drives when we were children.
We listened to a steady diet of traditional music, classical music, Stevie Wonder and The Beatles. But, when we travelled to Glendalough, dad always played the album: ‘Out of the Air’, by Davy Spillane, Ireland’s most famous Uilleann Piper.
He would blast the haunting track: ‘River of Gems’ out the window of our Volvo Estate (which had seen better days!), as we drove along the winding roads, surrounded by beautiful scenery. It must have had a calming effect on us. I remember all of us quietening down, listening intently – which was no mean feat!
Davy Spillane learned the uilleann pipes (pronounced il-in) when he was twelve. The uilleann pipes are a variation on the Scottish Bagpipes. However, the Irish adapted the bagpipes into their own invention, using the elbow to take the pressure off blowing arduously into a mouthpiece; hence, ‘uilleann’ is the Gaelic for elbow.
Born in Dublin in 1959, Davy joined Moving Hearts in 1981. He was a founding member – along with Donal Lunny and Christy Moore.
He branched out and collaborated with other musicians, as he worked on his solo albums. He combined the uilleann pipes with contemporary; jazz and rock to create an interesting take on traditional music. ‘Litton Lane’ with famous Irish guitarist, Rory Gallagher, is another fantastic track from ‘Out of The Air’.
After ‘Out of the Air’, he released ‘Shadow Hunter’ in 1990, and then ‘Eastwind’ in 1994. Riverdance Composer, Bill Whelan worked on ‘Eastwind’ – a year later Riverdance wowed the world. Davy Spillane went on to play with Riverdance as a special guest soloist.
So discover (or rediscover) Davy Spillane! Take a look at his excellent discography. Check out ‘River of Gems’ and ‘Journey of A Dreamer’, in the nice little YouTube homages I’ve picked out for you below.
A couple of weeks ago, my brother proposed to his girlfriend down in Glendalough, when he rang me to tell me his news that evening – what was I listening to? ‘River of Gems’ – of course!
Follow me on Twitter
‘River of Gems’ by Davy Spillane: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aa56k6xGjqA
‘Journey of A Dreamer’ by Davy Spillane: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0dYn0lEzZ8