Profile: Boys of the Lough

Boys of the Lough are one of the past masters of celtic music, combining members from several celtic traditions with a long history; where other celtic groups last a few years, the Boys are now in their third decade and retain two of their earliest members. Like that other long-running act the Chieftans, their music tends to the formal; impeccable technique and sensitivity, with large, sometimes classical-style arrangements, and very tight ensemble playing. They lack the fire and roughness of other groups; the overall feeling is of a group of skilled, well-integrated musicians playing together for the pure pleasure of it.

The history of the Boys has several twists and turns. The group was formed in 1967, as a trio of Cathal McConnell, Tommy Gunn of Fermanagh and Robin Morton from Portadown. Tommy Gunn later dropped out and the remaining duo recorded "An Irish Jubliee" in 1969. At the sametime, Shetland fiddler Aly Bain and singer/guitarist Mike Whelans were playing on the Scottish folk circuit. The two duos met up at the Falkirk folk festival where they played together and some time later, in 1971 came together for good. Dick Gaughan of Leith replaced Mike in 1972 and this lineup recorded the first 'official' group album in 1972. Dick, in turn, left in 1973 and was replaced by Dave Richardson of Northumberland, bringing in new instruments including, cittern, banjo and mandolin. This lineup continued for several year, touring widely in Europe and America and releasing 6 albums, two of them recorded live. Live at Passim's was recorded at Passim's in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Wish You Were Here comes from a tour of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. Robin Morton left in 1979 and was replaced with Dave Richardson's brother, Tich, on guitar. Tich was killed in a road accident in late 1983. After some time, the band came together again with new members Christy O' Leary and John Coakley and have kept that lineup ever since.

Current Lineup

Aly Bain           Fiddle
Cathal McConnell   Flute and Tin Whistle, Vocals
Dave Richardson    Mandolin, cittern, English concertina, button accordion
Christy O' Leary   Uileann pipes, tin whistle, mouth-organ and vocals
Chris Newman       Guitar


Aly Bain is a highly respected fiddler from the Shetland Isles. Born in 1946, he took up the fiddle at age 11, learning from Tom Anderson, the acknowledged master of Shetland music. He was an early member of Boys of the Lough and has also has a solo career with several recordings to his credit. He has been involved in several traditional TV programs and features on their soundtrack recordings.

Cathal McConnell is a founder member of the band. He comes from a family of flute players in Co. Fermanagh, in Northern Ireland. He won all-Ireland championships in both flute and tin whistle, in 1962, at the age of 18. Five years later he started touring with the first incarnation of the Boys of the Lough and has been with them ever since, for many years being the band's lead singer.

Dave Richardson was a researcher into molecular evolution in the seventies until he joined the group to replace Dick Gaughan. His background covers both Scottish and English traditional music, coming from the border county of Northumberland in England. As with Cathal, he started on the tin whistle, converting tunes written for the Northumbrian pipes. Along with Aly and Cathal, he writes the new material used by the group.

Christy O' Leary is the relative youngster of the group. He was raised in Kerry, started with the tin whistle at age 15 and at 19 took up the uilleann pipes. He has toured with De Dannan and others before joining Boys of the Lough in 1985. He currently teaches uilleann piping and is himself learning to play fiddle and button accordion.

John Coakley is from Cork, just to the east of Kerry. He studied music under the reknowned Sean O' Riada at University College Cork and spent some time afterwards collecting fiddle and accordion music of the Sliabh Luachra area on the Cork/Kerry border, which had a deep influence on his style of playing. He moved to London and got involved in the Irish community, teaching and performing. He joined the group in 1985 and has more recently been replaced by Chris Newman.

Chris Newman is the newest Boy, best known for his collaborations with harpist Máire Ní Chathasaigh. Born in England and a wizard on guitar, but I don't know much more about him.

Update - Oct 97

The lineup has changed again, with Chris Newman and Christy O'Leary leaving the band in unhappy circumstances (see the OBM page for one side of the story, and being replaced by Irishmen Brendan Begley (accordion) and Garry O'Briain (guitar, mandocello, piano).


Date   Title                       European Release      US release
1972   The Boys of the Lough       Trailer LER2028       Shanachie 79002
1973   Second Album  Trailer       LER2090               Rounder 3006
1975   Live at Passim's            Transatlantic TRA296  Philo PH1026
1976   Lochaber No More            Transatlantic TRA311  Philo PH1031
1976   The Piper's Broken Finger   Transatlantic TRA333  Philo PH1042
1977   Good Friends-Good Music     Transatlantic TRA354  Philo PH1051
1978   Wish You Were Here          Transatlantic TRA359  Flying Fish FF070
1980   Regrouped                   Topic 12TS409         Flying Fish FF225
1981   In the Tradition            Topic 12TS422         Flying Fish FF263
1983   Open Road                   Topic 12TS433         Flying Fish FF310
1985   To Welcome Paddy Home       Lough 001             Shanachie 79061
1986   Far From Home               AUK 001               Shanachie 79065
1987   Farewell and Remember Me    Lough 002             Shanachie 79067
1988   Sweet Rural Shade           Lough 003             Shanachie 79068
1992   Live at Carnegie Hall       Lough 004             Sage Arts 0301
1992   The Fair Hills of Ireland   Lough 005             Sage Arts 0302

Cathal McConnell and Robin Morton:
1969   An Irish Jubilee            Ossian, OSS24 (reissue)

Solo Albums:
       Aly Bain                    Whirlie 001   
       Aly Bain Meets the Cajuns   Lismor Folk LIFL7017 
       Cathal McConnell            Topic 12TS377 Flying Fish FF058
       The Shetland Sessions Vol 1 Lismor Folk LIFL7021
       The Shetland Sessions Vol 2 Lismor Folk LIFL7022
       - TV soundtrack with Aly Bain and many others
       Down Home Vol. 1            Lismor Folk LIFL7011 
       Down Home Vol. 2            Lismor Folk LIFL7012 
       - Fiddle music compilations, on tape or both on a single 80-min CD,
	  LIFL 9027

Many of their albums are available online at a pretty good price from CD Universe, who also have some sound samples available on their site.

More information

Review from Dirty Linen magazine, Dec '92.

Copyright (c) 1994, 1997 Ceolas.

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