FEATURES

Pat McGill, bringing Bluegrass to Ardara

Frank Galligan

Reporter:

Frank Galligan

Email:

editorial@donegaldemocrat.com

Pat McGill, bringing the Blues to Ardara

Pat McGill and Bluegrass Superstar Rhonda Vincent

The legendary Ricky Skaggs once said: “I’ve told people for years Celtic music is the foundation stone for bluegrass, even country music generally — though it is admittedly hard to hear the Irish influence in ‘new’ country today. Certainly, you can detect it in the old country ballads — it’s in the heart of the songs.”

Bill Monroe was in agreement, he recalls. Without Irish music, there would never have been a bluegrass movement.
“Mr Monroe talked about the old sounds and the ancient tones. He was referring to the sounds from Scotland and Ireland — he believed very much his music was a hybrid of that. He’s right of course — you hear bluegrass and you know the Irish influence is there. It’s in the fiddle and the mandolin, the harmonies and the guitar. In all of it, really.”
Nashville producer and guitarist Chet Atkins once said “Ricky Skaggs single handedly saved country music.” The 22 time Grammy award winner once sought tapes of the late great Johnny Doherty as he said the fiddle sound reminded him of what he grew up with in Cordell, Kentucky.
Kentucky was also the birthplace of the iconic Bill Monroe, the father of Bluegrass music...Kentucky being the Bluegrass state.
As a youngster, Skaggs played with him and was hugely influenced by the the great Monroe. I’m always struck by the wonderful coincidence of Ardara having its own Kentucky and why it’s such an appropriate place for a great annual Bluegrass festival.
Organised by Pat McGill of the Beehive Bar, Ricky Skaggs would not only feel at home in ‘Kentucky’ but the great Trad sessions every Friday night coupled with the Johnny Doherty memorial on the square, would surely make him feel that all the fates had conspired to give him a Cead Mile Failte! Pat McGill has met Skaggs and many other great Bluegrass and Country musicians and his wife Eileen Golden from Brooklyn is a founder member of Cherish The Ladies...so there is a natural fusion of great genres in this veritable ‘beehive’ of activity.
When Pat returned from New York in 2003, he came across an old photo amidst rubbish on the floor of the pub that he had just purchased. It now hangs in pride of place and shows a beaming Johnny Doherty who was photographed while participating in the UTV documentary, ‘Fiddler on the Road’.
Pat laughs: “Johnny informed everybody that he wasn’t playing that night...he had to entertain a young lady.” She was the documentary producer and is seen laughing in the same photo.
When I visited him in the Beehive, he recalled how he started in the music promotion business. “I worked for Anthony Molloy’s uncle, Jimmy McGonagle, in his famous ‘Sam Maguire’ pub in New York. I started taking in bands like The Commitments, Stockton’s Wing, Smokie and Four Men and a Dog. So I kept it going here, particularly with traditional and Bluegrass musicians. I started the Bluegrass Festival 12 years ago, and the followers are very loyal...there is great camaraderie between them.”
He acknowledges his fellow Donegal man, Richard Hurst’s great contribution to the music with his annual Bluegrass Festival in Omagh, a venue he started visiting in 2005.”
Mention of 4 Men and a Dog reminds me that should anyone get around to writing Pat’s biography, they could call it “Four Dogs and a Man” as he treasures his four Golden Retrievers!
He’s currently promoting a 10 gig Irish summer tour by Alecia Nugent. Her latest album, ‘Hillbilly Goddess’, includes contributions by the aforementioned Ricky Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder, as well as Dan Tyminski who did George Clooney’s singing voice in the cult movie, ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou?’.
Of course, Ardara is on her itinerary. Born to James and Mary McGill, he was one of nine children, one sadly deceased and like his friend and co-organiser of festivals, Stephen McCahill, his motivation is simple: “ I just want to bring people to the town.”
The Johnny Doherty Festival is his other big achievement. Not only do famous musicians grace his door, but actresses Joanna Lumley and Julie Christie have supped there.
“Sometimes I don’t make a cent out of the concerts but that’s not the priority. Music is a great respite for people in this day and age.”
Before he went to the USA, the pub was his local...owned by the Gildeas and frequented in their time by Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan. Little did he think that when he asked his brother Peter to put a bid in for the craic in 2002, that The Beehive would quickly become the place where the sound of fiddle and banjo from both sides of the Atlantic would predominate.
Bill Monroe once said: “Bluegrass has brought more people together and made more friends than any music in the world. “You meet people at festivals and renew acquaintances year after year.” Amen to that”...to quote Pat McGill!