After Five Decades of Piping, Paddy Keenan Has No Plans To Stop The Music

May 8, 2014

Credit Richie Tyndall

To truly stand out in the music industry, your style has to be distinct, you have to have gumption, and you have to resilient. Uilleann pipe player Paddy Keenan has mastered all three defining points.

He plays an instrument whose sound is so distinct you have no choice but to sit up and listen.

In the '70s, he spearheaded The Bothy Band, an Irish Folk ensemble that brought their brand of music to the mainstream; and after battling more than a few setbacks, has hit an even keel of playing his pipes and traveling the world.

In anticipation of his performance on May 9 with guitarist John Walsh at Richland Community Hall, Keenan talked with me about sticking with such a choice instrument, turning down a meeting with the Beatles, and playing alone.

Here is an excerpt of the conversation:

On performing solo: "I like it. It's a chance of course as well for people to hear the instrument without being smothered out by any other guitars and things. People do like to join in. People wiht instruments and they're sitting there and you ask them up and they like it. It's good for the audience, it's good for me, it's refreshing - that helps too."

On the Legacy of The Bothy Band: "It actually surprises me, because even today in the states there are people interested in the time of The Bothy Band, and... kids are influenced by the same music that they're introduced to by their parents. I didn't know at all that the band's music was so influential over here."

On his missed meeting with John Lennon: "In the 60's I was asked to go show the pipes to John Lennon - it's a pity I didn't. I was 18 and I sort of chickened out on that. It's possible I'm the only person who ever refused a meeting with The Beatles. They were looking for a different instrumentation, and England and Ireland at the time were at war with each other. I didn't think they would be a very welcoming instrument. I'm not proud to say that, by the way!"

On what other career he would have considered pursuing had he not chosen music: "My dad was a traveling man. And he said to me 'I don't have a lot [to give you], but I'll give you the music. For one, you'll never starve, and it will break all language barriers.' Which it has done so far for me. I honestly don't know...the music was always there. It keeps me going, I don't need much more from it, and as I said I'm lucky to get all the work that I do."