Peter Carberry

“Music should be played with feeling, heart and soul, and if you can play with those three, you’re grand,” remarked Peter Carberry, speaking from his Kenagh home about his latest CD release.

Peter, a box player of some renown, is a straight-talker when it comes to his life-long passion – traditional Irish music.

He learned to play the box, or accordion, at the tender age of nine at his grandparents’ house, just two fields away from where he now lives in a place called The Holla. Given that his father Kevin, and his uncle Peter were top class musicians, it was little surprise that his path in life would be steered by music.

“I learned my music off him (uncle Peter) and my father. I started my music when I was about nine years of age in The Halla, where my grandparents lived. There used to be an old single row melodeon accordion and I used to be quietly trying to pick up some notes from it, but eventually my grandfather and granny started me off playing the music. My father and uncle used to be playing around the area at dances and crossroad céilís at the time. Music was in the house so it was easy to pick it up, once it was in you. There was no such thing as Sky television or anything like that. People used to come to my house from all over the county, famous musicians and there would late nights of music There used to be a good collection of musicians, particularly in Newtowncashel, where there 12 or 14 top class musicians. Relations of the famous Sean Keane are from Newtowncashel, the Casey’s. Hardly anyone playing there now. I don’t know whether it’s to do with teaching or modern culture.”

Peter talks about the current state of music, and gets quite animated and at times frustrated, particularly about “the lack of soul and heart in the music being played in sessions”.

He cites a recent example of playing with a Clare musician Siobhan Peoples, a famous flute player from West Limerick, as an example of how music should be played.

“Playing with someone like her is completely different. It’s electrifying. You start to do things that you wouldn’t do in a regular session. You feel the energy in their music, and their personality comes out through their music.”

Having spent a long period of his life in Manchester, as a result of emigration, Peter says the schools should be teaching a lot more.

“The schools could do a lot more. I don’t know why they wouldn’t. The schools in England have traditional music classes. I can’t understand why they wouldn’t have that here.”

It was in Manchester that his life almost took a change for the worse. Working on a site one day, a week before he was due to play in the All Ireland in Listowel, in the senior competition, an accident severed the top of the middle finger on his right hand.

“First thing I thought of was the music – my box,” he recalled. “For a long time after that it was painful, not because it was cut, but painful in that I knew the damage that I had done musically.”

He turned to the banjo, and despite being an accomplished player in a band called ‘Toss the Feathers’, he always hankered for a return to the box.

“I got really frustrated and depressed because I couldn’t play (the box). I went to see a very famous musician down in Galway, Mairtin O’Connor, and he said to try a different method of playing, the old style. Eventually I got back into it, but it takes a lot of extra time to get it right, especially with difficult tunes.”

Thankfully, he regain his skilful and natural ability to dance his figures around the keys and buttons to produce the wonderful sound that can be found on his latest CD ‘Traditional Music from County Longford’ (a follow-up to his first CD, ‘Memories of the Holla’), recorded in Paul Gurney’s Studios in Longford.

Described by one critic as “an album of deeply rooted, unhurried and glorious sets of Irish music”, Peter says that it’s a CD that’s a long time in the making. “I was preparing it for a long time in my head. We used to play the tunes going back years ago, and I was trying to put into it what we put in to back then. I just wanted to make a CD and play it with heart and soul. We tried to capture the sound off the real old Horner Accordion that I play. The mechanism in them is real old – going back to the 40s – and we wanted to capture that real old box sound, rather than going overboard with over-production.”

Looking to the year ahead, he has no plans to record any time in the near future, but notes that there’s a few more Carberry musicians in the offing, with his sons and daughters all showing great promise.

There’s life in the traditional music in Longford yet.