Bring Back the Bothies 

by Earle Hitchner
Article published in the IRISH ECHO 1996
Reproduced by kind permission of the author


The name of the Bothy Band came about when my brother, Mícheál, had returned from the western isles of Scotland, where he had been doing some song collecting/ singer/keyboardist Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill recounted in our interview. 'He had brought back with him some albums that had been released of the bothy music there. It was one of several names we had put into a hat. We drew that one out, everyone seemed to like it, and so it stuck. We were the Bothy Band.'

Centuries ago, bothies were huts or crude cottages that housed migrant workers - usually unmarried males -who hired out to farmers for what was conventionally a six-month period. At night, the tradition of swapping and singing ballads in the bothies became strong, and from this developed the bothy music tradition itself, an integral part of the Celtic folk heritage.

The Bothy Band sprang up earlier out of an appearance on Tony MacMahon's radio programme in the fall of 1974,' continued Trfona. Tony invited Matt Molloy and Tommy Peoples onto the show. The two were playing a lot together at the time and had a great rapport. Tony also invited myself, Mícheál, Paddy Keenan, Paddy Glackin, and Donal Lunny, who had left Planxty.'

'Seven of us - Matt, Donal, Paddy Glackin, Paddy Keenan, Tony, Mícheál, and myself - formed the group, Seachtar. It's Irish for 'Seven'. Clever, no?' Tríona chuckled. 'Anyway, we did a few gigs in the country. I remember one particularly great weekend we had in Feakle, Clare. It was mostly weekend playing for us, though, since Matt was still working as an engineer for Aer Lingus at Dublin Airport and we were all sort of spread out geographically.'

The decision to go professional full-time, I think, was hardest on Matt, since he had the Aer Lingus job. Tony had a lot of different TV and radio projects going, and he soon moved on. Paddy Glackin had his own thing going with Ceoltoirí Laighean and with his father, Tom, was a fiddler and music teacher from the Rosses. So Paddy, too, left after a while. That's when Tommy Peoples came on board. And that was the lineup we went into the studio with for our first album in 1975.'

Ask any Irish traditional musician under the age of, say, 40 which five albums he or she would take to a desert island, and almost invariably The Bothy Band', recorded in October 1975 for Mulligan Music in Dublin, will be among those selected. By no means perfect, it nevertheless revolutionised the way Irish traditional music was perceived - by the public, the critics, and even the players themselves.

The band had no musical weakness -Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill on vocals, harpsichord, and bodhran; Mícheál Ó Domhnaill on guitar and vocals, Tommy Peoples on fiddle; Matt Molloy on flute and tin whistle; Paddy Keenan on uilleann pipes and tin whistle; and Donal Lunny on bouzouki and backup vocals. The sheer audacity of playing -muscular and unflinching, roiling and tender - bowled people over. And who can forget the first time they heard Tríona sing 'Do You Love an Apple?' and 'Pretty Peg'? The effect of this dazzling debut album can still be heard today in virtually any seisiun.


Over the course of two more studio albums, 'Old Hag You Have Killed Me' (Kevin Burke replaced Tommy Peoples in May 1976 before this record was made) and 'Out of the Wind - Into the Sun' (1977), and one live album, 'Afterhours' (recorded in June 1978), plus various tours, the Bothy Bond's flame burned brightly - perhaps too brightly. 'We were all mad for the music,' explained Tríona, 'and never took care of the business side of things. We always seemed to be broke, even after packed-out gigs, and there were some long and crazy tours we did. Eventually, we burned out.'

Their first US tour touched down in Manhattan on September 23, 1976, when they played at Columbia University's McMillan Auditorium. The concert was sponsored by the New York Pinewoods Folk Music Society, and it was marred afterwards by the theft of the band's instruments from their van outside -an ill omen for any tour. No question - bad luck plagued the Bothy Band off and on during their four-year tenure.

'We were all naiive and young and just into the music, you see,' said Tríona, 'but it got to the point where no one was in control really. We never said that was the end, back in 1979, but we each went on to separate projects afterwards. The Bothy Band didn't really end - it stopped.

'I suppose it's still possible for a reunion. You know, when Nightnoise was in Ireland to play at a televised Pan-Celtic Film Festival, it almost happened. Sort of. Mícheál and I met up with Donal, and it was suggested that we all do a radio programme with other members of the Bothy Band. But then Matt couldn't make it, and the three of us said without Matt, it wouldn't be the Bothy Band. So the idea was squashed. Besides, it would have been blown up into something it wasn't and couldn't be, a full-bore reunion, and I think people would have been disappointed with the lack of rehearsal and such on radio. That wasn't the way we would want it.

'But I'd be keen for a reunion, actually, if it were done right. It would take an awful lot of organising. I'd be into it, but I wouldn't want to turn it into an oldies act. God, I'd hate to think we'd become like the Grateful Dead or something! No, I'd do it if we could play music coming from what we've all been doing since the Bothy Band stopped playing together. That would be interesting to us as musicians, I think, and that would get across to the audiences, too. I'd also want at least a month of rehearsal among all of us beforehand, so we get what we want to play down just right. It's the only way to go with a quote unquote "reunion tour".'

'Now all you have to do is find someone willing to take on the project, which would be expensive time-consuming and, well, complicated. Any ideas?'