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Musician made city a Celtic music hot spot

Micheal O'Domhnaill - The composer-guitarist, who died at 54, played in Portland for years
Monday, July 17, 2006
JOHN FOYSTON

Celtic music fans around the world are mourning the death of guitarist, composer and former Portlander Micheal O'Domhnaill. O'Domhnaill died of a heart attack July 9 at his home in Dublin, Ireland. He was 54.

O'Domhnaill played in such influential and innovative bands as the Bothy Band, Relativity and Nightnoise, and he lived in Portland during the 1980s and '90s. With world-renowned fiddler Kevin Burke -- another Irish transplant and a Portlander still -- O'Domhnaill inspired a burst of creativity and energy that made Portland an unexpected center of the Celtic music world.

"It was an amazing time," said Jewell, who uses only that name, the host of "The Celtic Hour" Monday nights on KBOO (90.7 FM). "There was a lot of amazing music coming out of Portland. With he and Kevin Burke living here, suddenly these world-class Irish and Scottish musicians were stopping in Portland and playing the East Avenue Tavern, which was small enough that people actually were dancing in the street. He touched a lot of hearts and souls."

Many of those fans and fellow musicians will gather tonight at the Moon & Sixpence British Pub, 2014 N.E. 42nd Ave., for an evening of music, stories and toasts to O'Domhnaill's memory. It'll start about 8 p.m. and, like any proper Irish wake, will likely go late.

Jewell said that O'Domhnaill and Burke planted the seeds of a musical scene, and then stayed around to nurture those seeds and watch them grow. He and Burke began playing together about 1976, when both were living in Ireland and members of the Bothy Band.

"We started playing duets because sometimes the whole band couldn't play a date, but a couple of us could," Burke said. "That soon became a pretty solid duet with me and Micheal. He was great to play music and a fantastic producer with really good ears . . . and quite a perfectionist -- which was good if he was on your side."

After the Bothy Band wound down, Burke and O'Domhnaill began playing in the United States, and music fans still remember a 1979 show in Portland. "That was really the spark that lit the fire," Jewell said. "They played at the Northwest Service Center on the hottest day on record, and the only thing that had more fire was their music. They introduced us to a very special kind of musicianship and talent."

"He talked about the shapes and colors of music," Jewell said, "of how dark a song was. And his guitar playing redefined how a guitar fit into Gaelic music. Plus he was a living, breathing metronome -- he drove every band he was in."

Burke visited O'Domhnaill after the guitarist returned to Ireland, and Burke remembers one evening when they put on one of their old records and attempted to play along with it. "It was kind of sad and pathetic and hilarious all at the same time," Burke said, "It seems we didn't remember the arrangements quite as well as we thought."

John Foyston: 503-221-8368; johnfoyston@news.oregonian.com


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