Paddy Keenan was born in Trim, Co. Meath, to John Keenan, Sr. of Westmeath and the former Mary Bravender of Co. Cavan. The Keenans were a Travelling family steeped in traditional music; both Paddy’s father and grandfather were uilleann pipers. Paddy himself took up the pipes at the age of ten, playing his first major concert at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, when he was 14. He later played with the rest of his family in a group called The Pavees.
At 17, having fallen in love with the blues, Paddy left Ireland for England and continental Europe, where he played blues and rock. Returning to Ireland after a few years, he began playing around Dublin with singer/keyboardist Triona Ni Dhomhnaill and singer/guitarist Micheal O Dhomhnaill. Fiddler Paddy Glackin then joined the three, and they asked flute player Matt Molloy to play with them shortly thereafter. Next accordion player Tony MacMahon joined the group, and then guitarist Donal Lunny was asked to listen to the six. Liking what he heard, he joined as well, and the loosely-knit band began calling itself “Seachtar,” the Irish word for “seven.”
Seachtar’s first major concert was in Dublin. They played a few more gigs around the country, but circumstances soon forced Tony MacMahon to drop out. When the rest of the band decided to turn professional Paddy Glackin left as well; he was replaced by Donegal fiddler Tommy Peoples who was later replaced by fiddler Kevin Burke). All the group needed now was a name.
Micheal O’ Dhomhnaill had recently returned from Scotland, where he happened across a photograph taken in the 1890s of a group of tattered musicians. “The Bothy Band,” it was titled, in reference to the migrant Irish laborers who worked in England and Scotland and were housed in stone huts known as “bothies.” Micheal suggested that the band take this name, and the others agreed. Thus was born one of the most influential bands of the 1970s, The Bothy Band.
The Bothy Band forever changed the face of Irish traditional music, merging a driving rhythm section with traditional Irish tunes in ways that had never been heard before. Paddy was one of the band’s founding members, and his virtuosity on the pipes combined with the ferocity of his playing made him, in the opinion of many, its driving force. Bothy Band-mate Donal Lunny once described Paddy as “the Jimi Hendrix of the pipes.”
Paddy’s flowing, open-fingered style of playing can be traced directly from the style of such great Travelling pipers as Johnny Doran; both Paddy’s father and grandfather played in the same style. Although often compared to Doran, Paddy was 19 or 20 when he first heard a tape of Doran’s playing; his own style is a direct result of his father’s tutelage and influence.
Paddy’s style has continued to mature in the intervening years since the break-up of The Bothy Band as he has pursued a solo career. He plays at international festivals and weekends, benefits and tionals (piping festivals), and even plays an occasional ceili (dance). On the album The Long Grazing Acre (2004), Keenan worked with Tommy O’Sullivan, a soulful and empathetic guitarist and vocalist.
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.