Paddy O'Brien (1922-1991)
Not to be mistaken for the living Offaly accordionist, the late Nenagh born Paddy O'Brien is one of the legends of Irish accordion playing and he was a fine composer of many tunes.
Some of his most commonly played tunes include The Coming of Spring, Dinny O'Brien's, The Nervous Man, Ormond Sound, The Foggy Morning and Hanly's Tweed.
The following information is taken from http://www.ramblinghouse.org/2009/07/paddy-obrien/
One of the most influential accordion players in Irish traditional music, Paddy O’Brien was born in Newton, about five miles from Nenagh in County Tipperary, on February 10, 1922. His father, the fiddle player and accordionist Dinny O’Brien, led the famous Bridge Ceili Band. The fiddler Sean Ryan was a cousin. Accordion Player Paddy O'Brien from Nenagh
Paddy took up the fiddle at the age of seven and three years later started to teach himself on a two-row G/C# accordion. By the age of 14 he was regarded as good enough on the box to accompany his father and the flute player Bill Fahy on a radio broadcast. Soon he was playing with the Lough Derg Ceili Band and for a period played with the Aughrim Slopes Ceili Band.
In 1949 he joined the Tulla Ceili Band, replacing the Galway accordionist Joe Cooley who had gone to London. Both he and Cooley entered the All-Ireland championship in 1953. The judges couldn’t make up their minds at first, but after a recall they awarded first place to O’Brien.
In January,1954, Paddy O’Brien emigrated to New York where he found work as a mechanic. He returned to Ireland in 1962 with his wife Eileen Seery and their daughter Eileen. He worked as a mechanic in Dublin and played in the Lough Gowna Ceili Band.
After a couple of years he moved back to Newton in Tipperary. Soon he linked up with fiddle player Seamus Connolly (now living in Boston), Peter O’Loughlin (flute), Paddy Canny (fiddle) and George Byrt (piano) to form Inis Cealtra.
Paddy and Seamus Connolly played a lot as a duo up to 1976 when Seamus emigrated to America.
Paddy O’Brien also taught and composed music, sometimes playing and swapping tunes with the East Galway composer Paddy Fahey. He also tutored ceili bands, including the Ormond and Premier ceili bands.
He suffered a stroke in 1988 and, no longer able to play the accordion, he continued to compose. He died on March 2, 1991, aged 69.
Paddy O’Brien played a crucial role in the development of Irish accordion playing. The double row accordion replaced the single row D melodeon in Ireland in the 1930s. But the single row “push and draw” technique was still being used by accordion players, using only the inside C row. Sonny Brogan who lived in Dublin and died in 1965 made early recordings on a B/C accordion. He played with Sean O Riada’s Ceoltoiri Cualann.
But it was Paddy O’Brien who perfected the B/C style – playing from the inside out – of accordion playing in the 1950s. This facilitated greater ornamentation in the form of rolls and ascending and descending triplets. The B/C accordion style is exemplified in the playing of Joe Burke whose flowing and highly ornamented style gave the instrument many of the qualities of the fiddle.
However following a renewal of interest in the playing of Joe Cooley with the release of his posthumous album in 1975, younger players felt that a lot of the rhythmic qualities of the old box players had been lost in the smoother B/C style (compare Cooley’s and Burke’s playing of The Bucks of Oranmore).
Jackie Daly was one of those who advanced the C#D style, played mainly on the inside D row which inherited many of the qualities of Cooley’s C#D style, but utilised the C row for ornamentation and awkward notes on the D row, such as C natural. Other players such as Mairtín O’Connor and Seamus Begley developed in this style.
But the O’Brien style still prevails, notable in the playing of Billy McComiskey, Paddy O’Brien of Offaly, PJ Hernon and of course the ever popular Joe Burke. Sharon Shannon switches between both styles.
Since 1992 his memory has been commemorated at the annual Aonach Paddy O’Brien which takes place in Nenagh on the August week before the annual Fleadh na hEireann. Meanwhile his daughter Eileen carries on the family musical tradition on the accordion.
In July 2009, his daughter published The Definitive Collection of the Music of Paddy O’Brien. Details at http://www.paddyobrienbook.com/index.html
©Ronan Nolan, 2000-2010
The Banks of the Shannon, Paddy O’Brien with Seamus Connolly and Charlie Lennon, Green Linnet compilation
The Compositions of Paddy O’Brien, Eileen O’Brien and William Fogarty, 1993, Ormond Recordings
The Definitive Collection of the Music of Paddy O’Brien, 2009, by Eileen O’Brien.