By David Hennessy
Her latest album, A Tribute to Terry ‘Cuz’ Teahan, has earned rave reviews from both national and international press. This week, award winning musician and vocalist Niamh Ni Charra can be seen at Swaledale Festival and Gate to Southwell Festival in the UK.
Terry ‘Cuz’ Teahan was a legend of folk music. Emigrating from Kerry to Chicago in 1928, he played the music of his homeland Sliabh Luachra, the Munster region recognised as the bedrock of Irish folk, in America until his death in 1989. It was on his last visit home that ‘Cuz’ came across a very young Niamh playing music. That day he made two predications: 1) That Niamh would win an All-Ireland and 2) That she would have a career in music. Both came true.
On returning to the states, Terry sent Niamh a tape of his compositions and it is this tape that is the foundation of her latest album which celebrates ‘Cuz’ and the music of Sliabh Luachra: “I have to say for something that is quite regional and quite narrow in its focus, I am absolutely thrilled with the response. It seems to have taken on a life of its own. What I thought would have been of interest to a particularly small group of people, I’ve been completely proved wrong. People from all over the world are contacting me about it and really liking the back story behind it.”
Touring globally, Niamh sees Sliabh Luachra’s music connecting with people everywhere she goes: “It resonates with people all over the world especially when you’re explaining the history behind tunes and how things got passed on. In this particular instance the fact that this was passed on from an 80 year old man to an 8 year old girl. It’s a story that everybody likes. I suppose it has a stamp of authenticity that a lot of the music out there may not have or at least find it hard to prove.”
When she met him as a young girl, could Niamh have imagined how much of an impact ‘Cuz’ would have had on her life? “Absolutely not. This was a guy who, at the time when I met him, I knew little about. It was only when I got the tape in the post from him a few weeks later that I realised and I made the connection between specific tunes of his and himself. Having an idea of just how much an impact this would have on me, I had no chance to imagine that really.
“This is album number four. It took me this long to feel I was ready to make something of what he gave me. That shows how much of an impact it had, I was being so careful about how to use it.”
Seamus Begley, Donal Murphy, Anne and Nicky McAuliffe, Mick Moloney and Chicago based musicians Liz Carroll and Jimmy Keane, who all knew ‘Cuz’ personally, are among those that join Niamh on the album. ‘Cuz’ also features posthumously in clips from the tape that started it all: “What’s lovely is everybody came on board because they wanted to be on board with this tribute to ‘Cuz’.”
Niamh toured with Riverdance before releasing her debut From Both Sides in 2007. It was soon after that she collected an Irish World Award for Best Trad Music Act. Many more accolades have come her way since: “I’m looking at it here, it has pride of place on my mantelpiece. Imelda May was one of the other people being given an award and at the time, we were both relatively unknown people and in both our genres now we’re making progress. It was a huge deal to get that kind of recognition when I was just starting off.”
Niamh can be seen at Swaledale Festival in Yorkshire, June 5 and 6 and at Gate to Southwell, Festival, Nottinghamshire on June 7 and 8. For more information about Niamh, go to: http://www.niamhnicharra.com/.