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Traditional Irish music session


"I have hundreds of Irish trad CD's but this is for sure one of the ones I most enjoy listening to"

Photo Credit Bob Singer

Introduction by Martin Hayes

"I have been waiting for this recording for a long time. I’ve listened to Páraic’s playing for many years and love his powerful driving rhythm and the way he blends into the playing of other musicians. This recording captures all of that, it gets to the true essence of his playing; beautiful tunes, beautiful phrasing, beautiful rhythm and empathic playing with his fellow musicians.


Páraic Mac Donnchadha keeps it simple in the very best sense. His focus is the tune, he never let’s anything get in the way of the melody. His tempo’s are steady and hypnotic and his choice of melody is impeccable. His music is unmistakably influenced by the wonderful Galway sound defined by musicians like Paddy Fahey, Paddy Carty and Joe Cooley. Páraic’s music has deep roots in this region and even deeper roots within his family as is evident from the singing of his father on this recording. 


The tempo, phrasing and expression comes from within the musician, not from the instrument. A good musician shapes the music inside and expresses it through the instrument. Páraic has internalized this Galway sound and it comes out resoundingly clear on an instrument not often associated with this regional style. The banjo has its own flavor and is an instrument that I like very much and one which I also play. The instrument though important is only the vehicle for the music, it should never be the focus no matter what instrument you play. Instrument playing is not necessarily music. The understanding of the music from the perspective of feeling and expression by the musician is in my opinion the most important and indispensable element. On this recording it is clear that Páraic has feeling, judgment, taste and understanding in abundance.

I’m delighted that many more people will now have the opportunity to hear the magic of Paraic’s music." -Martin Hayes

Review by Bob Singer-Musician and Modern Traditional Music Chronicler (3 mins' read)

"I normally don’t do CD reviews of Irish music. Firstly I am friends with many of the musicians involved so it is an area that is fraught and secondly the vast majority are brilliant expressions of the variety and many nuances and interpretations of Irish music today so reviewing them is pretty pointless.

I do make exceptions though. The recent release by Páraic Mac Donnchadha Not Before Time, is one of these. First I have to declare some conflicts of interest.  Páraic is a friend and has been very supportive and welcoming to me on my own musical journey and I am grateful to him for that, and secondly he has used one of my photographs on the CD. But having said that I love this album. I was lucky enough to be at the first launch concert at the Feakle Festival and got my copy there. More on that concert later.

Páraic's playing of the banjo is a revelation the first time you hear it, and a wonderful advertisement for the much maligned instrument. The first thing that strikes you is his gentle tonality and the unadorned clarity of his music along with his steady pace where the musicality takes precedence.  There is always a wonderful rhythm and pulse that is hypnotically engaging. Primarily a session player he surrounds himself with players with a similar musicality. A lover of small sessions where each musical layer can be clearly heard and contributes to the whole and where he explores unusual keys and instrumental pairings.

I have had many memorable experiences listening to Páraic.  Who could forget a session with Cormac Begley in A-flat at Ballyferriter, Co Kerry, in 2015 I think, that lasted 11¾ hours? Or in Friels in Miltown Malbay, during Willie Week. There is a generosity in his playing that comes out when he is sharing with like-minded players.

If that feeling was what Páraic was trying to capture in this album then he has been wildly successful. Much of it is recorded in Pepper’s Bar at Feakle and I was lucky enough to be there for one of those recording sessions. For this album Páraic has involved many of his most recent sparring partners. And that’s when his playing shines. Whether it is the sublime fluidity of Claire Egan’s fiddle or viola or the insistent rhythmic pulse of Cormac’s bass concertina or the wonderful ensemble playing of Graham Gueren, Colm Murphy, Noel O’Grady and Libby McCroghan, Páraic’s banjo is there at the heart of it. Crisp, clean and simple. No distractions. It’s all about the tune. He also plays to great effect with his brother Mac Dara and sister Sinéad and in a tribute to his roots, honours his father Séan by revisiting one of his songs. But there are a few tracks where he is on his own, and this is where his mastery comes to the fore.  He plays with just the subtle and supportive bouzouki of talented young Waterford player and instrument maker, Macdara Ó Faoláin or the gentle guitar of Terence O’Reilly.

The tune selection is fantastic. Really, really good.  Many are familiar, some not, but they always come up fresh with Páraic’s playing approach or with his local versions or the unusual key selections.  Sometimes it ensnares you and you just don’t want the track to end.

The CD itself is brilliantly presented with a comprehensive and informative book integrated into the cover. Paraic’s musings on his musical journey and influences reveal a man who writes as well as he plays. And I found the thoughtful and well researched tune notes by Graham Guerin added considerably to my listening enjoyment.

The concert to launch the album was held in the marquee at the back of Pepper’s Pub during the Feakle Festival. Gracing the stage were (almost) all the musicians who played on the album.  With the wonderful bonus of a guest spot from Martin Hayes who spoke eloquently of Paraic’s music and its East Galway roots and the connection with East Clare.  Having all this amazing music served up to us in a venue packed with appreciative fellow musicians, had me salivating!

So on the drive from the concert to my home at Quilty, a drive of well over an hour, I listened to the album.  Such a generous slab of music reflects the man.  Eighteen tracks took me to my front door!. And I listened again the next morning . This time on a good sound system. Just beautiful.  And it hasn’t come off the player since.

How could I fail to love this music.  It has truly captured the spirit that Páraic engenders when he shares his music making with his fellow musicians.  Now he has shared it with us.  We can all sit in. Not before Time. "  - Bob Singer

Paraic Mac Donnchadha on Banjo and Claire Egan on Fiddle playing tunes at Launch of Traditional Irish Music CD 'Not Before Time' in Feakle Co. Clare, Ireland.

Photo Credit Bob Singer

"I love the first set - when the bodhrán comes in, it's fantastic!"

Review by Daniel Neely, Irish Echo (3 mins' read) 

"It’s been a banner year for the banjo, with new releases from brilliant players like Theresa O’Grady, Shane Mulchrone, Stevie Dunne, and others. However, when all’s said and done, the crowning jewel of them all will undoubtedly be 'Not Before Time…' from Galway’s Páraic Mac Donnchadha.  Mac Donnchadha is a player with deep musicality and excellent taste and his “Not Before Time…” is an excellent album that does more than just deliver – it is an absolute must-have for anyone who loves traditional Irish music.

An album “39 years in the making” (as this one is, stated on the CD’s cover), has every reason to be this good, but it’s a shame it took this long.  Mac Donnchadha’s prior album appearances are limited to guest spots on Tomás & Seosamh Ó Ceannabháin’s 1990 album “Ó Aird go hAird,” and on “Maiden Voyage,” the ground-breaking session album made at Pepper’s in 1991, where he made a particularly strong impression alongside musicians including Kevin Crawford (flute), Siobhan Peoples (fiddle), Andrew McNamara (button accordion), P.J. King (button accordion), and Pat Marsh (bouzouki).

He’s front and center here, however, joined by another stellar cast of supporting musicians, including Claire Egan (fiddle/viola), Graham Guerin (accordion), Cormac Begley (concertinas), Macdara Ó Faoláin (bouzouki), Terence O’Reilly (guitar), Libby McCrohan (bouzouki), Colm Murphy (bodhrán), Mac Dara Mac Donncha (uilleann pipes), Sinéad Mac Donncha (keyboards), and Noel O’Grady (Bouzouki).  This is an excellent collection of very fine musicians, all of whom enhance the album’s quality.

What makes this album different – and perhaps even important – are two things.  The first is the lift heard on each track. Mac Donnchadha has a superior melodic sense and he expresses it in tempos that are just lively enough to allow him to explore each tune’s nuances.  Nothing’s too fast, but everything breathes in a way that is brilliant to listen to.  The second thing is the album’s throwback feel.   Mac Donnchadha’s stylistic approach is is rooted in that of East Galway and Clare and reflects the long tradition of those areas.  I hear obvious parallels in his banjo playing to folks like John Carty, Mick O’Connor and Charlie Piggott, as well as echoes of lesser-known but equally compelling players like Liam Farrell and Sean Casey.

However, Mac Donnchadha’s influences go far beyond banjo players.  The musicians who inspired the album in the first place include musicians he knew or played with, including Willie Clancy, Máirtín Byrnes, Paddy Carty, Conor Tully, Paddy Kelly, Paddy Fahey, John Kelly (Sr & Jr), Kevin Burke, Paddy Canny, and Martin Rochford, to name a few.  (There are many, many more named in the liner notes of the CD’s exceptionally nice packaging.)  All of this as a whole yields a banjo album that is refreshingly different and entirely well done.

Many tracks stand out to me.  “Mick O’Connor’s / George White’s” sails along with lovely grace, aided by Ó Faoláin and Sinéad Mac Donncha.  Begley is his partner on “The Galtee / The Meadow / Johnny McIljohn’s.”  There, Begley’s playing a low tuned concertina on the track and Mac Donnchadha’s tuned his banjo down quite low to match.  The result is quite an unusual but entirely inviting mellow timbre that enhances the already lovely playing.  I also enjoy listening to Ó Faoláin and O’Reilly as Mac Donnchadha’s co-conspirators on “The Wild Swans at Coole / Paddy Fahey’s #1.”  It’s a pair of tunes that sound fantastic here.

Egan, joins Ó Faoláin, and O’Reilly on “Girl That Broke My Heart / Touch Me If You Dare” and “Pigeon on the Gate / The First Day of Spring.”  Both of these tracks are absolutely stunning, full of sweet touches and are played at perfect tempos.  Egan is, of course, a brilliant musician on her own (some readers may remember my coverage here of her superb album “Turning Tides” in 2015) but her understanding of and musicality in articulating with Mac Donnchadha’s banjo playing is completely ear catching and one of the the album’s special features.

There is a single song on the album, “Carraig Na Siúire,” which features Mac Donnchadha’s father Séan and is included in tribute to him.  The track begins with the titular song as it appeared on the “Maiden Voyage” album.  A drone off Mac Dara Mac Donncha’s pipes are laid underneath Séan’s voice to strong effect, and the track concludes with a set of three tunes “Tatter Jack Walsh / Frieze Britches / Bean Páidin,” played on banjo and pipes.  It’s a lovely, relaxed track that communicates the album’s “tribute” sensibility wonderfully.

“Not Before Time…” is something of a rare bird because aren’t many banjo albums of this caliber and particular flavor.  Listeners looking for gentle, steady music from an experienced player who puts musicality before all else will absolutely love it.  It’s also an essential album for every banjo player.  I’m very happy to have this CD in hand as it not only seems to really capture the great life in Mac Donnchadha's music, it says something significant and positive about banjo music in general.  Very highly recommend."

Daniel Neely, Irish Echo

"I honestly think it's one of those CDs that only come out once every few years and blows everyone away. I often say it but my first memory of you playing with Graham was during my first Miltown in 2016 with most of the pub waiting for you to finish playing before leaving for Coore... and it takes something special to stop a lot of drunk young people from going to Coore!"

"Got your CD at Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh... love it... I want to get two more!"

"A Páraic, a chara, shiúil mé sráideanna Bhleá Cliath sa tóir ar do CD... Tá fíor-áthas orm go bhfuil tú féin agus go deimhin Mac Dara ag cothú saibhreas na hoidhreachta. Treise libh!"

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