Tommy Peoples is only the second traditional musician to be elected since the affiliation of 247 Irish artists was established in 1983 ‘to honour those artists whose work has made an outstanding contribution to the arts in Ireland and to encourage and assist members in devoting their energies fully to their art’. Dónal Lunny was elected in 2006.
In the Arts Council’s announcement, he is described as ‘one of the foremost traditional musicians of his generation … a member of well known traditional Irish music groups, including 1691 and The Bothy Band as well as performing solo since the late 1960s. He plays with a unique virtuosic technique in the Donegal fiddle style … has composed numerous tunes in the traditional style. His compositions have infiltrated the traditional repertoire unbeknownst to most musicians and his tunes have been recorded by groups such as Altan and Lúnasa. His daughter Siobhan Peoples is a noted fiddler in her own right.’
From his home in St Johnston on the banks of the Foyle, he spoke to the Journal of Music about the news. ‘It’s not something I’m very familiar with,’ Peoples declared. ‘I’ve no familiarity with procedures or for that matter behaviour. I’m hoping it’s kind of low key.’
It was Lunny who called him with the news. Together with their contemporary classical and jazz counterparts they make up the now twenty-nine members grouped under music. There are 107 under visual arts (with the addition now of Frances Hegarty), 104 in literature (with Patrick McCabe added), five in architecture and two in choreography. With regard to how he might deal with being seen as a representative for traditional music, Peoples replied (in humorous metaphor, no doubt): ‘Well, I’m going to bring the fiddle.’ He said if he could make more people even aware of traditional music’s existence, he would be happy.
When told about the enthusiastic reaction online to the news, Peoples’ comment was: ‘It’s not something I would have known. I wouldn’t have expected that reaction. You don’t know these things.’ He added: ‘That’s part of my bewilderment and surprise in a way … that it’s me. The idea of being chosen. I really think that traditional music should have been recognised maybe before I should be. There’s plenty of people that could take that role.’
Even better news for fans of Peoples music is that he is on his way to Milltown Malbay this week to try to do some recording with a view to bringing out a CD in the near future. ‘With a little help from above,’ as he put it, he will also be back touring with Breanndán Begley and Laoise Kelly later in the year.
Peoples is currently the Traditional Musician In Residence at The Balor Arts Centre, Ballybofey, Co. Donegal.
Published on 24 April 2012