Excerpts from Ita Kelly's interview with Todd Denman broadcast on Radio Ireland, Saturday July 5, 1997.


Ita Kelly:

Isn't that lovely music! The Tailor's Thimble and the Red Haired Lass, and it comes from a new album called Reeds and Rosin, an uilleann pipes and fiddle adventure, featuring Todd Denman and Dale Russ. And Todd is Californian, and he's in Ireland at the moment and he's in studio with me. And good morning to you, Todd, and you're very welcome!

Todd Denman:

Good morning, Ita, thanks.

Ita Kelly:

How are you?

Todd Denman:

Fine, thanks.

Ita Kelly:

How did someone from San Francisco get to playing the uilleann pipes? Is there an Irish connection?

Todd Denman:

The Irish connection was not the reason I started. I (first) heard it when I was a kid, on the radio. And there were these college students who'd been over to Ireland and brought back the Gael-Linn recordings, and they were fumbling over the Gaelic and the Irish and couldn't say anything (from the sleeve notes) but they were playing the music on the student radio in my home town. And I was immediately caught. I mean, that was it for me, I just knew.

Ita Kelly:

That's incredible!

Todd Denman:

Yeah, it's very -

Ita Kelly:

But what age were you at that time? Were you in your teens?

Todd Denman:

Yes...

Ita Kelly:

Wow. And had you played another instrument before that?

Todd Denman:

Yeah, a good question, I played rock guitar when I was ten! (Ita laughs) Got it out of my system early. (Both laughing) I quit by eleven or twelve!

Ita Kelly:

(laughing) A lot of the good traditional musicians played rock, you know. And some of them, even moved from trad or folk into rock!

Todd Denman:

I know --

Ita Kelly:

It's not a rare progression by any means! But was it the uilleann pipes you were smitten with first? Or did you just start like a lot of people do with the whistle and that kind of thing?

Todd Denman:

No, I wanted to play the pipes. And I couldn't get my hands on a set of pipes for about three or four years so I settled for the whistle in the meantime. And that was a big help. Because the whistle can sort of prepare the way for the pipes.

Ita Kelly:

Yeah, it does of course yeah. So where did you get your pipes eventually? Had you trouble getting a set of pipes?

Todd Denman:

I had a huge difficulty! (Ita laughs) You couldn't get them in the States at that time, anywhere. And I had no clue where to look in Ireland. So I actually got them (by) mail-order. They arrived in a box. I had never seen a set before --

Ita Kelly:

Did you have to put them together or something?

Todd Denman:

Yes! And I didn't know how they were supposed to go (together)! Like I knew there was a bellows, but I didn't know --

Ita Kelly:

So they don't come with an instruction book for people out there getting them mail-order! (laughs)

Todd Denman:

No, it would have helped a lot. But somehow, intuitively I put it together. And I had never actually seen someone play, so I was sort of figuring it out as I went. --

Ita Kelly:

Yeah, wow. So when was the first time you came to Ireland, Todd?

Todd Denman:

In 1982.

Ita Kelly:

Were you playing at that stage were you?

Todd Denman:

I'd been playing two years. And I was flabbergasted (by Ireland and the pipers I met). That was quite a story...

Ita Kelly:

Were you in any way inhibited when you met all those people (and pipers in Ireland) for the first time?

Todd Denman:

Totally.

Ita Kelly:

Yeah.

Todd Denman:

I couldn't speak. I was so shy. Also being a foreigner and being in Ireland for the first time, I felt very shy. And you know, I wasn't sure I had really the right to play this music, or, you know, where I was going to end up with it. But I just kept going.

Ita Kelly:

It's a very welcoming, I think, kind of music. And musicians are very welcoming I think --

Todd Denman:

Very!

Ita Kelly:

There's no... And I think at this stage you're an old hand, they probably know you in all the pubs in Milltown Malbay, at this stage, don't they? (laughs)

Todd Denman:

(laughing) Ah, nearly! I haven't been there for a few years...

Ita Kelly:

(laughing) But you're going there today, I'd say, or tomorrow, are you?

Todd Denman:

That's right, tomorrow. Pipers are all, you know, a small group, we all know each other. And it's very, very supportive. Because we all face a common enemy (laughs) so to speak! The common obstacle of the pipes! You know? (laughs)

Ita Kelly:

(laughing) It's an amazing thing, you know. Pipers often say that about the pipes. And you should -- I always imagine -- you should love your instrument.

Todd Denman:

Well, we do. But --

Ita Kelly:

You do but --

Todd Denman:

But it's so difficult! You know, half the difficulty is playing, the other half the difficulty is the mechanical aspect of actually getting the instrument to function and play in tune. And that's very difficult. And that has to do with a lot of things, but primarily the reeds. And the reeds are very hard to come by, and you end up having to make your own, and it's half science and half black magic.

Ita Kelly:

I've no doubt though that for a lot of Irish people, it's great for them to have met you, because they can go to San Francisco now and know that there's a piper now based in San Francisco. "Todd is there, and his buddies, and they're playing great music!"

Todd Denman:

(laughs) There's a lot of music out there. Actually, the pipers club in San Francisco was begun in 1975 by an American, Denis Brooks, who now lives in Cork, and who was quite an inspiration for many people. And there have been about fifty members in the club. So, it's not just me. (laughs)

Ita Kelly:

So a great achievement to have -- you have two albums -- have you more than two albums at this stage?

Todd Denman:

I've got two at the moment.

Ita Kelly:

Yourself and Bill Dennehy -- and there's Theo Paige -- he's a great fiddle player from out there. There's obviously a big community of musicians.

Todd Denman:

Yes.

Ita Kelly:

Would they all be more American than Irish?

Todd Denman:

Yes. There's quite a few Irish out there, but probably more are American, or are American-born, anyway. Some from Irish background, some not.

Ita Kelly:

Can you make a living at this (on the pipes) in the States?

Todd Denman:

Uh, you can. There are a few people who do. I haven't figured it out yet.

Ita Kelly:

You haven't? What do you do for the rest?

Todd Denman:

Well, dare I say it, I occaisionally do a little computer work. (laugh)

Ita Kelly:

Great. (laughing) Nothing wrong with it. And very close to music at this stage, as well!

Todd Denman:

Yeah, exactly. In fact the two cross over more and more...

Ita Kelly:

The reviews of your first album claim that it's reminiscent of the Bothy Band. And so they're comparing you with Paddy Keenan. Which is a very high honor, I would think.

Todd Denman:

Yes.

Ita Kelly:

Have you ever come across him, Todd?

Todd Denman:

I know Paddy well. Paddy's been a big help. He's very generous. He's a very nice guy. I met him first in '86. He was an inspiration for me from the very beginning, actually, listening to the Bothy Band recordings --

Ita Kelly:

There is quite a sound, actually. From yourself, and the one with yourself and Bill Dennehy, it's quite a sound of the Bothy Band! I thought it to myself when I heard it. And then I read your reviews and I said yeah well, "it did!" Which is very complementary I think!

Todd Denman:

Yes, yes --

Ita Kelly:

And very authentic! Even though you do a lot of modern type things as well, you've a nice mixture on the album. But it's very, very high quality music! And I have to say congratulations to you on it.

Todd Denman:

Thank you. It was an accident, I'm sure. (laughs)

Ita Kelly:

(laughs) Not at all! Reeds and Rosin. We're going to take another track from it. And you might tell us, because there's a lovely -- the Templehouse -- you've got an interesting introduction to it we're hearing in the background.

Todd Denman:

That was an accident. During the mix, we had the pipes and fiddle off (by mistake), and we were just playing the percussion and the piano, and I looked at Theo, Theo was sitting there with me, he played the bodhran, and we both said, "Hey, that sounds pretty good. Let's mix a bit of that..."

Ita Kelly:

Todd Denman. Thank you for joining us. And enjoy the week in Milltown and however long you stay in Ireland.

Todd Denman:

Thanks.

Ita Kelly:

Lovely stuff, the Templehouse and Tommy People's, aptly titled there indeed for people who're being compared to the Bothy Band. That featured Todd Denman on uilleann pipes and Dale Russ was the fiddle player who features with him on the album, and Paul Machlis on piano -- we've come across him before. Todd was our special guest on the program this morning and if you'd like to catch up with Todd, he's going to be down in Clare as he said, all this week, but he's playing a gig in the Lobby tonight in Cork and Deirdre Moynihan and Donncha Moynihan will be accompanying him on fiddle and guitar. So there's another opportunity to see him.


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