Kevin, the voice and rhythm of the Chieftains, joined the group in 1976 replacing Peadar Mercier, the group's second bodhran player. With Kevin's arrival, a new element came to the sound of The Chieftains, vocals. Up to this time, songs were only instrumental arrangements with no vocals.
Kevin was born in Donore, a rare musical suburb of Dublin and one of the city's most historical places. As a youngster, Kevin was a fan of jazz but discovered traditional music in his late teens. He soon learned to play the bodhrán and perform songs in both Irish and English, particulary the old seán-nos style with influences from Paddy Tunney and Christy Moore.
Besides his musical talents, Kevin was linked to a group of people who founded the Tradition Club at Slattery's in Dublin. It soon became a meeting place for those who wanted to hear traditional music performed by renown performers of the tradition. It also allowed msuicians to play with with others in an organized setting. Some of the musicians and performers who played in the club even included a Chieftain or two in a solo or duet setting.
In the late 1960s , Kevin joined Christy Moore and others for the recording for the now famous album Prosperous, which laid the goundwork for the group of Planxty. Kevin's singing is in the old seán-nos style which reflects interpretation and is generally unaccompanied. On the bodhran, he can demonstrate a subtle rhythm or really heat things up. Kevin has also released a nice solo album, The Week Before Easter released in 1988. The listener gets a good example of his full singing potential on this album.
The bodhrán (pronounced like bow rawn) is the heartbeat of Irish music. This ancient framedrum is traditionally made with a wooden body and a goat-skin head, and is played by striking the drumhead obliquely with the hand or with a double-headed stick called a cipín, tipper, or beater. In the most common style, the bodhránist plays the basic rhythm with the lower end of the stick, and adds ornamentation with the upper end.
The bodhrán is a relatively recent addition to Irish traditional music. Although it has a long history as a noisemaker in warfare and certain religious festivals, the drum was not accepted into modern performance ensembles until the 1960s, when Sean O Riada introduced in into his arrangements for Ceoltóirí Chualann and the Chieftains. General acceptance has been slow in coming, as many traditionalists felt that the drum had no place in Irish music. This feeling is mostly gone, due the efforts of virtuosi like Peadar Mercier, Mel Mercier, Tommy Hayes, Christy Moore, and Johnny "Ringo" MacDonagh and of course Kevin. Today, the bodhrán is found in most Irish traditional bands, and is appearing more often in Scottish music, modern folk music, Celtic-fusion rock, and even classical music. But the bodhrán continues to be the traditional butt of numerous jokes.
Special thanks to Josh Mittleman, for the above information. Josh maintaines a great resource, The Bodhrán Page, check it out!
The Chinese use gongs in their folk music and traditional (classical) music. These percussion instruments are circular plates of hammered brass. They are made in a wide range of diameters, and produce a resounding tone when struck with mallets or bamboo sticks.
Thanks to Joseph Mulvanerty for the above Chinese gong information.
Sean-nós Style of singing:
Seán-nos literally means old-style or custom and it refers to the traditional style of singing in Irish. Aspects of performance include ornamentation, intonation, and tempo. However, there variations to this style of singing depending on which region of Ireland the singer is from. Kevin is heavily influenced by the singing of Paddy Tunney who sang primarily in English and is influenced by the style of Seán-nos singing from the Donegal/Fermanagh region in Ireland
More information can be found on the Sean-nós in Donegal webpage.