27 May 2013

Chris Twomey, pioneer of autoharp in Ireland

Niall Toner sends sad news, published earlier today on his own blog:

Today I lost a good friend. Chris Twomey passed away today. He had been ill for some time.

I first met Chris Twomey, the doyen of the autoharp, in Cork in 1966, when I was transferred to the southern capital by the Lyons Tea Company. I sang a few Woody Guthrie/Bill Monroe/Hank Williams songs during the interval at a Jim O'Donnell Folk Group concert, and Chris was in the audience. He introduced himself, and we became instant, and firm, life-long friends - forty-seven years in all. We began playing music together, with Chris playing his 'DAM-GUD' guitar, an ancient instrument he had restored himself, and along with Gary Cronin, we did our first gig in the Group Theatre, opposite the Beamish Brewery, and we called ourselves 'The Kinfolk'.

Shortly after that, we teamed up with Jim O'Donnell and his group, and became 'Paddy's Goatskin and String Band'. That conglomerate performed folk songs from just about every tradition, and Jim encouraged Chris and me to feature our American songs and tunes in what would have been the interval at each gig. Our repertoire was largely drawn from the songs of the Carter Family and the New Lost City Ramblers. After being joined by my brother Colm, we named our group the Lee Valley String Band, in honour of Chris's home place in Monard, right smack in the middle of the Lee Valley. We played two guitars and a mandolin, with one guitar capoed-up to replicate the high-strung sound of Mother Maybelle Carter's autoharp.

One day, while perusing the music shops of Cork (there were several back then), I spotted an old autoharp in a place on Oliver Plunkett Street, which, on enquiry, was priced at the princely sum of £6 (six pounds). I made the purchase and presented Chris with the instrument. About three weeks later he turned up for rehearsal and played the newly acquired instrument as though he'd owned one for years. Chris never looked back, and became a true master of the autoharp, as well as being no mean player of the guitar, concertina, and dulcimer, and a unique singer too.

Chris, you will be missed by all your pals and fans in the music. I just hope that Bill Monroe and Hank Williams have recruited you into their Heavenly Band.

Your friend, Niall

The photo, taken in 1966 by Moira Toner, shows Chris on guitar and Niall on 'tater-bug' mandolin in the back yard of Parnell Terrace, off Pouladuff Road, Cork. Chris's music can be heard on his CD Midnight on the water and with the Lee Valley String Band on CD and YouTube.

Update: Niall sends this link to Chris's death notice at RIP.ie. A funeral service will take place at the Island Crematorium, Ringaskiddy, at 3.30 p.m. on Wednesday 29 May: 'No flowers please, donation in lieu to a charity of your choice.'

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At 12:04 am, Blogger EmilyElizabeth said...

thank you for your kind words
this is beautiful
I am very happy to know my grandfather had such wonderful friends


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