01 March 2021

Remembering Geordie McAdam

We learn with very great regret of the passing of Geordie McAdam of Co. Down - yet another invaluable, and genuinely irreplaceable, central figure of the bluegrass and old-time communities (and much more) in this island. William Duddy writes:

If we needed any reminding, the sheer number of video clips posted yesterday emphasise the utmost respect and admiration for Geordie across bluegrass, old-time, and traditional genres - locally and internationally. The Irish bluegrass scene will require some reconstruction (like everything else) when all this is over.

Frank Galligan of Co. Donegal, who knew Geordie well for many years, sends this memoir:

Remembering Geordie McAdam

To say that Geordie McAdam was popular is to understate the extraordinary affection and respect in which he was held. Everybody loved Geordie... he exuded warmth and pipe tobacco smoke in equal measure. I first saw him in 1992 at the Omagh Bluegrass Festival with the Black Mountain String Band, little thinking that a few years later, I would have the pleasure and privilege of introducing him on stage for over twenty years. We became great friends and I am genuinely heartbroken at his passing. He was so engaging, and could tell you the history of every fly hook attached to the ubiquitous tweed cap - and like all good fishermen, his yarns were always bigger than the fish that got away. As well as being the finest old-time bluegrass fiddler on the island, Geordie was a master craftsman too, who made and repaired musical instruments at his shop on Gray's Hill in Bangor. He also made matchstick violins and Norwegian Hardanger fiddles. 'I love showing and playing them for people,' he said in an interview a few years ago.

He was born off the Woodvale Road on Belfast's Shankill, and he joined his local flute band at age nine. His love for the fiddle made him frequent a pub on the Falls Road to listen and learn from some of Ireland's best fiddlers. 'I would sneak down to the Falls to hear Sean McGuire and Sean McAloon. They were the crème de la crème of Irish music. They didn't care where I came from and I'm very grateful to everything they taught me.' After playing with the Decent Folk, Geordie toured mid-west America with the Appalachian Strings and played with the Black Mountain String Band, Ragged and Rough, and the Lagan Valley Boys.

With Wilson Davies, his lifelong friend and musical companion, the Broken String Band was born. Watching them on stage was a joy: the musicianship was as entertaining as the brilliant banter. They were the Morecambe and Wise of bluegrass, the Flatt and Scruggs of craic. I loved sitting with them in the Folk Park or the dining area, as they both vied to tell the best (or worst) joke of the moment. I know Wilson is devastated, as is Richard Hurst in the Folk Park and countless others who had the pleasure of knowing and hearing this wonderful human being.

Sadly, we will not have a proper Geordie send-off because of this damned pandemic. It's as if a blue light has been extinguished, and one great bow will never be rosined again.

It’s almost thirty years since Richard Hurst introduced me to Geordie... I’m so glad he did. Greta and family are undoubtedly bereft at their loss, but I hope it’s of some consolation to them that their Geordie brought happiness to thousands in his time, and as long as bluegrass fiddles are played in Ireland, north and south, his memory will long echo in the strings.

Now you need not hold your head so high
Every time you pass me by,
For it don't mean nothing
To me, you see...
Don't get above your raising,
Stay down to earth with me.
(Flatt & Scruggs, 1951)

Geordie at the Folk Park, 2007

© Richard Hawkins

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