In 1997, after a fourteen year hiatus from recording, Keenan released another solo album, Na Keen Affair on Hot Conya Records. Critics immediately wrote that Paddy Keenan was back and that he was still the King of the Pipers.

"In Irish music there are legends and legends and then there’s Paddy Keenan. Paddy Keenan's playing is now at its peak. Na Keen Affair is one hell of a comeback." - John O'Regan - Rock'n Reel

"Paddy Keenan has consistently been one of the enigmas of Irish traditional music. Na Keen Affair is the first recorded evidence for 14 years that Keenan is still untouchable." - Colin Harper - Q Magazine


Keenan immediately plunged into what is possibly an even busier schedule than during The Bothy Band days. In 2000, he crossed the Atlantic six times to keep to his performing schedule, touring with Tommy O’Sullivan (guitar/vocals) and Junji Shirota (guitar/vocals). Tommy O’Sullivan, who also appears with Sliabh Notes and with Cathal Hayden as well as others, met Keenan first in 1987 in Copenhagen, but didn’t tour until much later following Keenan’s release of Na Keen Affair. Junji Shirota, who is a popular bluegrass player in his native Japan, plays both banjo and guitar and is great demand as an accompanist by Irish traditional musicians all over the world.

March 2000 saw the tragically early passing of Johnny Keenan, the eldest of the Keenan male children (John Keenan died in 1992.) "Johnny was the true maestro of the Bravender-Keenan family," says Keenan. "Johnny played on my dad's banjo when he was four years old. Johnny also played fiddle at a very early age. At 17 he was offered a music scholarship in Paris." The loss was devastating to the family, even more so because it was very quick due to the lung cancer that caused his death.

In September, 2000, Johnny’s life and music was celebrated in a Dublin tribute concert which was attended by people and musicians from all over the world, including Seán Garvey, Finbar Furey, Davy Spillane, Kevin and Paddy Glackin, Micheál O’Dhomhnaill, Niamh Parsons, Maurice Lennon, Gerry O’Connor, Vinnie Kilduff, and many others.


Paddy & his "little big brother" Johnny

Keenan is currently working on projects that cover all his interests, from jazz to bluegrass and beyond, plus working with organizations and causes that carry out his deep concern for humanity springing from his own roots as a Pavee.

He recently worked with David O’Rourke and Lewis Nash as part of the Celtic Jazz Collective (along with Peter Washington, Fiona Doherty, Steve Kroon, Fintan O’Neill, Martin Reilly, Martin Reilly, Niall Vallely and others). The CJC performed at the Jazz Standard in New York in May 2000, reunited in February 2001, and the album is now available at Mapleshade Records. Critics loved the infectious Afro-Caribbean-Celtic grooves.

Tim O'BrienKeenan has also been working with American singer/songwriter/musician Tim O’Brien, a founding member of the bluegrass band Hot Rize and now a popular solo artist. "I first heard Paddy play at a New York concert of The Bothy Band way back in 1976," remembers O’Brien. "Years later, probably about 1991, I met Paddy at the Lowell (Mass.) folk festival. He probably wouldn't remember."

O’Brien wrote about Keenan and the Pavee in his notes for The Crossing, a collection of original and traditional songs that explore his family roots in Ireland as well as the Appalachian/Celtic musical dynamic that underlies so much American traditional music. Keenan appears on three Two Journeystracks of O’Brien’s second Celtic album, Two Journeys, along with old friends Kevin Burke and Triona Ní Dhomhnaill, Michael McGoldrick, John Williams, Karan Casey and many others.

"He's never once asked me about pay,’ says O’Brien. "Rather his first question is, ‘Will we have time to rehearse?’ It's really important to him to get things right. Paddy is so deep into his own music, so sure of his part, you can tell it from his sound and approach. It's practically unshakable."

O’Brien adds, "During the sessions, Kevin Burke was also hanging around, getting ready to play. It was a hoot hearing them talk about old Bothy Band days."

Earth Legacy's Earth PakKeenan has also been working on other projects, including a movie on the Travellers of Ireland currently in the works, makes the time for many benefit concerts (he recently appeared at a benefit at Harvard to buy surgical instruments for third world countries), and a soundtrack for "Invisible People -- The Genocide of the Traditional Navajos" for EarthLegacy, as well as a soon to be released compilation CD for the same company. "Paddy Keenan is one of the leading lights in Irish traditional music," comments Martin Hayes, a fellow board member for EarthLegacy and one of the most famous Irish traditional musicians today. "He is an inspiration to an entire generation of Irish musicians; his piping comes from the most authentic lineage."

Keenan’s new album, out this month, is titled The Long Grazing Acre, for the narrow plots of land along the roads of Ireland where the Pavee were begrudgingly allowed to camp and graze their animals in. "They were likely the only acres they would ever have," says Keenan. (Like threatening to banish a child to the dog’s house, the settled Irish used to threaten their children with banishment out to ‘the long acre’ like a Traveller’s animal.)

Tommy O'SullivanThe Long Grazing Acre collaborator Tommy O’Sullivan, Keenan’s regular touring partner, also appeared on Na Keen Affair. Keenan and O’Sullivan are joined by Australian percussionist Greg Sheehan and bassist James Blennerhasset. Also featured are John Fitzgerald (keyboards), Mary Green (Vocals), Tríona Ni Dhomhnaill (keyboard), and Stephen Housden of the Little River Band (electric guitar).

Keenan and O’Sullivan are on tour this month in support of The Long Grazing Acre. But it won’t likely be his only project over the next few months. The shocking events in New York City and Washington DC last month hit Keenan as hard as anyone else. "This past week has only brought more causes and fights that I would like to use my music to benefit. It is so hard for me to find any sense in the violence and then we are going to send missiles and bombs blindly into the dark? What do we expect to happen?" wonders Keenan. "We could blow up the planet in any single day. I hope that there will be some sense made of it before it is too late. The earth itself was such a perfect place without us bombing it. To make things better?"

The ALS Race for Research
A message from Paddy Keenan

Recently Tommy and I played in Asheville, NC for a sickness called ALS. I played for a beautiful thirty-two year old woman, Christy Sloan, who was diagnosed in 1999. She started ALS Race for Research to raise funds for research to fight the disease. With the most courageous outlook and four very faithful brothers and her parents, she has been able to raise $1,050,000. 100% of all donations are directed to the effort to fight the disease. Her brother Steve Sloan says, "Efforts to find a cure for this disease are an "underdog" cause in that funding has been severely limited—limited because it does not strike enough people to attract government or pharmaceutical co. funds to find a cure. It has been a cause without needed support—an orphaned cause. The web address is ALS-RR.org. Without a cure there are 30,000 people living that will die from the disease and 5,000 more people are diagnosed every year. On behalf of Tommy O’Sullivan and myself, I would like to thank Steve and Jeryl Sloan, Christy, Jim, Joana, and family for their warmth and kindness.

Paddy Keenan

But after a life that has crammed more into it than most people would think possible, Keenan knows what’s important to him, and intends to shove just a little more in there.

"One of the most important projects I am working on is myself. I mentioned before about how I was silent in the seventies and eighties," Keenan says. "I have faced a lot front on and have done my best to deal with it all while still staying true to myself. It took me a long time to learn to be proud of my heritage, and just be me."

And so he is, himself, and no one other. Could we ever ask for more? Long live the King of the Pipers!

Paddy Keenan's website
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© 2001, Zina Lee