Niamh Ni Charra says hello to the Celtic Cafe (This photo courtesy of Riverdance)Celtic Café Interview with
Niamh Ní Charra
Fiddler with the Lagan Company of Riverdance

Click here to listen to Niamh say hello
to the Celtic Cafe!

Photos at the Blarney Stone Pub
in Portland taken by Bernadette Price
and Peter Eggers.

Q. How long have you been with Riverdance?

A. Well, I’ve been with the Lagan Company since it was set up 2 years ago. Before that I did 2 stints with the Liffey, in Edinburgh and London. I even played a Riverdance show on board the QE2.

Q. What has it meant to you?

A. Well, you feel you have reached a peak in your career when you have played with Riverdance. It kind of puts you in the same grouping as Eileen Ivers, Mairín Fahy, Liz Knowles - the Riverdance women! It has also meant being all over the U.S. and Canada - even a week in Tokyo with the flying squad.

But mostly it has meant meeting a whole squad of fantastic musicians from other music traditions, and getting to work with them.

Q. Someone has pointed out that nearly all the musicians in every troupe of Riverdance are men - except for the fiddlers, who are all women! Any idea why?

A. Never struck me before! I guess we look better in the short dresses than the fellas would!

Niamh with her concertina at 7 (this photo courtesy of Niamh)Q. When did you take up the fiddle?

A. I think I was about 5 or 6. I was already playing the tin whistle and the concertina at that stage, and we were shopping in Limerick and saw this tiny fiddle (three eighths size, I think). I just loved it. My parents said nothing, but nipped back later and bought it. They only told me when we were half way home in the car. I got so excited they had to stop the car and give it to me. I hugged it all the way home!

Q. Your most nervous moment on stage?

A. Well, the first was when my sister Muireann and myself were the support group for a Chieftains concert in Killarney. Just the two of us up there and most of a thousand people watching, including the Chieftains! I was only 11 or 12 at the time.

The second was much more recent - the night my parents were in the audience at Riverdance for the first time! That was in Calgary last July. I had already done five or six hundred shows at that stage, but that night was the most nervous ever!

Q. And your most embarrassing moment on stage?

A. No doubt about that one either! I was doing the show in Edinburgh, and in the middle of "Slip into Spring" my fiddle bow just snapped in two halves! The band had to carry on without me and improvise, despite being doubled up laughing! And I had no spare bow, I had to play the rest of the show using a gadulka bow, borrowed from the Russian gadulka player! I thought my chances of becoming permanent in the show were gone, but the audience gave us an ovation and the musical director told me it was the funniest thing he had ever seen! I think he reckoned that if I could survive that, and stay cool, I could survive anything.

Q. What musicians have influenced you most?

A. Well, the main influence has to be Nicky McAuliffe, who taught me traditional music. Nicky is not only a great musician on a variety of instruments, and a great teacher but he is also a walking encyclopaedia as far as knowledge of Irish traditional music is concerned.

I also love the music of Kevin Burke, Tommy Peoples, the Glackins and then there’s all the Cape Breton fiddlers, especially Jerry Holland. One of my favourite albums is "Celtic Fiddle Festival" with Kevin Burke of Ireland, Chistian le Maitre of Brittany and John Cunningham of Scotland - three different styles blending together.

I also love the music of Stephan Grappelli - in fact I love Jazz and Blues.

Of course, I don’t just like fiddle music - as a concertina player I love the music of the great concertina players just as much.

Q. You are also an electronic engineer. What’s the connection?

A. Well, I didn’t want to be depending completely on the music for a career, and my other love in school was Physics, so I put the music on semi-hold for a few years to do a degree in electronic engineering first. But it’s not just a fall-back. I really want to combine the two, I hope to have my own recording studio someday. In fact I also did a course in Coláiste Stiofáin, in Cork on "music management". We studied just about everything to do with music as a career - sound recording, record production, contract law etc, etc. I think every musician should take a course like that if they could.

Niamh with Laurie and KevinQ. Some people would regard electronic engineering as a surprising choice for a girl.

A. Not in my family. We are five girls in the family and I don’t think any of us will end up doing the "traditional" women’s jobs! My eldest sister, Deirdre, is an accountant who is now a financial controller in a major firm; the second, Muireann, is an Industrial Chemist who is now a computer guru; I’m an electronic engineer, and my two younger sisters, Aoife and Maebh are both going to be computer scientists. I don’t think anyone in our family would tolerate sexist attitudes!

Niamh with Laurie and NoelQ. What kind of fiddle do you use?

A. Well, I use two fiddles during the show – an acoustic fiddle, a Steiner, and an electric fiddle, a Zeta. Most people who use the electric fiddle use the solid bodied fiddle, but I have a hollow bodied one, I find I get much more response from it.

Q. Ambitions for the future? Any thought of producing an album?

A. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand I always felt this was something I shouldn’t rush into. There’s plenty time. And it would give me more time to compose more tunes of my own. On the other hand it would be great to team up with the musicians I’ve met through Riverdance.

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