Paddy Cummins: Biography

Paddy Cummins

Paddy says:

I was born in Drimnagh, Dublin and began playing music at nine years of age. My father played a little bit on the mandolin and, after I asked him if he would teach me how to play, he gave me the few tunes he had. For two years, I messed about with the little banjo-mandolin we had in the house but never approached music seriously. When I turned 11, I wanted to play the guitar so my parents got me a cheap one as a Christmas present. I felt more at home with this instrument as I could play a broader range of music. I had not developed a keen interest in Irish music, though I always did have an affection for ballads from people like Luke Kelly, Ronnie Drew, Christy Moore and The Fureys.

A few years later, a friend of the family, Anto Hogan, (a few years older than myself) visited the house with my cousin Davey "Dolly" Dalton to record some music. Dolly was more of a contemporary singer than a traditional one but he stuck to a mostly Irish repertoire that evening. Anto played the banjo, and this was the first time that I was blown away by the instrument! Another friend, Dessie Farrell, had invited my Da and I to go to a session out in the Comhaltas HQ in Monkstown, some months later. I didn't find it particularly interesting but, nonetheless, didn't hesitate when my Da suggested that we both go to a term of mandolin classes when they recommence. I wasn't doing anything particularly time-consuming during that period and, besides, Da had just bought a new octave mandolin online and it really was some machine!

The teacher was Frank Perry and he played banjo. As time went on, I began to nurture a keen interest in traditional Irish music before, eventually, I wanted a banjo. Having seen many in sessions in Comhaltas, it was Paul Cooper's playing that finally pushed me to asking Da if I could have a banjo. At this stage, I was learning tunes on the mandola and having them off every week for Frank. I got my first banjo aged almost 15 and so, started a journey into traditional Irish music that would see me, for some years, listening to nothing but that and playing for hours and hours every day.

Besides those aforementioned, major influences on my playing style at that time were Kieran Hanrahan and Enda Scahill. As I became more familiar with players in traditional circles, I listened to all types of instruments. Most importantly, perhaps, was the accordion and I developed a bigger interest for this instrument than my chosen one! Although never learning how to play the accordion, I was listening plenty to Tony MacMahon, Finbarr Dwyer, Charlie Harris and Joe Burke. As a consequence, I learned many of their tunes and seemed to sway towards simple melodies or else tunes in very dark, melancholic or difficult keys such as G minor, B flat and F. I took a lot from Kieran Hanrahan when I received four classes from him when he was a stand-in for the regular banjo classes in Monkstown. I started learning how to do all different kinds of techniques and perfect what I was doing. However, after years of this process, I began falling under new influences, namely: Mick "Banjo" O'Connor, Paraic 'ac Dhonncha, Brian Fitzgerald, Mary MacNamara, Paddy Canny, Michael Coleman, John Carty and plenty more. This focused my playing on less ornamentation and more phrasing, ryhthm and melodic variation. As previous fleadh adjudication sheets tell me, this was the staple of my playing. I like to let tunes 'breath' and give them space to weave into new variations naturally. I don't like to fill them with too many frills as I feel this dilutes them and takes away from what I want to gain in playing them. Nowadays, my approach is still this. I listen to a broad range of music too: everything from Pete Seeger and Robert Johnson, through to Rock 'n' Rollers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, rock music from the likes of Clapton, Neil Young and The Beatles, to more modern ambient, techno and world music. I also play the flute, whistle, guitar and mandola on a regular basis.

Online Irish Music courses taught by Paddy Cummins

Banjo Technique

This  course is aimed at the improving banjo player who has already mastered the basics of the instrument. Paddy introduces a wide array of banjo techniques in his series of twelve lessons including triplets, slides, flicks...

Read More

Mandolin Basics

This course is aimed at the absolute beginner mandolin player. It begins with a series of six free lessons then progresses through to the twelve main subscription lessons. How to hold the instrument, proper hand / finger posture..

Read More