Richard captures magic of uilleann pipes with Sonda

All-Ireland champion piper Richard Neylon, whose debut album is a labour of love.
All-Ireland champion piper Richard Neylon, whose debut album is a labour of love.

Arts Week with Dara Bradley

“You’re just trusting your own ear,” says multi-All-Ireland champion musician Richard Neylon about the process of composing an original piece of music. Sonda, Irish for sonorous, is a newly-composed tune; one of the highlights of Richard’s debut album of the same name, which will be officially launched in January.

The distinctive sound of Richard’s uilleann pipes, made by Cillian O’Briain and Andrea Rogge, sings beautifully on this recording.

“The translation for Sonda is a ‘voiced sound’. I wanted a word that would describe the sound, almost,” he says. “Sometimes you’d sit down and say ‘I want to write a piece’ and go through it mechanically almost. Other times you’d just be playing something and it would just come to you. Sonda came to me, just from playing around.

“I wrote that one a good few years ago when I was living in Dublin and I wasn’t able to practise the pipes really, because I was living in a house and the walls were like paper and there were neighbours everywhere,” he says of the tune. “When I got home from college or after work, I used to take out the whistle – something quieter – and I was just playing around with that, and bits of it came out and I put it together then.”

Richard’s parents, Des and Teresa, are both primary school teachers with an interest in music, which they passed onto their son. Now aged 31, he began playing piano in playschool growing up in Wellpark in Galway City, and then when the family moved out to Loughrea, he got involved with the local branch of Comhaltas.

It was there Richard developed a love of Irish music – and the uilleann pipes, in particular.

His first encounter with this uniquely Irish musical instrument came when he was 12 or 13, when pipe player and maker, Eugene Lambe from Kinvara, brought them to Comhaltas one day.

“He took them out of the case and started playing,” recalls Richard. “I just loved the sound. I thought it sounded cool. That’s my first memory of me saying, ‘yeah, I want to play the uilleann pipes’.”

He was taught by some great Galway pipers including Tommy Keane and Richard Murray of Oranmore, and attended regularly at piping summer schools around the country.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.