Fiddler Frankie Gavin is singing a new tune, or rather an old one. Before, as a founder of De Danann, Gavin and his bandmates broke hidebound traditions in Irish music to expand their audience. Now, years later, he's become an orthodox defender of the good old ways.
"Those who stick to the more traditional roots approach to Irish music," Gavin said in a recent interview, "are the ones who keep the real thing alive, the way it should be. I can see why bands want to explore and do all sorts of funny things to Irish music, give it all sorts of treatments and drummings and God knows what. But it doesn't appeal to me personally."
De Danann has been one of the most influential bands of the Celtic music revival over the last 25 years. Along with Altan, Planxty and others, De Danann raised interest in Irish music through excellent musicianship and interesting experimentation. De Danann's innovative arrangements, including adding the Greek bouzouki and American banjo, brought new life to the traditional repertoire. They also Irished-up classical and pop songs, including Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, the Beatles' "Hey Jude" and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."
"I'm pretty proud of our background and our music," Gavin said. "We've changed lineups, but we're still in existence. I think we've had a pretty hefty contribution."
De Danann continues to perform and record. But Gavin sees it becoming even more trad-oriented, leaving the growing experimentation with hip-hop reels and ambient tribal jigs to newer bands like Kila and the Afro-Celt Sound System.
"I don't see that as a development," Gavin noted. "It's just an extension of the popularity of folk music and the interest in Celtic music worldwide."
He predicted, "Our next album will be more earthy and traditional than any album we've done before. I think we're past the escapade of playing Irish cover versions of pop classics and rock and roll."
An All-Ireland champion on both fiddle and flute, Gavin plays in the elaborate traditional fiddling style associated with County Sligo. He finds himself more drawn to early 20th-century Sligo fiddle masters like James Morrison and Michael Colemen.
"I think my love and affection have gone into the past," he said. "The older I get and the longer I'm playing, that's what I love more and more."
Gavin has developed a reputation as an engaging storyteller between songs.
"It's happened more by accident than anything else," Gavin stated. "One time I was about to get up on the stage and someone told me an incredibly funny story. So I just had to tell the story to the audience. It's great when you can bring a smile to people's faces. That's really what it's all about. Entertainment is the name of the game."