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Free Reed Gathering!

Free Reed Gathering, Cloughjordan, 15th-17th September. 

Andy Irvine, Don Baker, Brendan Power and Seamie O’Dowd are some of the artists due to play open-air concerts at Cloughjordan Amphitheatre on Friday 15th and Saturday 16th of September. 

What a line up we have for you at this event coming up in September! Andy Irvine and Don Baker on the 15th! And Brendan Power and Seamie O’Dowd on the 16th! Plus supports acts with Cathal Johnson and Maciek Zaworonec are will also perform throughout the weekend! Where would you get it! Individual tickets available through Eventbrite, see links below!

If you can help or want to help please purchase tickets from Eventbrite here to support us:

and here:

If you can, support this harmonica event buy buying a ticket online! Even if you can’t make it! We are asking for your help in running this this year. It will we hope be a yearly event. I am running it along with my friend Mick Canney from Cloughjordan Eco Village  and Cloughjordan itself. This is a harmonica event billed as The Free Reed Gathering. To be held at Cloughjordan Eco Village and village. We are running this event ourselves and with little or no funding, any help is appreciated!!

Open-Air Concerts at Cloughjordan Amphitheatre.

The concerts are part of a weekend of music called the ‘Free Reed Gathering’ in the town. The festival is focused on the harmonica and other ‘free reed’ instruments. Such as the concertina and accordion. This year boasts concerts and workshops by some of the very best traditional Irish and blues musicians. The organisers hope that it will become an annual event.

Harmonica repair testimonials

Free Reed Gathering, Cloughjordan, 15th-17th September. Considered by Bono and many others to be the world’s greatest harmonica player!

DON BAKER was born in Whitehall, Dublin. He is a singer-songwriter who plays the harmonica and the guitar. He appeared in several films. His most notable appearance being in In the Name of the Father and On the Nose. He has published harmonica instruction books and videos.

While Baker is already acknowledged as one of the top blues harmonica players in the world. Another key feature of his recently released album; My Songs, My Friends. The quality of his guitar playing and the range and depth of his songwriting. ‘Politician’, featuring John Spillane, castigates our politicians. While there’s a suave gospel elegance to ‘Lord Have Mercy’, a duet by Eleanor McEvoy and Brian Kennedy. Sinead O’Connor is in vintage form on Baker’s ‘Cinderella’, while ‘Maureen’, sung by Baker himself. A touching love song a la Mark Knopfler.

At the close of the upbeat ‘Little Rock’n’Roll Band’, Finbar Furey sings, “Come on, Don, write me one more song.” That sentiment superbly encapsulates the esteem in which Baker is held in by fans and musicians alike. My Songs, My Friends, released on Don’s own label.

Here is a Facebook link to the event, please give it a like and spread the word! Thanks!!:

Weekend tickets available via myself Cathal Johnson or on the door at only 25 euros. Include two magnificent concerts and harmonica workshops with meastro Brendan Power, (myself) Cathal Johnson and the amazing Magic Maciek Zaworonek! Now that’s value!

On Friday evening there’s a very special double-bill with two of Ireland’s great troubadours; Andy Irvine and Don Baker. Both artists will perform some of their favourite and best loved tunes in solo performances. And later, when these two get together on stage, just about anything could happen!

Saturday promises another great gig as Brendan Power. Acknowledged as one of the world’s best harmonica players, takes to the amphitheatre stage. This is a rare Irish appearance by the UK-based harmonica maestro. On the night he will be accompanied by the excellent traditional Irish and blues guitarist, Seamie O’Dowd from Sligo.


Free Reed Gathering, Cloughjordan, 15th-17th September. Brendan is a genius harmonica inventor and player. Inventing cutting edge harmonicas with cutting edge technology!

Although a New Zealander, Brendan Power is an all-Ireland champion, so expect an exceptional traditional set with O’Dowd (formerly of trad super-group Dervish) on the strings. Both these men love the blues, and are hugely accomplished players, so its definitely going to swing later on!

BRENDAN POWER, UK-based New Zealander is acknowledged by many as one of the most creative, skilled & versatile harmonica players around today. Equally at ease on both the earthy Blues Harp as well as the sophisticated Chromatic Harmonica. He tunes them to his own scales to create a highly original style. He has recorded over twenty solo CDs to date, in a wide variety of musical genres.

Since he moved to Britain in 1992, Brendan’s eclectic skills and sympathetic ear have made him an in-demand session player. Leading to live and recording work with artists such as Kate Bush (her latest album ‘Director’s Cut’), Sting, Van Morrison, James Galway, Paul Young, Shirley Bassey, John Williams, Mike Batt and many more.

His playing is also heard on many Hollywood movie soundtracks. (eg. the 2008 Oscar winning soundtrack for ‘Atonement’, Jackie Chan’s ‘Shanghai Noon’). Internationally syndicated BBC TV series (eg. ‘Billy Connelly in Canada’, ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’, and Bruce Parry’s ‘Arctic’ Series). He has featured on the world-renowned ‘Jools Holland Show.’ Regularly toured worldwide, performing in venues such as China’s Great Hall of the People. The Royal Albert Hall and The Kremlin. Brendan was voted “International Harmonica Player of the Year 2011/12” by the respected SPAH organisation of America.

In addition to his Pop, Jazz & Blues skills, Brendan is an expert player of Irish traditional music (winning the 1993 All Ireland Title). Performed for three years as soloist in the Riverdance Show. He has recorded with many well-known Irish artists including Donal Lunny, Altan, Paul Brady, Arcady, Artie McGlynn, Mary Black and others. In February 2012 Brendan and Tim Edey won the “Best Duo” title at the 2012 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

A respected harmonica technician & customiser. Brendan was employed for 5 years by Suzuki Musical Instruments Co. of Japan as their International Harmonica Specialist. During which time he helped Suzuki develop and promote most of their current range of diatonic and chromatic models. He left in April 2013 to pursue freelance projects. One is devoted to making high-performance extra-reed harmonicas for increased note-bending ability: In the course of this project Brendan taught himself CAD design. Mastered the new generation of maker-machines such as 3d printers, laser cutters and CNC millers. Constantly inventing, he designs and creates a wide range of cutting-edge custom harmonicas in his home workshop. Selling them all over the world to players seeking fresh sounds and better performance.

Brendan is also an inventor and has invent many modern day harmonicas! Such as his double chromatic harmonica, valved harmonicas, his 3D printed ‘Powercombs’ which are fantastic once installed into chromatics harmonicas and increase the sound, tone, volume and control over the reeds when bending. Check out his website here:

Cathal Johnson Harmonica Repairs

Free Reed Gathering, Cloughjordan, 15th-17th September. Andy Irvine, the most recorded harmonica player in Ireland, according to the National Archives!

ANDY IRVINE is one of the great Irish singers. His voice one of a handful of truly great ones that gets to the very soul of Ireland. He has been hailed as “a tradition in himself”.

Musician, singer, songwriter, Andy has maintained his highly individual performing skills throughout his 45 year career.

From Sweeney’s Men in the mid 60s, to the enormous success of Planxty in the 70s. Then from Patrick Street to Andy Irvine & Dónal Lunny’s Mozaik. Andy has been a world music pioneer and an icon for traditional music and musicians.

As a soloist, Andy fills the role of the archetypal troubadour with a show and a travelling lifestyle that reflect his lifelong influence, Woody Guthrie.
To quote the Irish Times, “Often copied, never equalled”, his repertoire consists of Irish traditional songs, dexterous Balkan dances and a compelling cannon of his own self-penned songs.

Website here:

“Maciek is one of my favourite musicians in the whole country”- Sharon Shannon’
Maciek Zaworonek was born in Poland in 1983. He was fascinated with the blues, jazz and gospel music. In his teenage years he took up the harmonica. Which became his main instrument. He played in music festivals in Europe with his soul band called Puste Biuro. Won three harmonica contests. He moved to Ireland in 2006. Maciek teaches both diatonic and chromatic harmonicas.

Cathal Johnson is a harmonica player and technician who carries out work for players in Ireland and the UK. He comes from Co. Louth, and is now based in Galway. He plays harmonica, guitar, accordion and melodeon.
Andy Irvine on my Harmonica builds and repairs: “It’s great, after all this time, to find a harmonica technician here in Ireland! I’m delighted to give my full endorsement to his work, repairing and tuning harmonicas.”

Cathal studied with harmonica guru Brendan Power and is the Hohner Service Harmonica Repair for All Ireland. In 2010, Cathal attained a degree in Applied Music specialising in solo performance playing Irish Traditional Dance Music on diatonic and chromatic harmonicas and accordion.

These are the last concerts in an extraordinary year for the Cloughjordan Amphitheatre. The new venue has got off to a great start with the official opening by President Higgins in late April. A number of successful community and youth events over the Summer. The project has just been awarded additional funding from the Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht to continue development work over the winter.

There will be local support acts both nights and in various pubs around Cloughjordan. There are ticket available online and on the night with  gates open at 7pm. People are asked to arrive early. Parking is available at the Enterprise Centre in the eco-village and people are asked to arrive early.

Admission to both concerts is €15 and tickets are available online through Eventbrite and on the Cloughjordan Amphitheatre Facebook page.

Special weekend pass covering admission to both shows and the workshops are priced at only €25!

These concerts are open-air at the Cloughjordan Amphitheatre and patrons are asked to dress appropriately. In the event of bad weather the event will be moved indoors.

Please do spread the word, thanks!

Cathal Johnson

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The Harmonica Company.

Here’s a helpful and great website by the Harmonica Company:

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A Review of Brendan Power’s “Powercombs!”

Fantastic optimally shaped harmonica combs 3D printed combs. Newly invented modern combs for optimal playing:

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The Coxes Boot Stomper with Cathy Maguire!

Check out this footage of Cathal and Cathy Maguire playing recently at Vantastival festival in the Walled Garden area in Belurgan Park. Spontaneously without any rehearsal Cathy joined Cathal on stage for a couple of country songs led by Cathy. This was a great opportunity to catch a glimpse of Cathy live, rare these days as she spends her time in New York working and recording with some of the best in the business. Cathy gave a rousing performance which got the everybody singing and dancing. Its appropriate that Cathy joined on the night as Cathy is herself from Coxes, Dundalk. Maybe you could say she is an honorary member. Well we certainly hope it wont be the last time Cathy plays with The Coxes Boot Stompers!

Kenny & Dolly roll over, here's Cathal and Cathy. With Cathal Johnson at Vantastival

Posted by Sean Fegan on Sunday, 3 May 2015

Thanks to Sean for the clip.

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Vantastival May 2015 Cathal Johnson Bagpipe harmonica Belurgan Park, solo performance.

Vantastival may 2015 Cathal Johnson bagpipe harmonica belurgan park solo performance. Cathal Johnson as the Coxes Boot Stomper at Vantastival in Belurgan Park. Here playing his Bagpipe harmonica he tuned up himself to give this lovely drone effect while playing a tune.
Thanks to Marko, Eddie in the Walled Garden for having me there. Also a big shout out to the crew and volunteers at Vantastival who worked so hard to make it happen this year, thank you so much! Also thanks and praise to James T and Cairan Smith (Smithy) on sound. James got a great sound on the night considering the guitar pick up wasn’t great. James managed to compensate it on the night.

After a few miss haps on the way there Cathal ended up doing a solo performance but later was joined by the imitable singer that is Cathy Maguire. See below next post for a clip of them performing a couple of classics.

Picture taken by Sean Fegan, thanks Sean!

The Love Caravan

Thanks must also go out to Sean Fegan for the pictures and recording the clip below and accommodating us in the caravan and Francesca Lalor for recording the gig on the night. We look forward to hearing it!

ever heard of a harmonic that thinks its a bag pipe. you have now. Cathal Johnson gives a master class at Vantastival

Posted by Sean Fegan on Sunday, 3 May 2015

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Considering investing in a new harmonica for 2015 but want to know a bit more before you buy? Have a read of this and see below for more information and special offers:
I have written out below an extensive description of both diatonic Richter tuned harmonicas and ‘solo’ tuned chromatics that I hope explains itself ok. Sorry if its a bit long winded!

Standard Richter tuning is the normal tuning you have on a blues harp. In the early days there were horologists (clock makers) across Europe experimenting with many configurations, but most did not sit right with people. A guy called Richter however (circa late 17th century (not sure of his first name) came up with the standard tuning which became known as Richter tuning.

That one stuck to this day as the normal tuning for diatonic blues harps. The first 4 holes have a configuration that allows you to play major chords both on the blow and draw. Using tongue block techniques one could play a chord and play melody through the side of your mouth to produce melody with a vamping chord. Of course somewhere along the line someone realised that you can bend those notes and reeds that have a greater interval of a semi tone between two notes in any one given hole. Called double reed bending as the two blow and draw reeds in that one hole interact with each other. When you bend on the draw reed past a semi tone the blow reed kicks in and so your bent note on the draw is actually the blow reed sounding! Mad eh?

Capital equals blow and small letters represents draw i.e.

Diatonic Richter tuning:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Cd, Eg, Gb, Cd, Ef, Ga, Cb, Ed, Gf. Ca

The first hole you have two notes a whole tone apart (interval) so you can bend a semi tone between them. On the second hole you have E blow and G draw. Here on the draw you can play 3 notes. i.e. On the draw G, bent down to F sharp, and further to F natural. This continues on up the scale where you cannot bend hole 7 as there is only a semi tone apart.

That’s one difference between ‘Solo’ and Richter tuning. Solo tuning follows a standard scale configuration much like the holes on a diatonic between 4 and 7 to make up the scale. But in order for the tuning pattern to remain the same throughout, there are two blow C notes together. And so the configuration layout is different to diatonic.

Whereas on a Richter tuned diatonic the wind direction changes direction on hole 7 and continues with a reverse wind direction to finish the higher octave on a diatonic harps. But also you’ll notice that the B on the 9 and 10th hole is missing, so you have an incomplete scale. This is different to solo tuning as solo tuning maintains the same wind direction throughout and has complete scales.

So the possibility to bend notes on a chromatic solo tuned harmonica only arises in holes with two notes that have a whole tone between them. These notes you can only bend one semi tone between them as the interval apart is only ever one whole tone or a semi tone-which you can’t bend beside subtle micro tones. Chromatics are valved however and so double reed bending is not possible. But it is possible to bend almost a semi tone with the valves for expression. See below.

Solo tuning is a tuning you normally get on a chromatic harmonica in a configuration like this:

Hole: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12.
Note: Cd, Ef, Ga, Cb, Cd, Ef, Ga, Cb, Cd, Ef, Ga, Cb.

I hope that made sense to you! Of course there are physical differences too with shape and size etc. Also chromatic harmonicas are valved, unlike most diatonic blues harps (though Brendan Power came up with the half valved blues harps which are amazing, I will elaborate later!) Valves have two effects, they make the instrument more airtight and therefore louder. They allow you to produce what they call single reed bends which only allow a semi tone bend. This allows for nice expression however.

Brendan Power came up with the ‘half valved harmonica’ that Suzuki now supply. He is so clever that he figured out that you can use valves in certain hole on blues harps to make them louder and give extra notes of subtle expression than ever before. Reeds bend by interacting with another so you can’t valve both reeds, only one can be valved to allow for double reed bending. So the blow reed is valved but not the draw. This allows the draw to interact with the blow. Now however you can also blow bend the valved blow note a semi tone giving you that extra expression on the blow note.

Valves do not allow for ‘overblowing’ however. If you are a player that has mastered even somewhat, the extremely difficult technique of ‘overblowing’ much different to draw or blow bending. The so called ‘overblow’ is the reverse of draw or blow bending. Imagine draw bending hole 2 or 3 then blow bending them too! A phenomenon only fully utilised and realised and identified in the last 30 or 40 years.

There are different makes and different tunings available with chromatics. One is the ten hole ‘Slide Harp’ chromatic which is the same tuning as Richter tuning. Here you can bend notes as you would on a normal blues harp but you have the button for chromatic runs too and extra notes. I have one of these harmonicas.

I also have the ten hole diatonic richter chromatic ‘Koch.’ This unusual model is basically a 40-note chromonica, but tuned according to the Richter system. Pressing the slide changes the key from C to C#, like on the chromatic. However, note bending is possible in exactly the same way as with a standard Richter harp, offering the player a number of exciting new musical possibilities as well as the ability to play in different keys on one instrument. As with Richter Diatonic plus the Slide Harp is partially valved to increase air tightness.
Cathal Johnson 2015.

Cathal is offering refurbished harmonicas in normal Richter tuning, Paddy Richter tunings and Powerbender tunings. Other harmonicas are available on request. Contact cathal through his contact page or email

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John Murray Show

You caught Cathal on RTE’s John Murray show this morning, right? Well if not, here’s a link. Cathal talks about his workshops, harmonica repairs and lots of other stuff relating to the “humble” harmonica (including the possibility of a convention next year). Well worth a listen.

john murray

Respect to John for letting Cathal loose on his listeners!

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Breathing New Life into The Harmonica

Harry Browne and photographer Barry Cronin came to my house a couple of weeks ago to interview me about me harmonica workshop for an article in the Culture section for The Sunday Times called “Breathing New Life into The Harmonica”.

I’ve posted the article itself (click for full view version) and some photos from the shoot below for your viewing pleasure! Don’t forget to come see me at the National Gallery on 19th…


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Cathal at The National Gallery

Cathal will be playing The National Gallery of Ireland on the 19th of September for Culture Night:

Music Acts (6pm to 9.15pm)

Solo performers and vocal acts will entertain visitors in the Wintergarden Café, including upcoming talents like Gemma Doherty, harmonica maestro Cathal Johnson, and the Cappella Choir.

  • 6.00pm Gary Tiernan Vocals & guitar
  • 6.30pm Gemma Doherty Vocals and harp
  • 7.00pm Cathal Johnson Vocals, harmonica and guitar
  • 7.45pm Emly Vocals & piano
  • 8.30pm Vincent Whelan & Cappella Choir

For more info, please see


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Eddie Clarke Fashion

Probably the first recording played on a custom D C-sharp chromatic harmonica in an the legendary Eddie Clarke fashion/style, this is a must for traditional Irish music enthusiasts everywhere! Check out this article on Wicklow harmonica player Sean Walshe (click for fullscreen) written by me for this month’s Harmonica World magazine….

HW June July 13 Walshe

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Cathal & Friends at Vantastival 2013

Great festival at Vantastival over the long weekend congrats to all the crew. Really enjoyed playing in the Melomania stage as the Melomaniacs! Thanks to Aindrias, Thierry-Antoine Faure/Jacques, Sean on banjo! and Ken for making up the band.

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Renewable and Environmental Award for Cathal Johnson Harmonicas

Cathal Johnson Harmonicas were delighted to be shortlisted and go on to win an award in the ‘Renewable and Environmental’ category from Louth Enterprise on Monday the 5th of March 2012. Woop!

Cathal has been steadily working towards building his business in recycling and renewing old or existing new harmonica, alternative tunings repairs and maintenance, set up for harmonica for customers and customization of harmonicas. To prevent a throwaway society in regards to the harmonica Cathal Johnson Harmonicas aims to fix them and keep them in circulation rather than been thrown in the bin! What a waste and how could you!

Cathal Johnson started after finishing college in 2010 in Applied Music. He then attended business courses to look into creating his own work, as he could not find any work available anywhere else he decided the would create his own. He applied for a Feasibility Study from Louth Enterprise in 2011 to further investigate the possibility of starting up business. After this he decided to do one more business course and go for it. The Study and Business course led him to creating a customer base on which to build. Since then Cathal Johnson Harmonicas saved hundreds and thousands of harmonicas from the bin! And hopes to go on saving thousands and tens of thousands from the bin!

But not only that the customers receives back a harmonica that sounds better than what he or she bought it in the first place as the reeds have been fine tuned and octave tuned and maybe tuned into an alternative tuning or customized for Overblow harmonicas. Or simply that their harmonica is now set up for them to play to suit their own individual style or playing.

Now Cathal Johnson Harmonicas is looking to build on his award winning status and expand into a workshop base, to produce a commercial CD recording of music arranged for the harmonica and other interesting projects too. Hopefully the wave of recent good luck will continue and not only create a job for him but for others too. Watch this space!

If you would like to get in touch with Cathal call him on 0877854120 or email him at

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