Galway Sessions Harmonica Festival review!

Mick Crehan and his wife Meave who run The Crane Bar and his staff hosted an electrical and atmospherical start to proceedings on a clement June 13th on a Wednesday night for the opening of Galway Sessions Harmonica Festival. In the past 12 years or so Mick Crehan and Meave have run the ‘Galway Sessions’ festival. As festival director, Mick produces different themed music festivals a year from composers to piping, dancing to harmonicas! A highly regarded musician himself, Mick plays the tin whistle and plays superbly on old Irish slow airs. With an encyclopaedic mind of information. Especially Irish Traditional Dance Music (ITDM) tunes and song. He shows a great fondness for the harmonica, as many others in ITDM do have across Ireland.

Pip Murphy with his daughter and Mick Kinsella playing after the Gala Night in the Crane

Awhile ago, I spoke with Mick about running a harmonica themed festival. I ran one myself with Mick Canney last year in Cloughjorndan billed as Free Reed Gathering. And continue to be involved with that project their year, September 14th/15th. On June 13th Wednesday 2018, on a clement night Mick introduced me and a really class line up to the stage! “Focusing on the harmonica, the first magical maestro on the harmonica. The harmonica ‘Messiah,’ here to spread the Gospel of the harmonica. It’s because of him we are doing this… …Cathal not only plays the harmonica he also repairs modifies and does all sorts of things he has a company here in Galway Called Harmonicas Ireland and his main mission in life is to spread the gospel of the harmonica! Its because of him we are doing this, he’s a kinda persuasive character. Anyways he put a team together and he will tell you about that later on, would you give a big welcome to Cathal and friends!” and welcomed us onstage! But it wasn’t just me who convinced Mick. A local harmonica enthusiast Ernie Deacy in particular along with many others local harmonica players did too. Great harmonica players such as Frank Boyle, Paul Moran who performed a few concerts and sessions, David Larkin tremolo and singer hosted a singing session, local blues and jazz maverick Maciek (Magic Tongue) Zaworonek hosted a workshop and closed out the festival with his band The Barnyard Quartet! Along with traditional player as Sean Maloney and last but not least, Tony O’Connel who featured in the Sunday afternoon session. These guys with fondness for the little instrument didn’t seem to take much convincing Mick! The festival seemed to be a huge success, the extant determined, the challenge is to do it all again in the next 6 to 12 months!

John Murphy playing at the Gala Night in Monroe’s with his band Tin Sandwich

Galway Sessions Harmonica Festival’s setting in Galway made the atmosphere so special and different. Galway, plus harmonicas with a multitude of amazingly talented musicians set the scene for Galway Sessions this year. People of Galway and its musicians, dancers, listeners, visitors and Galway’s surrounding areas made for a magical atmosphere. The wildness of fastest flowing river in Europe, the Corrib with it’s run of salmon leaping up the river followed by an otter! I actually did see an otter and have a video to prove it! Indeed one of our members Trevor Yeo attended festival in Galway and witnessed a local fisherman landings a salmon from the ‘High Bank!’ What a sight to see for Trevor attending this harmonica festival!! I took a break from organising the multiple logistics of running a festival, to spy the salmon and nature running the river and saw one of the local fishermen catching a salmon too, swans on nest, hatchlings all sorts of wildlife happening all round you! Imagine in the middle of a city! Later in the week, Ben Hewlet, chairman of the National Harmonica League himself arrived! Delighted to see him there Trevor, Ben and I went fishing. No luck catching a fish!! Ya just never know in fishing… Anyway this was not just a fishing trip, this was Galway Sessions Harmonica Festival holiday! Albeit a working one for me at least. I loved every minute of it and we all got into the spirit things.

Two hour workshops ran Saturday and Sunday and consisted of Myself, Mick Kinsella and Maciek Zorrowanek and Ben Hewlet. Ben Hewlet played a stormer. At the last minute I managed to schedule him in with Maciek Zorrowanek for an hour or so. Then again with another Sonny Terry workshop at the Crane. These workshops worked out very well with a lot of good feedback.

At one of the sessions Mick Crehan complimented Ben on his playing at a session I hosted on Sunday evening at 6. Ben played his Irish party pieces with great effect using the Harp Wah by Roly Platt on one of his Irish tunes, I particular remember the slow air he played. Showing how the Harp Wah can incorporate into Irish music. The session was well attended by quite a few harmonica players varying from diatonic, tremolo and chromatic harmonicas. Many had interesting stories to tell!

Tin Sandwich Band invite Cathal Johnson and Mick Kinsella up for the finale

Incredible session guitarist and harmonica, Stephen Simmonds and Patrick Bergin (Aiden Maguire, Eastenders and Sleeping With The Enemy) Barry on double bass and I (Cathal Johnson) joined Patrick our very special guest indeed, to form the band Dominic St. Ramblers. We managed to play a blinder. Patrick, Turning many heads as to his own inimitable entertaining and musicianship. A real true actor and singer songwriter for sure. I invited Patrick to play at the festival having met last year at the harmonica festival I ran with Mick Canney billed as Free Reed Gathering. He invited me and Stephen Simmonds to play with him on the Gala Night having launched the festival a month before at the Crane. We play Free Reed Gathering again on 14th/15th September at Cloughjordan Village and Eco Village in North Tipperary and The Crane on the 16th September Galway that weekend. So watch this space and check out for more up and coming information also on my Facebook page and other platforms.

What intrigued me most about the 5 day festival was that amount of people who did come out of the woodwork throughout Ireland and afar to attend the event. 3 sons of an 84 years young played with brilliant tone on chromatic harmonica player arrived from Dublin. He was a champion harmonica player, as was his 3 brothers who have since passed away, last man standing! All 4 brothers won ‘All Ireland’ medals for playing harmonica! How cool is that? Plenty other stories too. After the Gala concert at the Crane for the after session, I spoke with renowned tremolo player John Murphy of headline act Tin Sandwich. He introduced me to another gentleman from Dublin Con Cluskey, founding member of The Harmonichords. He played sweet music for us there and then standing by the bar! At another session I hosted on Sunday from 6 to 8 downstairs in the Crane Bar, many similar stories transpired making this a very special occasion for many.

The opening night was riveting for me and the band. With entertaining banter from TG4 celeb Aindrias De Staic on fiddle and jaws harp, Stephen Simmonds with his one man band set up and amazing and very professional skills on guitar, special kick peddle built inside a cajon and foot tambourine. On bass we had Brandon Begley son of the well known accordion/melodeon player and Steve Cooney protege. This was a hilarious and very entertaining set that we managed to deliver. I’ve been playing with Aindrias and Stephen on and off for 20 or so years now. We played jigs, reels, polkas mixed with country songs from Stephen and myself singing country blues and old time songs. We ended with a comedy version of a traditional train blues with a tune Aindrias and I both composed together called Traditional Train Blues/Blue Stack Mountain Blues. The was an electrifying buzz and vibe throughout the night and indeed this continued the rest of the week.

Thursday’s events started in the King’s Head with all Ireland champion Paul Moran and retired teacher. A lilter (a form mouth music), dancer and harmonica player from Dublin accompanied by Anders Trajberg on accordion.

After that it was ‘tunes in the church’ where myself and renowned fiddle player Gerry Harrington played as set of Irish Traditional tunes in the lovely setting of Saint Nicholas Church. Paul is also resident artist at St. Nicholas Church this summer.

Cathal Johnson biography and origins are Irish born and based today in Galway City, The Forge Arts Centre, New Road, Galway, Ireland. He grew up playing various music genres on guitar and harmonica adding accordion and melodeon later. Recognised by Hohner Harmonica manufacturers in Germany as ‘Service Harmonica Repair for All Ireland.’ Cathal studied informally as harmonica technician with harmonica guru Brendan Power ( In 2010, Cathal attained a degree in Applied Music specialising in Harmonica Solo Performance at DkIT in Dundalk, Co. Louth in Ireland. He specialised in solo performance playing Irish Traditional Dance Music on diatonic and chromatic harmonicas. As a musician Cathal plays and sings music with the harmonica rack with guitar and also plays melodeon and accordion.

Rick Epping and Frankie Gavin play Roisin Dubh

Gerry Harrington grew up in Kenmare Co. Kerry in beautiful surroundings and scenery. At an early age Gerry was very interested in music which was influenced by the landscape and the wonderful musicians of the day. Since then Gerry has recorded seven albums and has taught Irish Traditional Fiddle playing and the history that goes with it in many countries and all over Ireland and provides music for private gatherings, weddings and funerals.

All of Gerry Harringtons recorded albums are based on researching the old traditional tunes and bringing them to a new time. Gerry is skilled in performance, teaching, recording, mixing, production, and has a great interest in nature photography. He has also has performed and taught music in many countries, including the US, Alaska, France, Finland, Holland and has had students from Japan come to his home for tuition.

Gerry Harrington is very passionate about passing on the Traditional music, with feeling and emotion to a new generation with the skills he has learned in his association with many musicians he has encountered on his musical journey. “My greatest pleasure in life is bringing enjoyment to people through my music, teaching fiddle, taking long walks with my dog while taking photos of this wonderful country we live in and it also very much inspires me in my music.

Andy Irvine plays Roisin to a full house. Sorry about the picture!