John Joe Gannon

Ceol Tíre 29:, February 1986



2 February 1985

The activities of the new year began with an evening of music and musical reminiscence in Henrietta Street from button accordion and melodeon player John Joe Gannon. John Joe, now in his seventies, was reared in Horseleap, co. Westmeath, but has been living in Dublin for the past thirty years.

His father James was one of three concertina and accordion-playing brothers who had learned music from their father’s lilting or from sources such as travelling fiddlers. ‘I saw my father coming from race meetings or sports—you know those travelling fiddlers they had then—he might pick up a tune and be whistling it. If you asked him a question he wouldn’t answer you. He’d have this tune on his mind until he’d get home, and down with the accordion and memorise it’. James Gannon played homely comfortable tunes on a c/c# accordion, and had verses to a lot of his tunes. John Joe’s mother, daughter of a flute player, sang to his father’s accordion accompaniment, and the Gannon home was a ceilí house with cards around the fire and sets and solo dancing most nights of the week. The lancers were danced, polkas, barn dances, and single jigs with special steps: ‘heel-and-toe and flat steps, thrilling to look at’.

Music came naturally to John Joe, going to bed with music in his ears and waking up with it, and he acquired the local store of music, including waltzes and marches. Slow airs were not played on the accordion. For thirteen years he played with the Moate Ceilidhe Band, broadcasting frequently from Radio Éireann and making several 78s for Regal Zonophone in the 1940s. The band played at carnivals and parish halls in Westmeath and the counties of Cavan, Kildare, Leitrim, Mayo and Tipperary. In 1949 John Joe went to work on the Ballyshannon hydroelectric scheme, and teamed up with Leitrim, Sligo and Donegal musicians there to form a ceilí band. He came to Dublin in the 1950s and has played with a great variety of musicians in the capital since, but never neglecting his Westmeath connections.

John Joe, although well able to, is not fond of playing on his own. When playing with others he listens to them rather than himself. He has not composed tunes, but remembers an itinerant fiddle player from Kilbeggan who travelled Westmeath teaching music and the reading of music and who composed tunes on ‘notes from the birds in the bushes’. Among the twenty selections John Joe played in Henrietta Street were local tunes from his father like the reels ‘Middleton mead’, and ‘The Cloughan reel’, tunes from the repertory of the Moate Ceilidhe Band, and tunes learned in Dublin in recent years.

Nicholas Carolan

Added to list of archived articles 18 November 2003