Irish pipe player, low whistle player, composer
Davy Spillane has become one of Ireland's premier players of uilleann pipes (also called Irish pipes) and low whistles, bringing a modern sensibility to musical instruments that have their roots in traditions that are hundreds of years old. After playing with the groundbreaking Irish folk-rock band Moving Hearts, Spillane went on to a successful career as a soloist and accompanist with pop stars such as Elvis Costello, Kate Bush, and Van Morrison. He has also composed and played music for film and stage productions, including the hit musical Riverdance. An accomplished pipemaker as well as a musician, Spillane constructed all of the instruments he plays, and makes them to order for musicians around the world. In 2000 Spillane won a Grammy Award for Best New Age Album for his work with Paul Winter on the album Celtic Solstice.
Davy Spillane was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1959. He found his calling in music at the age of 12, initially playing the tin whistle. "After about six or seven months of playing the pipe," he told Sinead O'Connor in Interview magazine, "I was on the street, playing for a living." By the time he was 13 years old, Spillane was playing with adult bands in weekly jam sessions at local clubs.
When he was a teenager, Spillane fell in love with the uilleann pipes, which he would continue to play throughout his career. Similar in appearance to the bassoon and the oboe, this centuries-old musical instrument has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years, in part because of Spillane's popularity. Spillane also came to play a flute-like instrument called the low whistle. The design of this instrument, like the Irish pipes, is hundreds of years old.
Encouraged in his musical pursuits by his family, Spillane left school at the age of 14 to travel around Ireland to play in music festivals. Continuing to play in Irish traditional sessions and fairs throughout his teen years, he also began to play in festivals and concerts throughout Britain and Europe when he was 16 years old. Also in the early 1970s, Spillane began an apprenticeship with pipemaker Johnny Burke. He went on to construct all of the musical instruments he plays, and has come to be regarded as one of the foremost pipemakers in Ireland.
After relocating to County Clare, Spillane fell in with musicians who were part of the Doolin music community. He attracted the attention of singer/guitar player Donal Lunny and songwriter Christy Moore, who wanted him to join their folk-rock band Moving Hearts. Spillane accepted their invitation, and remained as a core member of the band throughout its career. Even though Moving Hearts was together for just five years, the group's work has influenced the Irish music scene, particularly in its modern interpretations of Celtic music, and has provided a lasting legacy. One of Moving Hearts' innovations was to use amplified instruments for playing traditional tunes, and to blend traditional sounds with rock motifs. The group also tackled modern political and social struggles in its music, including the problems of the poor in Northern Ireland and the issue of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. While still with Moving Hearts, Spillane began to compose his own music, and the band's last album, The Storm, included several of Spillane's compositions.
Moving Hearts disbanded in 1986, leaving Spillane free to pursue solo projects and focus on composing his own music. After signing with the Tara record label in 1988, Spillane released his first solo album, Atlantic Bridge. Still grounded in the traditions of old Ireland, Spillane wanted to make this sound accessible to modern audiences. Atlantic Bridge set him firmly on this course, bringing together American bluegrass musicians such as Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas and Albert Lee, to forge a link between Irish and American folk music.
Following the release of Atlantic Bridge, Spillane formed the Davy Spillane band to put out more recordings on the Tara label. Their next releases were Out of the Air, Shadow Hunter, Pipe Dreams, and East Wind. In addition to their work in the studio, Spillane and his band played in concerts around the world to promote their albums.
In 1992 Spillane settled in Liscannor in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland. The location, just a few minutes walk from the ocean, provided powerful inspiration for his next two albums, both of which were largely recorded in his home studio. A Place Among the Stones, released in 1994, featured pop star Steve Winwood among its guest artists, and it became Spillane's first release on a major record label when it was acquired by Sony for the Columbia label. The Sea of Dreams, also released by Sony, received distribution in the United States in 1998 and was released in Europe and Japan in 1999 and 2000. The album featured vocals written and sung by pop star Sinead O'Connor, and was composed as something of a requiem for Spillane's recently deceased father.
In addition to his own recording efforts, Spillane has become a much-sought-after session player for the likes of pop stars Kate Bush, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, and many others, and has performed in the concert tours of other artists, including a tour with Canadian rock star Bryan Adams in 1998. He has composed and played music for films and stage productions, including the hit musical Riverdance, in which he was a featured performer. He won a Grammy Award in 2000 for Best New Age Album for his work with Paul Winter on the album Celtic Solstice.
Still making his home in County Clare, Ireland, into the 2000s, Spillane also runs his own recording studio, called Burrenstone Studios, and continues to make musical instruments. After the death of pipemaker Johnny Burke, Spillane inherited his mentor's tools and took up his practice. He has made all of the instruments that he currently plays and, time permitting, he makes pipes to order for musicians around the world.
In 2000 Spillane founded the Burrenstone Records record label, and released the label's first album, his own Forgotten Days. The album featured Spillane playing with Kevin Glackin, and is, according to Spillane, his first album composed exclusively of traditional Irish music, mostly dating from the 1930s and 1940s.
For the Record …
Born in 1959 in Dublin, Ireland.
Learned to play the tin whistle at age 12 and became a street musician, 1971; played in clubs starting at age 13; learned to play uillean (or "Irish") pipes and low whistle, early 1970s; left school to become full-time musician at age 14; became apprentice to pipemaker Johnny Burke, early 1970s; began playing in music festivals and con certs around Britain and Europe, 1975; helped to found folk-rock band Moving Hearts, early 1980s; stayed with Moving Hearts until the group disbanded, 1986; signed with Tara record label, released first solo album, Atlantic Bridge, 1986; released Out of the Air, 1988; Shadow Hunter, 1990; Pipe Dreams, 1991; East Wind, 1994, all on Tara; signed with Sony, released A Place Among the Stones, 1994, and Sea of Dreams, 1998; played on soundtrack of hit musical, Riverdance, won Grammy award with Paul Winter for Winter's album Celtic Solstice, 2000; founded Burrenstone Records, released Forgotten Days, 2001.
Awards: Grammy Award (with Paul Winter), Best New Age Album, for Celtic Solstice, 2000.
Addresses: Office— Burrenstone Studio, Lough South, Liscannor, Co. Clare, Ireland. Website— Davy Spillane Official Website: http://www.davyspillane.com.
In 2001 Spillane joined an Irish Coast Guard unit stationed in Doolin, near his home. Three other area musicians were already members of the unit when Spillane joined. Called upon mainly to rescue wayward swimmers and boaters, the Doolin unit seemed a good place for Spillane to make a contribution to the community that had nurtured his music for so many years.
Atlantic Bridge, Tara, 1986.
Out of the Air, Tara, 1988.
Shadow Hunter, Tara, 1990.
Pipe Dreams, Tara, 1991.
East Wind, Tara, 1994.
A Place Among the Stones, Sony, 1994.
The Sea of Dreams, Sony, 1998.
Forgotten Days, Burrenstone, 2001.
Interview, October 1998.
Irish Times, March 9, 2001, p. 15.
Mix, March 1, 1999.
Sunday Business Post (Dublin, Ireland), June 1, 1999.
"Davy Spillane," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 25, 2004).
Davy Spillane Official Website, http://www.davyspillane.com (February 25, 2004).
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