Cathal Hayden, a lifetime's contribution to the arts.
Cathal Sean Hayden was born on 13 July 1963, in the village of the Rock, Co Tyrone outside Pomeroy, an area immersed in traditional music. The third in the family of eight, he was born into a deep musical background. His father played the banjo and fiddle, and his mother was a pianist, while both grandfathers were fiddle players. His first instrument was a tenor banjo before since progressed onto fiddle.
There was always great encouragement to play an instrument in the Hayden household; Cathal’s brothers, Stephen is also an accomplished musician. The family were often joined by musicians, who came at the invitation of Cathal’s father John, from various parts of Ireland.
This tradition of holding a family session has now been passed down, with Cathal’s brother, Stephen, organising regular sessions at the family pub, held on the last Saturday of each month. Musicians that turn up on any day of the week are never turned away! Regretfully, Cathal himself rarely gets to play at these events, as he is usually away touring with his band or rehearsing for upcoming events.
Cathal’s father was also a great follower of the All-Ireland Fleadh and during the mid 1970’s, he brought Cathal all around Ireland to play and learn from other musicians. Cathal competed at this annual event from the age 12, right up into his early twenties, winning the title in both banjo and fiddle many times. It was here that he learned many new tunes and began absorbing other styles.
Cathal recorded his first solo album, "Handed Down" in 1980, with his close friend and mentor, Arty Mc Glynn accompanying him on guitar. The tunes present on the album were all music that was passed down to him from his father through the years. Mc Glynn went to produce Cathal’s second solo offering, the self titled "Cathal Hayden" in the summer of 1999.
Cathal’s first step into stardom began in 1988, with his participation in the band "Arcady", which was set up by Johnny "Ringo" Mc Donagh, who was a previous member of Dé Danann and an accomplished bodhrán player. In 1991, after leaving "Arcady", Cathal formed the group "Four Men and a Dog", creating history as one of the most successful Irish Traditional groups of the decade. Their first album, "Barking Mad" won critical acclaim from all circles and became one of the most successful Irish Traditional albums ever. It also went on to win the Folks Roots award for "Best Album" in 1991, becoming the first ever Irish band to pick this accolade. It blended together an eclectic mix of various Irish tunes, reels, jigs, hornpipes and polkas.
During the late 1990’s, "Four Men and a Dog" were touring constantly for up to ten months of the year. In 1998 the band decided to take abreak from touring.
During his time away from "Four Men and a Dog", Cathal kept himself busy by teaming up with other musicians to play at events all around the world. He remained in contact with Mc Glynn, whose music he felt a deep connection with and used his influence to incorporate rock and bluegrass into his new style. He formed numerous alliances with other musicians, including the renowned accordionist Mairtin O’Connor, Piano Accordion maestro Alan Kelly, Bothy band piper Paddy Keegan but to name a few. In more recent years the duet with Mairitn O’Connor has taken him to far flung places like Basil, playing for the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, Tours of Japan with the famous O’Domhnaill family from Donegal, Maighread, Triona & Micheal and places like China, Iceland & the Faroe Islands as guests of the Donal Lunny band. Between the travelling he was still very much in demand, even now as a solo artist.
With so may calls worldwide for "Four Men and a Dog" to return, it was inevitable that Cathal and the boys would reunite. After four years out of the limelight, they released another album, "Maybe Tonight” in 2002, which re-established their position as a successful Irish band.
More recently, Cathal has been involved in the Marie Jones play, "The Blind Fiddler". He has helped arrange a score with the musical partnership of Máirtín O’Connor and Cathal Synnott (Piano & Keyboards) and played live on stage at each performance. It has played to audiences in the Lyric Theatre, the Grand Opera House, Belfast and in the "Assembly Rooms" at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He has featured on numerous national televisions and radio broadcasts, both in a solo and group capacity. "Four Men and a Dog" helped publicise each album with appearances on UTV’s "The Kelly Show", various RTE & TG4’s programmes, including "Geantraí".
From he first picked up an instrument, Cathal’s only ambition was to be a professional traditional musician, and to make a career out of his dream. After almost 30 years of playing, he had certainly accomplished his desire. He has always striven to promote the music and pass on the musical gene, down through his family line, which is now apparent in the talented playing of his nephew Stephen, an accomplished accordion player. His musical talent is famous, not only in his home villages, but throughout Ireland and the entire world. When not performing to packed venues in America, China or Australia, Cathal is just as content playing to a few people in his quiet local pub.
As a musician who has been involved in the release of many albums; both as a solo artist and a member of "Four Men and a Dog", as well as his contribution to other artists’ albums, he remains happy in the knowledge that he has helped bring Irish Traditional Music to a worldwide stage, making it more popular than ever before. Throughout his long association with the Irish Traditional Music, he has earned admiration from all sectors and created an excitement and vitality never seen before in our rich and ancient heritage. A quiet an unassuming character, Cathal Hayden should be immensely proud of his contribution to Irish music. Through his virtuoso playing he has become an ambassador for fiddle and banjo players for the country as a whole.