Hugh hails from a small town in the midlands of Ireland, Rathdowney, in the County of Laois. His family has long been soaked in traditional Irish music and folk, and he loves these roots and is very proud of them.
The annual Finn family holiday was to the traditional Irish music festival of 'The Willie Clancy Festival' in Miltown Malbay and Spanish Point in the West coast of Clare. This is where his love for music started to bud. He began playing tin whistle, then received a fiddle for his eight birthday, continuing to play that till the age of 18. He still feels sorry for his fiddle to this day, as the banjo from then on completely took over his musical life. A banjo lay in tatters in the attic of his home throughout his childhood, and often he used to get it out and look and wonder how it plays or sounds. He could only ever wonder, as there was never any strings on it.
Eventually as he grew older he began to voice his desire to change from fiddle to the banjo, he had asked his parents could he get it fixed and the rest is history. It was a 1960s John Grey tenor banjo and it stood with him for the first years of his banjo life. He had eventually outplayed this old instrument to what it had to give, so he then bought his second, an Epiphone Mayfair 1930s tenor banjo. This banjo was the one he first started gigging with at many sessions and small gigs around the country. However, the instrument he has today and treasures, is an Irish built banjo by Dave Boyle, a legend luthier from Celbridge in Kildare. Also, along the way, he had gathered a few other banjos including two prewar Vega 'Little Wonder's. As the banjo did rule king, he also had some time to play most other four string instruments, like the tenor guitar, which is prominent on the new Na Fianna album 'Unearthed', mandolin, bouzouki, (both made by luthier Dave Shapiro), and then other instruments like the didgeridoo that took to his liking. His career in music really took off when he had lost his job due to the recession in Ireland, and this in turn had encouraged him to make his living playing banjo up in the Dublin Irish music scene and eventually finding his musical comfort with Na Fianna.
Banjo playing has always been core to his music and forever will be, but he then started to put pen to paper and started to delve in to the songwriting part of music. His manager Darren, of his current band 'Na Fianna' and previous band, 'Púca' had always said, in passing, that songwriting is a fantastic skill to try and very satisfactory. Hugh had taken that advise on board and wrote songs and once the first one was written and performed, the other ideas for songs all came flowing out. Hugh now has two songs on the current Na Fianna album 'Unearthed', which are Green Umbrella and Earth Song, and has co-written two others, with Don Mescal and the the other band members, Toora Loora Lay and Let Me Take You There.
His love for folk music and traditional Irish music has overcome all other rock bands he had listened to in the past. Bands he grew up with were Incubus, and Tool, but his main influences to his musical career are the likes of Gerry O'Connor, Cathal Hayden, Crooked Still, Dick Gaughan, Wally Page, Stan Rogers, Planxty, Sweeny's Men, The Clancy Brothers, Rig the Jig, Flook, David Francey, Bellowhead, and most good folk songwriters, sea shanties, and traditional tune players from across the world. Music is not the only thing that floats his boat, as he is a keen admirer of nature and the beautiful outdoor living this world has to offer, and would travel anywhere to view a nice scenery of mountains to the sea, whilst using them as his playground too.
MORE ABOUT THIS ARTIST FEATURED ARTIST - AUGUST 2015
Music and more from this Artist
ARTIST INTERVIEW — The Banjo Reserve interviewed Hugh Finn, here's what he had to say.
Q. How did you learn the Banjo, and what method of learning do you feel is most effective?
A. I first taught myself, as the transition from the fiddle is not too different. I then bought a few beginner banjo tutor books and picked up small tips from each one. I also went to some banjo workshops throughout Ireland and again, picking up tips from accomplished players from each lesson. If I was to start again, I would get on-going lessons from a player that I admire.
Q. During the early stages of learning to play the Banjo, what did you find most challenging?
A. I found my right hand technique the hardest. This is so important at the early stage. I used to find trebles and other ornamantation very hard until I reminded myself to slow down and concentrate on basics.
Q. What challenges do you still hope to master today?
A. Well I hope to play complex hooks and tunes whilst singing. I have crosspicking and strumming pretty much done, but I want to do it all whilst singing. I also would like to write a new cult banjo song that people relate immediately to the banjo when it's heard.
Q. Where do you see banjo music going and what is your role in that?
A. Banjos have surged in popularity here in Ireland in the past 20 years or so and I think it is growing for sure. I can hear banjo now in pop acts too all the time on radio. Banjo has become "cool" and rightfully so. I will try to make my own playing unique, accompanying songs with catchy licks and hooks and use this musical instrument to its fullest. Hopefully my role will modernise banjo playing and rock it in to the future.
Q. What most inspires you to play?
A. I most enjoy playing "Star of the County Down", "Step It Out Mary", and "Earth Song", three songs featuring on Na Fianna's new album "Unearthed". The three songs differ, the first two need a lot of energy and drive with tunes blasting through them, while "Earth Song" needs a nice cool vibe with sweet hooks.
Q. Based on your professional experiences as a Banjo Player, what advice do you have for beginners?
A. Keep it slow at first, if you try to play at speed quickly, you will develop bad habits and skip over notes. And, if you love playing banjo, it doesn't matter who you may think you should sound like, play your own style and let it shine through. Your way of playing suits you more, not someone elses. Gather other ideas and techniques, but apply them to your own playing. I also want to say, keep your banjo out on a stand where you most of your day. A banjo in a case will not improve your playing.
Q. The Banjo is experiencing a resurgence here in the United States, crossing genres and gaining immense popularity with fans. Since joining Na Fianna in 2007, have you also experienced an increase in attention in Ireland / Europe, that you might attribute directly to the Banjo in your music?
A. There has definitely been a resurgence here in Ireland. If you go to a session in a pub, there could be more banjo players than fiddle players, and that is something unheard of years ago in sessions. The banjo can be played with a modern twist and this is important in its growth. I play my way and try to make it catchy, appealing, and modern. Hopefully it inspires someone to pick it up and play.
Q. In your bio you tell us that your "music really took off" when you lost your job during Ireland's recession. What course do you imagine your musical career would be on had you not lost your job when you did? And how did the loss change your mental attitude toward your musical career?
A. When I lost my job, I travelled to Australia, and it was then I started meeting and playing with other musicians in small sessions in bars. And when I came back to Ireland, there was still no work, but I had a banjo. My brother had ventured in to the music scene in Dublin as a full time job, and this is definitely what I wanted to do. I had time to practise more and looked at the banjo as a weapon to make me a good life. If i hadn't lost my job, I would always play banjo but I may not have had the time to develop the way I have and I would never have dived in to the songwriting world either.
Q. If given the choice to play any venue anywhere in the world what would it be, and why?
A. I've always dreamed of playing at the Red Rocks in Colorado. It's a sweet looking venue and it's open air out in the wild. When night falls and the place lights up them red rocks, nothing looks better. I had a DVD of Incubus playing there years ago and it looked pretty perfect.
Q. At this point in your banjo career, what work or event are you most proud of?
A. I am most proud of our, Na Fianna's, album launch night of "Unearthed" in July 2015. It was a special night as other renowned banjo players and fellow musicians and were present in the audience. It all came together after many years of working hard, I had two of my own songs being played and bringing my banjo playing on to such a big stage was incredible for me. I have played banjo for years, but that night, I became a banjo player.
Q. What other interests do you have?
A. I am an avid admirer of the wild and everything that makes it. I love preservation and care for our countryside and the beasts, big and small, that grace these lands. I have a great fondness towards badgers and wolves. The Willie Clancy Festival in County Clare is my pet love. It's an annual pilgrimage that friends and family go camping and playing music at each July. I also love watersports, like kayaking and swimming. Soccer will always be my favourite sport to play, and love others too like chess, Gaelic games, and golf.
Q. Tell us something about yourself that you think our Community might enjoy.
A. I found a banjo in my attic, and now I play banjo for a living.