Widely regarded as one of the most gifted musicians of her generation,
Sharon Shannon was born in the Village of Ruan near Corrofin in Co
Clare. Her parents IJ and Mary were set dancers and the four children
all play music: Sharon accordeon and fiddle, Mary (Bumblebees) banjo,
Majella fiddle and Garry, flute player with the Kilfenora Ceili Band*.
Sharon started like so many on the tin whistle, but by ten she was
playing the accordeon. She also plays the fiddle and melodeon.
Through her father's involvement with horses she became a keen
showjumper, but the lure of playing music was probably the main reason
she dropped out of competitive showjumping at 16. She had been a pupil
of Ennis fiddle player and teacher Frank Custy who emphasised the
enjoyment of the music rather than training for competitions. "She had
a great natural talent, but she also worked hard - very hard - at her
playing ...," he told author PJ Curtis. "From the moment I first heard
her I knew she had the golden touch."
At 14, as a member of the group Disert Tola, made up of Dublin and
Clare Musicians, she performed in the United States. Soon she was
travelling over to Doolin, at that time an out-of-the-way watering hole
and incubator for young musicians such as John Williams, Davy Spillane,
Mary Custy, Owen O'Neill and many more.
A short spell at University College, Cork, failed to capture her
interest and instead she used her time to teach herself the fiddle. She
cites fiddle playing as a major influence on her own accordeon style
and constantly expresses admiration for the playing of Tommy Peoples.
Success was beckoning. She played music in Jim Sheridan's touring
production of Brendan Behan's The Hostage with the
Druid Theatre Company. In 1989 Johnny Ringo McDonagh, who had left De
Danann, formed the Galway-based Arcady which included Sharon Shannon,
Frances Black, Sean Keane and Cathal Hayden. They recorded an
unreleased album. It was while playing with Arcady at a gig in Dublin
that Mike Scott of The Waterboys was captivated by Sharon's playing.
Based then in Spiddal, Co Galway, The Waterboys, (who were at that time were
on the crest of international success) asked her to join them on their
upcoming tour. Their international performances, including the
Glastonbury Festival, gave her first-hand experience of huge audiences.
It was around this time also that she set about recording her first
album. Released in 1991, it was recorded over three days in Winkles
Hotel in Kinvara, south Galway. In terms of a first record, it was
studded with top musicians Donal Lunny, Mike Scott and Steve Wickham of
The Waterboys, Adam Clayton of U2 and Liam O Maonlai. Regarded as a
landmark album in traditional music, Sharon Shannon,
included Cajun, French-Canadian and Portuguese tunes and was a chart
success on its release.
In 1992 she joined up with Eleanor McEvoy, Dolores Keane, Maura
O'Connell and Mary and Frances Black to record the hugely successful
album A Woman's Heart, which became at the time the biggest
selling Irish album ever.
Her career also took off on the festival
circuit in the United States and Europe where she performed open air
concerts with her band which included Trevor Hutchenson on bass and
Gary O'Beirne on guitar.
To crown a remarkable year, towards the end of 1992 Ireland's most
popular TV host Gay Byrne dedicated an entire Late Late Show
to her, a privilege extended to few other traditional acts, namely The
Chieftains, The Dubliners and Christy Moore. As a top line musician in
Ireland, she had arrived and was to perform at the White House.
With Out the Gap, released in 1994, she
expanded her eclectic range moving the music closer to a folk-rock
sound. This trend continued on Each Little Thing in
1997: one of the tracks was supported with programmed drumming.
Anticipating criticism, she told journalist Roderick O'Connor: "If it was possible for the listener to listen to my accordeon
playing alone, with all the backing taken away, you'll hear it's very
rooted. It's true to the tunes and doesn't break any of the rules of
traditional style. It's the backing that makes them sound different."
She has played music on the movies This is My Father
and The Brothers McMullen. While not playing with
her own band she played with Donal Lunny and Brian McSharry in Coolfinn, a
mix of percussion-backed trad and broad Happy Hour smiles. The
accordeon she plays is a Castagnari "Tommy" in C#/D. She also owns a
Castagnari in B/C.
Off stage she likes to take part in pub sessions in Galway and Clare.
He home in Galway is also a domestic base. "I enjoy shopping for
antiques and furniture," she told Eddie Rowley, author of A
Woman's Voice. "In my spare time I also like making my own
clothes and I've made curtains for the house. I love cooking and trying
out different dishes. When I'm at home you'll also find me pottering
around in the garden because that's one of my favourite hobbies. I do a
good bit of swimming in the sea. But playing music tops everything that
Notes From the Heart, by PJ Curtis, Poolbeg.
A Woman's Voice, by Eddie Rowley, O'Brien
Libertango, Sharon Shannon & Friends (2004) DLCD0009
Spellbound, The Best of Sharon
Each Little Thing, 1997.
Out the Gap, 1995.
A Woman's Heart, 1992
Sharon Shannon, 1991
Room to Roam, The Waterboys, 1990.
*Brother Garry released a flute CD in May 2000
Loozin' Air, Garry Shannon, Brick Missing Music