As a child I had two main interests; making things and drumming.
My father once went to Dublin and brought us all back a present. I was 6 years of age and my present was a wee tin drum with 2 sticks. That was a bad mistake for my father to make. I got to play it for one full day and then it was disappeared, when my parents got me to bed, never to be seen again.
My mother’s cousin was a drummer in a showband and practised every day on a full drum kit. Sometimes I got to try them out. As a teenager, on the school bus from Derry each evening, all my friends sang the latest hits and I was the drummer on a thick book. I never heard music in melody, nor songs in words… all I heard was the beat or rhythm.
In our mountain village each Saturday I would do the rounds of all the places where people were working; carpenters, sign-writers, the tinker, shoemakers, the saddle maker, the tailor, blacksmiths, the sawmill, the bicycle repair shop, the garage and all the house building sites. It was a dreamworld for a child who liked seeing things being made and where all these people allowed you to help.
The tailor let me sit cross-legged beside him on the table and stitch the stuffing into jackets, for the stair-maker I glued the wedges, for the shoemakers I made the wax end used in stitching shoes, pumping the bellows and as a child I was invaluable for threading needles and holding things. I got such a great education and such great respect from so many gentle people. God Rest them all. They had such respect for others who were good craftsmen and that inspired me to try to be good.
At the age of 10, I made a rough guitar from an old tea chest. The only tools I had were a hacksaw blade with cloth wrapped around it for a handle, and a hot poker to burn the holes for the tuning keys, a penknife and a bit of glass The strings were fishing line, fishing gut, and various thicknesses of stripped electrical copper wire.
At 12, I made my own drum kit using a variety of tin drums and a square of hammered corrugated iron for cymbals. The big Snowcem tins had a profiled groove very much like what I now use in the single screw tuning system. At that time I used a tourniquet rope and 6" nail, to tension thick plastic sheet used as the drum head.
My hands still bear the scars of all the cuts I gave myself whilst making things as a child. In photographs of my oldest sister's wedding I had a black eye. I got this from incorrect use of a 3 foot diameter circular saw when the wood kicked back and hit me. I used to slip into the workshop and use it when nobody was about. It was insane behaviour for a 13 year old, but somehow I survived intact.
I made all kinds of stuff; fishing rods and reels, cricket bats, table tennis sets, steerable bobsleighs, soap boxes with all kinds of extras like steering wheels, sprung suspensions, cranked drives, brakes of all sorts, kites of all types. I was mad about making things and had boxes and boxes of "bound to come in handy" stuff.
Before I was 13, I had made every conceivable weapon; bows, crossbows, slings, devices for slinging potatoes 3 times further than a person could throw them. Even things that went boom and bang . I was lucky to survive this period, as what I was making was highly dangerous. My parents would have died had they known.
That was me as a child. I was always making and I would always want to be praised for this. When I was about 17, I noticed the girls and so got diverted from the shining path, but I never had much success in that direction... couldn't talk sweet, couldn't sing, and could never dance without injuring somebody.
The bodhran world 1960’s
3 Clarebannerman videos …sonny canafan video …ted fureys
My Bodhran Making.
Whilst on teaching practice in my final year as a student, in 1968-9 I heard a bodhran being played to a record. My friend Liam Himphey described what it was like as I made it.
Rough but I was on my way as a maker.
In the following 2 years I made about 5 or 6, gradually getting better. I met with Peadar Mercier at a Chieftains concert and he taught me his method and made me repeat his instructions until I got it right. He was so helpful that I am forever grateful to him. He set me on the path that has given my life such richness of experience and pleasure.