What is your background in music? What first inspired you to play music?

From the early years of my childhood, I was exposed to Irish traditional music through my late grandmother who on occasions would play the button accordion at home. This is where my interest and fondness for the instrument firstly stemmed from at that stage of my life. I was extremely lucky to grow up in a home with parents who strongly valued the importance of learning music from an early age. Both of my parents also decided to learn music at the same time as myself. My mother was well known for organising and hosting a weekly session at our house where other musicians in our locality could meet, have a cup tea and play music. Throughout the years as I was developing my skills as a musician, growing up in a home that was full of music was a great asset to me.

What instrument/instruments do you play and how long have you been playing?

I’ve been playing the button accordion since the age of ten years old. So, in other words I’ve been playing around 15 years now this year. In more recent years I’ve also started playing the one-row melodeon which is similar to the two-row button accordion in some aspects however, the differences between both instruments are enough that it requires a different style of playing to articulate.

Are you self-taught or did you have a tutor?

Dinny Leonard was a hugely significant teacher for me growing up throughout the years and always steered me in the right direction musically. This subsequently led to me also receiving tuition with Michael Curran. Michael was a great accordion tutor who was also a former student of Dinny’s.

How would you describe your sound?

The word ‘chunky’ tends to pop up very often. I tend to stick with the roots of the music fairly closely whilst also improvising in my own subtle way, communicating a sense of originality in my music. Musicians across Ireland talk about the Ulster style of accordion music that’s becoming more prominent these days, so I’d probably place myself into that category in terms of describing my sound. My sound is traditional, and sure there’s no harm in that. But chunky has a nice ring to it too.

What genre/genres do you consider your music to be?

Trad, Trad, Trad.

What is your favourite piece of music to play and why?

Popular seisiún tunes like the Duke of Leinster are hard to beat in my opinion. Often it’s not about the difficulty of the tune, but what you do with the tune to put your own stamp on the music.

Although this may be my mindset towards music, I’m still very fond of the more complex stuff and do not shy away from playing more challenging tunes from great accordion music composers such as Paddy O’Brien and Finbarr Dwyer.

How long have you been performing and where do you perform?

I’ve been performing around 10 years now and without a doubt it has built up some mileage for me on the road. From one weekend to the next I would usually be playing in different counties across the country. Up until lockdown, I was performing as part of the line-up at various festivals over the winter months in Fermanagh, Tyrone, Leitrim, Derry, Cavan and Antrim. Over the years I have also been lucky enough to perform at festivals overseas in England, France, Portugal and most recently New York.

What has been your favourite performance/concert to date?

I’ve played at countless concerts over the years in venues of various shapes and sizes. However, one of my most enjoyable concerts before the pandemic was also one of my most recent. I was booked to play with my friends Stephen McKee, Eoin McKee and Gerry McMahon in the Spirit Store Bar in Trillick, Co. Tyrone. This was a brilliant gig as the audience that attended the concert were keen followers of traditional music and the venue was a very intimate setting to perform music in.

Who or what are your major influences?

There are so many accordion players that have influenced me over the years. Finbarr Dwyer, Danny O’Mahoney, Darren Breslin and Oliver Diviney are only a few from an ever-expanding list! Although the accordion is my main instrument, fiddle and banjo music has also influenced me greatly throughout the years. From a non-trad perspective, bands like Steely Dan, Thin Lizzy and Fleetwood Mac are my bread and butter.

Do you write your own music?

I’ve composed a few tunes myself but there’s already thousands of great tunes out there that I’m mad to learn. Plenty of time for me to get into composing yet!

What would be your dream concert/performance?

During these uncertain times, any kind of gig would be a dream to be honest…

Do you always perform solo or do you also perform with a group/band?

I perform regularly as both a soloist and with several ensembles of talented musicians from around Ireland. I most prominently perform with Stephen and Eoin McKee from Co. Derry. We have built a reputation as a trio and are frequently booked for gigs across the country. I have recently formed a band called ‘The Sliabh Gallion Céilí Band’ which competed in the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann last year for our first time. I’ve also explored other musical ventures including his participation in orchestras such as ‘The Macalla Orchestra’ and ‘The National Folk Orchestra of Ireland’.

What has been your best moment as a musician so far?

Over the years, there have been several moments that have stood out for me as a musician. Moments such as appearing on various radio and television programmes, videos going viral online, and my previous success in Fleadh Cheoil competitions have all held great significance to me as a musician.

However, the highlight so far would have to be my choice to study music academically at Ulster University and subsequently graduating with a Bachelors Degree of Music with First Class Honours.

What is the most unusual venue you have performed at?

I prefer not to take on those gigs…

What’s the best thing about performing?

Playing for a full audience of quiet, intently listening people who are there purely for the love of music is one of the best things you can experience as a performing musician.

The connection that can be made with music is unbelievable, and when you have the right audience it really makes it special for the performers as well as the audience.

Any last words?

For all chunky related content, you can follow me on Facebook under the name ’Gary Curley and Stephen McKee Music’.

We’ve plenty of music videos and updates on upcoming projects and gigs available there!