Based in Co. Clare, Ireland, An Tara (meaning “the space between” in Sanskrit) is a unique duo comprised of Australian-born ex-indie rocker Matthew Noone on the sarode and legendary percussionist and Stockton’s Wing founder Tommy Hayes. Transposing the 23 stringed lute mainly used in North Indian classical music to the traditional Irish music context is an enchanting proposition which generates a rare sound and introduces unexpected sonic possibilities. Following on a first self-released album The Space Between in October 2015, Faha Rain was launched on 24 November 2017 last on the Raelach Record label.

An Tara - Faha Rain (2017) - cover artwork © Maurice Gunning
An Tara – Faha Rain (2017) – cover artwork © Maurice Gunning

Initially discovering the sarode in 2003 during a trip to India, Matthew Noone went on to study North Indian classical music and the practice of the instrument with sarodiyas Sougata Roy Chowdhury in Kolkata and K. Sridhar in the UK.

Indian music is my main love, but I relocated to Ireland six or seven years ago. It was once I returned to Ireland that I became interested in Irish music. It was actually once I heard the music of Martin Hayes […] that I have tried to adapt that style of music on the sarode.” Matthew Noone – 2014

In order to overcome the limitations of the traditional sarode (tuned in the key of C) to play Irish music, the musician designed a hybrid instrument with a shorter neck and tuned in D.

Travelling to India in December 2014 with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill marked a significant milestone in the musician’s journey. Wonderfully captured by independent filmmaker Myles O’Reilly, The Sound of a Country: Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill in India short documentary provides a fascinating insight into this search for a common musical space between the two traditions. This was followed shortly afterwards by the release of a first album with neighbour and master percussionist Tommy Hayes in 2015.

An Tara: Junior’s Lament/ Caisleán an Oir/The Heron Jig/ Raga Asawari from The “Space Between” (2015)

Primarily a bodhran player with the various formations he has been associated with (Stockton’s Wing or Riverdance), Tommy Hayes has since broadened his range by borrowing percussion instruments and techniques from several traditions. His two solo albums to date – An Rás (1991) and A Room in the North (1997) – feature incursions into African, Native American, Jazz and medieval Spanish music as well as a clever scrutiny of many well-known traditional Irish tunes.

Irish traditional music and Indian classical music have very little in common when it comes to structure, rhythmic and melodic patterns. However, in searching for this elusive common ground, the duo found the slower, melancholic and lyrical fiddle style emulated by musicians from an older generation like Junior Crehan or Paddy Fahy to be a major source of inspiration.

On The Space Between and Faha Rain, seven airs or tunes are directly associated with the music of Martin “Junior” Crehan (1908 – 1998). A hugely influential musician whose “sweet, long and lonesome sound” was characterised by a minimal use of bowing, sparse rolls and constant pitch bending, Junior Crehan was a master at finding the few notes within a jig or a hornpipe that would sway the melody and create a unique emotional experience. The sarode is a fretless instrument and playing it also involves frequent slides between notes to produce a continuous sound. This connection might well be what supports so well the seamless fusion of Irish tunes with the raga-style music of the duo.

Revisiting such a rich repertoire of local fiddle music on the sarode not only sheds a delightful new light on much-loved older tunes, it also provides a template for new compositions (six in total) and further improvisation.

Subtle and restrained at all times, Tommy Hayes’ percussive inventory on both albums includes bodhran, bones, spoons, marimba (providing a wonderful counterpoint on the title track and “Her Lovely Golden Hair…”), bells, darabuka, woodblock, mbira, jews harp, silk worm cocoon shakers, handclaps and goats toe nails.

On “That New York Thang” and “Rosie’s Lullaby” (featuring vocals by Matthew Noone), concertina player and producer of the album Jack Talty adds impressionistic touches on the piano, perhaps hinting at future projects.

Matthew Noone also recently released LET LUV B UR GURU, his début solo album of compositions for the sarode on 6 August 2017 last.