Billy Clifford

Billy Clifford (born 1943) is the son of John and Julia Clifford and one of the few Sliabh Luachra musicians whose primary instrument is the flute. He was born in London, surrounded by a large community of Irish musicians, and hearing the music at home as well as in the dance halls at which his parents performed, it was only natural he would pick it up himself.

He frequently visited Kerry on holidays with his mother as a young boy, and at the age of nine he was sent to his grandmother, Mainie Murphy in Lisheen, for an extended stay. It was at this time that he started to learn the tin whistle, and his grandmother gave him his first tune. He was also mentored by the Murphy’s neighbor Art O’Keeffe who played the whistle himself. In fact another local whistle player, who went by the colorful name of Dan Dave Dan Cronin, befriended him as well — it must have seemed to the impressionable boy that the whistle was the predominant instrument of the area! Near the end of Billy’s stay in Lisheen, his uncle Denis Murphy returned from America for a time, and furthered Billy’s musical education.

Not long after, the Cliffords sent for Billy to join them at their new home in Newcastlewest, Co. Limerick. Perhaps upon realizing Billy’s advanced musical ability, John Clifford was inspired to form the Star of Munster Ceili Band in 1955. The core of the group consisted of John, Julia, and Billy, together with Liam, Pats, and Biddy of the musical Moloney family from nearby Templeglantine. The band was soon in demand for dances all over, as far afield as Roscommon and even Dublin. Denis Murphy would sometimes join them for the more prestigious gigs. They even performed on Radio Éireann on a number of occasions, though to his chagrin Billy was disinvited by the producers as they felt the whistle was not a “real” instrument!

Despite the relative success of the band, times were hard, and in 1959 the Cliffords moved back to London to find work. Once more they became fixtures of the vibrant Irish music scene there, and it was around this time that Billy “graduated” from the whistle to the flute, learning from Sligoman Johnny Gorman, among others. His musical development continued with the opportunity to play with the likes of Bobby Casey, Kevin Burke, Raymond Roland, Roger Sherlock, Joe Ryan, and countless others.

In 1969 Billy struck out for himself and moved back to Ireland for good, eventually settling back in Tipperary where he married and began raising a family. He soon became well-known locally as a performer and music teacher. Having lived abroad and traveled so much, Billy’s style and repertoire reflect more influences than just the Sliabh Luachra tradition. Nevertheless, he’s a proud keeper of the flame and a living connection to the previous generation, and as such is rightly regarded as a major figure of Sliabh Luachra music.

Learned from: Art O’Keeffe, Denis Murphy, Julia Clifford, John Clifford

ITMA interviews with Billy regarding his time with the ceili band: http://www.itma.ie/digitallibrary/playlist/billy-clifford-brian-lawler

Billy’s My Life and Music essay

Recordings:

Julia and Billy Clifford Ceol as Sliabh Luachra 300The Star of Munster Trio 300 Flute Solos Echoes of Sliabh Luachra

 

Irish Traditional Flute Solos and Band Music from Kerry and Tipperary

Billy Clifford – flute
Matt Hayes – Accordion
Catherine Ryan – Drums

Topic – 12TS312 – 1977

Topic stretched the criteria somewhat in order to make this the fourth in the ‘Music from Sliabh Luachra’ series, but Billy Clifford’s lifetime of exposure to the music of that region is very much evident in the solo material on this album. The solo polkas here feature the best playing of these tricky tunes in the Sliabh Luachra style that I have heard on the flute, and as Sliabh Luachra polkas played on the fiddle mimic the ornaments of the melodeon or accordion, Billy Clifford in turn uses the flute to play the fiddle, incorporating the idiosyncratic and heavily accented legato bowing of his mother Julia’s fiddle playing into his own unique and really lovely style.

The other side to the album is the material recorded with Catherine Ryan and Matt Hayes, featuring the eponymous band music from Tipperary. There are a number of quite outstanding tunes, such as the dubiously titled ‘Michael Coleman’s’, as well as a number of other reasonably well-known but interesting, even slightly unusual tunes. Between the two styles of playing there is some really great music on this album. — Rob Ryan

Download this classic, out-of-print album here:
http://ceolalainn.breqwas.net/download/Irish%20Traditional%20Flute%20Solos%20and%20Band%20M.zip

The Star of Munster Trio

Julia Clifford (fiddle)

John Clifford (piano accordion)

Billy Clifford (flute)

Topic – 12TS310 – 1977

Recorded between 1964 and 1976 this album features fiddler Julia Clifford, sister of Denis Murphy, her husband John on accordion, and their son Billy on flute. Much of it was recorded around a single microphone in Eric and Lucy Farr’s kitchen, so the sound quality isn’t brilliant, but the quality of the music shines through, and Julia Clifford’s playing is, as always, a thing of beauty. — Robert Ryan

There’s some pretty in-depth notes by Alan Ward starting on page 26 of his Topic booklet here.

julia john and billy clifford - star of munster trio front and back

Download this hard-to-find album: http://ceolalainn.breqwas.net/download/Julia%2c%20John%20%26%20Billy%20Clifford.zip

The Rakish Paddy

Paddy Cronin (fiddle, flute)

Mary Irwin (piano)

Fiddler Records – FRLP 002 – 1975

Recorded by Frank H. Ferrel in September 1975, this is an exceptionally rare recording of the famous Sliabh Luachra fiddler and flute player Paddy Cronin. He is joined on the record by Mary Irwin, who provides unexceptional vamped piano accompaniment, in accordance with the standards of the day. Nonetheless, it’s a nice record, with solid fiddling from an exceptional player. The highlight of the album for me is probably Paddy Cronin’s unique rendition of the Maid Behind the Bar, which he calls the Haymaker Reel. It’s closely related to the variant of the Maid commonly played in C major, which is known as Jimmy McBride’s. — Robert Ryan

PC TRP front and back

Download this out-of-print album:
http://ceolalainn.breqwas.net/download/Paddy%20Cronin.zip

Ceol as Sliabh Luachra

Julia Clifford (fiddle)

Billy Clifford (flute)

Manus Lunny (bouzouki)

Gael Linn – CEF 092 – 1982

An exceptional album, mostly featuring duets played by the Sliabh Luachra fiddle player Julia Clifford, and her son Billy. One of the album’s most remarkable charms is the way in which Billy’s flute matches exactly the rhythm, phrasing, and ornamentation of his mother’s fiddle on the many sets of Sliabh Luachra slides and polkas that they play together. In many respects it is the way in which Billy plays the fiddle on the flute that makes his music here so distinctive and so wonderful to hear, and the closeness of the communication between the two musicians is truly exceptional. Together with The Star Above the Garter, and Denis Doody’s Kerry Music, this is one of my all-time favourite recordings of Sliabh Luachra music. — Robert Ryan

Download this out-of-print album: http://ceolalainn.breqwas.net/download/Julia%20%26%20Billy%20Clifford.zip