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New direction

Bodhrán player Gino Lupari told David Hennessy about his debut solo album No Turning Back, 34 years with Four Men and a Dog and playing with greats like Shane MacGowan and Sinéad O’Connor.

Gino Lupari is one of the world’s best known bodhrán players.

It was in 1990 that he teamed up with long-time friend and fellow musician Cathal Hayden to create the world famous band Four Men and a Dog with Brian Mc Grath, Dónal Murphy and Mick Daly.

With the band, Gino has released 6 albums to huge critical acclaim and he has played on at least 40 other albums as a guest musician.

He has recorded with such artists as Sinead O’Connor, Shane MacGowan, Rick Danko, Levon Helm (The Band) and Garth Hudson to name but a few.

Now, after all these years, Gino has released his first solo album.

Gino launches No Turning Back at The Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith on Saturday 17 February.

“They’re coming at me quick and fast,” he says of the gigs. His Irish album launch took place in Cookstown on Saturday night.

“We’re looking forward to it.”

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You have released albums before but does this feel different being your first solo offering?

“I have to tell you, it’s very different.

“I’ve been that used to playing with Four Men and a Dog and we have nearly some sort of form of band telepathy.

“We nearly know what each other’s thinking, but this is a completely different venture.

“Gerry O’Connor is going to be joining me, and Dermot Byrne and Tim Edey who are super players, super players.

“I haven’t had as much anticipation and energy about a gig for a long time.

“When I play with Four Men and a Dog all the time, we introduce wee things and it keeps you on your toes but this is gonna be 90 minutes of just complete new material and new things.

“I don’t know what is going to happen but I have great faith in Tim, Gerry and Dermot.

“I’m looking forward to it very much but at the same time apprehensive.”

Four Men and a Dog.

Cathy Jordan from Dervish features on the album..

“Cathy is a good friend of mine and when we go to festivals, we always hang out and have a bit of craic.

“I always was a big fan of John Prine and I thought In Spite of Ourselves would be a good song for me and Cathy to sing.

“So I rang her up and asked her and she says, ‘No bother at all’.

“I love her company. She’s great craic.

“And then I’ve got Liam Bradley on percussion.

“Liam has played with Van Morrison, Ronan Keating, plays with Moving Hearts, the list goes on.

“Nicky Scott on bass. He plays with Van Morrison, Mary Black, Gilbert O’Sullivan. It’s just an A team of musicians and luckily enough, they’re all friends.

“When I knew I was getting some funding from the arts council I said, ‘Right, these are the boys’.

“And we waited our time ‘til they were all free and bang, we got it done.

“And we had a lot of fun doing it, a lot of fun.

“They’re professionally just brilliant musicians and great, great friends and great craic.

“And that’s what I was trying to get across in the album was a bit of fun.

“I was trying to transfer my live performances with Four Men and a Dog.

“Although I’ve played on loads of albums, I think I’m a live performer more than a studio musician.

“I like the feedback from the crowd.

“People were always saying to me, ‘Why do you not make a record?’

“And I just said, ‘Okay’.

“I sat with it for a couple of years thinking about tracks and arrangements.

“And then with the help of Paul Casey and Liam Bradley, we got it together.

“And Gerry Logue, of course, is a great friend of mine and a great support.

“He’s the engineer at the ICC. He’s a great man and a real trusted friend. Good, good guy.”

The album is called No Turning Back, will you do another one?

“I might but I would do it differently.

“The easy part for me making this record was the music.

“It’s all the other stuff behind it.

“All the paperwork and all these different organisations you have to go through to pay royalties.

“My computer skills are not great and it took a bit of time to do that.

“The music was easy and it’s what I do but the admin and stuff like that was hard.

“So if we go again, I’ll have a computer whiz kid doing all that for me.

“It’s all I can do to use my phone.”

You recorded with big names like Sinéad  O’Connor and Shane MacGowan…

“I did an album for Sinéad  when I was living in London.

“I did two days with her up in the studio, and I knew a lot of the Pogues from knocking around Islington and The Whiskey Cafe.

“Tommy McManamon: A great, great friend and sadly gone as well. Brilliant banjo player and the sweetest man you would ever meet.

“The Popes were making an album called Holloway Bouleveard and they asked me.

“Paul McGuinness, the guitar player, and Bob Dowling asked me to come up and play a few tracks on it, but there was that much craic going on.

“It was two days’ fun, it was a lot of fun and that’s all I’m prepared to say about that,” Gino laughs.

“It was good craic and I would bump into Shane or some of the boys in London.

“I remember having a pint with Shane in Glasgow, at Celtic Connections.

“Just a beautiful, beautiful man.

“And Sinéad, she was just absolutely stunningly beautiful.

“I was talking to her at the studios and every so often my brain would kick in and go, ‘You know, that’s Sinéad O’Connor’.

“I was saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, I can do that. Yeah, we can do that’.

“And then at the finish up I was like right, ‘Let’s show her what I can do and what she wants’ and I was playing on these tracks.

“So I had an afternoon after I got over the nerves of actually being in the same room as her and working with her, I got over that hurdle and just did what I do, and she enjoyed it and we chatted.

“Like I said about my memories, nobody will ever be able to take them away.

“Very privileged and lucky to have been asked to do that.

“That somebody would say, ‘Oh, I know who could play on your record’.

“It’s amazing.

“And on keyboards for the album we have James McCullogh who was Sinéad O’Connor for years so that’s a lovely tie in.”

Four Men and a Dog emerged in 1990 during the Belfast Folk Festival.

Their debut album, Barking Mad (1991), was granted Folk Roots magazine’s Album of the Year award, the first time that an Irish group had that honour.

Can you believe the band has now been going 34 years?

“When Cathal rang me and asked me to be in the band I was at university and I said, ‘Yeah, sure how bad could it be?’

“I was first year in university as a mature student and I said, ‘Yeah, sure it will break the summer up’.

“That was 34 years ago and we’ve been to every corner of the planet since, playing and travelling and just having a lot of fun.

“And I wouldn’t change a thing. Not one thing.

“Wouldn’t change it.

“We’ve played in interesting places, met interesting people, played to interesting crowds and played with fantastic musicians.

“Travel is a great thing to broaden the mind. I absolutely agree with that statement 100%.”

What would be the highlights of all the places you’ve gone and special gigs you have played?

“Highlights would have to be the Olympics in Atlanta in ‘96.

“We played in Sydney at festivals, I have to say one of my favourite countries for touring is Canada, I enjoy that.

“Some of the people that we’ve met.. Billy Connolly was a big fan or is a big fan of ‘the Dog’.”

Four Men and a Dog met The Band in 1994 and recorded their album Doctor A’s Secret Remedies at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, New York with musical guests Garth Hudson and Randy Ciarlante. Rick Danko also joined Four Men and a Dog on a UK tour where they played some of The Band’s classics.

“We went to Woodstock in America and recorded two albums with Levon Helm and Rick Danko and Garth Hudson out in  Woodstock, we were living out there for a couple of months recording records with those guys.

“We’ve collaborated with Paul Brady and another player that plays with the Dog is the great, great musician James Delaney on keyboards.

“He joins us and James has played with everybody from Mary Coughlan to Van Morrison to Paul Brady. You name it, he’s played with them all and he’s a great influence on us as well.

“It’s been an interesting journey and, as I said earlier, I wouldn’t change it for anything.

“I’ll never live in a 25 room mansion, but I have memories that money couldn’t buy.

“On a grey day like this in South Derry when you look out the window, you can imagine yourself on Bondi Beach playing tunes for a TV show or something, it’s great.

“It’s been a charmed, charmed life.

“Really a charmed time.

“I am so appreciative of it, I really am. I am one of the lucky ones.”

The Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith is an apt location for this gig as you have done so much with them..

“When I lived in London, I had a great relationship with the ICC.

“I’ve been through the changes with the old building which I loved, which was great, and the new one which is very nice and very proper.

“I had some memorable nights in the old building.

“It’s not fit to print.”

Gino played at Return to London Town as recently as 2021.

“I love that gig,” he says.

“That’s a great festival because you never know who’s gonna turn up at that and every time you put your coffee or your pint down, you’re in a session. You can’t move 10 yards without a session.

“Oh, God, it was a weekend of good music and you never know who’s gonna turn up.

“I remember sitting with, God rest him, Seán Keane and Matt Molloy of the Chieftains.

“We were sitting in the lobby and having a pint and about one o’clock, ‘Will we play a tune?’

“There ya are, it’s just that relaxed. Four or five of us sitting in the lobby playing a tune.

“In my wildest dreams, I would have never thought of it.

“It’s amazing and you get lovely musicians. And it’s great to see the older Irish people at it.

“The Monday afternoon concert there’s a different diaspora there and it’s just lovely to see the older Irish are enjoying themselves and keeping the connection with the music.

“It’s just great, it really is.

“I love it. I hope to get back, maybe this year. I must talk nice to Karen (Ryan, festival director): See can I go back for the weekend.”

Gino spoke to The Irish World from his home in Magherafelt, Co. Derry and ‘three miles from Seamus Heaney’s house’ but as he says spent many years in London.

Gino says: “I used to live in London- down in Tooting- for about 15 years.

“It was handy when Four Men and a Dog were playing all the time.

“I didn’t have that extra flight home to Dublin or Belfast, so it wasn’t too bad.

“When I first went to London as a student I remember going to The Old Favourite, that’s how long ago that is.

“I remember I got up on the Sunday to play tunes and being in awe of all these super, super musicians- Me only learning.

“I learned quick to put the bodhran down and watched and listened: Great education and great men.

“I enjoyed my time in London immensely.

“It was great.

“My partner was an actress. We were living together for about 15 years and then with me touring and her playing we just sort of drifted apart.

“She lives in California now, we’re still the best of friends. Chat every so often. She’s working away out there.

“Any time I try to get to the states, I’ll try and hook up with her but my time (in London) was great.

“Great friends and it’s a beautiful place to hang out, and the Irish in it are great, they’re great craic.

“You always meet an Irish man somewhere if you’re in for a pint.

“I love coming to London and meeting old friends.

“People say, ‘I remember you playing in The Stag’s Head or The Fiddler’s Elbow or Camden Irish Centre.

“It was one of the best times of my musical life, I have to say, because I played every night which was great.

“When I wasn’t touring, there was always a gig or a session somewhere.”

Gino Lupari launches his album No Turning Back at The Irish Cultural Centre on Saturday 17 February.

For tickets, click here. 

For more information about Gino, click here.

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