John Mc Sherry is hailed as one of the finest exponents of the art of uilleann piping in the world today – “a true master” – Irish Music Magazine. Described as being “at the forefront of modern innovation” – Green Man Review, he has taken piping and whistle playing to new heights with his unique style. John has toured the world as both a solo performer and a member of several outstanding bands. He was a founding member of top trad bands Tamalin’, ‘Lúnasa’ and ‘At First Light’ as well as lead instrumentalist with Dónal Lunny’s ground-breaking supergroup ‘Coolfin’, which also included Sharon Shannon. He is a composer, producer and arranger, with several highly acclaimed solo and collaborative albums to his credit, including his latest release – the award winning ‘Soma‘. John is also an established studio session musician of world class renown, recording and performing with everybody from Clannad and Sinéad O’Connor to Nancy Griffiths and The Corrs.
Born in West Belfast and coming from a family steeped in traditional music, John focused his energies on the pipes from an early age. By the time he reached fifteen he had two All Ireland Championship titles under his belt and at the age of eighteen he was the youngest ever winner of the prestigious and much coveted ‘Oireachtas’ piping competition. Combining with his musical siblings, John formed the exciting and innovative band ‘Tamalin’, bringing their unique fusion of Irish, Rock, Eastern and Celtic music to enthusiastic audiences around the world. Their bold debut album, ‘Rhythm & Rhyme‘ was released in 1996 to wide critical acclaim including a four-star rating in Q Magazine.
Sometime previous to this (1995), John began collaborating with fiddle player Sean Smyth, flautist Mike McGoldrick and guitarist Steve Cooney, touring extensively throughout Ireland and England. The seeds for ‘Lúnasa’ were being sown. A year or so later, and with a few changes in personnel, ‘Lúnasa Live‘ (their dynamic debut album) was released. Described as – “simply stunningly impressive” – Irish Music Magazine, it is now considered to be something of a classic.
As well as being a founding member of Lúnasa, John was a lead instrumentalist with Dónal Lunnys’ now legendary super group ‘Coolfin’, which included Sharon Shannon. Yet again, John was at the forefront of a band which would re-shape the boundaries of Irish music. The ground breaking album ‘Coolfin‘ was released in 1998 and a heavy touring schedule ensued. The band played host to a wide range of artists, among them Sinéad O’Connor, Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill, and Eddie Reader.
2001 saw John team up with life long musical comrade Michael McGoldrick to release ‘At First Light‘, which received the award for ‘best traditional album of the year 2001′ – Irish American News. It was from the touring of this benchmark album that John’s current band ‘At First Light’ arose which features ace fiddle player Dónal O’Connor. In 2006 John and Dónal teamed up to produce the album ‘Tripswitch‘. Described as ‘Acoustic perfection’ (Debbie Koritsas, Living Tradition), the album received outstanding reviews worldwide and yet again placed John right at the forefront and cutting edge of Irish music.
John’s first solo venture came in 2010 with the adventurous ‘Soma‘ album. Mixing traditional music with John’s own compositions, it has been described as a masterpiece. The album won an IMM (Irish Music association) award for ‘Best New Irish Album’ of 2010 (John had won another IMM award the previous year for ‘Top Uilleann Piper’). A lot of John’s own compositions from ‘Soma’ and indeed from earlier albums have been used as theme music for various TV and radio programmes and John has been commissioned to write the music for several short films and documentaries.
In 2011, John and his band, ‘At First Light’, released their second album, ‘Idir’, to rave reviews. The following year, John teamed up with ace American musicians, Tyler Duncan and Michael Shimmin to form another band, ‘the olllam’. Their innovative debut album of the same name was released in September 2012. Mixing original compositions in the Irish style with rock, pop amd jazz elements , John and the olllam have taken Irish music down some startlingly new and exciting paths.
Lúnasa – Early History
John McSherry and Sean Smith first met in Matt Molloy’s pub at the end of ’94. From there, they went on a spree around Mayo and Galway for a couple of weeks or so playing tunes. As Sean was about to launch his solo album, they both decided it would be a good idea to put an ensemble together for it. They brought in the guitar talents of Steve Cooney for the tour, with guest musicians such as Alan Kelly and Jimmy Higgins joining for gigs. The material they played at these gigs would, later on, make up most of the first Lúnasa album. Mike McGoldrick was then asked to join, the four-piece playing gigs in Manchester and Ireland as ‘The Sean Smyth Band’.
By now, things we’re starting to gain momentum, but then Steve decided to bow out. Sean then went on a tour of Scandinavia, bringing with him Trevor Hutchenson and Donagh Hennessy from The Sharon Shannon band. When they came back, Sean, Trevor and Donogh got together with John and Mike and it was then that the name ‘Lúnasa’ was born. They toured extensively around Ireland, creating a massive buzz and in the fall of ’96 they recorded the debut Lúnasa album. It was released at the end of that year to rave reviews. A tour of Australia had been set up for Feb of ’97, but with John and Mike unable to go, Kevin Crawford was drafted in to play flute. When the band returned, Mike and Kevin swapped the flute playing role between them for another six months until Mike’s departure. Kevin then became a permanent member, while John stayed on for another year, leaving to join Coolfin at the end of 1997.
Both John and Mike came back to record on the second album, ‘Otherworld’ in mid ’98, and the rest, as they say, is history.