John McSherry has been a major figure in Irish music for almost 20 years. Described by Irish Music Magazine as ‘a true master’, John is hailed as one of the finest exponents of the art of uilleann piping in the world today.
Born in Belfast to a family steeped in traditional music, John focused his energies on the pipes from an early age. By 14, John had two All-Ireland Championship titles under his belt; in 1987 he became the youngest ever winner of the prestigious Oireachtas piping competition, going on to represent Ireland at that year’s Lorient Inter-Celtic Festival as a result.
Combining with his three 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.
By the mid-1990s John was becoming very busy. As well as forming the dynamic Irish trad band Lúnasa, he joined Dónal Lunny’s supergroup Coolfin. Both bands released critically acclaimed albums and toured the world extensively. At the same time, John was becoming a session musician of world renown, hugely in demand to record and perform with all manner of artists, from Nanci Griffiths and Sinéad O’Connor to Gary Kemp and The Corrs. He also toured with Celtic ‘new age’ giants Clannad, and in 1997 his playing was featured on their Grammy award-winning album Landmarks. John’s piping has also featured in numerous film and TV soundtracks including Simon Schama’s A History of Britain, Waking Ned Devine and This Is My Father.
In 2001 John teamed up with life-long musical comrade Michael McGoldrick on their joint album At First Light, which was named ‘Best Traditional Album of the Year’ in Irish American News. It was from touring this benchmark album that John’s ongoing band, also named At First Light, arose.
John has subsequently produced a series of critically acclaimed albums, including Tripswitch with fiddle player Dónal O’Connor (described as ‘acoustic perfection’ in The Living Tradition) and his debut solo album Soma, which has been described as a masterpiece. Soma won an IMA award for ‘Best New Irish Album’ (2010). It mixed traditional music with John’s own compositions, many of which have now been recorded and performed by such notable musicians as Brian Finnegan, Michael McGoldrick and Dónal Lunny.
In 2012, John teamed up with ace American musicians Tyler Duncan and Michael Shimmin to form another band, The Olllam. Their eponymous debut album was released in September that year. Mixing original compositions in the Irish style with rock, pop and jazz elements, John and The Olllam have taken Irish music down some startlingly new and exciting paths. Touring in both Europe and the States has brought this new music to enthusiastic audiences and a second album will appear in 2016.
John’s most recent musical collaboration was revealed in October 2015 with the release of Ulaid and an extensive Irish tour. A trio comprising John with long-time At First Light associate Dónal O’Connor (fiddle) and ace guitarist Sean Óg Graham, from Beoga, the project has been described as ‘an outstanding amalgamation of antique and contemporary’ (Folkwords).
Autumn 2015 also saw John’s debut as an author. The Wheels Of The World: 300 Years of Irish Uilleann Pipers (Jawbone Press), co-written with Colin Harper, received a five-star review in Songlines and has been widely acclaimed as an essential work in the literature of Irish traditional music.
John continues to push the boundaries of Irish music with his current bands John McSherry & The Soma Band, At First Light, Ulaid and The Olllam, and is currently working towards his second solo album, to be released in the near future — watch this space!