Natural-Born Fiddler

John Joe Tuttle (centre) playing with Vincent Griffin and Peter Mackey at the Willie Clancy Summer School in 2007.

John Joe Tuttle is part of a rare breed — a self-taught Clare fiddle-player with a style all of his own. Ahead of the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award to the West Clare fiddler at the Corofin Trad Festival tomorrow evening, Andrew Hamilton speaks to John Joe’s neighbour, Thierry Masure, and finds out what makes his playing so special.

THE flat polders of Belgium seem a million miles away on a windy day on Mount Callan. Yet that is the journey that has been made by adopted Clare man Thierry Masure.
It wasn’t love or money, certainly not the weather, that brought Thierry to his small house on the Hand Road. It was the love of traditional music – and the sounds of the Irish fiddle being played by someone who knows how to handle it properly.
It is this passion that has prompted Thierry to help celebrate the life and music of one of Clare’s great fiddle-players, John Joe Tuttle.
“I think John Joe relates more to the older style of fiddle-playing. It is not a polished type of fiddle-playing, which is just brilliant if you have the ear to listen to it,” says Thierry.
“I have been listening to this music for 30 years. I am used to the recordings of Padraig O’Keeffe, Bobby Casey and the older generation of fiddle-players. They all have a completely unpolished sound, but the deepness of their music is, for me anyway, much more amazing that what you might hear from modern, much more polished players.
“I think it is more raw. And you have to make more of an effort to try and understand it. It is a different way of recording and tuning the fiddle, so for people who are not used to listening to it, it might sound a bit strange at first.
“The older musicians don’t care about the pitch that they play in, they don’t care about the ornamentation – it is all about the feeling that is put into the music. They usually don’t have a classical training, so it gives the instrument a different type of sound. You have to work at it and appreciate it.”
Players like John Joe Tuttle are becoming more and more rare in traditional Irish music. As tuition becomes more standarised and based on lessons rather than learning by ear, the one-off raw styles of people like John Joe are in danger of being lost forever.
“These days, if a player goes into a studio and plays a note out of tune, this will be gone over and corrected in the studio. Everything is played inside the standardised concert pitch and polished up to make it easier, more accessible for the listener,” continues Thierry.
“But the older players like John Joe Tuttle would deliberately play out of the concert pitch – which gives it a magical touch. That might sound a bit crazy to some people, but it is that touch that gives it this older feeling. It relates the music much more to the way that the sean nós singers sound.
“John Joe is a very modest man. He doesn’t want to give much publicity to himself. That is just the way he is.”
A host of top musicians from Clare and from all over Ireland are expected to turn out in Corofin tomorrow night to show their appreciation for John Joe Tuttle in the best way that they know – by playing a few tunes.
“I have recorded two pieces of music with myself and John Joe playing together, and that is now on Facebook for anyone to listen to. We will also have a very large group of musicians who have already been confirmed to play,” continues Thierry.
“John Joe will, of course, play himself, as will I and a friend of John Joe’s from Tipperary called Denis O’Dwyer. We also have Eoin O’Neil confirmed as well as Joan Hanrahan, Jack Talty, Kevin Finnucan and lots of other brilliant Clare musicians and singers.
“John Joe has invited a number of musicians himself who will play on the night so I’m not sure who we might see turn up. It will certainly be an exciting evening.”

The Corofin Traditional Music Festival will continue until March 3 in Corofin. Some other highlights include a concert featuring Lamond Gillespie, Cormac Cannon and John Blake; Marcus, Prionsias and Breandan Hernon and Don Stiffe on Friday night; and a concert featuring Joe Skelton, Michael Queally, Raw Bar Collective including Conal O’Grada, Aidan Coffey, Dave Sheridan, Colm Murphy and Nell Ni Chroinin.
For more information on this year’s festival, visit


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