Wonky-doo

Posted on: 11th October, 2016

Category: Music

Contributor: Mark Holland

Hunky Dory Music Shop, Spillers Lane, Clonakilty. Hunky Dory stocks a huge range of instruments, accessories, CDs and vinyl. Contact Mark on 023 8834982 or pop in to have a listen.

There’s a guy near me who makes didgeridoos and, given that I live about as far as it is earthly possible to live from Alice Springs (Barryroe), this must be sustainable global economics in motion.

I first met Peter Fitzpatrick a couple of years ago, soon after I opened the shop in Spiller’s Lane, when he came in proudly sporting one of his ‘Irish Didgeridoos’ – it was big, loud and a thing of beauty. As a man of little talent, I was chuffed, as the didgeridoo is one of the few instruments that I can breathe life into.

I went to Australia full of youth and idealism 20 years ago on a working holiday and promptly ran out of money in the coastal town of Byron Bay, somewhere north of Sydney, south of Brisbane and around the corner from paradise. I went there to learn to Scuba dive (see money above) surf – that was so embarrassing that the instructor offered me free lessons! My other ambition was to make money, picking fruit, but everyone else had come to do that too, and all the fruit was picked.

The culture at the time in Byron Bay was to walk around barefoot, hug everyone you meet and use pureed banana as a vegetarian alternative to cream, which strangely worked, but I think there must be a knack to making it? But then it rained and coming from where I do, Barryroe, you’d think I’d be used to it, but M.G. this rain was so incessantly hard that the only way you could reasonably go out in it was in your swimming togs. The frogs had to find shelter from it indoors and the learner Scuba divers were practically drowning in the Hostel swimming pool.

So, I ended up taking didgeridoo lessons in a multi-storey car park from a Canadian guy; there were loads of us, as we were all going stir-crazy and that is still the same didgeridoo that I have at home today, bless the rain.

Peter Fitzpatrick comes from county Laois and, when he was 13, saw a documentary on television about Australian Aboriginals and went straight out into the yard to find himself a piece of plastic pipe to start practising on!

It was years later, after having kids of his own, that he had a chance to come back to indulge this passion and found it soothing for him and the children. The circular breathing required to play the instrument properly focuses your attention and so is meditative. The kids can hear you, know where you are and are happy that Dad is playing as they are.

So I asked him when he now looks at trees does he see didgeridoos? Yes.

Some trees are not suitable, too stringy, but most of our native species do work – oak, beech, pine or yew. The seasoning of the wood can take up to a year, after which the limbs are cut in half; this is delicate, as the limbs must be cut horizontally so that they can sit back comfortably on each other. From here, Peter needs to get a feel for the wood and hollows out the centres along the natural lines that a termite might follow, to allow each piece to resonate with its own voice. They are then bonded back together with a compound stronger than the wood itself and planed from the outside; this is the most laborious part of the process and it once took him three weeks to plane back one big hulking stick.

He is now the go-to guy for didgeridoos in Ireland and gets plenty of enquiries from abroad. He does workshops in schools and all manner of community projects. Playing didgeridoos is good for the head, good for your heart and good for your lungs. It’s remarkable he’s never been to Australia.

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