Paul Meehan’s Multi-instrumental Mastery

Described as “the hottest Irish acoustic group on the planet” by Irish Voice, Lúnasa have forged a well-earned reputation as the hardest touring band in Irish music. The quintet’s gruelling 2006 schedule includes 140 shows, and yet guitarist Paul Meehan is always thirsty for more, and plays gigs with his own band, Buille, on Lúnasa’s days off.

Meehan, who replaced previous guitarist Donogh Hennessy a year ago, makes his Lúnasa debut on the band’s sixth and latest album, Sé [Compass]. His interest in music began in the thriving Irish music scene of Manchester, England, where he lived until he was 11. The Meehan family was already very musical.

“My father is an accordion player, and my mum played a bit of guitar and sang,” says Meehan, whose percussive style and rhythmic energy melds exquisitely with Lúnasa bassist and former Waterboys member Trevor Hutchinson. “There was always a guitar in the house, but I didn’t really see myself as a guitar player at the start. A friend of the family, Chris Cormack, was a great banjo player whose style was very driving and fast—his triplets were amazing—and I used to watch his band, Toss the Feathers, every Sunday. I was mad into it. Luckily, whenever he’d call around, he’d give me a bit of a lesson, and, eventually, mum and dad went out and got a banjo for me. That was it. I was hooked!”

Meehan still has his first banjo—an antique 1918 Windsor (“I’m not very good at parting with things”)—as well as an old Framus tenor banjo and a Takamine EN10 acoustic guitar, which he plugs into a direct box and also mics when performing onstage.

“Although I always knew a few guitar chords, I didn’t start playing the guitar until I was 13 or 14,” says Meehan. “A good friend of mine, Gerry McMahon, played DADGAD, and I instantly thought ‘This is brilliant—it’s the way to go for traditional music.’ So I wrote the tuning down on the back of a string packet, brought it home, tuned up my guitar, and that was it. I started practicing. I never really took lessons. I just kind of messed around in the house.”

No longer the new boy in Lúnasa, Meehan is now fully involved in the songwriting side of the band.

“It’s very much a five-way input,” he says. “All the heads are put together. I’ve been with the band for over a year now, and when you get to know the lads, you’re not as afraid to suggest things as you used to be at the start.”

Meehan also enjoys writing for Buille, which released its self-titled debut last year. The band combines Irish traditional music with jazz and classical influences.

“I found it very different working with a piano in Buille,” he admits. “But now I enjoy it. It also helps that we’re all good friends in that band, as well.”