BBC Folk Awards Best Musician nominee Dan Walsh combines ‘virtuoso playing and winning songwriting’ (MORNING STAR). Describing what Dan does is no easy task but at the heart of it is British, Irish and American folk music delivered with a healthy dose of funky grooves – all performed with his unique and dazzling take on clawhammer style banjo helping to challenge all preconceptions about the instrument. Add to all that poignant songs, astonishing musical departures and lively humour and the result is a truly memorable live show which has wowed audiences across the world from intimate seated rooms to huge dancing crowds in festival fields.
Walsh has recorded five albums to much critical acclaim and he is an in demand performer with a hectic touring schedule in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and throughout Europe. He has also released his first banjo tablature book ‘Tabs From The Vaults’. Both solo and as a member of the award winning Urban Folk Quartet, as well as guest appearances on stage with artists such as Ward Thomas, Imelda May, Joss Stone and the Levellers, this unique and eclectic musician has stunned audiences across the world.
His eclectic and innovative approach has led to many exciting collaborations alongside his solo work and the UFQ. The latest is the all new Dan Walsh trio with award winning fiddler Ciaran Algar and mandolin maestro Nic Zuppardi. He also works in duos with North East concertina legend Alistair Anderson and fellow banjoist John Dowling, combining beautiful harmonies with red-hot picking. Other work has included tours with sensational Indian sarangi player Suhail Yusuf Khan and Canadian country singer Meaghan Blanchard. Dan is also an in demand session musician with recent guest appearances, on stage or in the studio, with the likes of Imelda May, Joss Stone, Seth Lakeman, the Levellers, Duane Eddy, Martin Simpson and even the City of London Sinfonia.
He is also greatly in demand as a teacher and teaches banjo both in person and over Skype and is the only international banjoist to be invited to teach at the Midwest Banjo Camp in the USA. He also teaches at Newcastle and Sheffield universities. Dan also retains a passion for outreach work and has performed throughout the UK in hospices, hospitals, special needs schools and care homes.
Dan uses Deering Banjos – www.deeringbanjos.com
He plays two sierra banjos, one made of walnut. Both use a fishman rare earth pickup
He also uses ‘Dr Arm’, an innovative alternative armrest made in the Czech Republic – www.banjolit.com
He plays a Fylde guitar with a Fishman blend pickup, again with d’addario strings
Banjo style and history
Dan is one of the UK’s leading lights in melodic clawhammer banjo. Clawhammer banjo refers to playing with the back of the index or middle finger nail in a downstroke movement while the thumb concentrates principally on the 5th string which is a drone string but also picks other strings using a technique called drop thumbing. The hand assumes a claw like shape while the movement comes primarily from the elbow. The style is a very old one used primarily in American Old Time music though players like Ken Perlman, Michael J Miles and others have experimented with other genres using the technique. The good thing about the style is it can cover lead, chords and percussion all in one so it makes a great solo style.
Dan’s style is very percussive with lots of syncopation. Clawhammer is the foundation for pretty much all of Dan’s playing although he does also use a little of the other primary 5-string style ‘Scruggs’ style, named after the great Earl Scruggs who invented it which is more akin to guitar finger picking. Many other techniques are used such as pinched harmonics, tapping and Dan’s trademark ‘funkhammer’ style.
So then why did a 13 year old from the middle of England choose the banjo? Dan had a long standing love of Irish jigs and reels, heard a banjo playing them courtesy of Barney McKenna and Gerry O’Connor, and said to his parents ‘I want to learn the banjo’. So a banjo teacher was found – the legendary George Davies in Cannock who taught 5-string melodic clawhammer style banjo. It was only a year into playing that Dan discovered this was not the instrument he had heard in all that Irish music that being the 4-string tenor banjo! Indeed Dan had never even heard of old-time or bluegrass music so had no inherent idea of what the banjo is supposed to do! He still plays those beloved jigs and reels, influenced greatly by legendary melodic clawhammer pioneer Ken Perlman, and has added old time and bluegrass to his ever growing list of influences on his playing.