Martin Hayes and The Common Ground Ensemble release their debut album Peggy's Dream on March 24, 2023. A master of the Irish fiddle, Hayes is regarded as one of Ireland's leading musicians. He's also known for his wide-ranging collaborations, and for this project he brought together artists from differing backgrounds who also had connections to Irish music—the 'common ground' of their name.
A line-up emerged of cellist Kate Ellis (Artistic Director of Crash Ensemble), jazz pianist Cormac McCarthy, Irish traditional musician Brian Donnellan (bouzouki, concertina, and like Hayes an alumnus of the Tulla Céilí Band), and New York guitarist Kyle Sanna (Bela Fleck, Chris Thile). Collectively they span the worlds of contemporary classical, jazz improvisation, and experimental music as well as Irish. In the Common Ground Ensemble they forge these elements with the tradition in a way that also gives each musician’s talents the space to shine.
It's been a decade of creative collaborations for Hayes. The Gloaming, his experimental Irish-American group, was followed by recordings with Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble (on the Grammy-winning Sing Me Home), string quartet Brooklyn Rider, and the Martin Hayes Quartet. He's performed with artists from Cassandra Wilson to Phoebe Bridgers, and published a memoir in 2021.
The last three years have had challenges though. Hayes's mother Peggy, a lifelong supporter of his music, passed in late 2019, and last year he lost his longtime musical partner and Gloaming bandmate, American guitarist Dennis Cahill. The new album is dedicated to them both.
The Common Ground Ensemble gave footing for his next musical adventure. "As I began to get more comfortable with cross-genre collaborations, I started imagining what the most ideal and versatile musical combination might be,” Hayes reflects.
Still, the album remains rooted in Hayes's native music, and all nine tracks are traditional Irish. 'Toss the Feathers' he had previously recorded with his late father PJ Hayes, a renowned fiddler from East County Clare. 'Peggy's Dream' was sent to Hayes after his mother's passing by Irish guitarist Steve Cooney, who'd found it in the Goodman collection of 19th century Irish tunes. And yet the tune's title reflected the spirit of the album, notes Hayes.
“I like to gather a group of people together and just see what begins to emerge,” he continues. "I'll make a rough sketch of the mood, harmonies and arrangement which we then all fill out. The larger picture is to create space for all the different musical personalities to be expressed."
"And I wanted this to be the most fun I can have while I’m on stage," adds Hayes.
Peggy's Dream is out on Ireland's 251 Records (Faction). The first track 'The Boyne Water' will be released as a radio single on Feb. 24.
More on Martin Hayes
Martin Hayes was born and raised in a locality filled with music in East County Clare, Ireland. His father, P.J. Hayes, and uncle, Paddy Canny were both renowned fiddle players and founder members of The Tulla Ceìlì Band -- the same group that both Martin and Brian Donnellan have played in.
Hayes was always passionate about music but it was not a career path he intended to take. “I always loved it but I didn’t want the precarious life that often comes with being a professional musician. In retrospect I was very lucky that a career emerged even if I hadn’t planned it.”
By his late teens, Hayes had been named the All-Ireland Fiddle Champion seven times and by his early twenties had relocated to Chicago. The Windy City’s Irish music scene was strong, yet Hayes discovered something new about himself. “I liked reaching outside of the world of traditional music and it was there that my first adventurous collaboration and lifetime friendship with Dennis Cahill began in a band called Midnight Court.”
Hayes and Cahill formed a lasting relationship. They recorded three duo albums, three albums with The Gloaming, and The Martin Hayes Quartet CD, as well as multiple international tours, an NPR Tiny Desk Concert, and a memorable performance for President Obama at the White House.
"Dennis had a very significant impact on me musically," says Hayes. "Even though he's not on this new recording with the Common Ground Ensemble, he's had an influence on how it's arranged and interpreted."
Hayes has also recorded with Brooklyn Rider, Triuìr, and Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble; collaborated with Bill Frisell, Cassandra Wilson, Ricky Skaggs, and Spanish viola da gamba master Jordi Savall; and performed with Paul Simon, Sting, Phoebe Bridgers, as well as many of Irish traditional music's greats including Mairtin O Connor and Steve Cooney.
He has been recognized as Musician of the Year (Gradam Ceoil) from Irish TV TG4 and from the inaugural BBC Folk Awards, and Instrumentalist of the Year at the inaugural RTE Folk Awards. He was named Person of the Year by the American Irish Historical Society in New York City and is recipient of the annual Spirit of Ireland award from the Irish Arts Center NY. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from National University of Ireland Galway.