John Rea of Glenarm
The most famous Co. Antrim Hammered Dulcimer player of them all was John Rea of Glenarm. He started out on the Dulcimer at the age of eight, and says his brothers all got fiddles but he was too small, so he got the dulcimer! John worked on the tug-boat in Belfast Lough and lived on board a lot of the time, which I suppose gave him plenty of time to practice. Today people play the dulcimer with little wooden hammers but John Rea used hammers made of thick steel wire, wound with wool, which were his own idea.
John, in his day, was very famous. He performed on the TV, played with ‘The Chieftains’ and recorded two LPs.
In Scotland the players used to play a lot of old song airs, and of songs which were popular between the wars, but John Rea tended to play the old traditional tunes he learned from his dad’s fiddle playing. So Reels, Jigs, Marches and Strathspeys were more his cup of tea and a fine healthy mix of Scottish and Irish tunes he played too.
John Rea, before he died, used to regularly play duets with his brother William Rea, and thankfully Willie is still going strong, as is Nat Magee, so the glens still ring to the sound of these two men playing their Hammered Dulcimers.
Blogger Mark Thompson had an interesting piece on John Rea recently.