Barney (Bernard Noël) McKenna or Banjo Barney as he is known amongst his fellow musicians, (born
December 16, 1939in Donnycarney, Dublin) is an Irish musician who plays the tenor banjo, mandolin, and melodeon. He is most renowned as a banjo player. McKenna has played the banjo since an early age, beginning because he could not afford to buy the instrument of his choice, a mandolin. He has been a member of The Dublinerssince 1962; prior to that, he spent a few months in The Chieftains. In addition to his work on traditional Irish music, he also plays jazzon occasion.
Barney uses fiddle/mandolin tuning (GDAE, 1 octave down) and, according to musician
Mick Moloney, is single-handedly responsible for making the fiddle-tuned tenor banjo the standard banjo in Irish music.
Barney remains a great favourite with live audiences, and some of the loudest and most affectionate applause follows the tunes and songs on which he is the featured performer. He is well known for his unaccompanied renditions of songs such as 'South Australia' and 'I Wish I Had Someone to Love Me'. His banjo solos on tunes such as 'The Maid Behind the Bar', 'The High Reel' and 'The Mason's Apron', where he is usually accompanied by
Eamonn Campbellon guitar, are often performed to cries of "C'mon Barney!" from audience or band members. Another featured spot in Dubliners performances is the mandolin duet that Barney plays with John Sheahan- again with Eamonn Campbell providing guitar accompaniment. As Barney often points out to the audience: "It's an Irish duet, so there's three of us going to play it".
Barney's tendency to relate funny, and often only marginally believable, stories is legendary amongst Dubliners fans and friends. These anecdotes have become known as Barneyisms, and Barney's friend, and former Dubs bandmate, Jim McCann has been collecting them for a book.
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