Andy Dickson: a Tribute

ITMA Board Member Dermy Diamond reflects on the life of his friend and fellow fiddle player Andy Dickson who died on Sunday 19 April 2020.

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Andy Dickson, Féile na Bóinne, 1977. Image Joe Dowdall
A talented fiddle player who influenced many musicians in Belfast and beyond, with his unique style and creative interpretation of traditional tunes
Dermy Diamond

Andy was born in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, but moved with his family to Belfast in the early 1950s.  In his teens, he learned the guitar, and quickly developed a sophisticated finger picking style that he could adapt to many song types, including rock and roll and popular blues. 

He moved to London in the late 1960s, and quickly established a presence in the vibrant street music scene, and as a session musician for bands.  He lived for a while on a Thames barge, and was said to have been one of the street musicians invited to The Beatles All You Need Is Love studio recording in June 1967. He was also acquainted with the London busker Don Partridge, who had a big hit with the song Rosie in March 1968, and with Roger Daltrey of The Who.  

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Don Partridge, "King of the Buskers"

By 1970 he had returned to Belfast, had taken up the fiddle, and was beginning to play tunes in pub sessions. The move to the fiddle was in part due to an injury he sustained to his right hand, which affected his sense of touch due to nerve damage.

In 1973, during an Easter trip to Donegal with John Parkinson and Sam Weir, they called by chance into a session at the Teach Bán in Kinncasslagh, where Eugene Spooly Kelly, Gerry McCartney and Dermy Diamond were playing, and a great musical relationship began. Along with Gerry Garvey, they formed a band called Na Buachaillí, which was reasonably successful, driven by tremendous enthusiasm and driving music, rather than complicated rehearsals and sophisticated arrangements. 

Along with Tara and Leslie Bingham, they played at concerts, festivals, fleadhs, and regular Belfast pub sessions in the Old House (Albert Street), Pat's Bar (Dock Street), The Rossa Club (Falls Road), The Rotterdam (Pilot Street), Tom Kelly’s (Short Strand), as well as Hiúdaí Beag’s, Bunbeg, Co. Donegal, and the Crosskeys Inn near Toomebridge, Co. Antrim.

Cross Keys Inn
Crosskeys Inn, Toomebridge, Co, Antrim. Image courtesy Cormac Duffin

By 1974, Dubliner Oliver Browne had arrived in Belfast, to work at the School of Computer Science, in Queen’s University. Oliver was a master fiddler, with fabulous technique and crisp ornamentation, the perfect complement to Andy’s style, which was full of unpredictable variations, inspired as much by his early guitar picking, as by the fiddle playing of Tommy Peoples.  Hearing them playing together in Pat’s Bar and the Old House was a real treat for many aspiring musicians and listeners. 

In 1976 Belfast-based singer Ted Hickey along with Andy, Oliver and Dónal Lunny released the audio cassette Beneath the Green Tree: Traditional Songs & Music from Ireland, under the label Audio Arts. 

A digitised copy of the recording as well as the cassette sleeve are available to listen/view online 

Ted Hickey, Beneath the Green Tree, 1976

via the Tate Gallery London as part of the complete Audio Arts Archive. 

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Oliver Browne. Image courtesy Oliver Browne and Snappin' Bug Records

At that time, Andy was working at the Ulster Museum as an Archaeological Draftsman, part of Tom Delaney’s team working on excavations at Carrickfergus to uncover the town walls and other hidden medieval structures.  During the summers of 1975 and 1976, those working on the digs included many musicians, such as Bernie Stocks, Conan McGrath, Hammy Hamilton, Dermy Diamond and Spooly Kelly.  Andy produced numerous beautiful hand-pencil drawn maps, site plans, and representations of artefacts.   

Tom Delaney was a central figure in archaeological, historical and cultural life in Belfast during the 1970s. His tragic death at the age of 32 had a profound impact on this community including musicians, singers and poets. On 7 December 1985 a Tribute Concert was held in his honour in the Ulster Museum compered by the late Seamus Heaney. 

Fortunately Pat O'Connell donated a tape cassette recording of the event to ITMA and we are delighted to share the set played by Andy Dickson, Tara Bingham, Dermy Diamond and Eugene 'Spooly' Kelly on that night in 1985.

Tom Delaney Tribute Concert, Ulster Museum, Belfast 7 December 1985 featuring Andy Dickson, Tara Bingham, Dermy Diamond, Eugene 'Spooly' Kelly and compere Seamus Heaney

Tunes played

[Tommy Peoples', reel; Tie the bonnet, reel; Richard Brennan's favourite, reel] / Andy Dickson, fiddle; Tara Bingham, flute; Dermy Diamond, fiddle; Eugene 'Spooly' Kelly, guitar

Páidín Ó Raifeartaigh, jig / Andy Dickson, fiddle; Tara Bingham,flute ; Dermy Diamond, fiddle; Eugene 'Spooly' Kelly, guitar

Golden eagle, hornpipe / Tara Bingham, flute;  Eugene 'Spooly' Kelly, guitar

Drowsy Maggie, reel; Salamanca, reel / Andy Dickson, fiddle; Tara Bingham, flute; Dermy Diamond, fiddle; Eugene 'Spooly' Kelly, guitar

Excavations Carrickfergus 1972
Excavations at Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, 1972 led by Tom Delaney. Image courtesy TARA

While Andy’s fiddle influences were broad, encompassing many parts of Ireland and American Old-Time fiddling, he developed a particularly strong affinity for the music that typifies the intersection of Fermanagh, Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo, visiting Ben and Patsy Lennon (Kiltyclogher, Co. Leitrim) and Cathal McConnell (Bellanaleck, Co. Fermanagh) to collect tunes. 

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Cathal McConnell. Image courtesy Tony Kearns

He contributed to the Northern Fiddler collection of tunes and stories from Donegal and Tyrone, produced by Allen Feldman and Eamonn O’Doherty (1977).  In those days, he played regularly with Deirdre Shannon and along with Trevor Stewart, Desi Wilkinson and Ian Robinson, formed the band Maggie’s Leap.  He moved to Ballynahinch, County Down, with his long-time partner and fellow musician Anne Bailie, but continued playing regularly at sessions around County Down and Belfast, including amongst others, Balloo House, Dick’s (Lisbane), Fealty’s (Bangor), the Hatfield House, Ormeau Road (with Brendan O’Hare), and more recently the Errigle Inn, Ormeau Road (with Jason O’Rourke and Ciaran Kelly).  He was closely associated with the tune The Cedars of Lebanon (Seán Ryan) which he popularised in sessions to the extent that at one stage it became widely known as Andy Dickson’s Reel.


[Untitled, barndances] / Andy Dickson, fiddle, & Brendan O'Hare, flute. TG4 Geantraí, 2001. Courtesy TG4.

Andy died suddenly from a brain haemorrhage during the Coronavirus pandemic, which prevented his many friends and musical companions from joining with Anne to celebrate his life.  Anne requested that his fellow musicians play The Cedars of Lebanon at 1.00 pm on 24 April 2020, the day of his funeral, so that he would be collectively remembered, even though those playing could not be together with her in person.

Written by Dermy Diamond. 

Edited & presented by Grace Toland.

ITMA is grateful to the following individuals & organisations for permission to use media in this blog: