Monaghan pianist says topping charts has turned his life ‘upside down’

Monaghan pianist says topping charts has turned his life ‘upside down’
22-year-old pianist Jamie Duffy at Castle Leslie in Monaghan (Liam McBurney/PA)

A 22-year-old pianist whose genre-bending blend of classical and Irish traditional influences has topped charts across the world says his life was “turned upside down” by the success.

Jamie Duffy, from Glaslough in Co Monaghan, was studying politics at the University in Belfast when he released his first single Solas.

Solas was the most successful debut song on streaming from an Irish artist since Take Me To Church by Hozier, with more than 60 million plays on Spotify.

He now has nearly one million monthly listeners on Spotify alone, and has been number one in the classical charts in the Netherlands and Kazakhstan.

When he was 17 years old, Duffy began working as a pianist at Castle Leslie, carrying on a musical tradition, as his grandmother was a DJ at Castle Leslie in one of rural Ireland’s first ever nightclubs in the late 1960s.

“So that was always there in the background and then started to do piano and do the grades, that was where the more serious elements of it came in and then through school as well,” he said.

“All in the meantime, doing my own thing whilst learning and teaching myself, knowing how to create music myself.”

Duffy’s unique sound comes from a blend of classical and Irish traditional music, both genres he experimented with modernising.

He said: “I’d say tin whistle is probably one of my main instruments, and it’s such a traditional instrument, but the songs I would have been playing on them really wouldn’t have been too traditional, it would have been more folk.

“And just songs I’d be playing with the family and I think that’s how the genre clash that I have now as a musician has came to be.

“It’s like playing these traditional instruments with different genres that might not have always been the case with other musicians.”

As well as chart success, his songs have inspired the creativity of others. Alongside the millions of views Duffy has racked up on his own videos, more than 50,000 TikToks have been made with his audio as the soundtrack.

Duffy said it was “really strange” to see his music doing so well in so many areas of the world.

“The music is so Irish and traditional and neo-classical, it’s a really strange feeling to see that actually correlate to doing well in charts and on Spotify,” he said.

“It’s so weird because going on to Spotify, the biggest listeners, it’s pretty balanced between Turkey and America, and France, which are all three very different countries in the world.

Jamie Duffy, whose classical music song Solas, went to number one in Kazakhstan and the Netherlands (Liam McBurney/PA)

“But I think the good thing about what type of music I’m making is there’s not really any words to this moment, so it sort of speaks to everyone in a way, so it’s really nice to see.”

Duffy described his music as a “neo-classical, neo-traditional” sound.

“It’s like taking these other genres of music and making them sort of more modern and doing my own thing with them,” he said.

“I never thought you could really do that until I started just doing it and making that type of music, and it seems to connect with people and it’s really nice to see the reaction being so good.”

Despite his musical career beginning to take off, this year Duffy graduated from Queen’s University Belfast with a degree in International Relations and Politics.

“I sort of went to uni thinking I would be a journalist or a something in that field, and then this sort of happens, that was was the plan until like – overnight,” he said.

“Because I never really thought that music could be a job or a career for me, and then overnight, this crazy change and that sort of throws your life upside down, what are you supposed to do?

“But I’m pretty confident that I’ve made the right choice of following the music though. Definitely.”

In 2023, Duffy has worked with Limerick band Kingfishr on an acoustic rendition of their song Flower-Fire.

Jamie Duffy at Castle Leslie in Monaghan (Liam McBurney/PA)

His most recent release is Eyrie, which he worked on with Swedish composer Peter Sandberg.

Duffy said it felt “crazy” that Sandberg, who can be heard in the soundtrack to Netlflix’s Stranger Things, would want to collaborate with him.

“To have somebody like that support you and to actually make a song with you and feature on it, was really really lovely and getting to know these people, it’s been a really, really exciting and humbling, but really, really fun process,” he said.

Looking forward to the new year, Duffy said he is working on his debut album and hopes to travel to some of the many parts of the world where his audience has grown.

As someone whose career path now looks unrecognisable as to what he envisioned just a few years ago, Duffy said his advice to other young people wanting to follow their passion is “just do it”.

“Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there because the power as well in social media, if you’re somebody who is just starting out or making their own music, I find when you’re making music in your home there’s nobody around to give you feedback it’s easy to say okay, this maybe isn’t great, or overthink it and not do anything with it,” he said.

“But if you just take a video of what you’re doing and put it up there, the doors that that could open.

“It’s just a really powerful tool, for feedback and to actually develop. I mean, social media has so many flaws and I have a love hate relationship with it, but in that sense, it’s so useful and helpful just to actually get your music in front of people, because it’s the easiest way to do it, especially if you’re not playing shows and stuff like that.

“I mean, your phone is like a window into somebody, so really, why not use it and put something into it?”

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