Aidan McGale remembered

Aidan McGale, a member of the country and bluegrass band, the Knotty Pine String Band, passed away on Tuesday, December 21, 2021. He was 66 years old. 

McGale grew up a first cousin of the legendary Paul Brady in ‘Sweet Omey Town’ – as Omagh, Northern Ireland, is affectionately known – and music was very much part of his DNA. 

He began playing acoustic guitar while still at school and developed into an accomplished vocalist, acoustic, and bass guitarist, who did not confine himself to one particular genre. Declan O’Kane, fiddler and mandolin player with The Knotty Pine String Band remembers that he, “was able to turn his talent to folk, rock, big band, and solo performance.” 

Frank Galligan, TV and radio presenter, and long-time compere of the Ulster American Folk Park’s Bluegrass Festival, added, “He was a member of many of the great ‘relief’ bands around the town, and was much sought after because of his guitar prowess.”

Also noted as a banjo player, Galligan “never saw him play it on stage!” McGale always played bass with the Knotty Pine String Band. 

He was an accomplished vocalist also; Galligan opined, “To hear him singing [Jerry Jeff Walker’s] Mr Bojangles with Gerarda (McCann) and the Bob Quick Jazz Quintet was something to savour.” 

O’Kane endorses these remarks, “His voice has been lauded as one of the best and the ease of his performance was something to behold. He could take a Jim Croce song and make you believe it was sung by Jim & Jesse McReynolds, and he could mimic Willie Nelson which the audience waited for every night.”

In this clip McGale covers Croce’s song Thursday …..

According to O’Kane, McGale had “been a member of The Knotty Pine String band since we formed in 1993, and although was not with us all the time, he was always there in some capacity playing either guitar or bass.” 

“When the opportunity came to join us on a permanent basis [in 2006], he did so. As a bass player he was instrumental in giving us our unique sound and when he brought his influence into the band with songs from The Country Gentlemen, The Louvin Brothers, Bill Monroe, Guy Clarke and John Prine, he opened our repertoire to a whole new audience.”

The Knotty Pine String Band performed across Ireland and were a regular feature at the Appalachian & Bluegrass Music Festivals at the Ulster American Folk Park, The Dunmore East Festival (Waterford, in the south-east of Ireland), Galway Arts Festival, Boyle Arts Festival (Co. Roscommon), and toured Scotland, England, Wales, Italy, Spain, and the USA. 

O’Kane explains what McGale helped to create. “The band crafted a harmony sound that we were very proud of, and I personally will miss him for that.” 

There are a few examples of what they have to offer in this video … 

The Knotty Pine String Band, Omagh Bluegrass Festival in 2016

Since 1994, the band has recorded several albums, the first on which McGale featured “heavily” was The Old Home Place (2009). In 2012, as a celebration of 20 years of making music, they recorded the 19-track CD Twenty Years a Growin’. The last song that they recorded with McGale was Wayfaring Stranger, played by the remaining band members at his funeral as his coffin was taken from the church.

“Aidan trained as a language teacher and finished his professional career as a headmaster in a school for children with special needs,” as O’Kane reveals another aspect to McGale’s personality, “and you could see children drift towards him all the time, and he gave them all the time they wanted.”

The owners of Sallys (Omagh), where the band had a residency every Thursday, paid tribute to McGale, saying, “Countless stories and anecdotes were told during The Knotty Pine String Band’s 12-year residency in Sallys front bar, and we will look back on those nights with Aidan, Declan, Tony, and Seamus fondly.”

“We will remember Aidan for his sharp wit, love and dedication to live music and ultimately being our friend and a true gentleman.”

Galligan echoed that, “Aidan was a warm, witty, and self-deprecating character. He famously said: ‘There are only two good guitarists in Omagh…and I’m both of them!”

One of Omagh’s most talked about up-and-coming bluegrass bands, The Cool Hands String Band, paid tribute, saying, “We had the absolute pleasure of listening this legend many times over the years. A real gentleman that we will never forget! With his humour and quick wit, he lit up any room he walked into.”

Galligan pays this tribute …. 

“On a personal note, I will miss him as a friend, a fellow John Prine fanatic, a purveyor of beautiful bluegrass, and the sharpest pen in the box. ‘Galligan,’ he once asked, ‘is it true you once described our Dobro as a short dangerous dog?’ ‘I did!’ says I. ‘Don’t forget’ he countered, ‘its bark is equally as good as it’s bite!’ May he raise hell in Blue Heaven!”

R.I.P. Aidan McGale

Ar dheis De go raibh a anim / May his soul be on the right hand of God

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.