Bringing together harp and guitar in perfect harmony

When Irish harpist Máire Ni Chathasaigh first met jazz guitarist Chris Newman, she admits it was like learning a foreign language.

"It was in 1984 and we were both taking part in a musical festival in Spain. About a year or so later we started working together," explains Mire (pronounced Moira). "My background was in traditional Irish music and Chris's was totally different – in jazz. We had to learn each other's music."

Putting a harp and a guitar together – particularly a traditional Irish harp and a jazz guitar – was something quite radical at the time and it took a while for the duo to make a breakthrough.

"People were quite suspicious at first," says Mire. "They couldn't even conceive of what our music might sound like. But once they heard it, they loved it."

Mire, who in 2001 won Irish music's most prestigious award, Traditional Musician of the Year, started playing the harp when she was 11. "I immediately felt a deep connection with the harp," she says. "I think there is such a thing as an instrument suiting a person."

Chris started playing guitar at an early age. "My older brother played and I thought it looked like fun," he says. "When I was four years old my mother found me busking outside the sweetshop for pear drops. It was my first paid gig!"

Today Mire and Chris, who live in Ilkley, play against much grander backdrops. Recent venues have included a 400-year-old garden in Kyoto and an al fresco stage overlooking Lake Garda. However, they both say one of the favourite parts of their schedule is their involvement in rural touring schemes. "We play lots of tiny village halls all over the country," says Chris. "It's so rewarding." Mire agrees. "The point of the scheme is to bring professional arts to rural communities," she says. "I really approve of the whole idea." Mire and Chris tour for about six months all over the world. This autumn, though, they are staying closer to home, touring the UK and Ireland promoting their new CD The Heartstring Sessions, a collaboration with two other musicians – Mire's sister Nollaig Casey, a traditional violinist and singer, and her partner guitarist Arty McGlynn.

Mire and Chris are playing at the Ilkley Playhouse on Oct 25 & 26. Tickets 01943 602203, www.oldbridgemusic.com

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