An up-and-coming Uilleann Piper from Keady is hoping to take home glory at a major music awards ceremony in November.
Conor Mallon’s debut album ‘Unearthed’ has been nominated for ‘Album of the Year’ at the forthcoming prestigious ‘NI Music Prize’.
And it is hoped that this success will help boost Conor’s already growing profile in the folk/traditional music scene.
The County Armagh man’s ‘Unearthed’ band will also be performing at the awards ceremony in the Ulster Hall on November 15.
The band comprises an all-star line-up with Paul Starrett on the electric guitar, Jack Warnock on acoustic guitar and vocals and Fintan Mulholland on the bodhrán and whistles.
In what could be regarded as a coup for the traditional Irish music scene, Conor’s is the only album of that nature nominated for the award, going up against big hitters like the hugely popular Two Door Cinema Club.
“I’m quite blown away by it to be honest. To be the only one nominated in that genre is a bit of an honour… It’s amazing for me,” he said.
The Uilleann Pipes, which are slightly less well-known than their Highland counterparts, are played whilst sitting down, with the pipes positioned across the knees.
Conor describes them as having a “unique haunting sound” and they have been used in movie soundtracks such as Braveheart and Titanic.
Conor’s album, which features a host of his own compositions alongside traditional classics, was released back in May this year to recognition from reviewers, with the Irish Times describing it as a “deeply mined debut from a piper who is at his best when pushing the boundaries of his instrument”.
The 32-year-old started his musical journey way back around the age of 10 at Uilleann Pipe lessons with the Armagh Pipers Club, before progressing through the ranks to become one of the senior teachers at the club.
Conor eventually moved on to tour and record in a full-time capacity with his band ‘Connla’ and the world-renowned music and dance show ‘Irish Celtic’.
Such was his musical prowess, he became the first recipient of the ACNI/BBC NI Young Traditional Musicians Platform award and subsequently was a guest musician with the Ulster Orchestra and with the award-winning Foden’s Brass Band.
He is also a Senior County, Ulster and All-Ireland Champion on the Uillean Pipes at the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.
Conor was also the first recipient of the Mark Donnelly Bursary for Uilleann Piping Award in 2010 and also won the Uilleann Piping Scholarship by the Na Píobairí Uilleann Dublin in 2008.
He says that his new album – which was created with producer Seán Óg Graham – came about during the Covid lockdowns amid a reflective period in which he decided to focus his attention on his own compositions and arrangements.
“The album nods to traditions from the past, cast from deep passion and respect, to push boundaries of innovation and creativity whilst never losing sight of the source,” he said.
“I composed and recorded original contemporary Irish music alongside more common repertoire, and used the authentic and unique sounds of the Irish Uilleann Pipes as programming samples – as percussion and rhythm underneath the melody of the track.”
Conor hopes that the nomination will help expand his profile going forward, with more tour dates and a potential new album in the pipeline.
“I’m going to be touring the album into next year,” he said. “I’ve a few North American showcases with a tour around North America next summer and a European tour at the end of 2024.”
He added: “I’ve still been writing away and composing new music. Whenever I’ve toured this album, the next thing will be to record the new one. That’s the goal.”