The Pilgrim
by Mattie Lennon


The title of the CD is "John Hoban". Simple, informative, unpretentious and yet enigmatic; just like the man himself. John Hoban was born in Castlebar in 1954. 46 years later on his CV, under work experience we read; "Music has been my life. I play all instruments e.g. guitar, harmonica, banjo, whistles, bodhran, violin. My main instrument is my voice accompanied by mando-cello. I sing and compose songs, poetry, stories". The CD represents a very tiny segment of his career. And on the clock of his life so far it takes up about a second.. Still, it's as good a device as any to track the Minstrel (or the Pilgrim, as he calls himself) from Castle Lane, Castlebar, to Brisbane and New York via Canada, Thailand, Turkey, Claremorris and back to Castlebar

"The Long Forgotten Saint" was written when he was thirteen, shortly after his mother's death. The music for it "happened" thirty years later in Detroit. What John Hoban started off, as a 3-day seminar (on The Cultural Poverty of the Irish Emigrant) is now an annual event in Detroit.

"Castle Lane" is about where he was born, reared and grew up. He still walks on and loves that street. So evocative is this work that you can almost hear the tramp of LDF boots. And with any stretch of the imagination your mental nostrils will be assailed by the smell of freshly cured bacon and new leather from the saddlers. It's a tribute to the auld stock of Castlebar and everywhere as well as an attempt -like most artforms to recapture a distant youth.

"Different" is dedicated to those who are; thank God we're in the majority. And John Hoban has met a lot of "different" people. In Bohola and Brisbane, Charlestown and Cincinnati, Swinford, Sydney and many points between, he has brought his talents to the different and the not so different.

"The White Feather" is a parody cum I'll-let-somebody-know-who-I-am work. But it has a typical twist-in-the-tail Hoban mischief about it. And being well aware of the raconteur in him I wasn't in any way surprised, some time ago, when I learned he was giving classes, in Seattle, for artists and writers on "Storytelling-the Art"

Of "Born In Mayo" he says; "We set out together, somewhere along the way I got lost. The search, the struggle and then we met again"; "I forgave myself And then I met you." He says; " My vision is to continue making cultural contributions as a Musician/Artist from Castlebar".

"Safe Journey" is about a bus ride from Scarrif to Limerick, on a frosty November morning, a film about gypsies, a housing project in Seattle and a 6th century song/Prayer from Co Mayo. Not very likely ingredients for a song.....But we are talking about John Hoban; of whom it has been said; "he would make music out of a sheaf of oats".

His own favourite (the only one on the album which he didn't compose) is "Flower of Sweet Erin the Green". It is a traditional song, which he learned from the great Fermanagh singer/musician, Cathal McConnell.

"Slan le Van" was inspired by a concert, which John attended in San Francisco in 1993. In it he thanks Van Morrison for his music over 25 years. I have yet to hear John Hoban, harshly, criticise any other artist's work or speak in any way debasing about the efforts of an individual. His Music Biography sums it up; "John's method of teaching music is to focus on the individual plus work on individual expression in a group/community setting. His work is to give children or adults (big children) the basic skills of music making, then to help them find their own tone and rhythm in the music they make. His work helps people to develop and flow with their natural ability and intuition in music. 

What he believes to be true in all cases is the African proverb; 'If you can talk you can sing, if you can walk you can dance'. Central to John's work is listening to and learning from each of his students. Encouragement is vital and he lives by the Gaelic proverb, "Mol an Oige agus tiocfaidh siad"-praise the children and they will respond. He believes music is a healing, learning process, and an individual expression of who we are at any given time". The Knights of The Road is about displaced people. John Hoban was taught, as a child, to show respect and compassion for the tinkers. And sensitive man that he is he always adored them. He gleaned material and got inspiration from " their real lives, real stories and long black coats". Those values learned in Castle Lane, coupled with his conviction that "everyone has music in them", have benefited the marginilised, worldwide. 

He has worked at various music therapy projects in New York City e.g. Music for Homeless People, Music for the Elderly etc. On these projects he has worked with top music therapist, Noah Shapiro. In Windsor he worked with refugees from Bosnia, Lebanon, Somalia on "Music is Our First Language". Back home in Castlebar he worked as Music Director and Performer in "Mise Freisin"-Interactive Theatre for people with disability.

"Waiting For the Kingdom" was inspired by the tragic death, in 1997, of one of his old school mates, Buddy Gannon. On the streets of London far removed (in every way) from Castle Lane, Buddy's last words to him were; "I love you man".

"The Rose and the Heather" is a metaphor for not so much two opposing worlds as two facets of experience which complimented each other and helped to mould a John Hoban who is such a contribution to world culture today. He was a founder member of The Shamrock Traditional Irish Society in Fairfield Connecticut and developed teaching and music philosophy for the group. He has taught music to all ages all over the world and has played professionally, solo and with bands, in clubs, schools, pubs and concert halls.

"On My Side" is a soul baring song/monologue from a man who has been through the mill and who now can speak and talk with gratitude and who can offer experience gained from playing all types of music, teaching music, dance and language, community service and music education, extensive travel and cultural exchange. His plans for the future are to compose, play and teach music and to write a book about his teaching methods. He hopes to develop music in and around Castlebar with a view to employing others and contributing to the community and economy through cultural means. He is also planning the development of a worldwide web.

I referred earlier to the sensitivity, and caring ways of my friend John Hoban. And before I finish I must tell you of his awareness of the fragility of my humility. Like the time he was giving the class in tin-whistle playing to a group of six-year olds. I asked if I could sit in on it, only to be told; "It's a bit too advanced for you, Mattie". He's gone to America for a couple of months and I'll have a riposte for him when he comes back.......if I can think of one.

Mattie's articles, stories and songs