Michael is a native of Sligo town. His grand aunt Cissy Boyd was a proficient singer, tin whistle and accordion player. Michael’s sister Anne inherited their grand Aunt’s musical talents and became a successful musician in her own right firstly in Ireland, then later in the USA. Anne taught Michael his first chords on the guitar and through her own playing got him interested in Folk music. Anne emigrated to the states when Michael was 16 and from her he inherited an old guitar which he used to continue teaching himself. While attending Summerhill College he met and became friends with Shane Mitchell and Liam Kelly. At this stage Michael had been involved with a few amateur bands and had begun playing folk music in a couple of local pubs including the legendary Shoot the Crows. He and the other two future founding members of Dervish began playing together primarily for fun.
As they began to evolve together musically the three decided to put together a band playing original songs and tunes, but avoiding the cliched use of traditional instruments normally employed to insert snippets of jigs and reels into overtly modern music Instead they tried to utilise the flute and accordion to play pieces which were possible on the instruments yet didn’t try to sound Celtic or particularly Irish. They added a guitarist and drummer to the line-up before finally getting singer songwriter Yvonne Cunningham to front the band under the charming name of ‘Who Says What.’ The line-up worked quite well and Michael wrote and co-wrote several of the songs along with Yvonne, while Liam and Shane found new ways of playing their instruments which would not have been obvious within the settings of traditional music.
Eventually the band members went their separate ways after a productive and relatively successful three years. Michael moved to London to find work and was joined a year later by Liam and Shane. While living and working in a different country the boys strove to stay in touch with traditional music and because of this Michael and Liam wrote several pieces of music together - two of which are still played frequently by Dervish - ‘The World’s End’ and ‘The Hungry Rock.’ They continued to search out Irish sessions and musicians and to experiment with writing original Irish tunes. It was during this time in England that Michael bought his first bouzouki from the well-known music dealer, John Alvey Turner. His first approach to the instrument was to translate chords from both the standard and DADGAD guitar tunings. After finding the basic root structures for various keys it was a matter of playing along to tunes and exploring the different options the bouzouki offered compared to the guitar.
A couple of years later while home on holidays in Sligo a local entrepreneur approached Shane Mitchell to organise some musicians to make a recording of Sligo music. The assembled group comprised Shane Mitchell, Liam Kelly, Michael Holmes, Brian McDonagh and fiddle player Martin McGinley. The resulting album was titled ‘The Boys of Sligo’ and the members chose the name ‘Dervish.’ The recording enjoyed great success despite the fact that there was no band to tour in support of it. The requests for the group from festivals and media programmes inspired the members to consider seriously forming together as a working traditional band. After weighing up the pros and cons Michael and Liam who were both still working in London at this stage chose to commit themselves fully to the project and moved back to Sligo in 1989. And so the story goes...
Michael plays B1 and B3 custom model bouzoukis made by by Phil Crump of Arcata, California. The soundboard is spruce with rosewood back and sides. The tuning used is G, D, A, D ( G being the thickest low string.) Gauges of strings in that order are .46, .34, .18, .13. The pickup used is a Baggs ribbon transducer located under the saddle of the bridge running to an external Baggs pre-amp.
Michael uses and endorses the following products:
Shubb Capos - www.shubb.com
D'Addario Strings - www.daddario.com
Photographer Christoph Obrecht