A musician, teacher and promoter, it would be no exaggeration to say that Karen Ryan lives and breathes traditional Irish music. Born in London to Galway and Mayo parents, it was a strong Connemara tradition of melodeon players and traditional singers on her mother's side that initially fired her love of the music.
Karen started playing music at the age of nine, taught by the North Leitrim musician Tommy Maguire at the London Irish Centre, where she herself now teaches. It was here that she met lifelong friends and fellow fiddle players, Elaine Conwell and Teresa Connolly (Ní Heanue), with whom she won the under 12 Trio competition at the All-Ireland Fleadh in 1985.
Karen was fortunate to hone her musical skills through playing with a vast array of musicians in the vibrant London Irish session scene and during frequent visits to musical gatherings in Ireland and the US. Whilst gleaning much from all these players she cites Bryan Rooney, Brendan McGlinchey, Danny Meehan and the recordings of Andy McGann as having the most influence on her fiddle playing.
As a founder member of the renowned traditional Irish six-piece, The London Lasses and Pete Quinn, Karen has performed at some of the world's most prestigious festivals and concert halls, including Dublin City Hall, Ballyshannon, Cambridge Folk Festival, the Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Ennis Trad Festival, Glastonbury, Philadelphia Irish Festival and the Royal Albert Hall, where the band performed the first ever BBC Proms Céilí in 2008 and supported The Chieftains on their 50th Anniversary tour. The band have recorded five albums to date.
Whether as a teacher with Meitheal Cheoil in north London, a workshop leader or an adjudicator both in the UK and overseas, Karen continues to pass on the tradition to both young and old. Through her role as Director of the Return to Camden Town festival of traditional Irish music, song and dance, she is also an award-winning promoter. Now in its seventeenth year, the festival has become a key date in the Irish music calendar and celebrates the historical link between Camden and traditional Irish music. In 2011 Karen was given the Mayor of Camden's 'Unsung Heroes Award' for services to music in the borough.
In 2013 Karen was awarded 'Female Musician of the Year' by Chicago Irish American News and 'Instrumental Album of the Year' by Live Ireland. In 2014 she was award a 'Bliain na Cruinne' Award by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann for teaching and other services to Irish culture overseas.
"That she is an exquisite fiddler is beyond question. Almost by definition, the whole character of the album is, of course, London Irish - a style of which Karen is undoubtedly today one of the very finest exponents".
The Irish Post
˜Sweet and neat would not be a sufficient description of this no less than great recording. Musical sincerity and yearning for the fifth dimension comes to mind"
"Karen is one of our great musicians here in London. She plays with fluency, great control and beautiful tone"
"˜This is a lovely CD from Karen displaying her numerous skills on a variety of instruments. She has a personal style with strong, rhythmic, expressive tones"