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James Galway – the man with the golden flute

James Galway is arguably the best musician ever to come out of Ireland. He is regarded as one of the best flute players in the world and has sold over 30 million records worldwide.

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He was a member of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and has also worked with Irish band the Chieftains.

His playing ability and worldwide status has earned him the nickname, the man with the golden flute.

Galway was born in Belfast in 1938 and went to study music in London as a teenager. He then moved to France to learn at the French music and dance school, Conservatoire de Paris. Here, Galway was taught by the best flute players in the world, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Marcel Moyse.

Principal flute in the world’s most prestigious orchestra

After completing his studies, Galway was hired to play in the best and most respected orchestras in London. He had spells playing in the Philharmonia Orchestra, with Sadler’s Wells Opera, Covent Garden Opera, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Galway then auditioned and was hired to play in the most prestigious orchestra in the world of classical music, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. He spent six years as the principal flute until he left to pursue a solo career after a disagreement with legendary conductor Herbert von Karajan.

Performing to a crowd of 350,000

Galway moved to Switzerland to settle down with his second wife, Anna. He produced an instrumental version of the famous John Denver song, Annie’s Song for his wife and it reached number 3 in the UK singles chart.

Galway’s repertoire was expanding away from just classical music. He produced an album with Irish band the Chieftains in 1987 that reached number 32 in the UK charts. He also played at The Wall – Live in Berlin alongside Pink Floyd. The concert was to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall, which had been knocked down eight months earlier, and had a mammoth crowd of over 350,000 people.

James-Galway-I-do-not-consider Image copyright Ireland Calling

Inducted into Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame

In 2001 Galway’s contribution to music was recognised formally when he became the first wind player to be knighted. He was also inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame in 2008 at the same time as another couple of music legends, B. B. King and Liza Minnelli.

He was given the National Concert Hall Lifetime Achievement Award in Dublin in 2013 for his years of service to Irish music. Speaking about the uniqueness of the award Galway said: “This is a onetime only award and I’m very very honoured.”

Galway currently lives in Switzerland but is still touring, often performing alongside his third wife, who is also a talented musician. He is the president of Flutewise, which is a charity that helps young flute players.

James Galway
James Galway videos