Most musicians come back off a road tour and collapse into a heap, the act propelled by sheer exhaustion. What a bunch of lazy bones, in comparison to the Irish fiddler P Joe Hayes, who would come back to his farm after being on tour and dive right into the chores, milking the cows while still in his touring suit and tie. Once a farmer, always a farmer. In fact, he was so fond of his farm that he never moved away from his home turf in Maghera, although he surely spent as much time away from there while out on the road as someone who had moved away completely. Hayes also dabbled in local politics, losing a 1979 bid for city council. He was far more of a success in his music career, helping found and spearhead a band that lasted more than 50 years, one likely to be heard on the radio in Ireland in 1947, and in 1997 as well.
He was born Patrick Joe Hayes, and somehow was nicknamed "P" and granted immunity from having a period at the end of that initial. Hayes' mother was the concertina player Margaret Hogan, and he started on fiddle at the age of 11. He was fortunate to have a skilled teacher living nearby, Pat Canny. This man had already taught his son to play, and one listen to the boy and it was clear what a great teacher the father was. His son was none other than another great Irish fiddler, Paddy Canny. Gramophone records were popular in both households, particularly the influential fiddle recordings of Michael Coleman. Hayes and the Canny son began playing at house dances together in places such as Killenea, Feaka, and Tulla. In 1946, the two players founded the Tulla Ceili Band. This turned out to be one of the longest-running ensembles in any genre of music, and interestingly enough one of the most democratically run. Although Hayes took over as nominal leader in 1950, all group decisions were made totally collectively. The group has sometimes been described as one of the only truly cooperative ensembles to exist in music history. This may be something of an exaggeration, but the group certainly worked well, serving as a proving and training ground for a variety of great Irish players as well as benefitting from various trends in entertainment that no one could have predicted in the early days of the band. For example, the popularity of step dancing in the '70s brought audiences around to ceili bands again, and the Riverdance phenomenon two decades later sold tickets to anything Irish. The Tulla Ceili Band made six albums and undertook seven tours of the United States. The group made more than a dozen tours of England. In 1958 Hayes and the lads strode onstage at Carnegie Hall, and it was said in the press that Hayes in particular looked as comfortable as if he was hanging out at home in his barn. The group was given the keys to the city of Chicago in 1987. Hayes' son Martin had started playing in the band at this time.
Hayes and the Tulla band have been involved in several recordings that are among the finest in the traditional Irish genre. The 1958 album Echoes of Erin was reportedly recorded in four hours, making it the Trout Mask Replica of Irish music. It was released on the Dublin label, as was the 1960 album Irish Champion Fiddlers in which Hayes and Canny teamed up with Peader O'Loughlin on flute and Bridie Lafferty on piano. The latter production is a real favorite of Irish music fans, and was re-released in 2001 by the Shanachie label. Martin Hayes and his father recorded the duet The Shores of Lough Graney in 1990. The elder Hayes has also backed up Irish singer Mary McNamara. In his later years, he suffered from both Parkinson's and Addison's disease.