Let's start from the beginning: I was born in 1971 in Jülich, a small town in the Rhineland area. In my other life I am a vet working at the University for Veterinary Medicine in Hannover. I live in an an old school building near Hannover, together with my wife Karola Wagels and our daughter Frieda.
I started to play in 1992. My first one was a cheap one made for tourists, including a picture of a harp and shamrock. As soon as I got serious, I changed to proper makers and better instruments. Learning the instrument was not easy, as there were no workshops like you find them today.
The session in Hannover was of great help in the beginning, esp. Klaus Gehrmann. Going to Ireland and meeting musicians also helped a lot. I received plenty of support from other musicians, along with the occasional remark like "A Gentleman is a man who owns a bodhran but doesn't play it". I had the pleasure to learn from people like Stephen Campbell and Ian Smith in Donegal and my friend Eamon Jordan, who took me to my first session In Ireland. When I asked "Will I bring the drum ?" he just looked at me and said: "Of course!!".
A lot of things have developed since these days. In Hannover I joined DeReelium, then was asked by the German uilleann pipes society if I could do workshops for them. At the tionols I met other musicians and Steampacket and Cara were formed. Cara was taking me all over Europe and the US, which was a great pleasure. In 2018 I left the band because touring and family (and the normal job!) were no longer compatible.
Together with Guido Plüschke I developed the BodhránWeekends and I teach regularly at other workshops. Since 2005 I had the great honour to teach every year at the renowned Bodhrán Summerschool Craiceann on Inis Oírr.
People say my style is mixture of traditional pulse orientated playing and the more extroverted top end style. This is something I like. Many other players have influenced me, among them Brian Morrissey from Nenagh, John Joe Kelly of Flook, Frank Torpey, Mel Mercier, Jimmy Higgins, Tommy Hayes, Junior Davey, and Eamon Murray.
Two players will always be special and inspirational: Seamus O'Kane und Johnny McDonagh. I learned a lot about the pulse from both of them and they showed me what's really important in bodhrán playing.
I would like to thank all the players and musicians I had the honour to play with and who enriched my life with their music.
Triangle - Peter Kerlin & Ian Smith with Jens Kommnick
Pieces to remember - Melanie Mau & Martin Schnella
Live - Cara
Jaanipäev - SkALD
Gray Matters - Melanie Mau & Martin Schnella
Yet We Sing - Cara
Whistle Man - Olaf Sickmann
Swift as a Swallow - Crosswind
Mirage - A Portrayal Of Figures - Flaming Row
The Brendan Voyage - Rüdiger Oppermann
Horizon - Cara
BodhranInsight - Guido Plüschke und Rolf Wagels
From Hamburg to Galway - Guido Plüschke
Watergrasshill - Johannes Schiefner
Long Distance Love - Cara
In Full Swing - Live - CD & DVD - Cara
In Between Times - Cara
Blue - Colman Connolly, Tobi Kurig, Franzi Urton
In Colour - Cara
Sommertiefe - Olaf Sickmann
Homecoming - Steampacket
Mary is busy..too busy to marry“ - More Maids
Millvalley - DeReelium
The North Sea Chinaman - Stefan Lups
you’ll never know... - Allan Cortez & Tommy Kraus
Publications and Interviews
Article about the RWE in the Irish Music Magazine (english)
Interview with Modern Bodhrán (english)
Article about the bodhrán at Irish-Net (german)
Interview about the history of the bodhrán (german)
An older article about the bodhrán written by me for the Irish Music Magazine (2005) (english)
Live presentation about bodhrán history (english)
my first bodhrán
After a year of taking my first steps on a tourist bodhrán I bought in a music shop in Donegal Town, I bought my first real bodhrán at the Folk Festival in Rudolstadt at Brendan White's stand.
Brendan had actually made this drum, which Andrea Brodie found under the sales counter, for himself. During the session pictured here, I was able to convince him after a long time to sell this drum to me. I still have it today...
So now things were about to start...there was a lot of practice at home and together with Georg Möller (RIP) on concertina and Andrea Brodie on fiddle, there were even two excellent musicians in Irish folk among us students at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, who have always supported me. The picture shows Andrea and me at a spontaneous little performance in the lecture hall of the Department of Anatomy at our university.
I got to know more and more musicians in Hanover, especially through the session at the Notenkiste in the Nordstadt.
I joined DeReelium in 1996. At that time the band consisted of Barbara Steinort, Klaus Gehrmann, Georg and Michael Möllers and Reiner Köhler. In between, Claus Steinort, with whom I later played with Steampacket and Cara, was also in the band. We had many gigs in and around Hanover and also some in Germany and the Netherlands.
In 1996 I was also asked to do some workshops for the first time. I gave my very first workshop in Nuremberg for the Comhaltas Branch which was active there at that time.
The photo is from an early workshop in Rüsselsheim.
Travels to Ireland
I travelled to Ireland for extended periods several times in the 1990s. In 1992 and 1993 I spent many weeks in Donegal, after that I travelled by camper van at least once or twice every year. In 1995 I was in Donegal (Gweedore) for almost half a year. Many contacts were made there and so the picture above was taken at a session after a concert with Altan in Glencolumbkille in 1997.
After I had already been invited as a guest on a few CDs, we released our first (and only!) CD with DeReelium in 1999. Recorded in an old cinema, almost live, and mixed by Michael Möllers and me in my bedroom in Kleefeld. Michael had to go shopping for toothbrushes etc. because it took much longer than expected. You can listen to it here, track 3 is my recommendation.
Tour More Maids
After I was invited to be a guest on the More Maids CD "Mary is busy...too busy to marry", I went on my very first tour with the Maids in autumn 1999. That got me pretty hooked and since then there have been countless tours. But the first tour always remains something special!
The picture shows Gudrun Walther, who played fiddle with the More Maids back then, and yours truly at a festival in Bobenheim.
In the same year I founded the band Steampacket together with Stephan Schneider, Andreas Lassak and Claus Steinort. Shortly afterwards, Tina Terrahe (née Fastje) joined. A real project of the heart, a pure tune band. We had a lot of fun together, legendary rehearsals in my kitchen and nights in the Kleefelder Eck, the pub around the corner.
Sessions in Hannover
The session scene in Hanover has always been very active, and in 1999 it became even more active: back then, the weekly Sunday session was established at the Irish Harp in Linden. We were invited to be part of the opening of Geraldine and Shay MacGowan's pub and the session developed from that. In the meantime, the session has moved a few times, but since then you have the opportunity to be at a decent session in Hanover at least once a week.
I was invited more and more often to play with other bands. First and foremost by my friends from An Tor, whom I met in Donegal in 1996 and who are still active today. Plus a nice gig with Jens Kommnick and Siobhán Kennedy in 2001 at the CeBit and as a guest musician with Tin Whistle Guru Olaf Sickmann.
In 2001 we released our studio album "Homecoming" with Steampacket. "Homecoming" is an album that was received internationally with a lot of respect and is still considered a source of inspiration for numerous musicians. Even after more than 20 years, I can still find something very special in it and it is one of the few "own" albums I like to listen to again. You can listen to it here:
Together with my friend and colleague Guido Plüschke, I founded the BodhránWeekends in 2002. Since then, the BodhránWeekends have established themselves as a nationwide meeting place for bodhrán players of all levels and are the most successful workshop series in the field of "bodhrán" in Germany.
I joined Cara in the fall of 2003, after the band existed already for a few months. Of course we all knew each other from various session meetings. But now it became much more professional and I was on the road with Cara in Germany, Europe and USA for the next 15 years.
The collaboration with bodhránmaker Christian Hedwitschak began in the early 2000s, and in 2005 we launched a special model based on my ideas: The RWE, the Rolf Wagels Edition. Still exists today and continues to enjoy great popularity. It even made it as far as the White House to meet Barack Obama! Who would have thought that back then...
The picture shows the very first batch at Christian Hedwitschak's home.
I was a student at the renowned Bodhrán Summerschool on the island of Inís Oirr in Ireland in 2001 and 2004. At the end of the 2004 course, I was asked if I would like to come back in 2005 - as a teacher! This was of course a great honor. And so I have been invited back to teach in Ireland every year since then. In addition, over the years I have become more and more involved in the organization of this wonderful event.
bodhrán-info is founded
The hobby expanded further, the distribution of the RWE and other drums, the workshops and the gigs made it necessary to register as a business. The name was and is that of my first website: www.bodhran-info.de since then stands for information around the bodhrán, for my dates and of course more and more for the store, where you can find all about the Irish frame drum.
In 2007 I was invited to give a talk on the bodhrán at the Day of Percussion at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.
The connection came through Rob Lea, who played with the BBC Philharmonics in the percussion department and was sent to Inís Oirr for the Bodhran summer school Craiceann as an official tour of duty.
Together with Christian Hedwitschak we spent some great days in Manchester and hopefully brought many interested people a little bit closer to the bodhrán.
Cara goes USA
In the same year, the first of a total of seven tours in the US with Cara took place. Several festivals had booked us, in between concerts in clubs and beautiful venues. A total of 20 days of touring, with unbelievably exciting and great impressions. Impressive, where such a small drum can take you...
Tom Keller, bodhrán player and teacher from Switzerland, asked me if I would like to organize a bodhrán weekend with him in Switzerland. Well, you bet! Since then, it takes place once a year and has become a fixed date in my schedule. Thanks a lot, Tom!
Milwaukee Irish Fest and Award
After two more US tour in 2008, in 2009 a dream came true: We were invited to play the biggest Irish Festival in the US: Milwaukee Irish Fest. I was there once before as a visitor in 2003 and it's really big. Great atmosphere and a huge honor to play there. A highlight was the "Gathering" at the end, where almost all the artists give a big farewell concert on the main stage.
The whole 2009 tour was a highlight, with the great Kansas City Irish Fest as a wonderful finale.
In addition, we won the Irish Music Award in the USA as best newcomer band with Cara in 2009!
In 2010 we were in the USA again, this time first in March and then again in summer, together with Claire Mann and Aaron Jones. Kansas City Irish Fest was again a highlight and in fact we were able to pick up the freshly won Irish Music Award 2010 as "Top Group" there! What an honor!
For the tenth anniversary of the BodhranWeekends (yes, we miscalculated by one year...) Guido Plüschke and I have produced "a CD that makes the Irish rhythm instrument the main theme and on which 18 pieces are presented on more than 78 minutes, in which Plüschke and Wagels played as musicians. Two pieces were recorded exclusively for this CD, which mainly revolve around the bodhrán and in which the bodhrán is more in the foreground as a soloist, furthermore Guido and Rolf each present themselves with a "solo".
In addition, we celebrated the anniversary at the Proitzer Mühle in a big way and invited Eamon Murray, a teacher from Ireland, for the first time.
CoreLine und neuer Shop
The introduction of the new bodhrán series "CoreLine" was the occasion to redesign the website of bodhrán-info and to expand the shop. The website was in use until July 2022 and has thus lasted ten years!
And also the CoreLine series has been a huge success over the last ten years and has enabled many, many people to enter the world of quality bodhráns!
The Brendan Voyage
Together with Michaela Grüß, Guido Plüschke and many others, including my friend Siobhán Kennedy, we were invited by harp guru and world musician Rüdiger Oppermann to participate in his project "The Brendan Voyage", which was to be performed in Worms. A wonderful experience that certainly went beyond the usual musical horizon!
Together with Guido Plüschke I organised a bodhrán weekend for the 25th time. And as it happens with anniversaries, we invited an Irish guest teacher: This year Jim Higgins joined us! Also Alan Doherty and friends....
Cork Folk Festival
It's always special to play in Ireland and we've had the pleasure a few times. This year we were invited to Cork for their Folk Festival and it was wonderful to perform in the home country of our music again and meet many old friends!
At the Scottish Weekend in Alden Biesen, Belgium, I had the great pleasure of playing on the main stage with Altan. Through my travels to Gweedore in Donegal we have known each other for a long time and finally the opportunity arose to be on stage together. It was a great pleasure!
The year 2016 started very well: We toured Scotland with Cara for almost two weeks. From the sensational Celtic Connections Festival, where ex-member Ryan Murphy joined us on stage, to the subsequent tour of great venues across Scotland, it was a blast!
15 years of BodhránWeekend
Another anniversary, this time 15 years of BodhránWeekend. We invited Aimée Farrell-Courtney from Ireland as a guest and Iontach enchanted us with her music. Plus a big party at the Proitzer Mühle!
In January 2018, we were able to win the renowned cabaret prize "Freiburger Leiter" with Cara, which is awarded every year at the Kulturbörse Freiburg! A great recognition of our work, which made us very happy.
Farewell to Cara
After 15 years, countless gigs and tours, 6 CDs and a live DVD, I left Cara in 2018. Family, normal job and the tours could no longer be juggled and therefore I have re-sorted the priorities.
It has been a wonderful experience to be part of this band...not only musically, but also on a personal level. Thanks so much for the last 15 unreal years on the road. I am very happy and proud to be part of the Cara family and wish the gang all the best for the future.
Also thanks to all who made us so welcome in so many different parts of the world...too many happy memories to count, so much joy through "the music".
Together with colleagues Kerstin Blodig, Franziska Urton and Claus Steinort, we performed 10 shows at the Hanover State Opera. We delivered the music for a modern dance piece called Toda. A great experience!
20th anniversaries of the BodhránWeekends
Due to the pandemic, the BodhránWeekend can only take place online and so we are celebrating several BodhránWeekends anniversaries! We have invited four teachers from Ireland who have greatly enriched our online courses over the past years: Marissa Waite, Brian Morrissey, Siobhán O'Donnell and Niamh Fennell!
After 10 years, it was time to completely rebuild the site and bring it up to date. In the last ten years, countless products have been added and now the site is up to date again.