Friday, 26 March 2010

Tommy Sands’ Irish music holds heartfelt message

music in the square 13Image by arndt_hoppe via Flickr

Irish folk singer Tommy Sands has been complimented by Pete Seeger, honored as an International Peace Award nominee, and asked to bring his message of humanity to Israel and Palestine.

His status as a spokesman for human rights is as much a part of his artistic identity as his emphasis on music with a strong Irish influence, but once he’s on the stage he never drifts far from his roots. When the lights go down and Sands and his two musician children, Moya and Fionan, are on stage he’s back home somewhere in rural Ireland singing for fun and spiritual fulfillment.

In a phone interview from a Wyoming stop on a tour that brings him to southeast Michigan Saturday, Sands reflected on how his music connects him to his heritage.

“It’s the idea of sitting around the fire and sharing songs and stories,” he said. “Even last night we were a long way from home [physically] but on the stage it was much like home.”

His newest release is “Let The Circle Be Wide” and it is filled with songs that draw from Irish folk tradition, including “The Young Man’s Dream,” which is a version of the classic “Danny Boy.”

“The Young Man’s Dream” was written in the mid-1600s and, Sands said, it contains elements that one day would become part of “Danny Boy,” which was written in 1910. He noted that in the 17th century singers would write songs about Ireland, but substitute women’s names in place of that of the country to avoid censorship from the Church of England.

“The song is kind of a dream song — kind of a waking dream — and in these type of songs ... usually the young man has a dream of a woman, a young woman, and he falls in love with her, but it’s not really a woman, it’s Ireland,” Sands said.

He grew up in rural Ireland in a large family that constantly played music. Music was something that Catholics and Protestants could agree on and put aside their differences to play, he said.

“When I was growing up and learning songs my parents sang, I think my very first memory was waking up when I should’ve been asleep and hearing music, and the light coming through the door,” he said.

“As a child the first thing I noticed was all these toes tapping rather than their religious affiliation.”

He went on to form the Sands Family with four of his brothers and his sister, and they became well-known members of the Irish folk revival, achieving fame in the United States in the early ’60s. Tommy Sands went on to a solo career that continues now with his adult children serving as his backup musicians.

He recently played at Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden, sharing the stage with Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, and, of course Seeger, who has praised his music.

Sands said his commitment to issues of social justice was forged early when he grew up during the “troubles” in Ireland.

“I never set out to write political songs or peace songs. I was happy singing about pretty fair maids in May, but when it became July and August and the pretty fair maids were killed, I felt like I had a right to write about that.”

Tommy Sands will perform at the Tecumseh Center for the Arts Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $24 for adults and $21 for children and senior citizens. Call 517-423-6617 or go to for tickets and information.

Contact Rod Lockwood at or 419-724-6159.
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Thursday, 25 March 2010

Celtic Crossroads, an Irish music phenomena

Vector version of celtic drawing, traced outli...Image via Wikipedia

The Celtic Crossroads members have spread their passion for music far beyond Irish pubs-they are now on to the rest of the world.

Celtic Crossroads makes its way to Eastern at 7:30 p.m. today in Dvorak Concert Hall of Doudna Fine Arts Center for a late St. Patrick's Day concert.

The group combines traditional Celtic music and dance with bluegrass, gypsy and jazz.
Dan Crews, Doudna arrangements supervisor, wanted Celtic Crossroads to perform at Eastern because of its superior musicianship and artistry.

"Celtic music is a genre that appeals to a lot of people, both those on campus and from the surrounding communities," Crews said. "It is generational music, which means that it appeals to those young and old. The music is exciting with a contemporary feel."

Critics have hailed Celtic Crossroads concerts as some of the most exhilarating and authentic shows to come from Ireland in decades, Crews said.

The name, Celtic Crossroads, comes from a time in Ireland when neighboring communities would meet at the crossroads of towns to socialize, according to their Web site.

Kevin Crosby, a producer of the group, formed EMK productions with his brother, Eamon, and Michael McClintock in 2005 and began auditioning musicians from around the world to play traditional Irish music.

"We got the best of the best from Ireland. It is a world-class show, with all the bells and whistles and stars of traditional Irish music," Crosby said.

Crosby said he wants people to see music the same way that they do in his home of Galway, Ireland.

There, musicians will bring one instrument with them and pass it around throughout the night so that by the end, everyone has played more than 20 instruments and perfected them, Crosby said.

"There is a lot more energy to Celtic music that is not being shown in theater shows," Crosby said.

The seven-member group tours for nine months every year and has consisted of the same people since the beginning, with the exception of two people.

Admission to the concert is $15; $12 for seniors and Eastern employees; $7 for students. Seating is reserved.

"We are extremely fortunate to present them. The show itself should be absolutely awesome," Crews said.

Ashley Holstrom can be reached at 581-7942 or

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St. Pat's Fancy set for PCVS auditorium

Steafan and SaskiaImage by tom frog via Flickr

The second annual St. Pat's Fancy concert is set for Saturday, April 24 at PCVS auditorium.

St. Pat's Fancy is an annual celebration of traditional Irish music, in support of The Market Hall. Returning is Cairdeas, a traditional Irish group featuring Steafan Hannigan and Saskia

Tomkins, two world-class Celtic musicians who relocated to Northumberland from the UK in 2007, states a press release.

This year, Cairdeas will feature its new singer Marsala Lukianchuk, who is well-known to local audiences for numerous musical and theatrical performances, including last summer's
production of 4th Line Theatre's The Right Road to Pontypool.

St. Pat's Fancy will take place at PCVS auditorium this year, because Market Hall is shut down for renovations, and this year's proceeds will go directly to support the renovation project that will transform the downtown landmark into one of Ontario's top medium-sized theatres, it states.

Along with Cairdeas, St. Pat's Fancy will feature some of Peterb o ro u g h's Celtic musicians including, harpist Tanah Haney, Michael Ketemer, host of the long-running Celtic Jam, Glen Caradus, storyteller Mark Finnan and Carried Away, hosts of the popular In From the Cold Christmas concert.

The concert begins at 8 p.m. at the PCVS auditorium Tickets are $15 at Titles Bookstore. For more information call John Hoffman at 748-2126

About Cairdeas

Steafan Hannigan is a multi-instrumentalist who was 2007 all-Britain champion in uilleann pipes, Irish flute and tin whistle and also plays guitar, bouzouki, and bodhran.

Saskia Tomkins, plays fiddle cello, viola and the nickleharpe (Scandinavian string instrument). Saskia was all-Britain Irish fiddle champion in 2007 and performs with many groups including Nollaig, a Celtic group based in Southwestern Ontario.

Hannigan and Tomkins have performed with The Chieftains, Loreena McKennit, the Afro- Celts, Martin Carthy and Michael Flatley.

Marsala Lukianchuk, has performed in many local theatre productions including Slainte, TheRight Road to Pontypool, SchoolhouseandWelcome Death.She was also principal vocalist for theSpirit of Ireland show.

Cairdeas also features 11-year -old bodhran player, Oisin Hann i ga n (son of Steafan and Saskia).

The couple's young daughters Eile (9) and Ayisha (6) will join in with some Irish dancing.
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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Local Musicians Play with Ry Cooder and the Chieftains

Picture of the Upper Rio Grande River near Cre...Image via Wikipedia

Written by Andres Chavez and Diana Martinez, Sun Staff
Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Sergio "Checo" Alonso, Jesus "Chuy" Guzman and Jimmy Cuellar.
From the evocative cover art of La Virgen de Guadalupe holding an Irish solider to the subject matter of the album and, most importantly, in the fusion of the music, San Patricio is a provocative work of art. Ry Cooder and the famous Irish musician Paddy Moloney and his band the Chieftains working with some of the great Mexican musicians have fused traditional Mexican and Irish music to tell the story of the San Patricio brigade.

Most reviews rightly praise the work of Cooder and Moloney and acknowledging this part of both American, Irish and Mexican history through music as commendable, but what should be equally commendable and yet to be fully acknowledged is the long roster of accomplished Latino musicians, including Rene Camacho, Linda Ronstadt, Cesar Duarte, Edmar Castaneda, Los Camperos de Valle are performing alongside their Irish counterparts.

Equally notable among the Latino musicians, is harpist and ethnomusicologist, Sergio" Checo" Alonso, violinist Jesus "Chuy" Guzman and Jimmy Cuellar. They are well known musicians in the San Fernando Valley, past and present members of the world reknown Los Camperos Mariachi group and have worked locally as Master teachers for the City of San Fernando's highly esteemed Mariachi Master Apprentice Program to train the next generation of talent.

Jesus "Chuy" Guzman, violinist, described the experience to musically blend the two cultures, mariachi with Irish flute, "It sounds strange when you first hear it because you're not used to hearing bagpipes with Mariachi music, but it sounds good."

Jimmy Cuellar agrees and said that when he first heard about the idea for the CD, he was intrigued. "Musically, it focuses on the folk tradition. It has a mix of Irish violins and flutes with Mexican rhythms, it fuses very well."

Sergio "Checo" Alonso, a master harpist was enthusiastic about the project. "When we first entered the studio in San Francisco and saw Ry and Paddy Moloney, I was blown away."

As Alonso points out, "There are some musicians that are really known in the business but that are not in the commer-cial sense like Los Tigres del Norte. There's a good representation, the Mexican music component. Ry [Cooder] knew what he was doing in terms of finding the right musicians to put it together to find authenticity."

Alonso is amazed at how well the fusion of Irish and Mexican music works. " I hear some of these tracks and it's amazing how they skewed Irish to it. Anybody who's familiar with Mexican music, you can see that it is the Mexican group playing what they play and the Irish, the Chieftains, adopting to the Mexican songs. For example, Los Camperos del Valle laid down El Caballo, the way that they play it. If anything they (the Chieftains) threw in some appropriate lyrics, talking about San Patricio, the flute and the different pipes that you hear on top is laid over a traditional Husteco group, as is the Mariachi stuff, as is the Linda Ronstadt stuff as is everything in there."

San Patricios

Before and during the Mexican American War of 1846-48, a group of Irish soldiers deserted the American Army to fight for Mexico. Some left because they were tired of Protestant discrimination, others because they saw the war as unjust imperialism and still others, perhaps, to follow their fortune. The Irish joined with men from many other nations, and some runaway slaves, to form the San Patricio Brigades. They were mostly artillery units. Under the command of Captain John Riley they fought bravely and well against the invading American Army. They were finally captured, some say only after their ammunition ran out, at the Battle of Churubusco. Most were sentenced to die. Some were shot but most were hung. The American commander waited until the American army took Mexico City. He hung the San Patricios as the American Flag was raised over Chapultepec castle. A few, like Riley himself, were lashed and then branded on both cheeks with a "D".

While largely forgotten by American historians, the San Patricios are celebrated as heroes in Mexico. Cooder and Moloney take positive approach to the story but, as it should be, the emphasis is on the music. It is truly amazing to hear two different types of music, each maintaining its integrity, yet blended together to create something wholly new.

In the first selection, La Iguana Lillia Downs performs a very tradition Jarocho. "But then you hear the Irish Zapateado on top of it, with the different instruments and it gives it a totally different feel," said Sergio Alonso. "I think it awesome how Moloney and Ry take traditional Mexican music and really color it, adorn it with traditional Irish instrumentation and an Irish feel."

You can hear it more clearly in another Lillia Downs number El Relampago where Moloney's work on the uilleann pipes and tin whistle blend seamlessly with the Mexican fiddle, guitar and cuatro.

The track, "March to Battle (across the Rio Grande)" very neatly tells the Patricios story in a wonderful blend of poetry and music. Spoken by Liam Neeson the poem is:

We are the San Patricios A brave and gallant band There'll be no white flag flying Within this green command We are the San Patricios We have but one demand To see the Yankees safely home Across the Rio Grande But when at Churubusco, We made our final stand No court of justice did we have In the land of Uncle Sam As traitors or deserters all We would be shot or hanged Far from the green, green junip shore

Across the Rio Grande We've disappeared from history Like footprints in the sand But our song is in the tumbleweed Our blood is in this land But if in the desert moon light You see a ghostly band We are the men who died for freedom

Across the Rio Grande
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Highland BagpipesImage by D80FTW via Flickr

TARPON SPRINGS - International Celtic-roots sensation MacTalla Mor performs at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center on March 25 at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $20; $18, for members and students; plus tax and $1 fee. Call the Box Office 727-942-5605 or visit

MacTalla Mor (Gaelic for great echo) is a national touring band featuring great Highland bagpipes, piano, vocals and bodhran in a dynamic mix of traditional Celtic, roots rock, calypso, blues and jazz.

Their champion pipers and award winning Gaelic singers and musicians set them apart and make them a crowd favorite at major festivals and concerts throughout North America.

Their energetic performances include traditional Irish and Scottish tunes, MacTalla's original songs, arrangements and driving rhythms create an engaging and magical blend of the past and the present.

The band, which is made up entirely of members of the Devlin-Ofgang family has performed at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, in Montreal, Canada and at Central Park, New York. They've played for ESPN, NBC, and ABC TV.

Fans of their music range from age 1 to 100 and include legendary musicians Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and Jose Feliciano. In 2009 their haunting rendition of "The Mist Covered Mountains" was awarded Song of the year by Celtic Radio.

The band formed seven years ago when members of the Devlin-Ofgang family decided to combine their musical talents into one never-before-heard style.

Brothers Jesse and Levon play Bagpipes, drums and guitar, their sister Ilana sings and is a jazz pianist, their mother Patty Devlin, plays the Bodhran (an Irish drum), while their brother Erik plays the bass and does magic.

Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center is at 324 Pine St., Tarpon Springs.

For more information about MacTalla Mor, visit

Sending new signals

JOE BREEN, Irish Times

Both his native Donegal and American country music course through Kevin Doherty’s memorable caustic lines, built on melodies of elegant intensity

A FRAMED VINTAGE broadsheet poster of Donegal’s attractions sits on the wall of his Dublin home, while on the floor rests a vinyl copy of a Carter Family recording. Kevin Doherty doesn’t have far to go for inspiration when his well runs dry. Both his native county and American country music course through his wonderfully imaginative and compelling songs, including the 12 tracks that comprise his latest project, Telegraph .
Strictly speaking this is not a solo album but a collaboration between a number of leading Irish musicians, including guitarist Conor Brady and pianist James Delaney, who fly under the flag of Telegraph . But Doherty writes all the songs, sings and produces and, in the way of many independent artists, he also markets it because there is no major company behind the project. So though Telegraph is not his third solo album, it might as well be. The previous two, his debut Strange Weather and the more impressive Sweet Water , showed Doherty to be a hugely promising talent. Telegraph moves him to a different level – songs such as Tugboat mark him out as a singular figure of some substance.

“ Tugboat was a collision. A few things happened at the same time. One was Michael McDowell who was minister for justice at the time and he was quite vociferous about the influx of people into Ireland. I wasn’t long back myself – I’d been away and had lived very happily in other places. And I was quite taken aback by some of the attitudes that were being expressed. Some people posited the argument about the Irish who had emigrated but that was decried as pat and simplistic.

“But, in fact, it’s the truth. And so I just created the characters in the song to show how the Irish were sometimes treated abroad as a juxtaposition to what was happening here. And the line ‘pull the ladder up’ refers to what someone said we should do – we’d reached a certain level of financial security and that we should pull the ladder up. . . so there was a welter of images and notions and there was an amount of anger as well.”

Tugboat is the centrepiece of the album, a big brooding epic full of memorable caustic lines and images built over a melody of elegant intensity. The song is split into two sections with different narrators. In the first, the tugboat captain vents his distaste for the latest boatload of Irish for whom he would not “give his spit”. In the second, a middle England voice decries “the sons of bitches with their fuses and their switches and their ancient bloody hurt/Well we all hurt Paddy for what it’s worth/So pull the ladder up boys/The world is full of causes/Pull the ladder up leave them to their notions/They might as well be digging holes in the ocean.”

Tugboat is in good company. There is richness and variety in songs such as his ode to his beloved Country Music; the love-struck waltz, The Stars Will Be Our Satellites Tonight ; his light-hearted dig at music biz capitalism Love and Money ; his anti-Iraq war ballad Christine McCoy Thinks of her Man Charlie ; and Looking for Love, the final track and his musical manifesto. Telegraph mixes the private and the public Doherty to great effect.

“With Telegraph there was a conscious thing that there was certain things that I wanted to write about. That might sound pretentious, but it is the truth.

DOHERTY WAS BORN in Buncrana 42 years ago, and he is married to his childhood sweetheart, with whom he has two children. He is quiet spoken, thoughtful and generous in conversation, with an easy, self-deprecating wit. “Growing up in Donegal, particularly in Buncrana, the North was sitting on your shoulder. You were of it, but it is amazing the distance those 10 miles gave you.” He says his parents (his father was the local golf pro) brought him up to have respect for everybody. “And that was instilled in me. You don’t rush to judge, to be judgmental. You wait until you find out the other side of the story. And that applied to the North as well. Coming from one tradition, one part of the community, that doesn’t mean people from the other side are cyphers. They are real people so that’s why I’m always reluctant to jump.

“There’s a line in Looking for Love : ‘I’ve enlisted so I’ll soldier on/I’ll do my duty/and that is to open up the space/Where I might find beauty’, and that resonates with me because there is a time, there is a moment when there is an opening in your head and anything is possible, where everything comes into line, where everything makes some kind of sense – just for a moment. If you do it right, then the audience comes in with you and it is there for everyone.”

Doherty left school at 17 and went to London to work on building sites. “I played guitar but was always fascinated by the word. Just the sound of it, people speaking it. I loved it.” After returning home he played with a number of bands, mostly country and bluegrass outfits, before he joined up with Four Men and A Dog, the traditional Irish music band with whom he still plays (see panel, right). But he was especially drawn to roots music, from both black and white traditions.

“Country music was in our house. Funny, I was just thinking recently that when I imagine myself as a kid, my memory seems dominated by John Wayne. Westerns. We just had RTÉ1 and RTÉ2. But I had got Max Steiner’s soundtrack to The Searchers and I just felt, let’s go home. In fact, when Jimmy, my son, was three or four he was completely obsessed by John Wayne and one day I put on The Searchers for him. He was on my knee and when it came to the moment where Wayne lifts up Natalie Wood and says ‘Let’s go home’ the tears were in his eyes. And it brought me right back. So John Wayne was the dominant force – that is until Clint Eastwood came along, the man with no name. A Fistful of Dollars . Opening scene at the well. And he lifts up his hat with that glint in his eye. That’s that. John was gone. Anyway, the music would have been country. I remember Hank Williams and Hank Snow records. Jim Reeves, that was big stuff. That stuff stayed with me.”

So did his fascination with all things Stateside. “America was the most gigantic thing in my imagination when I was a child. I distinctly remember standing and watching the planes flying over our house on their way to America, or at least in my imagination they were. America was everything.”

He also recalls his first real musical awakening when, as a teenager, he came across a jazz compilation album his father had bought. As he went through each song, nothing hit him until he came to the final track – bluesman Big Bill Broonzy, accompanying himself on guitar singing C C Rider . “Holy moley! And that was the first time I was plugged in.”

Shortly afterwards he was babysitting and bored when he came across More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits . “I remember putting down the needle on Watching the River Flow and having to take the needle off again. I got an awful fright. It was akin to your first sexual awakening. I was aware of Bob Dylan, but it was the early ’80s and to the people I knew it was a case of ‘Bob who?’ And so I put the needle back down again and I was gone. I was gone and I was getting friends at school to ask their parents had they any Bob Dylan records?”

Through Dylan he came across another great bluesman. “And then you hear Muddy Waters. Fantastic. Sure your head is gone by that stage. I was 15 and there was no going back.” Later he would come under the spell of Leonard Cohen. All of these influences can be traced in his songs, but he has carved out his own sound.

Flash forward to the present and the immediate future and why he is going out under the monicker of Telegraph . “I had to make a record. I was going to burst if I didn’t and so the album is made, and then you wonder how am I going to get this outside the kitchen so to speak? I talked to a few people I respect and the first thing they said was, don’t go out as Kevin Doherty. The whole singer/songwriter thing, people assume a certain sound and this album isn’t it.” The decision was taken to go out as Telegraph , a name he likes for its allusions to connections and stories.

He also spoke to actors and multimedia specialists such as Alan Farquharson about how he might add an extra dimension to the live show. “I really liked the idea of using film, images, sounds just to create a landscape to show where the songs came from.” He cites the montage Farquharson created for Country Music as an example: “It starts off with Dolly Parton, obviously thinking of my sentimental Donegal nature, then there is Hank , the guitars and harmonica players and then to coincide with the line, ‘Take me down to the shady grove where the rain blows through’, suddenly there is a tree and it dissolves into a lynching. Bang! He got it. The songs resemble me quite a lot. They seem quite calm but if you listen hard, underneath there is a tremble, a fear and an anger. I don’t like to push it into your face.”

He is not a natural salesman but accepts that has to change. “For a long time it wasn’t that I was apologetic about the songs but I didn’t want to be a nuisance. That’s changing because I realise that when you pass 40 it’s time to do something.” But he also accepts that his songs may not be for everyone. “I was awake the other night and the analogy of making chairs came into my head – that I make chairs that I know some people will really like sitting in, but that they are not for everyone. And, unfortunately,” he adds with a soft laugh, “they take an awful long time to make.”

Telegraph is on general release. The band Telegraph will play at the Button Factory in Dublin this evening


Kevin Doherty lives a parallel life. When not writing and performing songs as Kevin Doherty/Telegraph, he is also a singer and guitarist with Irish traditional band Four Men and a Dog. The band, which has been together for about 20 years, is very active on the festival circuit on the continent.

“It is work of very high quality. All I do is provide a bit of chordal scaffolding to let the others do their thing. And the reason it works, the reason Im still there, is that we are a band.” He recalls Levon Helm, late of The Band, saying that to him when Four Men and a Dog recorded at Helms studio in Woodstock, New York. “I mean, driving around Woodstock with Levon Helm in a convertible and he says to us: ‘you’re a real band’.” Now that’s rock’n’roll.

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Irish Arts Center Open Day

St. Patrick’s Day is coming soon and the libations will surely be flowing around town this weekend, but there is more to Irish culture than that, you know. On Sunday afternoon the Irish Arts Center in Clinton presents its annual Open Day, a free sampler of Irish culture.

“Many people, when they think of St. Patrick’s Day, think of the parade and green beer, but this is a chance for people interested in the culture to see what traditional Irish arts are all about,” said Rachael Gilkey, education coordinator for the center.

The center will be abuzz with Irish music and dance performances, film screenings and educational opportunities for people of all ages and ethnicities. Ever think about learning to play the tin whistle? They’ve got a workshop for that. Kids will be able to learn about St. Patrick and can even take an Irish language class. (An adult class is also on the agenda.) The center regularly offers courses in Irish language, music, history and more, and students from some of those classes will perform on Sunday, showing a bit of what they’ve learned.

“It really is a day that allows us to showcase everything, and it’s free,” said Aidan Connolly, the executive director.

Mr. Connolly is expecting a big turnout, “probably in the neighborhood of four to five hundred over the course of the day,” he said. He also expects the participants to be a culturally diverse lot, just like the students and teachers at the center.

“There’s something interesting about what ethnically based cultural institutions can do in New York,” he said. “We’re able to tap into a combination of ethnic diversity and cultural voraciousness and create a different kind of cultural experience.”

(Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., Irish Arts Center, 553 West 51st Street, Clinton, (212 ) 757-3318,; free.)

Moya Brennan on "Music of Ireland"

At the Philadelphia Flower Show, the crowd is snaking along the pathway through the Irish garden display, their eyes intently raking the underbrush as if engaged in an Easter egg hunt for adults.

In a corner of the exhibit's colonnaded courtyard, largely unnoticed, Moya Brennan is singing a haunting rendition of "Down by the Salley Gardens," accompanied by a harpist and a fiddler.

That she is drawing so little attention is remarkable. Imagine stumbling across Aretha Franklin singing "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" in a spark-plug booth at the Detroit Auto Show.

Brennan, singer for the seminal Irish group Clannad, is widely known as the First Lady of Celtic Music.

She was the obvious choice to host Music of Ireland: Welcome Home, airing Tuesday night on WHYY TV12. Brennan interviews a who's who of Hibernian stars - from the Chieftains' Paddy Moloney to U2's Bono - in the documentary, which charts the course of contemporary Irish music.

"When I tell people that Celtic music is 40 years old, they can't believe it," says Brennan later that afternoon. "They think it's ancient."

The film begins with the genre's Big Bang moment: the Clancy Brothers performing in their matching Aran sweaters on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1961.

Ever since that breakthrough to a mass international audience, Irish music has been conquering other lands.

"Everybody loves Irish music. Everybody," says Brennan. "Anywhere I've travelled, from Indonesia to South America."

Tuesday's film follows the evolutionary trail into the 1980s, from the Clancys to Van Morrison, the Pogues and Thin Lizzy. A second installment, due at the end of 2010, will explore artists such as the Corrs and the Cranberries, right up through emerging Irish stars such as the Script and Damien Dempsey.

It's challenging to find a unifying factor in all those styles, beyond a country of origin.

"The common trait will be the Irish soul," says Larry Kirwan, leader of the New York band Black 47 and host of Sirius XM's weekly Celtic Crush show. "It's probably something to do with the history of the country.

"In the bad times when people weren't allowed to get an education, the one thing they could do was come up with music and song that would express their love of freedom and their love of their home country. That's the root for all the music."

Brennan's family group, Clannad (Irish for "the family from Dore"), was a trailblazer in defining and popularizing the Irish sound.

"Clannad is a particularly interesting and influential thread in the tapestry of Celtic musics," Christopher Smith, an ethnomusicologist at Texas Tech University, says via e-mail. "Singing family songs in Irish and English, they drew on Donegal's rich tradition of indigenous music as well as that imported by migrant workers returning from Scotland."

The eldest of nine, Brennan was born in the village of Gweedore in the Gaelic-speaking enclave of County Donegal.

"I learned English at school when I was 4. But up to then I would have been speaking Gaelic. When [my relatives] talk to each other, we still have the best arguments in Irish," she says, laughing.

Her father, Leo, was in a show band that toured widely on the parish-hall circuit, playing a combination of Big Band hits and native Céili dance music.

When the show-band era died in the 1960s, Leo bought a pub in Gweedore where he could perform whenever he liked.

Moya, who played the harp and sang, began jamming with her musical siblings and a pair of barely older uncles. They worked out a repertoire that mixed contemporary pop hits with reworkings of some of the regional songs passed down from their grandparents.

"When we were still in school, we'd get up and we'd perform before my dad would come on stage," she recalls. "We'd notice more people were coming in to hear us. It was just the tourist people, the ones holidaying.

"It wouldn't be the locals. They didn't recognize it as being special. They thought we were ruining the Irish language with what we were doing, bringing in the double bass and harmonies. You never did harmonies with Gaelic songs. They were sung unaccompanied."

Clannad struggled for recognition in their own country. They were considered culchies (country bumpkins) by the hipsters and iconoclasts by the traditionalists. But the band's exotic, moody sound found favor in Europe, especially after their theme song to the TV mini-series Harry's Game became an international hit in 1982. It made them the first performers ever to sing in Gaelic on Britain's influential Top of the Pops.

Moya's sister Enya left the band for a very successful solo career by putting her own spin on the Celtic style.

"Her sound is very processed and wonderful," Brennan says. "She does it very mechanically, layering her voice, but she does it so well. Somebody got hold of her music and put it in lots of movies and it's such great exposure."

Fame and fortune are grand, but they're not the driving forces for Brennan. Even at the bustling Flower Show, you can see that she connects with the songs in a profound, almost symbiotic fashion.

"I love the music. I love the words," she says. "Nine times out of 10, most Irish people have a soul feeling with what they're singing and playing. It's not just, 'Let's get up on stage.' There's something passionate about it."

The PBS special makes it clear that music is something of a national obsession in Ireland. Each generation gets a firm foundation in the ancestral instruments and formats before finding new modes of expression.

"Take my own daughter," Brennan says. "She would listen to hip-hop and be into rock music. Avril Lavigne, Paramore, bands like that. But she'd still play traditional music. There's an identification there.

"There is now Gaelic hip-hop. Would you believe? It's called Hip Nós. People rapping in Gaelic."

But the faster things change, the more important it is to remember the source. That's why Brennan made Music of Ireland.

"I'd like people to realize the roots of this music and where it's come from, the different expressions of Irish music," she says. "Just to open up their senses to the different flavors of that Irishness. To hear the heart of something. It's the heart, isn't it?"

Contact staff writer David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or Read his recent work at

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Danu never fails to deliver

There are some Irish music bands that fly a little too far under the radar for no real fault of their own, and it can lead to their being overlooked when it comes to discussion about bands that bring a lot to the tradition and its performance values.

One of those bands is Danu, who came through the greater New York area this past weekend including a wonderful Sunday afternoon matinee up at the Quick Center for the Arts on the campus of Fairfield University in Connecticut where I was in attendance.

Danu is associated with Co. Waterford because two of the founding members of the band, Brendan “Bennie” McCarthy, the box player and leader, and Donal Clancy, accompanist on guitar (and son of Liam Clancy), hailed from there, as did some later members in piper Donnchad Gough and singer Ciaran O’Gealbhain.

From the first time I saw them in the late 1990s at the Greater Washington, D.C. Irish Music Festival in Gaithersburg, Maryland, I have been tremendously impressed with their lively stage presence and technical brilliance that added up to great crack for them and the audience at the same time.

There’s kind of a natural ebb and flow to the act that sometimes can obscure the sophisticated approach and knowledge they bring to their performances.

They have managed to maintain this despite a number of cast changes since forming in 1994 by replacing quality with quality without dampening the vital spirit that seems to always underpin a Danu show or recording.

The current makeup of the touring band is the aforementioned McCarthy, and Clancy (back for second enlistment), singer and flute player Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, fiddler Oisin McAuley, bouzouki player Eamon Doorley (whose flute-playing brother Tom still performs when he can with the band), and Glasgow import Martin O’Neill on bodhran.

The six person ensemble works very well for their stage shows if the Quick Center was any guide, as they were well able to hold the attention of the crowd with nary a curly-headed step dancer in sight.

Sunday afternoon matinee crowds can be tough to work with, especially after a late night on the road the night before and an early traveling start to the next venue. But the Fairfield crowd was noticeably perceptive and responsive to the very folksy and natural interchange all the band members engaged in over the course of the show.

The thoughtful introductions and intelligible banter wasn’t lost on them or condescending to an audience these type of performing arts centers sometimes muster looking for a different flavor of the month.

Thankfully Danu gets to play more and more of these kind of houses with their more predictable guarantees, and amenities that can make roadwork more enjoyable thanks to a different management agency. God knows they paid their dues early on as they were trying to get established with very long tours over great stretches of the country.

Part of their stagecraft is in building some drama and excitement into the tunes, and the songs they cleverly select where the pacing and performance is always very even and calm and confident. They always seem to surprise with some new work while polishing familiar pieces either of their own or borrowed from others, with the Danu texture well laid on.

The addition of the versatile singer from Dunquin, Co. Kerry, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, who replaced the very fine Ciaran O’ Gealbhain around 2003, was pure serendipity because both have captivating and distinct voices that give the act that extra special quality.

Muireann is one of those quality singers who gets the fact that the words and phrasing have to be put across just right for the song to have maximum impact, and her bandmates also understand their role is to enhance, not drown it out.

In Doorley (bouzouki) and Clancy (guitar) you have two of the finest bookending rhythm accompaniments to be found in any band. They also stood on the paired arrangement of “Clancy’s Farewell to Whiskey,” an air composed by Donal in O’Carolan style, and Breton dance tune “An Dro des Petits Bateaux,” and in other chunes in the repertoire.

On the day they unveiled some other new material from an upcoming album due out later this year called Seanchas (though available as a “preview” CD on this tour).

Muireann gave us a lovely vocal rendition of “An Staicin Eornan” with words in Irish for the tune we know as the “Stack of Barley” that she got from Padraig O’Se.

This Kerry maid also did a fine job on Sigerson Clifford’s classic “The Boys of Barr na Sraide” about Cahersiveen and hunting for the wran that was matched by the gorgeous arrangement from her bandmates.

They also performed their popular cover of Tommy Sands poignant and once again significant song “County Down” about hard times and the loneliness of emigration.

Instrumentally the band is on solid ground, with McAuley’s fiddle playing learned in the fiddle-mad Donegal region, and the subtle but spot-on box playing of Benny McCarthy, who knows his music inside and out, and with Nic Amhlaoibh’s flute and whistle playing that compliment the other two.

They pick their spots for touring these days, but they are not to be missed if they come your way anytime soon on this tour where you can buy the new CD which also has a great cover of Andy Irvine’s “Never Tire of the Road” which has great meaning for this band.

There also may be a few stray copies available through Donal Clancy’s favorite mother-in-law, Terry Rafferty at

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Dueling Irish music styles on display

CHAMPAIGN-URBANA - On Tuesday, the night before St. Patrick's Day, Irish music fans in the twin cities will be faced with a choice: traditional folk or punk rock?
In a coincidence of scheduling, two bands that show the extremes of Irish music will perform. The first is folk supergroup Danu, which hails from Ireland and has been one of the most influential traditional folk groups on the Irish music scene for more than 15 years. It will be playing at the Krannert Center in Urbana.
The second is The Tossers, Chicago natives and festival staples who play the popular subgenre of "Celtic-punk" and symbolize a contemporary, blue-collar spin on traditional music. They play at The Highdive in downtown Champaign.
The question is inevitable: Which to pick?
Benny McCarthy, the button accordion player for Danu, believes the crossover in fans between the two groups is larger than most people might think.
"We have many fans who are also fans of Celtic-punk; it is all music, after all," he said. "I think the younger generation of listener can handle both styles, but maybe for the older generation, Celtic-punk might be a little too different or a little too loud. Still, it's good to have choices."
Tossers guitar player Mike Pawula, who has been with the group for almost 11 years, says their show offers a live stage presence that traditional music may lack.
"I have always though that this band is more of a live band than a recorded band," Pawula said. "The appeal of this style is working-class music and no frills. We've never changed our sound to be more like other successful Celtic-punk groups."
Irish-themed bands with members born in America occasionally face accusations of being "McIrish," or not authentic. Pawula defends his group.
"Some people do bring up our roots with a certain amount of disdain," he said. "We're just trying to put on a good show. We're an American band that plays Irish-American music."
Such accusations are obviously not a problem for Danu, which instead faces the challenge of traveling to another country and attempting to engage a foreign culture that may be largely unfamiliar with traditional Irish music. As a rule, however, McCarthy has found American audiences very supportive.
"The reception in the U.S. is our favorite; people here really love what we do," McCarthy said. "It's really fun to make a living out of my favorite pastime."
Ultimately, Tuesday's Irish dilemma boils down to a matter of choice. The Tossers' Pawula described it as "easy listening vs. fast rocking," and he promised his band would be in tip-top shape at this point in their tour.
"We're looking forward to doing new material for the live audience," he said. "We'll be in our stride and in great spirits when we hit Champaign."
Meanwhile, Benny McCarthy of Danu promised an authentic experience for those tired of green beer.
"We are the real McCoy, and we are playing the real stuff," he said. "I think anybody interested in what Ireland is really about should come check out this concert."
WHO: Danu.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 16.
WHERE: Tryon Festival Theatre, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana.
TICKETS: $14 to $26 from the Krannert ticket office, 333-6280.
WHO: The Tossers, with Night Brigade.
WHEN: Doors open, 8 p.m.; Night Brigade, 9 p.m.; The Tossers, 10 p.m. Tuesday, March 16.
WHERE: The Highdive, 51 E. Main St., Champaign.
TICKETS: $12 at the Highdive box office or Age 19 and over only.

Irish folk band Altan concert to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

By Adobe Staff
In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, one of the most dynamic and exciting bands playing Irish music today will perform at

7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande.

Led by world-renowned fiddler and vocalist Mair/ad N’ Mhaonaigh, the Irish folk band Altan emerged during the 1990s as one of Ireland’s premier traditional musical groups.

Since then, the group has sold millions of records worldwide and is known for many critically acclaimed albums and a relentless touring schedule, a Clark Center spokesman said.

Altan has developed an international audience for what is essentially an unadorned and straightforward presentation of the traditional music and song the members grew up with, the spokesman said.

The group is unique in the way it is able to imbue a fresh approach to that tradition while maintaining the respect of peers and friends in the world of Irish music.

The Claddagh School of Irish Dance, will open the show for Altan.

The school was begun by Maire O’Connell in Ventura and now has eight locations that compete in solo and group dances locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

It has produced champions at all levels, including at the 2009 world championships held for the first time in the United States.

The San Luis Obispo studio is under the guidance of RaChelle Burke.

Tickets at $35 to $45 are available by calling 489-9444, visiting the Clark Center box office at 487 Fair Oaks Ave. and online at

Irish stars at Katharine Cornell: Crawford and Vallely

Irish traditional music masters Kevin Crawford and Cillian Vallely create a melodic, lyrical beauty that flows like a clear mountain stream. They are making the last stop of their nine-town New England tour at Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven this coming Saturday evening at 7:30, before beginning a tour as members of the Irish super group Lunasa in April. Boston's Ted Davis will provide guitar accompaniment.

Kevin Crawford, left, and Cillian Vallely perform Saturday. Click on photo to enlarge. Photo courtesy of KCT Concerts
Mr. Crawford and Mr. Vallely, who performed here last year to rave reviews, began performing as a duet with the release of the album, "Common Ground" last year, an album the Irish American newspaper, The Irish Echo, ranked number three on its list of top 10 Irish albums of 2009, calling it "A pinnacle performance from...two uncommonly gifted Irish traditional musicians."

Kevin Crawford was born in Birmingham, England and now lives in Ennis, County Claire. He has played with Moving Cloud, Foxglove, and Grianan among others. His recording career spans more than 15 years. He excels on the flute, whistle, and is an accomplished bodhran player (an Irish drum). He often sprinkles his concerts with humor, sharing his wealth of knowledge of traditional Irish music between songs.

Cillian Vallely has played on the Vineyard many times since his first visit with Billy Kelly in the early 90s. He learned to play Irish music as a child from his parents, who are both well-known Irish musicians and founders of the Armagh Pipers' Club, a group that has fostered the revival of traditional music in Ireland's north for more than three decades. Mr. Vallely plays uilleann pipes (Irish bag pipes) and the low whistle.

He has become one of the most prominent musicians in contemporary Irish music and has recorded on more than 40 albums. He was featured as the uilleann pipe soloist in the Broadway production of "Riverdance" and toured with Nashville singer Tim O'Brien in "The Crossing." Mr. Vallely has played with Natalie Merchant, Fairport Convention, and Moody Blues. He has played with Lunasa since 1999.

KCT Concerts has developed a series of traditional and traditionally influenced concerts over the years that surely rival similar attempts anywhere. This duo plays with a relaxed professionalism and intensity that allow them to blur the line between traditional structure and modern improvisation. They will no doubt be high notes in KCT Concerts' unfinished symphony.

KCT Concerts presents Kevin Crawford and Cillian Vallely, 7:30 pm, Saturday, March 13, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $25; $20 in advance; free for children. Tickets available at Aboveground Records, Island Entertainment, Alleys, Scottish Bakehouse, Oak Bluffs General Store. 508-693-6996; 693-6237;

Age no bar to genius as piper Potts goes solo at 80

Traditional music legend Sean Potts has proven that age is no barrier to productivity by releasing his first solo recording of music on the tin whistle entitled, Number Six, months before his 80th birthday.

Mr Potts, who will receive the TG4 Gradam Ceoil lifetime achievement award at a ceremony in Wexford next week, is celebrating the launch of his CD, which is a fundraiser for uilleann pipes organisation Na Piobairi Uilleann.

The founder member of The Chieftains and Ceoltoiri Chualann was joined by fellow Dubliners -- film star and keen trad musician Brendan Gleeson and singer-songwriter Damien Dempsey -- to mark the launch of the record, which he hopes will generate much-needed funds to help promote the manufacture of the uilleann pipes and the further development of the piping headquarters in historic Henrietta Street.

Since retiring from touring as a professional musician, Mr Potts has dedicated over 30 years of his life to the promotion of the uilleann pipes in his role as chairman and now honorary president of NPU.

However, it is Mr Potts' whistle playing, described by his former Chieftains colleague Paddy Moloney as "the greatest he as ever heard", that made him famous all over the world and Number Six is a celebration of his rich musical legacy.

Number Six refers to the house of Sean's grandfather John Potts, situated in the Coombe in Dublin's Liberties. John Potts was a prominent piper and his house was an important centre forIrish music.

Irish Independent

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Review: Chieftains, Cooder merge music on new CD

The Chieftains Featuring Ry Cooder, "San Patricio" (Hear Music)

"Riverdance" visits the Rio Grande on "San Patricio," an unlikely but likable merger of music from Ireland and Mexico.

The album tells the story of Irish immigrants who deserted the U.S. Army in 1846 to fight on the side of the Mexicans against the invading Yankees. Known as the San Patricio battalion, the immigrants were scorned in the United States, but they're remembered as heroes in Mexico.

The Chieftains bring history alive with their characteristic exuberance and grace, and a parade of guest artists help celebrate a confluence of musical genres. Ry Cooder, who co-produced with the Chieftains' Paddy Moloney, contributes an original ballad, and there are fine performances by singers Linda Ronstadt, Lila Downs and 92-year-old Chavela Vargas, among others.

Included are a lullaby and march, airs and reels from Ireland, as well as Mexican sones, boleros and canciones rancheras. Uilleann pipes give way to trumpets, and the bajo sexto alternates with the tin whistle.

The musical merger might seem like trying to fit a square peg through a round guitarron hole. But by the 19th and final cut, a joyful 5 1/2-minute medley, labels are forgotten and the styles of the two countries have become one.

CHECK THIS OUT: "El Caballo" is fusion at its finest, with verses in Spanish interspersed with frantic Irish fiddle breaks, all to a jumpy Mexican rhythm.

Read more:

Beoga brings its 'lively' Irish sound to Albright

The Star Series and Albright College will present the Irish band Beoga, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Albright College Chapel. Opening for Beoga will be local musicians Ken Gehret and Irish Mist; Beoga will also hold a workshop on Irish music from 5 to 6 p.m. in the chapel, free and open to the public.

Based in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, which includes the city of Belfast, Beoga (the Irish word for "lively") was founded in 2002 when its five members jammed together at the All-Ireland Fleadh. Their lineup is unique: two button accordionists (Sean Og Graham and Damian McKee), pianist Liam Bradley, singer/songwriter and fiddler Niamh Dunne and four-time all-Ireland bodhran champion Eamon Murray.They released their first CD, "a lovely madness" in 2004, and it became one of the top traditional/folk albums of the year in Ireland. They went on to record "Mischief" in 2007, and, in 2009 they released their latest CD, "The Incident."

In a recent telephone interview, Murray said the show Beoga is bringing to the Albright Chapel will "get everybody involved, and get everyone on their feet, as we'll be trying to re-create the sound on our record."

He said all the band members grew up with Irish music, and the music they play is based on the traditional tunes, although they don't always stay within the genre. (They have been known to include blues, Astor Piazzolla-style jazz and New Orleans sounds in their particular mix.)

"All of the band had music in their families," Murray said. "I have three sisters who are very musical. We are really fortunate that way."

In fact, Dunne, who joined the band in 2005, is the daughter of Uillean piper Mickey Dunne, famous among traditional Irish-music fans and performers.

As for his own background, Murray said he tried every instrument before settling on the bodhran. He and Sean Og Graham studied music at the University of Limerick; Murray also studied ethnomusicology at Queens University in Belfast.

"I really enjoyed the anthropological aspect of it," he said.

Most of his research was done in Ireland, particularly on the bodhran and Irish musicians.

He said studying music from the perspective of an anthropologist gave him the ability to look at music-making from the third-person vantage point, and see how musicians engage with others within the society.

Graham, in addition to his work with the accordion, is a guitarist. Bradley is known for his accompaniments for Irish dancing; McKee is a composer and teacher; and Dunne, also a graduate of the University of Limerick, is a classical violinist as well as a fiddler.

Since their debut in 2002, the band has made a number of TV and radio appearances, and has toured extensively in Europe and the United States.

In 2007 they performed live on television with the BBC Orchestra as part of the prestigious and enormously popular "Last Night of the Proms." They have become a staple at Celtic and folk festivals, including the Boston ICONS festival, the North Texas Irish Festival, the Milwaukee Irish Fest, the World Fleadh, Germany's Irish Folk Festival tour, and the Irish Unplugged tour of Holland.

Murray said that while most of their songs are covers, about 80 percent of the instrumentals are original music, and about 70 percent of what they play is instrumental.

Contact Susan L. Peé?a:

Celebrating 200 years of Irish melodies

The historic, patriotic, and romantic music of Ireland is being brought to life at the Thomas Moore Festival on Monday, March 15 at the legendary Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Known as the “Bard of Erin,” Thomas Moore is best remembered as the writer and performer of “Moore's Irish Melodies” which, it was said, would “outlive Ireland.”

Thomas Moore was born on the corner of Aungier Street in Dublin on May 28, 1779. His father hailed from an Irish speaking Gaeltacht in Co. Kerry and his mother from Co. Wexford. He was educated at Trinity College which at the end of the 18th century, had begun to allow entry to Catholic students.

It was as a poet, translator, balladeer and singer that Moore found fame. His work soon became immensely popular and he is thought of as the most enduring representative of Ireland’s musical culture. His 124 songs, the “Irish Melodies,” commonly called “Moore's Melodies,” were published in 1846 and 1852. The collection was based on the finest Irish airs collected from traveling harpers, whose traditions died out in Ireland during Moore’s lifetime.

Moore brought Irish music to every corner of the globe with songs such as “The Last Rose of Summer,” and “Believe Me if all Those Endearing Young Charms.” Moore’s legacy is a lofty one - he is known as the pioneer of Irish music’s global popularity for two hundred years and he is counted among Ireland's national treasures.

Founded in 2008 to mark the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Thomas Moore's Irish Melodies, the award-winning Thomas Moore Festival continues to celebrate Moore's vital contribution to Irish culture and heritage, simultaneously promoting exciting young Irish vocal talents.

Since its inception, the festival has held a national competition for young singers in Ireland. What began as a one time event, gained remarkable momentum and prompted organizers to initiate a concert touring program of more than 40 performances to date which have been viewed by over 70, 000 people in Ireland.

Now, the festival is set for its American debut. Following a performance at Westmoreland UCC in Washington D.C. on Saturday, March 13, the gifted troupe, including Dean Powers and Rachel Kelly, will give a recital at Carnegie Hall on March 15 at 8 p.m.

Tickets are priced at just $25.00 and can be purchased at Carnegie Hall’s Box Office – or by calling 212-247-7800.

The group has also produced a box set recording of all the Irish Melodies extending to over eight hours of music – the only offering that features all of Moore’s Melodies in one set. The collection is available online at

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Beoga: A new era in Irish music

In keeping with its tradition of featuring Irish music for St. Patrick's Day, the Barre Opera House Celebration Series will present Beoga on Friday, March 12, at 8 p.m. If you haven't heard or heard of Beoga before, you'll be happy to know that this young band from County Antrim in the north of Ireland extends the high quality as yet another exciting musical ensemble from Erin.

Beoga represents a new era of Irish music. The formative first wave included groups like Planxty, the Chieftains and The Boys of the Lough. In the second wave came Patrick Street, Altan and Dervish, among others. Beoga (Gaelic for "lively") represents the third wave. Here we have younger musicians imbued with both the heritage of their traditional music and, also, a more worldly outlook that encompasses rock music, the blues, elements of world music and other influences.

Beoga has, to this reviewer's ear, a bit more of a percussive approach, with an emphasis on accordions and keyboard, as well as fiddle, guitar and bodhran. It's a somewhat different sound than heard in other Irish groups as there are no whistles or flutes, and keyboards often carry the musical energy. And it works well.

Beoga also composes a lot of its material including many of its own jigs and reels in its repertoire and recordings. These musicians are fine composers and their own tunes certainly could be mistaken for traditional melodies.

While the group's bedrock sound lies firmly within the Irish tradition Beoga is not afraid to incorporate other genres' nuances into their music. You'll hear some bluesy riffs and Astor Piazzola-style jazz, and a bit of raunchy New Orleans jamboree vibe which gives the music a wonderfully bouncy traditional sound. I think this band likes to have fun as well as being an adventurous ensemble.

The Irish Times stated, "Individually talented and collectively inspired, (Beoga) speaks a language called music with a fluency beloved of the best multi-linguists."

Their YouTube videos are really wonderful. Ah youth! There is a real energy here and their name "lively" certainly seems appropriate. Watching them I had a sense that they are not yet jaded by years on the road and still find the music they play fun. The band members also feed off of each other's energy in a way that is refreshing and entertaining.

This quintet formed in 2002 after "jamming" in a session at the All-Ireland Fleadh (a series of musical competitions that judges players on a variety of traditional Irish instruments). From its inception Beoga has featured the twin accordions of Damian McKee and multi-instrumentalist Seán Óg Graham, a rarity in Irish music; pianist Liam Bradley; and four times All-Ireland bodhran champion Eamon Murray. In 2005, the group added Niamh Dunne on vocals and fiddle. Hers is a lovely voice, silky and emotive. She hardly looks old enough for such a mature voice and stylish fiddling.

In 2004, the band released its debut album "a lovely madness," to critical and popular acclaim in Ireland, Europe and America. The repertoire included self-penned tunes and inventive arrangements and was chosen one of the "Top Trad/Folk Albums" of the year. At that time, Irish Music Magazine declared Beoga to be a "phenomenon" and the group was nominated for the 2005 best traditional newcomer's award.

"This rhythm-oriented contemporary reworking of heritage is unbeatable," wrote Philadelphia City Paper.

Beoga now has three really fine CDs and has performed worldwide gaining a variety of accolades from music writers.

The future of Irish music will be on the stage at the Opera House on March 12. If you are a fan of the music this is a concert you should plan to attend.

Irish band SlideIE to play Kirkland

By Jim Vorel, Herald and Review, Decatur, Ill.
Mar. 5--Eamonn De Barra grew up immersed in the traditional music of his homeland, Ireland. His bandmates, a collective of equally enthusiastic Irishmen, wanted to name their band after a traditional tune type in Irish music, the "slide."

It wasn't until they found success and began touring in America that this proved a problem.

"It turns out there was already some kind of '80s hair band named Slide, so we had to tack an 'IE' for Ireland on," De Barra explained. "Now we're just SlideIE."

SlideIE has gone on to popularity as a front-runner of a new wave of young Irish bands that are bringing contemporary energy to traditional music. The band brings its new sound to Millikin on Wednesday.

"We've been hitting universities and Irish festivals in the states," said De Barra, whose group began a U.S. tour last month. "We're really enjoying the university shows. It's great to be making a connection with the younger generation and be bringing them a new form of high-powered Irish music."

Although the group has been recording and touring since 2001, the members have only recently perfected the sound they had always been seeking. It took three studio albums and a live album to get there. Finally, the addition of singer, multi-instrumentalist and Galway native Dave Curley put the group over the top, in De Barra's eyes.

"He's really turning heads," De Barra said, chuckling. "He's just slotted in perfectly, and we've been expanding our reach and our sound ever since. I think this is the sound that we always really wanted."

Traditional Irish music, and folk music in general, can seem monotonous or uninteresting to a young crowd used to a faster pace, De Barra said. But SlideIE's music defies the traditional mold while still featuring the instruments and influences of its homeland.

"The one thing that people who have never heard this music should understand is that the music is very lively," De Barra said. "There's so much energy. In the past, the physicality of traditional music hasn't always come through, but that's not the case here. If you're coming to the show, bring your dancing shoes. I'm serious."

The band members are not content simply to play shows and record albums. They also teach their instruments to less-experienced musicians whenever possible, even when on tour. The band hosts workshops for high school and college musicians at many of its touring stops. The group's six members teach fiddle, concertina, guitar, flute, mandolin, bouzouki (an Irish derivative of the Greek instrument), banjo and bodhran (a handheld Irish drum).

De Barra said the group would consider opening a school of music down the line to teach the next generation of Irish musicians.

But not just now. As De Barra sees it, the future belongs to SlideIE. In five years, he hopes to still be with the group, forging ahead and innovating new twists on old sounds. He said the enjoyment of introducing new music to young people is what keeps him motivated.

WHO: SlideIE.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 10.

WHERE: Kirkland Fine Arts Center, Millikin University, Decatur.

TICKETS: $6 to $16 at the Kirkland box office, 424-6318.

ON THE WEB: 421-7973


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