Tuesday, 16 March 2010
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
accordion achill activities Affiliate Program Alan Kelly Alan Shatter Alasdair Roberts Alison Krauss All Ireland Fleadh Altan Andy Irvine antrim archive armagh Arthur McBride Arts Arts and Entertainment Arts Council Arty McGlynn Athlone Baltimore band banjo Bantry Barney McKenna Baroque music Bill Whelan Bluegrass music bodhran Bodhrán bouzouki brendan begley Brendan Dolan brian boru Brian Conway Brian Cunningham Brock McGuire Band bunsatty Caoimhin O Raghallaigh Cape Breton Castlebar Cathy Davey Cavan cd ceili celtic Celtic music Celtic rock ceol charlie lennon Chicago chieftains christmas Christmas music Christy Moore ciorras clancy Clancy Brothers classes classical music comhaltas Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Compact Disc Compass Records concert concertina Concerts and Events Connemara Conradh na Gaeilge Cootehill cork Cork County Council Cork University Press Cormac De Barra County Clare County Leitrim Céilidh Céilí Band Damien Dempsey Dance Dancing at Lughnasa Danny Boy danu Dave Swarbrick De Dannan Declan Sinnott Deezer Derry dervish dkit Dolores Keane Donegal Donegal Fiddle Tradition Donnacha Dennehy doolin drisheen Drogheda Drumkeeran drums Drumshanbo dublin Dubliners dun uladh Dundalk Dáithí Sproule Dán Dónal Lunny early music East Clare Ed Reavy Education Eileen Ivers Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin Eleanor McEvoy Electric Picnic emer mayock ennis European Union Fairytale of New York Feakle feis Feis Ceoil felix dolan festival Festivals fidde fiddle Fiddling Film festival Fleadh Fleadh Cheoil Fleadh Cheoil Competition Céilí Band Jig Comhaltas Fleadh Cheoil fleadh nua flute Folk music Folk music of Ireland folklore france outdoors Francis O'Neill Frank Harte Frankie Gavin frankie kennedy free download Gaeilge gael-linn Gaelic galway Galway Arts Festival galway bay George Bernard Shaw gig glor goodman manuscripts Grammy Award Green Linnet Records group Grouse Lodge Guinness guitar harp hinse history holidays hornpipe Iarla Ó Lionáird iPhone Ireland irish Irish American irish arts centre irish dance irish flute Irish language irish music Irish people Irish Recorded Music Association irish times irish traditional music Irish Traditional Music Archive irish whistle IrishCentral IrishTimes irishtune.info Israel itma Ivan Goff jack coen JAMES JOYCE James Joyce Centre Jig jigs Joanie Madden Joe Derrane John Carty John Doyle John McCusker John McKenna John McSherry john spillane John Wynne Julie Fowlis Junior Crehan Karan Casey Karen Matheson Kathleen MacInnes Kevin Crawford Kilfenora Kilfenora Céilí Band Latin America Le Vent du Nord learn Len Graham Leopold Bloom Lieutenant of Inishmore Literature Liz Carroll London London Irish Centre Lord of the Dance louisburgh lunasa Lúnasa MacTalla Mor Maggie MacInnes mairtin o'connor Malawi Mandolin Margaret Bennett Martin Carthy martin fay Martin Hayes Martin McDonagh Martin Quinn Mary Bergin Mary Black Maryland Massachusetts Matt Molloy mayo McMahon Merry Sisters of Fate Michael Flatley Michael Rooney Michael Tubridy Micho Russell Mick Moloney mick o'brien milwaukee Monaghan Moya Brennan mp3 Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh music Music festival Music of Ireland Musical composition Máirtín O'Connor Máirtín Ó Direáin Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin Natasha McShane Neil Young New York Noel Hill Northern Ireland npu NUIG o'carolan omagh Orkney Paddy Fahey paddy keenan paddy moloney paddy o'brien Padraig Rynne passionfruit theatre Paul Brady penny whistle pennywhistle Peter Horan Philadelphia Philip Duffy piano pipes Planxty podcast Poetry Pogues Quebec radio radisson Raidió Teilifís Éireann recording reel reels riverdance Robert Downey Jr Ronan Browne Ronnie Drew Roscommon rose of tralee rowsome Royal Irish Academy of Music RTÉ Concert Orchestra Ryan Molloy Saint Patrick's Day school scoil acla Scoil Éigse scotland Seachtain na Gaeilge Sean Nós sean tyrell Sean-nós song session Set dancing Seán Ó Ríordáin Shanachie Records shannon shannonside Sharon Shannon shetland show singer Singing Skara Brae Sliabh Luachra sligo solas Sorley MacLean st.patrick stephen ducke Streaming media Stuart MacRae summer school Séan O'Riada séan potts teada teetotallers tg4 the forge theatre Tin whistle Tommy McCarthy Tommy Peoples Tommy Sands Toner Quinn Town Hall Theatre trad trad music traditional Traditional Folk and Celtic Traditional music tradmusiconline.com tradschool trocaire Tulla Tulla Céilí Band tune makers tunepal tutorial tv uilleann pipes Ulysses University of Limerick vallely Van Morrison venue Vermont video Violin W. B. Yeats Waterford westmeath whistle willie Willie Clancy Willie Walsh workshop workshops world fleadh