Patrick Clifford’s story is one that is familiar to many Irish-American music makers. From childhood accordion lessons in the Bronx with legendary traditional Irish music teacher, Martin Mulvihill, he went on to explore the New York City rock scene as a bassist, only to find himself being called back to the music of his roots as an adult.
Just as Clifford was looking to scratch his Irish music itch, an up and coming band out of Woodside, Four to the Bar, was in need of a bassist who knew Irish music. Clifford auditioned, got the job, and spent five years playing with David Yeates, Martin Kelleher and Keith O’Neill as a member of one of the most sought after NYC Irish bands of the 1990s. “It was a blast all along,” Clifford said of the era when he experienced Four to the Bar evolve from a pub band to a well-loved and well-respected quartet worthy of playing with Pete Seeger and opening for Sharon Shannon. Four to The Bar recorded three albums together, including Craic on the Road, one of my all-time favorite live recordings of an Irish band. Every second of the CD sounds like the four are in their glory bringing Irish music to people’s ears as they light the crowd on fire on a summer’s night in a Bronx pub.
A lot has changed for Patrick Clifford since the band dissolved in 1996. He took a long hiatus from playing music publicly, moved to western New Jersey to begin a family, and set out on his journey as a solo artist. But some things remained the same – his love of music, his passion for singing Irish standards, and his talent as an instrumentalist, a singer, and a songwriter. He’s been writing, producing, and recording music at a steady pace lately – releasing “American Wake” in 2010, and his most recent album, “Chance of A Start” earlier this month.
In a recent conversation with Clifford, he spoke about how his sound has been shaped by his experience as an Irish American (his parents both hail from Kerry), “I do what I do, it is Irish at its heart with an American manifestation”. The music on “Chance of A Start” is evidence of this – the 10 tracks the album are a mix of Clifford’s original material and classic Irish songs like “The Parting Glass,” “The Ferryman,” and “Freeborn Man of the Traveling People.” When I asked him about the songs on the album, Clifford replied, “These are songs I love.”
Not only does Clifford have the chance to share the songs he loves on his albums, but he also shares the music of his roots over the radio air waves. The first Sunday of every month you’ll find Patrick Clifford behind the mic at WDVR, 89.7FM, a non-profit New Jersey Radio station, where he spins contemporary Irish music from 11 a.m.–1 p.m.
Through his solo work, his unique arrangements of Irish standards, and his work at WDVR, it’s clear that Patrick Clifford’s contribution to Irish music in America reaches far beyond his days with Four to the Bar.
You can find out more about Clifford’s music and pick up your copy of Chance of a Start at patrickclifford.com.
For some Irish sounds around town this week check out Julie Feeney at Highline Ballroom in NYC on 10/24, Broken Banjo Strings at An Beal Bocht Café in the Bronx on 10/27, and the Billy Keenan Band at the Glenrowan in Yonkers on 10/27.