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Crumlin’s black rebel

POSTED ON May 7th  - POSTED IN Arts

” A History of Irish Music” — an extract

File photo: Remembering Phil Lynott ahead of his 65th Birthday

Phil Lynott in 1984. PHOTOCALL IRELAND

By Larry Kirwan

It was hard to ignore Phil Lynott. He was like a force of nature breezing through the Dublin streets, often times a bunch of inner-city kids trailing and flailing behind him as though he was a reincarnated pied piper – and this was long before he gained international fame and fortune as the lead singer of Thin Lizzy.

It wasn’t only because Phil was black that he stood out in a Dublin that was then very homogenous; no, he was just larger than life, and in the nicest possible way. Perhaps one of his most endearing traits was that he had a very thick Dublin accent. Now I don’t know whether he cultivated this, but it was quite stunning for an ignoramus like me up from the bogs of Wexford to hear a black man give forth in a Crumlin accent.

His mother, Philomena Lynott had emigrated to Birmingham after World War II. There she had a relationship with an Afro-Guyanese man, Cecil Parris; although he offered to marry her when Phil was conceived, she declined. Thus Phil was illegitimate at a time when such a state was socially frowned upon, to put it mildly; add Phil’s color to the mix and one can see the difficulties the young woman confronted. Philomena sent him home to be raised by his grandmother while she worked on in the UK to provide money for his upkeep. By sheer force of character he blunted the racism and social stigma that one might expect in a tough working class environment of the 1950’s and he soon became the most popular boy in his school.

But Phil was always bent on musical expression and achieving rock stardom. By the time I first saw him he already had considerable flair and a well-developed eye for the camera. Tall and rail thin, with a stylish Afro, and a bandana or two streaming behind him, he looked not unlike an Irish Hendrix.

One night my flat-mate, Pierce Turner, and I were having our weekly dinner out at the Luna, a Chinese Restaurant that perched over O’Connell Street, just across from the GPO; lo and behold, who sat down at the table next to us but Phil and Eric Bell of the recently formed Thin Lizzy! After exchanging cursory greetings, we returned to our food but kept our ears cocked for any pearls of wisdom that might drop from the mouths of these demigods.

The gist of the conversation was that Lynott felt they had to move to London, but Bell was reluctant. Phil did most of the talking, insisting that they’d never make it “if they got stuck in Ireland.” The phrase stayed with me as I was feeling much the same myself.

I can’t emphasize enough just what an impact “Whiskey in the Jar” had on the youth of Ireland. It exploded out of mono car speakers – everyone played it at full volume, a Paddy anthem of self-affirmation. Phil’s voice seemed to probe the song’s very soul while Eric’s overdriven guitar was a melodic revelation. This was our music, something we’d been waiting for all our lives, and it was rawer and funkier than anything we could have imagined.

I didn’t see Phil again until October 1977. Eric was long gone by then. He quit Lizzy in the middle of a New Year’s Eve concert, throwing his guitar into the air and pushing his amps into the front rows of the audience. The constant touring, drug and alcohol abuse finally took their toll. There were persistent rumors about such doings in the band, yet Phil seemed as clean as a whistle at the Palladium on 14th Street when Lizzy topped the bill with Graham Parker & The Rumour opening.

I went along for sentimental reasons but, in truth, I was more interested in Parker and the new Punk sound that was coming out of London. Many in the audience must have felt the same for a significant portion left during the changeover.

At first Lizzy seemed jaded: the rock-star lights and smoke machines dated them. And then Phil took control. I’m not sure what he said to his band-mates but it was vitriolic and spat from the teeth. The house might not be full, but this was Thin Lizzy from Crumlin, the boys were back in town, tonight there was going to be a jailbreak, and suddenly the band jelled, kicked arse, and it was Dublin 1969 all over again with everything to play for and no prisoners taken until after the final sweaty encore.

Up in the crowded dressing room, Phil was his usual courteous, friendly self. But I could tell he was disassociated from everything that was happening in that champagne room; nor did he take a drink, just stood with his back to the wall. No one mentioned Graham Parker but he was on Phil’s mind. The black rebel from Crumlin was now the establishment and the Punk barbarians were at the gates. Was it my imagination or was Phil wishing he was down the hall in the opener’s dressing room plotting world domination?

I was deeply shocked when the news broke on a bitter 1986 January morning that Phil had passed away. I won’t say it was the end of innocence – far from it, for I had tasted many things myself by then. I was sad for days and then I filed it away with all the other Rock ‘n’ Roll train wrecks. In the end, you have your own life to live and, callous though it may seem, you thank your lucky stars it wasn’t you.

I find it really hard to look at Phil’s statue in Dublin; I usually give it a curt nod and pass on. It’s a mere parody of the man who swaggered down those streets, the very life force exploding out of him. Nah, instead I stop every time I hear him electrify “Whiskey in the Jar,” and I crack a smile – and often a bottle – for the black Crumlin rebel who gave light and hope to so many of us who set off on our own Rock ‘n’ Roll journeys.

“A History of Irish Music” can be purchased from the shop at www.black47.com, as well as at amazon.com, B&N.com and all online outlets, or ordered from any bookstore.

 

Questions for Tara Erraught

POSTED ON May 6th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

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Tara Erraught.

PHOTO: KRISTIN SPEED

Tara Erraught, the 28-year-old mezzo-soprano from Dundalk, Co. Louth, will make her U.S. debut on Monday in Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” at Washington National Opera, Washington, DC, (with performances also on May 15 and 17).

It’s been a rapid rise for Erraught – the daughter of two chefs, both of who teach at college level – since she joined the studio at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich in 2008.

“They call it ‘breakthrough’ when a star is born. And this is exactly what happened in Munich‘s Nationaltheater,” wrote a German critic in 2011. “What astounding sense for nuances and control of phrasing at this young age. Tara Erraught creates moments of wonder. She shows a sensibility that is key to Bellini – and to the hearts of the cheering audience.”

When she appeared the 2014 production of “Der Rosenkavalier” at Glyndebourne, the critics universally praised her singing, with the Guardian saying: “Erraught was touching… every moment beautifully sung and acted, ardent and appealing. Her voice is rich with dark glints and bright promise and she offered some of the best singing of the evening.”

Now that she is about to sing on this side of the Atlantic for the first time, the Irish Echo asked her to take time out to answer a few questions.

Tell us something about your family back in Ireland. Do they get to see you perform outside Ireland? 

Let me start by saying, I feel incredibly lucky to be Irish. Many people say “you cannot be a prophet in your own town,” and coming from Ireland, I can tell you, this is just not the case. Not only do my parents and extended family often come to see me all over the continent of Europe, but I have been blessed with wonderful engagements in Ireland, including my first Gala concert with the RTE National Symphony orchestra, this coming June 5. My family have been an incredible support since my first singing lesson aged 10, everything from driving me to lessons, competitions, piano lessons, you name it, to gathering 10 family members together (including my parents, grandparents, brother and sister) to fly to Vienna for my opening night of “La Cenerentola.” With such support, you can only ever be grateful. But I am also very proud to tell you that, a group of 65 people from my home town of Dundalk flew to Vienna for my house debut as Rosina in Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.” So, not only do my family support me both at home and abroad, the country stands behind me too! Lucky girl, or what?

How important a milestone is your U.S. debut?

I am over the moon to be making my U.S. opera debut. In 2008 at the Belvedere competition in Vienna, I was awarded the Washington National Opera prize. I have looked forward to this debut ever since. To be able to debut with such a wonderful company in one of my most beloved roles, is a dream come true. There are so many amazing companies here and I am elated to begin my American journey. I am having a ball rehearsing and cannot wait to share this incredible music with the audience here.

The controversy [for more on that, see May 6 print edition] that swirled around you in 2014, it seems, has only helped your career in that it was about how you looked in a particular role rather than a commentary on your abilities. Do you agree?

In the first week of studying, my teacher told me “Darling you never read reviews during a run of shows.” This is one of the many wise pieces of advice I live by, and it has served me well. Octavian is a milestone in any mezzo’s career, and I learned a huge amount from it, and in turn I do believe it helped me indeed. I had no idea what had been said and did not read anything during my run of 13 shows, spanning six weeks. My job is to tell my characters story to the people in the audience each night, and that is exactly what I did.

Tell us something about what you do in your spare time, if indeed if there is any? Any past-times and passions that aren’t directly related to your job?

I do indeed have spare time. One must always find time to live, or your art becomes less real. So indeed, it is a necessity. Also vocal rest is very important. When I am on contract somewhere for an opera, I love to sight-see. I always do “the big bus tour.” One of the greatest ways to see a city and decide what you should hop off and look into.

I love to socialize, and always search out a good coffee place, coffees and chats. I am blessed with good friends, not just at home, or in Munich, where I live now, but in our industry, we are just a large family of singers, you always meet people you know on the circuit, and we tend to eat and explore together. I am also a keen embroidery fan. I take a new project with me always! It keeps my hands busy and frees my mind.

I adore when I go home, to spend time with my family. We laugh till our sides hurt. When my brother, sister and I are together, it’s solid jokes for hours. Keeps my heart warm. God bless family!

Edited by Peter McDermott.

 

Sean O’Casey on the Upper East Side

POSTED ON May 5th  - POSTED IN Arts

english and hart

David English, left, and Wil Hart rehearse their respective roles of Johnny Boyle and IRA Mobiliser in “Juno and the Paycock.”

 

By Peter McDermott

pmcdermott@irishecho.com

The St. Jean’s Players are, it seems, an adaptable and versatile bunch.

Take Jay Fink, for instance. Not long ago, he played the central character of Tevye in the iconic “Fiddler on the Roof”; now he is set, lighting and sound designer for Sean O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock,” which will play for three performances this weekend at St. Jean’s Auditorium at 167 East 75 St. on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and three more next weekend.

“Jay was memorable in that,” said the production team’s Mark Rosenstein, “And he’s equally adept at using our limited resources in recreating a tenement in Dublin in the 1920s.

“We have to reinvent the wheel every time, because we don’t have storage space.” he added.

The mission of the St. Jean’s Players, said Rosenstein, is “to provide quality theater to the neighborhood at affordable prices.”

When it comes to casting, location helps greatly. “Being in New York, we have an embarrassment of riches,” he said. “Everybody flocks here.”

The producers narrowed down the applicants for the role of Mary Boyle to 15, for example. They called back five, before settling on Caitlin Boyle. “We’re very thrilled with her,” Rosenstein said.

“David English [Johnny Boyle] was so explosively perfect that we closed the book on the role as soon as we saw him,” he added.

They turned to Mark Singer, a veteran of St. Jean’s productions, for the role of “Captain” Jack Boyle. He previously played Atticus Finch in the adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the real-life Otto Frank in “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Generally, an amateur company like St. Jean’s can draw from a talented pool of ambitious young actors as well as a cadre of experienced older character actors. Finding a Juno, though, proved a “big challenge,” said Rosenstein, requiring as it did a middle-aged person with the skill and experience to do a complicated leading role.

Luckily, Katie Proulx joined the production three weeks ago. “She has shown an amazing gift to absorb all that dialogue in a short amount of time,” he said.

One of the cast of 13 provides a direct link to Ireland – Anthony O’Sullivan (who plays Jerry Devine) is from Buttevant, Co. Cork. As it happens, the father of director Patrick Mahoney, Pat Sr., is from Skibbereen, Co. Cork, while his mother Anne (Shea) Mahoney is from Waterville, Co. Kerry. “They live in Yonkers. They’re 56 years married,” said the third of their four sons.

The late John B. Keane, from Kerry, is a particular favorite of the director’s. “He’s brilliant,” said Mahoney, who has done productions of “Moll” and “Big Maggie.” Among Mahoney’s directorial credits, too, is a previous production of “Juno and the Paycock,” which was staged at the New York Irish Center.

“It’s a love song to O’Casey’s mother,” he said. “Juno is the most admirable person in the play. O’Casey himself called her the heroine.”

For Mahoney, O’Casey’s famed Dublin Trilogy in its entirety is “very moving,” but “Juno” takes place against the particularly tragic backdrop of the Irish Civil War of 1922-23, the struggle between Free Staters and Die-hards that comes to have a direct impact on the Boyle clan.

For a time, the popularity of O’Casey’s work with his fellow Dubliners kept the Abbey Theatre going. “His plays were the only ones that ran for longer than a week,” Mahoney said.

For many, including biographer Garry O’Connor, “Juno,” first staged in 1924 and adapted for the screen by Alfred Hitchcock in 1930, was his finest.

“I’d never experienced ‘Juno’ until Patrick brought it to my attention,” Rosenstein said. “Now I’m immersed in the work. I’m half-way through his biography. He was quite a character.”

One of his tasks for this production was to write “‘Juno’: The Playgoer’s Guide,” which explains how Free Stater ending up fighting Die-hard.

In a program note also, Rosenstein says that the play for him “has served as a portal to the fierce honesty, humanism, conscience and commitment to social justice of one of the 20th century’s towering writers, Sean O’Casey.”

Performances of “Juno and the Paycock” are at St. Jean’s H.S. Auditorium, 167 East 75th St., (between Third and Lexington Aves.) on Fridays (May 8, 15) and Saturdays (May 9, 16) at 8 p.m. and Sundays (May 10, 17) at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20, with a special rate of $10 for seniors and students to age 18. Reservations: (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com. Remaining tickets at the door ½ hour before curtain.

Spellbinding Hayes proves she’s special

POSTED ON May 4th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

gemma hayes

The work of Tipperary native Gemma Hayes has been featured on a number of primetime television shows, like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “One Tree Hill” and “Pretty Little Liars.”

By Colleen Taylor

Gemma Hayes has been giving Irish indie music a good name since 2002. In fact, Hayes stands as a founding figure of the rich singer-songwriter electro music scene thriving among so many burgeoning artists in Ireland today. She was one of the first Irish modern artists to forge new bonds between genres like folk and electronica. Still, general consensus seems to be that Hayes is underappreciated, that she hasn’t yet attainted the widespread, popular attention and reputation she is worthy of. Her latest album, “Bones + Longing,” however, might be her ticket to the fame she deserves. For me, what’s interesting about this latest album isn’t just its creative low-fi folk style, it’s also its blend of space and time. “Bones + Longing” is the Irish mythic imagination in musical form—a haunting, spellbinding kind of music that proves Hayes is something special.

Ballyporeen, Co. Tipperary, native Gemma Hayes got her start in 2001 at the age of 24 with the release of her first EP “4.35am” through a French record label. The following year, her career back in the UK and Ireland skyrocketed with the release of her debut album, “Night on My Side,” which won her not only the 2002 Hot Press Music Award for best female artist but also a Mercury Prize nomination for best album. A couple years later the singer re-located to LA, the birthplace of her second and third albums. Although those releases were not as dramatically successful as her first perhaps, they kept Hayes a beloved subject of music critics and indie-folk fans alike. Over the years, she earned the 2006 Meteor Ireland Music Award for best female artist, as well as a nomination in 2009, and MTV Ireland’s best female live artist in 2012.

Her tracks have been featured on a number of primetime television shows, like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “One Tree Hill” and “Pretty Little Liars,” as well as the film, “Janie Jones.” What’s more, she has participated in charitable music events, like “30 Songs/30 Days” to support women worldwide. Still, the recording studio is Hayes’s pinnacle of creativity and productivity, and she boasts of six accomplished original albums, as well as a number of EPs.

Released toward at end of 2014, “Bones + Longing” marks a real turning point for Hayes, as critics other than myself have noted. This album is more mystical, more emotive, and I would argue even more elegant than her previous works. “Bones + Longing” truly honors the folk integrity of Hayes’s genre meshes. It scales down the sounds so that her signature reverberations and electronic distortions truly enhance the melancholic, mystical feel of Hayes’s harmonies, rather than detract from them. The song “Palamino” is the perfect example of this. A soft, acoustic song with a hint of electronic echo on Hayes’s folksy vocals, the ultimate effect is a perfect match of lyric and style. “Palamino” is a clever, yet unsettling and somewhat sardonic take on the Western, romantic trope of hero on horseback: this time, Hayes gives us a woman on a “palamino” horse looking for a man. It somehow manages to be both charming and unsettling—a complex effect that boils down to Hayes’s seamless, unforced marriage of the folk genre with electro-rock adornments. “Iona” is another soft standout on the album. Sweet and enchanting, this track really spellbinds the listener with Hayes’s airy vocals and simple, yet powerful backing rock chords.

As much as this album might go against the grain of traditional music practice, it is, in sound and feel, spiritual to its core. What’s more, there’s something distinctly Irish about it. The culture is not there overtly, in national lyrics or in traces of trad. Rather, Hayes’s Irishness emerges through the imaginative realm of her album, its wistful reflections, its lyrical embrace of the magical and folkloric. Slightly gothicized folk, sounds that exist in the then and now, the there of other worlds and the here of modern day—that’s what makes this album stand out.

Give “Bones + Longing” (available on iTunes) a listen and learn more about Gemma Hayes at gemmahayes.com

Colleen Taylor is the Irish Echo’s “Music Notes” correspondent.

Festive doubleheader of performance and readings

POSTED ON April 30th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

A History of Irish Music cover
By Karen Daly

The Irish American Writers & Artists salon followed last week’s launch party for IAW&A President Larry Kirwan’s new book, “A History of Irish Music” at the Cell Theatre. After Malachy McCourt’s introduction, Larry enchanted the standing-room-only audience with a passage about the iconic blues guitarist Rory Gallagher.

Salon producer John Kearns hosted topnotch presentations that included music, memoir, poetry, fiction and humor.

In the fiction department, actress Mary Tierney read from an untitled novel-in-progress by Joseph Davidson. In this chapter set in 1966, a young woman hitchhikes from Kansas to San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury in search of love and peace. In Christy Kelly’s novel-in-progress called “Nobody Said,” two cops cruise the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx in the 1970s, when, Christy says, “The sky was pink with arson.” Stephanie Silber’s powerful first novel, “Other People’s Houses,” is a coming of age story set in the early 1970’s.

Poet Bernadette Cullen read “Ruminations While Standing on the Edge of the Precipice,” which she describes as a longish poem on uncomfortable “truths.”

Also for poetry lovers, Brendan Costello Jr. read the opening of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” He reworked that section as a Buzzfeed lifestyle article, proving that April may still be the “cruellest month,” but at least it’s user friendly:

“What I’ve found in this handful of dust might just haunt you for years to come!”

Among the true stories, Sean Carlson read a travel piece “Notes from Cambodia,” scheduled for publication this summer in Nowhere Magazine. Maura Mulligan, accompanied by the fiddler Marie Reilly, presented an excerpt from her memoir, “Call of the Lark.”

In the music department, Karl Scully, one of the Irish Tenors, graced us with a song, “My Lagan Love,” while singer/songwriter John Munnelly sang some of his original compositions. His new song about love, from a distance, was inspired by the title of Theresa Lennon Blunt’s memoir, “I Sailed the Sky in A Silver Ship.”

Malachy McCourt brought the night to a rollicking close delivering,
verse after verse of the Noël Coward (a salon first?) song about British officers in India, “I Wonder What Happened to Him?”

The next salon is on Tuesday, May 5, at Bar Thalia (Broadway at West 95th Street) beginning at 6 p.m. On Tuesday, May 19, at 7 p.m. at the Cell Theatre, IAW&A presents “The Amazing Library Variety Show” to benefit Urban Librarians Unite ($25 contribution); reservations should be made by emailing amazinglibraryshow@hotmail.com

Fresh or Frozen, Peas Rise to the Occasion

POSTED ON April 29th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Burdocks
Burdock’s, an iconic Dublin chipper.
PHOTO: MARGARET M. JOHNSON

By Margaret M. Johnson

As a food writer, I generally recommend using fresh ingredients — spices, herbs, vegetables, lemon juice — but when it comes to peas, I think frozen work pretty well in most recipes. They are, in fact, the only frozen vegetable I keep on hand for mushy peas to serve with fish ‘n chips, or as a side dish to accompany lamb, poultry, or salmon. Grab a bag and try one of these springtime recipes.

Pea and Parmesan Crostini
Makes 16
This simple topping for classic crostini will win rave reviews for its originality and taste.
1 loaf Italian or French bread, cut into 16 slices
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bag (14.4 oz.) frozen baby sweet peas, cooked according package directions
1 tbsp. sour cream or crème fraîche
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tsp. finely grated lemon peel
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Shredded Parmesan cheese
1. Place bread slices on a rimmed baking sheet. Lightly brush with 2 tbsp. of the olive oil. Broil, turning once, for 2-3 minutes, or until the bread is golden and crisp. Arrange the crostini on serving platter.
2. Combine the peas, remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil, sour cream, basil, and lemon peel in a bowl. With a potato masher, lightly mash. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Spread pea mixture onto bread slices and garnish each with the cheese. (Recipe courtesy of Birdseye Foods)

Fish ’n Chips with Mushy Peas
Serves 4-6
It’s safe to say that you can find traditional fish ’n chips in nearly every pub and casual dining restaurant in Ireland, to say nothing of the ubiquitous “chippers” dedicated solely to serving this national treasure. Mushy peas are an important accompaniment to this food favorite and are typically made with dried marrowfat peas, which require overnight soaking. Most home cooks will favor a simpler recipe that uses frozen or fresh peas. This recipe was first published in my Irish Pub Cookbook.

Mushy Peas
1 bag (14.4 oz.) frozen baby sweet peas
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Chips
2 lbs. russet potatoes
Canola oil for frying
Fish
2 cups self-rising flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white pepper
1 cup ice water
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1/2 cup cold Irish ale, such as Smithwick’s
2 lbs. cod or haddock fillets
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Malt vinegar for serving (optional)
1. To make the peas, cook according to package directions, reserving 3 tbsp. of the cooking water. Drain and then return to the pan. Add the butter, lemon zest, and reserved cooking water. With a potato masher, lightly mash. Season to taste with salt and pepper; cover and set aside.
2. To make the chips, peel and cut the potatoes into 1/2-in-thick wedges and leave in a pot of cold water. Pour enough oil into a large heavy pot to reach a depth of 3 in., or fill an electric deep fryer 3/4 full with oil. Heat until a deep-fat frying thermometer registers 300° F.
3. Drain the potatoes and dry with paper towels. Working in batches, add the potatoes to the oil and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes a batch, or until potatoes are just tender. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet (a brown bag also works well).
4. Heat the same oil to 350° F. Working in batches, re-fry the potatoes for 2 minutes a batch, or until golden brown. Transfer to another paper towel-lined baking sheet (or brown bag) to drain. Sprinkle with salt and keep warm. Maintain temperature.
5. To make the fish, in a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and pepper. Stir in the water, vinegar, and beer to form a batter. Do not overwork.
6. Working in batches, dredge 2-3 pieces of fish in the batter and gently drop into the oil. Fry fish, turning frequently, for 4-5 minutes, or until golden. Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet (or brown bag) to drain.
7. To serve, season fish and chips with salt and pepper and serve immediately with the mushy peas.

Braised Baby Lettuce with Peas and Bacon
Serves 4-6
Use gem lettuce, a miniature variety of romaine, for this recipe. This small lettuce, originally native to France and Spain, has an oblong head of loosely furled leaves that makes it perfect for quick braising or grilling. It’s delicious as a side dish for poultry or lamb.
3 slices bacon, roughly chopped
1 tbsp. chopped shallots
1 bag (14.4 oz.) baby sweet peas, cooked according package directions
4 heads gem lettuce, quartered lengthways
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. grated lemon zest
1 tsp. celery seed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until nearly crisp. Add the shallots and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until the shallots are soft but not brown.
2. Stir in the peas and lettuce and braise, turning once or twice, for 5 minutes, or until the lettuce is wilted. Stir in the lemon juice and zest, celery seed, salt, and pepper. Serve immediately.

Minted Pea Purée
Serves 4-6
Frozen peas are also terrific in this side dish that has an extra kick from a bit of white wine and a creamy texture from half and half. The purée is delicious with scallops, grilled or smoked salmon.
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup half and half
1 bag (14.4 oz.) baby sweet peas, cooked according package directions
1 tbsp. minced fresh mint
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until soft but not brown. Add the wine and cook for about 5 minutes, or until most of the wine evaporates. Add the peas and half and half. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the peas are tender; drain, reserving the liquid.
2. Transfer the peas mixture to a food processor and pulse 8-10 times, or until nearly smooth. Add some of the reserved liquid, if necessary, to thin. Add the mint and pulse 2-3 times.
3. Return the purée to the skillet to heat and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Margaret M. Johnson, the author of 10 Irish cookbooks, is the Echo’s “Recipes” correspondent. She will be leading her second tour to Ireland in May 2016. For details, see the ad in the print edition of the newspaper.

Lamy gets help from trad’s finest

POSTED ON April 28th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

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By Daniel Neely
letters@irishecho.com

Last week I visited NYC’s Irish Arts Center and saw the group This Is How We Fly perform. It was a wonderful evening of powerful chamber-trad music from one of the most innovative and intriguing groups in Irish music. Fiddle player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and clarinetist Seán Mac Erlaine both performed brilliantly (as did the evening’s guest, fiddler Cleek Schrey) and set a deeply creative, timbrally rich and wonderfully rewarding tone with their onstage musical conversation. I was particularly taken by the interplay between dancer Nic Gareiss and percussionist Petter Berndalen, whose fluid and dynamic interplay was as melodic as it was percussive. Should you ever have the opportunity, take advantage and see This Is How We Fly – they’re a special group that puts on a superb, engrossing show.

Speaking of clarinetists, “The New Blackthorn Stick” is the new album from clarinetist Andy Lamy. It is surely the world’s first album of traditional music solely devoted to the clarinet and one for people looking for something rooted in a familiar approach with a different sort of musical edge.

Lamy is perhaps best known in the world of orchestral music, where he is well accomplished and carries a sterling reputation both as a performer and a teacher. He plays for example, with the New Jersey Symphony and is a founding member of the Halcyon Trio, but he’s collaborated widely with organizations like the Metropolitan Opera and with groups like the Artis Quartet of Vienna, and he has taught at the Juilliard School, among other places.

In recent years he’s become involved with the world of traditional Irish music and in that time, he’s encountered and befriended some of the world’s finest musicians, many of whom appear here. The list of distinguished notables includes, among others, Dylan Foley and Pat Mangan (fiddle); John Nolan and John Whelan (button accordions); Kevin Crawford (flute and whistle); Jerry O’Sullivan (pipes); Gabriel Donohue (bouzouki and piano); and Greg Anderson and John Walsh (guitars). Each of these players complement Lamy’s playing well and add a feel for the music that trad fans will find familiar.

“The New Blackthorn Stick” offers much to take in and enjoy. “Gallagher’s Frolics / …,” for example, is a lovely set of three jigs that features Mary Bergin (whistle) and Lamy playing together in tight formation. Another great track is the hornpipe set “Caisleán an Óir / …,” on which Brian Conway appears. There, the timbres of the fiddle and clarinet blend beautifully and project a gravitas which does the tunes proper justice.

I particularly liked Lamy’s pastoral whistle and clarinet-based take on the song “Come By The Hills” on which the great Corkman Donie Carroll sings. Carroll is excellent here and his voice fits well with Lamy’s arrangement on what is the album’s only vocal track.

Perhaps the album’s most compelling moment, however, is “An Tiarna Mhaigh Eo (Lord Mayo),” a slow air Lamy took from the playing of the great Donegal fiddler Néilidh Boyle. There, he’s joined by Dermot Byrne (button accordion), Haley Richardson (fiddle), Mike Stewart (viola), Florian Blancke (harp) and Jonathan Storck (bass), who come together to create a lush, dreamlike musical texture that is easy to get lost in.

“The New Blackthorn Stick” is a provocative take on the music that showcases Lamy’s virtuosic talents admirably. His passion for the music is completely apparent throughout the album’s whopping 17 tracks, and a high level of musicianship is maintained throughout. While the clarinet may not end up taking the world of trad by storm, this record (not to mention its use in groups like This Is How We Fly) shows well what the instrument is capable of. “The New Blackthorn Stick” is available through CD Baby, for more information about Lamy, visit www.andrewlamy.com.

Daniel Neely is the Echo’s traditional music columnist

Two songwriters rapidly rising

POSTED ON April 27th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

roisin
“If You Got Love,” the latest from Róisín O, goes in a different direction to her debut “Secret Life of Blue.”

 By Colleen Taylor

The Irish music scene seems to have an endless supply of new talent. No matter how many bands I encounter, I always find five more to add to my “listen to” list. There must something instinctive in the Irish cultural spirit that induces this impetus for musical productivity. Whatever that special impulse might be, one thing is for sure: it keeps new musicians mustering courage to make it in the music world, and it keeps the already established artists daring to try new styles. This week, my latest discoveries were an artist named Ian O’Doherty, and a brand new single release from one of my absolute favorite young Irish singers, Róisín O.

Kerry singer Ian O’Doherty is something of a computer scientist when it comes music. This songwriter doesn’t just sing: he plays with vocal potential from inside the recording studio, distorting, altering, layering the sounds of his voice with synthesizers and other electronic instruments. The result is something unique, even galactic. His song “Woven,” for instance, creates an otherworldly feel that gives deeper emotional profundity to his dark lyrics. In this technical age we live in, O’Doherty is letting art and machine collide, exploring the potentials between sheet music and electric piano chords.

O’Doherty made his debut in 2013 with the EP “Never In Colour,” which he followed with two more singles in 2014. His most recent “Heatbeats Shifting” is arguably his best song, as it effects his most elegant blend of vocal and electro synthesization to date. Some of his earlier songs tend to over-emphasize the electronic influence, but “Heartbeats Shifting” does not let the techno style drown out O’Doherty’s interesting, raspy singing voice. Clearly this Kerry singer is on the rise with his style, maturing into a signature sound that is very innovative. O’Doherty has been busy of late, touring across Ireland, selling out gigs from Kerry to Galway to Armagh, revamping his live act, and most importantly, getting back to the studio to record his debut album. As he has hinted on his website, the singer will be involving some older, dated synthesizers in his latest original work to explore the potential in outmoded musical forms. He’ll be touring across Cork in May, treating audiences to some selections from his upcoming full debut album.

Released on April 3, “If You Got Love” is the latest from Róisín O. I’ve been in love with O’s debut album “Secret Life of Blue” (2012) for well over a year now. Her vocals represent that perfect “go-to sound,” that kind of music you know will always engage your ears and lift your spirit. Her voice is polished, mature, fresh, and electric. To top it off, her style is vigorously inquisitive, seeking out influences from pop, rock, Americana, new age, even Afro genres to set her folk music songwriting on fire. It must be in the genes: she is the daughter of Mary Black, after all.

This latest single, not even a month old, “If You Got Love” is a new adventure for Róisín O. Unlike her last album, which was earthy and folksy, “If You Got Love” takes off in another direction altogether. It starts with electro beats, matched with a distorted intro featuring O’s distinctive vocals. And then, like all O’s best songs, the slow intro suddenly breaks into a perfect, upbeat blend of her soulful voice and backing percussion. “If You Got Love” is more modern, more electro-rock in fashion than we might expect from the singer-songwriter. The chorus even feels a bit like a pop song. But these unexpected stylistic moves prove O’s versatility, bravery, and once again, her talent and vision. Róisín O knows what she’s about, and she’s not willing to make the same album twice. “If You Got Love” is a signpost of something entirely innovative and new to come from this Dublin artist, and frankly, I can’t wait to hear what’s up next.

Find out more information about these two songwriters at: ianodoherty.com and roisino.com

Colleen Taylor is the Echo’s “Music Notes” columnist.

Helping the peace with Piece

POSTED ON April 23rd  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

mcmeekins by c heaney
Piece wants to present the new face of Northern Ireland: youthful, fun and creative. The photo by Christopher Heaney is of Patrick and Tom McMeekin of Downpatrick, Co. Down.

By Jenny Holland
letters@irishecho.com

Some of my fondest memories are of the comfort of Belfast food. On visits from New York, where I lived, I remember going to sleep at night relishing the prospect of breakfast delivered from the bread van, a sweet sticky coconut bun with jam at the centre, and a pot of strong sweet tea made for me by my father. My granny’s stew, which seemed to be constantly bubbling on the stove, was served with crusty white baps generously slathered with creamy butter.

That was the 1980s, and normal life in Northern Ireland was circumscribed by men with guns. Food was a respite, but it was not the story.

That story has changed radically. Twenty years after the peace process took root, Northern Ireland food culture – a phrase that would have raised eyebrows in the past – is having a moment.

The reality now is that there is a small but energetic market in food production, service and tourism that is not being addressed in the wider story about Northern Ireland. The growers, makers, cooks and vendors here in Northern Ireland realize their worth, as do some of the top chefs in bigger, more prestigious markets like London or Dublin, but their story is not being told in a comprehensive way. The quality here is worthy of greater attention.

This is both a market opportunity and a journalistic one. Piece aims to promote both. Howard Hastings, whose family owns landmark Northern Irish hotels like the Europa in Belfast and the Slieve Donard in Newcastle, Co. Down, said “We are underselling what we are good at.”

The consensus on the ground here is that it is time for a new story. Piece hopes to provide it, in the form of an online magazine that will promote a new Northern Ireland to the rest of the world; a place where small scale agriculture, vibrant cultural events and beautiful natural landscapes provide visitors and residents with truly memorable experiences.

In keeping with the do-it-yourself maker attitude we find among diverse walks of life here, we are fundraising for Piece through crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. The response has been positive and has ranged from £5 contributions from budding local photographers to £1,500 from donors who see Piece as an exciting and viable business opportunity. We have until May 2 to hit our target of £7,500. (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/707208858/piece-ni)

Piece will tell the story of Northern Ireland and the three Republic of Ireland counties that made up the original Ulster, Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan. This is not a decision made to promote a nationalist or republican agenda, because Piece wants to transcend the old narratives of unity, be they with the Republic or the United Kingdom. The decision to base our coverage on a 9 county Ulster stems from a simple market calculation: including them allows us to tell more stories about the good people who work and live and make, regardless of which side of the border they reside. That is emblematic of the Piece mission.

Of course, Irish and British food have been the butt of jokes for many a year. But an interesting case study is that of Scandinavia, which had no food culture to speak of. By scaling back to basics, promoting ingredients found in the landscape, created one of the most prestigious food movements in the world, led by Rene Redzepi of Noma.

In Northern Ireland we are starting from a far stronger position. Methods of animal rearing that are considered boutique or highly special elsewhere, such as grass fed beef, are just the norm here. Before “farm to table” became trendy in Brooklyn, it was simply a way of life in Broughshane, Co. Antrim.

Of course divisions still exist. Sometimes those divisions dominate. The community tensions that simmer below the surface cannot be wished away, but unless we start telling a different story, one that binds us together over the universal bonds of food and hospitality, how will we ever truly move forward?

Orsi recalled by kin, friends

POSTED ON April 22nd  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

lisa kathleen
Bartender Lisa Loughery and Irish Cottage owner Kathleen McNulty.
PHOTO: PETER MCDERMOTT

By Peter McDermott
pmcdermott@irishecho.com

The death last month of a 22-year-old Irish woman working in Asia made headlines on both sides of the border, but the tragedy has also been the cause of heartbreak in a corner of Queens.

 

Donegal-born Derry resident Lisa Orsi contracted altitude sickness on a short trekking vacation with friends to a volcano in Indonesia. She never recovered after collapsing in her hotel room, and two weeks later was pronounced dead in a hospital in Singapore, where she’d been working as a physiotherapist. Her funeral took place in Derry on March 13 and the burial was in her maternal grandparents’ home village of Fanad, Co. Donegal.

 

She was recalled lovingly by a relative, Kathleen McNulty, long-time proprietor of the Irish Cottage, on 72nd Street, Forest Hills. The young Orsi and her friend Eve also from Donegal, worked in the Forest Hills bar-restaurant for the summer of 2013.

 

“They’d been friends since they were babies. They went everywhere together,” McNulty recalled.  “And everybody here loved them. They are still talking about them.”

 

The young women, she added, enjoyed shopping in Austin Street in Forest Hills and in Manhattan, and socializing in Woodside.

 

Soon after her young cousin, who’d turned 21 in New York, went home to resume her studies in physiotherapy, McNulty bought her a plane ticket, treating her to a week’s holiday back in New York in the fall of 2013.

 

McNulty wasn’t surprised that the young woman was such good company and so beloved by Irish Cottage customers. On trips back to Donegal she’d seen her grow up as part of the extended McAteer family, which included her maternal grandparents Rosemary and John Orsi. “They were full of life,” she said. “Lisa was so like them. She was full of fun.”

 

“As you all know, Lisa has moved on, but not without leaving a massive footprint on all our lives,” said the family in a statement after her death. “Lisa loved life, she wanted to see what was round the next corner and, if there was someone standing round the corner, she would stop.”

 

Lisa Orsi, an enthusiastic Gaelic footballer, was the first ever Western organ donor in Singapore, the Belfast Telegraph reported. Nine of her organs were used in transplants.

 

Family members and friends, including a doctor, had flown out to Singapore to be at the gravely ill woman’s bedside. “Her father’s business had to close in Derry,” McNulty said of Dennis Orsi.

 

“I’d love to help the family,” she said, adding that she has hopes that Orsi’s friends, as well as Derry and Donegal people and women in the GAA, will organize a fundraiser in coming months.

 

McNulty was always close to her cousins the McAteers — Fr. Francis, Alice and Rosemary.

 

“I always stayed with Alice,” she said of trips home over the decades. “I’m glad she didn’t live to see this. She’d be heartbroken.”

 

Rosemary, who was somewhat younger than her siblings, married another local, John Orsi (like many in Donegal, they had close links to Scotland, which is where their Italian antecedent joins the family tree).

 

She remembers further back those halcyon days of summer of the 1950s before she emigrated. The late Fr.  Francis played the accordion and they partied until dawn. “He was a great singer,” she said.

 

“No drinking or anything like that,” she remembered. “Tea and scones.”

lisa orsiLisa Orsi

McNulty was to spend a career, however, in the hospitality trade in Queens, after she’d raised her family.

 

Danny McNulty established the bar-restaurant back in 1960. He took a wrong turn one night out for a few drinks and got into a business discussion with a stranger. He told Kathleen: “I think I bought a bar last night.”

 

His friends questioned the wisdom of an Irish saloon in what was, and largely remains, a Jewish neighborhood. But Danny McNulty ran it for the 26 years until his death and it has continued to thrive with Kathleen McNulty at the helm in the 29 years since.

 

Part of the appeal has been the friendly Irish staff, she believes.

 

Jay Wanczyk, a resident of New Jersey, agrees. He happened upon the place on a visit to Austin Street and saw that it wasn’t “fake Irish.”

 

Wanczyk said: “I liked it and everyone there. It’s an extended family. That’s the type place it is.”

 

Of Orsi, he said. “I knew her only briefly, but will always remember what a wonderful loving person she was. Full of energy, the essence of life itself. And I remember that great goodbye hug that warms me to this day whenever I think of it.”

 

He added: “Her friends and I were heartbroken at this tragic news. And as one said, ‘God bless her family.’”

 

Current bartender Lisa Loughery, from Derry, remembered her friend as “always smiling, very outgoing.”

 

She recalled that during the vacation paid for by McNulty, she took a trip upstate with Orsi.  An Irish Cottage regular, Pete, was the driver and Loughery’s boxer mix Ranger was with them, too. During their adventure they found the Bridge Creek Café, a pet-friendly place in New Paltz, N.Y., with outside seating. Loughery smiled at a happy memory – Ranger sitting with them, a napkin secured in his collar

 

And then, shaking her head, she thought of the other Lisa, climbing up the highest mountain in the region. “She had so much energy,” she said.

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