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All roads lead to Parsippany

POSTED ON April 21st  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Dylan Foley
Dylan Foley was a North American winner at last year’s Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.

Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely

Two of the events that loom large on the traditional music calendar in the United States are on the horizon, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Mid-Atlantic Fleadh and its meeting of the North American Province. The former is one of two fleadhs in North America that decide who travels to Ireland to compete in the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann (the “All-Ireland”) and the latter is a convening of all the Province’s officers to discuss the issues and ideas that affect and shape the organization. When held separately, both events attract throngs of people from all over, but this year, once again, they’re being held together in Parsippany, N.J. A robust turnout of the musically minded is anticipated and good craic is expected.

The Convention begins on Thursday, May 7, and the Fleadh competitions get underway on Friday, the 8th. Attendees can expect a wide range of events over the course of the weekend, including competitions; instrumental, singing, Irish language, set dance, ceili, and sean nós dance workshops; Ceilithe; Concerts; and a gala banquet. The festivities continue all weekend – morning, noon and night, all night – and will come to a close on Sunday the 10th.

The theme of year’s event will be Sligo, which is fitting as Sligo was where last year’s Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann was held and where it will once again be held in 2015. To commemorate this, the “Sligo Masters” documentary I reviewed back in February will be shown. In addition, the Sligo fiddle masters Michael Coleman, James Morrison, Paddy Killoran and James “Lad” O’Beirne will be inducted posthumously into the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Hall of Fame (

Also being inducted to the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Hall of Fame will be banjo player Frankie McCormick and drummer Brendan Fahey. Originally from County Armagh, McCormack is a well-known teacher and is a member of the popular group Celtic Cross. He also has a long track record of service with Comhaltas. Fahey comes from Clare, Galway and Mayo stock, is the founder of the popular Ceol na gCroí Céilí Band and plays with other groups, including the Green Gates Céilí Band and the Doonbeg Society of New York). Induction is a great honor, and it will be nice to see this group join the long list of previous honorees.

Another of the weekend’s great highlights will be feature performances by the Moylurg Ceili Band from County Roscommon. The Moylurg earned senior All-Ireland champion honors at the historic Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Derry in 2013. The group’s members are Ronan Greene, Shane Meehan, Enda McGreevey (fiddles); Mick Mulvey, Aidan Shannon, Lorraine Sweeney (flutes); Breda Shannon (concertina); Brian Mostyn (accordian); Mick Blake (piano); and Damien McGuinness (drums). The group will play for the dances and select members will lead instrument workshops on the Friday. (Other workshop instructors include Eimear Arkins [singing], Maire ni Chatsaigh [harp], Mick Mulkerrin [set dance], and Shannon Dunne [sean nós dance].)

Readers should know that musicians from North America have represented admirably over the years with last year’s showing being especially memorable. Strong showings were given by Dylan Foley (1st, Fiddle, over 18), Patrick Hutchinson (1st, Uilleann Pipes Slow Airs, over 18), Molly O’Riordan (1st, Songs in English [Ladies], 15-18), Bridget O’Donnell (2nd place, Fiddle 12-15), Haley Richardson (2nd place, Fiddle Slow Airs, under 12), Jake James (2nd place, Fiddle Slow Airs 15-18), Annmarie Acosta (3rd place, Piano Accordion, over 18), Alex Weir (3rd place, Fiddle Slow Airs, 12-15), Kieran Flanagan (3rd place, accompaniment, 12-15), and Bram Pomplas (3rd place, Bodhrán, under 12) in the solo competitions. In the group competitions, Keegan Loesel, Haley Richardson, Alex Weir (3rd place, Trios, 12-15) distinguished themselves well.

Can’t make the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh but still want a chance to compete in Ireland? The Midwest Fleadh, which is the other All-Ireland qualifier, takes place in Cincinnati, from May 15-17. See for details.

The 2015 Convention & Fleadh promises to be a great weekend of music, camaraderie, and spirit. Not to be missed! For information about competing in or simply attending the Fleadh, visit For information about Comhaltas and the Mid-Atlantic Region, visit

Half Irish, half American, all writer

POSTED ON April 17th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Rose jpg

By Christine Breen

Everybody’s life is a story.
Mine begins in New York but ends up in the West of Ireland in a place called Kiltumper, County Clare, named for a chieftain who is buried on the hilltop.
Being an Irish American was not an integral part of my identity as a child.
I was too busy being a kid in Westchester County with five younger siblings.
It wasn’t until I went to Ireland for the first time with my father and my grandmother, Kitty McTigue, that something in me was triggered, some Irish feeling.
It’s somewhat indefinable in words. Imagine a sweet scent that you follow even though you can’t name it. It’s like honeysuckle and mown-hay and turf smoke and wet, freshly dug earth.
My father’s parents were from County Clare, although they first met at a dance in New York City.
They’d left Ireland in their teens, in the 1910s, and lived the rest of their lives in Elmhurst.
Kitty was a beauty in her youth but what I remember about her was her tea-breath and fruit cake and black rosary beads twined around her freckled hands.
She sang Irish songs and taught me how to jig. My grandfather was a career soldier and survived WWI.
By the time I knew him Pop-Pop stayed mostly in the basement, smoking and reading newspapers. Sometimes we’d walk to the railroad tracks together. I don’t remember him speaking to me of Ireland but perhaps it was something in the way he held my hand that connected me to his birthplace.
The Irish feeling stayed with me. I took my junior year in college abroad in Dublin, studying with great Irish writers like Ben Kiely and Evan Boland and Mary Lavin.
Dublin of the mid ‘70s was a kind of magical place to an American college student. It was as oldie-worldy a place as I’d ever seen. Coal smoke on dark nights. The scent of the sea at Sandymount. Guinness. Irish music.
But after that green wonder year I came back to the U.S., graduated and worked in publishing in Boston and then New York City.
But being of a rather melancholic nature, probably a bit like my grandfather, I wasn’t happy working in the city and that Irish feeling was deep in me. I quit my job and enrolled in the University College, Dublin for a master’s degree in Anglo-Irish Literature.
There are things you do in life that you can’t quite explain. It’s like a whisper that speaks to an unconscious part of you. In UCD I met my Dublin-born husband, Niall Williams.
We met over his plate of chips and my yogurt and apple in UCD’s café. We fell in love, got our degrees, moved to New York, got married, and worked in New York City.
But within five years we knew we weren’t cut out for the life we were living. We wanted to write and to live a more creative life, and we wanted to start a family.
In 1985 we moved lock stock and barrel to an empty, stark-white, two-hundred-year old cottage — the one my grandfather Breen had left in 1910 — with my father’s blessings. (He had bought the cottage and its 60 acres a few years earlier).
Thirty years ago, on April 1st, we travelled west along the boreen that brings you into the townland of Kiltumper, and here we settled into our cottage, with no furniture and some long resident jackdaws in the chimney.
Since then we’ve written four non-fiction books about living in the West of Ireland, making a life from scratch in a 200 year old stone-walled cottage with a south facing, then neglected, garden.
The first, “O Come Ye Back to Ireland,” sold widely in the U.S. and recounted our challenges and struggles as we learned how to rear cows and calves, sow potatoes, cut turf, and survive the rain.
The second one, “When Summer’s in the Meadow,” continued our tales of Irish country living but with the added storyline of adopting our first child. She arrived as a 9-week-old gorgeous baby with blueberry-grey eyes at the end of June, 1987.
Our second child, a boy, also with beautiful blue eyes, arrived in June, 1991. We had a family, a home, a garden and were living on our wits and talent. It was for me as organic as life could be. And except for the rain, we all thrived. (The rain is a constant companion and I’ve yet to befriend it. But there is still time).
Curiously, as I return to New York for the publication of my debut novel, “Her Name is Rose,” I realize I am truly half Irish and half American, having lived an equal amount of time in both countries.
And I can say that Niall and I have achieved what we had set out to do, something that was not always easy, to live a creative life and rear a family in the West of Ireland.
He’s written stage plays and novels. (His most recent long-listed for the 2014 Man Booker Prize.) I trained as a homeopath, co-founded an artists’ co-op where I sold my paintings, became a gardener, wrote a travel memoir, and reared my children.
Our life is centered here, in this cottage where my grandfather was born, with its 12-foot wide, open hearth inside and its large south-facing garden outside.
The children attended a two-room schoolhouse with only six others in their class. During break times when the wind blew from the Northeast I could hear them in the schoolyard across the fields.
And now, with my daughter working for a high-end fashion company in New York, and my son finishing a master’s degree in law in London, it’s clear that the rural Irish upbringing they had has helped them flourish.
Ireland has been right for me. It’s been good for me. It has given me everything in a way, and in a way it adopted me.
From the moment our daughter came into our lives I knew I was always meant to be in Kiltumper. That’s how she found me. That’s how my son found me. That’s how this story went. They wouldn’t have found me in New York.
Being an adoptive mother is central to who I am. So when I finally got around to writing that novel I always dreamed of, the inspiration was quite simply: a mother’s love for her child and what she would do if anything unforeseen were to happen.
In “Her Name is Rose,” Iris Bowen, a gardener and a widow, is also an adoptive mother. When she gets a health scare, she honors the promise she made to her husband before he died: to find their daughter’s birth mother.
It’s a journey that takes her from the West of Ireland to Boston and back with unexpected results.
It is a story of facing your fears, of fate and luck, of mothers and daughters, and the invisible ties that bind two countries looking at each other across the Atlantic.
It is, naturally, a love story. An Irish-American love story.
As mine has been.

On Wednesday, April 22 at 7 p.m., Christine Breen will be reading from and discussing “Her Name is Rose” at Barnes & Noble on 82nd & Broadway in Manhattan. She will be joined by two very special musical guests, her sister in law, Carlene Carter, and Joseph Breen. All are welcome to attend. “Her Name is Rose” is published by St. Martin’s Press.

Kirwan & Turner ride again

POSTED ON April 16th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure, News & Views

Larry Kirwan.


By Peter McDermott
Pierce Turner will be joined by his former singing partner Larry Kirwan for one special number tomorrow night (Friday, April 17) at the Donaghy Theatre, Irish Arts Center in Manhattan.

Turner will also be on stage at the venue on Saturday night for a show he calls “Why use two words when 10 will do,” which is also the tentative title of a memoir he’s currently writing.

His story-telling will inevitably bring in the tale of two boys of Wexford who set out for fame and fortune in New York City in the 1970s. They evolved into the Major Thinkers and, among other achievements, came out with an album called “Absolutely and Completely.”

“It’s actually very emotional to finally sit and listen to the music of Turner & Kirwan of Wexford,” Kirwan told the Echo. “Pierce and I were total idealists. We only wrote and played whatever we thought was really good – no concessions to commerciality. That’s what makes some of these songs timeless.”

Kirwan added: “It will be a blast to be onstage at the Irish Arts Center Friday night revisiting the title track of our album, ‘Absolutely and Completely’.”

He has been busier than ever since the fall retirement of Black 47, the extremely popular band he’d fronted since its formation in 1989. Today, (Thursday, April 16), he will perform his one-man show “Foster in the Five Points,” Bergen Community College, Paramus, N.J. at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Tickets and information at

And next week, Kirwan will officially launch his “A History of Irish Music,” which promises to tell that extraordinary story “from Medieval Wexford to Midtown Manhattan.”

Meantime, Turner will be joined for this weekend’s shows by Fred Parcells, a Black 47 alumnus, and the singers of Avon Faire.

Turner will take the story from the time he was a Catholic schoolboy and classically-trained musician in Wexford Town to his New York adventures with Kirwan, which included being taken under the wing of folk giant Pete Seeger. When they branched out to separate careers, Turner worked with one of America’s leading composers, Philip Glass, who produced his first solo album. He has also shared the stage with Regina Spektor, Patti Smith, and Iggy Pop.

His music has won critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, with for instance, New York Magazine calling him “one of this city’s great gems.”

For information about Larry Kirwan, go to Pierce Turner’s website is For tickets to the Irish Arts Center shows:

Poor Mouth carves out a niche

POSTED ON April 15th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

who got the girl

Brendan Goggins and Aaron Souza in Janice Young’s “Who Got the Girl,” which will be performed this week at the Poor Mouth Theatre Company as part of its 5th anniversary celebrations. PHOTO: LIZ GUARRACINO

By Peter McDermott

When passing An Beal Bocht Café in the Bronx one day towards the end of the last decade, the author Colin Broderick saw some redevelopment taking place. It appeared that a new room was being added. He called up his friend Don Creedon to suggest that it might be a good time and place to form a theater company.

“He didn’t have to ask me twice,” Creedon said in an interview last week.

They named it the Poor Mouth Theatre Company – drawing on the English title of the Irish-language classic by Flann O’Brien, which inspired the name of the café on West 238th Street. The founders will celebrate five years with a special five-play production this week.

Their plot didn’t come out of vacuum. The men had form, as a detective at Scotland Yard might say. But not as partners in crime; rather they had both been prominent in the artistic ferment experienced after large numbers of immigrant 20-somethings settled in the Bronx from the mid-1980s on.

“There was quite a scene there,” Creedon said.

Broderick had been a member of the Irish Bronx Theatre Company, founded by Dubliners Jimmy Smallhorne and the late Chris O’Neill, a familiar face from back home as Michael Riordan in TV’s “The Riordans.” Meanwhile, director, playwright and actor Creedon founded the Macalla Theatre Company.

The native of Clontarf in north Dublin, left a permanent and pensionable civil service job in 1985 to be an actor in New York.

“Like a lot of parents [would be], mine were ambivalent,” he said. “The idea was to get a good job — be a solicitor or a teacher or a civil servant.

“But parents also want their children to be happy and I was very unhappy,” said Creedon, who studied for two years at the Brendan Smith Academy of Acting in his native city.

The civil service employment rolls were increased to deal with youth joblessness, but the flip side of the policy allowed for extended leaves of absence. Creedon took three years, and never went back. He joked that he might yet turn up in Dublin to claim that pension.

In 1986, he got a “fairly small role” in the Irish Arts Center production of “The Tunnel,” which was written by Terry George, directed by Jim Sheridan and included Frank McCourt in the cast. “I was delighted to be working with that group of people,” he remembered.

“Frank was still a teacher,” Creedon said, adding that that hasn’t changed much for New York’s Irish actors.

“We all need our day jobs,” said the Dubliner, who is currently an executive assistant and has been involved with other types of office work such as desktop publishing.

Actors have traditionally been drawn to jobs that require competence, diligence and hard work, but that don’t overuse the creative or what Creedon called the “writing” side of the brain.

There is always the temptation in the profession, he said, to throw caution to the wind and concentrate wholly on getting acting jobs. But that, he said, can place an “unfair burden” on the artist that in the end compromises the work.

“I used to think that to be successful you had to achieve a lot of fame,” Creedon said. “But I’ve evolved. Success is continuing to work at things that really interest you and inspire you.

“I’ve come to respect people who pursue their own art and manage to survive,” he added.

Creedon praised the work of the well-established Irish Arts Center, the Irish Repertory Theatre and, the more recent addition, the Origin Theatre Company, but he believes there’s a need for a company that does more readings and development.

“With low overheads,” he said, “it’s possible to take risks.

“Sometimes you’ll say: ‘That wasn’t as good as I’d hoped.’ But that’s what a writer needs.

“It’s better than being in ‘development hell,’ where the playwright never finds out,” added Creedon, who lives in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., with his partner Alison Choate, a graphic artist.

“New work, new plays,” are what interest Creedon. “Writing, rewriting and the reading process,” he said, “and then finally getting it to the stage.”

The Poor Mouth, these days, is close to doing a production a month and in celebration of that – and its five years — will stage five short works, on three occasions, this week, in a space that Creedon calls a “little piece of heaven.”

The Poor Mouth Theatre Company will stage its 5th anniversary production with 5 short plays tomorrow, Thursday night, at 8 p.m., on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., at An Beal Bocht Café, 445 West 238th St., Bronx, N.Y. The plays are: “Who Got The Girl,” by Janice Young; “The Blood Flow Thing,” by Seamus Scanlan; “The Disreputable” by Ron Young; “Moonlight Sonata” by Brona Crehan; and “Divine Intervention,” by Don Creedon.

Lee, a man for all people

POSTED ON April 14th  - POSTED IN Arts, News & Views

BrendanCoyle_BeckLee 2


Beck Lee, right, with Brendan Coyle, star of “Downton Abbey.” [Click on image for a larger picture.]

By Orla O’Sullivan

Who knows, Beck Lee may someday add Cork’s Everyman theatre to the list of those he represents. He’s certainly an advocate for all.

Lee is the publicist for the annual Irish theatre festival, Origin’s 1st Irish, yet any Irish connection is well buried in Lee’s roots, which go back 12 generations in the States on his father’s “WASP side” and three on his Italian mother’s.

Nor has he a drop of Jewish blood, yet he is, in his own words, “one of the most active representatives for Jewish theatre in New York” and was instrumental in re-establishing Yiddish as a relevant and dynamic medium for telling stories on stage.

Last year he helped the New Yiddish Rep bring “Waiting for Godot” in Yiddish to a Beckett festival in Northern Ireland, then back to New York to participate in Origin’s 1st Irish.

Lee has helped see 1st Irish — the only annual showcase of Irish theatre in the States— grow from humble origins in 2007 to an event very widely reviewed, including, invariably by the New York Times, the high bar. Lee got involved by chance when someone doing design for 1st Irish mentioned him to festival founder George Heslin.

This month Lee himself is the story. He’s having a reading of “Subprime,” his first play in 15 years, at an industry gathering in Gramercy Park on April 20 and 21. Appropriately, it takes place in the landmark home where a fundraiser was held last summer to launch the Yiddish Godot.

“What? Me? I don’t have a publicist,” Lee joked, when contacted by the Echo. Yet, he is the story in more ways than one.

What began as Lee and his wife, Andrea Iten Lee, joking in bed about their neighbors became a test of their own marriage. “My wife and I conceived the story and I started writing it. The process of writing the play brought a lot to the surface.

“Our marriage eerily shadowed the play, without it being autobiographical,” Lee said. Themes such as marital denial about finances resonated for the real-life couple. Fortunately, their six-year union “survived the shock depicted in the play,” he said.

“Subprime” was described as “Virginia Woolf with cell phones” by Marvin Himelfarb of Fox News, a friend of Lee’s who attended an earlier reading. This will be the third and, Lee hopes, last reading before a staging.

The play’s tagline is: “Two Minneapolis couples travel to the Big Apple for a weekend getaway nobody can afford.” It was written a year after the 2008 financial crisis, rooted in subprime mortgage lending.

Minneapolis is Lee’s adopted home. In contrast to all the blow-in, wannabe New Yorkers, Lee grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, but recently “crossed the line” by getting a Minnesota driving license and registering to vote there. His wife and son live there and Lee commutes from New York.

Yet, Lee’s fondness for cream suits and for bow ties on special occasions, coupled with a slightly distracted, congenial air, suggests a Southern gentleman or university professor before Midwesterner.

His own university career was in the Northeast at Wesleyan. He curtailed his expectations of being a famous playwright “within weeks of graduation” in 1982, when he began a stint as an advertising copywriter. A career as a theatre publicist followed. Working with the renowned Broadway producer Arthur Cantor, was tantamount to “a post-doctoral education in theatre PR,” Lee said. He opened his own agency within two years, Media Blitz, established in 1994.

He circled back to playwriting by chance with “Subprime,” of which he said, “I’m now on the frontier of a commercial production.”

Quality actors have supported the work, he added, with Tony nominee Annaleigh Ashford (“Kinky Boots”) having read last time and Alison Wright, a British actor currently on the cable show “The Americans,” to read later this month.

September Girls are ambitious, productive

POSTED ON April 13th  - POSTED IN Arts


Music Notes / By Colleen Taylor

In a world where the Strypes are making retro sounds young again, a Dublin band is reinvigorating nostalgic rock from the 1960s and ‘80s with modern-day electro-pop.  That band is the September Girls, a quintet of Caoimhe, Jessie, Paula, Lauren and Sara, who burst onto the scene with their languid rock chords and pop vocals less than three years ago.

While I admit their genre and style—which they themselves define as “reverb-soaked noise-pop”—might not always be my first preference, the ambition and productivity of this band over such a short time period is noteworthy.  Toward the end of 2014, they released a follow-up to their much acclaimed debut album, “Cursing the Sea,” released earlier in 2014: an EP entitled “Veneer.”

I first encountered the September Girls at Ireland’s Body & Soul festival last summer in Westmeath.  They by no means drew the biggest crowd (in fairness, their competition was Jape and John Grant) but there was ample buzz about their performance throughout the weekend, which led me to take another notice.  And I wasn’t the only potential fan noticing in Ireland, or in New York for that matter.  An exciting New Year’s Eve gig in 2013 rocketed these girls to the center of musical chatter in Ireland, earning them instantaneous fans and leading to a kind of “September Girls” branding—you can now buy tote bags, T shirts, and other merch with their logo displayed on the front.  They earned the praise of critics as well as teenagers, and within the year, by the end of 2014, The September Girls had toured the UK and made a couple trips to the U.S., one of which included a performance at New York’s CMJ Music Marathon.  Ireland is still the September Girls’ main market and they play regularly at local pubs like Workman’s Pub and the Grand Social.  Nonetheless, their international fan base is still kicking: the girls were in Birmingham, London, and Cardiff last week for another UK tour.  What’s more, their releases hit the music shops rapidly.  In early 2014 they released their debut album, “Cursing the Sea,” which came to the U.S. in November under Kanine Records, and at the end of last year they also released a short EP, “Veneer.”

The September Girls don’t exactly qualify as “easy listening” but what they do offer is innovative, even evocative musical fusions.  Behind a track like their “Ships” there’s a allusion to ‘80s grunge, while their harmonies on “Secret Lovers” recalls a style drawn from the 60s, like that of the Ronettes.  Female groups seem to be a clear inspiration for the September Girls: they take their band name from a cover done by all-female American ‘80s rock band the Bangles.  At any rate, it’s clear the influences of this group are various and non-limiting.  As a result, no two tracks sound the same.  The marriage of melancholia and light vocalization, of ominous chords and sweet singing, seems to be a signature of their music.  In their latest, the 2014 EP “Veneer,” this fascinating fusion is displayed in the title track, as well as in my personal favorite from the short collection, “Melatonin,” which chimes a tambourine with heavy percussion and a dooming set of chords from the bass.  While I might argue their debut album, “Cursing the Sea,” is a  unique and more interesting collection in its incorporation of 60s rock-pop stylization, the latest release, “Veneer,” which looks forward more than backward, demonstrates that the band is trying to keep up with the times and with the competition.  It really asserts the September Girls within that indie-electro-rock genre that is so popular today, particularly in Ireland.

In a genre like electro-rock where male musicians tend to take center stage, it’s refreshing and exciting to see an all-female ensemble who are backed by an all-female PR support team.  If nothing else, the September Girls are mixing it up, bringing new faces, along with some female empowerment, to the stage and genre of Irish modern rock.  Keep an eye out for another New York trip and introduce yourself to their work, starting with “Cursing the Sea” on Spotify.  You can also visit their Tumblr site or their Facebook page.

Ulysses at ‘Ulysses’

POSTED ON June 21st  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure


Some Bloomsday happenings in the New York area were scheduled for last Friday, June 15, to stay within the working week. But the event hosted by Ulysses bar on Stone Street in Lower Manhattan was among those that stuck with the actual day, June 16. And it was rewarded with excellent weather and a large, enthusiast crowd packing the cobble-stoned space. Best-selling novelist Colum McCann helped emcee the now annual event and Irish Echo writers Larry Kirwan and Maura Mulligan were among those who read extracts from “Ulysses.” But the highlight, as always, was Aedin Moloney’s interpretation of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy.

Actor Aedin Moloney channels Molly Bloom.

Novelist Kevin Holohan reads from James Joyce’s classic set on June 16, 1904.

Moley Ó Súillibheáin of Size2Shoes singing on Stone Street.

Minimalist ‘method’ results in brilliant ‘As It Happened’

POSTED ON June 21st  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

For many, the epitome of a great recording of traditional Irish music is one with a genuinely “live” feel.  Noel Hill and Tony MacMahon’s “I gCnoc Na Graí” (1985) and Matt Molloy’s first solo album (1976), for example, are two that achieve this.  Another current example, I feel, is the Irish Arts Center’s 2011 Christmas Album.  However, the most recent example is Micheál Ó Raghallaigh and Danny O’Mahony’s “As It Happened,” a superb recording that showcases two powerful, young musicians in an intriguingly personal context – Micheál Ó Raghallaigh’s kitchen.

Recorded live, with minimal gear and pretense, most will argue that what O’Mahony (who hosts a trad show on Radio Kerry) and Ó Raghallaigh have done isn’t exactly new.  After all, recording live, in the moment was always the expedient way of doing things.  But as technology developed, so did studio savvy and in the last 20 years we’ve seen musicians become extremely knowledgeable in how they use studio resources to explore and control their sound.  So what makes this album remarkable, then, is not that it was recorded live per se, but that O’Mahony and Ó Raghallaigh – two musicians who essentially grew up in studios – are part of a new generation of players that is pushing back and embracing a sophisticated but minimalist approach to recording Irish music in a way they feel suits their music.

Readers may already be familiar with a few from O’Mahony’s and Ó Raghallaigh’s minimalist cohort.  Micheál’s brother MacDara Ó Raghallaigh’s for example, came out with his album “Ego Trip” last year, a live, solo project recorded in front of an audience over the course of two evenings.  Then, there is Micheál’s work with Catherine McEvoy and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh on “Comb Your Hair and Curl It” (2010), an album reviewed here in the Echo last year with appropriate fanfare by Earle Hitchner.

On “As It Happened,” O’Mahony calls the approach” “free-range recording,” a way of doing things that emphasizes the music itself, “as it happened,” with no editing or effects in post-production.   (Incidentally, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh – who seems to have the Midas touch when it comes to interesting, well conceived projects – was the recording engineer here and deserves high praise for the album’s balanced, clear sound.)

Putting the focus on tune, performance and musician interaction makes their approach to recording somewhat akin in spirit to Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg’s avant-garde “Dogme” method of filmmaking.  Outlined in their “Dogme 95 Manifesto” and codified in a set of rules called the “Vow of Chastity,” the Dogme method emphasized story, acting and theme over special effect and post-production modification.

Although O’Mahony and Ó Raghallaigh allude to a philosophical element in their liner notes, they’re neither didactic nor dogmatic about their “method.”  The magic really lies in the idea that there are two smart, relaxed musicians playing tunes together that have a healthy breath and swing.   New York-based uilleann piper Ivan Goff, a longtime musical comrade of O’Mahony and Ó Raghallaigh’s who has insight into this minimalist approach, is correct to point out that “when you have two players of the caliber of Micheál and Danny and the resources to record in a relaxed and familiar environment, not only is a live and spontaneous feel more possible but the listener can sense the personal connection between two players.”

Ultimately, this is a brilliant recording.  O’Mahony explained that he and Ó Raghallaigh never approached playing together as a note for note thing, rather that they always search for something new in their music.   “The album,” he explained, “is about my musical friendship with Micheál.  We’ve played together on and off over a long time.  He’s open to fun – in the music or out, and I was drawn to that.  The music follows that line as well – we very much play off one another and have the craic off one another.”

“As It Happened” will be launched at

Willie Clancy Week.  However, it can

be purchased or downloaded right now

through Danny O’Mahony’s website at


Hanzard sings with passion, grit of great Irish balladeers

POSTED ON June 21st  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Once upon a time a musician from Dublin dropped out of school to busk on the streets of his city. The next few chapters of his story are full of great success in songwriting, musical performance, film and theatre. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about Glen Hansard – the front man of Irish rock group, the Frames, who later went on to form folk-rock duo, the Swell Season with Marketa Irglova.  Together, Irglova and Hansard composed and performed all the original songs in the 2006 musical film “Once,” one of which won the 2007 Academy Award for best original song (which led to the Broadway musical that recently received 8 Tony Awards).

So there’s a little background about Glen – impressive to say the least. But what will really knock your socks off is if you watch him in action.  Just a few weeks ago he graced the stage at the Living Room, a small music club on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and treated the audience to a musical moment of a lifetime when Bono joined him on stage to belt out one heck of a version of “The Auld Triangle.” It’s on YouTube. Look it up when you have the time and you’ll see why Glen Hansard is 100 percent deserving of all of his success and more.

I just loved watching Glen deliver such a knockout version of “The Auld Triangle.” He sings with all the passion and grit of the great Irish balladeers. But Hansard’s focus and his greatest gift is crafting original songs, and lately he’s been doing it right here in New York City.  Just last week he released his debut solo album, “Rhythm and Repose,” which he recorded over the last year and a half while living in the West Village. With 11 tracks, Hansard conveys warmth and raw emotion in each one of them. Known for his honesty in his songwriting, the majority of the songs on “Rhythm and Repose” are about Glen’s relationships, and there’s a warmth in his voice that make many of the songs sound like intimate conversations between two friends. While the album is a beauty from start to finish, for me the highlights included one of the more rhythmic songs on the album, “Love Don’t Keep Me Waiting” and a moving song of encouragement, “Song of Good Hope.”  Glen will be sharing songs from “Rhythm and Repose” in NYC on 6/28 at Le Poisson Rouge and 6/29 at the Beacon Theatre.

For some Irish sounds around town this week check out the Narrowbacks at Murty’s in Pearl River, NY on 6/22, Niamh Parsons at An Beal Bocht Café in the Bronx on 6/23, and the Connecticut Irish festival featuring the Screaming Orphans, the Mickey Finns, Celtic Cross, McLean Avenue Band and more, 6/23 & 6/24 in North Haven, CT.


Scott prefers ‘free-thinking, free-moving’ internationals

POSTED ON June 21st  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Michael Fassbender says it was his portrayal of Bobby Sands – the Provisional Irish Republican Army volunteer, who led the 1981 hunger strike in a Northern Irish prison, in the bio-picture “Hunger” – that first put him on the radar of his “Prometheus” director Ridley Scott. Co-starring “Monster” Oscar winner Charlize Theron and Noomi Rapace, who played “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” anti-hero in the Swedish version, “Prometheus” is a science-fiction flick about a late 21st century crew traveling through the cosmos on a quest to find the origins of human life. Fassbender plays a highly intelligent android who serves as a butler and maintenance man on the spaceship.

“We met, first of all, in 2008. [Scott] invited me to his office. He had seen ‘Hunger.’ He sees everything and still has that passion for films out there, like ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’  I remember him telling me about that at the time and so you get the offer and you think: ‘Oh, my God, this is amazing.  I have to go home and really start working and get prepared,’” the 35-year-old German-born Irishman told reporters during a recent press conference in Paris.

Fassbender, who was raised in Killarney, Co. Kerry, said he approached the role in the Hollywood blockbuster “Prometheus” much the way he did his characters in the well-received independent films “A Dangerous Method,” “Jane Eyre” and “Shame,” and popular TV projects “Hex” and “Band of Brothers.”

“I really believe in preparing, preparing, preparing, so when I come on set I can allow things to happen, but have an idea of where I’m going with it. It was just a lot of fun,” the “X-Men: First Class” actor said of “Prometheus.”

“I was pretty nervous the first day,” he recalled. “I didn’t know what to expect and then it just became like play, really. And although we were both very serious about the work, it was a joy. No idea was stupid until we tried it and put it on the floor and took a look at it. If it worked, it worked. If it didn’t, it didn’t,” he explained. “But what is really impressive about Ridley and watching him work is you have 350 people on a set and each department has got to come and bring their top game to set and seeing somebody have an involvement and instilling passion in each of those departments is pretty amazing to witness and to have that precision in each department, to have the imagination and enthusiasm and energy, that’s what makes him a master. You have to be a ringmaster especially with something that size and magnitude.”

Asked if he looked at any of Scott’s previous sci-fi classics before he started shooting “Prometheus,” Fassbender replied: “I didn’t watch any of the ‘Aliens’ films before this.

“I’ve seen them all before,” he went on. “But for some reason, I decided not revisit them just before filming. We had some other ideas. I did watch ‘Blade Runner,’ funnily enough. There was something in the replicants that I thought was kind of interesting, particularly Sean Young’s character.”

The actor said he also found inspiration for David’s voice and movements in characters from the films “Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Servant” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” as well as the style of Olympic diver Greg Louganis.

“Just certain images and people come to mind,” he said about breathing life into his robotic alter-ego. “[I wanted to] bring something totally different to it. I didn’t want to be influenced by what those guys had done in the earlier ‘Alien’ films.”

Scott, who was sitting beside Fassbender, Rapace and Theron at the press conference, said he hired the international stars because they are “free-thinking, free-moving artists, who think on their feet.”

Fassbender returned the compliment, noting Scott has a talent for capturing special, intangible interactions between actors on screen.

“We try and capture moments in cinema and you don’t know how they come. … A lot of directors don’t see it brewing in the atmosphere. … But Ridley is very attuned to it. So he’s like, ‘We’ve got to go now.’ He sees something happening within the actors and that something special is about to happen,” Fassbender observed.


“Prometheus” is in theaters now.



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