Celtic Cross on Stone Street.
By Colleen Taylor
It feels like “New York Irish” should be its own category on iTunes, have its own section in the record store. This subset of the Irish-American musical diaspora is arguably the most vibrant, most prolific today, so much so that it certainly qualifies as its own subgenre. Whenever I feel nostalgic and find myself missing New York City’s Irish network, I turn to Celtic Cross and Shilelagh Law and songs like “Those Were the Days” and “Meet Me On McLean.” But what defines the New York Irish subgenre? Where does its history begin, what are its enduring themes and styles? The New York Irish rock folk song is its own art form, distinctive and proud, loyal to two cultures. Mainstreamed since the 1980s, its anthology today is extensive.
Musicians have, of course, been writing Irish music about New York since the earliest eras of immigration. NYU folklorist Mick Moloney of is one of the most renowned local New York historians on this score, having collected and re-recorded a number of 19th and early 20th century street ballads on his album “McNally’s Row of Flats” (2006). However, since Black 47 burst onto the music scene much later in the 20th century, “New York Irish” began to be cultivated as a separate musical identity outside of Irish folk. Today, the “New York Irish” label elicits a sound far more modern and forward-thinking—it’s distinctly rock and traditional at once, with ballads that present New York’s map as written in green.
Shilelagh Law and Celtic Cross are no doubt the frontrunners of this musical subgenre. Some of their songs might be said to comprise the canon of the modern-day New York Irish rock ballad. Shilelagh Law has re-recorded Terence Winch’s 1987 folk song “When New York Was Irish” with a fresher, grungier flare, and even added their own original 21st century epilogue of a song, “Meet Me on McLean.” Both songs evoke and memorialize the Irish-American cultural atmosphere of places like Woodlawn, the local culture of going to sessions, sharing transatlantic pints and anecdotes.
Celtic Cross rehearses Irish-American cultural history with each note they play. Formed in 1990, the family band has been memorializing modern-day Irish immigration and the succeeding Irish-American experience with songs like “Those Were the Days,” which asserts the viewpoint of the New York American born of Irish parents. This folk rock song is a timeline and a cultural map both, a chart of Irish New York’s cultural trends. But while they have spent the majority of their career playing carousing Irish rock and evoking life on McLean Avenue like Shilelagh Law, the band’s latest rock album “Saoirse’s Heart” takes the New York Irish genre to more sober levels of nostalgia as well as more intricate, new-age rock styles. Still, as the personal immigrant history of the title track evinces, this album is distinctly of two identities: Irish émigré and New Yorker.
A number of younger, less established bands are carving out their space in this New York subgenre today, pulling from the cultural capital of Irish folk and rock music at once. The Griffin brothers formed The Ruffians out of New York City in 1998, and they approach the genre more like the Pogues, with a flare for the punk as well as the rock of Irishness. The Narrowbacks distinguish themselves in this subgenre group with their hard rock. This young band is a group of Irish-Americans who clearly grew up on the New York Irish rock song. Their tagline displays self-conscious identification with the genre: “Irish first. American always.” Name alone qualifies the McLean Avenue Band mention on this list. Although perhaps a bit stronger in their folk/bluegrass/country influences, McLean Avenue does not shy away from mixing some rock cords into their Irish songs, and they have become a fixed presence in New York City’s Irish musical network. Finally, the very new Broken Banjo Strings don’t have an album yet, but they seem to be taking “New York Irish” into the next decade with even more melting pot tendencies, adding every genre they encounter, from reggae to bluegrass, to an Irish base.
The New York Irish subculture is currently approaching its biggest annual gathering: the East Durham Irish Festival, which will take place this year from May 23rd-24th. Celtic Cross will headline, as well as the Narrowbacks, McLean Avenue Band, Broken Banjo Strings, and Girsa among others. This is the place to see this genre at its richest and most patriotic. And luckily, the New York pride doesn’t end there: the following weekend marks the Rockaway Beach Irish Festival on March 30th and 31st, featuring the Narrowbacks and McLean Ave. once again, as well as Shilelagh Law.
Qualifying as “New York Irish” is about more than being an Irish band who plays in New York, or a New York band who dabbles in Irish folk. The New York Irish rock ballad and its various composers create a vivid sense of the city’s Irish subculture. In fact, they relish it. The New York Irish song knows its city, its transatlantic heritage, and much like “Ulysses” and Joyce’s Dublin, you could use its lyrics and chords to find your way through Woodlawn and the rest of the Bronx.
Colleen Taylor is the Irish Echo’s “Music Notes” columnist.
Norah Rendell’s “Spinning Yarns” is comprised of Irish, Scottish and English songs collected decades ago in Canada.
By Daniel Neely
New York City’s Irish Arts Center is known for staging the best and finest in Irish music and I’m happy to report their most recent production exceeded expectation. On Saturday, May 2, IAC hosted Ghost Trio (ghosttrio.com), an Irish music powerhouse that features Iarla Ó Lionáird (vocals and harmonium), Ivan Goff (uilleann pipes, flute and whistles) and Cleek Schrey (the hardanger-inspired 5+5 fiddle) and they were absolutely brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed this band and its live show and I urge you to see them if you ever have the chance.
The groundwork for this group was first laid in 2011 at the Irish Arts Center when Ó Lionáird (a member of the critically acclaimed group the Gloaming) and Goff (who tours widely with several top groups) were paired as part its Masters in Collaboration series. It was an outstanding pairing that in turn attracted Schrey, a musician with a kindred sense for the group’s direction, and whose instrument, which has drone strings and sounds wonderfully with the pipes and echoes the depth of the sean nós style, added an important dimension to the group’s overall sound. Since they formed, they’ve performed around the U.S. and Europe, including a shows at Princeton University and the prestigious Masters of Tradition festival at Bantry House in County Cork.
On May 2, Ghost Trio hypnotized with a lush and engrossing mix of instrumental tracks and evocative songs in both the English and Irish languages. Through the rich overlap of acoustic timbres, textures and sounds, the group managed to evoke the solitude of Ireland’s windswept west as well as the sanguine comfort of good friends and heady conversation, and pushed at the traditional boundaries of Irish music. I truly look forward to hearing what this exciting group will do next – we shall see what the future holds.
In my media player this week is Norah Rendell’s newest album, “Spinning Yarns.” Rendell is an award-winning singer, flute player and whistle player from Canada who now lives in Minnesota. In addition to being the executive director of the Center for Irish Music in St. Paul (www.centerforirishmusic.org), she has worked with groups including the Two Tap Trio and the Máirtín de Cógáin Project, she’s been a featured soloist at the Celtic Connections festival in Cape Breton, and was a longtime member of the group The Outside Track. This, her first truly solo album, is an enchanting project filled with carefully curated and sensitively delivered songs that music lovers will doubtless want to check out.
“Spinning Yarns” is dedicated to Rendell’s passion for the song tradition of Canada. Inspired by her husband Brian Miller’s research into northwoods song (www.evergreentrad.com), Rendell conducted her own intensive research and uncovered a number of pieces – 12 of which she presents here – that were collected decades ago from singers of Irish, Scottish and English heritage living in the great country to our north.
And in impressive body of songs it is. The albums starts with “Letty Lee,” a breezy love song that revels in the pursuit of a woman who, after enduring a barrage of platitudes, finally relents. Rendell sings beautifully here and sets a great tone for what’s to come.
“Lost Jimmy Whalen” is one of the album’s standouts. The interplay between the harp (Ailie Robertson), mandola (Randy Gosa), and bouzouki (Brian Miller) creates a texture that is almost like that of a music box come to life. The introduction of the harmonium adds an additional layer of interest which creates a nuanced and harmonically satisfying whole. Over this, of course, is Rendell who sings with great sensitivity
“Forty Fisherman,” collected in Newfoundland in 1951, is another standout. A tragic tale about the loss of life in the course of maritime duty, Rendell does a truly admirable job not only with her voice but on flute. Joining her here is Dáithí Sproule, who adds lively fingerstyle guitar playing that projects a sense of poignancy that goes so nicely with Rendell’s voice.
The standout track for me is “Sir Neil and Glengyle.” This song about Scottish knights and ladies collected in Nova Scotia in 1909 puts Rendell in spectacular light. The arrangement, driven by percussive harmonics on the guitar and a seething harmonium, articulate well with the way Rendell has chosen to phrase the lyrics. As the song become more involved, the harmonium introduces a bit of dissonance that destabilizes the harmony but brings a special sort of intensity that matches well with what Rendell sings. Lovely stuff, indeed.
“Spinning Yarns” is a thoughtful, intimate exploration of Canada’s song tradition. The songs she’s uncovered are unusual and thoroughly enjoyable, and the arrangements smartly conceived and well executed. There’s a warbling pastorality in Rendell’s voice that enriches the whole and helps make this a splendid homage to the song tradition of Canada. Highly recommended! To learn more about Rendell, this album and her work in general, visit norahrendell.com.
Daniel Neely is the Irish Echo’s traditional music correspondent.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
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
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
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.
1 bag (14.4 oz.) frozen baby sweet peas
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 lbs. russet potatoes
Canola oil for frying
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
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
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.
By Daniel Neely
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
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.
Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott
The novelist Norman Mailer said of Senator Robert Kennedy, “[I]t was incredible to think him of him as President, and yet marvelous, as if only a marvelous country would finally dare have him.”
He only met him once. It was in 1968, during the hectic last weeks of the former attorney general’s life when he was locked in primary combat with Senator Eugene McCarthy. Thinking back, Mailer felt it hadn’t gone well, for he’d suggested that a Kennedy-McCarthy ticket would be very effective in the general election. His reasoning was in part, that “if there were conservative Irishmen who could vote against one of them, where was the Irish Catholic in America who could vote against two?”Kennedy replied he didn’t want to get votes that way. In any case, the two senators loathed each other.
Mailer was in a minority among the liberal intelligentsia in favoring RFK. McCarthy was their anti-war hero. He took on LBJ, and in the New Hampshire Democratic primary of March 12, 1968, damaged the president with a very strong showing. Kennedy announced his candidacy on March 16, and the president ended his reelection bid on the last day of the month.
It’s amazing when we think of those who’ve, in the decades since, considered and dithered about making a challenge for a nomination that seemed theirs for the taking: such as Gov. Mario Cuomo, General Colin Powell and Gov. Chris Christie.
Kennedy, in contrast, seized the moment, ignoring the advice of his brother Ted, who argued that the party would fall into his lap in 1972, and upsetting his parents, who felt he was risking his life. (George McGovern, a liberal whom RFK had liked and promoted, and who’d worked in JFK’s administration, won the party’s nomination in 1972.)
Recently, I spotted a remarkable artifact from those weeks in America’s history at Philip Williams Posters, 52 Warren St., just a short walk west of City Hall in Manhattan. If you visit, be prepared to take a trip into the past in that large, remarkable store, which also has an entrance also on the parallel Chambers Street. It doesn’t just have big, often huge, posters and framed images from many lands, going as far back as the 19th century. Its plastic-wrapped Life magazines each provide its own portal into history. (Life would cease publication as a weekly at the end of 1972, when it still had millions of subscribers.)
The Life cover of May 10, 1968, featured Hollywood superstar Paul Newman sporting a McCarthy campaign button. “The Stars Leap Into Politics,” the magazine said.
The issue of that week had plenty about the tumult of the era: for instance, a photographic feature on the student revolt at Columbia University, a lengthy profile of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, commentary on the MLK Jr. assassination and a column from Loudon Wainwright (a Life editor and father of the folksinger) on the RFK train in Nebraska.
The cover story, inside labeled “The Star-spangled ’68 campaign,” declared it a presidential race “full of theater – surprising twists in plot, dramatic exits and entrances, and in supporting roles, a spectacular cast of showbiz stars.”
Richard Nixon had Ginger Rogers and Rudy Vallée (whose mother’s parents were Irish immigrants) in his corner, while it was suggested that many Hollywood Republicans were waiting in the wings ready to back either Governor Reagan or Governor Rockefeller. On the Democratic side, Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante indicated support for Vice President Humphrey, and RFK and McCarthy were reportedly vying for Marlon Brando’s nod of approval.
Lauren Becall, a Bobby Kennedy supporter, was quoted saying: “When I came out for Stevenson 16 years ago I was told to shut up, honey.” The magazine added: “Nobody tells the stars that today.”
Life said. “There has never been anything like it.
“So far most of them,” it continued “are involved in the Kennedy-McCarthy battle.” Indeed, all of the stars named below were pictured actively campaigning for or otherwise promoting their guy.
In the RFK camp were: the chairman of First-time Voters for Kennedy Lesley Gore (who’d become famous with the hit “It’s My Party”; she died this past February), Sonny & Cher (one of whom was later a Republican member of Congress), Rod Steiger, Shirely MacLaine, Sammy Davis Jr., Bobby Darin and the candidate’s brother-in-law Peter Lawford.
In addition to Newman, Senator McCarthy had on his side Tony Randall, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson (who were married 66 years at the time of his death last year), Dustin Hoffman, Robert Ryan, Elaine May, Hal Halbrook and Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors.
There were quotes of 50 or more words from each explaining their choice. Darin said that the other Bobby “has a spiritual understanding of what it means to be poor,” while Davis offered: “No one relates to the black man like Bobby.”
Randall said of McCarthy: “He has the guts to lay things on the line.” Time and again, the Minnesotan’s moral courage was cited.
But for many, just standing up and being counted was the important thing.
“If you don’t participate, you’re not entitled to anything,” said Paul Newman. “Get serious, that’s the keynote. Why McCarthy? Because it was time.”
That was Kennedy’s thinking, too.
By Jenny Holland
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?