“With traditional music it takes a generation,” Billy McComiskey recently told me. “You don’t realize what you’ve done until you look back on it.” While it’s been well more than a generation for the Augusta Irish/Celtic Week, the first program to celebrate traditional Irish music and heritage in the United States, and now marking its 30th anniversary, when we look back at its history we find one of this country’s – and this music’s – most enduring and important cultural and educational institutions.
It all started out fairly innocuously. In the late 1970s, the Irish repertoire was fast becoming part of the burgeoning American new-folk scene and Mick Moloney was one of a very small number of Irish musicians performing off traditional music’s beaten track, places largely dominated by old time and bluegrass music.
He made quite an impression with these audiences, particularly at the weekend festivals that were part of the Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops that had been held on the campus of Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia since 1972.
There was a buzz about Moloney’s performances, so when the Augusta program was overhauled and renamed “Augusta Heritage Center” in 1981, the program’s director, Margo Blevin, contacted Moloney about organizing a one-off Irish music teaching week – something in the spirit of the infamous Willie Clancy Week in Miltown Malbay, County Clare. Moloney thought it was a great idea, so the following summer he came down with Billy McComiskey and Liz Carroll to an eager group of 45 students.
McComiskey remembers his class being a potpourri of instruments, everything from autoharps to flutes. Carroll took the fiddles while Moloney taught those with stringed instruments not played with a bow.
“The important thing about those first couple of years was that Mick was astute,” McComiskey told me.
“Right from the very beginning he presented the music as a bunch of different instruments cooperating – students and teachers alike.” This group established a spirit of camaraderie between instructor and learner, an important dynamic that over the years has become the hallmark of the Augusta week.
The success of the first year guaranteed a second, with Tim Britton (uilleann pipes) and Donny Golden (dance) invited to teach. Then year after year, as the student body grew, so did the number of instructors and course offerings – classes in dancing, storytelling and crafts as well as lectures on Irish history and culture complemented an already rich environment of singing and music.
“We watched the Irish-American scene grow before our eyes,” Moloney told me, nostalgically. “It became kind of like a graduate seminar for Irish and Irish American culture.”
While the week’s numbers have consistently increased, the intimacy remains. “It was our family,” Moloney told me. “We got to know each other there.” This, in part, due to the small, walkable campus, but also because of an environment lined with top players. “We had the very best, always,” Moloney mused.
“You came and met the best from this side of the Atlantic, but also the homeland.” This has included people like James Kelly, Kevin Burke, Johnny Cunningham, Seamus Connolly, Jerry O’Sullivan, the Mulcahy Family, John Skelton, Jack Coen, Robbie O’Connell, Jerry Holland, Zan McCleod, Albert Alfonso, Seamus Egan, Eileen Ivers and Joanie Madden (who was the artistic director for the last five years).
One of Augusta’s most enduring and best-loved characters was the truly legendary singer Frank Harte, who was a fixture there for 15 years.
“Frank held court, but also understood the need that students had to be heard and to be appreciated, because he had the same need,” the Augusta Heritage Center’s current director Joyce Rossbach told me.
Out of this environment came some of today’s best and brightest players. For example, uilleann piper master Benedict Kohler (who many feel makes the world’s finest chanters and reeds) was there. Beverly Buchanan of the group Liam’s Fancy started out there as well. In fact, a modern generation of top younger players – people like Cleek Schrey, Jim Egan, Sean McComiskey, Elliot Grasso, Matt Mulqueen, Brendan Callahan, Caitlin Finley and Patrick Armstrong – all passed through Elkins.
Augusta’s tradition of excellence and intimate dedicated study continues this year with a staff that includes Patrick Ourceau, Mick Conneely, Cillian Vallely, Ivan Goff, Brían Ó hAirt, Niall O’Leary, Donna Long, Marla Fibish, Dennis Cahill, and many more. Imitated but never duplicated, it is a special place that after 30 years has proven its mettle in the history of Irish America, and done so in a very fundamental way.
To learn more, visit: http://augustaheritagecenter.org/irishceltic.
In town with his one-man hit show “Being Shakespeare,” British actor Simon Callow took time out recently to recall his days at Queen’s University Belfast.
“I didn’t finish,” Callow told the Echo at the show’s opening-night party at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. “After a year, I ran away to become an actor.
“I was studying English, but the idea was to do acting. I got scared when I saw how good people were, and I ran away.”
First, he did a stint in his student days as Micheál Mac Liammóir’s dresser, when the legendary actor was touring Ireland with his solo show “The Importance of Being Oscar.”
Callow, a prominent gay-rights advocate, later played that very role and went on to write a book about Oscar Wilde, one of several to his credit.
Although very well known in the UK for his theater and television roles, Callow is probably best known in the U.S. for his appearances in movies such as “Amadeus” (1984), “A Room With a View” (1985) and “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (1994).
The Catholic-raised and -educated actor jokingly referred to finally treading the boards at BAM, America’s oldest performing arts center, as “a benediction.” (He is a long-time patron of the choir at his alma mater, the London Oratory School.)
Callow’s critically acclaimed show ended its brief BAM run at the weekend after a long national tour and West End run in the UK.
The one thing “Being Shakespeare” does not get into is the possibility of him not being Shakespeare, that is the bard from Stratford-upon-Avon. The controversy over Shakespeare’s authenticity was ignited afresh with the release of the movie “Anonymous” last year.
Asked if the show’s creators had factored in revisionist theories, Callow gave a dismissive wave of his hand and said flatly, “We didn’t.”
He added: “Weirdly enough, I believe William Shakespeare was William Shakespeare.
“Jonathan Bate who wrote the play wrote a book called ‘The Genius of Shakespeare’ and he is an expert on Shakespeare,” he said.
The play shows how Shakespeare’s writing reflects events that occurred during his lifetime (1564-1616).
“People say: ‘we know so little about Shakespeare’ and we thought, well, let’s look at what we do know,” the 62-year-old Callow said. (This includes fun trivia, such as that Shakespeare invented the word “puking” and was one of the early contributors to the lawyer-joke genre.)
The fact that Shakespeare’s wife and children were illiterate doesn’t say much, Callow said, since, “most women and girls at the time were illiterate [his one son died young].
“His father certainly wasn’t illiterate. He was the mayor of Stratford,” he said, “and there are lots of documents that he wrote.”
The members and friends of the Irish American Writers & Artists were witness to a stirring presentation by Guenevere Donohue at the recent Irish-American Writers & Artists’ Salon at the Thalia Cafe. As she read from her play, “Killer is My Name,” Guen’s audience sat spellbound as she weaved storytelling, keening – a form of vocal lament – and the Irish language into performance art of the highest order.
Honor Molloy followed, reading from her father’s memoir, “Alive, Alive O.” In the scene Honor chose to read, John Molloy, a well-known Dublin television actor, is on the road with Percy the guinea pig tucked under his gansey. “ON TOUR with Ireland’s Fit-Up People. Fit up a curtain, put on a show.” Honor, as only Honor can do Honor. (Gansey? I had to look that one up: … also known as guerney, or a seaman’s knitted sweater.)
During the intermission I had a chance to speak with Ed Farrell who read from his memoir, “A Mild Cognitive Impairment: An Unexpected Memoir.” Ed said, “This whole process, our time together here at the salon, including the intermission and lingering around after the event, is so important. I’m able to share my thoughts with other writers and they with me. We need to reinforce each other.” Well said and exactly what the salon is intended to be.
Patricia Goldstone, a first time reader at a salon, exposed the first few pages of a brand-new, yet to be named play. Jim Callahan and John Moss ably assisted Patricia and couldn’t have been better. Patricia said: “The highly sophisticated audience gave me incredibly positive feedback. When people tell me they want to hear more, that’s the best news I can get!” Perfect.
Malachy McCourt, whose idea it was to create the salon, an evening in which artists share their work in an informal and convivial setting, ended a grand evening with a heartfelt rendition of the Irish folk tune, “Carrickfergus.”
Salon Notes: Maura Mulligan reported her memoir “Call of the Lark” is forthcoming from Greenpoint Press next month. John Kearns announced that his play “In the Wilderness” at Upstairs Theatre, 45 Bleecker St., would begin a one-month run on May 31.
My aunt turned 18 the year RFK was murdered. She loved Bobby. She is the least political of my family, but she was a child of the Sixties, and so she also liked that guy who was executed by the Bolivian military the previous fall.
She had the poster, and one of Jimi Hendrix and various others, including some for productions of an avant garde theatre group in Dublin, which was more her cup of tea anyway.
My grandmother, a widow, didn’t like it much when her youngest later went off to train to be a nurse in England and she kept her room in their Dublin flat much the same for years afterwards.
Once, my granny took to her bed with the flu – actually what had been my aunt’s bed because it was out of the way of drafts. The doctor that made the house call was shocked to see a small, fully gray-haired, bespectacled woman in her 60s with a large poster of Ernesto “Che” Guevara on the wall behind her.
“You’re not a fan of that man, are you?” said the MD, who was known to be a person of firmly conservative views.
“Oh, yes! I am,” my granny replied.
All of this was brought back to mind by the hullabaloo over the plan to commemorate with a statue the Argentinean-born revolutionary, himself a medical doctor, in his ancestral Galway (of course, he had several other ancestral places).
It’s easy, perhaps, at the distance of several thousand miles and four or five decades to take a misty-eyed view of revolution. Having said that, some of the critiques have been somewhat over the top, with people laying everything they don’t like about Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and much more, at the door of Che Guevara.
It’s certainly true that Guevara came from the you-can’t-make-an-omelet-without-breaking-a-few-eggs school of revolution. Castro’s government executed several hundred people in its early years. Che oversaw 100 or more of the executions and some say there was little due process. His American biographer Jon Lee Anderson, on the other hand, said that he never heard anybody say that any of the dead was innocent of their alleged crimes.
The second more general criticism of Guevara was that he simplistically believed that the Cuban model of attaining power could be applied elsewhere. He gave up the trappings of power – it’s part of his great appeal – and in the process, critics say, became a pied piper that led thousands of naïve and idealistic young people, many of them from middle-class backgrounds like himself, to their doom – which was to be cut down by ruthless dictatorships in countries such as his own Argentina.
Outside of Latin America, though, and in Europe in particular, it was different. Che, in life a doctrinaire Marxist, was in death almost a generic symbol of defiance and a not very threatening one at that. His image became, as time went on, a bland statement on behalf of social justice and equality – but obviously a statement nonetheless.
My grandmother ran her own small business and was a political moderate, unlike my left-wing grandfather. However, once in a while she liked to stir things up and certainly, in the above-mentioned incident, she welcomed the opportunity to put a member of the professional classes in his place.
It’s that generic Che – the symbol of the fight against oppression and endemic poverty – that people in Galway would like to commemorate. They don’t mean to upset anyone whose family has suffered at the hands of a police state; but nor, I suspect, are they going to be told what they can or can’t do.
Recently, the Irish traditional musical community lost several important and cherished musicians in rapid succession, including Boston-based mandolin and guitar player John McGann, Dublin-based banjoist Barney McKenna, and Bronx-based flute player Jack Coen. Individually, each passing is remarkable and together they’re overwhelming, but this unfortunate confluence offers us a moment to briefly step back and reflect on how these losses affect some from the younger generations.
A brilliant mandolin and guitar player, John McGann passed away on April 6. Although his talent spanned several different musical genres, McGann was best known in Irish music circles for his magnificent work with accordionist Joe Derrane. A teacher at Berklee College of Music, McGann inspired an entire generation of musicians, but it was his work with Celtic Fiddle Festival that first inspired Flynn Cohen, a Boston-based guitarist with whom he would forge a special bond. In McGann, Cohen found a mentor, someone who trusted him with the music and showed it by recommending him for gig after gig (including with John Whelan’s and Cathy Ryan’s bands). To Cohen and many others, McGann was an example of music done right with a character to match.
Barney McKenna passed away quietly over a cup of tea and a sandwich on April 5. For decades, Barney was one of the music’s household names, both for his work with the Dubliners and for bringing respectability to the tenor banjo in Irish music. Hoeing the rocky row for the likes of Mick Moloney and Mick O’Connor, it took time for Barney to prove the instrument’s mettle. James Keane, for example, remembers Barney standing down Dublin Piper’s Club managers Jim Seery and Paddy McElvaney at the Club’s door one rainy night in the very, very early days. Because Seery and McElvaney thought the long-necked instrument Barney had was a guitar, they’d taken him for a rock-n-roller. It wasn’t until he’d lilted reel after reel at their insistence that they granted him – and his banjo – entry into the Club.
While people have celebrated the musical legend that grew over the years, Dublin-based banjo player Pádraig Drew – Barney’s longtime personal assistant – told me that there were few who knew him outside the Dubliners bubble. Drew (whose family was long close with the McKennas) recognized the privilege and reveled in Barney’s company, listening carefully to the humor and the stories and had unusual perspective on the “lovely touches” in his music. The musical guidance he received was canny and always pure “Barney”: “The plectrum was like a little bird.” Barney once told him. “If you hold it too tight, you’ll kill it, but if you don’t have it tight enough, it will fly away.” After Barney, banjo technique developed in many directions and there are few who carry on Barney’s playing style nowadays, but you can still hear his memory right there in Drew’s playing.
It was a shock to wake up on Easter morning to the news that Jack Coen had died. A proponent of the east Galway style, and member both of the seminal New York Ceili Band in the 1960s and of Green Fields of America in the 1970s-80s, he was one of the last of the old guard and was rightly named a National Heritage Fellow in 1991.
Coen was a brilliant musician – in many ways the conscience of the scene in New York City – but he may be best remembered for the generosity with which he shared his music, as there is scarcely a NYC-based musician that he did not somehow touch (including Cherish the Ladies’s Joanie Madden and Chulrua’s Patrick Ourceau, to name but two). He trusted his students to steward both his abiding respect for the music and his commitment to tune version and tempo. It is no surprise, then, that his students nourished the New York scene for decades, helping the music grow and thrive.
While we must bid farewell to these legendary musicians, we know their music lives on in the students with whom they entrusted the tradition.
As a kid growing up half a block away from one of Long Island’s beautiful beaches I thought I had it all – evening dips in the Atlantic, long bike rides on the boardwalk and a summer job at a beach club where I hung out with life guards and made more cash tips than I knew what to do with. It wasn’t until my college years when I met Irish-American kids from the Catskills that I realized that although they didn’t have sand and surf, their summers were full of a different kind of fun – a two-month long celebration of their heritage that kicked off each year with the Memorial Day Weekend East Durham Irish Festival.
The festival is held at the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural and Sports Centre’s festival grounds and features two days of live music, dance, and an array of activities for children. Those who travel to East Durham for the festival weekend are treated to a taste of the hospitality of the people, the natural beauty of the landscape, and the abundance of Irish entertainment that makes the town so special. The residents and business owners welcome festival goers and the excitement they bring with open arms
Though I’ve visited East Durham a handful of times, I wanted to make sure I captured the true heart and soul of the place. So I checked in with two friends of mine who lived, worked, studied, partied, sang, and danced in East Durham for most of their childhood and teenage years. Tara Doohan Thompson and Maggie Kellegher van der Leeuw – two long-time friends who are walking encyclopedias of Irish songs, can jive with the best of them, and attribute their love for their heritage to their upbringing in East Durham.
They spoke of summer weekends filled with Irish dance lessons. Late nights listening to Peter McKiernan, Buddy Connolly, Jimmy Kelly, Celtic Cross and the Whole Shebang were followed by early mornings serving breakfast to vacationing families at the resorts that lined Route 145 where they worked as waitresses. They spoke about the excitement of Memorial Day Weekend, when a sleepy town awoke from a quiet winter to the sounds of bagpipes, step dancers, and energized Irish music fans on a weekend getaway.
For Maggie, the excitement began with the yearly task of painting shamrocks in the middle of Route 145 with her dad to welcome visitors to East Durham. Tara recalled counting the days until Memorial Day weekend with more anticipation than for Christmas. During the festival the girls ran back and forth from their jobs to the stage, quickly changing out of their work clothes into their Irish dance garb, serving sausages and slip jigging five minutes later. I can picture them running down the road, hard shoes in hand, exhausted but happy as could be. After talking with the girls I got the sense that the “work hard, play hard” mentality was a recipe for making good memories growing up in East Durham.
Tara and Maggie have grown up and moved on from their summer jobs in East Durham, but their appreciation for their community remains the same. It’s one that is deeply invested in keeping Irish traditions alive and showing visitors a good time. So consider trading in the sand and the surf this Memorial Day weekend for a Catskills weekend filled with music by Searson, Shilelagh Law, Hair of the Dog, Andy Cooney, Kitty Kelly Band, Jameson’s Revenge and more. For more information about the
festival and lodging in
East Durham visit www.eastdurhamirishfestival.com
For a preview of East Durham Memorial Day Weekend music check out Shilelagh Law at the Saloon in NYC on 4/20 and Andy Cooney at the Glenrowan in Yonkers on 4/22.
The third annual “Who Do We Think We Are?” at Glucksman Ireland House will focus on the theme of “Economics Family-Style.”
Prof. Maureen Murphy of Hofstra University will speak about how Irish women, including nuns, financed family members’ transatlantic passage; in the same session, Prof. Janet Nolan of Loyola University in Chicago will talk about mother-to-daughter upward mobility.
Bestselling novelist Mary Higgins Clark will give a keynote address on her family’s experience and its influence on her life and writing.
Professors Breandán Mac Suibhne and Prof. Kerby Miller will be the speakers in a session entitled “Wealth, Poverty, and Emigration.”
Prof. Miriam Nyhan and Prof. Linda Dowling Almeida, co-directors of Glucksman Ireland House NYU’s Oral History of Irish America Project, will address the session called “Sharing Communities: Family Life Across the Atlantic.”
Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny, Bruce Morrison, the former congressman from Connecticut, and Judith McGuire, the president of Glucksman Ireland House Advisory Board, will also address the event.
Members of Glucksman Ireland House should email ireland.
email@example.com or call (212) 998-3950 for a discount code. Tickets can be purchased at SmartTix.com or by calling SmartTix at (212) 868-4444.
The charismatic, creative, artistically inclined types might be better off channeling their passion for history through music, and presenting their extensive research in the form of liner notes accompanying a CD full of songs that tell an important story about history.
That’s just what historian, singer, songwriter, and founding member of the Wolfe Tones, Derek Warfield has done with his recent project, “Washington’s Irish.” For eight years Warfield researched the Irish involvement in the American Revolution from 1765-1815, an important component of the Revolution that Warfield feels is terribly under -researched. The end product is an 18-track disc and a 46-page booklet that shed light on the Irish fight for American Liberty.
In a conversation with Warfield last week he explained that his objective is to inspire people to take a more thorough look at Irish involvement in this period in history. He does so not only with songs referencing particular battles and revolutionary war heroes, but also with Irish songs that were popular during the time period. I never knew the details surrounding the courageous deeds of the artillery wife, Mary Ludwig Hayes McCauley (better known as Molly Pitcher), or that the music of Turlough O’Carolan was widely popular in colonial America – until I sat down with “Washington’s Irish.” It’s this sense of historical discovery that accompanies the top notch musicianship and makes the experience of listening to the album very worthwhile.
“Washington’s Irish” is not the only thing that’s been keeping Derek Warfield busy lately. He also recently released “Far Away in Australia,” an album that tells the musical story of the historical involvement of the Irish in Australia. How he managed to finish both albums almost simultaneously, and play over 150 shows in seven different countries in 2011 is beyond me. He does attribute some of his energy to the vibrant group of musicians that he tours with. Known as the Young Wolfe Tones, the group consists of Irish banjo player, Damaris Woods, Glascow singer-songwriter, Alan Murray, the flute player from Dallas, Dan Lowrey, Cavan man, Luke Ward on bouzouki, guitar and bass, and the youngest of the clan, the 20-year-old balladeer, Fintan Warfield. Derek says that playing with the young group has revitalized him and that through his collaboration with them he hopes to keep passing the music along to a new generation.
In the midst of telling me about the band and his desire to keep the music alive with a younger generation, Derek paused to tell me about the passing of founding member of the Dubliners, Barney McKenna who’d collapsed on Thursday morning at his home. He was 72. Warfield described him as a warm and generous man who was tremendously encouraging to young musicians. May he rest in peace.
Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfe Tones will make their way to East Durham this Memorial Day weekend to play at the Blackthorne Resort.
This week you should take a trip to Riverdale to see Kevin Burke at An Beal Bocht Café on 4/12, and check out the Masters of Tradition on Tour with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill at Symphony Space in NYC on 4/13.
William MacQuitty, a proud Ulsterman born in 1905, saw the Titanic on dry land and remembered his father, the managing director of the Belfast Telegraph, explaining to him the process by which the ship would slide into the water and go on its way. He lived until 2004. Of course, his recollections were necessarily vague. He was more important as the producer of “At Night to Remember,” the 1958 film regarded as by far the best about the calamity.
After he read the exciting and meticulously researched book of that name by the American Walter Lord (a lowly writer in a Madison Avenue advertising firm by day), he was determined that it would get the film treatment. But the studio executive at the Rank Organization said: “Bill, this is just another shipwreck movie. It’s been made before.” (Indeed, there was a 1953 Hollywood movie called “Titanic.”) MacQuittey recalled his reply in a 1993 interview: “This is an end of an era. The steerage passengers paid £12 and the stateroom passengers paid £875 for a five-day trip.”
There weren’t enough lifeboats for steerage passengers, he added, and yet the first-class passengers were lowered in their best evening clothes. For MacQuitty, it was a story about arrogance.
As proof that the world truly did change in the years after 1912, he said that the Belfast Titanic commemoration listed people in order of importance whereas the 1914-18 war memorial had the dead in simple alphabetical order.
The movie’s main star was the sympathetic Kenneth More as 2nd Officer Charles Lightholler. His name was twice the size of the next 25 actors in the opening credits, which in turn were twice the size of the third batch, in cinematic steerage as it were. In the second group were those playing the Titanic’s radio operators – David McCallum, still going strong in the CBS series “NCIS,” and the late Kenneth Griffith, who made the banned documentary about Michael Collins in the 1970s.
When “A Night to Remember” was made, the tragedy of April 14-15, 1912, was still fresh in the memory of some (the equivalent now would be a film about an event in 1966). The 4th Officer Joseph Boxhall was the technical advisor, and Lightholler’s widow visited the set. Survivor Elizabeth Dowdell attended the U.S. premiere of the British film in New York in December 1958.
There were enough lifeboats for about half the people on board, yet two out of every three – more than 1,500 – perished. MacQuitty said: “’Women and children first’ was interpreted inaccurately by Lightholler as ‘only women and children.’”
Consider the figures for the 2nd class passengers: all of the children (there were 24) and 86 percent of the women survived, whereas 92 percent of the men died. In 3rd class: 46 percent of the women made it to New York, together with 34 percent of the children and 16 percent of the men. In first class, 83.4 percent of the children (5 of 6) and 97 percent of the women made it out alive, while only 33 percent of the men did. As for the crew, 78 percent of the men and 13 percent of the women died.
After the Titanic left Liverpool, it stopped off at Southampton, then Cherbourg and finally Queenstown (now Cobh), where many Irish immigrants got on, and among them, for the movie’s purposes, a plucky group that best represents the film’s democratic spirit.
“You’ll all come back when your fortunes are made,” says the parish priest as they leave their home village. “We will that, Father,” one of the men replies.
MacQuitty said in 1993 that the film hadn’t dated because it was the truth (he used the Titanic’s blueprints, for example, in his quest for authenticity), but “A Night to Remember” is also a magnificent piece of storytelling.
Two Saturdays ago I was out among more than a dozen other musicians from in and out of town to celebrate local trad maven Pat Gavin’s birthday. It was legendary craic, and around half two, flute player Brian Holleran and I found ourselves deeply engaged in conversation about the idea of the trad “show” and a solo gig Brendan Begley put on earlier this year in Cleveland.
Holleran told me that despite it being his first solo concert, Begley beguiled the audience with stories, jokes, poetry (yes, he read poetry) and conversation, and turned what might simply have been a couple of tunes in front of a few folks into an engrossing stream-of-consciousness musical experience that no one would soon forget. People came for the music, but they stayed for the Begley.
West Kerry’s Begley family is justifiably famous. It boasts an unfair share of musicians, and while there are similarities in the music each makes, the ways they engage listeners – live, and on record – are distinctively individual.
Take the fiddle-box CDs Brendan and his brother Seamus have each recorded. Both are excellent, must-have albums. Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and Brendan’s “A Moment of Madness” (2010) has a wild bounce to it that lacks affectation and conveys a willful desire on each player’s part to actually get lost in the other’s playing. What they’ve captured is a “live” spirit that’s very hard to put on record, and they’ve done it brilliantly.
Oisin Mac Diarmada and Seamus’s album “Le Chéile” (2012) is outstanding for different reasons. Their tunes leap out with an electrifying command that seizes listeners from the beginning of the album to its end. Oisin’s lively swing and technical control (as heard, for example, in his work with Téada and the Innisfree Céilí Band) articulate perfectly with Seamus’s powerful, energetic playing. Seamus’s vocal tracks provide astonishing and beautiful contrast to the duo’s instrumental work and evoke a depth of music few possess. Indeed, despite being rooted in the same West Kerry terroir, the two Begley albums illustrate impressive stylistic diversity and nuance – it’s a shame they’re not over more often.
Of course, there’s nothing like experiencing great nuanced Irish music live, and this is what can be expected Friday, when New York City’s Irish Arts Center presents “Masters Of Tradition,” an exploration of old-fashioned style and raw musical virtuosity deftly curated by fiddle icon, and the show’s artistic director, Martin Hayes.
Borne out of an eponymous annual festival in Bantry, Co. Cork, Hayes’s goal was to bring a spectrum of Ireland’s “most authentic” traditional music to international audiences. To achieve this, he assembled an absolutely outstanding group of musicians, including Iarla Ó Lionáird (vocals), Dennis Cahill (guitar), Máirtín O’Connor (accordion), Cathal Hayden (fiddle), Seamie O’Dowd (guitar) and David Power (uilleann pipes). Each of these musicians is worth seeing individually, but having them together in one show is something very special, indeed. For the concert, Hayes has simply asked them to “be themselves” within a carefully planned framework that he feels best showcases the thoughtful introspection of rural idealism and the energetic extroversion of cosmopolitan adventure. Hayes has worked with all of these musicians before and has developed a feel for what their music is all about. It promises to be an excellent evening and one trad music lovers shouldn’t miss.