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‘It’s nice to be first’: Enright

POSTED ON June 19th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure, News & Views

Anne Enright (c) Hugh Chaloner

The multiple-awarding winning novelist Anne Enright was named in January to the new official position of laureate for Irish fiction. PHOTO: HUGH CHALONER

By Orla O’Sullivan

letters@irishecho.com

“You’re a different person every time you sit down to write,” said Anne Enright, Ireland’s first laureate for Irish fiction. “It’s always about, ‘What’s life asking me now?’”

The question behind her latest novel, “The Green Road,” is “Why are selfish people unhappy?” said the author known to many for “The Gathering,” her sixth novel, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2007.

It is subtly posed in a story that starts and effectively ends in West Clare, when Rosaleen Madigan summons her far-flung adult children to announce that she is selling the family home. The four have little in common besides an understanding of how impossible their mother is. One chapter opens: “Rosaleen told [daughter] Constance she did not want a [Christmas] present this year. She said it in a faint voice, meaning she would be dead soon so what was the point?”

No, Rosaleen isn’t an archetypal Irish mother—the martyr sitting in the dark, Enright said, adding with a reference to Dublin’s largest maternity hospital, “There isn’t a mind-melding machine in Holles Street to become an Irish mammy.”

The questions that seem of least interest to Enright are those from journalists, on whom she passed several comments during our meeting in a Dublin cafe. Between the new book and the laureate role she has been doing many interviews and giving many speeches, she said, adding that she has learned to ad lib, instead of spending three days writing each speech.

Yes, it’s true that she began writing after a nervous breakdown in her late 20s, said Enright, now 52, “… but if I knew I was going to be talking to so many journalists I wouldn’t have mentioned it. I’m just really bored with it.”

So what is her most hated question? “It isn’t so much a hated question but I’m intrigued at how interested the media is in general with success and failure. Or if you base your fiction on real people.”

The laureate appointment was announced by Taoiseach Enda Kenny at an Arts Council ceremony in January. He said: “Anne Enright’s eloquent and powerful writing, fiercely individual voice and unyielding commitment to her craft combined to make her the pre-eminent choice.

The novelist herself has described the role as “half a job, half an honor.” She will serve for three years and receive an annual stipend of €50,000 from the Art Council.

“Enda Kenny said it’s an ambassadorial role,” Enright said, adding, however, that “Irish writers are not expected to be well behaved or to perform.”

Irish readers, meanwhile, she said, are both proud of Irish writers and have “a complicated relationship” with them. “They say, ‘I knew your sister,’ or ‘I wish you’d stop writing about this and write about that.’” (Her former local paper the Bray People, once ran a sweetly proprietorial headline that said merely “Anne shortlisted for Man Booker Prize.”)

Ireland’s literary ambassador is concerned about digital publishing, particularly diminishing concentration spans. “The number of people who’ve told me ‘Oh, I have your book on my nightstand.’ I know what that means, they’re on their iPhones.”

In accepting the laureate title, Enright said it was about future writers, “who will each play a briefly emblematic role in the history of Irish letters.” Just she and her family knew last Christmas that she would be Ireland’s first laureate for fiction, which made, she said, for “a very nice Christmas. It’s nice to be first.”

Enright is married to a theatre director, Martin Murphy, and has two children, one of whom was sitting the Junior Cert exams the week we met. She herself is the youngest of five and grew up in Terenure, in South Dublin, believing from early on that she would be a writer.

“I forgot you have to actually write a book,” Enright said, adding that she was not prepared for how hard it would be. She wrote her first, a collection of short stories called “The Portable Virgin,” on weekends while working weekdays as a television producer. She was then producing children’s television for RTE, where she had previously produced an experimental arts/comedy show called “Nighthawks.”

Motherhood made writing easier, Enright said, allowing her to go from being “hugely anxious” about writing to now finding it a “source of great pleasure.” Any tendency to be precious was offset by “bills to pay” and the fact that “Books aren’t the most important thing anymore; the most important thing is right there in front of you.

“As a writer you just make things up. I sort of know now that I can make it up.”

The creation of one of characters in “The Green Road” seems prescient in that he is a gay Irish man getting married—and the book came out in May, the month that Ireland made history by becoming the first country to legalize same-sex marriage by referendum.

Enright began creating him three years ago. Dan abandoned the priesthood for New York’s East Village–very convincingly rendered although Enright has never lived in New York.

She will be in the Village next spring to teach at New York University as part of her laureate brief. “I’m trying to sort out where we’re going to live and where the kids will go to school. You have to sign your lease and then apply for schools,” she said.

Improvising is surely second nature for someone who says she starts novels without a structure in mind. And the conversation detours into perhaps a preview of her course at NYU while Enright generously offers advice: “What’s your problem with structure? If you’ve a problem with structure you write and you revise. When Beethoven sat down to write his Fifth Symphony he didn’t have it all in his head. The only thing that matters is the sentence on the page.”

 

Irish, U.S. fests showcase talent

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

TheMoxieStrings

Michigan’s the Moxie Strings will be on stage at the Great American Irish Festival in Frankfort, N.Y., in July.

 

By Colleen Taylor

letters@irishecho.com

Festival season is here and in full swing. Summer festivaling marks a way of life for many Irish musicians–and many Irish music fans to boot. As a music buff myself, festival season is one of my favorite times of year because it means the chance to check out up and coming talent.

Last year’s Body & Soul festival was full of impressive musical introductions. While there, I became fans of Jape and the September Girls, and warmed to the entire electro genre in general. This year’s lineup looks equally promising.  Body & Soul, which is set out in Ballinlough Castle in Westmeath, does a commendable job of giving equal stage time to international superstars and homegrown talent. So while Leftfield and Savages might draw the crowds this year, bands like Sleep Thieves and The Eskies will represent Ireland well.

Dublin’s the Eskies are a unique choice, and their music will be unlike anything else heard throughout the weekend. The band has labeled their style “sea soaked Gypsy folk,” but that description doesn’t quite cover it. This band blends modern electro-pop with the most interesting vaudeville-esque inspirations from the past. Their music is the stuff of saloons of the early 20th century. They blend jazz, Italian tarantella, noir, ballroom waltzes, their own Irish influences, and seemingly anything else that was lively and interesting in the music halls of old. Their music is a spicy melting pot. The Eskies are ones to check out if only for the way their music stands out from the crowd. Their single “Fever” is particularly lively, and the band has recently just announced the release of their first full album, “After the Sherry Went Round.” The Eskies are hot and getting hotter, and I encourage your giving them a listen. This is like nothing else you’ll hear on the radio—it’s the thrill of centuries-old parties brought back to life.

TheEskies

The Eskies, a Dublin band that are not like anything you’ll hear on the radio, are hot and getting hotter.

Another Dublin band, Sleep Thieves, will be treating the crowds at Body&Soul to their interesting new sounds. If The Eskies are straight out of the ‘20s, Sleep Thieves are the stuff of the ‘80s. They blend disco, electro pop, and a touch of new age influences to make their light, fresh sound. Just off the release of their album, “You Want the Night,” Sleep Thieves are not only impressing people in Ireland, they’re gaining fans in New York and L.A. as well. This hints toward an American break for the Irish band soon. Maybe the ‘80s aren’t dead after all.

The wild card at Body&Soul will be The Young Folk, a band who is just what their name says: a youthful, fresh take on folk music. The festival at Ballinlough is known for its electro music, but The Young Folk will bring tradition and heritage to the stage. And that’s just what I like about this band: their genuine commitment to the roots. No doubt they are breaking new ground and producing original material in their new approach to folk and Americana music, but all in all, they are standard Folk at the end of the day, just as their name proclaims. This band is the proof that something doesn’t have to be ground-breaking to be good music. In fact, The Young Folk are singing proof of the folk tradition’s immortality in Ireland. They will be performing material from their new album, “The Little Battle,” which will be available in the States on June 30 and which I’ll be reviewing in full in a couple weeks.

On this side of the Atlantic, Irish music fans are gearing up with anticipation for the Great American Irish Festival, which will take place at the end of July 24-26 in Frankfort, N.Y. The lineup boasts of some of Irish Music’s superstars, from the incomparable Eileen Ivers, to two of Canada’s best Irish bands, Searson and the Glengarry Boys, as well as Celtic rock legends, Hair of the Dog.

But there are some new names there of interest as well – for instance, 1916, a young Celtic punk rock band out of Rochester. While a lot of their music’s thematics have to do with boxing (which isn’t exactly my area of expertise), their cohesive sound is surprisingly worth commending. They produce an unforced mix of electric guitar, punk interpretations from the Pogues, Celtic influences, and their own New York flare. They will no doubt take the stage very loudly in Frankfort, showing the punk legacy of the Pogues still thrives.

TheYoungFolk

The Young Folk will bring tradition and heritage to the stage at Ballinlough Castle.

Michigan’s the Moxie Strings call themselves “a new string initiative.” The young trio, formed in 2012, blends Irish instrumentation and Americana music with a touch of rock n’ roll through their signature electric cello. In short, this band is old music seen through fresh young eyes. Their instrumentation is unimposing, yet vibrant; they’ll have you hearing old, familiar tunes like you’ve never heard them before. The Moxie Strings are full of energy, youth and the future of Irish trad, which increasingly in this decade has been harmoniously coupled with Americana.

Summer is no doubt an exciting season for Ireland and Irish America’s new bands. Get yourself to the Great American Irish Festival to hear Moxie Strings for yourself, or if you happen to be in Ireland and in the mood for a trip to Westmeath, check out the Young Folk or the Eskies. I can promise they’ll be more to come on these bands in future.

 

Man who said no to ‘never’

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

Ed&ChrisLucas

Ed Lucas with his son Christopher Lucas

Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott

 

Said the 14-year Yankees star and current Dodgers manager Don Mattingly: “For Ed Lucas to be able to do what he’s done on a daily basis for all of these years is amazing. I have an incredible amount of admiration for him, and am inspired by his story.”

Now, Ed Lucas tells that remarkable story himself, with assistance from his son Christopher, in “Seeing Home.” It begins in Jersey City in 1951 with a 12-year-old boy losing his sight when hit in the face by a baseball and then follows his journey through a decades-long, Emmy-winning career in broadcasting.

Today, Lucas has been inducted into three halls of fame, including — on the same day in 2009 with Paul O’Neill, Walter O’Malley, Jim Joyce, Vin Scully and Steven Garvey – the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame.

He was told over the years that a blind person would never amount to anything besides begging in the streets and that a person with a guide dog had never graduated from Seton Hall. There would be many more “nevers” in his life.

“So many times,” writes Ed Lucas in his memoir, “I’d blown right past all of the ‘nevers,’ I had completely erased the word from my vocabulary.”

book cover

Ed Lucas

Date of birth: Jan. 3, 1939

Place of birth: Jersey City, N.J.

Spouse: Allison

Children: Edward, 48 Christopher, 46

Residence: Union, N.J.

 

Published works:

“Seeing Home: The Ed Lucas Story”; weekly column (“As I See It”) in the Jersey Journal.

 

  What is your writing routine?

I am blessed to work with my son, Christopher, as my collaborator. We each bring a different viewpoint to the story at hand, which always sharpens and deepens the final result. Working together has also made our relationship stronger. I recommend it for every parent.

 

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read, read, and then read some more. Don’t just stick to stuff that interests you. If you want to grow as a writer, explore other worlds through the written word. Here’s a great experiment; go to a bookstore and pick a magazine from the rack that deals with a topic that you’ve never really had any interest in. Buy it and read it from cover to cover. I guarantee that you will find at least one article that will give you some fresh insight and a little more perspective as a writer.

 

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.

“Wait Till Next Year” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. A great story about the everlasting bond between a parent and child, forged through an affinity for baseball. I love all of her books, but this one hits closest to home for me.

“’Tis” by Frank McCourt. The sense of wonder in McCourt’s storytelling always draws me right in, no matter how many times I experience it. Every writer should take lessons from his work.

“The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” by Stephen King. Not your typical Stephen King novel, this is my all-time favorite from his canon. Mr. King’s clever blend of suspense and baseball, through the tale of a little girl lost in the woods, and her reliance on memories of a Boston Red Sox star to help her survive the ordeal, makes it quite compelling.

 

What book are you currently reading?

“The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough. Another fine work from a master at his craft.

 

Is there a book you wish you had written?

The baseball rule book, so that I could add a passage allowing a 76-year-old blind man just one chance to pitch for the Yankees.

 

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.

“Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty” by Charles Leerhsen. A new book that’s wonderfully researched and written. It dispels many of the myths that we all think we know about Ty Cobb.

 

If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?

Saint Paul. His divinely inspired words helped to change and influence the whole world. Just to be in his presence and to feel the passion responsible for his writing, even for a few moments, would be a thrill.

 

What book changed your life?

The Holy Bible. It continues to shape my actions and change me for the better on a daily basis.

 

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

My roots and family are on the west coast, so I’d have to say anywhere in Galway or Cork.

 

You’re Irish if…

You can face any adversity in life with a chuckle. The ability to laugh, even in our darkest moments, is one of God’s greatest gifts to those of us with Irish blood in our veins. I thank Him every day for it.

Dad wasn’t a Dev fan

POSTED ON June 16th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

de valera in 1951

Éamon de Valera on the campaign trail in 1951.

By Tom Phelan
letters@irishecho.com

I was 10 years old when Éamon de Valera came to Mountmellick on a Saturday evening to stump for the Fianna Fáil candidates running for office in the Laois/Offaly constituency. Our parish priest, Father Burbage, had been influential in arranging the great man’s visit. Supposedly Burbage had spent time in prison with de Valera after the Black and Tans discovered a revolver hidden in the priest’s house.

In 1951, Dev, as most people called him, was still somewhat of a mythical figure. Even those who did not agree with his politics were worshipful of the rebel who had evaded the firing squad in Dublin after the rising of 1916 and who had later escaped from an English prison.
Weeks in advance, Mountmellick’s streets were swept. Celebratory bunting crisscrossed the welcome route. Tricolors fluttering from telephone and electric poles were yeast to the excitement.

Dev’s visit was as anticipated in some quarters as the second coming of Brian Boru. Plans were made to attend no matter what the cost. People would spill out onto the highways and byways and cycle for miles; they would come in their ass-carts and horse-carts; they would arrive packed together in the backs of lorries; they would tumble out of overfull cars, limp and hobble to the Square to see and hear and cheer their hero.

I asked Dad if I could go to see Dev, but he wouldn’t allow it. I pleaded with him, said I would be the only boy in the National School who would not be there. But Dad was unbending. During the week before the big day I tried to change Dad’s mind so many times that he finally shouted, “If you mention Dev one more time I’ll give you a good clout!

There was a back-story to Dad’s adamancy.

When Dev became prime minister in 1932, he announced that he was stopping payments on a substantial debt owed to England. Dev might as well have shot his own country in the two feet, as well as in the head and the heart. A six-year economic war with London began. Exports to the Old Mother were stopped, and many Irish farmers were caught with their farms stocked with beef that now had no buyer. Dad had to sell off cattle for 35 shillings a head—about 1/20th of the normal market price. From then on, any time Dev’s name was spoken in Dad’s presence it was met with a snort of derision, followed by “Bastard!”

And so, on the evening Dev came to town, I was driving our pony while Dad guided the turnip seeder along the top of the newly opened drills in Jer Dunne’s field. The pony did not need any directing until we reached the end of each drill; then she had to be turned around and steered into the next furrow. Any horseman as good as Dad would have been embarrassed to be seen needing assistance handling a single draught animal, but there was a high hedge between the field and the Commons Road.

In the sky there was not the tiniest cloud, and the sun was still high above the Slieve Bloom even as eight o’clock rang out in the church tower a mile away. The sound of the walkers, the bikers, the donkey-and-carters, and the horse-and-carters on the road beside the field had stopped long ago. As the pony and Dad and I trudged in silence up and down in the clay, I fought to keep myself from asking one last time to be allowed to go to the town. I was afraid Dad would shout out the shaming words he used when he believed I wasn’t pulling my weight on the farm: “How do you think the food is put on the table, the clothes on your back, the boots on your feet? You must think everything falls out of the sky.” And finally the words that always cut me to the liver: “You’re nothing but lazy!”

As the tolls of the eight o’clock bell faded into the countryside, an amplified voice sounded out like the voice of a corncrake: it was here, it was there, it was an echo, it was everywhere. Then we heard an enormous roar that went on and on. I looked at Dad but he was absorbed in steering the seed barrow. A voice in the amplifier tried to be heard over the cheering. The voice stopped and waited for silence, then tried again. The cheering faded. Then Dev’s voice filled the world.

I was overcome by the absolute necessity to be in the place where everyone else was, to be able to say in school on Monday morning that I had been there, that I had seen the great hero. There were tears in my eyes as I begged, “Please, Dad, can I go?”
“Whoa!” Dad shouted at the pony and brought her to a stop.

For a moment my heart soared.

Then Dad spoke. “Look at me, Tom. Look at me! De Valera won’t sow our turnips. Now drive on.”

This is an extract from Tom Phelan’s memoir in progress. His latest novel is “Lies the Mushroom Pickers Told” (Arcade). For more information go to www.tomphelan.net.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tom Phelan.

 

 

 

Yeats’s tower was retreat, inspiration

POSTED ON June 13th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure, News

ThoorBallylee_Cuirt2015 12ThoorBallylee_Cuirt2015 1ThoorBallylee_Cuirt2015 2ThoorBallylee_Cuirt2015 3Yeats1923W.B. Yeats in 1923.

BALLYLEE PHOTOS BY DEIRDRE HOLMES

By Peter McDermott

pmcdermott@irishecho.com

A generous check from an American lawyer has boosted the cause of W.B. Yeats’s County Galway home ahead of today’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

But supporters locally and in the U.S. believe this is just one step in making the former summer retreat, the tower at Ballylee, into what they call a “world-class Yeats cultural center.”

Joseph Hassett, a graduate of Harvard Law School and the author of “W.B. Yeats and the Muses,” gave €31,000 to the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society. The Buffalo, N.Y.-born, Washington-based Hassett first visited the Yeats Summer School in 1963 and subsequently obtained a PhD from University College Dublin.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, chairperson of the society, reported that his gift has been quickly followed by a successful fundraising auction and a second welcome check from another Yeats expert.

The senator recently gave an awestruck Dublin-based academic a tour of the property at Ballylee. “She told me ‘I can’t believe I’m on the winding stair,’ Healy Eames recalled.

The woman — who was referring to the tower feature that gave its name to Yeats’s 1929 collection of poetry — last week sent the society a check for €5,000.

The society leased the property from Fáilte Ireland, which had repaired 2009 flood damage. Prior to that, from 1965, Thoor Ballylee had housed a Yeats museum.

The new project has enlisted some high-profile supporters. One of them, Minister for State for Diaspora Affairs Jimmy Deenihan, believes that the building near Gort could serve both as an attraction for the general visitor and as a major center for Yeats studies.

“It has extraordinary untapped potential,” he told the Echo on Thursday.

“The bulk of the money will come from Ireland and that’s only right,” Deenihan said. “But people in the United States will want to have the opportunity to be associated with it.”

To that end, he said, Janet Moran-Hamill in New York and Chicago activist Billy Lawless, a Galway native, are organizing fundraisers in coming months.

Two years ago, Deenihan suggested that his then Fine Gael party colleague Healy Eames lead the local effort.

“Politicians don’t usually get involved in committees not in their own constituency,” said Healy Eames, who now sits as an independent in the Seanad. “But this is a labor of love.”

The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society has put a price tag of €1 million on its dream of a cultural center, but the immediate aim is to have the doors open to the public from 11 a.m. through 6 p.m. each day, at least until September.

Meanwhile, said Senator Healy Eames, the society was due to celebrate the “big occasion” of the 150th today with a party at Thoor Ballylee.

A first home

“He had long been struck by the stark beauty of a medieval tower-house or castle keep buried in a little river-valley near Coole, and had written about it in ‘The Celtic Twilight,’” says R.F. Foster in his second volume of “W.B. Yeats: A Life.”

During the First World War, an opportunity came up to buy it from the Congested Districts Board. It wasn’t a seller’s market during the war, but nor was it a good time for Yeats to buy, because of his relatively straitened circumstances and also his worries about his father’s finances in New York.

Yeats, who had reached 50, had never bought a home before and confessed that Ballylee was the cause of many a sleepless night.

“Lady Gregory helped him with it, I believe,” said Andy McGowan of the Yeats Society of New York.

Long a regular at Gregory’s place at nearby Coole, the poet had no intention of ever staying at the tower alone.

“Ballylee is a good home for a child to grow up in – a place full of history & romance with plenty to do everyday,” he wrote.

He married Georgie Hyde-Lees in 1917; he was 52, she 25. They had two children, Anne, born in 1919, and Michael, who arrived in 1921. The marriage was a successful one and endured until his death in 1939, but the tower had been abandoned 10 years earlier as he began to spend more time abroad.

Still, it has close associations with his family life through the 1920s and his time in public life. He was appointed to the new Senate in December 1922, and shortly afterwards was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he saw as honoring Ireland’s entry into the community of nations.

Yeats and his wife poured their energies and finances into the property they rechristened Thoor Ballylee.

Foster said that it was likely built in the 1500s but with roots back to the 1300s, which Yeats preferred to stress because of the obvious Norman connections.

By early 1922, a bedroom was ready, as was the 3rd-floor study for the poet, though the children and servants slept in the old cottages beside the tower.

Floods were always a threat, and furniture and curtains were removed in the wintertime. Says Foster: “The permanent damp seeping through limestone wall also forbade pictures, prints, or photographs of any kind.”

Oil-lamps and storm-lanterns were used, while river-water was heated in a large copper.

“It was all extremely simple, not to say uncomfortably austere,” the biographer adds.

Today, the property is of interest, said Minister of State Deenihan, because it is “associated with major works by the greatest English-language poet of the 20th century.”

“The Winding Stair” was preceded in 1928 by “The Tower,” which Deenihan said was mostly completed during his time at Ballylee.

That volume contains, for example, “Sailing to Byzantium,” “Among School Children” and “Meditations in a Time of Civil War,” which refers to a conflict that had threatened to engulf both Thoor Ballylee and Coole.

Healy Eames, whose PhD thesis on creative writing dealt with the impact a place has on literary work, said: “I can see how Thoor Ballylee was an inspiration.”

Once, at the end of a very tough political day, the senator drove the 30 minutes from her home at Oranmore, Co. Galway, to Ballylee. After a few minutes there, Healy Eames said, “my mood was transformed.”

Tax deductible donations can be made, through the Ireland Funds, at yeatsthoorballylee.org/donate. In New York, Janet Moran-Hamill can be contacted at 718-374-1611 or yeats150jmoran@gmail.com.

 

Folk taps into shared heritage

POSTED ON June 12th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Jack Harris

Wales’ Jack Harris cites Irish folk as an influence.

By Colleen Taylor

Summer is the season of folkies. As a self-professed folkie fetishist, I always enjoying revamping my music collection with new folk songs when the weather turns warm. This summer, I find myself looking to some of Irish folk’s favorite cousins across the Irish Sea in Scotland, England, and Wales. On this side of the pond, those musical cultures are sometimes overshadowed by the impressive, thriving presence of Irish folk music, but many English folk artists share a common interest in Irish folk music and enjoy collaborating with Ireland’s best musical innovators. One of the most extraordinary things about modern-day folk music is global collaboration and shared heritage. Ireland, England, and Scotland share a common musical proclivity when it comes to folk music, and they are happy to exchange and produce new interpretations of that common history. Lately, I’ve been listening to Bellowhead and Newton Faulkner and becoming gradually more enchanted by Jack Harris and Karine Polwart.

Bellowhead is a contemporary folk band based in England but its 11 members come from all over England, Ireland, and even the States. Unlike the typical folk solo artist, this band has an impressive presence onstage. With 11 members and many more instruments as ammunition, Bellowhead is able to make folk music loud and dramatic. In particular, the band is known for mixing some jazz flare into the traditional folk chords—they have trumpets, tambourines, and saxophones to match their concertinas and melodeons. The band has released five original studio albums, the latest of which is “Revival” (2014). Their third album, “Hedonism,” was the highest selling independently-released folk album of all time. Sadly, however, it looks like the Bellowhead legacy will be coming to a premature end. The band just announced two farewell tours, the first in November of this year, and the second in April and May of 2016. With lead singer Jon Boeden taking a break, the band collectively decided to call it a day and go out with a bang. Still, plenty of time remains to enjoy what Bellowhead has to offer.   Their song “London Town” is one of my favorites. They also recorded a stunning choir piece, “Pslam 143,” with Dublin’s Christ Church choir.

Bellowhead

Bellowhead’s members come from all over.

Newton Faulkner has played a large part in keeping folk music contemporary and cool in England. Known for his percussionist style of guitar playing and his signature dreadlocks, this Surrey singer blends pop and folk into a fun acoustic fusion of acoustic. “Gone in the Morning,” for instance, is an energetic, playful song: you’ll hear how Faulkner is keeping folk music fresh for young ears. His first studio album, “Hand Built by Robots” was number 1 in 2007, and now he is working on his fifth studio album.

Welshman Jack Harris cites Irish folk as a main influence in his songwriting. His performances display him as a modern-day seanchaí, crafting songs and stories alike. His interests are primarily folk music, but he also incorporates blues, country, and even gospel, as well as has a talent for poetry. As a young teenager, he was the first international musician to win the songwriting competition at Texas’s Kerryville Folk Festival. He joined the likes of Steve Earle, a previous winner, in that honor. As of 2015, Harris has released three studio albums and his latest, “The Flame and the Pelican” reached number six in the EuroAmericana Charts. My favorite on this album, “Donegal,” found its romantic inspiration in the Irish countryside. It’s a gorgeous love song and proves Harris’s skill as a ballad writer.

Karine-Polwart

Karine Polwart has won a number of BBC Radio awards.

Karine Polwart can be classified as Scotland’s Cara Dillon. She started out as a member of the Battlefield Band, but has had great success as a solo singer-songwriter. Polwart has won a number of BBC Radio Folk Awards and Scottish album awards. With six studio albums under her belt already, there’s certainly more great folk music to come from the singer. I’ve been listening regularly to her most recent release, “Threshold,” released in 2013. It’s soft, acoustic, and moving music. Her vocals are sweet and poignant—they are effective, despite their tranquility. Try listening to “Rivers Run” or “Daisy.” If Kate Rusby is the Queen of English Folkies, Polwart is certainly in the running for Scotland’s crown.

NewtonFaulkner

Newton Faulkner is keeping folk fresh for young ears.

The folk music scene across the Atlantic is arguably as rich and innovative as it was two centuries ago. Today, the best folk artists welcome global influences with big, open arms, but they never lost sight of the honored cultural heritage to which we all belong.

Colleen Taylor writes the “Music Notes” column in the Irish Echo.

We Banjo 3 build fascinating niche

POSTED ON June 11th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

 WeBanjo3

 

By Daniel Neely

We Banjo 3 is a band comprised of high-caliber, imaginative players whose musical vision strikes a clean balance between Irish traditional and American old-time and bluegrass musics. I’ve discussed WB3’s music here before and think highly of what they do, which is why I’m pleased to write about the group’s newest offering, a concert album recorded at Galway’s Roisin Dubh called “Live in Galway.” It’s a well-hewn effort that maintains the group’s high standard and reinforces the legend of their high-energy shows.

We Banjo 3 have built for themselves a fascinating musical niche. Because the American roots element in their music is so strong and so accessible, the group has an obvious appeal to the sizable community of Irish Americans who not only wholeheartedly (and sometimes zealously) embrace their Irishness, but who also have an abiding taste for American roots sounds. The group’s love for these sounds is obvious and its handling of them so sound that it makes one wonder if Enda & co. haven’t been living in Galway all these years but have actually been hiding out in Appalachia somewhere.

Take “High on a Mountain,” for example, a song learned from a recording of North Carolinian Ola Belle Reed. Singer David Howley sings its “high, lonesome”–style old-time melody with an open bore throat and is accompanied by Norianna Kennedy and Nicola Joyce, whose harmonies absolutely shimmer in beauty. Together with Enda Scahill and Martin Howley’s banjos and Fergal Scahill’s fiddle, the track has a very convincing – and very attractive – country sensibility.

Not content to simply explore banjo-based folk traditions, the album’s opener is “Get Onboard,” a rousing “call to action” to open the live set that the group learned from blues singer Eric Bibb. It sports a full horn arrangement that suggests the blues, but the track is actually something of a roller-coaster of styles, capped by a deeply bluegrass-inspired banjo solo and a fiddle solo that has a strong western swing sensibility, all of which gives the track added dimension and generates excitement.

Indeed, horns are an important part of this album. One of my favorite tracks is “The Bunch of Green Rushes / Salt Creek,” which places familiar Irish tunes played on fiddle and banjo within a nuanced horn arrangement that extends and enhances what might otherwise be a fairly predictable track in terms of harmonic outlook. The horns have a similarly attention-grabbing manner in “Pressed For Time,” a modern composition by the Scottish bagpiper Gordon Duncan that gives it sort of an indie-folk sound.

As in their live show, this album has a lot of variety in terms of keys, styles and tempos which helps carry the album from beginning to end. The tracks I’ve discussed here thus far have all been up tempo, but tracks like “Air Tune” and “Lonesome Road” are great examples that show how the group is able change pace and bring thoughtful variety to their performances. Both of these tracks are very strong on their own, but they’re smartly placed in the course of the album because they help reinforce the notion that we’re listening to the live album and that the band has its audience’s interests at heart.

“Live in Galway” is an album that conveys the spontaneous sense of a live performance. Audience reactions and sing-alongs coupled with the kind of musical rawness one would hear at a live show set the right tone in terms of “in the moment” authenticity and are major reasons for the album’s success. Fans of We Banjo 3 will be very excited to hear this album, as it has the familiar sound the group’s studio albums, but with more expansive arrangements and the energy of their live performance. Country music fans who might not know WB3’s music will be attracted to this album because it represents a fresh take on familiar sounds. It is only a matter of time before this band gets a fuller taste of mainstream success. Have a listen, especially if your taste skews towards American roots music – you will be delighted! Visit www.webanjo3.com for more information.

Daniel Neely’s traditional music column appears weekly in the Irish Echo.

 

 

New York celebrates Yeats

POSTED ON June 10th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

William_Butler_Yeats_by_John_Butler_Yeats_1900

A portrait of William Butler Yeats by his father John Butler Yeats (1900).

 

By Peter McDermott

W.B Yeats is just so damned sexy.

So Irish Repertory Theatre’s Producing Director Ciarán O’Reilly opined at a gala benefit in Manhattan on Monday night marking the poet’s 150th birthday.

But Artistic Director Charlotte Moore, in that routine at the mic, chided her co-founder for appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Still, the Nobel laureate who looked down, from a series of iconic images, upon the audience of 1,100 at the Town Hall had no doubt about his own sexiness.

Maud Gonne was mostly unpersuaded, however, as we know — and that and the other key dimensions of the Yeats story were marvelously told through his words, as performed by Olympia Dukakis, Colum McCann, Melissa Errico, Peter Gallagher and a few more.

Star couple Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick were officially the hosts of “Yeats: The Celebration,” and they both did quite a bit of the reading, but Moore and O’Reilly put their stamp on the proceedings early on with a video outlining the Rep’s capital program.

Many of the big stars then took their seats on stage for the rest of the show, enjoying performances by, for instance, Ciarán Sheehan, Gabriel Donohue and the American Ballet Theatre JKO School.

One of those stars, John Slattery (best-known perhaps as Roger Sterling in “Mad Men”), eventually got to say his party piece, “I Am Of Ireland.” He nailed it.

Caitriona Yeats, granddaughter of the man of the hour, was equally effective with her rendering of “Down by the Sally Gardens.”

That set up the musical finale to a very entertaining evening.

McGowan party

Last night, Ireland’s top diplomat in New York, Barbara Jones, described Andy McGowan as Yeats’s ambassador to the city. Other prominent figures in the community, such as George Heslin and Larry Kirwan, stepped up to praise McGowan at a “roast and toast” dinner at the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park for his vision, his kindness and his industriousness. Others via video claimed not to have heard of McGowan, and indeed said they were the real president of the Yeats Society of New York. When challenged on this, Charlotte Moore changed her story and insisted instead that she was the vice-president.

Peter Quinn, in that video, said he had never heard of Yeats before McGowan told him of his society. He was upset to hear he was dead, and then that he wasn’t a Catholic, or even Jewish, and nor had he come from the Bronx. However, once Quinn was assured that this dead Protestant poet had never been a Mets fan, he agreed to get involved.

McGowan had scheduled a special event to commemorate the 150th anniversary and also the Yeats Society of New York’s 25th, but in secret his wife Judy and three sons began planning a tribute to him for the same night at the same venue. And they were so successful in getting the word out, several people had to be turned away at the door.

Michael Gray, the Irish Echo’s film critic, commented to me that he learned some years ago that you had to arrive in plenty of time to ensure your place at Yeats Society events.

judy & andy mcgowan

Andy and Judy McGowan at the National Arts Club last night.

 

 

Wise entertainer, campaigner

POSTED ON June 9th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

Richardsons

By Daniel Neely

A couple of weeks ago I previewed Tommy Sands’s show “The Ballad of a Songman” that took place at the Irish Arts Center on the 30th. I am happy to report that I went, and it was spectacular. In “Songman,” Sands takes vignettes about his life, his family, his music, and the Troubles, and through song and story, weaves them into a witty, masterfully conceived and expertly realized tapestry that alternates between being uproariously funny and deeply upsetting. In some ways, the show is broadly historical: Sands covers his youth and upbringing in County Down, his relationship with his parents and the Sands Family band, the death of his brother, his friendship with musicians like Pete Seeger (among many others), his meetings with influential figures like Ian Paisley, and his tireless campaigns for peace not just in Northern Ireland, but the world over. This last subject is a particularly important part of the show and he handles it with an unfailing wit that had the audience rapt throughout.

However, there’s a wisdom and a philosophy of life that is communicated in the show’s every facet that makes “Songman” less of a memoir and more of an object lesson in the philosophy of life and of living. I went in expecting that this might be the case, but was overwhelmed at how adventuresome and smartly handled the whole thing was.

Tommy Sands

Tommy Sands

The show is presented in a one-man format, but Sands augments it with a smart multi-media presentation that includes a large number of excellent and well-curated photos and videos that not only enrich his tale, but that he uses and interacts with in impressive fashion. It really extends the show’s feel.

“Songman” is simply brilliant. It is a moving and delightful work and Sands delivers on all levels. The audience left the performance absolutely buzzing. Hopefully, Sands will be able to take this show on the road because I think it would appeal to a wide range of audiences – I could see it working quite well in a university theater setting. Absolutely recommended. Learn more about Sands and his show at www.tommysands.com

A bright future

In other news, I’ve been listening to “Heart on a String,” the new album from Haley and Dylan Richardson. The Richardsons are two very young musicians with an extremely bright future and this, their debut album, documents an auspicious beginning in Irish music.

Haley is one of Irish America’s musical wunderkinds. A precocious young talent (she was only 12 when this album was made and already has an All-Ireland on fiddle to her name), her musical development has been hastened along under the watchful eye of the great Brian Conway. She is an extraordinary young musician and puts on quite a display here.

Dylan is also a strong player. Having studied with the likes of John Doyle and Eamon O’Leary, he, too, has competed favorably in Fleadh competition and here proves himself a solid backer with a reasoned approach and good taste.

The album is rife with interesting, high-level repertory (much of it common to players of the Sligo persuasion) and the Richardsons execute nicely throughout. Haley distinguishes herself in her playing, especially on “Porthole of the Kelp / …” (which has some flashy guitarwork from Dylan) “Bonnie Kate / …” (which features John Whelan) and ‘The Mathematician / …,” where her technical abilities are very much on display. Her well-realized version of“Lament for Staker Wallace” is another of the album’s highlights, as is her take on “Dear Irish Boy,” which features backing by Flynn Cohen.

Special mention is due to the track Conway himself appears on, the hornpipes “The Eclipse / ….” His plays melds so well with Haley’s, but beyond that he brings nuanced depth and a lovely bounce to already her stellar approach.

This is a sharp, strong debut from a couple of Irish music’s bright young stars. Definitely worth having a listen to! For more information and to by the album, visit www.towheads.org.

For more on Daniel Neely, the Irish Echo’s traditional music correspondent, go to www.danieltneely.com.

Film reunites HBO show’s stars

POSTED ON June 8th  - POSTED IN Arts, Arts & Leisure

DSC_7698.tiff

Mark Wahlberg.

PHOTO: WB

By Karen Butler

“Entourage,” the celebrated HBO series inspired by how Mark Wahlberg brought his childhood friends along with him through the early days of his unexpected Hollywood success, is now a movie.

Produced by Wahlberg, the television comedy ran for eight seasons, wrapping up in 2011. The film reunites its stars – Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Connolly and Jerry Ferrara – who play respectively actor Vincent, his brother Johnny, his agent Ari, and Eric and Turtle, friends from Queens, who move with Vincent to Los Angeles and help him navigate the treacherous waters of the entertainment industry.

Asked at a recent Beverly Hills press conference how closely the screen versions hew to Boston-born Wahlberg’s real relationships with his lifelong pals, writer-director Doug Ellin related the funny and almost unbelievable story about how the project first got going more than a decade ago.

“Initially, it started out to be Mark. Let’s find who the next Mark Wahlberg is,” Ellin explained.

“When Adrian was cast, it went very different. They are very different types of guys and they are very different types of actors,” he added. “Mark has a Johnny Drama, who, I would say, is probably the closest in [this] group to the guys in [Wahlberg’s] group.  There is an E in Mark’s crew, but has almost nothing to do with this E, except for his name and there was a Donkey in Mark’s crew that I didn’t even really know, but, again, name-wise. Quickly, it went away from that. It was important to me to make it New York [where the guys came from] because I don’t know anything about Boston and kind of bring in a lot of stuff from my friends and family. And, also, Mark’s rise – he never really struggled. He probably wouldn’t agree with that, but he’s kind of gone straight up and we wouldn’t have had a show if Vince didn’t have his ups and downs.”

So, how did members of Wahlberg’s real-life entourage react when they initially watched themselves portrayed in the show?

“There are pieces of them and not pieces of them, so, whatever. But when they first screened the pilot – we screened it at Mark’s house – and it’s like 30 guys and I’m nervous,” Ellin confessed. “I didn’t know what they were going to think. It’s a tougher group. They’re a tougher group than this group, no offense. But I remember when Adrian came on… one of Mark’s buddies at the time just looks at me and goes, ‘Marky would kick the [expletive] out of that guy!’ So, we definitely went with a more vulnerable, sensitive entourage.”

Ellin went on to say Wahlberg graciously gave him and his team the freedom to use whatever they wanted to from Wahlberg’s life – and allowed them to omit anything they didn’t like.

“And come in any time that we really needed a big favor,” Ellin recalled. “How do we get Martin Scorsese on the show? When Eli Manning decided not to show up, Mark called Tom Brady and got him to show up. And Mark has, obviously, been a great proponent to get the word out for us.”

“Mark, I think, really, kind of, pardon my language, lit the fire under Doug’s ass to get going on the movie,” added Connolly, who was sitting alongside Ellin on the panel. “Because I think we all weren’t sure if there was a market for it or an appetite for it, and Mark was the one who was really instrumental in motivating Doug and finding people that wanted to make the movie. Mark has been real smart about when to get involved and when to let Doug do his thing… Without Mark, I don’t think we’re doing this movie.”

The filmmaker revealed one of his favorite parts of crafting the film was nabbing a particular Irish actor for a cameo.

“Liam Neeson was like one of those wish list [items.] How do we go get him?” Ellin admitted. “I called [Warner Bros. executives] Jon Berg and Greg Silverman and I’m like, ‘Is there any way we can get Liam Neeson in this movie?’ Which is kind of like when we tried to get U2 on the show. It was a joke. Like, ‘Could someone go get U2?’ And, somehow, we got them. And Jon called me and said, ‘Liam’s in.’ Either his son loved the show…  I don’t even know.  But Liam came and he was just great. These cameos come and they’re not doing it for money because we’re not really paying them. I mean, union rates. We’re not doing anything illegal, but Liam showed up and he had a great time and we’ve always had people who wanted to be there, so it’s been a pleasure.”

Connolly said he sees the cultural impact “Entourage” has made since it debuted in 2004.

“A lot of people learned the ins and outs of the business watching the show,” he observed.  “I can remember after we did the Sundance [episode,] getting calls from 10 of my friends from Long Island going: ‘We’re going to Sundance! We’re going to Sundance!’ And I’m like: ‘No. You’re not going to Sundance. You’re not going to get in anywhere. You’re going to be standing out in the cold. Don’t do it!’ So, I think we opened a lot of people’s eyes to lots of different aspects of the business.”

He noted he also frequently gets approached by aspiring actors who tell him they moved to the West Coast because they were inspired by the series.

“We made the traffic worse in LA,” Connolly quipped. “Countless times, people come up to me and say: ‘Yeah, me and my friends moved out here because of you guys.’ And I’m like: ‘Are you carpooling? You guys don’t all have your own cars, right?’ I think they look at us and go, ‘If these guys can do it, why not us, so let’s move out to California together and give it a run.’”

“Entourage” is in theaters now.

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