Scottish Music from the Paul McKenna Band Performing October 1 in Camp Hill, PA

PAUL McKENNA BAND STORY

By Kira L. Schlechter

Paul McKenna’s self-named band has been given all sorts of
accolades – racking up comparisons to the Boys of the Lough and taking home the
title of Best Up and Coming Act at the 2009 Scots Trad Music Awards.

Believe the hype: They’re that good. They are the best of
traditional music, holding fast those traditions while rooting their sound in
modern, forward-thinking arrangements.

McKenna, who sings and plays guitar and bouzouki, is joined
by mates David McNee (bouzouki, tenor guitar), Sean McGray (flute, whistles,
guitar), Ruairidh Macmillan (fiddle), and Ewan Baird (percussion). Based in
Glasgow, the band has been together since 2006 and released a debut album,
“Between Two Worlds,” three years later.

They perform Saturday, Oct. 1, at 7:30 p.m. at Camp Hill
United Methodist Church, 147 S. 22nd St. Tickets are $20 for general
admission, $16 for SFMS and Scottish Society of Central Pennsylvania members,
and $10 for students ages 3 through 22. A potluck dinner will precede the show
at 6 p.m.

McKenna answered e-mailed questions about the band’s latest
album, this year’s “Stem the Tide” – a lovely, energetic  mix of tunes and songs sung in McKenna’s
airy, burring tenor and featuring glorious harmonies – after taking part in Bethlehem’s
bustling Celtic Classic festival.

Q: You cite
traditional musicians like Paul Brady and Dick Gaughan as influences, but can
you explain how Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin filter into your musical mix?

A: I have listened to all types of music and played in
different bands over the years, including rock and indie (ones), so many
musical styles have influenced me. The mighty Zep continue to be one of my
favorite bands of all time, but of course, musicians like Paul Brady and Dick
Gaughan are probably more evident in the music we play today in the band.

Q: You graduated with
a degree in
Scottish Music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow—what
do you plan to then do with your degree (teach, maybe, do research)?

A: At the moment, I am concentrating on
performing with a little teaching mixed in. Perhaps I will do some research at
a later date, but for now, touring is the main thing for me.

Q: To back up a little, how did you get interested in music in the
first place, when did you start playing, what inspired you first? Was it
playing that came before singing, or the other way around?

A: I came from an Irish background, so
singing was always around me from a young age. I began playing piano and
guitar, then started to sing in my early teens. I became more interested in
traditional music after listening to people like Christy Moore, which led me to
Planxty and to taking up the bouzouki and mandolin.

Q: Having been named Best Up and Coming Act back in 2009 might
seem to put some pressure on you (it’s rather like winning the Best New Artist
Grammy, it seems) – do you see it as such and why or why not? How do you deal
with accolades like that in terms of forging ahead, as it were?

A: Winning the Best Up and Coming Act in
2009 just gave us more ambition to drive forward with our music. We didn’t see
it as pressure, but as an opportunity.

A few questions about the album:

Q: “Again for Greenland” and “The Mermaid” are set to original
melodies – do you do that often, set words that already exist to a new melody,
and what do you enjoy about doing that? Can you speak a little more about the
words, what both songs are about?

A: We do write new melodies for traditional
words quite often – it has become more popular in recent years and is a great
way to use older songs and breathe some new life into them. “Again for
Greenland” is a song from John Ord’s Bothy Ballads and is about a time when men
would leave home for six months to fish and earn money hunting whale. Many men
took part in this, not only from Scotland, but from Scandinavian countries,
too.

“The Mermaid” is basically about the
hardship at sea, and the chorus features a mermaid, for some reason. I’ll have
to look back at that one, I think!

Q: Can you tell me a bit more about Lionel McClelland, whose song
“Silent Majority” you do on “Stem the Tide” (you describe him as a great friend
and include your own “Lionel’s Farwell” in tribute to him)?

A: Lionel McClelland was a great friend and
mentor to me and others in the band. He always had good advice, which kept my
feet on the ground. He was a prolific songwriter and a great instrumentalist. I
think ‘Silent Majority’ will be a song which will be important for many years
to come. It’s one of the finest songs I have ever heard and been privileged to
sing.

Q: The story behind “John Riley” (the deserter who goes to fight
for Mexico) is definitely compelling – what inspired you about that tale?
Whatever made him and the other soldiers go to the other side, do you
know?     

A: I was instantly drawn to the story, like
many others that deal with immigration. I’m a huge Tim O’Brien fan (he wrote
the song). I believe Riley and around 200 other Irishmen left the U.S. army
after being treated terribly. They were also all Catholics and shared this with
the Mexicans, so perhaps that played some part in it, too.

Q: Did you write “Dreams of Darien” to draw attention to that
tragic, misguided event because it was so little-known? I’m guessing it was one
of those get-rich-quick schemes that never work out for the poor folks taken in
by it – why do you think people were so compelled to participate in it?

A: I did write the song for that reason. I
wouldn’t say it was a get-rich-quick scheme, as it would have taken a
substantial amount of time to actually set up a trading colony in Panama. The
problem was that they were just not prepared for the conditions (there), and it
didn’t help matters when the English stopped all aid getting there when they
started to fail.

What people must remember is that at this
time in Scotland, nobody had any money. There was famine. And everybody wanted
this to work. Unfortunately, many people died and the scheme completely failed.
(Its) failure is one of the main reasons Scotland is part of the United Kingdom
today.

Q: What’s next for the band in general and perhaps for you
personally? Are you gathering material for another album, and if so, where is
the search taking you? How about maybe other projects apart from the band, if
there are any?

A: We intend to just keep doing what we’re
doing and try to progress even more. We won’t be recording another album for at
least nine months, so we haven’t put too much thought into it yet. What we do
know for certain is that we will be working with Brian McNeill again as
producer.

Personally, I will be doing some duo gigs
with a singer from back home called Siobhan Miller – this year, we will play a
few shows in Scotland and Denmark to get the ball rolling.

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Carolina Chocolate Drops to Play in Harrisburg Friday, Sept 23, 2011

by Jes Hayden

The original members of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dom
Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson, met each other in Boone, N.C.,
at the Black Banjo Gathering. Each of the three musicians was curious about
old-time Southern folk music and its African roots and very excited to meet
other musicians who shared their interests. In 2005, they formed the Carolina
Chocolate Drops, a modern take on a traditional black string band.

Now, after winning countless fans and a Grammy (for the CD Genuine Negro Jig), the group has made
some line-up changes signifying the next chapter in band’s life. The addition
of beatboxer Adam Matta and multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins (who replaced
departing band member Justin Robinson) add a more modern sensibility to the band’s
repertoire. This new composition will be featured as the Carolina Chocolate
Drops makes a stop at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg on Friday, September 23rd
in a concert sponsored by Point Entertainment and Greenbelt Events.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops perform a mix of bluegrass,
“jass,” jug music, and prehistoric country and rock. The members use
a range of traditional string-band instruments including several banjos, a
fiddle, a ceramic jug, bones a kazoo and throw in a little buck dancing for good
measure!  United by the love of
traditional black music, the group has been mentored by Joe Thompson, an
elderly black fiddler from North Carolina who taught them music from his
region.

Playing Thompson’s music has became the core of Carolina Chocolate
Drops’ repertoire, although much of this music traces back to the minstrel acts
of the 1920s — controversial music performed by white musicians in blackface.
Giddens acknowledges the songs’ history. “What we’re striving to put out
there is the joyous side of this music — the good side of this time
period,” she says on the band’s website. “There’s a lot of bad stuff,
and we’re not going to deny that. But you can’t throw everything out.”

On the CD Genuine
Negro Jig
the band does much more than recreate black string band music
from the last century. While still rooted in traditional styles, the CD ranges
boldly from Joe Thompson’s Cindy Gal to Tom Waits’ Trampled Rose and Rhiannon’s
acoustic hip hop version of R&B artist Blu Cantrell’s Hit ‘Em Up Style. As
they settle into their new line-up they are sure to showcase more of the early
blues, ballads and ragtime that Jenkins brings to the group and the beatbox
artistry of Matta. In concert The Carolina Chocolate Drop’s versatility,
innovativeness and enthusiasm have allowed them to break through the
generational barrier and attract audience members of all ages.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops performs at the Sunoco
Performance Theater, Whitaker Center for the Science and the Arts located at
222 Market Street in Harrisburg at 7:30, Friday, September 23rd.
Tickets are $25 and $30 and are available at www.whitakercenter.org or by calling
717-214-ARTS. To read more about the band visit www.carolinachocolatedrops.com.
Genuine Negro Jig is on the Nonesuch Record label.

Award Winning Irish Fiddler Kevin Burke to Play in Harrisburg, PA on October 30, 2011

By Jess Hayden

One of the best press quotes that I’ve ever heard describe a
musician is, “precisely as tricky as he needs to be.” This quote, written
several years back in the Village Voice
about veteran Irish fiddler Kevin Burke captures the superb, relaxed style of
this Celtic music icon. His fingers move effortlessly across his violin strings
as he flawlessly plays the jigs, reels and beautiful slow airs from County
Sligo, Ireland where his parents were born. Burke was once a member of the
seminal Irish traditional groups The
Bothy Band
and the legendary quartet called Patrick Street. For the last thirty
years he has made his home in the United States where he currently tours with the
pan-Celtic group Celtic Fiddle Festival
and in a duo with multi-instrumentalist and composer Cal Scott.

Kevin Burke was born in London, England, to Irish parents.
He began playing fiddle at age eight. Frequent trips to visit relatives in
Ireland immersed him in Sligo music and, by the age of 13, he was already
performing with other traditional Irish musicians. In his early teens he
started going to pubs regularly to hear and play traditional music. “Most of
the people at these gatherings were rural Irish people” he said. “They were
typically from families that were large and houses that were small.” Although
many of his English neighbors disapproved of Irish pubs, his parents actively
encouraged him to go to them. “They saw it as a very important part of my education,”
he said. “I met people in pubs whose knowledge of music and dance was
unsurpassed. Their respect for history, tradition and ritual was a great lesson
for a young teenager.”

In fact, it was in a pub that Burke first met American folk
legend Arlo Guthrie. “One day I walked into a pub in County Clare and heard
some great music being played by a few American visitors,” he recalls. After
spotting his fiddle case they asked him to play a tune. “We got talking and it
turned out one of these guys was Arlo Guthrie, Woody’s son,” he said. They
ended up spending a few days together and not long afterwards Burke received a
letter inviting him to come to the US and do some recording together. Burke
ended up playing on Arlo’s recording “The Last of The Brooklyn Cowboys”
along with various musicians including slide guitarist Ry Cooder.

In 1979 Burke decided to move to the states and since then
has lived in Portland, Oregon. In 2002 he was awarded a National Heritage
Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts. This fellowship, given for
artistic excellence, is this country’s highest honor in the traditional arts.
Burke keeps an active touring schedule and today his name is synonymous with
Irish fiddle music around the world. Hesays that he is  just glad to continue to play the music that
he enjoys. “There are thousands of old tunes, good ones that haven’t been
played in years,” he says. “When I find something I love, I play it.
And when I find something I like, I bend it out of shape until I love it. Good
music is good music. It should be heard.”

Kevin Burke will perform with multi-instrumentalist and
composer Cal Smith on Sunday, October 30th in a concert presented
by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society. The concert will be held at 7:30 pm at
the Fort Hunter Barn in Harrisburg. Preceding the concert will be a potluck
dinner at 6 pm. This concert is part of a full season of traditional arts
events that explore folk music and dance. For tickets and information visit www.susquehannafolk.org

Quotes for this post have been complied from internet sources

Teada Celebrates 10th Anniversary, Performs in York, PA Sept 25, 2011

 BY KIRA L. SCHLECHTER

In the Irish language, “teada” means strings. And it’s
strings of both the literal and figurative variety that have kept the band
Teada together and flourishing for a decade.

Fiddler Oisin Mac Diarmada spoke about the band’s 10-year
milestone (actually marked in 2010) and what he feels they’ve accomplished in
that time – as well as the album that marks that anniversary, “Ceol &
Cuimhne” (that’s “Music & Memory”) – in an e-mail interview.

Teada will continue the celebration in a Susquehanna Folk
Music Society concert at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at the Unitarian Universalist
Congregation of York, 925 S. George St. York’s own Irish Blessing will open.
Tickets are $25 for general admission, $20 for SFMS members, and $10 for
students ages 3 through 22. Buy them online at www.brownpapertickets.com or call
800-838-3006.

Here’s what Oisin had to say:

Q: You are marking
your 10th anniversary as a band – have you maintained the same
lineup throughout? If so, what do you think has been the driving force in
keeping you together for that long?

A: We started as a four-piece band in 2001 with John Blake
(flute, guitar), Sean Mc Elwain (bouzouki, banjo), Tristan Rosenstock (bodhran)
and myself. In 2003, we were joined by Paul Finn (button accordion).

At the end of 2004, John (started) working for Na Piobari
Uilleann (a musical organization based in Dublin), which meant he was unable to
tour with the band from then on. He was replaced at the beginning of 2005 by
(flutist) Damien Stenson, and the lineup has remained consistent since then.

It’s been great to have such consistency in the lineup.
There are many things that can lead to changes in a band lineup over a period
of time, but having a good relationship on- and off-stage is certainly of huge
benefit. I have enjoyed touring with the lads a lot, as there is a good
friendship that underlies it all.

Q: What would you say
has been your greatest accomplishment (or accomplishments) during those 10
years and why is it (or they) so meaningful?

A: We get a tremendous amount of joy from being (able) to
bring the traditional music of Ireland to music lovers throughout the world.
It’s a real privilege to work in a field that can bring joy and fulfillment to
others, even if the role of a touring musician can be challenging in other
respects.

Music is a lifelong journey for me, and it brings (me) great
pleasure to collaborate with other musicians in Ireland and abroad in the
journey of Irish traditional music.

Q: Did you feel a
certain amount of pressure putting together the tracks for “Ceol & Cuimhne”
considering it would be marking a milestone in your career, and if so, how did
you deal with it? Did you put extra care into selecting tracks with that in
mind, or was it rather the same process as for any other album?

A: Every recording is a mixture of enjoyment and challenge,
and the process of gathering material can certainly take some time. Since our
previous album release was in 2006, there was a considerable space between (it)
and ‘Ceol  & Cuimhne.’ The long gap
was useful in many ways in terms of assembling new material, but an
overly-extended gap can make one lose a certain familiarity with the recording
process.

On reflection, it took a little while to focus initially on
this recording due to the time gap and the various commitments of the band
members. But once the process was under way in earnest, we quickly gathered an
energy. It was a similar process to previous albums in the way it reflected the
musical impulses of the band at a particular time.

Q: While you are
playing traditional music, of course, much of it many decades old, are there
certain steps you take to give it a certain modernity (and how would you define
that concept in this context) and what might some of those be? Would that
possibly involve including tunes by current, or maybe still-living, composers?

A: The band’s approach would not be focused on modernity.
Teada Is grounded in the musical tastes of its members, and reflects, to some
extent, the musical fashions/repertoire of the time we live in in the same way
that traditional music is always in a state of adaptation. The repertoire we
play is broad, mixing tunes of ancient origin with more recent compositions.

The interpretation of traditional Irish tunes thankfully
leaves huge scope for personal exploration, so it is always an interesting
journey to work with the basic notational material of a tune and (then) try to
carve it into something which we might consider has some level of detail that
would be interesting to (listeners).

Q: Do you listen
solely to traditional music in your spare or off time, or are there other types
of music you enjoy — and what would some of that music be? How much do you
think you need a balance in your listening habits in order to keep your own
music fresh?

A: All the band members have other musical styles they
listen to in addition to traditional Irish music. It’s always enjoyable to
listen to old archival material as well as more recent recordings of
traditional Irish musicians. It is important, however, to retain a certain
freshness with the music with which one is constantly engaging, (and) listening
to other musical styles is part of that process.

My own personal favorite, outside of traditional Irish
music, is jazz, particularly jazz piano, which interests me greatly, especially
from the perspective of harmony.

Q: So after marking
this milestone of 10 years, what’s next, maybe in terms of a new recording or
some notable live shows?

A: This year has brought an exciting collaboration with
legendary West Kerry singer and accordion player Seamus Begley. Seamus has been
touring this year as our special guest, and he will also be joining us during
our March and May 2012 U.S. tours. It’s a wonderful experience to have one of
Ireland’s finest singers join us. (His) repertoire is just incredible. (He and
I) have just finished recording a duet album of fiddle/button accordion (tunes)
and songs (that) we plan on releasing during the fall.