The Irish Band “Pride of New York” to Play in York, PA, January 8th, 2012

When the traditional Irish music band Pride of New York comes to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York (located at 925 S. George Street in York, PA) on Sunday, January 8th at 7:30 PM, the Susquehanna Folk Music Society will offer audience members the opportunity to experience an Irish-American supergroup with some of the best known players on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. (further information on the concert at http://www.sfmsfolk.org)

The group includes Joanie Madden on flute and pennywhistle (best known as the leader of Cherish the Ladies), Brian Conway on fiddle, Billy McComiskey on button accordion and Brendan Dolan on keyboards. Collectively the members have won four all-Ireland championship awards, recorded multiple solo albums, and logged countless miles touring across the U.S. and abroad.

I caught up with Joanie Madden recently to talk to her about the history of Pride of New York, why playing with the band means so much to her and the upcoming January 8th concert.

Folkmama: Pride of New York is such a terrific band, but you don’t seem to tour very often.

Madden: No we haven’t done a show since August the 14th. The reason we don’t work as much is me.  We get plenty of offers but unfortunately with my busy schedule with Cherish the Ladies we have to turn a lot of it down because of my commitments. But we’re not a well worn shoe; the excitement is there every time we play.

Folkmama: So you did a CD together, how long ago was that?

Madden: I think it’s been two or three years. But we’ve only made one record and that was named album of the year (by the Irish Echo newspaper)

Folkmama: And that was right around the time that you played at the National Folk Festival in Butte Montana?

Madden: Well, that was the year that it came out. We’ve all been friends with the folks at the National Folk Festival and they were excited to see what the four of us would do. What really shocked me about playing with this group was when we sat down to record, that we actually played note for note. Our versions were so much the same that there was no changing for any of us. That was incredible for me. That never happened to me before with anyone that I ever played with.

Folkmama: Why is that? Is there really an Irish American New York sound that you all share?

Madden:  You know there is a County Clare styles, a County Sligo style and a Donegal style and I think there is a New York style. We are so influenced in New York by Western Ireland music; Galway, Sligo mainly—those two counties were where our inspiration came. In my case, my father was from Galway. And I learned my music (on flute) from Jack Coen who lived 11 miles from my father, and Billy McComiskey learned from Sean McGlyn (accordion) who lived 7 miles from my father, and Brian Conway learn his (fiddle) music from  Andy McGan and Martin Wynne.

These were two guys—Andy McGan always played with Joe Burke who was from Galway and they made all these recordings and they were always accompanied by Felix Dolan on piano who is Brendon Dolan’s dad. So all this came down to us and we all had this incredible symmetry with our ideas about the music.

We agree on the treatment of it, but just being the keepers of the flame is a good way to say it. We were the ones that they really wanted to pass their music to.

Folkmama: So, how did the group get its name?

Madden: Well, first what people should understand is that the name Pride of New York is not the name that we put on ourselves, it was given to us by the music critic Paul Keating from the Irish Voice newspaper.  It used to be Joanie Madden, Billy McComiskey, Brian Conway and Brendon Dolan.  And eventually people would come to see us and he started calling us the Pride of New York, instead of writing our names he would simply call us that because that’s what he believes we are. When it comes to the hopes and dreams of traditional Irish music; we were the ones chosen by all the older guard to pass the music down to.

Folkmama: Are you playing music that is no longer being played in Ireland? In a sense are you helping to preserve a style and repertoire of music?

Madden: I think that in Ireland the styles melded more than what happened to us; we grew up in New York and were so influenced by these guys who wouldn’t stand for any foolery!  This was a sacred chalice that they were handing down to us-it was not allowed to be messed with.  They were passing it down from their families where it had been passed down to them and they were giving it to us. My father was a lunatic about treating the music with respect.

Folkmama: What’s it like playing with these three talented musicians?

Madden: Getting to play with these guys—they are just all virtuosos. Billy McComiskey is my favorite accordion player in the world—he’s just incredible. Brian Conway is one of the greatest fiddle players who ever put a bow to the fiddle. Without a doubt Brendon Dolan is my favorite piano player that I’ve ever worked with—and I’ve played with a lot of great ones.  And I think the fact that we enjoy each other’s company so much and the fact that it’s a rare thing that only happens two or three times a year (not by choice, but because of other commitments) I think there is just a special thing every time that we play together .

Folkmama: What kind of response do you get from audiences?

Madden: Every gig that we have done has been packed to the gills and every gig that have done has been completely standing ovation. People are so excited at the end of the show—which is something as I’ve lead Cherish the Ladies for the past 27 years I work very hard with a 10 or 11 piece band to get the crowd up, but whatever it is amongst the four of us we can do the same.

Folkmama: Does it feel any different to you, playing with men rather than woman?

Madden: No, to me it doesn’t matter. When you’re playing with somebody good you’re playing with somebody good. With Cherish the Ladies the fact that we’re a bunch of woman—we never planned on that.  It’s the same with The Pride of New York. We never really planned for it to be one woman and three men.

Folk Mama:Has Pride of New York ever toured in Ireland?

Madden: We’ve been to Ireland three times. Every time we have gone they have gone crazy with us—haywire. Really, really fantastic. We will be doing the same for you down in York, PA so it should really be great.

Folk Mama:What should people expect at the concert in York, PA on January 8th?

Madden: Everyone is featured, so they’ll get to hear all the instruments.  It’s a lot of jigs and reels and hornpipes and a lot of jokes and laughter in between. I’m extremely proud to be playing with these guys. It’s hard for me to explain to an audience how much they are going to enjoy it but every concert we have ever done—it’s just incredible the response.

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