Interview With Irish Trio HighTime: “We Want to Bring The Audience on an Adventure.”

HighTime, a fresh new trio from the heart of the Connemara region in Ireland, will bring their mix of traditional Irish and modern folk music to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York on Sunday, February 23rd. The evening begins at 7:30 pm.  The concert is sponsored by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society.  More information can be found on the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website. Tickets are $25 General Admission, $21 for SFMS Members, and $10 for students (ages 3-22).  Tickets will be available at the door or online.

Earlier this week, band members Séamus Ó Flatharta, (Celtic Harp, whistle, bódhran drum, Irish dancing & vocals) Ciarán Bolger, (guitar and vocals) and Conall Ó Flatharta (flute, whistle & vocals) chatted with SFMS staff writer Peter Winter about the groups origins, their 2018 debut “SUNDA,” and being ambassadors of the Irish Gaelic language.

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Where does the band name come from?

Ciarán (Guitar/Vocals): The name “HighTime” came about in reference to a feeling within the band and between its members that it was long overdue (high time) that we started a band seeing as we had been playing together for so long. 

This is a widely used saying in Ireland and throughout the world. Séamus and I are more accustomed to the Gaelic version of this saying as we come from a Gaeltacht (Irish Speaking) area in Connemara in west Galway. This expression has an equivalent in the Irish/Gaelic language (thar ama – pronounced haur – awwmah).

HighTime also implies a fun, fresh and exciting experience which is what the band aims to give their audiences at each show using music, songs in the English language as well as the Irish language, dance and story.

How did the three of you all begin playing together?

Ciarán: Séamus and I have known each other since childhood. We are next door neighbours living on the same mountain face with a small cattle field separating both houses, looking out over Ardmore bay in Connemara, County Galway. For as long as we can remember, our families have been playing music together.

In 2015, Michael and I met while performing with a touring professional Irish music and dance show, Celtic Legends. Michael hails from the Irish Music hub of Manchester, England and has been living in Ireland for many years; moving over permanently to study and graduate from the highly regarded University of Limerick where he attained an Honours BA in Traditional Irish Music & Dance. 

Séamus and Michael met later in march of 2016 while performing at the Hövelhof Irish Music festival alongside Séamus’ older brother, Conall and I. This sparked a huge connection between all of us and the band, as a three piece outfit, was formed officially in late 2017. In early 2019, Michael replaced Conall as a full time member.

How did you decide on “Sunda” the title of your 2018 debut album?

Ciarán: Sunda, as an album name, came about as a play on words initially. In the Gaelic language, Sunda means Sound – the nautical term for a stretch of water between land and an island etc. There are many such sounds to be observed on the rugged west coast of Ireland where Séamus and I hail from.

However we found that it came to represent a deeper meaning within the band; the will to navigate between the tradition of Irish music and also other influences we have in music and to showcase that in our music and in the debut album. 

Two of you grew up learning Irish Gaelic, do you think the traditional language of Ireland is becoming more wide spread?

Séamus (Harp, Dance, Vocals): We certainly hope so! Wherever we go, we try and fly the flag for the language, so to speak, and generate an interest among our audiences. We feel that this a great platform to get people excited about the language. It is an exceptionally beautiful language and we feel it is our duty to showcase it during our shows and to make songs in the Irish language as well as phrases relatable to audiences of all ages and nationalities.

The more utility a language has, the stronger it is and can become. We feel that music and the arts in general can be a great way to give any language utility. Music is a true mode of expression after all! We hope that by weaving Gaelic into HighTime shows people will feel the urge to learn more about the language and take initiative to find out more.

How do the three of you balance honoring tradition but also bringing your own innovations to this music?

Séamus: I don’t think this is something we do consciously, it’s more of a natural occurrence. Because our tradition and culture has been such an integral part of our upbringing, it’s almost inevitable that it should emerge in whatever style or genre we decide to explore. 

As three very curious and open minded individuals, we are very interested in exploring different genres as a band. We have a somewhat unique and flexible approach to our musical and vocal arrangements. We thrive off drawing from different influences and inspirations, be they traditional or more contemporary, while allowing our interpretation of the music to materialize with as much time and space as we see fit. Similarly when it comes to our original compositions, our tradition, culture and language remain an integral part of the finished product.

What are some other musical acts (of any genre) that have been an influence on you three?

Michael (Flute, Whistles, Vocals): I am hugely influenced by great flute players such as Matt Molloy and Michael McGoldrick, Alan Doherty, Kieran Munnelly, etc. I listen to a range of different music from different world traditions too. I particularly enjoy backing up voices harmonically with the flute and am influenced a lot by vocal music. I think we all have a keen interest in singing and harmony singing which is why it is to the fore in our music. Ciarán, no doubt, has been influenced by the great Irish balladeers such as The Clancy Brothers, The Dubliners, Paul Brady and Andy Irvine (the list goes on!). Yet we all have very broad musical tastes especially in the wider folk music world.

I think the areas that we grew up in also massively influenced us. It’s clear that Séamus and Ciaran are influenced by the traditions and musicians of their native Connemara area, be it Sean Nos singing or the instrumental music of the region.  Séamus would have  grown up listening to the singing of Connemara Sean Nós legends such as Bríd Ní Mhaoilchiarán, Joe John Mac an Iomaire and Josie Sheain Jeaic Mac Donnacha. In a broader sense as a harpist, the likes of Michael Rooney, Laoise Kelly and Michelle Mulcahy have been massive influences.

What do you want audiences to walk away with from a High Time show?

Michael: We hope that they walk away with a sense of joy and fun at the end of a show. There is a big sense of community in any traditional music genre and we love getting the audience involved in the show whether it be singing, clapping or dancing along.

We like to exhibit many facets of the traditions of Irish music, Irish song, language and dance throughout the show and hope that we can foster an interest for these aspects in our audiences. Irish music is full of life and as a band, we are always wanting to give the audience an uplifting experience. 

In a sense, we also want to bring the audience on an adventure. As with any adventure, there are always ups and downs and we bring these struggles and triumphs to light throughout the show. We love telling the stories that underpin the music and songs. This means navigating through history and culture; whether it be through sorrowful haunting sean nós songs as well as lively blasts of traditional tunes with Irish dancing.  Most of all though we want our audiences to walk away feeling energized (and wanting to come back and see another show)!

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Peter Winter lives in Harrisburg where he writes, teaches music, plays in the Celtic group Seasons, DJs, runs half of the record label His & Hers Records and serves on the board of the SFMS. He is on instagram

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Carolyn Friedman
    Feb 20, 2020 @ 04:14:28

    Jess — you are on a roll!!! Nice work! – Carolyn

    Reply

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