March 26, 2017: The Outside Track to perform Celtic music in Harrisburg

The Outside Track, a Celtic group performing Scots, Irish, and Cape Breton tunes, songs, and step-dance comes to Harrisburg for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Sunday, March 26, 2017, at 7:30 p.m., at the Abbey Bar, Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street. The group features vocals, electric harp, flute, whistle, fiddle, and guitar.

For information on the band members visit http://www.sfmsfolk.org/concerts/OutsideTrack.html

The Outside Track was named Group of the Year in both the Live Ireland awards and the TIR awards and was nominated for a Scots trad award. The group’s latest CD, “Light Up the Dark,” was nominated for Best Album in the 2016 Indie Acoustic Project Awards.

Concert tickets are $24 General Admission, $20 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at http://www.sfmsfolk.org.

We had a chance to speak to the band’s accordion player Fiona Black about the origins of The Outside Track and what audiences should expect.

FOLKMAMA: I understand that throughout the history of the band you have had members from Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton and the United States. Did you start out with the idea to become a Pan-Celtic band?

FIONA: It really didn’t start out as a concept band. We met in Limerick in Ireland at University. Originally it was myself and Ailie (we are the two Scottish members) and we also had a couple of Irish members at the very beginning and a Canadian member.

It has always seemed natural that we would play music from the countries that we were from. That’s how it came about and we have continued to do that.

FOLKMAMA: Would it be easy for an audience member to figure out the country of origin for the tunes or songs that you play?

FIONA: We all play music from our own regions and our own countries, but honestly there are many more similarities than differences between the music from Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton.

FOLKMAMA: Can you describe your performances?

FIONA: Well, they are really quite lively. About half of what we do are tunes and the other half songs.  We do different arrangements of tunes; some traditional ones and some that we have invented. Each instrument is showcased at different points and we all work together on harmonies and chords. The fiddle player is the dancer. She does Cape Breton style of dancing which is really close to the floor and really beautiful.

FOLKMAMA: Who is in the band and where are they from?

FIONA: Teresa Horgan is the lead singer and flute and whistle player. She’s from County Cork in Ireland. And then Ailie Robertson is the harp player in the band—she plays electric harp. She creates a lot of the bass lines and a lot of the texture as well. And she’s from Edinburgh in Scotland. My name is Fiona Black and I’m from the Highlands in Scotland and I play the piano accordion. And then we have Emerald Rae who’s from Boston. She’s the fiddle player and the step dancer in the band. She spent a lot of time in Cape Breton. And then Eric MacDonald is also from Boston and he’s the guitar player in the band.

FOLKMAMA: How long have you been playing together?

FIONA: We started about 10 years ago. Ailie and I are the two original members left.

FOLKMAMA: Anything you want the readers to know?

FIONA: We just put a new music video out on Facebook. We have another week in the tour and then off we’ll go to Germany. We’ll be back in the US in August!

FOLKMAMA: Is this the main gig for everyone?

FIONA: We tour about six months out of the year. We all have different side projects, other bands and different teaching projects and composing project—but for everyone this is the main band.

 

 

 

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Martin Hayes, John Doyle & Kevin Crawford–The Teetotallers– appear in Harrisburg Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Teetotalers by Jordan KoepkeOn Wednesday, April 16th at 7:30 PM the Susquehanna Folk Music Society is very pleased to be welcoming back three of the very best Irish musicians alive–six times All Ireland Fiddle Champion Martin Hayes, John Doyle; who the Irish Echo called the best guitarist in traditional Irish music today and Kevin Crawford from the group Lúnasa who is known for his excellent Irish flute playing and wit.

 

This trio—who call themselves the Teetotallers will appear at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 Front Street, Harrisburg. Tickets and information can be found at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/571342

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Following is a reprint of an interview that I did with Teetotalers guitarist JOHN DOYLE in April, 2013.

1. How long have the Teetotallers been together?

 

We’ve been doing it for the last couple of years. Very seldom we’ll do a tour because we’re busy with other things. Kevin Crawford is with Lúnasa and Martin is Martin, you know with all sorts of projects going on—and myself too. We try to get our calendars together to do at least one tour together a year. This is our second tour in the states.

 

2. Where do each of you live?

 

I live in Asheville, North Carolina and I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in County Sligo. Ireland the last year and a half—been back and forth. Kevin lives in County Clair and Martin lives in Clair also, although he’s back and forth a lot too.

 

3. How did the band first get together? How did you pick your name?

 

We were all doing this festival called the Sebastopel Celtic Festival in California back in 2010 and this man named Cloud Moss who organizes the festival does this thing during one show where he throws a bunch of people together to play. So this is one of the configurations that he picked. He actually even named us the Teetotallers because none of us drink. So we thought it was pretty apt and we figured that no one else would take the name. So it was great to not have to ponder or worry about the name.

 

4. Style of music?

 

Its old reels—flute, fiddle and guitar. It’s going back to the roots of the music and playing simply but at the same time deeply. We play mainly music from County Clare. I sing too so there will be a combination of songs and tunes.

 

5. Which Counties are you all from in Ireland?

 

They are both from Clare and I’m from Dublin originally.

 

6. What strengths does each person bring to the group?

 

Martin and Kevin are really in-depth. They have been studying the tradition and played it all their lives. Myself too. We all started from a very early age. We all started in the tradition itself—we grew up in a family of musicians—all of us. That’s one of the things about Irish music or folk music; it’s very familiar—familiar based. It’s serving the tradition—serving the culture to a degree even though you’re not consciously thinking about that. There’s an overriding feeling about that somehow—subconsciously maybe. From that—Martin has keep the tradition from his family—this depth of fiddle playing that he has. And it’s more of a feeling—the feeling of a country, and Kevin really does the same thing. And I’m different in a way. I bring a different quality to the band—a different feeling and a different energy. And as far as songs are concerned I really try to go back and get some old—some really traditional ballads. I also write some songs, but the songs I write sound very much like the traditional ones, and they give the feeling of the country too.

 

7. So how long have you known each other?

 

We’ve known each other a long time. Off and on we’ve met each other at festivals and airports a lot. But the last couple of years were the first time that we have played together.

 

8. Do you have a CD together yet?

 

No, we’ll figure that out when it comes.

 

9. And have you had pretty good reception at your concerts?

 

People understand where we are coming from. The music—it’s not about trying to impress anyone, it’s about playing the music how we feel it. We’ve been playing it long enough to know that just playing it from the heart and playing as well as you can. It’s about jelling together when we play, it’s about the community. When people get together to play it’s like there is a jelling of spirit, of tone, and of experience. If you really pay attention to each other’s playing, there is something special that happens in the music. Any form of music—any tradition. That’s what I feel when I play with the Teetotallers. I feel the energy that is there. I love it.

The Irish Band GOITSE to appear in Harrisburg March 9th. An interview with band member Tadhg Ó Meachair

GOITSE-PHOTOOn Sunday, March 9 at 4 PM the Susquehanna Folk Music Society will recreate the excitement and fun of a traditional Irish pub when they present the Irish band Goitse and dancers from the Coyle School of Irish Dance. The event will also featuring an opening act by the popular area Celtic band Irish Blessing and an Irish session held after the concert to which musicians are encouraged to bring instruments.

The event will be held at the Abbey Bar, Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg. Concert tickets are $22 General Admission, $18 for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006 or online at www.BrownPaperTickets.com.

I had a chance to speak to Tadhg Ó Meachair, one of the founding members of the band, about the group’s members, repertoire, and Limerick University’s Irish Music and Dance program where they met.

____________________________________________

FOLKMAMA: How long has the group been together?

TADHG: We’ve played   three or four years full time at this stage but we started 7 years ago. Colm and I put the idea of the band together originally and started putting some music together, and Conal joined and a year later James came to the University and we asked him to join the band. So it gradually happened.

FOLKMAMA: Were you still at school when the band started performing?

TADHG: Yes, we performed here and there over the course of the four years. It was in our final year that we first started going on tours. It was at our third year at University that we recorded our first CD. As soon as we finished we went full time into touring and traveling.

FOLKMAMA: Can you tell me about the members of your band? Several of them have Gaelic names. I’m curious how you pronounce them.

TADHG: So there’s Colm (CULL-um) Phelan on the drum, the bodhran. And then there’s Áine (AWE yeh) McGeeney who plays fiddle and is the vocalist for the band. And then we’ve got James Harvey on banjo and mandolin. Conal O’Kane is the guitar player. And my name is Tadhg (TYG) Ó Meachair and I play keyboard and accordion.

FOLKMAMA: I understand that they band writes most of the songs that they play.

TADHG: So basically in Irish music we have a large canon of music from which to draw from, and then there’s the strong tradition of composing as well. So what we tend to do is to kind of make our own compositions out of older tunes that sometimes have been in existence for hundreds of years. We take these melodies that are old and arrange them in a new way using variations and various ornamentations.

FOLKMAMA: How often does the band tour in the states?

TADHG: In the past years we’ve been in the states either twice or three times. At the moment we’re out for three weeks. We tend to be over for St Patrick’s Day and in the summer it’s largely Irish festivals.

FOLKMAMA: So you all met at Limerick University when you were all students at in the Irish Music and Dance program. It says on the school’s website that it’s the first program of its kind in Ireland, and it’s particularly unique because it encourages a lot of performance.

I’m curious what your experiences were like there and what encouraged you all to go there.

TADHG: Well I guess there is this huge imbalance when it comes to music education where a lot of the programs focus on classical music training, but it was a unique program because it gave a unique perspective. Obviously we started with western theory and things like that, but the focus was on Irish music. Just putting folk and traditional music on par with other kinds of music is right and proper I suppose.

But I guess what encouraged us to go there is just the environment that is there. It’s an environment that fosters a lot of creativity and it gives you the opportunity to meet like minded people. I suppose all of us went there to expand our understanding of Irish music and expanding our musicianship. We kind of clicked with each other musically and we went from there.

FOLKMAMA: Have there been a lot of groups that have come out of the Irish Music and Dance program?

TADHG: Yeah. I guess the cool band when we were growing up was a band called Beoga. They graduated just ahead of us. All sorts of different acts have been associated with the academy at different points.

FOLKMAMA: Your band members have won some pretty prestigious awards and actually it seems like in Ireland that there is a very robust system for recognizing talented traditional instrumentalists. We hear about the All-Ireland fiddlers, banjo players, and flute player—for example. How does the system work and how has it helped to keep traditional Irish music alive?

TADHG: So what you are talking about is the Fleadh (festival/competition of Irish music). And basically it starts out at the county level.  The first and second place winners from the county Fleadh go on to the provincial Fleadh, and then the first and second winners from the provincial Fleadh go on to the All- Ireland Fleadh.

Musicians compete in four different age groups; under 12, under 15, under 18 and senior. There are competitions on all different instruments like fiddle, accordion, whistle, pipes, and harp. It’s a great process, from a teaching point of view especially for young children. It provides a great focus for them to really think about and improve the tunes that they are playing. And wrapped around the competition you have this really festive atmosphere. The All-Ireland competition is probably one of the largest Irish Festivals in the world and a great place for musicians to meet and play with one another.

FOLKMAMA: Can musicians from the United States compete also?

TADHG: Yeah, it’s called the All-Ireland Fleadh but you have four provincial Fleadhs in Ireland, an  All-Brittan Fleadh and two provincial Fleadhs in the US. The winners from all of those Fleadhs come in and partake in the All Ireland.

FOLKMAMA: One of the claims that Limerick University makes is that the Irish Music and Dance program helps to make its students more marketable. How easy or difficult have you found it to make a living as a professional Irish musician?

TADHG: It’s really enjoyable work. It’s a lot of travel, obviously, but you really get to see the world from a different perspective. We just spent seven weeks in China, for instance. It’s definitely an enjoyable experience. We get along well on the road. A lot of us teach when we are at home, have private students or teach at the university.

FOLKMAMA: Can you describe to us what people are going to hear when they come to the concert?

TADHG: It’s Irish music with our own fun and energetic twist. It should be a good mix of some high edgy stuff and some beautiful songs .

Martin Hayes, John Doyle & Kevin Crawford–The Teetotallers– appear in Harrisburg April 26, 2013

The Teetotalers by Jordan KoepkeOn Friday, April 26th at 7:30 PM the Susquehanna Folk Music Society is THILLED to be presenting three of the very best Irish musicians alive, six times All Ireland Fiddle Champion Martin Hayes, John Doyle who the Irish Echo called the best guitarist in traditional Irish music today and Kevin Crawford from the group Lúnasa who is known for his excellent Irish flute playing and wit.

This trio—who call themselves the Teetotallers will appear at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 Front Street, Harrisburg. Opening for The Teetotallers will be local favorites Irish Blessing. Tickets and information can be found at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/352854

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Read the interview below with the Teetotalers guitarist JOHN DOYLE to find out more about the concert.

1. How long have the Teetotallers been together?

We’ve been doing it for the last couple of years. Very seldom we’ll do a tour because we’re busy with other things. Kevin Crawford is with Lúnasa and Martin is Martin, you know with all sorts of projects going on—and myself too. We try to get our calendars together to do at least one tour together a year. This is our second tour in the states.

2. Where do each of you live?

I live in Asheville, North Carolina and I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in County Sligo. Ireland the last year and a half—been back and forth. Kevin lives in County Clair and Martin lives in Clair also, although he’s back and forth a lot too.

3. How did the band first get together? How did you pick your name?

We were all doing this festival called the Sebastopel Celtic Festival in California back in 2010 and this man named Cloud Moss who organizes the festival does this thing during one show where he throws a bunch of people together to play. So this is one of the configurations that he picked. He actually even named us the Teetotallers because none of us drink. So we thought it was pretty apt and we figured that no one else would take the name. So it was great to not have to ponder or worry about the name.

4. Style of music?

Its old reels—flute, fiddle and guitar. It’s going back to the roots of the music and playing simply but at the same time deeply. We play mainly music from County Clare. I sing too so there will be a combination of songs and tunes.

5. Which Counties are you all from in Ireland?

They are both from Clare and I’m from Dublin originally.

6. What strengths does each person bring to the group?

Martin and Kevin are really in-depth. They have been studying the tradition and played it all their lives. Myself too. We all started from a very early age. We all started in the tradition itself—we grew up in a family of musicians—all of us. That’s one of the things about Irish music or folk music; it’s very familiar—familiar based. It’s serving the tradition—serving the culture to a degree even though you’re not consciously thinking about that. There’s an overriding feeling about that somehow—subconsciously maybe. From that—Martin has keep the tradition from his family—this depth of fiddle playing that he has. And it’s more of a feeling—the feeling of a country, and Kevin really does the same thing. And I’m different in a way. I bring a different quality to the band—a different feeling and a different energy. And as far as songs are concerned I really try to go back and get some old—some really traditional ballads. I also write some songs, but the songs I write sound very much like the traditional ones, and they give the feeling of the country too.

7. So how long have you known each other?

We’ve known each other a long time. Off and on we’ve met each other at festivals and airports a lot. But the last couple of years were the first time that we have played together.

8. Do you have a CD together yet?

No, we’ll figure that out when it comes.

9. And have you had pretty good reception at your concerts?

People understand where we are coming from. The music—it’s not about trying to impress anyone, it’s about playing the music how we feel it. We’ve been playing it long enough to know that just playing it from the heart and playing as well as you can. It’s about jelling together when we play, it’s about the community. When people get together to play its like there is a jelling of spirit, of tone, and of experience. If you really pay attention to each other’s playing, there is something special that happens in the music. Any form of music—any tradition. That’s what I feel when I play with the Teetotallers. I feel the energy that is there. I love it.

The great Scottish band the Tannahill Weavers to appear near Harrisburg, PA, April 7, 2013

Tannahill Weavers images, smOn Sunday, April 7, 2013 the great Scottish traditional band the TANNAHILL WEAVERS will be making their way to the Harrisburg, PA area for a 7:30 PM concert at the Camp Hill United Methodist Church located at 417 South 22nd Street, Camp Hill, PA 17011. The concert will be preceded by a 6:30 potluck dinner. Tickets are available online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/303049 or at the door.

Since their first visit to the United States in 1981, the Tannahills’ unique combination of traditional melodies on pipes, flute and fiddle, driving rhythms on guitar, and powerful three part vocal harmonies have taken the musical community by storm. As Garrison Keillor, the host of “Prairie Home Companion”, remarked, “These guys are a bunch of heroes every time they go on tour in the States”.

I had an opportunity to speak recently with one of the Tannahills–Roy Gullane– on Skype from his home in the Netherlands. We talked about the band’s history, music and upcoming concert on April 7th.

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FOLK MAMA: We’re looking forward to your performance on April 7th at the Camp Hill United Methodist Church just outside of Harrisburg, PA. You’ve played for the Susquehanna Folk Music Society before, maybe six or seven years ago at the Whitaker Center. Don’t know if that strikes any memories.

GULLANE: Ohhhh…It all becomes a little bit of a blur after 45 years.

FOLK MAMA: So, that was my first question. How long have the Tannahill Weavers been together?

GULLANE: This current lineup (Roy Gullane-guitar/vocals, Phil Smillie-flute/bodran/whistles/vocals, John Martin-fiddle/cello/viola and Colin Melville-highland bagpipes,/Scottish small pipes/whistles) has been together for about 12 years, but the band has been going for about 45 years.

FOLK MAMA: Are you one of the original members?

GULLANE: Well, to all intensive purposes, yes. It gets a bit too complicated if I say more. We’re only dealing in minutes. So yes.

FOLK MAMA: I’m sure our readers won’t care about all the little nuances! Is it fair to say that there are two original members?

GULLANE: Yeah, Phil and myself.

FOLK MAMA: OK, we’ll just go with that. But the current lineup has been in place for about 12 years. Including your bagpipe player… he looks too young.

GULLANE: He’s the young guy, he’s the new boy. He’s only been with us for 12 years.

FOLK MAMA: And he studied to be an engineer first?

GULLANE: Yes, he got his degree in Civil Engineering. But he doesn’t have the slightest interest in doing engineering now. There are not a lot of folk musicians that are qualified Civil Engineers so there you go.

FOLK MAMA: So, 45 years is a very long time. I think our readers would be interested in hearing about some of the milestones of the band or things that happened during that time that you thought were particularly interesting.

GULLANE: Oh the whole thing has been interesting. The major thing has been that we won a Scotstar Award in the early days for one of our albums and we won an American award for the CD Capernaum. In 2011 we were inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame which I personally consider to be the pinnacle of the career so far. Yes, we’re bonafide Hall of Famers now!

FOLK MAMA: I also see on your website that there are certain countries that you visit with some regularity (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland& USA) , but where were some of the most exotic or different places that you’ve toured?

 GULLANE: Mexico and Cypress probably.

FOLK MAMA: So, in those two countries in particular, how much interest is there in Celtic music?

GULLANE: To be honest, not a lot. Those are not places that we’d expect to be going regularly. They are probably one-off visits but I must say when we went to Mexico we were playing in a couple of festivals and they wanted some Celtic music that particular year and it was fabulous. I don’t know if they ever had anything like our band before but they had huge audiences and people seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.

FOLK MAMA: So, you band has been together for 45 years, and you’ve had all these great milestones and toured all over the world, and it seems like you have had some turnover in members. Has the style of music that you’ve played changed over the years?

GULLANE: We’ve had our share of changes of personnel, especially in the early days. But apart from the change 12 years ago, you’d have to go back a long, long time for another one. The music style has stayed pretty much the same. There’s a thread that runs through it. When you replace a member you try to do “like” with “like”. I certainly believe there has been a constant improvement in musicianship but there has never been a radical change

FOLK MAMA: And it seems like you have had a consistent commitment to including the Highland Bagpipes.

GULLANE: Yes, that’s true. That’s the kind of bagpipes that most people know. They are the pipes used for military parades in Scotland.

FOLK MAMA: I’ve always been curious about the differences between the music of the Highland Scots and the Lowland Scots; the Highlands being more the Gaelic, and the lowlands being the Anglo-Scots. In your biography you say that you perform the “duality of Scotland’s musical heritage” so I imagine that you are referring to these two distinct cultures?

GULLANE: Well we actually try to perform music from every part of Scotland. You know there is also the North east of Scotland which has a very Scandinavian kind of influence—the Vikings had a huge influence in Scottish culture. It’s not just been a Gaelic thing. And we just like to include a bit of everything in our show. The only thing we don’t do is we don’t sing in Gaelic. We play dance melodies from the Gaelic region, but we don’t sing in that language.

FOLK MAMA: So, what would people expect to hear if they came to one of your concerts?

GULLANE: Well, traditional music from all parts of Scotland, and we like to have a bit of fun while we are doing it. We like to raise a smile, earn a few chuckles.

FOLK MAMA: It’s all acoustic instruments. Is your repertoire all traditional or do you mix it up with some contemporary?

GULLANE: It’s for the most part traditional, and if we choose to do a contemporary number you probably won’t spot it because the songs that we write we write in a traditional style using Scots for the lyrics. That’s the language of my grandfather, old Scots—not Gaelic. The traditional songs that I sing are sung in the same language.

FOLK MAMA: So, they are not in English as we know it?

GULLANE: You’d be able to spot the English words there, but they are mixed in with words from the old Scots language. That’s always been the case. It’s from right around the Edinburgh area, that’s the dialect I am most familiar with.

(Here’s an example of traditional lyrics written in Scots:

I’m a stranger to this country, from America I came

There’s no one here that kens me nor yet can tell my name

I came o’er tae this country tae wander for a while

Far frae my bonnie dearie, aye monie’s the weary mile

Some say that I am rakish, some say that I am wild

Some say that I am guilty the lassies tae beguile

But I will prove them lying folk gin ye’ll come alang wi’ me

And be my leesome lassie on the plains o’ Americay )

FOLK MAMA: So, you do a mixture of songs and tune, and you do a lot of harmonizing?

GULLANE: Yes, three of us sing. The fourth one usually has his bagpipe in his mouth!

FOLK MAMA: Your latest CD is in 2006. Are you thinking of doing another one?

GULLANE: We’re always thinking of doing another one. Now if we could just get the time to do it! We do have a few projects going on at the moment. The flute player is at the point of releasing a solo album and I’ve got a project with a young accordion player that I have been chipping away at, and I’m at the mixing stage right now. But these are things that will appear at some point next year.

FOLK MAMA: And do you physically live in the Netherlands yourself?

GULLANE: Yup, that’s where I am right now.

FOLK MAMA: And why is that?

GULLANE: It’s a long story but it involved a woman!

FOLK MAMA: Does it make it challenging, getting together?

GULLANE: Well, it takes me longer to get to the airport than it does to get from the airport to Scotland. It’s not really a challenge though. We just set time aside to do things together.

FOLK MAMA: Is everyone else in Scotland?

GULLANE: Yes.

FOLK MAMA: So you have an upcoming tour in the United States. We’re first on your tour so we’ll get you when you are a little jetlagged!  Anything you want to tell us about your tour; highlights besides coming to see us?

GULLANE: No, you’re definitely going to be a highlight of the tour! We’ll be visiting a lot of old friends;  revisit a lot of places, thankfully. We like that people want to have us back!

FOLKMAMA: Well thank you so much for speaking to me and it’s been great being able to see you too. We’ll be able to recognize each other on April 7th!

GULLANE: Yes, these things weren’t possible the last time that you booked us. My goodness, when I started coming to North America we used to go to a bank during the week and we would get a bag of quarters so that we could phone home on a Sunday at the cheap rate. You physically had to put all these quarters into the phone to phone home. Isn’t that amazing? We used to get like $20 in quarters back then and now you can talk for hours and see each other for nothing!

–March 26, 2013

The All Female Irish Band GIRSA comes to York, PA October 7th at 4 P.M.

Girsa, an all-female traditional Irish band that is staking out a “new” form of New York Irish music, comes to York on October 7 for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert at the Marketview Arts Center, 37 W. Philadelphia Street. Girsa  is eight young women who grew up together in the Pearl River, NY, area. Opening for the group will be the Srour family band Irish Blessing. The concert will be preceded by an Irish Session and a reception; both at 2:45.

The members of Girsa come from musical families, with their parents having learned Irish traditional music from such greats as Martin Mulvihill, Maureen Glynn Connelly, and Pete Kelly. Members of Girsa are Maeve Flanagan (fiddle/whistle), Deirdre Brennan (fiddle/mandolin/vocals), Kristen McShane (fiddle), Margaret Dudasik (fiddle/vocals/low whistle/dancing feet), Blaithin Loughran (accordion), Bernadette Flanagan (piano/bodhran/dancing feet), Pamela Geraghty (accordion/vocals/guitar), and Emily McShane (piano/vocals/bodhran/guitar).

Recently I caught up with Maeve Flanagan and had a chat with her about the band and her experience growing up in this thriving Irish-American Community.

Folkmama: So how do you pronounce the name of your band and what does it mean:

Maeve: It’s Girsa. It’s pronounced as though it has an “h” in it. The name Girsa comes from Northern Irish slang for “young girls”. One of the girl’s grandparents is from Armagh and she used to call the young girls “Girsa” when she was younger.

Folkmama: How long has the group been together?

Maeve: Around eight years now. We started when we were really young. I was about 14.

Folkmama: So what’s the average age of the group right now?

Maeve: Probably 21. I’m 22 and I’m the oldest.

Folkmama: In the eight years that you’ve been together have you had a lot of different people come through the band?

Maeve There has been a core. There have been two or three that have come and gone, just because they have had other commitments. But we’ve never really added anyone to the band.

Folkmama: I know the band has been to some pretty exciting festivals in the last couple of years. Could you just let me know a few of the places that our readers would probably know about?

Maeve Yeah, we’ve played at the Milwaukie Irish Festival and the Dublin, Ohio Irish Festival, the Kansas City Irish Festival and we have played at a couple of places in Wisconsin where we have a big fan base which is surprising since we are from New York. We played in Savanna last year from St Patrick’s Day. That was one of the best places we’ve ever played. It was so awesome!

Folkmama: What made it so good?

Maeve Just the hospitality in Savanna I guess. Everyone was just so nice to us. Plus it was during March so it was really nice to get away from the cold weather.

Folkmama: So, have you played in Ireland?

Maeve: We’ve played in Ireland separately, but we’ve never played as the group Girsa. We’ve played in ceili bands together, which is a group of ten people who go over. There is a drummer, a piano player and then pretty much any type of instrumentation that you want. So we’ve all played together in Caili bands but along with other people.

Folkmama: So tell me more about Pearl River, NY where you all come from. Where it’s located, and I’m curious if a lot of the Irish Americans that live there came from a particular place in Ireland, and also are you influenced by the Irish Americans in New York City?

Maeve So Pearl River is about ½ hour to 35 minutes outside of New York City. And pretty much everyone here is Irish. There is no particular place in Ireland that everyone is from. A lot of my family is from the North; Armagh and Tyrone. A lot of people when they first immigrated to America moved to the New York City area. My parents are from the Bronx and their parents immigrated to the Bronx. And once they started having families they migrated out to the suburbs and Pearl River is one of the closest suburbs to the city. You still have the closeness to the city but it’s not quite the hustle and bustle of the city.

Folkmama: So it seems like from listening to your band that you really have a lot of respect for the traditions and the traditional style. In your area is that generally true, that there is a lot of interest in the traditions as opposed to Celtic rock or more modern styles.

Maeve I definitely think that, in Pearl River anyway. Actually in New York City as a whole. My mom was taught the fiddle first by Martin Mulvihill, a great fiddler and composer from County Limerick by fiddler Martin Wynne who was from Sligo County. So she was taught by the most traditional players, pretty much, in New York City. So she really passed it down to us.

She would never consider going outside of the traditions so she taught it to us just as she learned it. We have a huge respect for that music while also making our own compositions and learning some of the newer compositions. Because, you know, we’re young and once in a while we like to do some of the funky stuff, although we really do have a lot of respect for the traditional Irish music.

Folkmama: So have you found a lot of people in your age group that you can play with and spend time with that have a similar respect for the traditions?

Maeve:  Oh, absolutely. I’ve been going to Ireland for competitions since I was about ten or eleven, and once you go there every year you make friends; I have tons of friends in Ireland. There are a lot of friends that I have in Pearl River that play Irish music, so then more people begin to play and it wasn’t like I’m embarrassed about it. So I’d say as I was growing up all my best friends either knew about the music or played the music.

Folkmama: That’s very unusual in this day and age I think. Very unusual.

Maeve I feel that there is kinda a revival of it too. For a couple of years, below our age group, you know in their teen years there are not too many people around here interested in it, but my brother is now 12 and all of his little friends just won a Ceili Band composition over in Ireland, they got first place under 12, so once something like that happens there is a huge interest in the music. Everyone wants to play after that.

Folkmama: I know some of your group knows the Srour family; the folks in Irish Blessing. Do you personally know them?

Maeve Yes, I know them very well. We connected with them first through Irish dancing because pretty much everyone in the group did Irish dancing at some point.

One of our girls, Margaret, went to the same Irish dance school as Jonathon Srour. As for the rest of us,  Jonathon played the flute and his brother Joshua played the fiddle so we’d meet up every year at the different competitions, the different Feises (a Gaelic Arts and Culture Festival) and conventions and such. So that’s pretty much how we met and we’ve kept in touch.

Jonathon was actually dancing in a touring show, and my sister, who was studying abroad in Germany, actually caught one of his shows.

Folkmama: So it sounds like you and your friends are really the next generation. The next generation of people who are playing the traditional music and doing the traditional dancing.

Maeve: Yeah, hopefully. That is our goal.

Folkmama: So you are going to have some step dancers there, is that correct?

Maeve: Yes, Margaret Dudasik and Bernadette are both step dancers.

Folkmama: Anything else?

Maeve Some people ask us what we are doing, besides music. A lot of people don’t know that we have other lives. I’m actually in law school, I do that full time. So pretty much we are only able to play on the weekends. Deirdre is a full time nurse, and she just got a new job so she is only working during the week, which is great because she can play music on the weekends. And everyone else is still in school, either in their junior year or their senior year in college.

Folkmama: And you have two CDs out.

Maeve: Yes. Our first CD we recorded while most of us were still in high school and the second one we just came out with last summer. It’s called “A Sweeter Place”.

Folkmama: It sounds like even though you are very young, you are extremely competent with your instruments. So, are there people who look at you and say, “Oh, they are really young, they can’t be any good.” I hear really good things on your CDs, but how can we put aside anyone’s fears that you may not be quite as good as they’d like to hear?”

Maeve : We’ve all been doing this since we were like five years old. For the competitions we had to practice so much, so kind of  our own doing we wanted to get better. So we’ve just been working, and working, and working. We could have played a concert last year and listened to it this year and say, “Oh my God, we have improved so much.” We just keep practicing and keep working together to perfect our sound.”

Folkmama: I don’t want to sound negative, but I just wanted to address that because someone might be thing in those terms. Because there are so many bands out there that are amateurs and aren’t particularly serious with their music and aren’t as interested as you all seem to be at following traditions. You’ve been seeped in it since you were a child. I really wanted that to come out in this story.

Concert tickets are $20 General Admission, $16for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets at (800) 838-3006 or online at http://www.BrownPaperTickets.com. This concert is supported, in part, through grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Cultural Enrichment Fund. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society Web site at http://www.sfmsfolk.org

 

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.