“Billy McComiskey is the finest and most influential B/C box player ever to emerge from the US. In that sense, Billy’s place within the transatlantic pantheon of Irish button accordionists is both high and secure, and Outside The Box will only strengthen that judgment.”
– Earle Hitchner, The Wall Street Journal / Irish Echo
Billy McComiskey is a highly regarded player and composer of Irish traditional music. A Brooklyn native, he started studying accordion with the late Sean McGlynn from Galway in his early teens. He won the All-Ireland Senior title in 1986. He formed and played with two legendary trios: Washington DC’s Irish Tradition and the internationally acclaimed Trian. He is known on both sides of the Atlantic as an indefatigable session player, teacher, and promulgator of the music. On Outside the Box, Billy’s first solo CD in almost 25 years, the listener is once again reminded why Billy is known as “the most accomplished B/C box player to emerge from Irish America”.
Relativity, a Scotch-Irish band, successfully united two families, two countries, and two styles of music to create two albums, Relativity, (1986) and Gathering Pace (1987).
The four members of Relativity were brothers Phil and John Cunningham (fiddle and accordion/keyboard/whistle/bodhrán) from the band Silly Wizard and the Bothy Band’s brother-sister duo Triona Ni Dhomhnaill and Micheal O’Domhnail (vocals/clavinet and vocals/guitar/keyboard respectively)
Relativity’s strength comes from the extraordinary marriage of the earnest vocals of the Domhnails and the Cunningham brothers’ virtuosic instrumental abilities.
Multil-instrumentalist, composer, producer, tv and radio presenter, director…the list goes on when discussing Phil Cunningham.
A founding member of Silly Wizard and Relativity (along with his brother, fiddler Johnny), the accordion/whistle/keyboard player, along with long-time collaborator Aly Bain (fiddle) Cunningham has performed at the opening of the devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999 and later the funeral of the hugely respected First Minister, Donald Dewar – the nearest thing to a state funeral that Scotland has seen in centuries.
Phil has also composed classical music and music for theater and television, with 1997 seeing the premiere of his Highlands and Islands Suite at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. In 2002, Phil was awarded the MBE for services to Scottish music.
Tom Doherty, born in Mountcharles, Co. Donegal, in 1913, was one of the last of the great melodeon players in America who played in the old-country style long since vanished from the Irish traditional music mainstream.
Both of Tom’s parents were musicians; his mother played the fiddle and his father, who was a farmer, played the single-row melodeon. His area of Donegal was filled with music, particularly fiddle and accordian. People would get together for music and singing at house parties during the winter and during the summer the musicians would play for crossroads dancing.
Doherty started on the fiddle but was much more successful with the melodeon. He never had any formal lessons on the instrument, but picked it up on his own, putting in long hours of practice, and from listening to other players. In 1948, Tom emigrated to New York City because there was no work in Donegal. He got a full-time job in the cold storage business and on weekends played music, often appearing at some of the famous Irish dance hall in New York. In 1952, Tom married Mary Philbin, from Castlebar, Co. Mayo, and they settled in Brooklyn where he lived until he passed away.
Founded in 1977, the L’Ensemble Choral du Bout du Monde (the “World’s End Choir”) brought together traditional instrumental performers and over a hundred vocalists from over forty native choral groups throughout Brittany, the celebrated Breton province in Northern France.
Accompanied by bagpipes, keyboards, harps, guitars, flutes, claviers, percussion, conremuse, and the Grand Organ of the Landévennec Abbey, the ensemble keeps the native music alive through both traditional and original choral music in their Breton language (the Celtic dialect of Brittany).
Since 1989, composer, musician, and arranger Christian Desbordes has led the ensemble. In 1991, Desbordes composed the music for a theatrical production, La passion Celtique / Ar Basion Vras.
They recorded albums in 1992 and 1994, and in 1997, L’Ensemble Choral du Bout du Monde recorded Noëls Celtiques: Christmas Music from Brittany for Green Linnet, which won AFIM’s “Best Seasonal Music Album” in 1998.
Niamh Parsons has come to be known as one of Ireland’s most distinctive singers. Her earthy, sensuous voice has drawn comparisons to such venerated singers as Dolores Keane, June Tabor and Sandy Denny. The great Scottish balladeer Archie Fisher said of her, “a songstress like her comes along once or twice in a generation.”
Never has this been more clear than on Niamh’s (pronounced “Neeve”) latest album, Heart’s Desire (Green Linnet, 2002), produced by Dennis Cahill. As with her two previous releases, she furthers the tradition of Irish song with heartfelt delivery and unadorned settings. The collection of songs is drawn from both traditional sources and modern writers, including Mark Knopfler and Andy Irvine. Heart’s Desire has received glowing reviews, and named “Celtic Album of the Year” by the Association for Independent Music (AFIM).
Born and raised in Dublin, Niamh and her sister learned to love traditional Irish singing and harmonizing from their father, Jack Parsons, to whom Niamh dedicates Heart’s Desire. “Daddy had a beautiful voice,” she says, “and a great ear for a good song.” Her mother was also a singer and a set dancer from Co. Clare. The family would often join in song at the local Dublin singers’ club, to which Niamh still attends.
Niamh’s passion for singing blossomed naturally into a penchant for collecting songs. She is always on the lookout for songs, new and old, that speak to her-listening to new albums, scouring the Traditional Music Archives in Dublin, sharing notes with a network of friends and other singers. Once she discovers a song she likes, Niamh views herself as the vehicle for the music. “For me the song is more important than listening to my voice,” she says. “I consider myself more a songstress than a singer – a carrier of tradition.”
Throughout her career, Niamh has performed with a wide variety of artists, and has appeared at nearly every prestigious folk festival on either side of the Atlantic. As a member of the traditional Irish band Arcady (led by De Dannan’s Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh), she is featured on the group’s AFIM-awarded CD Many Happy Returns. She appeared before President Clinton and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in Washington, joined Grammy Award winner Paul Winter for an album and a summer concert in New York, and performed on A Prairie Home Companion when the show broadcast live from Dublin.
Niamh’s recording career began with The Loose Connections, a band of top-notch Belfast musicians she formed with songwriter and bass-player Dee Moore. The band recorded two albums of contemporary and traditional material together. Their debut recording, Loosely Connected (Greentrax, 1992; Green Linnet, 1995) met with the highest of praise. A beautiful mix of traditional Irish and contemporary songs, it featured the memorable “Tinkerman’s Daughter” and featured Brian Kennedy, piper John McSherry (Lúnasa, Coolfin), and accordionist Alan Kelly.
The Loose Connections’ second album, Loosen Up (Green Linnet, 1997) was another buoyant mix of originals and well-chosen contemporary ballads, like the gorgeous “Cloinhinne Winds” and Tom Waits’ “The Briar and the Rose,” a powerful a cappella duet with Fran McPhail of the Voice Squad. Once again the album featured first-class musicians, including guitarist Gavin Ralston (Mike Scott, Sharon Shannon) and Kilkenny accordion player Mick McAuley (now with Solas).
In 1999, Niamh took a bold step and returned to her roots with her first solo album, Blackbirds and Thrushes (Green Linnet) a collection of traditional Irish ballads gathered from over 15 years of Niamh’s singing repertoire. In her words, “these songs are living in me.” The album won instant acclaim as a welcome return to traditionalism. The Boston Globe declared that it “expressed the sorrow and longing of the Celtic soul more deeply than any within recent memory”, and Irish Music Magazine called it “simply magnificent traditional singing.”
Keeping in form, Niamh’s next CD In My Prime (Green Linnet 2000) was another collection of mostly traditional material, and again received widespread praise. Folk Roots named it one of the top albums of the year and The Irish Voice called the album “a must-have disc for lovers of Irish song.” It also saw the emergence of Niamh’s new accompanist, talented young guitarist Graham Dunne. The album was nominated for Album of the Year by BBC Radio 2 (UK) and the Association for Independent Music (US).
With Heart’s Desire the newest addition, it is a body of work that has proven Niamh Parsons one of the premier vocalists of her time and a keeper of the flame in Irish traditional song.
Quotes From the Press
“Simply magnificent traditional singing.” – Irish Music Magazine
“Let’s cut to the chase. Niamh Parsons has a drop-dead, stop-you-in-your-tracks, unbelievably gorgeous voice.” – Calgary Herald
“Niamh Parsons sings like an angel.” – Chicago Tribune
“It’s quite, quite wonderful, throw back the head stuff, utterly devoid of pretense or preciousness.” – Hot Press (Ireland)
“Subtle and expressive in delivery… one of those singers who sounds totally wrapped up in the meaning and message of everything she performs.” – The Scotsman
“One of the freshest and brightest on the Irish music scene today. Her strong expressively husky voice combines some of the best qualities of such stalwart vocalists as Dolores Keane and June Tabor. She has Keane’s gift for emotive sweep and Tabor’s talent for deep-rooted interpretation.” – Irish Echo
In My Prime
“Irish singer Niamh Parsons proves by this CD that she’s still very much indeed in her prime….She’s done it again here with, with more lovely songs from Ireland and beyond. But it’s not just the beauty of the songs that makes this CD, it’s what Parsons does with each song. She breathes sweet life – and sometimes bittersweet sorrow – into each word as she lifts the lyrics off the page and sets them flying.” – Pulse!
“A diva in her prime….dusky mature vocal chords, beautiful, coaxing musicality and phrasing, and heart slicing emotion.” – Irish Times
“Parsons has a beautiful voice, with a wide range which maintains purity from crystalline soprano down to throaty alto. What makes In My Prime a great recording (other than her considerable ability) is her comfort with the material and awareness of where her strengths lie.” – Irish Herald
“For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention over the last few years, Niamh Parsons has a drop-dead gorgeous voice and is a stunning singer of anything from traditional ballads to contemporary rock….What makes Niamh so outstanding is her ability to just let herself be the vehicle for a good song, rather than taking it by the neck and ’making it hers’. By going back to these songs in her prime, she breathes new life and freshness into them.” – Folk Roots
“Niamh Parsons has quietly become one of Ireland’s leading traditional singers. Her voice has an expressive subtlety and warmth that few other singers have…Perhaps the best parts are the two unaccompanied songs that truly show the power and timelessness of her voice. A recording that will sound as fresh 10 years from now as it does today.” – Dirty Linen
Blackbirds and Thrushes
“This album from emerging star Niamh Parsons Blackbirds & Thrushes expresses the sorrow and longing of the Celtic soul more deeply than any within recent memory. Parsons relies on simple accompaniment and a lovely heartache of a voice…Spare settings allow every nuance of her splendid voice to shine through.” – The Boston Globe
“A marvel of musical purity and unadorned charm, its 12 songs exude a pristine beauty that grows more fetching with each new listening. The Dublin-based Parsons is a splendid singer, and her purity of tone, shimmering clarity and heartfelt delivery perfectly serve the timeless airs and laments featured here.” – San Diego Union-Tribune
“Niamh Parsons may be well known for her work with Arcady and with her own band, the Loose Connections, but she is also an outstanding solo artiste. She has put together an impressive collection of songs, all painstakingly researched and immaculately presented, a true labor of love.” – The Living Tradition
“Parsons’ beautifully crafted phrases, sharp vocal control and soulful tone makes even the most melancholic song riveting.” – CMJ New Music Report
London-born multi-instrumentalist, film composer, producer, and songwriter John Faulkner grew up with the sounds of the Rock Revolution, and was greatly inspired by the likes of Elvis, Little Richard, and Gerry Lee Lewis.
After exhausting modern rock, Faulkner looked to the roots, discovering the great blues and folk musicians. During the English Folk Revival of the 1960s, Faulkner met and developed a professional relationship with singer/songwriter/folklorist Ewan McColl and his wife Peggy Seeger, who in turn introduced Faulkner to the world of British and Irish folk music.
When Faulkner was living in Britian in the late 60s and early 70s, he became close and began to play with many of the best London-based traditional Irish musicians, including West Clare fiddler Bobby Casey, piper Tom McCarthy, and Sligo flautist Rodger Sherlock.
In the 70s, Faulkner wrote the music for the BBC children’s television show “Bagpuss.” Then, in 1977, he met and married Co. Galway singer and De Dannan founder Dolores Keane. The couple worked on several more film scores for the BBC as well as formed the successful Trad bands “The Reel Union” and “Kinvara,” recorded three duet albums, toured extensively throughout the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe, and collaborated on several musical projects.
Faulkner has worked with the best in Irish traditional music, and has appeared on over fifteen albums (four of which he either produced or co-produced). In the new millennium, Faulkner joined forces with accordion great Jackie Daly to create a highly-acclaimed duet tour.
In the years since its creation, Orealis has established a reputation as one of Canada’s most exciting and innovative Celtic Bands. Their fresh, evocative music, a magical blend of traditional and original material, has delighted concert and festival audiences across the country and in the US. Their varied Repertoire ranges from Haunting ballads and slow airs to driving instrumentals and songs performed with energy and enthusiasm. It is not surprising that the group has shared the bill with such diverse acts as Shane McGowan and the Popes, The Pogues, The Waterboys, Gypsy Kings, Runrig, Luka Bloom and Richard Thompson.
The Heart and Soul of Orealis consists of Kirk MacGeachy and Dave Gossage. Kirk, originally from Scotland and the founding member of the band provides the rich mellow vocals and rhythm guitar and Bouzouki-Guitar work, while Dave brings to the band his fiery flute and whistle playing and electric guitar pyrotechnics. Kirk and Dave are joined by Dave’s brother Bill, on bass and in some shows by another brother, Thom on percussion and Drums.
East Galway and East Clare-a region rich in Irish traditional music and players of legendary caliber. Three of East Galway and East Clare–a region rich in Irish traditional music and players of legendary caliber. Three of those players–Woodford, Galway, flutist Jack Coen, Eyrecourt, Galway, button accordionist Martin Mulhaire, and Killaloe, Clare, fiddler Seamus Connolly — join forces to celebrate the native Irish musical heritage they share.
Killaloe, Co. Clare, fiddler Seamus Connolly, is the most successful solo competitor in the history of the All-Ireland Championships, winning an unprecedented ten fiddle titles. As a boy, Connolly traveled Ireland, learning from the topmost legends of Irish music, including Willie Clancy, P.J. Hayes, Padraig O’Keeffe, and Junior Crehan among others. As a youth,Connolly rose to national fame through Irish radio and television, and lateras a member of the Kilfenora and Leitrim Ceili Bands.
As member of the first Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann (CCE) tour, Connolly visited the US for the first time in 1972. A few years later, he immigrated to Boston and taught at the local CCE branch, where his students flourished; going on to win the same awards he captured 25 years before. Connolly has represented Ireland on three “National Council for the Traditional Arts” tours, performed on the nationally broadcast NPR series “Folk Masters,” and has even played on the “Today Show.”
Highly involved with Boston College, the “Sullivan Artist in Residence,” directed the Gaelic Roots Summer School and Festival there from 1993 – 2003 and has since organized the Gaelic Roots Series of free concerts/lectures by visiting artists throughout the academic year. With Larry Reynolds, Connolly initiated, produced and co-hosted CCE’s ongoing weekly radio program of traditional Irish music.
Named the 2002 “Traditional Musician of the Year” by The Irish Echo, Connolly was subsequently inducted into the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann Hall of Fame.
His recordings include his two solo CDs and a trio with Green Linnet/Tayberry Records:Notes from My Mind and Here and There, and Banks of the Shannon, as well as the album Warming Up, with accordionist/composer Martin Mulhaire, flutist Jack Coen and pianist Felix Dolan. Connolly released The Boston Edge with Joe Derrane and John McGann, and later produced a book of tunes with two accompanying CDs with colleague Laurel Martin, Forget Me Not: A Collection of 50 Memorable Traditional Irish Tunes (Mel Bay Publications, 2004). As of 2009, Seamus was working on a book of tunes with recordings of over 300 new and rare compositions to be released at a later date.
Eyrecourt, Galway-born button accordionist and composer Martin Mulhaire was, like many of the great Irish musicians, born into a highly musical family. Mulhaire’s father was a fiddler and whistle player, and though Mulhaire began on the fiddle, he found his love for the accordion at the age of fourteen. Largely self-taught through recordings and listening to friends, Mulhaire eventually went on to win All-Irelands in the 1950s.
In 1958, Mulhaire visted the U.S. with The Tulla Ceili Band and “stayed on.” Mulhaire’s album Warming Up (Green Linnet, 2006), features seven of his compositions, and many of his tunes have found their way into session on both sides of the pond.
Born in 1925 in Co. Galway, flautist, teacher, and flutemaker Jack Coen began his musical instruction on the tin whistle, graduating to the fife, and then to the wooden flute by young adulthood. In 1949, Coen moved to the US with the intention of returning soon to Ireland. However, once immersed in New England’s Irish music scene in the late 1950s, he became attached and joined the New York Ceili band, which won the 1960 All-Ireland championship.
In the 1970s, discouraged by his flute students’ attraction to the silver flutes, Coen began to carve wooden flutes for them, determined to keep the tradition alive.
Weaving intricate patterns around a core of fiddle, melodeon, flute and guitar, the House Band’s rich, complex music spans the Celtic nations and beyond.
Flute/bombarde/bodhrán player John Skelton helped piece together many of the band’s arrangements. Ged Foley (guitar/small pipes/vocals), honed his talents in the Battlefield Band, and currently plays with Patrick Street. Chris Parkinson’s accordion playing has been a driving force in the English dance scene, and his keyboard work is incomparable. Roger Wilson adds texture to the group with his soulful singing and deft fiddle-playing.
Two of New York’s premier Sligo-style fiddlers, Brian Conway and Tony DeMarco joined together in 1981 to record a single album: The Apple in Winter.
Conway is a Senior All-Ireland champion and both he and DeMarco are held in high regard for their respect for and mastery of the tradition of the American Sligo-style of ornamental fiddle playing made popular by artists such as Michael Coleman, Andy McGann, and Paddy Reynolds.
John Williams has been hailed by the Irish Times as “a musician of remarkable sophistication.” Born in Chicago to Irish parents, he carries three generations of traditional County Clare music within him, from both his father Brendan and his grandfather, Johnny Williams. John is an award-winning accordion and concertina player with five All-Ireland titles to his credit, and is the first American-born competitor to take first place in the Senior Concertina category. His additional talents on flute, whistles, bodhran, and piano distinguish his as a much sought after multi-instrumentalist in the national session scene.
John’s latest album is Steam (GLCD1215), a powerhouse of ensemble playing that invigorates the traditional artform. A founding member of the acclaimed Irish group Solas, John re-unites with his former bandmates Séamus Egan and John Doyle on Steam, as well as with Chicago fiddler extraordinaire Liz Carroll, guitarists Dennis Cahill and Dean Magraw, bassist Larry Gray (Ramsey Lewis) and percussionist Paul Wertico (Pat Metheny Group). Amazon.com says of the album, “John Williams is a button accordion and concertina player of rare ability, ably demonstrated on Steam. To play with the feeling that Williams does, you need a profound understanding of the music that transcends technique.”
John recently served as Traditional Music Director in the upcoming Dreamworks feature film The Road to Perdition, a story of the Chicago Irish mafia in the 1930s starring Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh and directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty). The film is scheduled for a late 2002 release.
John has appeared on numerous recording and soundtracks, including the PBS special Out of Ireland, The Brothers McMullen, and Traveller. His solo debut release on Green Linnet Records was included in the Irish Echo’s Top Ten traditional releases for 1995. In Solas, Williams received wide recognition playing to sold-out audiences internationally and earning both a NAIRD award and a Grammy nomination for the ensemble’s self-titled 1996 release on Shanachie Records. Most recently, John has been touring and recorded as a member of Tim O’Brien’s acclaimed Appalachian-Celtic ensemble, The Crossing.
Some of John’s dynamic solo performances have been captured on two award winning compilation discs, Dear Ol’ Erin’s Isle (Nimbus) and The Twentieth Anniversary Collection (Green Linnet). The first received the Library of Congress honorary distinction as an outstanding folk recording in 1992; and the second, a double CD of the finest Green Linnet recordings, occupied the top 15 of the Billboard World Music Charts for an unprecedented 17 weeks in 1996. John has also collaborated with friends Martin Hayes, Seamus Egan, and Joannie Madden on their individual albums.
Williams has performed at the Barns of Wolftrap in the Folkmasters Concert Series, as well as The World Accordion Festival in Montmagny, Quebec. Other festivals include the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, the Montreaux Jazz Festival, and the National Folk Festival in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He has played concerts in New York, London, Paris, Brittany, Zurich, Dublin, Belfast, and Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare, Ireland. National Public Radio performances include Mountain Stage, A Prairie Home Companion, and the 1997 broadcast of the July 4th Concert on the Mall in Washington, D.C. He has been the subject of the Irish radio program The Long Note and television program The Pure Drop. John has also been interviewed and recorded on BBC and CBC radio.
Williams performed at taught at the prestigious Willie Clancy Summer School in Co. Clare, Ireland, the Augusta Heritage Workshops in Elkins, West Virginia, and the Swannanoa Gathering at the Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC. At home in Chicago, John has taught for seven years at the Irish American Heritage Center and performed to thousands of Chicago area school children in Urban Gateways, the country’s leading arts and education agency. John was a guest soloist with Chicago’s Symphony of the Shores and served as music consultant and principal recording artist for the Goodman Theatre’s production of Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa in 1994.
John has been highlighted in Chicago Magazine’s Best of Chicago issue as “Best Squeezeboxer for 2003,” with a full-page photo of John and his concertina at the local pub.
For more information on John Williams, visit www.johnwilliamsmusic.com.
Quotes From the Press
“There is no denying that John Williams is a fine musician…Williams shows great versatility, playing button accordion Anglo concertina, flute and whistle, all adding up to a very well made and superbly recorded CD.” – The Living Tradition
“Multi-instrumentalist John Williams’ Steam is a lively, spirited rendition of some of the best Irish traditional music.” – New Age Voice