“A lot of people think Irish music is wistful and melancholy. That’s one side of it, but there’s also a great, rough, resilient spirit in the music, an element of joy underlying even the most plaintive melody. I grew up listening to musicians with that spirit and I value it. So much in music today makes people passive, bored and boring: three things I never want to be.”
Kevin Burke needn’t worry. His sparkling, lyrical fiddle playing has earned him a reputation as one of the finest, most influential players in music today. From The Bothy Band to Patrick Street, he has defined Irish fiddling for a generation. His work with artists as disparate as Kate Bush, Arlo Guthrie and Christy Moore has given him an audience that not only spans continents, it defies attempts at categorization. Described as “one of the greatest Celtic fiddlers alive” by The New York Times, Burke was recognized with a National Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment For the Arts in 2002, this country’s highest honor in the traditional arts. In 2005, he was named one of Irish America’s Top 100 by Irish America Magazine.
Born and raised in London, England, Burke picked up his first fiddle at age eight when his parents decided music studies were in order. “To this day I have no idea why they chose the fiddle, except that it’s popular in County Sligo, where the family comes from and where we spent our vacations,” he laughs. “For the next five years or so, I dutifully diddled around on it. Then I discovered Irish music. Suddenly I was hooked. I spent my teens wandering into pubs, waiting for a chance to sit in with the musicians.”
London in the 1960s was a vibrant musical scene for the Irish; emigrants could be heard playing the styles of Kerry, Sligo, Galway, Limerick and Clare. And Burke was listening. Though he counts such masters of the Sligo style as Michael Coleman, Paddy Killoran and Tom McGowan as primary influences, he also points to fiddlers Bobby Casey (County Clare) and Brendan McGlinchey (Ulster), and to a wealth of Irish musicians on the London scene as important in his development. “I had access to it all, whereas if I’d been living in Ireland, I might not have been so lucky.”
Good fortune aside, Kevin’s undeniable talents brought him to the attention of Arlo Guthrie in 1972, when he was invited to the States to play on Guthrie’s Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys. Shortly after, Christy Moore, the great Irish singer/songwriter, asked Burke to Ireland to play in his new band. He stayed with Moore two years before joining what would become one of the most influential Irish groups of all time, The Bothy Band.
Hailed as “the Yardbirds of Irish music,” the Bothy Band boasted some of the finest musicians in all of Ireland, including Matt Molloy (Chieftains), Mícheál Ó Domhnaill and Tríona Ní Domhnaill (Nightnoise), Dónal Lunny (Planxty) and uillean piper Paddy Keenan. Burke initially joined the band as a temporary replacement for fiddler Tommy Peoples, but his role soon become permanent. His elegant, impassioned fiddling was a cornerstone of the band’s legendary sound from 1976 until 1979.
During their years in the Bothy Band together, Burke and guitarist Míchéal O’Domhnaill discovered a rare musical rapport. When the band parted ways, the two men toured Europe and recorded a groundbreaking album, Promenade, which was awarded the “Grand Prix du Disque” at the 1980 Montreux Jazz Festival. They followed with Portland, named for the Oregon city where Burke has long resided.
In 1986, Burke joined an all-star cast of Irish musicians that included Andy Irvine and Jackie Daly for a tour that evolved into the legendary quartet Patrick Street. With Ged Foley on guitar and nine albums to their name, Patrick Street is one of the most powerful traditional groups in Irish music. Celtic Fiddle Festival is Kevin’s other current group, a dazzling pan-Celtic ensemble that he founded in 1993 with legendary Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham and Brittany’s Christian Lemaître. After Cunningham’s untimely passing in 2003, the young fiddler Andre Brunet from Quebeçois group La Bottine Souriante came on board, and the Fiddles released their fourth CD, Play On (2005, Green Linnet), dedicated to Johnny.
As if that weren’t enough, Kevin toured and recorded with bluegrass star Tim O’Brien and his acclaimed Irish-American group, The Crossing in 2001. Kevin also formed the group Open House during the 1990s, a critically-acclaimed project with American musicians Paul Kotapish, Mark Graham and dancer Sandy Silva. Open House released three CDs that explored music from all corners of the world.
Over the years, Burke has recorded a number of acclaimed solo albums in addition to those mentioned before, including his debut Sweeney’s Dream and If the Cap Fits. In Concert, which came out in 1999 on Green Linnet, was Burke’s first solo release in15 years, and features his inimitable In Concert fiddling on music drawn from throughout his remarkable career. The album was co-produced by noted Irish fiddler Martin Hayes, who also guests on three tracks.
“There are thousands of old tunes, good ones that haven’t been played in years,” concludes Burke. “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.”
New York-native Jerry O’Sullivan is considered by many to be one of America’s foremost uilleann pipers. Famous for both his technical mastery and emotional expression on the pipes, O’Sullivan is also accomplished tin whistle, low whistle, Highland bagpipe and Scottish smallpipe player.
O’Sullivan has performed with everyone from The Boston Pops and James Galway to Dolly Parton and Eileen Ivers, and is featured on Paul Winter’s Grammy-winning album Celtic Solstice (Living Music, 1999).
Featured on over 90 albums as well as on several film soundtracks and television commercials, O’Sullivan has also recorded solo albums including The Invasion (Green Linnet, 1987) The Gift (Seanachie, 1998), and O’Sullivan Meets O’Farrell (Jerry O’Sullivan Music, 2005).
O’Sullivan has toured extensively throughout the US, Europe and has even brought the music of the pipes to Middle East and Asia. O’Sullivan has always been in high demand for the US festival circuit, and continues to be a talented ambassador of the Irish uilleann (elbow) pipes.
Dáithí Sproule of Derry, whose first group was the legendary Skara Brae, has lived for many years in Minnesota. He is one of Irish music’s most respected guitar accompanists, and one of the first guitarists to develop DADGAD tuning for Irish music. He is also a fine singer in English and Irish. Dáithí has performed and recorded with two highly influential traditional music trios: Bowhand (with James Kelly and Paddy O’Brien) and Trian (with Liz Carroll and Billy McComiskey), as well as providing accompaniment for recordings by Tommy Peoples, Seamus and Manus McGuire, Liz Carroll, Paddy O’Brien and others. He has performed around the world with the Irish supergroup Altan, and continues to tour and record with Altan, Randal Bays, and James Keane (under the name Fingal), and several Minnesota-based musicians including Laura MacKenzie and Jode and Kate Dowling. Dáithí’s original compositions have been recorded by Skara Brae, the Bothy Band, Altan, Trian, Liz Carroll, Aoife Clancy, and others. He is known for his innovative arrangements of traditional songs, and in 1995 he released his first solo album, A Heart Made of Glass, with songs in English and Irish. In addition to performing and recording, Dáithí is a sought-after teacher and lecturer in subjects ranging from guitar styles and song accompaniment to Irish traditional music, language and literature.
Joe Derrane electrified the world of Irish music back in the late 1940s when as a high school senior he recorded eight solo 78-rpm shellac discs for Boston’s Copley Records on the D/C# two-row button accordion. Through his recordings and performances, this native Bostonian defined the state of the art in Irish-American button accordion playing.
The Boston-born son of Irish immigrants, Joe Derrane is among the finest button accordionists in the history of Celtic music. He is also a somewhat elusive legend in the genre. After recording during the 1940s and ‘50s, he disappeared from the traditional music circuit for thirty-five years, popping up again in 1994 at the Irish Folk Festival at Wolf Trap. Since his career’s resurgence he has proved wrong F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous quote “there are no second acts in American lives”. Over the past 16 years, Derrane has written 22 tunes and his current writing and recorded output is the most imaginative and inventive of his career.
In 2004 Derrane received one of the highest honors for a traditional musician: the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship.
When Bill Keith played with Bill Monroe as one of the The Bluegrass Boys, Monroe would introduce him as Brad Keith. When corrected, Monroe would reply, “There’s only one Bill in my band.” When it comes to 5-string banjo, there’s only one Bill Keith.
Kevin Burke is known for being one of the most lyrical fiddle players in Celtic music. He was a founding member of seminal groups such as The Bothy Band, Patrick Street, and Celtic Fiddle Festival and is prized as a solo and duet player.
In 1992, Burke assembled his band, Open House. Made up of Burke, Paul Kotaphish. Mark Graham, and Sandy Silva, Open House developed organically out of jam sessions between Burke, Kotapish and Graham. Silva was invited to join and the new group focused on mixing traditional music from multiple cultures.
Open House stayed together for some years, made three recordings and disbanded in 1999.
Although still in his twenties, Johnny B. Connolly has already generated a reputation as an exciting and accomplished button accordionist. Johnny’s talents have paved the way across continents and provided him opportunities to perform or record with many internationally renowned artists including Kevin Burke, the Chieftains, Anam, Martin Hayes and Altan. His debut album Bridgetown (Green Linnet) was called “the most exciting solo debut from an Irish artist in years” by The Irish Herald — “a must-have CD for all true lovers of Irish box playing.”
Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Johnny has been immersed in Irish traditional music since he was eight years old. By the age of 15 he was a regular feature around his hometown, performing with musicians sometimes twice his age. Johnny’s dexterity on the accordion earned him a slot with established Celtic ensemble Anam at the age of 17. For the next two years, he continued to build his reputation back home in Dublin’s trad music scene and abroad with Anam, touring festivals throughout Europe and Ireland.
In 1996 the 21-year-old Johnny seized an opportunity to bring his skills to America. Leaving Anam, he crossed the ocean to join fiddler Patrick Ourceau in New York for a four-month stint through New York City and Boston. In 1997, Johnny merged his talents with those of guitarist Aidan Brennan, forming a duo that entertained festival audiences across the United States from Alaska to Louisiana to Colorado.
Heading further west, Johnny eventually made his home in Portland, Oregon. A friendship with Kevin Burke, legendary Irish fiddler and fellow Portland resident, led to Johnny’s signing with Green Linnet Records in 2001. His CD Bridgetown, was released to universally glowing reviews. “A joy from beginning to end…Connolly’s playing is skillful and exciting,” wrote All Music Guide. A sparkling collection of traditional Irish and French tunes, the album features guest appearances by Burke and production by guitarist Ged Foley.
Since then, Johnny has toured nationally with such artists as Kevin Burke and Ged Foley, Aidan Brennan, and Casey Neill, and appeared at numerous festivals including Colorado’s Festival of the Mabon (by Planet Bluegrass), the Cincinatti Celtic Festival, and the Sebastopol Celtic Festival in California. He is now a fixture on the flourishing Northwest scene, and his lilting accordion can be heard headlining Celtic festivals or in intimate clubs, joining Irish fiddlers, Gypsy jazz guitarists or Old-timey phenoms Foghorn Stringband.
Quotes From the Press
“This is the most exciting solo debut album from an Irish artist in years…a must-have CD for all true lovers of Irish box playing.” – The Irish Herald
“Bridgetown features the sounds of Johnny B. Connolly’s accordion: lilting, somber, joyful, poignant. Though only 26, the Dublin-born Connolly has a masterly control over his instrument, conveying a range of emotions in 10 jigs, reels and songs.” – The Irish Echo
“Johnny B. Connolly is among the best young players. Bridgetown is a delightful splash of jigs, reels, a slow air and even a whimsical, Paris-flavored musette.” – Goldmine
“A slow burning collection, preferring to insinuate itself beneath the skin than trumpet its arrival from the rooftops. Connolly’s button accordion skills are refined by a canny ear and a keen eye that revels in the tunes, which tilt at an angle instead of ploughing the middle ground…A beauty.” – The Irish Times, Dublin
“At 26, Connolly is clearly a master of the box accordion’s many possibilities.” – Victory Review
“The solo debut from this fine 26-year-old Dublin accordionist is a joy from beginning to end…Connolly’s playing is skillful and exciting, but never showy — he focuses on the tunes themselves rather than on his own virtuosity, and the tempos are generally modest and the ornamentation minimal, an unusually mature approach.” – All Music Guide
“A meticulous player, following well planed and measured routes through all the tunes.” – The Living Tradition, Scotland
Pat Kilbride, the only Irish musician ever to become a member of Scotland’s Battlefield Band, has been internationally celebrated for his expressive singing and scintillating cittern, bouzouki, and guitar playing. Nowhere is that more evident than on a pair of reels played by Pat on guitar and Bothy Band legends piper Paddy Keenan and fiddler Kevin Burke. An album of great songs and tunes, Undocumented Dancing is a dazzling musical document from one of Ireland’s – and now America’s – finest performers.
Brilliantly conceived, refreshingly diverse, faultlessly produced, and expertly played, Moving Cloud will first get you up on your feet, and then sweep you off them. Based mainly in Ennis, Co. Clare, this quintet is a stellar concert band as well.
Moving Cloud featured five highly accomplished Irish musicians: Paul Brock (button accordion), Maeve Donnelly (fiddle and viola), Manus McGuire (fiddles) Kevin Crawford (flute and percussion), and Carl Hanson (piano). Moving Cloud’s standard of music was extraordinary, its variety surpassed only by its virtuosity.
Moving Cloud released two albums on Green Linnet; its self-titled 1994 debut earned “Album of the Year” from the Irish Echo, and was deemed “Brilliant from first to last track,” by Earle Hitchner. Bill Whelan, composer of Riverdance, heralded Moving Cloud as “a traditional album of rare grace, subtlety and integrity that also makes a connection with other traditions in a surprising way.” Their sophomore release, Foxglove, earned praise as a “worthy sequel,” featuring guests Trevor Hutchinson on double bass, Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh on the bones, guitarist Garry O’Briain, and banjo player Gerry O’Connor to create a tight, precise sound perfectly suited for set dancers and audiences alike.
Two giants of Celtic music in their first collaboration on disc — Sean Keane (fiddle) and Matt Molloy (flute), scions of The Chieftains and brilliant soloists in their own right, play some of the tightest duets ever heard. Their speed is matched only by their precision, and their sheer exultation can be felt in every track. With producer Arty McGlynn on guitar.
Growing up in Sligo in the 1960s when fiddle music had regained popularity in its native home, the Northwest of Ireland, Manus McGuire was ideally placed to carry on a tradition made legend by fiddlers Michael Coleman, James Morrison, and Paddy Killoran thirty years previously. From an early age he learned various dance tunes by his father’s knee and followed his older brother, Seamus, into the national traditional music arena that was steadily gathering momentum. In 1970, at the young age of 14, Manus won Sligo’s prestigious Fiddler of Dooney competition. Since then, he has toured extensively in North America and Canada.
Manus has recorded eight albums, including The Humours of Lisadell (Folk Legacy, 1980), and Carousel (Gael Linn, 1984),with Seamus; Buttons & Bows (Green Linnet, 1983), First month of Summer (Green Linnet, 1987) and Grace Notes (Gael Linn, 1991), all with the group Buttons & Bows; Moving Cloud (Green Linnet, 1994) and Foxglove (Green Linnet, 1997), with the group Moving Cloud; and a solo debut, Saffron & Blue (Green Linnet, 2000) This last recording was placed in the Top Ten polls of the Boston Globe and Irish Echo newspapers. It was also named Best Album of 2000–and Manus, Best Male Musician of the same year–by the Irish American News.
Capercaillie is –
Throughout their career Capercaillie have drawn on two great strengths to inspire them. The first of these is the astonishing musical dexterity of the various fiddle, whistle, flute and pipe who have performed with them over the years, lead by the accordion and keyboards of band founder Donald Shaw. The other foundation of the band has been the peerless voice of co-founder Karen Matheson, described by Sean Connery as having “a throat that is surely touched by God”. Universally recognised as one of the finest Gaelic singers alive today, Karen’s exquisite voice has been at the centre of the band’s music, whether breathing new life into 400 year old Gaelic songs or bringing her luscious vocals to the band’s contemporary compositions…
There have been many milestones for a band who have sold over a million albums world wide. These include three silver and one gold album in the UK, the first Gaelic Top 40 single, writing the music for, and appearing in the Hollywood movie “Rob Roy”, and performing in over thirty countries including Iraq, Macedonia and the Sudan.
Capercaillie have been credited with being the major force in bringing Celtic music to the world stage, and their unique fusion of Gaelic culture and contemporary sound has always stretched boundaries in their quest to keep the music evolving.
It is a mighty long way from Oban High School to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in Baghdad, but Capercaillie have made this journey and stopped off at many other exotic locations along the way . However, their greatest achievement has been to mould a central strand of their Gaelic heritage into a fresh, new sound, capable of reaching out to the ears and hearts of people all over the world.