Wowing audiences all over the world with their seasoned brand of Celtic music, the seven-member Dervish has risen to the top of their genre over the past ten years. They’ve shared the stage with such popular acts as REM, Sting and Britney Spears in front of a crowd of 250,000 at Brazil’s Rock In Rio music festival, the first Irish band to perform at this event. They’ve toured the world including Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Israel, Switzerland, Sweden and Greece, as well as their native Irish homeland and have proven that they deserve the reputation they’ve earned as of one of the best Irish bands playing today.
Founded in 1989 by a group of five musicians (Liam Kelly, Shane Mitchell, Martin McGinley, Brian McDonagh and Michael Holmes), Dervish initially came together to record an album of local music, released as The Boys Of Sligo. Inspired by the project, the musicians decided to develop the informal gathering into a working band. The name Dervish was chosen because it relates to any group of poor but spiritual people who become enraptured by music. More than a decade later, four of the original members are still at the helm. In 1991, Roscommon-born singer Cathy Jordan joined the band, followed by the addition of All-Ireland Champion Shane McAleer giving the band the balance they were looking for to produce their first recording, Harmony Hill, released in 1993. The album was well received by the media, putting Dervish at the forefront of bands working in traditional Irish music. Substantial radio and TV exposure followed, opening the doors for Dervish to perform in many European countries and at major folk festivals. Their second album, Playing With Fire was released in 1995. Reviewers and critics confirmed Dervish’s pre-eminent status among Irish traditional bands. The album reached #1 on the Irish Folk Music Charts and stayed on top for several months.
After establishing their reputations firmly at home, Dervish set their sights on America. With an appearance on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion and concerts playing to packed houses nationwide, they saw the band’s popularity rise. Dervish found themselves projected into a new sphere of operation on a worldwide scale. Recognition for the band’s achievements followed, with nominations and awards in a variety of Traditional/Folk polls, including two IRMA’s, awarded by the Irish music industry. The band released their third album, At The End Of The Day in 1996, which won the Hot Press Traditional/Folk Album of the Year award. The magic of a live Dervish performance was captured on their fourth album, Live In Palma, recorded in Spain at Palma de Mallorca’s Teatre Principal in April 1997. Following the release of this double album, the readers of Irish Music Magazine named Dervish the Best Overall Traditional/Folk Band of 1997.
1998 saw a slight reshuffle of the group with Shane McAleer taking a career break. A formidable replacement was found in Sligo’s own Seamus O’Dowd, a musician with the distinct Sligo style of fiddle and guitar playing. By the end of the year, Dervish expanded from a six to seven-piece band with the addition of fiddle player Tom Morrow, a native of County Leitrim and another All-Ireland Champion. Some of the tunes are now played with double fiddle and some with the special sound of Seamus’ guitar and strong presence of Tom’s fiddle.
This new dimension of Dervish’s music can be heard on their first Compass release Midsummer’s Night. The album is packed with songs showcasing the talent of these Irish musicians. Seán Bháin tells about a young woman who invites the handsome Seán Bhá to have his evil way with her in the “Cock of Hay”. The Banks of Sweet Viledee was discovered when Cathy Jordan spent a memorable afternoon with the late Frank Browne, from Ballingare, Co. Roscommon, one of the few song collectors from that county. He was the sole collector of the song which is also known as The Demon Lover and James Harris. The location of Viledee is unknown but it maybe a corruption of a particular place name. Frank died in early 1998 the song is dedicated this song to Frank’s memory. There was a Maid in her Father’s Garden was also collected from Frank Browne also and has a similar theme to The Banks of Sweet Viledee. It’s known by several titles and is among the commonest English songs sung in Ireland, in which the usual starting point is the return of an unrecognised young man after a considerable length of time.
The 2004 follow-up to Midsummer’s Night, Spirit, is a brilliant consolodation of their many strengths which easily ranks as their finest studio effort to date. Dedicating the album to their engineer and close friend Finn Corrigan (who died suddenly and tragically in 2003), the members delve deep into their shared heritage while also reaching for new material and ideas. Re-envisioning Bob Dylan’s ’Boots of Spanish Leather’ proves a masterstroke, lending a contemporary egde that nonetheless sits perfectly alongside the more traditional material. Perfectly balancing vocal and instrumental performances, solo and ensemble features, and brisk and lilting tempos, Spirit proudly continues the band’s (and the listener’s) invigorating voyage to the core of traditional Irish music.