Button accordion master James Keane was born in Drimnagh, Dublin, in 1948 into an intensely musical family. He began playing the box at the age of six, and by the time he was ten, he was an active musician in the Dublin traditional music scene alongside greats such as Seamus Ennis and Sonny Brogan.
As a young teenager, Keane co-founded the Castle Ceili Band, which would go on win the All-Ireland Ceili Band Championship in 1965. Keane also won All-Irelands in soloist categories, including three consecutive wins in the senior division (a record that still stands unbroken).
As an adult, Keane and his brother, fiddler Seán Keane teamed up with flautist Mick O’Connor to assemble a group of musicians that would become the musical “melting pot from which the Chieftans would emerge.” The gentlemen included Joe Ryan, John Dwyer, Liam Rowsome, Michael Tubridy, Bridie Lafferty, John Kelly, and were drawn from both the Castle Ceili Band as well as Sean O’Riada’s legendary Ceoltoiri Cualann (the first Irish band ever assembled for the purpose of the music only, without regard to dancers).
During the Dublin folk-revival during the mid-1960s, Keane became a powerful mentor for many of Irish Trad music’s most well known musicians, including singer/guitarist/composer Paul Brady and multi-instrumentalist-turned-musicologist Dr. Mick Moloney.
1967 brought Keane to America for a tour with accordionist Joe Burke, flautist Paddy Carty, and the Loughrea Ceili Band. Keane felt the palpable opportunity America had to offer Irish music, and moved to New York in 1968. Once established in the city, Keane was invited to play everywhere from Madison Square Garden to Carnegie Hall, and was hailed as “the accordionist, who swung through reels with such exciting drive that he virtually lifted the audience out of their seats,” (music critic John S Wilson).
During his first years in New York, Keane recorded his first solo albums for Rex Records, 1980 brought a move to Nova Scotia to become a member of the band Ryan’s Fancy, with whom he performed on television, toured, and recorded three records. His next solo endeavor united he and his brother Sean for the first time since the latter was recruited by the Chieftains in 1968, titled Roll Away The Reel World, and produced by Mick Moloney.
Keane moved back to New York when Ryan’s Fancy broke up, and made his US Network TV debut on NBC’s The Today Show. The rest of the 1980s were full of solo performances, duo tours with Seamus Connelly and a stint with the All-Star touring act The Green Fields of America.
1991 brought Keane a homecoming, and he played his first public performance in 23 years for the Dublin Traditional Music Festival with Chieftan’s singer Kevin Conneff and former student Paul Brady. Afterward, he starred in the New York Public Television’s weekly music program Irish Eyes and Erin Focus. In 1993, Keane recorded That’s the Spirit with John Doyle (1994) and in 1996, Keane and Doyle were joined by Solas’s Seamus Egan and Winifred Horan to record The Irish Isle for a companion cookbook called “New Irish Cuisine.”
In 1997, Keane moved back to Ireland and recorded With Friends Like These (Shanachie Records) with Bothy Band members Paddy Glackin and Tommy Peoples, Chieftans’ Kevin Conneff, Liam O’Flynn of Planxty, and Matt Molloy. This all-star effort was the perfect way to celebrate and honor a lifetime of music and friendship.
“If it’s music you want,” Christy Moore sang, “then go to Clare.” In 1989, flute, tin whistle, low whistle, and bodhrán player Kevin Crawford heeded those words. He left his hometown of Birmingham, a bustling industrial city in west central England, for rural West Clare. “One reason I moved was to up my game musically and get a bigger exposure to the tradition where it originated,” he explained. “I never intended tomake it a permanent move, but I’ve been living here ever since.”
What made Kevin’s decision to stay easier was the welcome he received from other musicians. “I knew I had been accepted into the traditional world of music,” he recalled, “when Conor Tully phoned me up and asked me to play in a session with him.” Kevin performed regularly with him at the Hill Bar in Kylebrack, East Galway.
Conor isn’t the only fiddler on Kevin’s new CD, the aptly titled In Good Company (GLCD1211) , who valued Kevin’s participation in sessions. For a couple of years, he played with Tony Linnane throughout Clare. Kevin also performed with James Cullinan in sessions in Lissycasey and Doolin. And for nearly five years, Kevin played beside Tommy Peoples in a Sunday morning session at Cruise’s Pub in Ennis.
“When I first moved to Clare,” Kevin said, “Tommy was doing a regular Tuesday night session at Brogan’s Pub in Ennis. I used to go in and listen, not play. At that time I was living in O’Callaghan’s Mills, East Clare, and I felt I needed to move into Ennis. I wound up staying in Tommy’s house. He actually gave me my first car, a Ford Cortina that hehad. ’You’ll need it for the sessions you’ll be playing,’ he told me. In every respect, Tommy is the most generous musician I’ve ever come across.”
Such musical friendships formed for Kevin almost from the moment he showed a singular talent for playing in Birmingham, where he was born on December 6, 1967. Both his parents had immigrated from Miltown Malbay, Clare, bringing with them an ardent love of traditional music. Kevin’s father, Patrick, often sang songs and whistled tunes around the house, while Kevin’s mother, Mary, would whisk him, his two brothers, and his sister back to Miltown Malbay for music-filled summers. There he heardsuch masters as P. J. Crotty on flute, Seán Talty on pipes, and Eamonn McGivney on fiddle.
While on holiday in West Clare, Kevin also heard a duo that profoundly shaped his outlook on Irish music and, not coincidentally, this album. “The first memory I have of Irish traditional music being played live featured a flute player and a fiddle player: Josie Hayes and Junior Crehan. It was a sound I always associated with Irish music, and Ithought it was the perfect instrumental combination.”
Josie Hayes came from Coore, not far from the home of Kevin’s mother, while Martin “Junior” Crehan hailed from Bonavella, near the Crosses of Annagh. Both had played together in the famed Laictin Naofa Céilí Band, who included legendary piper Willie Clancy. The inspiration of this Miltown Malbay-based céilí band can be heard in Kevin and Martin Hayes’s rendition of The Bag of Spuds, a reel Kevin learned from the Laictin Naofa’s 1960 LP, Come to an Irish Dance Party.
Back in Birmingham, Kevin was additionally influenced by the harmonica playing of his uncle Michael, the fiddling of Pat Molloy from Connemara and Tony Neylon from Clare, the accordion playing of Brendan Boyle from Fermanagh, and the flute playing of Patsy Moloney from Limerick. Later on, Kevin played Irish music with Joe and Enda Molloy, Pat Molloy’s sons, and with Mick Conneely, a fiddler born in Bedford, north of London. Kevin, Mick Conneely, Brendan Boyle, banjoist Joe Molloy, Cork-born vocalist Bernadette Davis, and transplanted Parisian guitar and bouzouki player Ivan Miletitch eventually founded a group together, Long Acre. They performed at folk clubs throughout England and also cut an album. The band grew out of the many marathon music sessions organized by Miletitch. “He had this old van we’d all pile into, and asmany as twelve of us would get in,” Kevin remembered. “We never knew where we’d wind up: Newcastle, Scotland, Belfast. The sessions would often last for days on end.”
The music itself was of a high standard. “When you’re born and living in England, you sometimes feel your music may be a bit inferior to what’s coming out of Ireland, and you may not think you’re as good as the musicians there. But, funny enough, one of the reasons the music is so strong in England and in the U.S. is that you work twice as hard atit because you feel you have to.”
After relocating to West Clare, Kevin’s musical work ethic remained just as strong. At one point, he played seven nights a week and twice on Sunday in sessions. In Clare, he formed the group Grianán with button accordionist P. J. King, fiddler Siobhán Peoples (Tommy’s daughter), bouzouki player Pat Marsh, bodhrán player John Moloney, guitarist Paul McSherry, and singer Niamh De Burca. Subsequently, Kevin, P. J., and guitarist-singer Martin O’Malley formed the trio Raise the Rafters. Each band recorded an album: Maid of Erin in 1991 and Raise the Rafters in 1995.
Kevin also appeared on such albums as Maiden Voyage (1991), recorded at Pepper’s Bar in Feakle, Clare; The Sound of Stone: Artists for Mullaghmore (1993); The Sanctuary Sessions (1994), recorded at Cruise’s Pub; Seán Tyrrell’s Cry of a Dreamer (1994); and Musical Travel Ireland (1994) on the French label Silex. More recently, he’s guested on Joe Derrane’s The Tie That Binds (1998).
In 1993 and 1998, Kevin joined, respectively, two of Ireland’s most celebrated instrumental bands, Moving Cloud and Lúnasa. With the former, he made two exceptional albums for Green Linnet: 1995’s Moving Cloud (GLCD1150), named best recording of the year by New York City’s Irish Echo newspaper, and 1998’s Foxglove (GLCD1186). With Lúnasa, he made another superb Green Linnet release, 1999’s Otherworld (GLCD1200) , also singled out by the Irish Echo as that year’s most outstanding album; plus the Lúnasa recording The Merry Sisters of Fate (GLCD1213). His involvement with each group has brought him the wider international recognition he richly deserves.
Following his acclaimed solo debut in 1994, ’D’ Flute Album (GLCD1162) , also available on Green Linnet, Kevin has now made his most personal, heartfelt recording to date, In Good Company. “I wanted to reintroduce myself to the musicians I played with when I first came over to Clare and to the tunes we used to play,” he said, describing the album’sgenesis. “When I’m away from home, these are the musicians I miss the most, the ones I sit on the tour bus or the plane wishing I was back in Clare playing tunes with.”
To satisfy his longing, Kevin recorded some old CDs, LPs, and session tapes onto mini-discs and brought them on tour. “I’d be sitting in the back of the tour bus playing along with the mini-discs,” he said, “but I knew there couldn’t be any integration or sparks flying compared to actually being in a session. That’s when the notion of this album really took root. I thought the only way to get the job done was to find some of the old material I used to play, draw on some of the new tunes I liked, and try to get together some of the musicians I’ve always loved playing with. In many ways, this is an album of heroes of mine.”
Those heroes represent the cream of Irish traditional fiddling: Tommy Peoples, Tony Linnane, Frankie Gavin, Martin Hayes (playing viola here), Conor Tully, James Cullinan, Mick Conneely, and two band colleagues, Seán Smyth of Lúnasa and Manus McGuire of Moving Cloud. With these nine string virtuosos Kevin plays D concert, E-flat, or B-flat flute, adding low whistle to one track. He also delivers two impressive solos, expertly backed by Moving Cloud pianist Carl Hession and a chamber orchestra consisting of four violins, two violas, and one cello. The impeccable rhythm supplied by Carl Hession on keyboards, Arty McGlynn on guitars, Jim Higgins on bodhrán, and Mick Conneely on bouzouki elicits the best from the melody players. (Mick actually pulls double duty on John Carty’s/The Stolen Reel/Feeding the Birds, playing both fiddle and bouzouki.)
Celebrating their 40th Anniversary this year, The Green Fields of America was the first group on either side of the Atlantic to bring together Irish vocal, instrumental and dance traditions on the concert and festival stage. The group continues to feature some of the most celebrated names in Irish American music and dance in including National Heritage Award Recipients Mick Moloney on Banjo, Vocals and Octave Mandolin, and Billy McComiskey on Button Accordion. The group also includes: legendary singer/songwriter Robbie O’Connell, Riverdance and Sharon Shannon Band alum Athena Tergis on 5-string fiddle, World Irish Step Dance Champion Niall O’Leary, acclaimed concertina player and singer Brenda Castles, Pianist and flute player Brendan Dolan and the riveting vocals and fiddle of Liz Hanley.
An evening with The Green Fields of America is an unforgettable experience. They perform a brilliant repertoire of Reels, Jigs, Barndances, Slow airs, and Hornpipes and Set Dances accompanied by exciting, virtuoso Irish dancing from World Champion step dancers, as well as a variety of traditional and contemporary songs in Gaelic and English. These include love songs, humorous songs, patriotic songs, songs of emigration and settlement, Irish American songs from variety theater and vaudeville and the myriad other themes that have made the Irish oral literature and song tradition among the richest in the Western world. All this is linked by the urbane, informative witty commentary which the group is renowned for. They have the rare capacity to appeal to folk and Irish music devotees and to general audiences of any age.
In 1961, Irish fiddle virtuoso Martin Hayes was born into one of the most influential musical dynasties ever to exist in Irish music. Raised in East Clare, Ireland, Martin was surrounded by exquisite world-class music, supportive family and friends, and both performance and competition opportunities, all of which proved to be the perfect formula necessary to create, arguably, one of the world’s finest Irish fiddlers.
Hayes’ father, the celebrated fiddle player P.J. Hayes, who was the leader of the legendary Tulla Ceili Band, was instrumental in his son’s early musical development. His uncle, national fiddle champion Paddy Canny, was likewise influential in the creation of his inimitable musical style.
Hayes toured with his father in the Tulla Ceili Band from the age of thirteen and was very active in Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, the worldwide organization devoted to the preservation of Irish music. During his years competing in Comhaltas music competitions, Hayes took home six All-Ireland championships, the highest level of individual competitive achievement, and by the age of twenty, he had won every competition that Irish music had to offer.
The 1980’s saw Hayes moving to Chicago to take up commercial fiddling. Experimenting in the diverse musical styles of the city, he spent three years playing locally in various rock bands, including the electric/Irish/rock fusion band Midnight Court, where he met his current musical partner, guitarist Dennis Cahill. When his now-manager convinced him to record an all-Irish fiddle album, Hayes recorded his self-titled first US album on the Green Linnet Label, in 1993.
That album was greeted with such extensive critical acclaim that he became an almost instant household name among Irish music connoisseurs, and the album won Ireland’s National Entertainment Award. Hayes’ second album, Under the Moon, was released in 1995, and in 1997, he, along with Dennis Cahill, created an album that would enrapture audiences across the globe and reach over genre divides with expressive candor and natural grace, entitled The Lonesome Touch.
Now living in Seattle, WA, the two tour extensively having released Live in Seattle in 1999, and Welcome Here Again in late 2007.
Alter Ego is comprised of two former members of the French/Breton group, Ad Vielle Que Pourra; Alain Leroux and Jean-Louis Cros. Both musicians sing and play several different instruments — classically trained Leroux focuses on mandocello, bouzouki and fiddle, while Cros displays a variety of cultural influences in his playing on acoustic, electric and bass guitars, drawing from classical, jazz, blues, bossa-nova, Renaissance and Celtic styles.
“The Old Blind Dogs play with a compelling energy and intoxicating rhythm,” says The Scotsman, “as players and audience seem to share a wild ecstasy of emotion.”
Fifteen years is a long time in the life of any band and most who reach that milestone are content to rest on the tried and true formulas that have worked in the past. Not so for Scotland’s Old Blind Dogs whose newly released Four on the Floor takes them bravely in many new directions.
The Dogs, one of Scotland’s most highly touted traditional folk bands, are not known for shying away from change. A strong, shared musical vision has allowed the group to ride out inevitable line-up changes to the extent that the only original member still with the band is Jonny Hardie (fiddle, guitar and vocals). The Dogs’ popularity has never dimmed though and the current foursome of Hardie, Aaron Jones (Bass, Bouzouki, Guitar, Vocals), Rory Campbell (Border (Reel) Pipes, Whistles, Vocals) and Fraser Stone (Drums, Percussion) have proven more than capable of carrying on the tradition of the band that the Montreal Gazette called “a Scots neo-traditional supergroup with a bracingly modern musical attack.”
Hardie who was classically trained, has recently been much in demand as a freelance producer and guitarist, and has solo and collaborative albums to his credit. Rory Campbell has been playing pipes and whistles since a young age and has fronted groups Deaf Shepherd and Nusa, as well as performing in a variety of ground-breaking traditional projects such as 2006’s The Blow Show. Aaron Jones who was voted Instrumentalist of the Year 2005 at the Scots Trad Music Awards is a past member of Craobh Rua and is a founding partner of www.tradmusic.com. He has appeared on many albums and continues to work regularly with some of the biggest names in traditional music, both as a performer and recently, as a producer with flute/fiddle player, Claire Mann. Fraser Stone brings his African-based percussion to both the Dogs and to highly-touted indie rock band Stereoglo.
Together, in varying line-ups along with past members Buzzby McMillan, Davy Cattanach (percussion), Fraser Fifield (saxophone, small pipes), Paul Jennings (percussion) and singers Ian Benzie and Jim Malcolm, the Dogs have released ten albums and have won numerous awards including the prestigious title of Folk Band of the Year at the 2004 Scots Trad Music Awards.
One aspect of Four on the Floor that might surprise even long-term Dogs fans is that instead of bringing in a new vocalist to replace Malcolm, who left to concentrate on his family and solo career, the remaining Dogs now share the singing duties, with admirable success. “For me,” says Hardie, “it was a matter of going back to thinking of the original sound of Old Blind Dogs. The band was a four piece for six years and, in many ways, I prefer the sound of four–with everyone having to work a little harder. We now have the ingredients for everyone to contribute songs rather than a front man and three backing singers. Because we all have a responsibility, we tend to focus on making sure the harmonies are right.”
The tracks on Four on the Floor run the gamut from contemporary songs such as Ewan McColl’s “Terror Time” and Davie Robertson’s “Star O’ The Bar” to tunes from Brittany and Galicia, to tunes found, as many a favorite Dog’s tune has been, in “dusty old books”. As to the title, Hardie claims that it “is just a reference to there being four of us on the stage now as far as I’m concerned–but everyone has there own theories (everything from manual gear boxes to us falling around a lot!) You decide.”
The Dogs have always been best known for their impassioned live shows and the inclusion of three classic Old Blind Dogs tracks, recorded live by the current line up, shows why. “Bedlam Boys/The Rights of Man”, “Branle” and “The Bonnie Earl O Moray” which span the Dog’s career, giving the listener a taste of what all the fuss is about. “It’s that live performance thing,” says Hardie. “There’s an honesty about it and we work hard on the stage. Perhaps we even err on the side of being too frenetic. We don’t really pace ourselves; we just go for it. I think ours is very immediate music.”
Tommy Sands was born, reared and still lives by the foothills of the Mourne Mountains in the North of Ireland. As a child he heard the lively fiddle and accordion, and the traditional songs and stories of his mother and father welcoming neighbours into the small farmhouse kitchen. Later with his brothers and sister, The Sands Family, he would travel the world bringing these same songs and stories to stages as far apart as Moscow’s Olympic Stadium and New York’s Carnegie Hall.
After the tragic death of his youngest brother Eugene in a car accident while on tour in Germany, The Sands Family toured less together. Tommy eventually set off in a more solo direction, writing new songs, recording albums of his own material and producing a weekly programme on Downtown Radio. Twenty years on, “Country Ceili” is still as popular as ever.
His first solo album, Singing of the Times (GLCD3044), released in 1985, is now regarded as a classic. Two songs from this collection, There Were Roses and Daughters and Sons have already passed into the Irish tradition and are currently included in the English Language syllabus in schools in Germany. Ireland’s Nobel winning poet Seamus Heaney spoke of “the airiness and heartsomeness” of Sands’ work. “You feel you can trust the singer as well as the song”, he says, “his voice is at ease, it is not drawing attention to itself and yet, for that very reason it demands attention naturally.”
Down By Bendy’s Lane (GLCD1085) came next, a charming collection of songs and stories. It consolidated Tommy’s wit and charm with children of all ages. In 1992 he released Beyond the Shadows (GLCD3068), a collection that reflected the changes in Tommy’s life as well as in the world. This included the remarkable Dresden and The Shadow of O’Casey, the title song from a stage musical written by Sands and playwright Sean O’Casey’s daughter, Shivaun.
Autumn 1995 brought the release of The Heart’s A Wonder (GLCD1158), a look at the tremendous changes that have occurred in Tommy’s homeland and around the world. It includes the song The Music of Healing co-written and performed with his good friend Pete Seeger and described by John Hume MEP as “a new anthem for our times”. The album also features the accompaniment of the famous Sarajevo cellist Vedran Smailovic.
In August 1996 he organized the historical “Citizens Assembly” in Belfast where, in a climate of “neighbourliness and humanity” created by Ulster’s finest artists and literary figures, all warring political parties sat down together for the first time this century. The Music of Healing was the anthem sung by all.
In January 1997 he recorded the title track for the tribute to Pete Seeger album with Dolores Keane, Liam O’Flynn and Co. The blockbuster album, entitled Where Have All the Flowers Gone? also features Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Nanci Griffith and many others. Kathy Matthea from Nashville has also recorded a great version of the Sands classic There Were Roses on the American Narada Label.
In September 1997 he was invited to address a special study of UNESCO in Paris on the subject of the culture of peace.
March 1998 he completed the new Sarajevo to Belfast album with cellist Vedran Smailovic. Also in March he was asked by Irish Republic President Mary McAleese to organize and take part in a special North-South TV cultural concert programme in Aras an Uachtarain, Dublin.
In 2000 Tommy recorded To Shorten the Winter (GLCD1212), an album of original songs based on the winter season and Christmas, with Dolores Keane, Liam O Flynn, Steve Cooney, Arty McGlynn and others.
Quebec-based Ad Vielle Que Pourra (Daniel Thonon, Luc Thonon, Gilles Plante, Alain Leroux, Clement Demers) utilizes traditional French instrumentation and music and fuses it with elements of Gypsy polkas and Venezuelan waltzes.
Andy Irvine is quickly achieving the status of folk legend, having already been hailed as a folk hero. It’s Andy’s turn for heroes, however, as he tells the stories, in song, of his own heroes through history — heroes like Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazi death camps, and James Connolly, famous Irish labor leader who was severely wounded during the uprising of 1916 and subsequently executed, and of course, Woody Guthrie himself. Featuring such artists as Davy Spillane,Arty McGlynn, and Rude Awakening rank this as the most eloquent album of 1991, if not the decade.
Celtophile [kelt-o-fī(-ə)le] : One who is obsessed with the beauty and imagery conjured up by the music that emanates
from the “auld sod”.
(Alt) : A person of rarified taste in Celtic music of all forms (no apologies necessary!).
The Compass Records Group is proud to present the CELTOPHILE collection. Drawn from the vast Green Linnet, Compass Records, and Mulligan Records catalogs, and spanning the breadth of traditional music from Ireland and the British Isles, these CDs are thematically organized and packaged and offered at a special value price. A unique and varied collection, CELTOPHILE is a welcome addition to the music collections of novices and fans alike.
“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.