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The University of Hartford

Notes from Celtic Airs
With your host Steve Dieterich July/August 2000

      As we move into the second half of the year 2000, the Celtic concert series has a continuing array of superb performers lined up to entertain you.
    Thus far there are no concerts for the month of July. Tune into Celtic Aires every Tuesday morning 6 – 9 am and you’ll be the first to know it this situation changes.
    In August, we have two very different Irish bands signed up. Lunasa return August 3-4 with a style that pushes traditional music to the limits and beyond. Then Craobh Rua arrive for a show on August 18, satisfying all those who yearn for the very traditional style of Irish pub seisun.
    In less than three years time together, Lunasa has become one of the most sought after bands on the international music scene. Not since the debut of Solas has an Irish traditional band been as lavishly praised. Their front line of flute, pipes and fiddle harks back to the legendary Bothy Band, but it’s the percussive guitar style and the jazz/rock influenced double bass of their rhythm section, seeking out the essential heartbeat of the tune, that makes them "rather like a jam band for Irish music lovers" (New York Times), "determined to drag Irish folk music kicking and screaming into the 21st century." (Washington Post).
    "They are an Irish dream team" (Folk Roots) whose members "combine a strong sense of spontaneity and risk taking with remarkable discipline and outstanding talent." (Irish Echo). "This is the hottest Irish acoustic group on the planet." (Earle Hitchner, Wall Street Journal).
    Lunasa is named for an ancient Celtic harvest festival in honor of the god Lugh, patron saint of the arts. Then band’s seeds were planted when Sean Smyth (fiddler, whistle player and an MD!) joined up with Trevor Hutchinson (double bass) and Donogh Hennessey (guitar) for a short Scandinavian tour in late 1996. They were so well received that on their return to Ireland, they added John McSherry (uillean pipes and low whistle) and Michael McGoldreck (flute and whistle) and began to tour and record a live album Lunasa, released in 1997 and hailed as one of the finest, freshest recordings of Irish music in years, "thrilling to the marrow" (Folk Roots), "a must-have disc" (Irish Voice).
    Sadly, John McSherry left to join Donal Lunny’s Coolfin and Michael McGoldrick departed shortly thereafter to join Capercaille. Both are doing very well with their new bands.
    Flautist/whistle/bodhran player (and fold DJ!) Kevin Crawford was brought on board for an Australian tour in 1997 and remains with the band today. Armagh-born Cillian Vallely, a gifted uillean piper and low whistle player, was added in 1999. Cillian comes from a talented musical family. His brother Niall plays concertina and was a founding member of the band Nomos (he also plays back up for Karan Casey) and his father and uncle are uillean pipers who began and continue to operate the famous Armagh Pipers Club.
    This most recent Lunasa lineup, with guest appearances by John McSherry and Michael McGoldrick, recorded the most recent Lunasa CD, Otherworld, released in October 1999 to critical acclaim. "Even better than their superb 1997 debut, every track is a keeper on this album" (Irish Voice). I strongly urge you to come out and enjoy this band in the Wilde Auditorium on August 3 and 4. Their previous tow concerts here have both sold out long in advance, so make your plans to attend soon!
    On August 18, we have the pleasure of welcoming back Craobh Rua, one of the few traditional bands from Northern Ireland touring the world today. Firmly rooted in the traditional style, they’ve been called "the ultimate seisun band" (Dirty Linen Magazine).
    Craobh Ruh (pronounced Creev roo-ah) is a name with roots in Northern Ireland. The name literally means red branch and refers to the Red Branch Knights of Ulster, warriors from Celtic Mythology who traveled from place to place every three days. It’s a very appropriate name in view of the vagabond existence of folk groups on tour says the band’s leader Brian Connolly.
    The Northern style, as heard in Belfast, incorporates styles from the other northern counties as young musicians come into the city seeking employment or to go to the University. There are more great seisuns in Belfast these days than there are in Dublin according to the bands fickler Michael Cassidy. Being a ‘Northern Band,’ the group likes to incorporate as many tunes and songs indigenous to the region as possible in their concerts. This is often music you won’t find performed by most of the traditional bands form the Irish Republic.
    The band was formed in 1985 by Brian Connolly (banjo, mandolin, bodhran) and Desy McCabe (uillean pipes), soon after they added fiddler Michael Cassidy who remains with the band today.
    McCabe left the band to become an accountant in Dublin and in 1991 was replaced by Mark Donnely, a product of the famous Armagh Piper’s Club. After three years of heavy touring, Mark returned to the Armagh and taught many of the brightest new uillean pipers in Ireland today before his untimely death from pneumonia in December 1999. Donnelly had been replaced by Diarmuid Moynihan by the time we saw the band for the first time in 1998. Diarmuid has since departed to devote full time to his band Calico. The current piper is all Ireland champion Patrick Davey from Belfast also an accomplished musician on flute and whistle.
    Original vocalist Frankie Totten was replaced by guitarist/vocalist Jim Byrne whom you may have seen if you attended the Craobh Rua concert at Glastonbury High School in 1996. Jim gave way to Aaron Jones (bouzouki/guitar/vocals) in late 1997. It was Aaron who was with the band on their first University of Hartford stop in 1998. Though his family is from Belfast, Aaron lives in Scotland where he also performs with the band Seelyhoo and with the duo of Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain.
    Craobh Rua are known for their long mysterious album titles: 1990’s Not a Word About It, 1992’s The More That’s Said the Less the Better, 1996’s No Matter How Cold and Wet You Are As Long As You’re Warm and Dry and 1997’s cryptically titled Soh It Is. Though very evasive as to the meaning of these titles, Brian Connelly admits that they’re actually all well known Belfast colloquialisms, but will elaborate no further.
    If you’ve seen them before, I’m sure you’ll be back again! If you have not seen them before, don’t miss this opportunity because as the Belfast Telegraph reported, "Craobh Rua are free advertisement for everything that’s good about Irish traditional music. They play it from the heart and they play it superbly." They will be here in August 18 at 7:30 pm in the Wilde Auditorium.
    Additional concerts lined up for this year include Danu (Irish septet) on September 8, Beginnish (Irish quintet) on October 6 and Solas (Irish quintet) on November 7.
    Tickets for all these shows are available through the University Box Office, 768-4228 or 1-800-274-8587. Be aware, our Celtic concerts usually sell out well in advance, so plan accordingly!
    Potential shows for 2001 include Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies in January and Old Blind Dogs, Niamh Parsons and Liz Carroll in March. Hope to se you at many of these fundraising events!

Copyright©WWUH: July/August Program Guide, 2000

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