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The University of Hartford

Notes from Celtic Airs
With your host Steve Dieterich March/April 1999

    March is upon us, the traditional time for the WWUH annual fund-raiser or "Marathon." I’ve accumulated many Celtic CD’s to use as premiums or "thank you's" for your pledges. Please plan to call during Celtic Airs fundraising time to show your continued support for this program and for WWUH. Our volunteer staff work hard all year to fill your needs for alternative, commercial free radio. Now it’s your once a year turn to pay us back for all our efforts on your behalf.
    The Celtic concert series continues to be wildly successful and enjoyable for all who’ve taken the opportunity to see some of the finest bands on the traditional music scene in person here at the University of Hartford. Our first two concerts of 1999 featured Lunasa on January 22, and Cherish the Ladies on February 26. Both were sell outs and a great time was had by all in attendance, both audience and musicians.
    Our next concert features Dervish on March 12, 1999 in the Millard Auditorium (also a sell out). By popular demand, the band is making their fourth trip to the University of Hartford with a few personnel changes that promise to make them even better than before! Fiddler Shane McAleer has been replaced by Sligo-born fiddler and guitarist Sheamis O’Dowd and the band has expanded to a septet with the addition of a second fiddler, Tom Morrow.
    Dervish are now the torchbearers and leading lights in the world of Irish traditional music, following in the footsteps of the Bothy Band, Planxty, DeDannan and Altan. Unlike to many Celtic groups on the scene today, they don’t incorporate odd or quirky instrumentation to give themselves a world music feel, nor synthesizers for the new age sound.
    Vocalist/percussionist Cathy Jordan from Strokestown, Co. Roscommon is still the stage leader for the band. Her earthy voice is well suited to the traditional ballads she is constantly searching out in various Irish musical archives. No ethereal vocals here, unlike to many other Celtic bands of late. She’s comfortable singing in Irish and English. Her impish behavior enlivens the band’s concerts and keeps the male members of the troupe on their guard at all times.
    Dervishes’ core is made up of Liam Kelly on flute and whistle and Shane Mitchell on accordion, both natives of Sligo. They’ve played together since they were pre-teens and were performing in the Mitchell family’s pub long before they were of drinking age. The Mitchells lived above the pub during Shane’s formative years but sold it in 1970. It’s now called Furey’s and has recently been leased by members of Dervish who plan to rename it Shelia-na-gig. It will be a place for the band to play in sessions during their rare time at home, as well as a place to welcome fellow musicians to Sligo town.
    Kelly and Mitchell formed a band in their early teens called Poitin, which won top prize at the Ballyshannon Folk Fest, a chance to perform on Gay Byrne’s Late Late Show. This group disbanded, where upon the duo joined with fellow Sligo resident Michael Holmes to form a rock band called Who Says What, with Holmes on electric bass, Kelly on sax and Mitchell on accordion. After finishing high school, Kelly and Holmes went to London for awhile where they began writing their own tunes in the traditional style, an activity they continue to pursue as members of Dervish.
    On their return to Sligo, the two rejoined Mitchell and a newcomer from Dublin, Brian McDonough. In the late seventies, at the tender age of sixteen, he became one of the original members of the highly regarded band Oisin. He left the band in the mid-eighties to pursue his other passion, painting. (One of his paintings graces the walls of Furey’s). After playing in sessions for a few years, the quartet plus fiddler Martin McGinley adopted the name Dervish and in 1988 recorded an all instrumental album called "The Boys of Sligo." The album was well reviewed and they received offers to perform throughout Ireland and on the Continent. To improve their audience appeal, they decided to add vocalist Cathy Jordan and began to record "Harmony Hill," their first album as a sextet in 1990, although it took until 1993 for the album to be released. They’ve released two additional studio albums, "Playing With Fire" and "At the End of the Day" plus a great double CD set "Live in "Palma."
    For Dervish, music is not just their profession, it is their passion, their way of life. They tour 70% of the year, from South America to Scandinavia to the Far East. During their rare trips home, they can usually be found at sessions at various locations in Sligo, happy to play at the drop of a hat. They are friends, not just business partners and their closeness and confidence in each other is apparent in their live performances.
    They’ve played for festival audiences of up to 40,000. On March 12, 1999 you’ll be able to see them in a much more intimate gathering of 400 when they perform in the Millard Auditorium at 7:30 P.M. Don’t miss this opportunity to see Ireland’s top traditional band.
    One last suggestion: The Battlefield Band, with new vocalist/guitarist Davey Steele and new piper Mike Katz, will be here on May 2, 1999 in the Wilde Auditorium (capacity 200). Best to get your tickets early if you hope to attend.

Copyright©WWUH: March/April Program Guide, 1999

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