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Notes from Celtic Airs
May / June 2007
by Steve Dieterich

    On May 5th we welcome back Craobh Rua (pronounced Crave Roo’-ah) to the University of Hartford’s Wilde Auditorium. This traditional folk quartet has been in existence since the mid 1980’s. Though based in Belfast, their travels have taken them to countries throughout Eastern and Western Europe, North America and Australia. This extensive touring has garnered them the reputation of “Ambassadors of Irish Traditional Music.”
            The name Craobh Rua translates from the Irish as “red branch”, a reference to the Red Branch Knights of Ulster, well known in ancient Irish history. Fittingly, the current band has become equally well known among traditional music circles in modern Ulster (ie. North Ireland).
            Brian Connolly, from Belfast, founded the original band in ~1985 and remains their driving force today. His earliest instruction on banjo and mandolin came from his grandfather. Like many of his ilk, his skills were honed in numerous informal sessions. Through his school years he was greatly influenced by the earliest proponents of the Irish traditional music revival including The Dubliners, The Chieftains, The Bothy Band and Planxty. He has remained true to the pure tradition or “pure drop” while others have strayed from the path.
            Guitarist and vocalist Jim Rainey is also from Belfast. He discovered Irish traditional music in his teens, but didn’t gravitate to the session scene til his early 20’s. His previous influences range from bluegrass to blues among others.
            Conor Lamb from Crumlin, Co. Antrim, is the youngest member of the band. Just out of his teens, he’s somewhat of a musical prodigy! His initial musical education began on piano at age 9, but by age 11 he was playing tin whistle and by 13, the very challenging uillean (elbow) pipes. Paddy Keenan (Bothy Band), John McSherry (original Lunasa member) and Mick O’Brien have had a major impact on his playing.
            Michael Cassidy has temporarily left the band. His replacement is Gabe McVarish on fiddle. A California native, Gabe came to Scotland to attend the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Dance (RSAMD) and now lives in the Moidart region of the Scottish Highlands. Before joining Craobh Rua, he had performed with other young exponents of traditional Celtic music including Cliar, Ivan & Chris Drever, Phamie Gow, Daimh, Dannsa and the Claire Mann Band where he met sometimes Craobh Rua bandmate Aaron Jones.
            Craobh Rua’s US touring was curtailed for a few years due to unconscionable suspension of their visas as part of the tighter security instituted by our American government after the 9/11 disasters. That’s all behind them and we’re very pleased to welcome them back on May 5th at 7:30pm in the Wilde Auditorium at the University of Hartford.

            Our featured artist on June 8th will look familiar, but out of place, to regular attendees at the Celtic Concert Series. She is Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh (say “Mirin Nick Owl’-leave), for the past three years the lead vocalist for Irish septet Danu. The band is taking some time off from touring and Muireann has seized the opportunity to tour as a solo vocalist in a trio. A native Irish speaker, she sings fluently in both Irish and English with a voice The Irish Times described as “earthy and distinctive.” At times she sounds like a young Dolores Keane.
            Her debut solo album, Daybreak, was released in 2006 and showcases her artistry on flute and whistle as well as her vocal talents. These instrumental talents are put to good use in performances with her touring trio.
            After years of informal musical education while growing up in the West Kerry Gaeltacht (Irish speaking areas of the country), she pursued a formal music education and received an MA in Traditional Music Performance from the University of Limerick. This explains, at least in part, her confident and relaxed stage presence.

It will likely be quite some time before we have the opportunity to welcome Danu back to the University of Hartford, so don’t miss your chance to see their acclaimed vocalist Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh in a trio performance Friday June 8th at 7:30 in the Wilde Auditiorum.

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  Tickets for the Celtic Airs Concert Series are available only from the University of Hartford box office. Call them at 1-800-274-8587 or 1-860-768-4228, or contact them online at hartford.edu/hartt. Tickets for each concert go on sale two months before the concert date.

Celtic Airs, the Tuesday morning installment of WWUH’s ‘FM On Toast’ can be heard 6:00-9:00am at 91.3 FM, or streaming live on the internet at wwuh.org.

            I look forward to talking to you each week and hope you’re enjoying the show. Take a tip from me and other devoted concert goers; if you like this music on the radio, you’ll LOVE IT live in the intimate confines and acoustic perfection of the Wilde Auditorium.

See you at an upcoming concert!

WWUH: Program Guide 2007 ©

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