The Bothy Band evoked universal praise from audiences and critics alike. Siblings Micheal O Domhnaill and Triona Ni Dhomhnaill, percussionist Donal Lunny, master piper Paddy Keenan, flute virtuoso Matt Molloy, and brilliant fiddler Kevin Burke stood at the very summit of Celtic music.
Eventually, the band members went their separate ways in 1979, joining celebrated groups like The Chieftains, Relativity, Nightnoise, Touchstone and Patrick Street.
Irish traditional band Altan has had a tremendous effect on audiences and music lovers throughout the world. With their beautifully crafted award-winning recordings, ranging dynamically from the most tender old Irish songs all the way to vibrant reels and jigs, Altan have taken Irish music to some of the best concert halls and festivals throughout the world.
During all this time, there has been the resolute commitment of the band to delivering the beauty of traditional music, particularly that of the Donegal fiddlers and singers, to a wide-range of audiences.
Altan have always believed that Irish traditional music is modern-day music. “Ireland isn’t known for its opera or classical music. What we are known for is our traditional music, our language, our culture. That’s what we can give the world,” says acclaimed fiddler and lead vocalist Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh.
The roots of the band begin with the music and fun of gatherings and sessions in kitchens and pubs in Donegal where masterful music was heard in an environment of appreciation and intimacy; this is the foundation of the band.
The real essence of the band was the music and personality of band founders, Belfast flute-player, Frankie Kennedy, and Gweedore singer and fiddler, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh.
As soon as anyone met them and heard their unique music in the early 1980s, whether in a large noisy festival session, or in the small traditional clubs of Dublin and Belfast, it was immediately clear there was synergy at work.
Mairead and Frankie played a mix of old Donegal fiddle music and rare Northern flute tunes. Steadily, the duo grew organically into a band in the mid-1980s. They chose the name Altan, which is a deep and mysterious lake behind Errigal Mountain in Donegal.
Altan was committed to musical excellence and good-natured fun. The band members were some of the best players in the contemporary folk music scene. Altan has always been a band featuring virtuoso musicians. One of the first was bouzouki-player, Ciaran Curran from Co. Fermanagh, a well-respected session and festival musician, nephew of fiddler, Ned Curran. Like all accompanists of the time, Ciaran had created his own style on the bouzouki, and his playing is an essential part of the Altan sound.
With the inclusion of guitarist Mark Kelly in the mid-1980s Altan truly became a band. Mark had played other musical styles, and from the very beginning he showed a talent for stylishly incorporating fresh rhythms and chordings to the band’s arrangements. Mark and Ciaran appeared on the 1987 album “Altan”, which, even though not officially a band album, unveiled the Altan’s studio sound.
The increasing amount of live performances in 1984 and 1985 led Frankie and Mairead to quit their teaching jobs and go professional. Especially influential were short trips to the United States in those years when Altan played concerts in New York, Minnesota, Madison, Portland and Seattle with Derry guitarist, Daithi Sproule, a Minnesota resident, and like Ciaran and Mark, an old friend.
Daithi was one of the first musicians to adapt the guitar to old Gaelic songs (many of which he learned in the Gaeltacht of Rannafast, just a few miles from Mairead’s home in Gweedore). These US concerts, played in clubs and sometimes in noisy Irish pubs, where people were expecting a very different sort of music, convinced Frankie and Mairead that no-compromise traditional music played with passion and vitality could win over any audience anywhere.
In subsequent years, Altan recorded albums for American independent record label Green Linnet, all of which won praises and awards and appeared in the Billboard charts. Alytan’s collaborators on these albums were first-rate: Donal Lunny, Brian Masterson and Steve Cooney in particular made oustanding contributions over the years.
Another friend played with Altan for several years, fiddle maestro Paul O’Shaughnessey, a stunning player with a deep knowledge of Donegal music. The two-fiddle sound became popular, so as Altan toured more and more widely, Paul had to leave due to pressure of work. His place was taken by another great young Donegal fiddler, Ciaran Tourish, a musician with a special love for the weaving of spontaneous harmony and counterpoint around the melodies of the other lead players.
A final element was added to Altan’s sound in the early 1990s. It was another old friend, accordion-player Dermot Byrne, another Donegal musician, who grew up listening to an older generation of Donegal fiddlers, the Doherty’s, the Byrne’s and the Cassidy’s.
Sadly, in the early 1990s Altan suffered a devastating blow, when band leader and manager, Frankie Kennedy, at the height of his career as a brilliant and innovative flute-player and just when his and Mairead’s musical dreams were being realized, was diagnosed with cancer.
Through a long illness, Altan, at Frankie’s insistence, continued to tour and perform with Frankie’s participation whenever possible. Frankie died on September 19, 1994. He continues to be a presence and inspiration in Altan’s life and music.
In 1996 Altan was signed to Virgin Records, the first Irish band of their kind to be signed by a major label. Altan achieved gold and platinum albums in Ireland and toured larger venues, throughout the globe, with tours in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Europe as well as regular successful U.S. tours.
In recent years Altan has experimented with traditional music, using orchestral arrangements of its most popular pieces. The arrangements have been scored by the highly respected arranger Fiachra Trench and performed with the Ulster Orchestra, The RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and the Royal Scottish Opera Orchestra.
In March of 2010 Altan released Altan: 25th Anniversary Celebration album with the RTE Concert Orchestra, and embarked on an international tour.
In 2012, Altan released Gleann Nimhe – The Poison Glen inspired by a region around Dún Lúiche, in County Donegal, made of deep glens and lakes. The album featured Martin Tourish who would later replace Dermot Byrne.
The Widening Gyre, released in 2015, was recorded in Nashville and explored the influence of Appalachian music on Irish music.
The Band in 2013-2016
Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh – lead vocals, fiddle
Ciaran Tourish – fiddle, tin whistle, backing vocals
Mark Kelly – guitars, bouzouki, backing vocals
Ciaran Curran – bouzouki, mandolin
Dáithí Sproule – guitar, vocals
Martin Tourish – accordion
In 2018, Altan released The Gap of Dreams. The album was recorded at Attica Studios in the townland of Termon in northern County Donegal, produced by Michael Kenney and Tommy McLaughlin. The album title, The Gap of Dreams, is borrowed from a poem by Francis Carlin, “The Ballad of Douglas Bridge,” in which he writes: “The Gap of Dreams is never shut,” referring to the gap between this world and the Otherworld. The Otherworld has always wielded a large influence on the fiddling tradition of County Donegal and has served as inspiration for song, music, and folklore.
This is the second solo album by celebrated Irish violinist, composer and instrument maker Máiréad Nesbitt. For over 10 years, Máiréad was the violinist for popular crossover act Celtic Woman. She left the band recently to focus on her solo career.
On ‘Hibernia, Máiréad brings traditional Irish/Celtic music together with classical music. And she does it beautifully. Máiréad also celebrates the anniversary of the rise of Ireland as an independent nation. Hibernia was the name the Romans gave to Ireland.
The format of most of the album is solo violin accompanied by classical orchestra, flute and percussion. The percussion featured includes traditional percussion played by percussionists as well as foot percussion made by a group of dancers.
‘Hibernia’ is divided into various suites, a sort of mini-symphonies composed by Máiréad, Colm Ó Foghlú, and Liam Bates, inspired by the music and dance from the southern province of Munster. Máiréad leads the way with her extraordinary violin, through exquisite slow airs and high-speed reels.
Although the majority of the album is instrumental, Hibernia includes a song To Bring Them Home, written by Liam Bates and performed by tenor Nathan Pacheco. This song portrays the heroes of a shipwreck off the coast of Ireland.
The lineup on Hibernia includes Máiréad Nesbitt on Celtic violin; Karl Nesbitt on flute, low whistle, bouzouki and didjeridoo; Mick O’Brien on uilleann pipes and whistle; Kathleen Nesbitt on fiddle; John Nesbitt on accordion; Seán Nesbitt on accordion; Nathan Pacheco on vocals; Noel Eccles on percussion; Nick Bailey on percussion; The Orchestra of Ireland, leader Kenneth Rice, conducted by Liam Bates; Cashel Set Dancers: Gráinne Uí Chaomhánaigh, Áine Cody, Bernie Sullivan and Coleman Lydon on foot percussion.
Hibernia is an exquisitely crafted Celtic Classical album by the talented and multi-faceted artist Máiréad Nesbitt.
Allison Mombourquette began step dancing at the age of 5. This influenced her decision to begin taking fiddle lessons, which she started at age 8. She joined the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association in 2001, in the hopes of learning more about the music she heard her grandfather play. Through the Association, she has had the opportunity to perform across Canada and in the United Kingdom.
She has been a part of Feis Mhabu since the winter of 2006, which gives young Celtic musicians the opportunity to learn from some of Cape Breton’s finest musicians. Allison has also studied fiddle, piano, and step-dancing at the Gaelic College and been a guest fiddler at he Baddeck Gathering, Normaway Inn and, Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique.
Allison has played together with Natalie MacMaster, Glenn Graham, Andrea Beaton, Ashley MacIsaac, Jerry Holland, J.P. Cormier, and Dave MacIsaac and performed at such events as the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle, Saturday night square dances at the West Mabou Hall, Celtic Colours International Festival, and Friday night ceilidhs in Sloan’s Pub in Glasgow, Scotland.
Allison’s influences include Ciffy Carter, a local musician; Dwayne Cote, JP Cormier, Nickel Creek and Union Station.
Allan’s background in the Cape Breton musical tradition is the foundation of his ability to accompany fiddlers like Jerry Holland for dances and ceilidhs and new generation fiddlers like Troy MacGillivray, Andrea Beaton and Shelly Campbell.
Growing up in Halifax (Nova Scotia), Allan’s first thirteen years consisted of regular visits from Dave MacIsaac and anyone else who came to the city for a Cape Breton dance. He started using the acoustic guitar, playing for his sister on fiddle and mother on piano.
Around the age of 8, he started to play along on the piano while his mother would play solos or to a tape playing on the stereo sound system. He was instructed to “do it right if you are going to do it at all“. That is all it took for encouragement. There was no formal training of any sort. Allan learned by ear and he attended every concert, dance and house party he could.
Moving to Antigonish at age 13 was the best thing that could have pushed this interest forward. It was a focal point at that time for fiddlers coming to town to take lessons and it was close to Cape Breton.
He soon became a regular every summer playing for local dances and “filling in for a set” to give the piano player a break. Allan has toured around the world with Jerry Holland, Ashley MacIsaac, Natalie MacMaster and Troy MacGillivray, absorbing all genres of music along the way.
Born in Co. Roscommon in 1972, Alan Kelly grew up in a house steeped in traditional music and dance. His grandfather was a fiddler; his grandmother, a melodeon player; his father, Frank Kelly, a piano accordionist from Fourmilehouse in southern Roscommon.
Alan chose to follow in his fathers’ footsteps and learn the piano accordion. Very soon, Alan had forged his own inimitable style influenced mainly by his father Frank and local musicians such as Paddy Ryan, John Carlos, Patsy Hanly and Frank Jordan.
In his early music years, Alan went on to win All-Ireland titles on piano accordion and piano, and also with brother John in duets and neighbor and life long friend John Wynne in trios.
Determined to become a full time musician Alan moved to Galway in 1993 where he quickly became part of the thriving traditional music scene, forging an excellent reputation for himself.
In 1994 he landed a part in the Druid Theatre’s award winning production of Vincent Woods’ ‘At the black pigs Dyke’ and spent the next 12 months performing in Dublin, Galway, Glasgow, Toronto and Sydney. He also toured with Druid’s and Vincent Woods production of ‘The Yellow Bittern’ in 1995.
Back in Galway, Alan decided to concentrate on his debut solo album and in 1997 he released Out of the Blue (BBM 001) on his own label Blackbox Music. Co-produced by Alan and Steve Cooney and featuring a host of Ireland’s top musicians, the album received ecstatic reviews from the critics, earned him a ‘Best Newcomer’ award from Irish Music Magazine and launched Alan on his solo career.
Extensive touring ensued, especially in the United States of America and Canada where ‘Out of the Blue’ was released on the Kells label.
However, it wasn’t long before theatre beckoned again and towards the end of 1997, Alan was invited by New York’s awarding winning avant-garde theatre company Mabou Mines to join their production of Peter and Wendy in Los Angeles and has since performed with them in New Haven (’98) San Francisco (’99) Dublin Theatre Festival in 1999 and New York 2002.
Also, in 1997, he was invited to become a member of the house band for Sibin, a weekly music program for TG4, performing with artists such as Matt Molloy, Sean Keane, Cathy Ryan, Kieran Goss, Mick Hanley, Sean Tyrell, Arty McGlynn and Nollaig Casey.
During January 1999 Alan toured with Music Network’s “Best of Irish” nation-wide tour alongside Michael McGoldrick, Karen Casey and Cathal Hayden playing to full houses all over the country. In the same year he also featured on Michael McGoldrick’s groundbreaking album ‘Fused‘ and continues to tour regularly with this band appearing at festivals such as Lorient 1999, Celtic Connections 2000 and Cambridge 2001 as well as many others.
In 2000, Alan released his second solo album Mosaic (TARACD4011) with a concert at the Galway Arts Festival featuring an 8 piece band with a line-up which included guitarist, Arty McGlynn, saxophonist, Richie Buckley, trumpeter, Danial Healy and Sean Smyth on fiddle. Produced by guitarist Arty McGlynn, Mosaic features many new compositions from both Alan and Arty, as well as traditional music from Scotland, Finland and, of course, Ireland.
Alan Kelly and the Mosaic Band quickly established itself as one of the hottest live acts on the Irish scene with its exciting blend of traditional, salsa and jazz rhythms, and propelled Alan onto the World Music stage.
Also in 2000 he worked with the award winning Lyric Theatre in Belfast for their production of Brian Friel’s “Wonderful Tennessee.
Alan’s other recording credits include appearances on Niamh Parsons’s Loosely Connected in 1992, Michael McGoldrick’s Morning Rory in 1996 and Fused in 2000, and Sean Keane’s Seansongs in 2002. He guested with Lunasa on their Irish tour promoting their album Otherworld and also collaborated with Alison Brown, the Grammy award winning banjo player on her Irish tour in 2001. During July 2002 Alan toured with Ireland’s legendary De Danann in Canada.
Alan’s most recent recording project has seen him return to his Roscommon roots for a duet album with his brother John. The album titled Fourmilehouse (BBM 2003) is traditional music served straight up, with no need for studio sweeteners or sleight of hand.
Today Alan is credited with single-handedly reviving the piano accordion in Irish traditional music.
Aine Minogue has been studying and playing the harp since she was 12 years old. Her albums feature ethereal vocal and instrumental Irish and Scottish traditional music as well as original compositions full of Irish mysticism.
Born in Borrisokane, County Tipperary, Ireland, to a large musical family, Áine was introduced to all types of music and instruments at an early age. She has toured extensively as a harp player, composed soundtracks for television and has several solo recordings, in addition to her numerous collaborations. Aine currently lives in the United States of America.
In 2012 she released an album of Irish lullabies titled Close Your Eyes, Love.
Vicente Amigo is one of the finest Flamenco guitarists in the world. He was born in Guadalcanal in 1967, a small town in the province of Sevilla, though he grew up in Córdoba. It was there where he had his first guitar lessons. “I believe that flamenco has always been something for adults, not just for children. To understand flamenco, you need maturity. You can play the guitar as a child You understand the technique. But the essence of flamenco is something that requires maturity.” Amigo became a professional very quickly. Then, he joined Manolo Sanlucar’s band in which he played guitar for five years.
In 1989, Amigo began a solo career and earned first prize in guitar at the prestigious Festival Nacional del Cante de las Minas de la Unión. Shortly thereafter, he won the Contest of Extremadura. He became part of the Flamenco Guitar elite when he won the “Ramón Montoya” award in May 1989 as well as the first prize in guitar at the XII National Concert of Flamenco Art in Córdoba.
Amigo has accompanied flamenco singers Luis de Córdoba and Carmen Linares, among others. He also recorded with Brazilian composer Wagner Tiso and Spanish pop stars Miguel Bosé and Nacho Cano.
Vicente Amigo is a guitar player with an obviously strong personality, a natural sense of modern flamenco as well as the traditional forms. Flamenco’s wealth and diversity give him an extraordinary opening to all kinds of music. “I love flamenco music as a foundation because it allows me to tell a story in a very different, non-linear fashion,” says Amigo. “The organization of that tale is less important than the feeling of it. I can start at the end or the beginning and explore and insert many themes upon the main theme, adding little messages along the way. There can be many hidden meanings within the main storyline as I change melody and harmony. There doesn’t have to be a specific ending. It’s just a matter of following my soul when I find something good to express in the song.”
The Ciudad de las Ideas (City of the Ideas) album title was taken from a verse by classic Greek poet Kavafis. In the early stages of recording, Amigo became enamored of Kavafis and especially a poem titled “The First Step.” “The piece is about an old poet in conversation with a young poet. The youngster brags that he’s written a masterpiece that can never be surpassed, but the older man puts him in his place and tells him he has so much to learn, that such talk is foolish. The young man eventually realizes the wisdom of this and says thank you. With City of Ideas, I related to the young poet, opening myself up to new experiences and new influences. Each song is like a big ‘thank you’ to all the life experiences I’ve had to draw from. I see music as a realm with no frontiers and each project allows me to explore even further.”
The CD is dedicated to Andalusia and it includes pieces like the bulería Ojos de la Alhambra (Eyes of Alhambra), that is sung by the renowned Algerian singer Khaled. There are also vocals by Diego El Cigala, Argentine singer Pedro Aznar, Montse Cortes and Lin Cortés. On percussion you can find three of the big names of Spanish and flamenco percussion: Tino di Geraldo, Chaboli and Echegaray Street. Mino Cinelu is on drums, Alfredo Paixao on bass.Recorded at the Filigrana Studios in Cordoba (Amigo’s adopted hometown) and mixed in Madrid, the collection is orchestrated and conducted by Joan Albert Amargos.
Ciudad de las Ideas won the 2001 Latin Grammy for Best Flamenco Album and was the first album by Amigo to be released in the United States.
“Making music for so many years has carried me deep into the heart of myself, to the place where I have come to understand what it means to be a fully realized human being,” says Amigo. “Music plays a very important part in the world today, and it’s wonderful to be a part of bringing that joy to people. When people listen to me play, they know it’s coming from a very real and truthful place inside me.”
After five years without publishing a solo album, Vicente Amigo returned in 2005 with Un momento en el sonido. The album features Tino di Geraldo and Joan Albert Amargos as well as singers Antonio Villar and ‘Potito’.
Paseo De Gracia, released in 2009 was produced by Vicente Amigo and features many friends and guests including the entire Morente family led by the “patriarch” Enrique Morente together with Estrella,” Soleá and Enrique Jr. Other stars include Niña Pastori, pop singer Alejandro Sanz, Rafael de Utrera,” Pedro Heredia, Miguel Ortega, José Parra,” Lin and Nani Cortés. The band on the album includes Tino di Geraldo (drums and percussion)”,” Antonio Ramos “Maca” (bass)”, Alexis Lefevre (violin) and Paquito Gonzalez (percussion).
In 2013, he released Tierra, composed completely by Amigo with music that combines flamenco and Celtic music traditions. It debuted at Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow in 2013. the album was recorded in London ad features musicians from Mark Knopfler’s band and the Scottish folk supergroup Capercaillie.
Billy Jackson has been a major figure in traditional Scottish music for many years, and was a founding member of the influential folk group, Ossian. A native of Glasgow, Billy often visited Donegal in his youth and his music reflects this mixture of Scottish and Irish influences.
In addition to his reputation as a harper, Billy has made quite a name for himself as a recording artist and composer, with a dozen albums to his credit. In 1990, he formed The Scottish Orchestra of New Music, combining classical and traditional musicians to perform his compositions. He premiered his major commission for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, A Scottish Island, and appeared as a featured soloist on uilleann pipes with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
In 1999, his song, Land of Light was selected as the winner of The Glasgow Herald’s year-long Song For Scotland competition to select a ‘new anthem for a new era in Scotland.’ Billy is also a trained music therapist specializing in work with autistic children.
Karen Matheson is widely recognized as the acclaimed vocalist of Celtic band Capercaillie. Karen started performing as a child in her local village hall in Argyll on the West coast of Scotland. She was brought up listening to traditional songs that have been her inspiration for over 30 years.
With Capercaillie, Karen has enjoyed tremendous success. Capercaillie have sold more than a million albums. The group composed the music of the movie ‘Rob Roy’, with Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange, in which Karen appeared, singing a Gaelic lament.
As a solo artist, Karen has been involved in various projects of collaboration worldwide including the award-winning BBC series Transatlantic Sessions, where she filmed tracks with artists like James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, The McGarrigle Sisters, Nanci Griffith, and various esteemed Scottish musicians. Her many collaborations include Algerian singer Idir, Breton guitarist Dan Ar Braz and Portuguese star Dulce Pontes.
In December 2010 she was presented with an Honorary degree in music from the Robert Gordon University – another achievement to add to her OBE and award of “Best Gaelic singer” from the inaugural Scottish folk awards – just some of the many plaudits earned from an astonishing career.
Her 2015 solo album Urram is a musical love letter to her families’ Hebridean roots, with a collectionset of timeless Gaelic songs that draws out the character of Island life, through waulking songs, love songs, lullabies, mouth music and evocative poems to the surroundings. The album features international guest musicians including Seiko Keita (Senegal) on West African kora, Soumik Datta (India) on sarod, Scotland’s McFall’s chamber on strings, Innes White & Sorren MacLean on guitars, and long-timemusical partner Donald Shaw on piano.