Ireland’s all-star quintet Lúnasa has become one of the most sought-after bands on the international Irish music scene. The band’s inventive arrangements and bass-driven grooves are steering Irish acoustic music into surprising new territory. Lúnasa made their worldwide Green Linnet debut in October 1999 with their release Otherworld.
From the start, Lúnasa met with instant acclaim. Their first, self-produced album became an immediate best seller in Ireland, topping Hot Press’ folk charts. International festivals across Europe, Japan and Australia included a main-stage performance in summer 1999 at London’s Guinness Fleadh. On their first American visit, word-of-mouth led to sold-out shows and rave reviews.
Named for an ancient Celtic harvest festival in honor of the Irish god Lugh, patron of the arts, Lúnasa is indeed a gathering of some of the top musical talents in Ireland. Its members have helped formed the backbone of some of the greatest Irish groups of the decade.
Bassist Trevor Hutchinson was a key member of The Waterboys, and later he and guitarist Donogh Hennessy would form the dynamic rhythm section of The Sharon Shannon Band. Fiddler Seán Smyth is an All-Ireland champion who has played with Dónal Lunny’s Coolfin; and Kevin Crawford, considered to be among the finest flutists in Ireland, also plays with the acclaimed traditional group Moving Cloud.
Add to this Otherworld’s guest performers (and original Lúnasa members) uilleann piper John McSherry (Coolfin) and flutist Michael McGoldrick (Capercaillie), and touring member piper Cillian Vallely (of the same talented musical family as brother Niall Vallely of Nomos) and you have the makings of a powerful new band.
Like the younger generation of Nashville musicians such as Béla Fleck or Edgar Meyer, pushing the boundaries of bluegrass into jazz and beyond, Lúnasa arehave been redefining Irish music by going right to the heart of its rhythms. With its distinctive use of the upright acoustic bass — brought front and center by Hutchinson’s remarkable playing — teamed with Hennessey’s percussive guitar, the group seeks out the essential heartbeat of a tune.
“There are lots of great melodies in Irish music but often people don’t hear the rhythms underneath,” says founding member Seán Smyth. “We try to relate the swing or energy out of the music, using new rhythms, letting each instrument add its own unique layer. We’ll play the same tune over and over searching for the groove, exploring it. We let the music find its pulse.”
The result is a sound that, though distinctly Irish in flavor, touches on jazz and other improvisational music forms. Inspired by Ireland’s great 1970s group The Bothy Band, Lúnasa use melodic interweaving of wind and string instruments, pairing flutes, fiddle, whistle and pipes in often breathtaking arrangements.
“I had a vision of the type of music I wanted to create,” says Seán. “In my books, the most influential band was the Bothy Band, who were flute, pipes and fiddle based.”
Seeds for Lúnasa were planted when Seán hooked up with Trevor and Donogh for a short tour of Scandinavia in late1996. The trio clicked so well that back in Ireland, they brought in John McSherry and Michael McGoldrick to record some concerts. A tour of Australia in January 1997 brought Kevin on board, and the band began to take off.
“The response when we started playing at home was just great,” adds Seán. Within several months, they were filling venues with spellbound audiences in Ireland, and began to expand their tours to other parts of the world. After a particularly memorable concert at Matt Molloy’s, a renowned music pub in the West of Ireland, owned by the former-Bothy Band and Chieftains flutist. Molloy himself gave the new band his blessing, remarking “they remind me of a band I used to play with!”
At the end of 1997, the band released their first CD Lúnasa, a mix of concert and studio tracks gathered from their prolific year together. It was immediately hailed as one of the finest, freshest recordings of Irish music in years, called “moving, pulsating, and thrilling to the very marrow” by Folk Roots and “a true must-have disc” by the Irish Voice.
Otherworld, the exciting second album from Lúnasa, is a stunning cycle of instrumentals that captures all the performance intensity for which they’re widely acclaimed. The album impressively fulfills the promise of its title, taking listeners to a realm of Irish music full of imaginative leaps and blazing skill.
original members were Seán Smyth on fiddle and whistle; Kevin Crawford on flute, whistle, and bodhrán; Trevor Hutchinson on bass; Donogh Hennessy on guitar; and Cillian Vallely on uilleann pipes and low whistle. Guitarist Ed Boyd replaced Donogh Hennessy in 2012.
Loreena McKennitt was born and raised in Morden, Manitoba, a town of Irish, Scottish, German, and Icelandic inhabitants in the middle of the Canadian prairies. The most vigorous Highland dancer in her rural community, she was raised by her mother, a nurse, and her livestock-trader father. “It was a very modest community. People came from immigrant stock. Survival was the order of the day and in some ways broad cultural exposure was limited. Although my family’s ancestors on the most part came from Ireland, there was very little overt ‘Celticness’ to my upbringing in the sense of music or storytelling.”
After an adolescence spent in Morden, McKennitt was eager to move into a wider world. She was first exposed to the Celtic folk boom in a Winnipeg folk club. “The first step for me was Celtic music. The whole sound drew me in an almost instinctive way and it became this vehicle to pursue history in a way I could never have imagined,” she recalls.
In more cosmopolitan Winnipeg, she briefly studied to be a veterinarian, before moving on to finally settle in Stratford, Ontario, where her composing and performing skills were soon appreciated in the lively scene around the city’s internationally renowned Shakespearean Festival. McKennitt still makes her home there, living in a rural farmhouse.
Already in love with Yeats and the music of Breton harpist Alan Stivell, Planxty and the Bothy Band, McKennitt could sense the lyricism of Irish folk music. When she made her first journey to Ireland in 1982 she was to find a similar lyricism in the contours of the land and the spirit of the people.
Back home, she put her newly stirred Celtic fervor into an interpretation of Yeats’s “The Stolen Child.” Inspired by a D.I.Y book called How to Make and Sell Your Own Recording, by Diane Sward Rappaport, she set up her own record company, Quinlan Road, in 1985, and recorded Elemental, a nine-song cassette. She ran off copies and began selling them from her car while meeting the public on the most immediate level, as a busker.
As McKennitt’s mailing list grew, word of mouth in cafés and bookshops built her a significant audience. Her growing audience empathized while McKennitt explored the traditional canon, always seeking the reverberation that would make an ancient voice harmonize with her own. She’s particularly proud of tracking down “Bonny Portmore,” included on The Visit. An obscure ballad mourning the loss of ancient British stands of oak, once worshipped by pre-Christian tribes, it has a contemporary relevance to today’s fight to save old-growth forests.
McKennitt followed Elemental by cutting a seasonal perennial in the Christmas carols of To Drive the Cold Winter Away (1987), and made her first steps towards cross-cultural fertilization in the subsequent Parallel Dreams(1989). It was at this time she was commissioned to score music for the National Film Board of Canada’s acclaimed film series “Women and Spirituality.”
A pivotal moment for McKennitt’s evolution occurred in 1991 in Venice, Italy, at the largest ever exhibition and collection of international Celtic artifacts. “Until I went to that exhibition, I thought that Celts were people who came from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany,” recalls McKennitt.
Seeing the unimagined riches and variety in the centuries of Celtic art gathered from as far afield as Hungary, Ukraine, Spain and Asia Minor, she recalls, “I felt exhilarated. It was like thinking that all there is to your family are your parents, brothers and sisters, and then you realize there’s a whole stretch of history that is an extension of who you are.” That epiphany transformed McKennitt’s music.
The primeval sounding tambura drone that introduced her next album, The Visit (1992), announced a new direction with its bold, cinematic interpretations of Shakespeare and Tennyson, and an unusually edgy take on the Henry VIII-penned ballad, “Greensleeves.” This process reached a dramatic flowering on 1994’s The Mask and Mirror. McKennitt’s new staging post on the voyage was in Galicia, the Celtic corner of Spain, and then on into 15th-century Spain itself when the cultures of Islam, Christianity and Judaism merged to produce what is still remembered as the Golden Age, a time of profound cultural influence on the evolution of Western civilization.
The distinctiveness of McKennitt’s musical vision is matched by the independence with which she has approached the music business. “I think coming from a farming and rural background gave me the insight into being self-sufficient. You become familiar with creative problem solving. If you want something badly enough, you will roll up your sleeves and start chipping away.”
When McKennitt decided the time was ripe to move toward the industry establishment, she signed a unique deal with the Warner Group for the world. It is a deal which has been very fruitful indeed as her recordings have gone on to sell in the millions in over 40 countries. Beginning with The Visit, Warner distributed her work, while she controlled every aspect of creation and promotion.
Her album The Book of Secrets was conceived over several journeys, including one taken via the legendary Trans Siberian Express, in which the self-managed singer and record company head found the quiet she needed to reflect and prepare the album.. Finally, she had the time to read Dante’s The Divine Comedy, echoes of which appear in the album’s closing track, Dante’s Prayer. “As with the last three recordings, this one is also a document of my own path of exploration through the vehicle of music and history. There are a lot of mechanisms within our contemporary society that seem to dilute and diminish our sense of identity. As a result, I think there is a heightened need to understand who you are, what your roots are, and where they are connected.”
Her seventh full-length studio album, An Ancient Muse, was released on Quinlan Road in November 2006. An Ancient Muse was produced by Loreena McKennitt and co-produced by Brian Hughes, and was recorded at Real World Studios in England. Its nine tracks continue her exploration of Celtic themes on a journey that sweeps across time and musical genres, from the British Isles to ancient Greece and Byzantine- and Ottoman-era Turkey.
Musical collaborators include Brian Hughes, Donald Quan, Hugh Marsh, Caroline Lavelle, Stefen Hannigan, Rick Lazar, Hossam Ramzy, Annbjorg Lien, Nigel Eaton, Manu Katche, Charlie Jones, Ben Grossman, Jason Hann, Tal Bergman, Tim Landers, Clive Deamer, Ed Henley, Haig Yazdjian, Panos Dimitrakopoulos, Sokratis Sinopoulos and Georgios Kontogiannis and percussion ensemble Krotala.
In celebration of the 2008 holiday season, Quinlan Road released Loreena McKennitt’s A Midwinter Night’s Dream. The holiday themed album features eight new songs alongside five tracks from McKennitt’s 1995 EP, A Winter Garden: Five Songs For The Season, that were completely re-mastered for the new release. This holiday collection features an array of influences ranging from Celtic to classical to Middle Eastern. McKennitt’s eclecticism shines through in the mysticism of “The Holly and the Ivy,” the exotic Eastern arrangements of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” the Latin-sung “Emmanuel” and “Noël Nouvelet!” sung in Old French.
McKennitt recorded A Midwinter Night’s Dream at Peter Gabriel’s Real World recording studio near Bath, England following a highly successful European tour. With McKennitt providing vocals as well as accompaniment on the piano, accordion and harp, the record features a diverse instrumentation that includes oud, fiddle, cello, viola, percussion, hurdy gurdy, Greek lyra and Greek lute.
“Not only did I want to recapture some of the frankincense and myrrh in this music,” McKennitt explains, “but the process was a fresh reminder of the diversity of so many traditions when it comes to music of the winter season. The songs are rich with abundant references to the natural world and connections to our spiritual and religious bearings; it is clear that people have used winter as a time of reflection.”
In 2009 she released A Mediterranean Odyssey, a two-disc collection that commemorated Loreena’s 2009 Mediterranean tour and combined newly recorded live performances of audience favorites with previously released studio recordings, all inspired by the tones, textures and rich cultural heritage of the Mediterranean.
The first disc, From Istanbul to Athens, features 56 minutes of concert highlights from the tour, including several songs that have never before been recorded live. It also includes a 24-page booklet with lavish illustrations and photos from the tour.
The second CD, The Olive and the Cedar, consists of 11 conceptualized studio versions of songs personally selected by Loreena from her catalog. The disc focuses on her musical travel writing approach to the studio recording process and her inspiration in relation to the history of the Celts around the Aegean, the Mediterranean, North Africa and the near East.
As a composer, McKennitt has written music for productions at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario and the National Film Board of Canada. She has three feature length film scores to her credit and has contributed to several soundtracks for both film and television, the most recent being Disney’s fall 2008 DVD release Tinker Bell.
In 2007, McKennitt was nominated for a Grammy Award and was the recipient of a North American Folk Alliance Award. She has also won two Junos, Canada’s premier music award, in addition to a Billboard International Achievement Award.
As founder of The Cook-Rees Memorial Fund for Water Search and Safety, she has been recognized for her civic and community service, raising nearly four million dollars through the sale of Live in Paris and Toronto to advance water safety education and research. McKennitt has also established The Three Oaks Foundation, a fund which supports cultural, environmental, historical and family groups.
Keyboardist Liam Bradley from Tobermore, Co. Derry is known throughout the world for his music for Irish dancing. He has produced recordings and provided accompaniment for major Irish Dancing events, including the All Ireland, American and Australian National Championships and the World Championships.
His music has been used for many shows and performances, from the Royal Albert Hall, Áras an Uachtaráin and the White House, to a ‘Barney the Dinasaur’ DVD. He also arranged the music for the RTE television series “Rising Steps”
As a member of Solas for several years, Karan Casey has been critically acclaimed from Japan to the United States as one of Ireland’s greatest singers.
In 1993 Karan emigrated to New York City and began a jazz degree in Brooklyn’s Long Island University. Making the rounds of the sessions in New York she was asked to join Atlantic Bridge. Later she joined Seamus Egan, Winifred Horan, John Doyle and John Williams to form the group Solas.
The band recorded three albums in just four years, and won NAIRD (former independent record industry association) indie awards for each. They played with Bela Fleck, Iris De Ment, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, The Chieftains, Donal Lunny, Sharon Shannon and Paul Winter while touring extensively in the United States, Europe and Japan.
Karan Casey’s solo career has flourished since her separation from the band Solas. Casey’s voice is among the most beautiful in Irish folk music, and she is a wonderful interpreter of both contemporary and traditional material. Her use of grace notes and vibrato has become remarkably subtle.
Her album Chasing the Sun successfully combines traditional but sharp-tongued songs – such as the epic unaccompanied ballad “Jimmy Whelan” – with contemporary material that reflects Casey’s rising status as one of Ireland’s most politically-charged singers.
Her own compositions reveal increasing confidence and incisive social awareness, not least “When Will We All Be Free”, which attacked Ireland’s policies on immigration.
Karan Casey won awards for ‘Best Folk Album’ and ‘Best Folk Female’ from Irish Music magazine and was nominated for the BBC Folk Awards and the Danish music awards. She has performed on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion on public radio in the United States, and appeared at many prestigious venues and festivals.
Julie Fowlis grew up in North Uist, a small island in the Hebrides, in a Gaelic speaking community, and has been involved in singing, piping and dancing since she was a tot. She is a member of the successful Scottish sextet, Dochas, who were voted winners of Best Newcomer Award at the Scots Trad Music Awards 2004. Having toured extensively, and after releasing two albums, Dochas are widely considered as one of the most exciting and dynamic young bands in Scotland today.
In 2005, Julie released her debut solo album, Mar a Tha Mo Chridhe (As My Heart Is), which immediately launched her music career into an exciting new direction. She was named Gaelic Singer of the Year at the 2005 Scottish Traditional Music awards and was nominated for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Horizon Award.
Her good nature, natural charm and energy on the stage makes her a popular performer, and this is evident in her busy touring schedule, which included a prestigious Showcase concert at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2005, Julie being the first ever Gaelic artist to perform at a Showcase slot.
Before any of this, Julie was already quietly making a name for herself as soloist. In 2003, she was invited to be part of a special project Gluaiseachd a Chuain Siar which showcased singers such as Maighread and Triona Nic Dhomhnaill, Alyth McCormack, Mary Jane Lamond, Mary Smith and Julie Murphy.
She was also selected as part of the Celtic Connections ‘Master and Apprentice’ series, where she performed with Arthur Cormack. Julie’s reputation as a singer was confirmed when she was named Winner of the prestigious Pan-Celtic Sean-Nos singing competition in 2004, which took place in Tralee, Ireland.
As well as appearing on numerous Gaelic Television Programs such as Tacsi, Failte, An t-Urlar Ur, Air an Urlar, Ceol, Ceilraidh and D? a-nis, Julie has also been involved in numerous musical commissions – three by Mark Sheridan, The Curve of the Earth (performed at Celtic Connections 2002 and the Festival Interceltique de Lorient 2002), The Evangelists, which has been performed three times since 2002 and When They Lay Bare, an Opera Ballad which was performed over three nights in the Tramway Theatre at Celtic Connections 2003.
She was also involved in Maggie’s MacInnes’ Commission, A Woman’s Song in 2004 and in the musical settings of Sunset Song and Cloud Howe by Wendy Wetherby in 2004 and 2005.
John Doyle is one of the most talented and innovative musicians to come out of Ireland in recent years. Now a resident of Asheville (North Carolina), John Doyle was born in 1971 in Dublin, Ireland, into an extended family of musicians and singers. He was playing professionally by the age of 16 when he and singer Susan McKeown joined to form The Chanting House, which later added the prodigious talents of Seamus Egan and Eileen Ivers to the group.
A few years later, John and Egan came together with John Williams, the wonderfully inventive accordion player from Chicago, talented fiddler Winifred Horan, and Waterford-born singer Karan Casey, to form the enormously influential band, Solas.
John’s powerful guitar playing provided the signature rhythmic backbone for the band, and his delicate and emotional finger-style playing and creative vocal harmonies can be heard on all Solas’ recordings for Shanachie Records. Solas performed to sold-out audiences around the world, appeared on NBC’s The Today Show, public radio’s A Prairie Home Companion, Mountain Stage, E-Town and World Cafe, and received three NAIRD awards and a Grammy nomination.
John composed music for the film Uncle Robert’s Footsteps and the play Down the Flats, and appears on the soundtracks for The Brothers McMullen, Soldier and PBS’s Out of Ireland. He has performed at scores of major festivals worldwide, including the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Rocky Mountain Folks Fest, Washington Irish Festival, Milwaukee Irish Festival and major festivals in Denmark, Belgium, Brittany, England, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Finland and Ireland.
John is also a highly sought-after sideman and has recorded and/or toured with Liz Carroll, Eileen Ivers, Tim O’Brien and The Crossing, Frank McCourt, Linda Thompson, Kate Rusby, Mick Moloney, John Williams, Seamus Egan, Cathal McConnell, Kim Robertson, Brian Conway, Joannie Madden, James Keane, Joe McKenna, Karan Casey, Cathie Ryan and James Leva.
John’s much anticipated first solo recording, Evening Comes Early, was released on Shanachie Records in 2001, and his second solo CD Wayward Son was released in 2004 on Compass Records.
Widely hailed as the 1990s’ successors to Irish traditional legends Planxty and the Bothy Band, Dervish unite passion with virtuosity. The members of Dervish met as most Irish musicians do: as strangers in a bar. “I’m a farmer’s daughter,” says singer Cathy Jordan, “and someone else in the band is an architect’s son. Outside of music, we may have never met, but this is how Irish people have forged unlikely friendships for years, playing music together.”
“In Irish music, there are three elements: goltra, so sad it brings tears; geantra, so lively it makes you want to dance; suantra, so soothing you want to sleep. At a Dervish concert, you experience all three and it leaves you exhilarated!” explains Jordan.
Dervish in their original form were five musicians from the Northwest of Ireland who came together in 1989 to record an album of music, primarily, by local players. The album was released under the title `The Boys of Sligo’ after a reel from the recording. The five musicians involved -Liam Kelly, Shane Mitchell, Martin McGinley, Brian McDonagh and Michael Holmes- were inspired by the project and decided to develop the informal gathering into a working band.
Mandola-player Brian McDonagh saw a documentary about Whirling Dervishes and found the parallels between the devotional art form and Irish musicians similar. “Dervishes are usually a group of poor but spiritual people enraptured by music,”clarifies Jordan. “They spin around and become entranced by the music. As the spinning progresses, the dervishes reach a higher level of being. Similarly, in a traditional Irish session, people may meet for the first time through the common bond of music. As the night progresses, a euphoria builds and lifelong friendships ensue.” The name Dervish was meant to be an album, but it stuck as the band’s name.
The Sligo County band’s sound is characterized by Jordan’s distinctive voice combining with the compelling contrasts of the low-range bouzouki and high-range mandola and their powerful rhythmical backing of accordion and guitar. Fiddles, whistles, flute, bodhran, and harmonica round the band out for its full effect.
Over the following two years Dervish refined their craft as a formative band. The addition of Roscommon-born singer Cathy Jordan in 1991 and subsequent replacement of fiddle player Martin McGinley by Tyrone man and All Ireland Champion, Shane McAleer, gave the band a new dimension. Having found the right balance of creativity and dedication, Dervish released their legitimate first album Harmony Hill in 1992.
The effect of the recording was immediate. Its artistry, musicianship and maturity won outstanding praise from the media placing Dervish to the forefront of the bands working on traditional Irish music. Substantial TV and radio exposure for the band and the album began to open all kind of doors.
Dervish soon became one of the most sought after acts for live performances and have continued to remain over the years. The demand led to the band touring continuously in many European countries throughout 1993 and performing at all the major folk festivals.
The enormous work load and the constant touring made it difficult for the band to work in the studio, but in 1994 their keenly awaited second album Playing with Fire was released. The high expectations for the recording were not only met, but surpassed. Reviewers and critics alike lauded praise for Playing with Fire, confirming Dervish status as the pre-eminent Irish traditional band. The album reached number 1 in the Irish Folk Music Charts and stayed on top for several months.
With their reputation firmly established, Dervish set their sights on the American market, signing a deal with the New York-based company Kells Music. The release of their two albums in the USA saw the demand for the band take off in dramatic terms. Performances at enormous festivals like Wolf Trap and San Francisco led to worldwide tours. Recognition for the band’s achievements followed with nominations and awards in a variety of Traditional/Folk polls including two in the IRMAs.
In August 1996 Dervish released their third album At the End of the Day, which won the Hot Press Trad/Folk Album of the Year award against mainstream legends like Christy Moore and Donald Lunny. In the same year the band performed a series of concerts in Hong Kong and Malaysia which opened the door to the Far Eastern market.
Dervish’s concert performances are a wide-range of tones and moods, from high energy tunes, played with fluidity and intuitiveness, to beautifully measured songs, from charming lyrics of life and love, to inspiring melodies. All the elements are drawn together by Cathy Jordan’s masterful stage-presence. Her stories to the songs, the interaction with the audience, draws people into the music in a way very few performers can achieve. All this can be found in their fourth album Live in Palma.
As the name implies, Live in Palma is a live recording of a scintillating performance in front of a captivated audience at Palma de Mallorca’s Teatro Principal in April 1997. This double album has been hailed by critics as one of the finest live traditional Irish recordings of our time. It furnishes the listener with an opportunity to savor the atmosphere (music, melodies and witty banter) which only a live recording can provide and Dervish have done it both masterfully and effortlessly: the decision to record just made a few hours before going on stage and a performance such that a minimal amount of studio time was required to put the finishing touches to a virtually flawless concert. This brilliant album has, for sure, something to do with the decision of the readers of Irish Music magazine to award Dervish with the Best Overall Trad/Folk Band of the Year 1997.
1998 was another grueling year for the group. It started with a six weeks coast to coast sell out tour of the USA and a first ever Irish tour that enjoyed considerable success. That year also saw slight reshuffle of the group with Shane McAleer taking a career break. Luckily, formidable replacement was found in Sligo’s own Séamus O’Dowd -a musician of high standing with a distinct Sligo style fiddle playing and incomparable guitar playing- further adding to the talents of the group. Just before the end of the year, the addition of fiddle player Tom Morrow -a native of Co. Leitrim and another All Ireland Champion- completed the line up of the band.
Their fifth album Midsummer’s Night was released in the early summer of 1999. Dervish searches high and low for new material, old melodies, and lesser-known lyrics. “It comes to us in different ways/em>,” explains Jordan. “Sometimes at a session an old man sings a tune we’ve never heard. We have a great rapport with the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin, where there are vast collections of the old manuscripts and the earliest recordings of Irish music. Sometimes we find things on TV, on the radio, or on records.” The search for material is simultaneously part of preserving history and making traditional music relevant to today.
When Jordan was asked to sing at Bob Dylan’s fiftieth birthday party in Dublin, musicians paid tribute by performing his songs. As a result, her choice, ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ was added to Dervish’s repertoire and has become one of their most requested songs. In exploring other contemporary songs with folk sounds, the band discovered Cher’s ‘Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves’ and Dire Strait’s ‘Brothers in Arms’ which sound perfectly at home in a traditional Irish treatment, and alongside Dervish’s modern arrangements of traditional tunes.
“It’s a funny thing, but Irish music is one of the oldest forms of music, yet it is influenced an awful lot by other things,” explains Jordan. “It evolves and evolves. Our sound is very recognizable because of the bouzouki and mandola. And though we have a modern style within the Irish context, you might not say it’s really modern because it blends in so well. But in actual fact there are a lot of modern influences in there.”
Composer, virtuoso fiddler and skilled step dancer Natalie Ann MacMaster was born on June 13, 1972 in Troy, Nova Scotia, Canada. She was raised in a musical family steeped in Scottish heritage.
Natalie began playing at age 9 after having been given a small fiddle by her great uncle. From the early days, she was encouraged by her father and musically influenced by her uncle, Buddy MacMaster, an undisputed master of the Cape Breton fiddle.
Natalie’s career flourished rapidly. From a small beginning playing at dances and concerts in and around Cape Breton to representing Nova Scotia on the world’s stages. Natalie has become a musical ambassador for a new musical generation of Cape Breton musicians. Whether performing with a small format or with her full band, Natalie’s concerts are a dazzling blend of musical virtuosity and lively step dancing.
Natalie’s first three recordings gained major nominations and awards from the East Coast Music Association. In 1992, she won the Roots/Traditional Artist Award. In 1994, her third album, Fit as a Fiddle, earned Natalie the Instrumental Artist of the Year Award. In 1995, she was nominated as Entertainer of the Year.
Natalie’s phenomenal stage presence has led to considerable media attention. She was profiled by various TV shows. In June of 1995, Natalie won over a crowd of 80,000 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as opening act for Carlos Santana. A broken fiddle string couldn’t keep her down as Natalie continued playing using only her bottom two strings.
Natalie has headlined in cities such as London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Brussels, and Tokyo. And for several years, she has acted as guest instructor and performer at the world renowned Mark O’Connor Fiddle Camp in Nashville.
In March of 1996, Natalie received a phone call from Ireland’s The Chieftains requesting that she open for them on a four-week tour of the United States. The Chieftains obviously saw something in Natalie that their audiences would soon come to appreciate. MacMaster capably and expertly delivered the goods. The highlight of each performance had to be Natalie joining The Chieftains at show’s end to fiddle and dance.
Natalie’s first two independent recordings, Road to the Isle and Four on the Floor, have each sold in excess of 12,000 copies each … and that’s on cassette only. Her third Indie release, Fit as a Fiddle, racked up sales of more than 30,000 copies on CD and cassette.
In the spring of 1996, Warner Music Canada negotiated a major label deal with Natalie for the album No Boundaries. Produced by Chad Irschick (The Rankin Family, Loreena McKennitt, Susan Aglukark), No Boundaries is exactly that. Natalie’s diversity extends to places her fans could have never imagined. From beautiful classic pieces through ragtime and country music, Natalie continues to step across musical lines. Special note should be made of guest appearances by Cookie Rankin on “Drunken Piper,” Bruce Guthro on “Fiddle &Bow,” and a host of Canada’s best musicians.
In 1997, Rounder Records made No Boundaries available in the United States and also re-released Fit As A Fiddle. The success of these releases led to the re-release of A Compilation in 1998.
A good example of MacMaster’s energy during her live performances was documented in a double album recorded live, released in 2002. The sessions were made at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga (Ontario) and at an old hall in the woods in rural Glencoe, Cape Breton Island.
Blueprint (2003) was Natalie MacMaster’s first studio recording since 1999’s In My Hands. On Blueprint, MacMaster mixes Celtic, Jazz, and Bluegrass. Special guests include Bela Fleck (banjo), Jerry Douglas (Dobro), Sam Bush (mandolin), and Edgar Meyer (bass).
Natalie MacMaster collaborated with cellist Yo-Yo Ma on the Grammy-winning album “Songs of Joy & Peace” (2008) and artists as diverse as Alison Krauss, Jesse Cook, and Béla Fleck.
Fiddle album One, released in 2015, features Natalie MacMaster and her husband Donnell Leahy. In addition to the familiar Celtic sounds, the album features distorted electric guitars, two players on one piano, and a drum kit made of paint cans and a cardboard box.
In 2016, Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy released A Celtic Family Christmas accompanied by an outstanding group of musicians and their children. The album features classic Christmas songs seasoned with the duo’s style of Celtic tradition. “We have celebrated Christmas in a big way our entire lives and finally have recorded the music,” said Natalie MacMaster.
Natalie MacMaster is a recipient of the Order of Canada. She has won two JUNO and 11 East Coast Music Awards.
Damien Stenson grew up in County Sligo (Ireland), an area with a rich folk music tradition. He is known for his extensive repertoire and flowing style of flute playing, developed by many years of constant musical activity.
He is featured on various albums including the compilation “Wooden Flute Obsession Vol. 2”, Oisín Mac Diarmada’s solo album “Ar an bhFidil”, together with a bodhrán album by Junior Davey. He is the flute player of renowned Irish traditional group Teada.
Startijenn – Live Paker Tour (Paker Prod. 22, 2016)
This album gives the listener the opportunity to experience Startijenn, one of the finest Breton acts live. The album was recorded during the summer tour in 2016, where music and dance came together in the popular festoù-noz festivals.
The name of the band Startijenn, means energy in Breton and they deliver a vibrant sound rooted in Breton musical traditions. Startijenn’s sound is instrumental music centered on the fascinating interplay between the bombard (double-reed), the biniou (bagpipes) and accordion, supported by rhythm guitar and electric bass.
The band presents new, extended versions of Startijenn’s audience favorites from previous albums, such as “Hir, hir!”, “Skeud”, “Flagas Track”, “Paker Nozter” along with previously unreleased new material.
The lineup includes Tango Oillo on guitar; Julien Stevenin on bass; Youenn Roue on bombarde; Lionel Le Page on biniou;and Tangi Le Gall-Carré on diatonic accordion.
Live Paker Tour is a superb live album showcasing the deep Breton music intensity of Startijenn.