Cathal McConnell is known and respected all over the world for his masterful flute playing and singing, solo as well as with his band, Boys of the Lough and for the enormous number of tunes and songs he has stored in his head over a lifetime in music. A co-founder of the band and a member for nearly thirty years, Cathal and the Boys Of The Lough have performed in major concert halls throughout the world and have recorded nearly twenty albums.
Born in Co. Fermanagh, in Northern Ireland, he won All-Ireland Championships in both flute and tin whistle at the age of 18. Five years later he started touring with the first incarnation of the Boys of the Lough and has been with them ever since as instrumentalist and lead singer. He has become well known over the years as a true virtuoso of the flute and pennywhistle.
The Boys of the Lough (Trailer Records, 1973)
Second Album (Trailer Records, 1973)
Live at Passim’s (Philo Records, 1974)
Lochaber No More (Philo Records, 1976)
The Piper’s Broken Finger (Transatlantic Records, 1976)
An Irish Jubilee (Topic Records, 1976)
Good Friends … Good Music (Transatlantic Records, 1977)
On Lough Erne’s Shore (Topic Records, 1978)
Wish You Were Here (Transatlantic Records, 1978)
Regrouped (Flying Fish, 198)
In the Tradition (Topic Records, 1981)
Open Road (Topic Records, 1983) To Welcome Paddy Home (Philo Records, 1985)
Far From Home – Live (Shanachie Records, 1986) Farewell and Remember Me (Shanachie Records, 1987) Sweet Rural Shade (Shanachie Records, 1988) Live at Carnegie Hall (1992)
The Fair Hills of Ireland (Lough Records, 1992)
The Day Dawn (Lough Records, 1994) Midwinter Night’s Dream (Blix Street Records, 1996) The West of Ireland (Lough Records, 1999) Long Expectant Comes at Last (2000)
Lonesome Blues and Dancing Shoes (Lough Records, 2002)
Twenty (Lough Records, 2005) Rising Fawn Gathering, with Norman Blake (Western Jubilee Recording Company/Plectrafone Records, 2009) Good Friends – Good Music (Rounder, 2009)
The Imagined Village is a project led by Grammy Award winning musician and producer Simon Emmerson. Simon is also a founding member of the groundbreaking Afro Celt Sound System.
‘After travelling the world as a producer and musician I thought it was time explore my own roots,’ said Simon, ’to look at the earth under my feet, dig the dirt of the homelands.’
The Imagined Village was created in 2007 and brought together a set of remarkable voices, and set them in a musical framework that honors the past while updating it with splendid new arrangements. The Imagined Village intertwines fiddles and accordion with electronica and ambient effects.
The line-up on the first album, The Imagined Village, included Benjamin Zephaniah, Billy Bragg, Chris Wood, Eliza Carthy, Johnny Kalsi, Martin Carthy, Paul Weller, Sheila Chandra, Simon Emmerson, The Copper Family, The Gloworms, Tiger Moth, Transglobal Underground, and Tunng.
‘Cold Haily Rainy Night’ from the The Imagined Village album won the ‘Best Traditional Song’ category at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2008.
The band’s second album, Empire & Love was released on ECC Records in January 2010.
‘Englishness is the final frontier of world music,’ said Simon Emmerson about this project.
The String Sisters is a collaboration of the Celtic and Nordic music world’s top female fiddlers: Annbjørg Lien from Norway; Catriona Macdonald from Shetland; Liz Carroll and Liz Knowles from the United States of America; Mairead ni Mhaonaigh (Altan) from Ireland; and Emma Härdelin from Sweden.
The String Sisters began at Celtic Connections in January of 2001, when Catriona Macdonald saw one of her dreams become a reality by assembling some of the world’s top leading female fiddlers. Colin Hynd at Celtic Connections grabbed the chance to premiere the event at his festival, and the experience was nothing short of earth shattering for all who participated. The Glasgow concert was a great success and the project was rebooked for the following year. However, despite the repeated success, the Sisters were not since been able to reunite prior to undertaking a grand tour of Norway in 2005.
During the winter of 2005, the sisters went on tour in Norway, in cooperation with the Norwegian National Concerts, and Grappa Music Group. The tour was Annbjørg Lien’s initiative.
A live album and DVD recorded in Norway, titled Live, was released in 2007. The String Sisters were joined by David Milligan on piano, Conrad Ivitsky on double bass, Tore Bruvoll on guitar, and James Mackintosh on drums and percussion.
Steel Pulse was formed in 1975 in the UK with a firm commitment to fighting injustice, educating the masses, and promoting positive messages through spiritually uplifting music.
Probably the UK’s most highly-regarded roots reggae act, Steel Pulse originally formed at Handsworth Wood Boys School, Birmingham, and featured David Hinds (lead vocals, guitar), Basil Gabbidon (lead guitar, vocals) and Ronnie McQueen (bass).
However, it is Hinds who, as songwriter, has always been the foundation of Steel Pulse, from their early days establishing themselves in the Birmingham club scene onwards. Formed in 1975, their debut release, ‘Kibudu, Mansetta And Abuku” arrived on the small independent label Dip, and linked the plight of urban black youth with the image of a greater African homeland. They followed it with ‘Nyah Love’ for Anchor.
Surprisingly, they were initially refused live dates in Caribbean venues in the Midlands because of their Rastafarian beliefs. Aligning themselves closely with the Rock Against Racism 1 organization, they chose to tour instead with sympathetic elements of the punk movement, including the Stranglers, XTC etc.: “Punks had a way of enjoying themselves – throw hordes at you, beer, spit at you, that kind of thing“.
Eventually they found a more natural home in support slots for Burning Spear, that brought them to the attention of Island Records. Their first release for Island was the ‘Ku Klux Klan’ 45 rpm, a considered tilt at the evils of racism, and one often accompanied by a visual parody of the sect on stage.
By this time their band had swelled to include Selwyn ‘Bumbo’ Brown (keyboards), Steve ‘Grizzly’ Nesbitt (drums), Fonso Martin (vocals, percussion) and Michael Riley (vocals). Handsworth Revolution was an accomplished long playing debut and one of the major landmarks in the evolution of British reggae.
However, despite critical and moderate commercial success over three albums, the relationship with Island had soured by the time Caught You (released in the US as Reggae Fever) came out. They switched to Elektra, and revealed their most consistent collection of songs since their debut with True Democracy, distinguished by the Garvey eulogizing ‘Rally Around’ cut.
A further definitive set arrived in Earth Crisis. Unfortunately, Elektra tried to coerce Steel Pulse into a more mainstream vein, asking them to emulate the pop-reggae style of Eddy Grant. Babylon the Bandit was consequently weakened, but did contain the anthemic ‘Not King james Version’, which was a powerful indictment on the omission of black people and history from certain versions of the Bible. Babylon the Bandit won the Best Reggae Band Grammy award.
Their next recording was State of Emergency (MCA), which retained some of the synthesized dance elements of its predecessor. Though it was a significantly happier compromise, it still paled before any of their earlier albums.
Spike Lee met Steel Pulse at the group’s fund raising concert in Washington DC for the Jamaican victims of 1988’s Hurricane Gilbert. This resulted in David’s composition ‘Can’t Stand it’ featuring in Lee’s Do the Right Thing movie soundtrack.
Rastafari Centennial was recorded live at the Elysee Montmartre in Paris, and dedicated to the hundred year anniversary of the birth of Haile Selassie. It was the first recording since the defection of Fonso Martin, leaving the trio of David Hinds, Steve Nisbett and Selwyn Brown.
In the United States their reputation was growing, becoming the first ever reggae band to appear on the Tonight television show.
Their profile was raised further when, in 1992, the band filed a $1 million class action lawsuit against New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission. The group charged that cabbies refused to pick up blacks and Rastafarians throughout the streets of New York. This lawsuit initiated a video, Taxi Driver, with a supporting cast that included the Reverend Al Sharpton, Jay Leno, Branford Marsalis, C. Thomas Howell, Robert Townsend and the late Tony Johnson, the inspiration behind Sunsplash.
“We just can’t ignore the politics, because every life and soul that’s born on this earth is a political maneuver for someone, at some stage“, Hinds explained. “From a spiritual aspect, it’s really an upliftment through facing reality – what’s out there. We deal with positive spirits. It means putting aside the guns, the drugs and all of the things that are ailments of society – especially the black communities right now“.
In 1993, at the request of the Clinton Administration, Steel Pulse became the first reggae band ever to perform during the inaugural festivities in Washington DC.
The following year, the group headlined large-scale music events including the US Reggae Sunsplash Tour, Japanslpash, Northern California’s Reggae on the River Festival and embarked on a successful tour of South America.
1995 saw an extensive Caribbean tour followed by an appearance in January 1996 at the prestigious Hollywood Rock Festivals in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo which featured Page and Plant, The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins and Aswad amongst others. Later that year Steel Pulse released their derivative best of album titled Rastanthology and followed this up in 1997, with the Grammy nominated, Rage and Fury album.
Extensive worldwide touring throughout the remainder of that year and 1998 included shows at MTV’s Boardaid in California and the environmental Waterman’s Ball in Los Angeles. December ’98 saw the return to Africa for the first time in fifteen years when they played the Ivory Coast. Hind’s notes “//it was a tremendous sight to behold and the ecstatic moral boost to our existence was so energizing//”.
For 1999, the group was headliner for the world-wide Spirit of Unity Tour and in August 1999 released a second live album titled Living Legacy (Tuff Gong international) that was recorded Live in Paris, Holland and Puerto Rico.
From Birmingham, England, singer Pato Banton is one of the modern stars of reggae. In a career that included a spiritual sabbatical, he returned to the stage with renewed commitment in 2005.
Patrick Murray was born in London in 1961, and moved to Birmingham when he was 8 years old. Pato’s stepfather (Lester Daley) was a DJ recently arrived from Jamaica and the house in which they lived became the weekend night hotspot for the local community.
Banton’s distinctive vocal approach first caught public attention through his work with the English Beat, including his 1982 duet with Ranking Roger, “Pato and Roger a Go Talk.” He made a guest appearance on UB40’s 1985 album, “Baggariddim.” The next year he released his own album produced by Mad Professor: “Mad Professor Captures Pato Banton.” He later had a hit with his version of the Police’s “Spirits in the Material World,” and collaborated with Steel Pulse’s Justin Hinds on “Wize Up!” in 1990.
Pato Banton says, “From ‘Never Give In’ to ‘Life Is A Miracle’ my main goal has always been to spread truth, beauty and goodness through reggae music. I have been blessed with the gift of Revelation, seen and been a part of many miracles, but nothing compares to the beautiful personalities I’ve met along the way. As I approach the final chapter of my musical journey on Planet Earth (Urantia), my only desire is to serve Divinity through humanity. And to all my brothers and sisters who are striving to achieve their goals in this age of materiality, my message is… Stay Positive & Never Give In!”
Brian Finnegan is a renowned tin whistle and flute player from Armagh, Ireland. He is one of the most technically inventive and imaginative of flute and whistle players to have emerged from Ireland in recent years. Brian’s well-recognized abilities in traditional Irish music are often blended with folk music from other traditions.
He was a founder member of Upstairs in a Tent. He later formed the hugely popular, ground-breaking Celtic band Flook. Flook recorded three highly acclaimed studio albums, Flatfish, Rubai and Haven. Their album Rubai was voted Folk Album of the Year and Brian was voted Male Musician of the Year by LiveIreland.com and the Irish American News. Collecting awards and a huge fan base wherever they toured, Flook were crowned BBC Band Of The Year 2006. They disbanded in 2008.
Brian Finnegan traveled and toured through India and Eastern Europe. This experience had a deep and profound effect on his talent as a composer, hinted at early on with the release of his first CD,‘When The Party’s Over’ in 1993. In 2008 he was commissioned by The Sage Centre in Newcastle Upon Tyne to compose a piece for the opening of ‘The Eighth Bridge’, a major art installation across the river Tyne.
He has toured and recorded with many artists including Cara Dillon, Kate Rusby, and Russian group Aquarium. Celtic Connections 28 premiered his northern big band, The Singing Tree; thirteen performers, musicians, singers, poets and dancers, all from the northern counties of Ireland.
In 2010 he toured the West Coast of the United States and Ireland with guitarist William Coulter. Brian and William met at the Boxwood flute camp in Nova Scotia during the summer of 2008, where both were teaching. A concert was in the works and the musicians enjoyed playing together so much they talked about the possibility of touring as a duo.
Brian’s album, ‘The Ravishing Genius Of Bones’ was released in March 2010 and coincided with the formation of his quartet called Kan. The band included guitarist Ian Stephenson and drummer Jim Goodwin and fiddler Aidan O’Rourke.
Afro Celt Sound System are widely acknowledged as one of the most innovative and pioneering groups to emerge from the increasingly eclectic cross-cultural experimentations at the cutting edge of “world music” in the 1990s.
After much soul-searching and reorganization following the sudden tragic death of keyboardist Joe Bruce, the group re-emerged with a dynamic and emotionally charged album that wed the delicacy of their acoustic instruments – harp, kora, bodhran, jembe, uilleann pipes, talking drum – with the multidimensional, layered production of Simon Emmerson and Martin Russell.
The band’s characteristic Celtic-West African fusion, inherently joyful and high-energy, was offset by a discernible bittersweet quality, darker and more melancholic than the first album’s effusive spirit expressively underscored by the performances of guest musicians Nigel Eaton on hurdy gurdy, Michael McGoldrick and Ronan Browne on uilleann pipes, Youth on bass, Dhol Foundation’s Johnny Kaisi on dhol drums & tabla, and Sinead O’Connor on vocals.
The album represents the transformation of a project – conceived at Real World’s 1996 Recording Week – into a cohesive band with a distinctive sound and style. It is the record they all wanted to make, reflecting the unique playing skills and personalities of the diverse core members – Simon Emmerson (guitars, programming, keyboards), N’Faly Kouyate (vocals, kora, bala), Iarla O Lionáird (vocals), James McNally (keyboard, whistle, bodhran, accordion), Myrdhin (Celtic harp), Martin Russell (keyboard, programming, engineering), and Moussa Sissokho (talking drum, jembe).
James McNally said “Our style of writing and playing music does not pretend to adhere to any particular traditional style except our own. Together we write Afro Celt music: music rooted in the past that’s reaching into the future – that’s it. The collaboration of the various musicians within the band was effortless, heartfelt, and very harmonious. My faith in the others was constantly rewarded with stunning contributions and performances. It’s like we can almost read each others’ mindset’s uncanny, transporting, and deeply magical.”
Afro Celts are firmly rooted in some of the oldest musical traditions on earth, yet colliding head on with cutting-edge electronica. Iarla is among the foremost performers of West Ireland’s ancient unaccompanied sean nos vocal style. Myrdhin plays an ancestral Breton harp, and both N’Faly and Moussa are venerated jalis from West Africa’s esteemed bardic schools of master musicianship. Conversely, Simon comes from the context of experimental dance music, and James’ background was with the Pogues and the Irish hardcore hip-hop group Marxman. From these far ends of the musical spectrum comes the entity that stormed the stage at the Cambridge Folk Festival, played to a full-on dance crowd at Tribal Gathering, and played to a widely enthusiastic crowd of 20.000+ MTV rockers at Holland’s Lowlands Festival.
Simon Emmerson said “It’s very difficult to get across… that what we’re doing is rooted in my neighborhood in East London. Our studio is based in the same building as Fat Man Sound System – one of London’s oldest Club Dog are also there my neighbor runs Jah Youth Sounds. Zion Train live up the road, as does Adrian Sherwood’s On U Sound System. Within a two-mile radius of my house there’s been Talvin Singh’s club, the first drum &bass sessions, the Whirl-Y-Gig, and countless other similar clubs. This is my musical environment.”
Afro Celt Sound System returned in 2010 with Capture, a career-spanning double CD, released by Real World. Selected from the collective’s five acclaimed studio albums, the 25 tracks are divided into songs (Verse) and instrumentals (Chorus). The songs were re-mastered to lend the sound a new warmth and allow the dynamics to emerge as originally intended.
Capture includes Afro Celt Sound System’s collaborations with Sinead O’Connor, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Dorothee Munyaneza and others. It also includes pieces featured on soundtracks including Gangs of New York and Hotel Rwanda.
In 2016, a version of Afro Celt Sound System led by Simon Emmerson released an album titled The Source. This was a controversial move since the remaining founders of Afro Celt Sound System, James McNally and Martin Russell, expressed in a press release that this was not the real Afro Celt Sound System.
The Source included Simon Emmerson on guitars, cittern, bass programming, electronica; Griogair on vocals, rap, highland pipes, whistles, electric guitar; Johnny Kalsi on dhol drums, percussion, beats and programming; N’Faly Kouyaté on kora, balafon, percussion, calabash and kirin; Mass on keyboards, beats and
electronica; Moussa Sissokho on talking drum, jembe and calabash. Jamie Reid handled artwork and visuals. Guests included members of Scottish band Shooglenifty.