October 5, 2022
Donegal's Altan comes to the Somerville Theater on Oct. 21.
Following is a sampling of this month’s Irish/Celtic music-related events in, or slightly beyond, Greater Boston.
Over the years, there have surely been periods of time when local Irish/Celtic music fans felt like they may as well quit their jobs and basically give up any semblance of a normal life, because of a converging surfeit of concerts they feel compelled to attend.
This is one of those times.
•Let’s start with the Burren Backroom series: On Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m., the famed Davis Square establishment will present Tommy and Saundra O’Sullivan, whose biography reads like some improbable but romantic love story written for cable TV. They met at an Irish traditional music retreat in Midlothian, Texas, where Tommy – a member of the popular Irish trad band Sliabh Notes – was among the instructors, and Saundra – a flight and ER nurse from Houston – was an attendee. They found their singing voices were a perfect match, along with other aspects of themselves, and got married, moved to Dingle, and opened O’Sullivan’s Courthouse Pub, highly praised as a fount of traditional Irish music on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. They went on to release an album in 2018, “Safe Home,” featuring traditional, contemporary, and original music, and since then have embarked on several different projects, including a series of Facebook Live Sessions – with musical guests when possible – almost weekly for some 18 months.
A different but no less appealing story is local fiddle band Scottish Fish, which will celebrate the release of its new album “Upscale” on Oct. 16 at 3:30 p.m. The five – then ranging in age from six to 11 – first began playing together while attending the Boston Harbor Scottish Fiddle School in 2011, and quickly established themselves as dedicated and inspired performers of traditional/contemporary Scottish and Cape Breton music on multiple fiddles and cello, as well as piano. Over the years, appearing at events and venues such as BCMFest, Club Passim, and local Porchfests, “the Fish” (Ava Montesi, Caroline Dressler, Julia Homa, Maggie MacPhail and Guilia Haible) have shown themselves to be imaginative, creative, and downright fun to behold, adding their own compositions to the band repertoire. (Yes, they’ll probably explain the origin of their name at the concert.)
An oft-overlooked strain of Celtic music is the Welsh tradition, so the Backroom debut of Calan on Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m. is a welcome one. Bethan Rhiannon (accordion, vocals, clog dancing); Patrick Rimes (fiddle, Welsh bagpipes); Sam Humphreys (guitar); and Shelley Musker-Turner (harp) – their fifth member, fiddler Angharad Jenkins, is expecting her second child and not touring with the band – merges the unique melodies, lyricism, and folklore of their native land with modern-day arrangements and sensibilities, creating an inventive, exciting sound. In fact, their name – inspired by the moniker of a construction company whose sign happened to be in the background of an early band photo – derives from a word meaning “something new” or “a fresh start.” They’ve recorded six full-length albums, including 2020’s “Kistvaen,” the old Welsh word for “tomb,” which they explain relates to their mission: Excavating tombs, finding old tunes, and bringing them “back to life for the 21st century.”
The dynamic guitar duo of Flynn Cohen and Matt Heaton will take the Backroom stage on Oct. 23 at 3:30 p.m., a celebration of sorts for the 20th anniversary of Cohen’s “Deadstring Rhythm” album. Read our interview with Cohen here.
Now, here’s a very promising-sounding, recently established band: Reverie Road, which comprises Solas co-founders Winifred Horan (fiddle) and John Williams (accordion), former Gaelic Storm fiddler Katie Grennan, and multi-genre pianist Utsav Lal. They’ll make their Backroom premiere on Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. Suffice it to say, if you’re not familiar with Horan’s phenomenal fiddling and infectious zest, you must be new around here. Williams and Grennan are similarly accomplished in the Irish/Celtic domain, and Lal (a former New England Conservatory student) has been hailed as a “raga pianist” for his imaginative blending of Dhrupad and Indian classical music with other genres, from jazz to Irish and Scottish music.
Also at the Burren this month – though not under the Backroom series banner – will be Boston-area singer-songwriter Molly Pinto Madigan on Oct. 16 at 7:30 p.m. and pioneering guitarist Pierre Bensusan on Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. Madigan, a past winner of the Boston Folk Festival Songwriting Contest, has been greatly influenced by the folk ballad tradition of Europe and America, as evidenced by her folk-rock opera “The Ballad of Tam Lin,” her retooling of the centuries-old Scottish supernatural ballad. Madigan’s retelling is rife with the folklore, symbology, and literary allusions associated with “Tam Lin” and more fully explores its characters; she integrates her own lyrics with those from traditional sources while drawing on contemporary as well as folk sounds and styles.
Bensusan, whose career spans nearly five decades, is widely regarded as an innovator whose multiple-influenced acoustic guitar style anticipated, and helped usher in, such popular genres as world and New Age music. But Bensusan,, in particular, had an impact in the Celtic and traditional music realm, his playing often compared to luminaries such as Martin Carthy, John Renbourn, and Davey Graham. He’ll be performing selections from his 2020 album “Azwan.”
Links to tickets and other information available at burren.com.
•One of Ireland’s most iconic and important singer-songwriters, Tommy Sands, will give two concerts locally this month: at Boston College’s Gaelic Roots series on Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m. and the Burren Backroom series Oct. 30 at 3:30 p.m. The County Down native has written and recorded some of the more compelling songs in recent Irish history, including “There Were Roses” and “Your Daughters and Sons,” some of them covered by Joan Baez, Kathy Mattea, Frank Patterson, and Sean Keane, among others. But Sands hasn’t limited his music and message to pub or concert hall: In 1986, he organized a Citizens Assembly, full of Ulster’s artists and literary figures, to call for peace in Belfast, and 12 twelve years later, as the Northern Irish peace talks teetered on the edge of failure, he brought together several musicians – including Vedran Smailovic, the famed, tragic Cellist of Sarajevo – along with schoolchildren from North and South to sing, in an effort to persuade the politicians to go the extra mile. In 2019, he released his 10th album, “Fair Play to You All.”
Information on Sands’s Gaelic Roots appearance at events.bc.edu/group/gaelic_roots_series; details and ticket links to the Burren Backroom show available at burren.com/music
Also at Gaelic Roots this month will be the harp-guitar duo of Máire Ní Chathasaigh and Chris Newman, on Oct. 13 at 6:30 p.m. in Gasson Hall 100. The two perform a distinctive and innovative take on Celtic music that includes swing jazz, bluegrass, baroque and other influences. Ní Chathasaigh, from a celebrated Irish music family, is widely hailed as an innovator of the Irish harp technique; English native Newman has performed throughout the UK and beyond both as a soloist, as a member of The Boys of the Lough, and with a lengthy list of collaborators ranging from jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli to Northumbrian pipes virtuoso Kathryn Tickell to Argentine singer Mercedes Sosa. Newman and Ní Cathasaigh have performed at numerous events and venues in the US, Europe, and other parts of the world, and toured with leading Celtic performers such as Altan, Cherish the Ladies, Maura O’Connell, and Mary Black. They have recorded seven albums together and appeared on TV in the US, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Australia, and France. (See events.bc.edu/group/gaelic_roots_series)
•Altan returns to the Somerville Theater on Oct. 21 at 8 p.m., as part of the Global Arts Live series. Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh (fiddle, vocals), Martin Tourish (accordion), Ciarán Curran (bouzouki), and guitarists Mark Kelly and Dáithí Sproule continue to mine the richness of the Donegal tradition while making connections to music of other cultures and genres. The band’s most recent album, “The Gap of Dreams” (2018), celebrates its birthplace and the valuable role of music, songs, dance, and stories played in helping past generations cope with the demands of rural life, as well as famine, conflict, and emigration. Tickets available through globalartslive.org.
•Club Passim in Harvard Square presented Scottish finger-style guitar master Tony McManus on Oct. 2. McManus, who is self-taught, renders the complex ornamentations of traditional music associated with fiddle and pipes, and the effect is spellbinding and often emotionally powerful. In addition to Scotland, Ireland, and Cape Breton, McManus has explored Celtic music traditions such as those of Brittany, Asturia, Galicia, and Quebec. He has teamed with an array of celebrated performers like Dougie McLean, Phil Cunningham, Liam O’Flynn, Martin Simpson, Kevin Burke, Alison Brown, Natalie MacMaster, The Nashville Chamber Orchestra, Catriona Macdonald, and Andy Irvine. In recent years, McManus has branched out into classical and baroque, which resulted in his 2013 album “Mysterious Boundaries.”
Boston-area fiddler Hanneke Cassel will be at Passim on Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. Cassel is known for her expressive, emotive, and energetic brand of American Scottish fiddle, featuring many of her own compositions as well as tunes from Scottish and Cape Breton traditions, and has been a highly influential as well as popular figure in the Celtic music world. In 2020, she released her seventh solo album, “Over the Sea to Skye,” in remembrance of her foundational musical experiences during a 1993 trip to Scotland; the following year came her Christmas-themed album “O Come Emmanuel.” She’ll be accompanied by guitarist/vocalist Keith Murphy and fiddler/vocalist Jenna Moynihan.
If you were under the impression that the ardor for Celtic or American traditional music stopped on the shores of western Europe, you’d be mistaken, and Gadan – who’ll be at Passim on Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. – is ample evidence. The all-Italian quartet of Andrea Verga (mandolin, banjo, vocals), Jacopo Ventura (guitar, bouzouki, vocals), Joan Gatti (fiddle) and Lorenzo Testa (tenor banjo, mandolin, guitar, vocals) has performed at festivals all around Europe as well as in the US, their interest in Irish, Scottish, Appalachian, and old-time music combined with an equal appreciation for the folk balladry of northern Italy. Gadan celebrates the commonalities and experiences among the immigrant communities that found their way to the US, through sets of classic, popular jigs and reels (“Salamanca,” “Julia Delaney’s,” “Eavesdropper,” “Donegal Lasses”) and songs ranging from “Across the Western Ocean” to “Shady Grove.”
For tickets and information to Club Passim shows, go to passim.org.
•The Gore Place Carriage House Series in Waltham hosts the impressive quartet of Laurel Martin, Jim Prendergast, Mark Roberts, and Kieran Jordan on Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m. The four – Martin (fiddle), Prendergast (guitar), Roberts (flute, banjo, bouzouki) and Jordan (sean-nos dance) – are each individually accomplished and heralded performers in traditional Irish music and have often joined forces in various configurations or as part of other collaborations. Martin, Roberts, and Jordan, for example, often appeared with the fiddle ensemble Childsplay, while Prendergast has played alongside Martin and Roberts at BCMFest.
Details at goreplace.org/whats-on/music.
•The Irish Cultural Centre of Greater Boston in Canton features Irish music legend Derek Warfield & The Young Wolfe Tones on Oct. 9 at 3 p.m. Warfield was co-founder back in 1963 of the original Wolfe Tones, who over the next four decades went on to earn acclaim for their fiery Irish patriotic and traditional songs. That sound lives on, drawing a new generation of listeners as well as older fans, through Warfield – who continues to sing, compose, tell stories, and record – and his bandmates including Damaris Woods (tenor banjo), Andreas Durkin (keyboards, vocals), Cormac McGuinness (guitar, vocals), Wayne Brereton (vocals), and Mylo Moylan (guitar, vocals). Warfield – author of “The Irish Songster of the American Civil War” – and the Young Wolfe Tones also frequently provide a historical aspect to their performances, presenting lectures and songs that reflect the Irish experience in the American Revolution and Civil War.
Go to irishculture.org for tickets and other details.