Every year Artistic Director James Keelaghan writes a series of 12 articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times previewing the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival
By James Keelaghan
Surprise! I’m not in Owen Sound, or even in Canada. As you read this I am just leaving Achill Island on the west coast of Ireland. The last time I was on AchiIl was when I was here as a backpacker in 1979. That excursion ended well, though I ended up sleeping on a beach in an October gale, but that’s a story for another time.
My Da was from County Monaghan which entitles me to Irish citizenship. I go to Ireland regularly, to play, to visit relatives and friends, and to do what I am doing now—leading music- based group tours. But that first trip, as a 19 year old, was an eye opener.
The Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners dominated the musical landscape when I was growing up. My exposure to Irish music was mostly ballads and songs and I learned hundreds of them. I could sing Roddy McCorley with the best of them in my corner of traditional music.
One night, on that first backpacking trip, I found myself in the little town of Spiddal in County Galway. There was a celebration in town until the wee hours of the morning. A whole group of local musicians had gone north to a music competition, a feis, and had come back with all the prizes. Music reigned supreme in the four pubs that adorned the four corners of the crossroads
The music tended to the instrumental rather than the vocal—jigs, reels and marches. I hadn’t heard this much instrumental Irish music at one time ever. Occasionally, the players would yield the floor to the singers, but instrumental ruled the day.
I think I got to bed at three or four in the morning, shortly after the Garda had shut down the last pub. But that night stayed with me until this day and I came back with so much Irish instrumental music that I had to abandon some clothes to make room for vinyl and cassettes. I’ve been hooked on the instrumental side of Irish tradition music since.
The great thing about Irish trad is that it’s alive—living and breathing and every year more young people come to the music. There are well-established schools and organizations that promote learning the music and, of course, hundreds of pub sessions as practice grounds.
We have one of the finest young Irish bands appearing at Summerfolk this year. They met at Limerick’s Irish World Academy and, with critical acclaim piling up, Goitse have become one of the leaders of the new generation of traditional Irish ensembles.
Goitse—pronounced gwi-cha—has released four critically acclaimed recordings and maintains a year round touring schedule that includes performances throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the United States.
The strength of Irish traditional music is that it evolves. The canon isn’t static with new tunes added all the time. Goitse moves the tradition forward with their own original compositions. Their distinctive sound comes from the meeting of those compositions and traditional tunes from the countryside of Ireland and abroad.
Laying the foundations for the music are World and All-Ireland bodhrán champion, Colm Phelan. The bodhrán, a large open frame drum, is the beating heart of Irish trad. A band without a solid player is simply not going to go anywhere.
Colm is not the only All Ireland champion in the band— Tadhg Ó Meachair plays a wicked accordion and is the All Ireland traditional piano champion. Conal O’Kane rounds out the rhythm section of the band on the guitar. He’s a wizard who is making his mark as one of the finest guitarists of his generation.
Alan Reid plays the tenor banjo, bouzouki and mandolin. He is also an accomplished oud—a stringed instrument from the Mediterranean. Its inclusion in the band is a fresh texture that no other Irish Trad band is using.
Out of this strong instrumental sound emerges the sweet, charismatic voice of Áine McGeeney. Her voice rings like a bell—clear and strong as it draws audiences into a song. Áine does double duty in the band playing the fiddle as well. as she sings. With a style that is feisty and energetic she completes the band sound in fine style.
Their band name is an informal Gaelic greeting that means “come here”. We couldn’t think of a better way to invite you to Summerfolk than to promise you Goitse.
The Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival takes place at Kelso Beach Park on August 17, 18 and 19. For information on tickets, performers, or if you’d like to listen to some music by Goitse, visit summerfolk.org.