By Earle Hitchner
A bit of a Boston “tease” party will be taking place at The Turning Point in Piermont, N.Y., this coming Sunday when button accordionist Joe Derrane and fiddler Johnny Cunningham link up for their first full-fledged concert together. Individually, the two don’t get down to the New York City area as much as enthusiasts of Celtic traditional music would like and that makes their concert all the more special.
“It will be a blast,” Derrane said from his home in Randolph, Mass. “Johnny’s a great player, and he’s great fun to be with. The last time we were together, he had me howling with laughter.”
Cunningham recalled the occasion too. “Joe and I played with a bunch of other musicians in London,” said the fiddler, who lives in New Bedford, Mass., “but we never had the chance to sit down and do something by ourselves. Now we will. I’m really looking forward to playing with him. He’s an amazing musician.”
The outstanding credentials of these instrumentalists make their mutual admiration understandable. Born in Portabello, Scotland, Cunningham is a founding member of three watershed Celtic bands: Silly Wizard, Relativity (with brother Phil as well as ex-Bothy Band members Trfona and Mfche_l + Domhnaill), and Celtic Fiddle Festival, featuring Kevin Burke and Christian Lemaitre.
Cunningham has also toured and recorded with singer-songwriter Bill Morrissey, was a member of both the rock band Raindogs and the ambient-music act Nightnoise, performed with pop-rockers Hall & Oates, collaborated with author Thomas Moore on the album “Soul of Christmas,” and composed the music and lyrics for the Obie-winning stage production of “Peter and Wendy.” Moreover, he’s produced albums for dozens of artists, including Solas and Cherish the Ladies.
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This past March 13, Joe Derrane was invited by the Chieftains to perform with them in Boston’s prestigious Symphony Hall. He was on stage with Ireland’s famed sextet for nearly half an hour, sitting in on four segments of their sold-out performance. And on April 4 in Norwood, Mass., a special tribute and dinner dance were sponsored by Comhaltas Ceolt=irf +ireann for their latest Hall of Fame inductees, Derrane and the late Billy Caples.
Joe Derrane and Johnny Cunningham are each sporting a new album, “The Tie That Binds” (Shanachie) and “Encore” (Green Linnet), respectively. They will be doing one show only at 7:30 p.m. this Sunday, April 26, at The Turning Point, 468 Piermont Ave., Piermont, Rockland County, N.Y. The club is about 30 minutes by car from Manhattan. For reservations, call (914) 359-1089.
INDIE NOMINEES For the last two decades, the National Association of Independent Record Distributors and Manufacturers, now called the Association for Independent Music, has handed out awards in various categories, “Celtic/British Isles” among them. This year AFIM has five nominees in that category: Connie Dover’s “If Ever I Return” (Taylor Park), Natalie MacMaster’s “No Boundaries” (Rounder), Nomos’ “Set You Free” (Green Linnet), Skyedance’s “Way Out to Hope Street” (Culburnie), and Solas’ “Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers” (Shanachie).
Two of those AFIM nominees, Solas’ “Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers” and Nomos’ “Set You Free,” finished first and 10th, respectively, in the Irish Echo’s list of the top 10 traditional albums for 1997.
Even so, there are some surprising omissions in the AFIM list, the most glaring of which is “Songlines” (Shanachie), the splendid solo album made by Solas’ lead singer, Karan Casey, that finished No. 7 in the Irish Echo’s list. And what about two fine recordings from Kells Music, “Gaelic Roots” and Brendan Begley’s “We Won’t Go Home ‘Til Morning,” both of which also placed in the Irish Echo’s top 10?
Odds are that Solas will claim their second consecutive award, which would be richly deserved. Winners will be announced at the May 13-17 AFIM convention in Denver.
READERS’ POLL Publishing monthly out of Dublin Irish Music magazine listed its readers’ picks for the best of 1997. Among those cited were Altan, best live traditional band and best live folk band; Sharon Shannon, best female traditional performer; Martin Hayes, best male traditional performer; Solas, best overseas traditional band, and Paddy Canny, best veteran traditional musician.
NORTH TO ALASKA An inveterate “Trad Beat” reader from the 49th state has been entreating me to publish some music news from that corner of the continent. I’m happy to oblige, especially when such talented musicians as Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill, Shay and Michael Black of Dublin’s famed Black Family, and vocalist Susan McKeown are involved. They’re all slated to perform during the third annual Irish Music Festival at West Anchorage High School, Anchorage, Alaska, May 29-31. Fiddle, accordion, set-dancing, stepdancing, guitar, and singing workshops will also be held then. For information, call 907-566-2028.
ALTAN’S NEXT VISIT Besides performing at three (June 14 in New York; June 20 in Chicago; June 27 in San Francisco Bay area) of the four Guinness Fleadh dates this summer, the exciting Irish quintet Altan will be doing some concerts by themselves. They’ll also be doing a few dates with Mary Chapin Carpenter, a country-folk singer with a contemporary edge to her songs, whose “Down at the Twist and Shout,” a hit single with Cajun band Beausoleil, netted her a Grammy in 1992. Carpenter has won four other Grammys since then, and her audience should prove receptive to Altan’s music. She’s worked with Irish acts before: Paul Brady both sang and played tin whistle on Carpenter’s song “Jubilee” from her album “Stones in the Road.”
MOVING CLOUD COMING Another brilliant quintet from Ireland, Clare-based all-instrumental group Moving Cloud, will be doing a two-week tour of the U.S. in midsummer to promote their second Green Linnet album, “Foxglove.” Moving Cloud comprises Paul Brock on button accordion and melodeon, Kevin Crawford on flute, bodhr_n, and tin whistle, Carl Hession on keyboards, and Manus McGuire and M’ve Donnelly on fiddles.
Guest musicians on the new album are ex-Four Men & a Dog banjoist Gerry O’Connor, Sharon Shannon Band and L_nasa bassist Trevor Hutchinson, ex-De Dannan bones and spoons specialist Johnny McDonagh, and guitarist Garry + Briain, who still plays with Manus McGuire in the quartet Buttons and Bows. “Foxglove” is expected to come out this May.
NEW ALBUM If you’re looking for unfettered, thoroughly captivating button accordion and four-string banjo playing, you need look no farther than “Dreaming Up the Tunes” (Cl= lar-Chonnachta) by Johnny +g Connolly and Brian McGrath. I’ll be reviewing this recording in the near future. It’s being distributed in the U.S. by Dufour Editions (phone number: 610-458-5005).
D.C. IRISH FEST After spending the last five years at the Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Va., the Washington Irish Folk Festival will be moving this year to Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, Md. The event itself has been expanded from one day to two and will be held over Labor Day weekend, Sept. 5-6, instead of the customary Memorial Day weekend.
Why the new venue and date? According to the National Council for the Traditional Arts, the festival’s sponsor since 1996, there were four compelling reasons: (1) the festival had essentially outgrown its previous venue, and the new site can accommodate more than 40,000 people a day; (2) a two-day event was always envisioned, something not possible at Wolf Trap; (3) the local county government was keen to co-sponsor the event, and the only available opening it had in its fairgrounds schedule was Labor Day weekend; (4) there will now be one all-day admission rather than the separate admission charged at Wolf Trap for daytime and nighttime performances.
The 22nd annual Washington Irish Folk Festival will feature more than 200 performers from Ireland, Canada, and the U.S. It will run from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m Sunday. For further information, contact the NCTA at 301-565-0654. A future “Trad Beat” will list the artists who will be appearing at the festival.