You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2008.
All text (c) Ita Kelly 2008
Matt Keane is a curious mixture of devilment and determination, quick witted and humorous both on and off stage but also earnest about his work and music. “I’m desperately serious at the back of the whole lot” he says, “It’s determination rather than intent, when I put something into my head, nothing really moves it.”
‘Every picture tells a story’ he says in the sleeve notes to his new album ‘Pictures in Time’, and this, his second release in less than two years is aptly named. ‘Any collection of songs” he continues, “is a snapshot of that period in your life, although you don’t realise it until you look back”
Matt is one of the renowned Keane family from Caherlistrane in Co. Galway and like his siblings has been singing all his life. “It was a very natural thing” he says. “We didn’t learn music at all, we absorbed it.” Although singing all his life like the rest of his family, his early forays were in musicals and operas, performing in over 25 productions with Tuam’s Marian Choral Society and the Headford Musical Society. His first role in 1979 was as Detlef in ‘The Student Prince.’ “That gave me the confidence to go out in front of any stage” he says.
His first recording experience was in 1984 on ‘Muintir Catháin’, an album by Gael Linn which featured the whole family, Teresa, Pat Christina, Matt, Dolores, Noel and Seán, as well as his parents Bridie and Matt snr and his aunts Rita and Sarah.
More recently he recorded ‘Echoes of the Valley’ with Kevin Coyne, with whom he has performed in pubs and sessions for over fifteen years. Then in 2002 he recorded again, this time with his brothers Seán, Pat and Noel as ‘Citizens Keane’ and they performed a series of sell out concerts around the country.
Matt is a curious mixture of devilment and determination, quick witted and humorous both on and off stage but also earnest about his work and music “I’m desperately serious at the back of the whole lot” he says, “It’s determination rather than intent, when I put something into my head, nothing really moves it.”
Recording his own album was always a dream and in 2006 he began the process in earnest, putting down a song here and there, culminating in the release of ‘Out in the Fields’ in January 2007. A perfectly produced package, its acoustic ballads and folk songs were greeted with enormous enthusiasm and Matt has been performing to full houses at his concerts ever since.
Matt himself has five children and naturally being Keanes, they all sing as well. His second daughter Orlaith sang on Matt’s first album, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s ‘The Moon and St. Christopher’. On ‘Pictures in Time’ she sings almost half of the tracks. Gaining confidence and enjoying performing since the earlier effort, Orlaith demonstrates her ability and massive potential. Matt recalls “They all would sing a song at parties and occasions like that but when Orlaith would sing, everyone would be quiet. She has something special as well as being able to sing. Lots of people can sing. I think it’s more than that. Its being able to pick a song that she’s able to do and make a good job of it.”
Like their Dad, Orlaith and her sisters Eimear and Eilish, gave their first performance on stage with the Marion Choral Society. “I was Mr. Snow in ‘Carousel’” says Matt, “and they were my children. They sang and walked around the stage with me.” After that it was sessions at home, choirs and groups in school and whenever the opportunity arose to sing.
For Orlaith herself recording has been quite a new experience. “I don’t think I would have ever thought about it” she says. “Daddy said one day, ‘For the craic why don’t you go in and do a song and see how it turns out’. It wasn’t really decided, it just happened. A lot of people wouldn’t get the opportunity to do it, so it’s brilliant.”
“Scary!” was how she described her daunting first stage appearance at the Town Hall Theatre, Galway last year. Now she looks forward to the concerts. “I love it” she says, “and there’s more stuff I’d love to do.”
Her interests and influences in music are quite diverse. Crystal Gayle was a great favourite of herself and her sisters growing up, now she enjoys some of the American country singers like Alison Krauss and Tricia Yearwood. Of the Irish divas, her favourite is probably Maura O’ Connell, but she also likes Mary Black, and of course her aunt Dolores Keane has always been a strong influence.
On ‘Pictures in Time’ Orlaith showcases a variety of songs in style and tempo. The gentle country rhythm, of “I Wish it would Rain” gives way to the more up tempo beat of Alison Krauss’ ‘The Lucky One’ and ‘Candlelight and Wine’, Richard Thompson’s ‘Farewell Farewell” and Eric Bogle’s ‘Leaving the Land’ are thoughtful and plaintive, while Tricia Yearwood’s ‘Hearts in Armour’ is full of emotion and feeling.
On stage Matt and Orlaith share just one song – the Dick Gaughan classic ‘Both Sides the Tweed’ and their harmonising is definitely something they will do more of in future, given the right material.
Matt’s songs come from a variety of sources as well. ‘Somebody Special’ written by his good friend Don Stiffe has already become a favourite with his audiences. He covers two John Prine songs; the swinging ballad ‘Souvenirs’ and ‘Hello in There’, a song he chose because of its personal meaning to him going to visiting his mother now living in a nursing home. He takes the local ballad ‘The Lovely Green Woodlands of Ower’, and having researched its origins dedicates his new treatment of it to local man John Joe Garvey, who sang it as his party piece for years.
“If I try to analyse myself with a song, I would say it has to be melodic and tell a story” says Matt. “I’m drawn to songs and sometimes I don’t know why I’m drawn to them. I’m drawn to writers who can paint a picture for me with words.”
Sometimes songs are personal, and sometimes they are full of emotion, it’s important for Matt to feel the songs and as he sings he brings that understanding out. Orlaith displays that same forthright and honest quality in her singing as well; it’s a family trait.
Before going into studio, Matt always works out the initial arrangement for the songs himself. The three main musicians in his band multi instrumentalist Seán Regan, keyboard player Peter Gannon and guitarist Pat Coyne then take over. Matt refers to them as ‘the three divine persons’ because together they are at the core of the recording and performance. At the live gigs, the band also includes fiddle and drums.
At the moment Matt manages all the organisation around his concerts and promotions. He enjoys it but it is hard work and the future plan is to have someone else doing the management, publicity and organisation. He and Orlaith would also like to travel further afield, throughout Ireland and to Europe and America.
“We’re filling a niche that nobody is filling around here” says Matt. “It’s toe in the water for us at the moment. Our music needs a platform. It’s hard to get the people to travel but it’s easy for us to travel to them, and that’s our plan, to develop it and get people to hear it.”
All text (c) Ita Kelly 2008
‘The Irish Scattering’ is a remarkable new DVD and CD from singer and multi-instrumentalist Seán Keane. It’s fifteen years since Seán embarked on his solo career and for his eighth album release he has turned his attention to the theme of emigration tracking the progress of the Irish nation on its travels around the world. ‘The Irish Scattering’ was recorded live over two nights at concerts performed in ‘The Black Box’ Theatre Galway in March of this year. A strong cast, some 24 musicians, dancers and singers joined Seán on stage to perform a diverse range of music and song, charting the various eras in emigration and the events that sparked that movement.
The project is one that could have surfaced at any time during Seán’s career. It developed out of an interest in the stories behind the songs. Seán who has been singing all his life, grew up listening to these stories and in turn he has told them to his own audiences. ‘The Irish Scattering’ pieces the stories together to present a tableau of Irish history. Since the days when Ireland was known as the Island of Saints and Scholars, Irish people have moved abroad for one reason or another.
While ‘The Irish Scattering’ is a two and a half hour long show on DVD, Seán acknowledges that it could be twice or three times that long were all the possible songs and stories included. “I think its going to be more of a life long project than just the project it is” he says. “It’s only the tip of the iceberg compared to what could be done”.
Since starting this project, Seán has been digging deeper into the background to the songs, and researching the stories. “Like Mother Jones” he says, “the great union leader in America about whom ‘She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain’ was written. She spent all her life working on behalf of the miners, organising, marching to get their rights.” Mother Jones is just one example of the influence that Irish people have had all over the world and her story is one of many fascinating stories that are told in a book that Sean’s wife Virginia has written on the subject. In fact her research was one of the reasons this project came about. Almost nearing completion, they hope it will be published in about a year’s time. The extensive sleeve notes that accompany ‘The Irish Scattering’ are a great read and give a sample of what is to come in the book. They comprehensively chart the travels of Irish people over the last 1500 years, explaining the significance of all the songs, stories and tunes.
History, economics and our rich culture have shaped that Irish influence and the Irish psyche – some 70 million people world wide are aware they have an Irish ancestor. That’s a considerable influence considering at its peak Ireland’s population was 8 million and at its lowest ebb some 2.5 million.
Seán himself was one of those people who when young left home and travelled to England in search of adventure. “Going to England was like going to Galway” he laughs. “You were never regarded as an emigrant when you went to England, I think that’s because it was always and ever going on.” He worked on the building sites and at night played with the group Shegui, the first band he toured with. “That time in London you could go to a session seven nights a week if you wanted to” he remembers. “It was a great time to be there, work was plentiful, the atmosphere was good. There was great opportunity to play in London; it was just buzzing with music at the time.”
Sadly those good times came to an end and when the tide began to change Seán returned home. Unfortunately that wasn’t possible for many others who were destined to stay there and while many thrived, many fell into poverty. ‘The Irish Scattering’ is the story of emigration the world over, good times and hard times. Irish people settled in parts of the United States, Canada, the West Indies and Australia, and behind each country are the reasons why, the stories of those first pioneers.
“We tried to represent the different periods and hopefully we have done that reasonably successfully” says Seán. The DVD opens with the sound of ancient horns, the instruments of pre history we are told in the sleeve notes. Then by way of introduction Seán sings a few verses of ‘The Dear Little Isle’. This is followed by Máirtín O’Connor playing his composition ‘Saints and Scholars’. From then on the show takes shape around the songs interspersed with stories, starkly told by Máirtín Jamsie Ó Flathartha, and with music and dance. Creative lighting and a backdrop of projected images and sequences add to the visual impact.
‘Farethee well Enniskillen’, an Ulster Scots song is one that Seán dedicates to all the soldiers that left Ireland down through history. Each song receives it’s own delicate treatment and arrangement in the hands of the expert musicians on stage. ‘Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore’ describes the gruelling experience of travel for emigrants on land and sea. ‘Far Away in Australia’ is a well known modern song on emigration to Australia, and ‘Van Diemen’s land’ recalls all those who were deported for petty crimes to the southern hemisphere. In recent times many more have voluntarily emigrated there.
The bleakest time in Irish history was during the famine years. ‘Grosse Ile’ recalls this terrible time when thousands arrived at the small island that served as the screening point for immigrants to Canada. Many of them were hungry, diseased or dying and thousands are buried there and in the nearby cities of Toronto and Montreal.
‘Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears’ is a more hopeful story about 15 year old Annie Moore the first person to pass through the screening centre in Ellis Island New York in 1892. Times were a little better then and those who left Ireland, supported those at home, subsidised the travel of other family members and became strong citizens of their new homelands.
Today, while Irish people still travel abroad to live, work and settle down, the tables are reversed in many ways and Ireland welcomes immigrants to her shores. ‘The Crossing’ is a song of hope written by Johnny Clegg who lived all his life in South Africa. It has verses in English and chorus in Zulu and Seán enlisted the help of some immigrants to Ireland in recording it. “I did it for the Ireland of today” he explains, “which has changed and we have people from all over the globe coming to live and work in Ireland. They are going through some of the things in their own countries that the Irish people were going through here.”
‘The Shipyards and Gdansk’ is a new song from Irish man James Goram who sent it to Seán when he became aware of ‘The Scattering’ project. “It’s about a Polish man here in Ireland” explains Seán, “reminiscing about going home to Gdansk where his father used to work in the shipyards. I liked the song and the sentiment and so I recorded it as an extra track.”
The Cunningham family provide high stepping dancing in the show, another great expression of our Irish-ness, and Spanish dancer Fatima Alverez Fernandez reminds us of the strong historical connection we have with Spain.
Lifting the spirits, as music and dance always did for the emigrant, when there wasn’t an instrument around, people lilted or dyddled tunes. Seán Regan, has devised his own style of mouth music called ‘clicking’ and with Seán Keane lilting along they perform a set of tunes in this most unique way, a joy to watch.
The concert progresses through some twenty eight tracks to the finale ‘Home Away from Home’ followed by a rousing set of reels involving everybody on stage.
Seán is touring ‘The Irish Scattering’ with a full supporting cast of musicians, dancers and singers in October and will be visiting Belfast, Enniscorthy, Dublin, Limerick and Galway.
“It’s only a tangent compared to how deep you could go” says Seán. “I think its going to be an ongoing project and it’s something I’d like to do again very soon.”
Concert venues in October
• October 18- Whitla Hall, Belfast
• October 19- Riverside, Enniscorthy.
• Oct 23- Helix, Dublin
• Oct 24- Helix, Dublin
• Oct 25- UCL, Limerick
• Oct 30- Town Hall, Galway
• Oct 31- Town Hall, Galway
• Nov 1- Town Hall, Galway