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

Check out all Sean Keane’s albums available at the .tradnet store on Amazon

All text copyright Ita Kelly (c) 2008

Fergal Scahill is well known as a bodhrán and guitar player but on his new album ‘The Dusty Bridge’ he focuses on his first instrumental love, the fiddle. Often described as the most expressive instrument, it is also often referred to as the most difficult. “It certainly is the most difficult” Fergal says. “With every other instrument, piano, accordion, banjo, guitar – when you hit a note, that’s the way it sounds whereas when you drag a bow across the strings, that’s not the way a fiddle can sound – and it takes a long time to get the dragging of the bow across the strings to sound nice. It can sound several different ways. To get it to sound like a fiddle should, you have to get the pressure of the bow just right, and get the tuning on the left hand.”

Fergal is well past the stage of worrying about tuning and getting the sound right. In 2002 at the tender age of twenty he won the coveted senior All Ireland title – the pinnacle in a long list of achievements and one of which he is rightly proud and happy. The funny thing is that Fergal, given his way when he was a child would have stayed playing bodhrán. He only mastered the fiddle because he ‘had’ to.
“I remember in Milltown,” he relates, “I wanted to bring the bodhrán to the sessions when I was eight or nine. I was good at it and I played it well. I didn’t have to be thinking of the tunes – but no, I was given the fiddle going in and if I played the ten tunes I knew then I was given the bodhrán for the last half hour and without that, I would never have played the fiddle.”

Fergal is the youngest in a very musical family from Corofin, Co. Galway. He was born into a household where music was part of life, his father Pat (sadly no longer with us) and oldest brother Adrian started Comhaltas in Corofin and conducted sessions in their house. This was the environment that shaped Fergal’s music. He was fascinated by the bodhrán and was beating rhythms with his knuckle on a book before the age of three. On a trip to a Fleadh Ceoil his parents bought him his first bodhrán and that was his main instrument for a number of years. Alongside the very fertile musical home influence, Fergal also benefited from a series of excellent teachers starting in National School with his first teacher Teresa Conway, and moving onto lessons with Bernie Geraghty, herself a wonderful fiddle player and multi-instrumentalist. Later in Secondary school he came under the influence of Mairead Berril another excellent musician and teacher. At the age of five he began performing on stage with the traditional theatre group Siamsa led by another influential person, Cepta Byrne. What started as a once a week performance turned into five nights a week during the summer months and all the Scahills were involved. “I was put into bed at four in the afternoon so I’d be able to stay awake for the show” Fergal remembers. There’s a really cute picture of Fergal taken during those Siamsa years on the sleeve of ‘The Dusty Bridge’. He always sported a tweed cap and in those days had quite a serious face. “We were traditional Irish musicians we were meant to be serious!” he jokes.

Fergal’s main instrument in the show was the bodhrán, but one April he got a phone call from Cepta to tell him hat he would be playing guitar for the summer. His brother Adrian, who was the main accompanist in the show was leaving to go to college and Fergal was to become the new accompanist. He laughs about it now, there was no choice, just knuckle down and do it.
Sometimes that’s the best way and Fergal relishes the opportunity to do something new. Recently he spent a month on tour with Dave Munnelly and his band in America. Dave’s music has a huge jazz swing influence and Fergal, who plays DADGAD tuning on the guitar had to invent the jazz chords required to accompany Dave’s music. He thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the challenge of expanding his skills.

Although Fergal has featured on many recordings, most notably his 2002 recording with Paul Moran ‘Off to a Flying Start’, he had wanted to record his own album for a long time. The opportunity arose when a friend of his, Conal Early from Dublin who had just set up a studio of his own suggested to Fergal that he record with him. They worked out a deal and between Fergal’s house and Conal’s house recorded it in a day and a half. “I had Ryan Molloy for about six hours” says Fergal. “We sat down the two of us and recorded twelve tracks live in the front room – it’s the only way I would record anything.” Ryan is a stunning musician from Pomeroy in Co. Tyrone and Fergal classes him as the best piano player in the country. “No one comes within a mile of him” says Fergal. “He’s got such a different way of looking at the accompaniment. A lot of his influence comes from La Bottine Souriante, their piano player and brass section and the way they approach it. He’s a fantastic fiddle player as well.”

“It’s a good representation of me now. It’s live; it’s exactly what I wanted to do. There’s very little post production. I played guitar, obviously I didn’t do that live. I wanted to keep it as live and real as possible. I wanted it to be fun; I didn’t want it to be too serious. I’m not trying to be anything in it – I didn’t sit down and say ‘This is the way I want my album to sound’”
The tunes are mostly well known tunes – “I pick tunes that I like playing” says Fergal, “Whether or not they’ve been recorded a hundred times didn’t really matter. ‘Jenny’s Welcome to Charlie’ is a tune that has been played and played and played but I love that tune. I had recorded it and didn’t know what I was going to do with it. Then it popped into my head to get Paul Moran to come and dance on it. It’s lovely to hear him doing the few steps.”

Fergal doesn’t have a permanent musical partner and plays with a number of different musicians. He has done a lot of work with Fergal O Murchú’s ‘Ragus’ and ‘Celtic Legends’ based in France. He’s much in demand as an accompanist but the fiddle and his self confessed need to be at the driving force in the music he plays means he prefers to steer clear of commitments in that direction. He loves travelling and loves meeting people and hopes to do as much work as he can with this album starting with an Irish tour in the autumn.

Fergal’s music reflects his personality; it’s full of innovation, enthusiasm and fun. It is intense, fiery and frenetic and at the same time playful. He chose ‘Port na bPucaí’ as the last piece on his album, packing it full of emotion and passion. Jigs, reels hornpipes and barndances make up the rest of the tunes with compositions from Máirtín O’Connor, Charlie Lennon, Josephine Keegan, Paddy Fahey and one tune of his own ‘The Dusty Bridge’ after which he named the album. It’s a very honest recording full of swing and virtuosity – a stunning debut!

Click here to buy Fergal Scahill’s “A Dusty Bridge” from .tradnet e-store on Amazon.