For Pete’s Sake

Folk icon, Pete Seeger, has received the stamp of approval from the United States Postal Service (USPS) in the form of a new postage stamp released on July 21.

The tenth stamp in the USPS’s Music Icons series features the remarkable champion of folk and traditional music who believed in its power to inspire social and environmental activism. Artists depicted in previous stamps in the series issued by the USPS include Marvin Gaye and John Lennon.

Born into a musical family in New York in 1919, Seeger travelled throughout America during the Great Depression collecting songs. On his travels, he met Woody Guthrie who became a close friend. In the 1940s the two became leading members of The Almanac Singers – who had a particular interest in labour songs. During this period he also performed as a solo artist on radio and in live events promoted by Alan Lomax.

A founder member of The Weavers in 1948, the band’s repertoire of folk and blues classics – included Huddie ‘Leadbelly’ Ledbetter’s Goodnight, Irene,  which, according to Billboard, was the No. 1 record of 1950. Leadbelly had been discovered by Alan Lomax’s father, John.

While Seeger was blacklisted during the MacCarthyite era during the 1950s, his career recovered in the 1960s as a result of the folk revival and the growing protest movement. His repertoire typically included songs about workers’ rights, environmental causes, and social justice.

Seeger’s promotion of the hymn, We Shall Overcome, led it becoming a civil rights anthem in the United States and many other parts of the world. Other popular songs popularised by Seeger include Where Have All the Flowers Gone?, Turn Turn Turn! and If I Had a Hammer. 

Winner of four Grammy Awards, Seeger was inducted into both the Songwriters and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, and was awarded the National Medal of the Arts in the US. He also collaborated with Tommy Sands on a number of song projects. A lifelong activist, he marched through New York, aged 92, in support of an Occupy Movement protest in 2011.

Pete’s final appearance at New York’s Carnegie Hall with Arlo Guthrie and the Guthrie family took place in November, 2013. He died in New York City on January 27, 2014, at the age of 94.

A special ceremony to mark the release of the stamp took place at the Newport Folk Festival, where Seeger was a frequent performer and a long-time board member – in which capacity, he was responsible for inviting the young Bob Dylan to play.

The artwork for the stamp features a colour-tinted black-and-white photograph of Seeger singing and playing his banjo in the early 1960s, by Dan Seeger, the performer’s son.

Digital artist Kristen Monthei retouched and colorised the image, while art director, Antonio Alcalá executed the design.

As a ‘Forever’ stamp, it will always be equal in value to the current first class mail price. The stamp is on sale in post offices and online in the United States.

The USPS, together with the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC), approve about 20 new designs for  commemorative postage stamps each year.

The Postmaster General appoints up to 15 members of the CSAC, who serve on a voluntary basis. Each year, they consider all the submissions – routinely tens of thousands – from the general public for potential stamp designs.

Somewhat ironically the current Postmaster General is Trump-appointee Louis DeJoy.

Andy reunited with missing instruments

Andy Irvine (Photo: Frank Schwichtenberg)

Folk music master, Andy Irvine, has finally been reunited with his two missing instruments – a guitar-bodied bouzouki and a mandola, both made by Stefan Sobell and valued ay €14,000.

The two instruments went missing on June 29 in the course of flights Andy made between Dublin and Copenhagen via Frankfurt on Lufthansa and SAS. The instruments were checked in at Dublin but failed to appear in Copenhagen.

Despite strenuous efforts made by friends and union acquaintances to search the baggage warehouses in Dublin as well as visits by family members and friends to inspect similar facilities at Frankfurt and Copenhagen, no trace of the instruments could be found. To add to his frustration, Andy found the airlines, themselves, to be distinctly unresponsive to his efforts to engage with them by phone or email.

However, the silence was finally broken on August 1 when Andy was contacted by SAS to advise that the missing instruments had finally been located and would be delivered the following day. So after almost five weeks, the musician and his precious equipment were re-united.

Where had they been for that time? What adventures might they have gone on? How far had they travelled? There might be the makings of a song in that!

 

The bouzouki (left) and the mandola

New Director of Irish World Academy at Limerick

Professor Helen Phelan. has been appointed as the new Director of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance (IWAMD) at the University of Limerick.

A member of the IWAMD faculty, Doctor Phelan has been its Professor of Arts Practice since 2009. She is also an Irish Research Council recipient for her work in music, migration, and the use of arts-based research methods.Chair of IMBAS, a national network for artistic research in Ireland, her recent books include her monograph, Singing the Rite to Belong: Music,
Ritual and the New Irish,
with Oxford University Press and The Artist and Academia, co-edited with Graham Welch.

A singer, Helen is co-founder of the female vocal ensemble, Cantoral, specializing in Irish medieval chant. She is the founder of the Singing and Social Inclusion research group and she is the HRI cluster lead for PART-IM: Participatory and Arts-Based Methods for involving Migrants in Health Research.

Helen succeeds Dr. Sandra Joyce in the role of Director. Sandra is now the Interim Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Limerick – of which the IWAMD forms part.

The first Director of the Irish World Academy was Helen Phelan’s husband – the late Míchéal Ó Súillieabháin who was responsible for establishment of the academy in 1994. Since then the IWAMD has achieved an international reputation for excellence in nurturing performance and academic talent (including research) in music, dance and related areas. Many of the younger generation of traditional performers who have emerged in recent years are alumni of the academy.

Comhaltas establishes three scholarships in memory of Ashling Murphy

Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann has established three scholarships to recognise and remember the talent and legacy of the late Ashling Murphy who was horrifically murdered in January of this year. Ashling was a member of Ballyboy Comhaltas Branch and as well as competing in fleadhanna cheoil at county, provincial and all-Ireland levels was also a member of the Comhaltas National Folk Orchestra of Ireland.

The three scholarships – which are each worth €2,000 – will focus on different activities – relfecting the breadth of Ashlin’s own musical interests. The first will primarily focus on the community – with the aim of supporting individual artists working to develop participation and practice in traditional arts, including collaborative, community and socially engaged arts practices.

The second will focus on young people, children, and their music education. This scholarship aims to support individual artists working with, and producing work for, children and young people across the Irish traditional arts

The focus of the third scholarship will be on research – either on a specific area of the traditional arts or on music education.

Applications for the scholarships should be sent to majella@comhaltas.ie  no later than 5pm on Friday, July 15.

Dún Laoghaire Folk Festival ‘takes human form’ in August

Christy Moore, Les Filles des Illighadad, Cassandra Jenkins, Ichiko Aoba and Richard Dawson are among the first sixteen acts announced for the 2022 Dún Laoghaire Folk Festival which will run in the Pavilion Theatre from Monday August 22 to Sunday September 11. Expanding on last year’s low-key Covid-restrictred inaugural event, this year’s line-up brings together some of the most fascinating and original voices in world music.

Confirmed so far are:

  • Christy Moore
  • Richard Dawson and special guests, Landless
  • Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and special guest Méabh McKenna
  • Louise Mulcahy presents Mná na bPíob/Women of the Pipes
  • Les Filles des Illighadad and special guests Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin & Ultan O’Brien
  • Ichiko Aoba and special guest, Mary Lattimore
  • Cassandra Jenkins
  • Lemoncello
  • Ryley Walker and special guest Gwenifer Raymond
  • A Lazarus Soul and special guest Arrivalists

Feakle gears up for return of festival

The programme for the 35th Feakle Festival has been announced. After two years of virtual festivals, the live in-person of music, song and dance festival will run from Thursday August 4 to Monday August 8.

An impressive line-up of performers will be headlined by fiddle maestro, Martin Hayes, accompanied by his former Tulla Céili Band and current Common Ground Ensemble band-mate, Brian Donnellan on bouzouki, concertina, harmonium and piano, and guitarist Conal O’Kane.

The distinctive voice of Lisa O’Neill will be supported by concertina master, Cormac Begley, while another duo will see multi-instrumentalist and singer, Barry Kerr, joined by Síle Denvir on harp and vocals.

Two TG4 Gradam Ceoil winners in the Young Musician of the Year category, Conor Connolly (2019) on accordion and Sorcha Costello (2021) on fiddle (main picture), will be jioined by guitarist Jakob Vester.

Another TG4 Gradam Ceoil winner, Edwina Guckian (2022) for Outstanding Contribution, will bring her remarkable dancing feet to the party.

Yet one more Gradam Ceoil alumnus, Steve Cooney (2021) for Composer of the Year, will accompany the Murphy family from Abbeyfeale, led by accordionist and founder member of the band, Four Men and a Dog, Dónal Murphy, with his daughter, Melanie, on fiddle and son, Eoin, on guitar.

Rounding out the concert performers will be another fine accordionist, Charlie Harris, accompanied by fiddler, Maeve Donnelly, and pianist and tin-whistle player, Geraldine Cotter.

In addition to the  concert performances, the festival will offer a series of instrumental workshops on the mornings of Friday August 5 and Saturday August 6 from 10am to 1pm. The tutors for the workshops are:

  • Conor Connolly (accordion)
  • Edwina Guckian (sean nós dancing)
  • Martin Hayes and Eileen O’Brien (fiddle)
  • Hugh Healy and Mary MacNamara (concertina)
  • Jennifer Lenihan (flute)
  • Páraic Mac Donnchadha (banjo)
  • Michéal Marrinan (traditional and sean nós singing)
Brian Donnellan
Síle Denvir
Edwina Guckian

The Bridge celebrates Irish traditional music in New York

From the Bridge: a view of Irish traditional music in New York – a new online microsite hosted by the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) – was launched recently by Clare concertina master, Noel Hill, at the Archive’s offices in Merrion Square, Dublin.

For centuries waves of Irish emigrants have carried their local song, music and dance heritage across the Atlantic from rural homes all over the island of Ireland.

Disembarking at Castle Garden, Ellis Island, and JFK Airport they dispersed to establish new lives throughout the United States, but also settling in New York city and its environs.

From the Bridge opens a window to traditional music, from the 1870s to the present day, played socially in the homes and bars of New York, as well as commercially, on stage and in recording studios.

The exhibition, contained on a dedicated microsite, features over 370 specially selected sound and video recordings, 190 images, as well as engaging and informative biographies of the musicians, and contextual introductions.

The user can focus on a particular musician, browse through galleries and playlists, or follow a musical timeline to discover new sounds and stories.

While drawing on material from the existing ITMA collection, this project has been enhanced by the generous donation of previously unheard recordings and unseen images from private collections held by New York families. Through digitisation and digital preservation, these at-risk materials have been preserved by ITMA and are now freely accessible to a global audience.

“This launch is the first milestone in an ambitious three-year plan,” said ITMA Director, Liam O’Connor, “to expand the scope of the exhibition, to curate concerts on both sides of the Atlantic, and to produce a documentary film inspired by artists engaging with New York’s archival musical heritage.”

The exhibition was curated by New York musician and historian, Don Meade, who joined the launch by Zoom from New York, and folklorist Rónán Galvin. It has been supported by the Government of Ireland Emigrant Support Scheme.

Also present at the launch were Nigel Hutson, Deputy Director, Irish Abroad Unit, Department of Foreign Affairs, while New York fiddler, Jesse Smith, and Irish bouzouki player, Libby McCrohan, joined Noel Hill in providing live music for the event, while the attendance also heard some recordings from the exhibition, as well as a 78 rpm disc recording of Michael Coleman played on a gramophone.

ITMA's Alan Woods offers a preview of the new microsite, watched by Jesse Smith and Libby McCrohan (Photo Colm Keating).
Noel Hill speaking at the launch of The Bridge microsite at the Irish Traditional Music Archive (Photo: Colm Keating)
ITMA Director, Liam O'Connor (Photo: Colm Keating)
New York musician, Don Meade – the curator of the exhibition

Karan Rising to the Challenge

Karan Casey

Singer-songwriter, Karan Casey, has developed an extensive repertoire of songs reflecting her concerns around social justice and the position of women – both in contemporary society and in history. One of her most memorable compositions, Down in the Glen – celebrating the love between two significant figures in the 1916 Rising, Julia Grennan and Elizabeth O’Farrell – was nominated for Best Original Song in the RTÉ Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2019.

In recent years, Karan has also incorporated theatrical dimensions into her performance. So her new collaboration with acclaimed director, Sophie Motley –The Women, We Will Rise – brings together all of these elements in an exciting project, inspired by the women of the Rising and War of Independence, but also offering perspectives on the future development of women’s role in society.

While the project is scheduled for a full-scale production in 2023, audiences will have a preview of the work-in-progress at the Cork Arts Theatre from July 6-9 in a series of lunchtime and supper events.

“We will be airing new songs focussing on the women of the rebellion,” says Karan, “including my own great grandmother, Agnes Ryan, from Doon in East Limerick who was a Cumann na mBan member. One of the other women I have written songs for is Kathleen Clarke.”

Karan is also interested in learning about any other women from that era who have been hidden from history. “If anyone has any information on women in particular from this era, we’d love to hear about it,” she adds.Julia Grennan and Elizabeth O’Farrell

Kathleen Clarke – founder member of Cumann na mBan, Teachta Dála and first female Lord Mayor of Dublin

Kilkenny Arts Festival returns before live audiences

Returning to a live in-person format this year from August 4-14, the Kilkenny Arts Festival will feature a number of traditional and folk performers alongside the classical, modern, dramatic and literary artists who make up the rest of an extensive cultural experience.

Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh and the Irish Chamber Orchestra will finally perform the remarkable Róisín ReImagined in front of a live audience. Covid meant that the performance was filmed last year for remote audiences – and a CD followed – but now it will come to life in person.

Martin Hayes features prominently in this year’s festival – performing with his Common Ground Ensemble for the festival finale, ‘conversing’ with Brían Mac Gloinn of Ye Vagabonds, and once again curating the Marble City Sessions – featuring many leading traditional artists.

As well as the multiple award-winning duo, Ye Vagabonds, the sessions will also Nell Ní Chróinín, Aoife Ní Bhriain, Cormac McCarthy and Kate Ellis, and Syrian folk artist, Maya Youssef.

Another highlight promises to be Saíocht – a collaboration between traditional musicians, Louise Mulcahy, Michelle Mulcahy and Neil Martin; poets Emily Cullen and Gabriel Rosenstock; and award-winning actor, Stephen Rea. Full proceeds from tickets for this event will go to Kilkenny Civil Defence Ukraine Appeal.

Louise Mulcahy to premiere new work for Willie Week

Ómós Ceoil – 50 Bliain Faoi Bhláth – a new composition by uilleann piper and flute player, Louise Mulcahy, will premiere at the Community Centre in Miltown Malbay on July 3rd as part of the opening concert of Scoil Samhraidh WIllie Clancy. The newly commissioned work celebrates the fiftieth Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy since its inception in 1973 and its continuously positive impact on the development of Irish traditional music, song and dance.

Reflecting her pride at being commissioned to compose the piece, Louise explains that the new work aims to commemorate the legacy of the master uilleann piper, Willie Clancy, and the school’s founding members: Muiris Ó Rócháin, Martin Talty, Séamus Mac Mathúna, Paddy Joe McMahon and Junior Crehan. “The new work celebrates the ethos of the school and the joy it brings so many people from all around the world each year,” she says.

An accomplished performer and tutor at the Willie Clancy Summer School, Louise has been coming to the Willie Clancy Week since she was a child and considers the school a formative influence on her musical development. “Throughout the years, I have very special memories attending Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy with my family,” she says. “The Summer School has been a hugely important part of my life from a very early age. I have been inspired on multiple levels by the musicians and people I have met. I feel so fortunate to be part of the Summer School each year. Like so many other people the first week of July is a very special part of my musical calendar.”

Louise comes from a noted traditional music family and regularly plays with her father, Mick, and sister, Michelle. She is currently researching the history of women in uilleann piping in the 20th century. Her research work and musical accomplishments have been widely recognised – including by two major awards: the Arts Council’s Markievicz Award in 2021 and the Liam O’Flynn Award, sponsored jointly by the Arts Council and the National Concert Hall in 2022.