28 November 2015

The Bluegrass Ireland Blog: still alive

Although the editor retired from proactive bluegrass blogging on 15 February 2013, the Bluegrass Ireland Blog (BIB) is still alive, keeps its calendar (the most important part of the BIB) updated, and publishes news received. Send in news by e-mail.

Thinking of touring in Ireland? Have a look at the BIB's THINKING OF TOURING IN IRELAND? page. Click on the 'Welcome' label below for more about the BIB's background and purpose and how to use it.


27 November 2015

Banjo tuition WILL be available at Lisburn on Saturday

Thanks to Dangem Banjos for a news flash to supplement their notice about this month's Bluegrass Get-Together at Lisburn tomorrow (Sat. 28 Nov.) - banjo lessons for beginners will be available, as Tony Curran has offered to stand in for Howard Walker.

Anyone who saw the Down and Out Bluegrass Band in action during the summer and autumn of 2013 will recall that Tony - a longstanding stalwart of the Ulster bluegrass scene - was doing an excellent job of picking banjo for the band while Howard was recovering from a wrist injury. Banjo beginners will be in safe hands with Tony at Lisburn.

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Five years of Belfast Bluegrass - next on 1 Dec. 2015

Richard Leeman, organiser of the monthly Belfast Bluegrass sessions (and also guitar player and lead singer of the Down and Out Bluegrass Band), announces that the next session will be on this coming Tuesday, 1 December 2015.

The Belfast Bluegrass session is held on the first Tuesday of each month, upstairs at the Errigle Inn, 312-320 Ormeau Rd, Belfast, starting about 9.00 p.m. All are welcome. The coming session will be specially noteworthy, as the very first Belfast Bluegrass session was held there five years ago (see the BIB for 29 Nov. 2010). Congratulations to Richard, the Belfast bluegrass community, and the Errigle.

As mentioned in the BIB's last post, the Down and Out Bluegrass Band will be playing at St George's Market, Belfast, tomorrow (Sat. 28 Nov.) from noon to 3.00 p.m.

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24 November 2015

Dangem Bluegrass Get-Together at Lisburn, 28 Nov. 2015

DanGem Bluegrass in Craigavon, Co. Armagh, announce in their latest e-newsletter that the next monthly Bluegrass Get-Together, incorporating jam session and instruction, will be held this coming Saturday, 28 Nov., at the usual place and time (the Lagan Valley Island Civic Centre, Lisburn, Co. Antrim BT27 4RL, from 9.30/10.00 a.m. to noon) and with the usual schedule:

10.00-10.30 Warm-up
10.30-11.00(ish) Break out time for beginners; rest of players, jam time
11.00(ish) to 12.00(ish) All back together

Howard Walker will not be available to give banjo lessons, as he is playing with the Down and Out Bluegrass Band;* but any beginners are still welcome to join in and will be helped as far as possible.

The DanGem Get-Together combines a jam session for those who are already active pickers, with the opportunity to learn for those who are beginners or just want to listen. DanGem add: 'Bring along your banjos, guitars, mandolins, fiddles, dobros, and bass, or just come along and enjoy. Look forward to seeing as many of you who can attend.' A location map for the Centre is on Dangem's website.

*The Down and Out Bluegrass Band will be providing musical entertainment at St George's Market, Belfast, on Saturday from noon to 3.00 p.m.

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7th Bluegrass Jamboree! now on the road

Nearly six years ago the BIB drew attention to the success of Rainer Zellner's first Bluegrass Jamboree!, a venture based on the concept of a 'travelling bluegrass festival' - the first of its kind in Europe - bringing three acts in bluegrass and closely related acoustic music to a score of select venues throughout central Europe.

Rainer (a very capable bluegrass mandolinist) runs the Music Contact agency, handling a wide range of 'Roots and World Music & Diverse Thrills'. On Monday his seventh Bluegrass Jamboree! began a full three weeks (23 Nov.-13 Dec.) of touring - twenty dates in German cities, and one in Switzerland under the auspices of the Bluegrass in Basel association. The full itinerary is on the Jamboree website, where you can see an eleven-minute preview video (also on YouTube) featuring the three acts on this year's bill - Richie Stearns & Rosie Newton, the Howlin' Brothers, and the Railsplitters (who made a successful tour in Ireland this year).

At lunchtime today, the Jamboree's Facebook added the photo below, showing Jamboree! artists enjoying the Christmas Market in Bonn. Congratulations to Rainer (standing on the right of the group) for creating this pillar of the European bluegrass calendar.

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High-altitude bluegrass from the Rocky Mountains, Jan.-Feb. 2015

L-r: Greg Blake, Jeff Scroggins, Tristan Scroggins

Readers of the last Thursday's BIB post on the next Shannonside Winter Music Festival in January will have seen that the bluegrass part of the lineup includes two US groups who helped to make May 2015 the mensis mirabilis for fans over here, both of them from the state of Colorado - Jeff Scroggins & Colorado (above) and Martin Gilmore and Nick Amodeo. Both groups enjoyed their time here and were keen to come back for more.

Thanks to the indispensable John Nyhan: first, for correcting an important point in our earlier post. The main bluegrass concert of the festival, on Sunday 24 January featuring both groups, is in Durty Nelly's, Bunratty, Co. Clare, at 3.00 p.m., not 5.00 p.m. as formerly printed.

Secondly, thanks to John's efforts, both groups will be touring in Ireland for the two weeks after the festival, and appearing together in a couple of shows. Arrangements for the tours are nearly complete, and John will send full details when all is finalised. He adds: 'I can only describe the upcoming visit of these musicians as High Altitude Bluegrass from the Rocky Mountains. What a treat it will be for bluegrass fans!'

The Martin Gilmore Trio that toured here in May: (l-r) Ian Haegele (bass, vocals), Martin Gilmore (guitar, banjo, vocals), Nick Amodeo (mandolin, guitar, vocals)

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23 November 2015

Lee Valley String Band, Stargazers in concert for Médecins Sans Frontières, 10 Dec. 2015

The Lee Valley String Band: (l-r) Mick Daly, Brendan Butler, Mick
O'Brien, Hal O'Neill (photo: Eddie Hennessy)

Thanks to Tina Darb of the Triskel Christchurch Arts Centre in Cork city for the news that a fund-raising concert for Médecins Sans Frontières will be held there on Thursday 10 December 2015, with a double bill compered by Philip King of RTÉ's ‘Other voices’ and RTÉ Radio One's ‘The south wind blows’.

The Lee Valley String Band, Ireland's longest-lived bluegrass and old-time group, perform to huge audiences annually through their regular gigs with the Lee Sessions (Facebook). Formed in 1968 by the late Chris Twomey and the Toner brothers, Niall and Colm, the LVSB have been through several permutations in their forty-seven (and counting) years, and now comprise Mick O'Brien (guitar, vocals), Brendan Butler (mandolin, vocals), Mick Daly (banjo, vocals), and Hal O'Neill (fiddle).

Some of their highlights to date include hosting their own TV show from Cork Opera House; appearing at the prestigious Tønder Festival in Denmark; and making three classic recordings, the EP At last (mid 1980s) and the CDs Cornerboys (1998) and Prolific or what (2008), both of which were produced by the legendary Jim Rooney.

The Stargazers made their debut on RTÉ TV in 1983 and have since appeared regularly on all major RTÉ radio and TV shows and travelled widely abroad with their close harmony renditions of Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Randy Newman, and others, and the instrumental style of string swing on guitars and bass. Founder members Johnny 'Fang' Murphy and Chris Ahern are joined by arranger Ursula O’Sullivan (bass, vocals). Their new single Paper moon should be released in Jan. 2016.

There will be a reception at 7.30 p.m. before the concert (8.00 p.m.). Tickets are €20, available from the Centre online or by 'phone (021 4272022). The evening is also a farewell event for Michael O’Connell who has been on the board of the Centre for over thirty years, including several as its chairman.

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22 November 2015

Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley in Ireland next spring?

Thanks to Gerry Fitzpatrick for the news that Rob Ickes (left), who has won the IBMA Dobro Player of the Year award a record fifteen times, will be teaching the dobro course at Sore Fingers in England next spring (28 Mar.-1 Apr. 2016).

Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley (below) will also be touring in Europe (hopefully including Ireland) in the first week of April. More information will follow as soon as this becomes available. A week ago Rob announced that he is leaving Blue Highway, a band with which he has performed and recorded since 1994, including a headline appearance at the Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival in Longford in 2012.

Gerry Fitzpatrick organises the monthly Cabin Sessions in Dundrum, Dublin, of which the next will be this coming Thursday (26 Nov.); a video of Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley can be seen on the Cabin Sessions Facebook. Gerry is also a member of Minnie & the Illywhackers, one of the bands taking part in January's Shannonside Winter Music Festival.

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Forty years now...

Going back further than the foundation of the BIB: it was almost exactly forty years ago that the Sackville String Band began playing in public. Thanks again to Niall Toner for this photo (almost certainly taken by Niall's wife Moira) of the band at its second public appearance, in the basement of Hartigan's in Leeson Street, Dublin, early in December 1975.

As noted when this photo first appeared on the BIB nearly five years ago, it shows your editor with his Jedson 6006 'Symphonic' with tunnel 5th string, and Niall with his recently acquired 'The Gibson' A-model mandolin. The banjo just visible behind them is almost certainly being played by Mick Daly. Hairstyles are moderate by the standards of that time.

To reach all the posts mentioning the Sackville String Band that have so far appeared on the BIB, click on the 'Sackville' label below.

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21 November 2015

The BIB is ten years old today

The BIB editor writes:

On 21 November 2005 the Bluegrass Ireland Blog (BIB) was revealed to an astonished world. For the first time bands, event organisers, and anyone else in the bluegrass and old-time communities in this island could have news made available to anyone online, anywhere in the world, nearly as soon as it reached me. I'm glad of this new opportunity to thank Alice Toner for building this house and Eamonn Quigley for his cordial assistance, without which the BIB might never have existed.

Since that date, communications systems have vastly developed. Formerly, very few bands here had even a promo pack to post out; most now have a website and/or Facebook, and some are on ReverbNation, YouTube, and Twitter. With such resources a band can at once make its news known to the world, and anyone who already knows of it can at once find out what it's doing. The BIB still aspires to give the reader a wider picture of what's happening across the scene.

The picture it gives is necessarily very incomplete: masses of information are out there, and what the BIB handles is only a small part. To remedy that slightly, a list of bands, with links to websites and Facebooks, should soon be published. If the two words 'bluegrass' and 'Ireland' are Googled, the BIB - limited as it is - comes up first, and it will keep trying to deserve that position.

Update 25 Nov.: The comment below by our distinguished contemporary the Prescription Bluegrass Blog is specially welcome and appreciated.

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19 November 2015

Storm season ticket sale at the Seamus Ennis Centre

'You will be blown away with what's on offer this weekend!' says the latest e-newsletter from the Séamus Ennis Arts Centre in Naul, Co. Dublin.

Tomorrow (Fri. 20th) Donal O'Connor, John McSherry, and Sean Óg Graham give a presentation of the development of Gaelic music up to the present; and on Saturday 21 Nov. Alyssa and Doug Graham (USA; see the BIB for 6 Nov.) will be showing their documentary film Rattle the hocks and performing live music from their latest album, Glory bound.

For either of these concerts, you can buy two tickets for €20 - a saving of 40% off the listed ticket price.

PS: The Grahams' film is about the railroad and American roots music; as a footnote, have a look at this little video from the Down and Out Bluegrass Band, posted two years ago.

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Shannonside Winter Music Festival, 21-5 Jan. 2016

Thanks to Brendan Walsh and the organising team at the Sixmilebridge Folk Club for the good news that their well established Winter Music Weekend. with its wide-ranging programme, is now expanded into the Winter Music Festival, to be held in Sixmilebridge and Bunratty, Co. Clare, from Thurs. 21 Jan. to Mon. 25 Jan. 2016.

Over the five days, eighty events - concerts, pub gigs, sessions, and shows - will take place at twenty venues, with a core of traditional music (Irish and English) complemented by classical, mariachi, jazz, blues, bluegrass and Appalachian, poetry and humour, and more. Full details, with artist bios, location maps, website links, and more, are on the Festival website and in the 32-page full-colour brochure which is now available.

Of special interest to BIB readers are the bluegrass concert at 3.00 p.m. on Sunday 24 Jan., with Jeff Scroggins & Colorado (USA) and Martin Gilmore with Nick Amadeo (USA) (both acts will be playing other shows during the Festival); and shows by Rackhouse Pilfer from Sligo and Meascán, an Irish classical ensemble who tackle Appalachian music and Texas fiddle tunes. Keep a check, too, on the Festival Facebook.

Update 23 Nov.: Thanks to John Nyhan for pointing out that the Sunday bluegrass concert (in Durty Nelly's) will be at 3.00 p.m., not 5.00 p.m. as originally shown here.

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18 November 2015

Get your EWOB application in!

The European World of Bluegrass (EWOB) Festival Facebook carried this warning two weeks ago today, and now there are just under two weeks to go before the deadline (1 December) for band applications to play at the 19th EWOB Festival (5-7 May 2016). An application form can be downloaded here.

The title of #1 European Bluegrass Band is currently held by the outstanding Czech band Monogram - regular Athy festival attenders will remember them sharing the top of the bill with Red Wine in 2004.

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16 November 2015

From White Mansions to new pastures

The Belfast-based band The White Mansions (above) have been active on the scene for several years now, playing their blend of honky-tonk and other tough country music on the bluegrass instruments, at many festivals and other events including 'Bluegrass on the Walls' at Derry and the Ulster American Folk Park bluegrass festival. Their album Don't get too close can be heard on ReverbNation.

We learn with regret that the White Mansions will be retiring as a band next month, though we doubt that their members will quit picking. Bassist Mark Skillen, for one, is looking for a new project to work on - ideally, in a context similar to that of the White Mansions. Mark is 49 and based in Banbridge, Co. Down, so groups based in Belfast or south Down would be perfect for him. Contact Mark by e-mail.

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High times at Huddersfield

Last week the BIB announced: 'A great time seems to have been had by all last Saturday (7 Nov.) at the Eagle Music Shop's Annual Banjo Event...' Yesterday this was confirmed (in a comment on the BIB post) by personal testimony from one who was present.

Today the European Bluegrass Blog carries a major report on the Event, with photos and videos, including one of JigJam performing 'Oh boy!', and one of massed banjos (5-string, plectrum, and tenor) playing 'Oh! Susanna', led by the Kruger Brothers. The whole report is strongly recommended.

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14 November 2015

The Bluegrass Patriots - playing THIS WEEKEND!

(L-r) Danny Rogers, Dan Mitchell, Willie McDonald,
Ken Seaman, Glenn Zankey

Not in Ireland, unfortunately, but it's still good news. Thanks to the Prescription Bluegrass Blog (PBB) for news of the Bluegrass Patriots, one of the most distinguished Colorado bands, with many friends and fans in Ireland.

The Patriots (thanks to Gerry Madden of Waterford) were headliners at the very first Dunmore East bluegrass festival back in 1995 and played many shows in Ireland since then, the last being in July 2009 when they played at the Athy and Ardara festivals and several other dates. In 2011 they officially retired as a band, but - as Ken Seaman has told the PBB - they never ruled out reunions; have been playing three to five such shows a year since the beginning of 2013; and are on the bill this very weekend at a bluegrass festival in Wickenburg, Arizona.

Read the full PBB story, which ends on a tantalising note: 'Try to catch them if you can somewhere between California and Ireland.' Does that mean...?

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13 November 2015

First EBMA youth scholarships go to this island

The European Bluegrass Music Association (EBMA) has made the first two awards under its new Youth Scholarship programme - and they have gone to two young banjo players from this island, Evan Lyons from Co. Tipperary and Tabitha Agnew (of Cup O' Joe) from Co. Armagh. As a result, both will be going to Sore Fingers Week in England next Easter: Tabitha to study with Ron Block of Alison Krauss & Union Station, and Evan to study with Greg Cahill of the Special Consensus. The BIB sends our warmest congratulations to them.

As set out on the EBMA's Support Programme page, its Youth Scholarships are awarded on merit and are open to any young musician based in Europe who wants to learn and develop as a performer. One need not be an EBMA member to apply, but a successful applicant will be expected to join the EBMA. More details are on the European Bluegrass Blog and the EBMA Facebook.

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12 November 2015

What have Red Wine been up to?

Bluegrass Today reports that 'our favourite bluegrass winos',* Red Wine from Genoa in northern Italy, held their very successful 7th Bluegrass Party last Saturday (7 Nov.) before a packed house at the Teatro della Tosse in their home city.

The Party was designed to show the various musical strands that have gone to make up bluegrass and contribute to its further development. Extra instruments played by guest artists included not just dobro (Henrich Novak) and fiddle (Jiří 'George' Králík) but diatonic organet and flute, with a horns section and a tap dancer.

Read more, including a message from Martino Coppo, in the Bluegrass Today feature. More photos of the Party (including this view of the audience from the stage, below) are on the band's Facebook.

*Ours, too.

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11 November 2015

Ireland well represented at the Eagle's Banjo Event 2015: update

L-r: Daithi Melia, Jens Kruger, Joel Landsberg, Steve Noon,
Cathal Guinan, Jamie McKeogh, Uwe Kruger

A great time seems to have been had by all last Saturday (7 Nov.) at the Eagle Music Shop's Annual Banjo Event at Armitage Bridge, Huddersfield, West Yorks., England. It was an epoch-marking occasion, as the Eagle Music Shop (run by Steve and Joan Noon) is the world no. 1 dealer for Deering banjos, and Greg and Janet Deering were attending to mark forty years of the Deering company.

As the BIB announced a month ago, the Event's musical lineup was headed by the phenomenal Kruger Brothers, with very strong representation from the scene in Ireland: JigJam (seen above with the Krugers and Steve Noon), who played two acclaimed full sets; Pat Kelleher (right) of Dripsey, Co. Cork, who gave a workshop on the long-neck banjo; and Bill Forster (who plays with the Banjaxed Bluegrass Band and Gone to Grass), who gave an intermediate-to-advanced bluegrass banjo workshop.

In addition, the leader of the Old Grey Dogs, who led jams during the event, is Joe McIlvenny - a name that has something of an Ulster ring to it...

UPDATE: See Bluegrass Today for news of 'Beautiful nothing', a new documentary film about the Kruger Brothers made by Dames Don't Care (the duo of Gabriele Weber and Brigitte Bernhard).

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Red Hat Acoustic Music Club at Naas, 13 Nov. 2015

Thanks to Paul and Anne McEvoy, organisers of the Red Hat Acoustic Music Club, for the news that the Club's next meeting will be held this coming Friday (13 November).

The Red Hat meets every month at the Harbour Hotel, Naas, Co. Kildare. Music is expected to start around 8.30 p.m., and a donation of €3.00 covers coffee/ tea and sandwiches at the interval.

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10 November 2015

BU: next year's festivals, and more

Following from the BIB post of last Friday: the Nov. 2015 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited does include a request to festival organisers for details of their events, to appear in BU's annual festival list; and the deadline for the Jan. 2016 issue was Monday last week (2 Nov.). That shouldn't deter anyone from sending in data, as BU publishes supplementary lists in the following months. The details needed are:
  • City [town, village] of event
  • State [county and country] of event
  • Name of event
  • Location (brief directions)
  • Name of one contact person
  • Postal address
  • Phone number, e-mail address, and website URL (one only of each)
This issue is rich in content: Derek Halsey's cover feature on Hot Rize can be read in full on the BU website (he gives their new album a Highlight review as well). And Chris Stuart reviews the book High lonesome below sea level (see the BIB for 28 Aug.), 'perhaps the most professionally made book I've ever reviewed', and goes on:

You may be asking, what does a book about bluegrass in the Netherlands have to do with me? I would answer: everything, because this is a book not just about Dutch people, but about all of us who live within the geography of music. And if that's too esoteric, I have another reason for you to buy this book: inspiration. This is a model for what might be possible in regional histories of bluegrass everywhere.

Read the whole review here.* Another piece of good news is that Dr Michael D. Doubler, who has already published Uncle Dave Macon: a photo tribute, is preparing a full biography of Uncle Dave which should be out about a year from now.

*Update 13 Nov.: The authors of High lonesome below sea level are now giving a Christmas Special offer of a free Red Herring CD with each copy of the book for the rest of this year, plus free shipping (even international)! Full details on their Facebook.

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