Maeve Donnelly and Conal Ó Gráda Rock the Houses!

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How It’s New York:  “Nobody wants to go home after the Catskills.”  See this post on the session at 11th Street Sunday night.
How It’s Irish: Neither Maeve nor Conal are based here, and to see them play together was a treat! some people went along twice in the week.  They played the tristate area except for NJ, making stops in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Brooklyn and Pearl River.

Maeve Donnelly is my hero.   She has a way with a tune that is  sweet, pure and aggressive.  The bones of the melody shimmer, but it’s never just plain.  She was my teacher up in the Catskills (Matt Cranitch was the other) and not only taught great tunes; she also showed us how to vary them and bring them to life.   Conal Ó Gráda is one of the world’s great Irish flutists, and matches Maeve note for note (and my new crush!)   He also plays Sliabh Lucra, and this week is up in Newfoundland playing with Matt, Jackie Daly and Paul DeGrae.  And I’m just a big old convert to the slides and polkas, largely due to Matt (You’re still my hero, Matt).

So many students and teachers from Catskills Irish Arts Week showed up on Tuesday, that my companion, Holland Gedney, asked if we travel around in packs.  Well, not usually!  But nobody wants to say goodnight.  Spotted in Brooklyn:  Paul Keating, Don Meade, Kathy Hornberger, Karen Brown, Megan Downes, Caitlin and Bernadette Nic Gabhain, Ivan Goff, Anna Colliton.

I hadn’t been to Jalopy in Red Hook, Brooklyn, before.  It’s a sweet little theatre with honest to goodness red curtains, benches and fairy lights.  It was a very hot night but nobody left early.  The duo traded off playing together and playing solos, and there was something really nice about hearing the melodies without guitar or singing, just the tunes themselves.  Maeve played a couple of hornpipes, which she said are “getting to be an extinct species,” and the purity of her runs was staggering.  Conal played a set of slides, including one called “Scattery Island.”  “It’s how I felt after a week in the Catskills,” he said.  Boy, I love the slides.  If you didn’t know you loved them, you would after hearing Conal play them. Listening to the two of them I was reminded how nice it is to hear the purity and simplicity of the melodies, especially on some old tunes.  A tune does not need to be showy to show the beauty in its bones, and for that Maeve and Conal are perfectly suited.

Maeve also played a second fiddle in an old-timey tuning, using more double stops and slides.  Conal played some of his own compositions, including one called “All wine and no milk,” which apparently was how Geraldine Cotter described a particularly tough winter in Ireland.   In the second half, they brought Anna Colliton on stage to play bodhran with them.  I loved hearing “Rambling Pitchfork,” a session tune I actually know, played brilliantly.  Which is not to give short shrift to slower tunes, “Her Mantle So Green” and “The Snowy Path” managed to worm their way into my guts.

When Conal played a couple of jigs with Anna her beat semeed to drive him on even further.  Really great stuff.  Maeve played some reels, including “The Mountain Road” in C, and “Kilty Tam” by Charlie Lennon, and I thought, she’s eating that fiddle.  Meaning– she just attacks it, with a kind of spiccato bow, and manages to do this without ever losing the precise beat.  My favorite rendition of the Mendelsohnn Concerto is Isaac Stern’s– because he goes soft on the credenza and never loses the rhythm for a second; he doesn’t emote into the music, he lets the emotion of the way its written drive him.  That’s what Maeve does, too.    Conal and Anna then played a couple of polkas, including one called “The Happy Polka” which was just delirious, with something that sounded like birdcalls.  They finished off the night with a set of reels including “Toss the Feathers,” and Megan came onstage for some Sean Nós dancing.

This shadowy video is from the concert this week, taken by me.  There are more photos in a slideshow after the jump, where you’ll also see much BETTER video, taken by Eamonn and Geraldine Cotter, taken by Marilyn Stern at the Catskills, after the jump!

GOOD video from Marilyn Stern!

About Maeve Donnelly & Conal Ó Gráda
Maeve Donnelly grew up in East Galway, an area steeped in traditional music. She started playing fiddle at the age of six and won her first All-Ireland Fiddle Competition at the age of nine. In 1976, she was the youngest of 25 musicians invited from Ireland to perform at the Bicentennial Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. She was a member of the group Moving Cloud. In 2004, Maeve recorded a duet album with Peadar O’Loughlin entitled “The Thing Itself”. In more recent years, she has released two solo albums.. Her latest album, ‘Flame on the Banks’ was recorded with guitarist Tony McManus. She has toured with Tony in America and Canada. Conal and Maeve have been playing together over the past number of years.

Born in Cork in 1961, Conal Ó Gráda has long been at the forefront of traditional Irish flute-playing and truly has one of its most distinctive sounds. A multiple All Ireland winner in his youth, Conal’s debut recording ‘The Top of Coom’ in 1990 is still regarded as a seminal recording of flute-playing. Conal takes the basic elements of traditional music and forges them into a personal style which, once heard is unforgettable. His fast, rhythmically precise flute-playing has an earthy raucous tone reminiscent of the saxophone and is driven by a spirit from the true heart of traditional music. Conal has played, toured and recorded with many of the music’s leading exponents and his long overdue second recording ’Cnoc Buí’ was released in 2008 to widespread critical acclaim. As well as playing regularly with fiddler Maeve Donnelly, Conal is also a member of the group Raw Bar Collective. You can visit his website at

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