Music: APAP, part Two– Solas and more!

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How It’s New York: The Association of Presenters and Performers (APAP) conference takes place at The
dancing at Drom

dancing at Drom

Hilton, and the events described here took place at Highline Ballroom. I also went to Drom after to catch the second half of the APAP World Music Showcase (Therese Cox reviews that here!); and have some pictures from the night in this post– spotted, Paul Keating, Tracy Crawford, Anita Daly, Réalta, The Young Folk.
How It’s Irish: Most of the bands below were part of Irish showcases. And, people come from Culture Ireland, and from all over who are interested in presenting Irish music, to the conference.

What a showcase at Highline: Solas with their new CD, Shamrock City; The Duhks, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and  McAuley, Horan and O’Caoimh.

For more on APAP, see my “Captivating APAP” piece, a double-sized write-up of Saturday, Jan. 12 and Sunday, Jan. 13, including panels and music; and Therese Cox’s  “Ireland’s Dervish and Québec’s Le Vent du Nord Storm the APAP World Music Showcase.”

An earlier version of this article was first published in Irish Examiner USA, Tuesday, Feb. 5.

Continuing Our Look At This Year’s APAP Week

As promised, here’s a little more on what I saw during APAP week (the annual Association of Presenters and Peformers conference ).

Some showcases are open to the public. TG2Artists did a four-band night at Highline Ballroom (431 W. 16th St), which now has booths on the floor as well as on the sides.
It’s always a comfortable venue and this made it more, although I do really wish venues would go easy on the lights bells and whistles.
Moving lights may work in a stadium show, but in a more intimate space it’s annoying to have a light shine in your eyes.

I’m not a big fan of moving video as a backdrop, either, unless, as with Solas and their presentation of songs from their concept album Shamrock City, the video supports the music directly. And even there, less would have been more.

The four bands who played on Monday, January 14, were The Duhks, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Solas, and McAuley Horan & O’Caoimh, in reverse order.

McAuley, Horan and O’Caoimh

apapmickIt was a little odd to see Winnie Horan and Mick McAuley in two sets back to back.
They make up two of the three in McAuley, Horan & O’Caoimh, Caladh Nua’s Colm O’Caoimh is the third.

But it’s an agency line-up, not what would be in “real life,” and in fairness, the trio and Solas are different animals.

They played songs from their CD Sailing Back to You. In this line-up they are able to do French waltzes, they explained, which are not quite right for Solas.

Mick’s accordion and Winnie’s fiddle make these melodies a delight. Dermot Byrne and Floriane Blancke also recently released a CD with French waltzes on it. I think it’s becoming a thing.
Colm joins them in singing and also plays the guitar.

Standouts from their set included Mick leading “The King’s Shilling.” Mick joked about James Taylor, and the funny thing is, now that you mention it, Mick does sound a bit like him.
I guess the sailing motif is why there was video of the ocean behind them… but enough of that.

Solas

solasSolas were up next with selections from Shamrock City.
This new CD tells the story of Michael Conway, who was a great uncle of Seamus Egan’s, and who emigrated in 1911 for Butte, Montana.

Out there, where so many Irish ended up that Seamus said someone wrote a letter home saying “go directly to Butte, don’t even stop in America,” Michael became a miner, a boxer, and a tragic victim.

He refused to throw a fight, although the sheriff was betting against him, and crooked cops clubbed him to death.

The CD has graphics of newspaper clippings; in concert you see Michael Conway’s face behind Mick as he sings the story. The original songs on the CD are by Seamus and Mick, though it’s unclear who wrote music and who wrote words.

In any case, Mick’s singing has become, quietly, really fine over the years, a bit like Robbie O’Connell, very soothing and also very clear.
Having a projection of the actual Michael Conway, as well as some video of Butte, helps tell the story. It’s not told linearly – after Michael dies, in the beautiful ballad “Michael Conway,” there are songs about the town and the ladies of the night there.

The current lineup for Solas is is Seamus Egan (flute, tenor banjo, mandolin, whistle, guitar and bodhran), Winifred Horan (fiddle), Mick McAuley (accordion and concertina), Eamon McElholm (guitar and keyboards) and vocalist Niamh Varian-Barry. What a voice she has! She belts and croons on “Girls on the Line.” 

Mick asked me and my friend, playwright/actress T. Cat Ford, whether this theatrical concert should be actually scripted. While the story is clear it would in fact be helpful to have more of it, although I appreciate in this too-short set they didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking.
Acting out scenes might be cheesy, but a few well-placed bits of narration are a great idea.

It is a theatrical experience, not just a concert.

While the story is clear it would in fact be helpful to have more of it, although I appreciate in this too-short set they didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking.

Acting out scenes might be cheesy, but a few well-placed bits of narration are a great idea.

Maria Doyle Kennedy

Maria Doyle Kennedy is better known as an actress than as a singer: she was in The Tudors, Donwton Abbey and The Commitments. I didn’t know her work as a singer and will definitely look out for it now. She performs with her husband, Kieran Kennedy, whom she called her “partner in crime.”

Like Julie Feeney, Maria is a very theatrical performer, who uses her hands and twists vowels around. Her appearance is both ethereal and grounded, and her voice sounds a bit like Norah Jones. There’s whimsy in her use of colored bells onstage, too. “Hola Luna,” a kind of Celtic fable, was particularly striking.

The Duhks

The evening finished with The Duhks, an Irish rock band who often perform with Solas. Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba, this rock Irish group were groovy and strong.

The lineup includes vocalist Jessee Harvey, original lead vocalist of the band; fiddler Tania Elizabeth, Jordan McConnell on guitar, Scott Senior on percussion, and Leonard Podolak on banjo.

Jessee has a real rock belt, like Janis Joplin meets, I don’t know, Susan McKeown, and her swaying adds to the vibe.

This is not typical Irish bar band rock, more like a kind of cross between French-Canadian, Appalachian and Irish with a strong beat. There’s even a little zydeco thrown in, not to mention samba. Tania Elizabeth’s doesn’t just play the fiddle, she performs with it as a dance partner or lover. They energized the crowd.
Information on their website and others is a little confusing about current and past line-ups, but they are working on a new EP which should be out this spring.

Overall the “four for one” structure of the Highline showcase made for a musical banquet – but left me hungry for more.

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