InteReview: Joanie Madden and Cherish welcome all to an Irish Homecoming

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How it’s New York: Joanie Madden lives in Yonkers and the band are often seen in the Tri-State area.ctl-nov2011 And they are playing their “Celtic Christmas” show at SOPAC in New Jersey, in Connecticut, and elsewhere this winter! Check tour dates here!
How it’s Irish: Cherish play Irish and some Irish-American and Scottish tunes. Plus ties to the country are mostly second-generation.

A version of this article was originally published in
Irish Music Magazine.

JOANIE MADDEN

Get your knitting needles out: Joanie Madden may need some hats to keep her head from getting so big it flies off her head. Just look at some of the accomplishments the whistle-playing leader of Cherish the Ladies has had recently: she’s won a $50,000 USA Fellowship from United States Artists, which classifies her as one of the 54 most creative and influential artists in America.  On top of that, the public television special “Cherish the Ladies: An Irish Homecoming” has won an Emmy, though it has not yet aired in the New York area. Her “Folk n’ Irish” cruise is in its third successful year—last year had over 500 trad-loving attendees, so if you want to go in February, get your tickets now. I know I’m counting my pennies . She’s the youngest member inducted into both the Irish-American Musicians Hall of Fame and the Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Hall of Fame. In 2011, she received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, an award shared by six United States Presidents. And, though this is older news, in 2010 Joanie had a street named after her in the Bronx and is in the Bronx Hall of Fame. She doesn’t boast about it, but she probably got a zillion more fans when she was featured on the soundtrack for BBC America’s show “Copper,” scored by Brian Keane, a show set in New York’s Five Points during the Civil War era, that just concluded its second season.

AN UPLIFTING EXPERIENCE

And nobody deserves it more. She’s determined that everybody who comes to see her or Cherish perform is going to leave with a smile. The live CD, which is now only available on the Cherish website, conveys that joy beautifully.

“You’re part of the show. You heard that you’ve gotta laugh with me, right?”

she exhorts the audience, who do, and then the Cherish gals go into “The Boat to Boffin,” a jig that is one of Joanie’s own compositions.

“Here we go,”

she says, and off the tune goes, and you have to smile. When it goes into a fast reel Joanie says “whoo,” and the crowd claps. Then come the live clacking of the heels of the dancers on the show, and the crowd gasps.  The music drops out and you only hear the dancers, before Joanie counts the girls back in.

You’d better not put it on before bed. You’ll feel too lively.

The CD is beautifully modulated between such lively numbers and more pensive songsand tunes, such as Kathleen Boyle’s keyboards on “The Homecoming.”

Right now, because of the agreement with PBS, the CD is only available through Cherish, by emailing merch@cherishtheladies.com.

There are some YouTube clips though, including this one with Joanie talking about what the band does:

The concert, recorded live in Bucknell, Pennsylvania, was absolutely a live event. It all came together in two weeks, Joanie told me on her Bluetooth as she drove down from Elmira, New York.

Over the years I’ve learned that if you want to do an interview with Joanie, you’re likely going to catch her on her cell phone as she’s driving somewhere. You may not get great audio quality, but that’s the free time she has. She’s completely devoted to the band, which will have its 30th anniversary in 2015. Joanie started out when she was just 20, in the band put together by Mick Moloney in 1985.

“Mick is the man,”

Joanie said.

MAKING THE SPECIAL, SPECIAL

“An Irish Homecoming” is Cherish the Ladies’ 15th album, but it is their first DVD. They have been on television before, but this is the first special that they headlined themselves. Guests included the great Clare singer Maura O’Connell, who now lives in the states. Maura sings some of her most beloved songs, including “Maggie” and “Teddy O’Neill.” And here she is on Nanci Griffith’s “Trouble in the Fields:”

a 12-piece string section, with music arranged by fiddler Dana Lyn, Bohola, Anna Colliton on bodhrán, Dermot Henry, seven dancers and more friends. It was a 10-camera shoot, Joanie said. They went in the day before the concerts and set up, and the next day, planned to do the concert twice.

 “Lo and behold, the next day nothing was working, after spending the whole entire day on it the day before,”

Joanie said.

“There was a blackout, a surge, and everything was knocked out. We spent the entire day having a heart attack, trying to get this going. At the end of the day, we had one chance to make it happen. Everybody pulled through. It just was perfect.

In the studio, you’re always kind of second-guessing yourself. This was live. It’s how it is. You get the feel of the excitement, hearing the beat, the harmonies, the songs, and I loved having the strings.”

Cherish has performed with symphony orchestras very often before, but it was special to have an album with a live string section, she said. And when you hear the strings plucking to support them on “Planxty George Brabazon,” filling out the sweetness of the tune with a full sound, there really is something special happening. And the sound on Gerry O’Beirne’s gorgeous “Shades of Gloria,” filled out not only by the strings, but by Joanie herself on low harmony—we’ve pestered here successfully into singing, and she has a sweet, tuneful sound—and Kathleen Boyle on high harmony—is, well, glorious.

The special is called “An Irish Homecoming,” Joanie said, because “it was almost like a ‘Gathering’ kind of project.” There were old friends on the show, like Maura, senior men’s dance champion Michael Holland ­– 26 people total.

NEW YORK TRAD FEST

Another recent homecoming for Joanie was appearing in the first annual New York Trad Fest, organized by fiddler and 11th Street bar session leader Tony Demarco, which took place at Connoly’s Klub 45 on Saturday, Oct. 19.  Players included Brian Conway, Jerry O’Sullivan, Cillian Vallely, Mick Moloney, Donie Carroll, Matt Mancuso, bluegrass players Kenny Kosek, Tony Trischka, dancers Siobhan Butler, Megan Downes, Kieran Jordan, and many more.

Joanie closed the show, onstage with Eileen Ivers.  That almost didn’t happen, she said.

DSCN5642

Joanie and a gang o’musicians at the first New York Trad Fest

“I didn’t think I would be back from Ireland. I have enjoyed going there so much I was actually in the process of buying a house over there, and thought I was going to close on it then. Then I found out I could make it, and he welcomed me with open arms.”

Buying a house in Miltown Malbey, where Cherish spends about two months of the year, has been on her Dream list for a long time.

Before playing with “blue fiddle” player and Cherish the Ladies’ founding member Eileen Ivers, Joanie told the audience a story of how they went to school together from kindergarten through junior high school, and young Eileen asked her what she played. When Joanie told her, Eileen replied,

“Whistle is for babies. True story,”

Joanie said with a laugh. Eileen was already an all-Ireland champion several times over by the age of 12, Joanie said. Joanie did not become one until she was 18.

“We played for years together, but our careers have gone in different directions. Tony put us together, and we had a great time. When you spend so much time playing with somebody, you ave this chemistry, you don’t even need to tell each other what you’re going to do, you know what the other one is going to do,”

Joanie said. “It was another great idea from Tony to bring everyone together for one show.”

Looking around at all the great musicians at Connolly’s—and the club packed with over 250 happy people—Joanie said she realized how lucky she was:

 “It was just fantastic to see not only the number of good musicians, but the number of world-class musicians, as good as you’ll hear anywhere, and the camaraderie you have among the musicians. It’s just a great feeling, just a great vibe.”

“We’re just so fortunate with what we have in our own backyard.”

Then Joanie emceed a concert in Pearl River, for Margie Mulvihill and Rose Conway Flanagan’s Pearl River school. Seeing over 100 children on stage and the high standard they played was also inspiring, she said.

PLAYING TOGETHER, STAYING TOGETHER

Even more uplifting is seeing the increase in business that has happened recently. Cherish has already booked 28 dates for March, and most of their Irish

A Celtic Christmas show with Cherish the Ladies

A Celtic Christmas show with Cherish the Ladies

tour in September was sold out.

“With the economy down, the Performing Arts Centers were seriously hit with funding taken away, and the arts councils. At the end of the day people didn’t have disposable income to enjoy going to concerts,” she said. “For me to see a March booked like it was seven or eight years ago, it’s like seeing light at the end of the tunnel that we’re coming out of the recession. People are coming out again.”

Joanie said it is not the first downturn she’s seen though it may be the longest one. Which brings one to consider, again, the band’s astonishing longevity. Joanie and guitar player Mary Coogan are the only original members of the group still playing with it, but that doesn’t mean the others just floated in:  accordion player Mirella Murray has been with the group for 11 years, Kathleen Boyle for nine, fiddle player Grainne Murphy is going into her third. It isn’t always easy, Joanie says, but

“Forever every day, I work on the band. There is no down day. You try and keep things going, and happening. When you don’t see things happening, you make things happen.”

 

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