A version of this article first appeared in Irish Examiner USA, on May 29. I spoke to Kevin Crawford and Martin Hayes; you can hear them on this week’s podcast! The lads are at Stratford Theater in Connecticut tonight and at Joe’s Pub, NYC, tomorrow!
The Teetotallers – A True Trad Supergroup
Supergroup: it’s a term coined for rock bands made up of performers who were already famous from playing in other bands, or separately.
It’s the word being tossed around for The Teetotallers, a new trad combo made up of flutist Kevin Crawford, fiddler Martin Hayes, and guitarist John Doyle. All three are peerless. We’re talking major awards, rave reviews, stalkers, paparazzi. Ok, I made the last two up, but it’s just a fact that these are three of the best trad players in the world.
They’re all virtuoso players, all funny and entertaining on stage, all instantly recognizable when they play.
You can recognize Martin’s simple, heartfelt way around a tune on any CD; John Doyle’s left-handed up-strum is as specific as his vocals, whether he’s playing with Billy McComiskey or Joan Baez, and Kevin’s playing is not only fluid and skilled, it’s also full of heart.
The Teetotallers are currently in the middle of their first American tour. They’re in Connecticut on June 2, and at Joe’s Pub on Sunday, June 3.
Kevin is best known from his work with Lúnasa; he’s also played with Moving Cloud, and we talked to him about his fabulous recent solo album Carrying the Tune here. Martin is a six-time all-Ireland championship winner, and has built up a following from his work with guitarist Dennis Cahill, as well as running the Masters of Tradition festival in Bantry every summer (and touring with a group called Masters of Tradition as well) and most recently The Gloaming. John played with Solas and has gone on to a successful solo career, including a 2009 Grammy-nominated album with fiddler Liz Carroll, and a stint as as Joan Baez’ musical director.
The boys first played together as a trio at the now-defunct Sebastopol Festival in California in 2010, at the suggestion of the festival’s director Cloud Moss. Moss also came up with the name. And afterwards someone, no one remembers who now, said “we should do that again.”
“It was just that simple,” Martin told me, just before the tour was to start. Martin hails from East Clare, the son of P.J. Hayes, and is known for, among other things, the expressive and deliberate East Clare sound. Kevin also lives in Clare, and he and Martin had a good rapport and friendship with one another. John had just played on Kevin’s solo CD, and they had developed a style. But it’s the first time the three have worked together.
Video after the jump!
“I could have just sent Martin a copy of my album and said pick three tunes from that. Martin could have sent me his stuff. John could have sent me some of his new album. We could have taken two or three things from each and you’d have a set and it would be grand, but we wouldn’t really have come up with anything new.”
Instead, the three spent time working together and selecting tunes that would work for their particular combination.
“This is very traditional, almost bordering on hardcore,” Kevin said.
“There’s a set of reels, a set of jigs. We let John do all the coloring in; myself and Martin are just trying to bounce off each other with the melody.I put a lot of time into finding things that are both traditional, and something interesting for John to get his teeth into as well.”
Kevin laughed at himself, saying,
“you know that I’m this nerdy, geeky guy that likes to find tunes. But it wasn’t the case of my saying here are the tunes, and that’s the way it is.”
He offered tunes to the other two, and all three considered whether they could really turn it into something that would be their own.
Kevin added, “if nothing else, there’s a new body of work there. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to record and put it down.”
Martin observed, “In all the other projects, there’s a little intermixing of people. This one is a clean break from all the various things that I do. Kevin and John would be stylistically a good bit different from me. For all three of us there’s an effort to come together and find that common ground where we can work.” He described what The Teetotallers are doing as very solidly trad, a fiddle-flute-guitar accompaniment, in the Matt Molloy-Tommy Peoples-Paul Brady vein. In a way, he said, it’s “nothing you haven’t heard before in a way, but at the same time it’s got some of the flavor of how we all play.”
Kevin, said Martin, has a
“more modern style of playing in a way. Mine is rooted in the older styles of East Clare. John has been a contemporary guitarist in a variety of different settings.We’re not playing mad and fast all the time, you know. There might be a different pulse and rhythm than what we normally do.”
One thing that’s really different for both Martin and Kevin is playing for a singer. Lúnasa is one of the few trad bands that has no singers, no guest singers even, ever.
The songs are something special, Kevin said. “John came up with some amazing songs as well, songs he hasn’t recorded before, that he had earmarked specifically for this project.” And on them, Kevin himself even sings some harmony vocals.
“I’ll never have to do it again,” Kevin said with a laugh.
“If you have the reputation for getting up early you can sleep all day. I’ll get the reputation for being a backup singer, and I’ll never have to do it again.”
No, Martin will not be singing, said the curly-haired fiddler. “There’s no need to sink the boat on the first tour.”
Nobody in the threesome is the “front man,” or rather, they all are. All will talk to the audience. Protested Martin, “If Kevin is talking you’re going to have to at least defend yourself.”
What being called a “Supergroup” means to them, said Martin, is just the hope that because all three have a fan base there will be crowds at the gigs. “We’re going to do our best every night anyway. That’s all we know.
We’re looking forward to that album, after what promises to be a terrific night at Joe’s Pub.
The Teetotallers tour is presented in part by Culture Ireland. Full tour details are at martinhayes.com.tour.htm. The Teetotallers play Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette St., NYC, Sunday, June 3, 7 p.m. 212-967-755 or www.joespub.com.