How it’s New York: Solas were founded in New York City in 1995, and recently band member Mick McAuley 2012_solaswas in the pit band for the Broadway show “The Last Ship.”
How it’s Irish: Solas is an Irish-American band.

Two years ago, Solas came out with “Shamrock City,” a concept album (remember those?) telling the story of band member Seamus Egan’s great-great-uncle (there may be more greats in there), Michael Conway, who emigrated from Co. Mayo to  Butte, Montana. Conway was also a bear-knuckle boxer, and when he refused to throw a fight, was murdered. The band has been touring the multi-media “Shamrock City” show for two years. “It’s a really powerful experience of touring it,” says Winifred Horan, who, along with Egan, is a founding member of the band.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), Moira Smiley (vocals).

It’s Solas’ strongest album in years, maybe ever, full of original songs by Seamus and Mick, some haunting and sad, like the ballad “Michael Conway,” some rousing and mischievous, like “Girls on the Line.”

Solas is playing City Winery on Sunday, March 8. We caught up with Winifred Horan this morning to [pullquote]Every person in the audience at our gigs has a story of immigration in their family. [/pullquote]get a little bit of insight into the album and the band. Karan Casey will be singing with the band on Sunday and in New Hampshire. Moira Smiley is singing the rest of the time. Johnny Connolly will be playing instead of Mick McAuley on Sunday.

Solas Shamrock City(1)Horan: This  is a”Shamrock City” tour… this weekend is all Shamrock City.” We will record a new album, 20th anniversary celebration, starting in May. It will have every member that’s been in the band. That will be recorded in Philadelphia, and then in Ireland.

NYIA: The album tells such a strong story. I would love to see it onstage. How do you feel about it?

Horan: it’s definitely a departure for us. In my opinion it is one of our best projects, in the sense that it is completely written and produced and put out by ourselves. There was no record label behind it. From the first to the last note, this was ours.

NYIA: Why do you think there’s such a strong response to this album?

Horan: At the end of the day the broader scope of “Shamrock City” is that it is a story of immigration, whether from Ireland in our case or something more universal. We found from touring that it is really accessible.  Every person in the audience at our gigs has a story of immigration in their family. It’s still such a divisive issue over here. It’s a way more personal connection to the audience. Everyone has stories and is sharing them.  It’s not just our Irish audience that is touched by it.

sol_sc_benchWe are really proud of the album and its contents musically and lyrically, and the guests on the album arepretty amazing. Dick Gaughan sings a labor song. Rhiannon Giddon from Carolina Chocolate Drops, who shot into meteoric fame in the last couple of months, sings “Lay Your Money Down.” And we have  Aoife O’Donovan, formerly of Crooked Still, Dirk Powell, Natalie Haas…

I for one think one of our best and most mature albums.

NYIA: I agree. Do you have a favorite song that you perform?

HORAN: We do all the material in concert because the “Shamrock City” show is also a multimedia show. We have visuals behind it. It”s a different sort of concert experience.

NYIA: What is your favorite song?

Horan: I like them all! “Lay Your Money Down” is pretty powerful… “Tell God and the Devil” is a pretty big hit off the album. We get a lot of requests for it.

NYIA: What keeps you going after all these years?

Horan: I’ve been with the band 20 years… myself and Seamus were founding members. We keep going because of the love of music and playing. It’s been a really good band over the years. We have had line-up changes but every single one has brought new blood and new musicality. It’s our life. We are musicians to the core. We stuck with it because its our career, life, passion.

I’m really happy and we are still touring. It hasn’t waned at all. After 20 years some bands start to see their audiences thinning, but for us it’s gone the other way. We’ve broadened our audience beyond just Irish audiences.


Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.