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root salad Goitse

Just when you thought it had all gone a bit quiet with Irish bands, Colin Irwin spots another.


s everyone knows, brilliant musi- cians grow on trees all over Ire- land. In Co Clare you can’t move for uillean pipers, in Sligo and Donegal fiddle gods spring up all over the place and you won’t go far in Kerry or Cork without bumping into a freshly sown crop of virtuoso box players. And in Lim- erick… my goodness, in Limerick, they have a special hothouse called the Irish World Academy of Music & Dance where these brilliant young things come flying out at all angles.

But even in this rarefied environment at Limerick University, the young souls of Goitse (it’s pronounced gwi-cha and is an informal Gaelic greeting) are doing something special. They may look about twelve (in fact they are mostly mid-20s) but they’ve already achieved a great deal, including tours of far-flung climes in China, Malawi, Jamaica, USA and Europe, and lifted a few rafters at this sum- mer’s Cambridge Folk Festival.

It’s been a phenomenal year,” says their bodhran wizard Colm Phelan backstage at Cambridge, the buzz of a tumultuous recep- tion when the rest of the band disappeared for a while to let him get on with one of his increasingly celebrated solos still ringing in his ears. “Our third album Tall Tales & Mis- adventures came out last year and it all seems to have taken off since then. We’ve toured in some amazing places. We’ve really been blessed.”

With Phelan’s inspirational rhythms underpinning a mesmerising blend of James Harvey’s mandolin/banjo, Conal O’Kane’s guitar, Tadhg Ó Meachair’s piano/accordeon and Áine McGeeney’s fiddle and sublime vocals, Goitse are a lively bunch, bubbling with ideas and enthusiasm. Theirs is a vigor- ous mix of instrumental interplay, a healthy blend of the tradition and their own tunes balanced by the superb voice of McGeeney, whose delivery of Ye Lovers All will blow your socks off. Their Donal Lunny-produced second album Transformed attracted plenty of acclaim, but not as much as Tall Tales & Misadventures, which has recently seen them crowned Traditional Irish Group of the Year.

Then again, awards are nothing new as most of them are all-Ireland champions in their own right. A huge fan of Junior Davey and the great John Jo Kelly of Flook (“I could never get sick of watching him play”), Colm Phelan became the first ever World Bodhran Champion in 2006, while the oth- ers have been well decorated at various fleadhs through the years and have already amassed considerable recording and per- forming experience; Tadhg has recorded

with Aoife Clancy, Seán Ó Sé and Donal Lunny; and Áine toured the world with Michael Flatley’s Lord Of The Dance show.

“I was obsessed with Lúnasa from the age of thirteen,” says Áine. “I went to so many of their concerts and Kevin Crawford was very encouraging – I went to a lot of workshops with him. But we’re inspired by so many different people. Beoga, Altan, Danú, Bothy Band… we’re rooted in the old bands but influenced by the new.”

“I grew up in Dundalk in Co Louth and I

was so lucky. I went to an Irish-speaking junior school and everything we did involved music and song so you learn hun- dreds of songs without even realising it. I have so many influences as a singer. Muire- ann Nic Amhlaoibh of Danú, Karen Casey, Nuala Kennedy. Kate Rusby. So many. We’ve tried to listen to everything. And not just Irish musicians either. We pick up things from all our experiences wherever we go. It all seeps in somewhere.”

Indeed, their own compositions are laced with all manner of unexpected pas- sages… some old-timey bits here, a Latino tributary there, a Scandinavian tune slip- ping under the radar with James Harvey always ready, willing and very able to indulge his love for the mandolin playing of Chris Thile. The whole Tall Tales & Misadven- tures album is inspired by their voyages into the unknown.

“In Malawi we learned a whole differ- ent way of spacing the music out and struc-

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turing it,” recalls James. “They have rhythm coming out of every part of their bodies, they just can’t keep still. It was like we were rock stars there. When Áine sang, the place went berserk. They can’t disassociate music and dancing. The whole process of touring has really shaped us as a group.”

nd they’ve all caught the com- posing bug. “It’s nice to create something fresh. In Ireland there’s so much music all year round that the same tunes are heard quite frequently and it’s only recently that new compositions have been proper- ly recognised as part of it. There was this concept that the music comes from the trees and the hills, but even if a tune is 300 years old, a real person wrote it in the first place on a fiddle or whatever. The role of the composer has definitely developed. Even the Irish Music Awards have a Composer Of The Year section now – Liz Carroll won it most recently.”


They’ve come a long way since first meeting at Limerick University, an experi- ence Áine still describes as “the best four years of my life”. Their first album was effectively recorded as part of the course – at the time they had no aspirations or expectations that it was the first step to becoming a band destined to be spoken of in the same breath as so many of their heroes… Danú, Lúnasa, Altan et al.

But that’s how good they are.


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