by Jack Baker
I’m sitting here, typing away, having just worked Milwaukee Irish Fest and I’m feeling tired. I’ll probably recover in a couple of days but right now I’m knackered. It was another fantastic overload of fine music, with old favorite bands and new bands that I’d never heard of before, but I’ll write more on that in a minute. Right now I want to take some time and write about the loss this last week of a fixture on the Midwest pipe band scene. On Monday August 10th we lost one of the grand old men, James I Sim. He was 81 but he never looked or acted his age. He always had a smile and a good word, always optimistic always a joy to see and chat with. He was one of the founding members of the Midlothian Scottish Pipe Band and, accompanied by his beautiful wife, Lois, he could be seen at every pipe band competition. He always had a word of encouragement, especially for the younger competitors. Never heard him gripe or complain, he was always upbeat and positive. He was a great guy and I will miss him.
I was taken to task recently by my good friend Paul McHugh for not mentioning the performance given by the Chicago Celtic Pipe Band at the Irish American Heritage Center Festival in July. He was absolutely right too. I completely ignored reporting on one of the finest sets I’d ever heard them perform, in less than ideal conditions I should add. I don’t think any of us who are not in a pipeband appreciate all the hard work and constant practice/rehearsal that goes into a pipeband’s performance. These folks meet at least once a week for pipe band practice but most practice every day on the chanter or drum pad. Check out the band’s website at www.chicagoceltic.org. It’s a great band and a great bunch of people.
Highlights from Milwaukee
I have to admit that I didn’t get out of the booth much this year at Milwaukee Irish Fest but I did manage to escape a couple of times and got to see some pretty good stuff when I did. The Screaming Orphans put on their usual fine show with the addition of a couple new numbers they’d been working on. I knew the audience like them because we sold out of all three of their CDs, usually a good sign of a group’s popularity. I’ve written quite a bit about these four sisters from Donegal and will probably write more. I can’t get enough of them. I love to watch them and I love to listen to them. One of the finest new acts on the festival circuit.
Did get to sit with some of my buddies and watch Kathleen Keane with her new band Tantrum. Words fail me, but not for long. This is a superband in the making. Declan Fahy plays buttonbox and sings, Patrick Quinn plays banjo, flute, whistles and mandolin, William Coulter plays guitar, Jimmy Moore plays bass, Jackie Moran supplies the heartbeat on percussion and Kathleen does whistle, fiddle and lovely vocals. Every one is expert to their task and are some of the top musicians in the US if not the world. We’re expecting their first CD next spring and I, for one, can’t wait. The good news? They’re based in Chicago and will be playing in this area. So go see them and do yourself a favor. You can check Kathleen’s website at www.kathleenkeane.com for information on upcoming gigs.
One of the biggest surprises for me at Irish Fest this year was a band called Cara from Germany! Keeping to their tradition of finding unique musical groups that don’t “fit the mold”, Irish Fest booked this incomparable band to play this year and I’m so glad they did. I had a chance to hear them play and later meet with members of the band and both experiences were a delight. Gudrun Walther plays a mean fiddle and performs haunting vocals somewhat reminiscent of Maddy Pryor. She sings lovely harmonies with Sandra Steinort, who also performs on piano and flute. ürgen Treyz, a stunningly talented guitarist, is joined by Claus Steinort, who plays flute, whistles, concertina and does a masterful turn on uilleann pipes. The last member of the band is a giant by the name of Rolf Wagels who has a gentle and precise hand on the bodhran. Together they perform thoughtful and beautifully crafted music that is a joy to listen to. There are faint reminders of Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention in their presentation, both bands that exemplified craftsmanship in their music, but Cara’s music is “Irish trad” at its best. Cara is a band that can hold it’s own in such lofty association. They have two CDs and one CD/DVD set. I have to admit that I’ve been playing their CD In Between Times constantly at the store since I got back. There’s just so much good music in it. Their other CD is titled In Colour and their CD/DVD set is called In Full Swing-Live and lasts an astonishing 160:33 minutes with concert footage, interviews, behind the scenes and tour diary. This is a band who’s CDs you’ll want to add to your collection, and if you can’t see them in person, buy the DVD and enjoy.
The second CD I need to mention is from Milwaukee-based Atlantic Wave. Titled The Angel’s Share and dedicated to the memory of the late great Nova Scotia fiddler Jerry Holland, this CD documents this band’s continuing success in Midwest Celtic music. They just keep getting better and Kaitlin Hahn just keeps getting prettier.
It’s been a good summer for music and it’s far from over, Pittsburgh Irish Fest comes this month, followed by Indianapolis’ Indy Fest and finally the Bethlehem Pennsylvania Celtic Classic. Those are just the ones I’m going to. Next month, we’re off to that little gem of a festival held in Weston Missouri, October 9, 10 & 11, well worth the drive if only for the food. Check it out at www.westonirish.com.
Till next time, you can reach me at Rampant Lion Celtic Traders, 47 N. Villa, Villa Park, Illinois 60181, or call at 630-834-8108 or on line at
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