Arcady
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Arcady

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Arcady
The venue:
Glór Theatre, Ennis
The date:
Saturday, March 31

JOHNNY ‘Ringo’ McDonagh’s bought
his first bodhrán for ten shillings
back in the late sixties. In the interim he has been the heartbeat of seminal trad group De Dannan.
He has contributed to a host of recordings by a diverse range of artists like Mary Bergin, Phil Lynott,
Mike Oldfield (Johnny played on the
first live recording of Tubular Bells),
Eileen Ivers and Sean Ryan.

After leaving De Dannan in the late
eighties, he formed Arcady, a loose
collection of like-minded musicians
and at various stages the band included accordion players Conor Keane, Jackie Daly and Sharon Shannon, singers Frances Black, Sean Keane and Niamh Parsons. Other musicians like Brendan Larrissey, Cathal Hayden, Gerry O’Connor and Nicholas Quemenar all have been Arcadians at some time. Therefore when word
of a new incarnation of McDonagh’s
group was announced, ripples of curiosity spread across the traditional music landscape. Last Saturday night at Glór, the Galway percussionist unveiled
his new team, and to a certain
extent a new sound.

Granted, the fundamental older
dance tunes are still an integral part
of the set, but because of the diverse origins of the group members, the range and breath of the music has expanded too. Still on board are Mc- Donagh and piano player Patsy Broderick,
both founders of the band.
They were joined by Jonas Fromseier from Denmark on banjo and bouzouki, American Rick Epping (harmonicas,concertina and jaw’s harp), Sligo based multi-instrumentalist Seamie O’Dowd (guitar, slide guitar, fiddle),
and young Galway fiddle player Maureen Browne. Connemara sean-nós singer Mairead Ní Fhlatharta also contributed, as did sean-nos dancers the Devanney brothers, Patrick and Gerard from Carna.

A lengthy two hours and fifteen
minute set opened with Epping’s
Jaw’s Harp, playing the theme music
from Radio na Gaeltacht’s signature
tune. The eclectic set that followed,
mixed and matched jigs, slip jigs,
reels, hornpipes, airs, blues songs,
sean-nos songs, and even a film
soundtrack theme. Mairead Ní Fhlatharta’s soulful vocals in Irish were buttressed by a
bluesy accompaniment, that featured O’Dowd’s glistening slide and Epping’s expressive harmonica playing.

Epping is also a fine singer and an
unusual arrangement of Mick Jagger’s No Expectations, found the
Californian, interpreting the Stones
classic as a true folk song.

The theme from Michael Cimino’s
Heaven’s Gate movie was first
presented as intended, in waltz time complete with McDonagh on triangle and then a two-step version of the tune encompassed the entire ensemble,playing with an air of confidence
that conveyed elements of Appalachia as well as evoking the spirit of the West of Ireland.

On occasion when too many diverse
influences converge musically,
the result can be turn out to be rather contrived and pretentious, but not with Arcady. A relaxed and apparent informality couldn’t conceal a tight presentation based on mutual respect, restrained virtuosity, and a love of playing together.

Patsy Broderick’s piano introduction
into a pair of Paddy Fahy tunes,
underlined the east Galway fiddler
and composer’s significance to an evolving tradition, while Seamie O’Dowd’s blues based
arrangement of the song The Galway Shawl proved how two genres that are supposedly poles apart, are a lot closer that many suspect.

Paraphrasing McDonagh, “the old
tunes are the best” - the closing set
from the band featured a rousing collection of reels in the form of ‘The
Sally Gardens/Miss McCloud’s/The
Foxhunter’s/The Bucks of Oranmore.

The final selection complete with
the Devanney brothers uniquely
Connemara style of dancing, brought to a close an engaging and gratifying performance from a band who hopefully will continue to gig and have plans to record an album later on in the year. - Clare People Newspaper, Ennis.


Discography

After the Ball (Shannachie, Dara)
Many Happy Returns (Shannachie, Dara)

Photos

Bio

Since the formation of Arcady in 1988, dedication to the traditional music of Ireland combined with virtuosic musicianship have made Arcady one of the most respected traditional bands in Ireland. After the band's very first performances, it was assured that "Arcady are going to drag traditional music cheering, clapping and stromping through the 90's" (Garrisson Festival review, 1990). Dirty Linen were soon to describe Arcady as "a band with its own vital identity ensured of a place among the first rank of Irish traditional groups". The original Arcady was formed by bodhran, bones, and percussion player Johnny "Ringo" McDonagh shortly after leaving De Dannan in 1988. Initially an eight-piece group, Arcady has gone through numerous member changes. Among their most illustrious alumni are Sharon Shannon, Frances Black, Se..n Keane, and McDonagh's De Dannan bandmate Jackie Daly. Arcady recorded and released their debut album, After the Ball, in 1991 and their second album, Many Happy Returns, was released four years later. Many Happy Returns was said to demostrate that "individually, every member of the band shines as an inventive and virtuosic lead player". After the cessation of the band in 1996 when McDonagh joined Riverdance as lead percussionist, the coming together of two of the original Arcady artists today makes for a solid bedrock for the band's reformation. Patsy Broderick's piano playing is described in live performance as "propelling the medley along brilliantly..outstanding" and the percussion of Johnny 'Ringo' McDonagh is recognised as the "central heartbeat" of the band. His production of the album Many Happy Returns, which was described as "expert and beautifully arranged..a return to a repertoire of Irish music's traditional standards, because it takes tunes and songs from the very core of the tradition, presenting them in exciting and contemporary arrangements" (Dirty Linen, 1995) is continued now with his formation of a new band. 2007 sees the emergence of the third line up of Arcady. Reformed after 10 years, the band original band members - Patsy Broderick on piano, and frontman McDonagh on bodhran -are joined by Seamie O'Dowd on guitar; Rick Epping on Harmonica and Concertina; Jonas Fromseier on Banjo; and Maureen Browne on fiddle. The new line-up of Arcady echoes many of the old sounds, but with new elements and musical relationships that undoubtedly make for something new. The introduction of harmonicas from Rick Epping and the inimitable guitar playing of Seamie O'Dowd to the musical profile of the band represents an accommodation of new blues sounds, heralding new dynamics and experimentations as well as a fresh take on unifications of the blues and Irish music traditions. Here are some quotations from reviews of Arcady's live performances so far: "The entire ensemble, playing with an air of confidence, conveyed elements of Appalachia as well as evoking the spirit of the West of Ireland". "On occasion when too many diverse influences converge musically, the result can be turn out to be rather contrived and pretentious, but not with Arcady. A relaxed and apparent informality couldn’t conceal a tight presentation based on mutual respect, restrained virtuosity, and a love of playing together". “Overall, an engaging and gratifying performance”.