Beggars' Circus
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Beggars' Circus

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"Record review"

"A touch of hammered dulcimer is also one of the diverse sounds in the mix offered by Beggar's Circus, a Virginia based trio of singers and multi-instrumentalists whose debut CD, Peddling Deblam (self-released 2002) is a straight forward collection of mostly traditional songs and tunes from all corners of the British Isles. "Aran Boat Song" appears as a moody blend of dulcimer, fiddle, and percussion, while the "Dylan's Jig/Blarney Pilgram" medley pairssome fancy guitar fingerpicking with tim whistle. Songs include a spark, unaccompanied choral version of the grimscottish ballad "Twa Corbies" with medieval-sounding harmonies, and a crisply percussive arrangement of the English broadside "Bedlam Boys.".
by Tom Nelligan (Dirty Linen Magazine)

- Dirty Linen

"A Conversation with Beggars' Circus"

A Conversation with Beggars’ Circus
Special to The Roanoke Times
By Adam Monroe

The members of Beggars’ Circus have been performing Celtic music for six years, but don’t expect any tearful “Danny Boy” moments The Circus plays traditional Celtic dance tunes, not Irish pub music. What you will see and hear is a live event, the product of three per­formers who make it their goal ­both on and off the stage ­to keep it on plugged and in the moment.

What instruments do you play?
Mary-Beth Coffey: Fiddle player.
Michelle Lawrence-Walker: I play flute, pennywhistle, concertina and dulcimer.
Tim Summers: I play guitar, bouzouki, flute, whistle, bagpipes, and other per­cussion stuff

What about vocals?
Mary-Beth Coffey: Tim tends to lead, and we do backup.
Tim Summers: And we do Some a cappella stuff, three-part harmonies.
Michelle Lawrence-Walker: And very dark songs.
Tim Summers: Yeah, we don’t do any happy songs.

What kind of music do you play?
Tim Summers: We play traditional dance music and Celtic music - a lot of people have a certain image of what it is, and that’s fine. We have typically our own idea of what it is.
Michelle Lawrence-Walker: It has to be musically interesting Tim Summers: We try to select the most difficult music we’re able to play.... We’ve been described as medieval-sounding. ... It’s dance music, so we try to put together .. jigs or reels or slip-jigs, depends on what the dance is.
Michelle Lawrence-Walker: Sort of.
Tim Summers: Yeah, we do mix it up too, we do sets that you couldn’t possibly dance to be­cause they’re all thrown together oddly. It depends; too - we’ll mix up tunes from different countries: Celtic music not only is Ireland and Scotland, but it’s also Wales and Brittany and France and Galatia and Spain and Cornwall and Canada. And all these really have dis­tinct individual styles ... but we focus on the dance music.
Michelle Lawrence-Walker: Because it’s more complicated.
Tim Summers: Because it’s hard.

What’s your musical background?
Tim Summers: I grew up on rock and roll, blues, folk music. That’s why I play the way I do, 1 guess.
Mary-Beth Coffey: I played in the Roanoke Youth Symphony growing up; I played classical until we got together. I started in fourth grade.
Michelle Lawrence-Walker: I started in fourth grade too.
You were both classically trained?
Mary-Beth Coffey: Yeah. And I’ve always liked folk music. Peter, Paul and Mary. I had my guitar and played three basic chords. I’ve always liked folk music ­this is the roots.
Michelle Lawrence-Walker: I never thought I would play this sort of music. The first time I heard it I was in high school, and there was a radio show on Saturday nights, still going on, hosted by Mary Cliff, and the first time I heard Celtic music I was like, “Wow, this is it, I’m home.” ... It was just so interesting and wonderful. But it took me many years and a very wise woman who said, “You don’t have to play concert classical flute, you can play what you hear on the radio.” What? Music is your ears and not your eyes? Not music on a page?

You all play a lot of instruments -do you swap instruments back and forth when you’re playing live?
Tim Summers: Yeah, that’s the “Circus” part.

So what’s the “Beggars” part? Is it just the “It would be great to get paid more to have a gig” sort of a thing?
Michelle Lawrence-Walker: We do need people to pay us.
Tim Summers: Well, I’ve always thought that beg­gars have a mystical significance.
Michelle Lawrence-Walker: Interesting, six years, and I didn’t know that about you.

What’s your live sound?
Tim Summers: We like to be loud and very high-energy, and we’re known as being pretty out there as far as energy level goes. That’s what people say anyway. We play things very very fast.
Mary-Beth Coffey: I think the more raucous the better. I think that’s also the “Circus” part.
Tim Summers: On the edge of disaster. When we’re nearing the edge of the cliff we know we’re doing it right.
Mary-Beth Coffey: When we recorded our CD we asked the guy recording it, “How did that sound?” And he said, “Close.”

Are you really improvisational when you play live?
Tim Summers: It’s pretty tightly arranged...but
my playing style is improvisational, and I’m really lucky because they let me do that...but the music itself, it’s not the kind of music that’s meant to be improvised.

Can you tell me about your new CO?
Tim Summers: It’s called Moor for the Asking; it’s our second CD.

On the album, are you trying to recreate what you play live, or do something different?
Mary-Beth Coffey: Yeah, it’s what you hear live.
Tim Summers: We like it to sound live. One way to try to achieve that when recording is, we all play in the same room, and very little in the way of overdubs, just per­cussion stuff. It sounds pretty much like us ... We have to overdub percussion because there are only three of us and we have to put the drums inn there somehow. But it’s important for us to have a live sound. . .. There’s one tune on the record ... I had been playing bagpipes for a year when we recorded that, and you can tell, but that doesn’t bother me so much. And I really like the quality of Michelle’S voice.
Michelle Lawrence-Walker: Very untutored.
Tim Summers: I don’t know how to describe it, but some people might not have put that on their record because it does sound pretty raw; it sounds like a couple people out in the field.

A raw sound. So do you play acoustic only, or do you play amplified?
Michelle Lawrence-Walker: We do make the concession to modern technology.
Tim Summers: You have to, or you’d never hear the whistle over the drum, for example. To get a balanced sound.

But you say it’s a concession in a way. Is the goal to be as close to natural as you can get?
Tim Summers: We try to live without as much technology as possible in our regular lives.
Michelle Lawrence-Walker: It’s true.
Tim Summers: We grow most of our own food.... We like to do for ourselves as much as possible. We place a high value on creating work for ourselves. We try to get along with as little as possible - except for instruments.

Special to The Roanoke Times
By Adam Monroe

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© 2005
- Roanoke Times

"Beggars' Reviews"

“Great traditional Celtic music….”
Allan Bradley

“This is the best Irish music performance that I recall from a purely American Group…”
Phil Nieburg

“Moor for the Asking [self released BEG 002 (2004) is the second release from Beggars’ Circus, and as on its predecessor disc, this Virginia trio has come up with some interesting song arrangements. The sad tale of the unfortunate Scot ‘Bonnie Susie Cleland’ is sung in two part harmony to solo bagpipe accompaniment, while the equally doomed lovers in ‘Dublin Bay’ drown to the sound of the hammered dulcimer. Traditional tune sets from Ireland, Brittany and Wales feature fiddle and flute backed by guitar, bouzouki and percussion.”

Tom Nelligan
Dirty Linen-Sept. ’05 #119
- CD Baby and Dirty Linen


We currently have 3 cds available.

Peddling Bedlam- 2002

Moor for the Asking-2004
Stolen Heart-2007

We have received airplay on a number of radio stations in Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland and North Carolina

* * *We have a live recording demo from the 2008 Potomac Celtic Festival available by request.* * *



Beggars’ Circus formed in 1998. We began playing together because of a common love for Celtic music and certain ideological similarities which made us compatible. Each of us live on small rural homesteads about an hour apart surrounding the Roanoke / New River Valley area. Tim and Mary Beth are employed as public school teachers in Roanoke Virginia in addition to playing as much music as possible.

We search carefully for tunes and songs that not only appeal to us but that we feel are not well known to most folks. Musical complexity and variety are the most important elements to us as we select compositions. Our primary focus is on the dance music of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany and Galacia. We also include a fair number of vocal pieces in our performances. We are known for playing long sets and have developed an extensive repertoire covering most of the major tune forms in Celtic music. This has made us a versatile group, able to adapt to any musical setting. We have played a number of contra dances but are primarily a concert band.

We have recorded 3 cds and have a live recording demo available by request.

We have been kept busy over the years playing weddings, concerts, parties and pub gigs which we enjoy as staples in our performance schedule. For the past several years we have appeared at a number of festivals in Virginia and North Carolina and have always found these engagements particularly rewarding. At the Potomac Celtic festival for, instance, we had the opportunity to meet and play in sessions with some outstanding Welsh, Irish and Scottish musicians including Battlefield Band and Fynnon as well as some lesser known but fine up and coming European talent. We have appeared on the same bill with Grada, The McDades, Le Vent du Norde, Kevin Burke and Ged Foley, Cantrip, Enter the Haggis and Gaelic Storm.

In performance, we give a high energy presentation with tune sets interspersed with songs delivered by each member of the band and a few three part a cappella numbers. The tune set arrangements are often built around instrumental changes by Tim and Michelle, providing exciting instrument switching acrobatics and dangerous exits and introductions-will they get back into the tune on time!? With only 3 members, these changes afford interesting variety in timbre, tension and dynamics. People often comment about how much music seems to come from only a trio.

Beggars’ Circus has been featured in a variety of publications from local news papers to Dirty Linen magazine where we have appeared twice in the periodical’s Reel World section. We have received airplay on several radio stations in Virginia, DC and North Carolina. We were interviewed for WVTF’s Studio Virginia program coincidental to the release of our second and third records.

In all, we attempt to provide the most authentic performance of Celtic music that an American group can. We have great respect for the people and traditions from which this music sprang. We value our audiences and the people who give us the opportunity to put our talent to use and wish all good will.

Thanks and cheers.
Beggars’ Circus