Burning Bridget Cleary
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Burning Bridget Cleary

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"A Twist on the Traditional"


Don’t let the name fool you.

Yes, the infamous tale of Ireland’s Bridget Cleary — burned in 1895 by her husband, who believed her flu symptoms to be evidence of her possession by evil fairies — is indeed a gruesome one.

But there’s nothing dark about the band that is her namesake.

Burning Bridget Cleary, in fact, prides itself on serving up a sprightly blend of traditional and original Celtic music with the primary goal of working audiences into a toe-tapping, hand-clapping frenzy.

The foursome, comprised of Lou Baldino, his 19-year-old daughter Rose, her longtime friend Genna Gillespie, 18, and Pete Trezzi, is known for its exhilarating shows and the driving beat that anchors most of its music.

“Rose and I like things that make us and other people get up and dance,” says Gillespie, who fronts the band with Rose, both of them fierce fiddlers, while Lou plays guitar, keyboards and bass, and Trezzi percussion. “The music has to have a certain vitality to it.”

But when it came to choosing a name for the Upper Salford-based group, she says, “all those things like Fiddle Chicks sounded too cheesy.”

When Lou and his wife Cheryl, who manages the band, discovered the story of Bridget Cleary — often referred to as “the last witch burned in Ireland” — the girls were intrigued, as much by Cleary’s spunk and independence as they were by her unfortunate fate and the folklore surrounding it.

That her murder trial helped set a precedent protecting others from such heinous acts made her a heroine of sorts in their eyes, and so Burning Bridget Cleary became both name and tribute.

The group has even recorded two pieces in her honor, the instrumental “Burning Bridget Cleary,” from their 2006 CD “Catharsis,” and “Ah Tusa Shi/Killavil Jig,” which tells her tale in ethereally lilting song, from their most recent CD “Everything is Alright.”

On a trip to Ireland several years ago, they made a point to visit her home, “the fairy cottage,” in County Tipperary, as well as the site of her unmarked grave.

“She was really very spirited, and it’s kind of an inspirational story even though it’s morbid,” says Gillespie.

Burning Bridget Cleary also seemed apt given the band’s interest in the music of that era and their search, according to Lou, for a name that was “kind of mystical and eerie.”

For while the girls obviously enjoy displaying a more electric, boundary-blurring musicianship, they also are adept at evocative ballads that brim with quiet mystery and plangent beauty. They sing in English and in Gaelic, though Lou occasionally takes the vocal lead.

The band has been a fan favorite at area festivals as well as venues such as the Tin Angel and Colonial Theater since forming on St. Patrick’s Day 2006.

“What separates them from other Celtic bands that I’ve seen is the fact that they’re young and when you see them live, they’re not just standing there. There’s lots of movement and they get into the crowd,” says Trezzi, a newcomer to the group in the last year.

Advertisement For Rose, it’s important that the group — despite her and Gillespie’s first-place trophy wins at the annual Celtic Classic Fiddle Competition held in Bethlehem — not take itself too seriously, which is why interacting with the audience is such an essential part of their live shows.

In many ways, those elements of naturalness and spontaneity can be traced back to the roots of the band, which in addition to performing Sunday at the 13th annual Celtic Day at Bristol Lions Park in Bristol has scored a coveted slot at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in August.

Gillespie already had experience performing with her family’s Celtic music group Gilly’s Hedge (her parents also are founding members of Celtic band Blackwater) when she met Rose at age 12, while Rose had always been drawn to Irish culture. Both have since attended the prestigious Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville, N.C., which boasts a teaching staff of a veritable who’s who of Celtic music and fiddle greats.

Lou, who traveled and recorded with several bands from the 1960s through the ’80s, including The Platters, began accompanying Rose’s fiddle-playing on guitar initially just to help her out when she switched to the fiddle from classical violin. When they were asked to play at the Green Lane Scottish-Irish Festival, with nine months’ notice, Lou figured they might as well put together a CD to sell at the event.

In the interim, father and daughter were asked to sub for Gilly’s Hedge at an annual house party where the band had long provided the entertainment. Gillespie joined them for the gig.

“That St. Patty’s Day was a high for all three of us.” says Lou.

Becoming a band was a natural evolution. But for all of Burning Bridget Cleary’s adventurous forays beyond the traditional. Rose and Gillespie have a deep respect for the roots of Celtic music.

“A lot of Irish music can be very hokey and I’m not into that and neither is Rose,” says Gillespie, who also began her training on classical violin. “We really like the ancient stuff — the old Gaelic songs and the old tunes that nobody knows who wrote them because they’ve been around for so long. They’re very beautiful and melodic.”

Still, they appreciate the freedom to embellish.

“With classical music, you don’t have any deviation from what they’re telling you to do,” Gillespie adds. “The Irish are, like, ‘Here are some tunes. Do with them what you will,’ which is really great. It keeps the music alive and fresh, and it never gets old.” - Naila Francis-The Intelligencer/Bucks County Courier Times


"Burning Bridget Cleary Rides Again"

"Burning Bridget Cleary Rides Again"

One of the most exciting bands I’ve seen in the last couple years is a trio out of the Philadelphia area called Burning Bridget Cleary. Named after the “last witch burned in Ireland,” this group features Genna Gillespie on fiddle, Rose Baldino on fiddle and Lou Baldino on guitar, keyboards and bass. All three sing and very well too. Their first CD was good but didn’t capture the fire of their live performance but they’ve corrected that on their new CD called "Everything is Alright". The new release grabs your attention and keeps you listening with blazing fiddle duets, great songs and a mix of music that’s away from the ordinary and downright inspirational. This is trad music at it’s best, alive, vibrant and lyrical. Don’t miss seeing this band if you’re given the chance and until you can, pick up a copy of their independently produced CDs and listen to the future of trad.
- Jack Baker-Irish American News


"Scene and Heard: Burning Bridget Cleary Announce "Everything Is Alright""

There's lots of so exciting I think I wanna jig around the office news coming out of the Burning Bridget Cleary camp today.

Namely, they've finally laid the pipes for their highly anticipated new CD--Everything is Alright. And after 9 months of writing & recording it--it's safe to say it's their baby. The album, which is sure to be ripe with cheer, will be out just in time for the holidays. They also announced a fresh batch of upcoming holiday shows including their CD Release Party & Holiday Show Extravaganza on Dec 13 at the ol' Steel City Coffeehouse. - Chris March-The Pottstown Mercury Online


"Views and Reviews"

Traditional music just got younger and prettier with the arrival of Burning Bridget Cleary, a band as exciting and charming as their name is unusual. (It seems that Bridget Cleary was the last witch burned in Ireland. She was done in by her hubbie and his side of the family. You'll be glad to know that divorce is now legal in Ireland).
17 year old, Genna Gillespie, Irish singer, dancer and champion fiddler is joined with 18 year old, Rose Baldino, Irish singer, dancer, whistler and champion fiddler and Rose'd dad, guitarist, Lou Baldino.. Their debut CD, "Catharsis", is a winner and I bet you will like it but I can't wait to see these kids perform I know they are local and that they work a lot. Maybe, they have a website. http://www.burningbridgetcleary.com

BBC (If you think I'm typing "Burning Bridget Cleary" a lot, you don't appreciate my sloth) features the depth and texture of double fiddles and the haunting beauty of voices that blend like coffee and cream. Their songlist is impressive but mysterious due to tiny print (theirs) and aging eyes (mine). This is an enchanting performance that deserves a place in every celtophile's collection. - Mike Miller- "Tune Up" Newsletter of the Philadelphia Folk Song Society Vol. 49-No.9


"Local Soundtrack"

Burning Bridget Cleary
"Everything is Alright"

In just over two years, the high-energy Celtic band, Burning Bridget Cleary, has established itself as a favorite at such performance venues as Bethlehem's Celtic Classic, the Green Lane Scottish-Irish Festival, the Shawnee Mountain Celtic Fest, and more.

Its second CD, "Everything is Alright", shows just how far musically the group has come. The foot-stomping pyrotechnics of teenage fiddlers Genevieve Gillespie and Rose Baldino, backed by the solid guitar of Rose's father Lou, are all still there. But, what has been added is more musical introspection, more sophistication, and more diversity of style.

The fiddle playing has become more contemplative without losing its passion. In "Bunch of Green Rushes," Gillespie weaves a Martin Hayes intricacy into her own youthful style. Lovely vocals prevail throughout the disc, especially in the softly mysterious "Ah Tusa Shi", a self-penned homage to the band's namesake, a young out-spoken 19th century woman murdered by her husband who thought she was a witch.

The album mixes original material with traditional ballads, jigs, and reels, but even these get the band's own special twist. They give the English classic "Saucy Sailor" an exotic Middle-Eastern flavor, and the slow ballads glow with bittersweet beauty, enhancd by the lovely guitar work - and voice - of Lou Baldino.

Here are old-time guitar solos, harmony singing, and traditional fiddling cast into a lively new mold. The band's passion for making music and stretching its boundaries is evident in each carefully-crafted arrangement. - Steve Siegel-The Morning Call


"Week in Reviews"

he name — honoring a stong-willed Irishwoman burned to death by her husband — draws you in. The bio — two teenage fiddlers backed by a dad — piques further interest. The spirited music brings it all home.
Burning Bridget Cleary — Genna Gillespie (daughter of Blackwater's Tom and Alison Gillespie) and Rose Baldino, along with Rose's father, Lou — gave a sold-out CD release show at Godfrey Daniels last Sunday that revealed a group with talent and places to go.

The girls worked their fiddles with skill and style, like youthful Natalie MacMasters. Lou, joking that ''If you haven't noticed by now, I'm the young and beautiful one,'' added drama with his rhythmic guitar. The trio conveyed an aura that was at once sweet and spicy.

The two sets contained originals and classics — foot-stomping, hand-clapping reels and jigs and enchanting ballads — many merged into single numbers. Energetic step dancing by the girls completed the package.

Genna, the perky, chatty one, and Rose, a little quieter with a mature air, complemented each other with a chemistry born of friendship, respect and love of Irish music.

There wasn't much singing in the first set, until Lou's heartful solo on the traditional Welsh hymn, ''The Miner's Life,'' with lovely backup harmonies and fiddling by the girls.

The girls brought out their voices on the second set. Genna's sister, Fiona, assisted on a fun, drinking-song sing-a-long, with their father Tom on the bodhran.

There wasn't any singing on (their original) ''Burning Bridget Cleary,'' but the lilting drama of the original song, which transitions into fiery fiddling, make it memorable like its namesake, past and present. - Jodi Duckett-The Morning Call


"Burning Bridget Cleary"

" . . . Listening to their lively Celtic reels and jigs had my foot and heart tapping. Their ballads were warm and beautiful.
The group was having a party on Sunday at Godfrey Daniels to celebrate the release of their first CD. Titled "Catharsis," it truly is an emotional release through music. . .
Their on-stage energy is infectious and their mastery of the fiddle borders on brilliant . . .
The trio has been performing as a group for seven months, but from the way they complement each other on stage and in the music, one would think it was seven years. They wowed the massive crowd at the 2006 Scottish-Irish Festival in Green Lane . . ." - Larry Roeder-The Hearthstone Town And Country


Discography

"Catharsis" -released in 2006
"Everything is Alright" -released in 2008

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Bio

Now in their fourth year, Burning Bridget Cleary hit the ground running, playing major Celtic festivals, concert stages, and regional events like old pros. Their first CD, "Catharsis", was recorded in 2006 when the girls were 15 and 16 years of age. “Catharsis”, has received airplay on a wide variety of NPR stations, and was featured on Fiona Ritchey’s Thistlepod podcast of “All American Acoustic”. Their new release (11-25-08), "Everything is Alright", is now available. It has received endorsements from three of the world's most acclaimed Irish fiddlers, Martin Hayes, Liz Carroll, and Tony DeMarco.

Rose Baldino and Genna Gillespie met as pre-teens at a traditional Irish music session where they became instant friends. Since that time, both have been first-place trophy winners at the Celtic Classic fiddle competitions. Both were born into musical families (Genna’s parents are founding members of the Celtic band, Blackwater). The natural pairing of these talented young women, backed by Rose’s dad, a life-long musician, has created a polished musical team with a lively and engaging stage presence.

They have opened for "Halali, the "Tartan Terrors", "Tempest", and "Old Blind Dogs". Their new CD is now getting airplay nationwide on a wide variety of stations. On January 9, 2009, BBC was again featured on Fiona Ritchie's NPR "Thistlepod"podcast sampler of "New Releases".

The band is named in honor of Bridget Cleary, who is remembered as the last witch burned in Ireland. She was a vivacious and fashionable young woman who lived during the late 19th century. Believing that her flu symptoms were caused by evil faeries, her deranged husband and family members burned poor Bridget to death. They were later convicted of murder and new laws were ultimately passed to protect women from such acts. Bridget was buried in an unmarked grave, but her memory is kept alive by our music, and by several recent books and plays.

Rose and Genna, both lively and fashionable young women, related to Bridget by composing "Burning Bridget Cleary", an original tune found as Track #10 on their first CD. Their new CD features an original song, "Ah Tusa Si", that relates Bridget's tale in a compelling and haunting style.