Derek Byrne & Paddygrass
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Derek Byrne & Paddygrass

West Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States | SELF

West Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States | SELF
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A long leap from Erin
Former 'Riverdance' star happy dancing in Beertown pubs
By STEVEN POTTER
spotter@journalsentinel.com
Posted: March 14, 2006
With a couple quick taps of his heel against the hardwood floor, Sean Beglan launches into his performance.

Sean Beglan


Photo/Mary Jo Walicki

Sean Beglan kicks up his heels during a performance at The Pub in Oconomowoc on Saturday. Beglan, formerly principal dancer with "Riverdance," now lives in the Milwaukee area and performs in pubs with Eidir, an acoustic Irish duo.

Related Coverage
Audio: 'The Homes of Donegal' from Eidirs May release 'Erin Calling'

Quotable
Its important to mess around a bit and have some fun.

- Sean Beglan,
on his preference for dancing in pubs instead of on stage

Information
Eidir will perform with dancer Sean Beglan at 8:30 p.m. Friday at The Pub, 114 N. Main St., Oconomowoc, and at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the House of Guinness, 354 W. Main St., Waukesha.
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Keeping his back rigid and steps precise, he begins kicking his feet away from his body with lightning speed, then bringing those feet down to the floor again faster than most eyes can follow. The steps are heavy, and the rapid, sharp sounds cannot be mistaken.

Beglan is an Irish dancer - and a good one.

Irish dancing has taken the 23-year-old from the Northern Ireland city of Mullahoran - who began training at age 4 - to America for competition as a teenager, and then across the world for five years while performing as a principal dancer for the world-famous "Riverdance."

And now, after he voluntarily ended his tenure with "Riverdance" to pursue an education - and love - his dancing is taking him to traditional Irish pubs in the Milwaukee area where he ignites crowds while performing with the acoustic Irish duo Eidir.

Beglan looks back on his time with "Riverdance" with pride and fond memories but now prefers the small pub scene.

"Through dancing (with "Riverdance") I met so many people and was introduced to so many different cultures," he said with an accent as thick as Irish stew. "But dancing in the pubs is much more of a relaxed, intimate atmosphere where the audience can really see what you're doing."

"Plus, it's important to mess around a bit and have some fun," added Beglan, who teaches for Glencastle Irish Dancers.

During a show last weekend at The Pub in Oconomowoc, Beglan showed his intent to have fun and entertain the crowd. With a fierce look and eyes straight forward he began dancing closer and closer to a diner seated at a nearby table. Then, losing the fierce look, he cracked a smile, turned to the man and asked casually, "So, how was your dinner tonight, sir?" all while still dancing rapidly. Following his joke, Beglan stepped with speed back to the center of the room and, without warning, leaped into the air, kicking his right foot high above his head as if unaffected by gravity.

Just as Beglan has fun with the crowd, his performance partners Derek Byrne and Jim Wirt of Eidir, which will release a CD this May, also have a little fun with him. As Beglan sat chatting with a table of diners, Byrne leaned into his microphone and announced, "As you can see, Sean is taking another break, everyone" to which Beglan replied, "Hey, I'm working on some PR over here."

Not only do the three trade comical banter during shows, they also play off each other's performance strengths. During the show, Beglan challenged Wirt to a playful face-off in which the dancer tried to out-step the determined drumming of Wirt while Byrne plucked away purposefully on his electric banjo. The duel ended in a tie.

Beglan enjoys Eidir's mix of Irish and world beat sounds and said they were a natural fit since their first show last November. "We never rehearsed together," he said. "We just did it off the cuff."

Beglan, who will marry his fiancée, Wauwatosa native Jillian Winke, next month, said he plans to study accounting at a local university in the fall and has no plans to leave Milwaukee anytime soon.

"I love it here," he said. "You've got the biggest Irish festival in the world here every summer, and that gets me a lot of recognition back home."


- Review of Live Show


Irish inspiration
With Eidir, Derek Byrne weaves together music, culture and family
By Lilledeshan Bose
lbose@mkeonline.com
Posted: Aug. 16, 2007
When Derek Byrne first came to America, he had no idea he was going to meet the love of his life here. No idea he would get married after a long-distance relationship. No idea he would settle down in Milwaukee and eventually forge his own way musically in the Irish duo Eidir (pronounced AY-dir).

Born and raised in County Kildare, Ireland, Derek was raised in a musical environment, where his family listened to everything from jazz to classical to traditional Irish music. In 1998, he came to America with the touring musical Riverdance as a singer and multi-instrumentalist. During Riverdance's stop in Milwaukee, he fell in love with a woman who worked backstage.

Carrie, who was a film major at UW-Milwaukee, tells the story matter-of-factly. She was at the mall, saw Derek sitting alone in the food court, and talked to him. "We talked so long, we were both late for work," Derek said. "Our first date was St Patrick's Day - and Eidir's first gig was also St. Patrick's Day."

The courtship spanned a three-year long-distance relationship, culminating in Derek leaving Riverdance, then moving into Carrie's apartment with one suitcase in 2001. They married soon after. To mark their life together, they designed their own wedding rings with Celtic spirals that symbolize eternal life. "I always knew it was her," Derek said of his wife.

The couple now have two kids: Keira, 1, and Cael, 4. Derek held a variety of jobs while settling in - bartending, bouncing and selling cars. But while battling homesickness for Ireland, music was always on his mind.

In 2003, he found an outlet for his love of music, Ireland and his family.

Eidir, which means "between" in Gaelic, began after Derek met percussionist Jim Wirt at a folk fair. Derek - who sings, writes songs and plays percussion and banjo - said he clicked with Wirt, who had 20 years of playing Middle Eastern music. They quickly established themselves as a pair and started playing gigs.

Although only Derek is Irish, the duo work well together because "all types of music have a common thread," he said. "It's the same thing, just a different language."

Eider's music isn't traditionally Irish, either. It's a mix of folk and world music. It's music to dance to and pine to, using influences from around the world.

Kila, a band that plays a fusion of Irish and Eastern European music, is a big influence for Eidir. Another of Derek's idols is Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady, who has written for singers such as Bonnie Raitt and Tina Turner. Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell are also influences and, he says, "my wife and kids are my inspiration always." It's not just drinking music or rebel songs, Derek added.

"People that book us have open minds," he said. Irish Fest, he added, has been amazing in supporting Eidir. "It's tough to break into the Milwaukee scene."

Establishments such as Paddy's Pub, The Pub in Oconomowoc and The Wells St. Tavern in Delafield gave Eidir a chance to play original Irish music. Derek also plays solo at The forty8 in West Milwaukee and Whelans Coffee in Oconomowoc. Through these gigs, Eidir built a following.

"If it wasn't for them, I would still be playing three-chord classic rock," he said. Now when Eidir plays, audiences know words to the songs, he said. (MySpace helps, too.)

"People know we're here to stay," Derek said. "In Milwaukee, there are so many different opinions on what makes Irish music. . . . We've got a broader view."

Last year, Derek's song "Between Love and Home" won the Waltons Irish Songwriting Competition. The plaintive melody and lyrics clearly express a longing for Ireland, even as he is with his true love.

"It's hard to make a choice," Derek said. "It's a recurring theme that (Irish) people relate to." The duo's songs resonate with audiences "because they know it's from the heart, it's real emotion," Derek said. A song he wrote for Carrie on their wedding day, "Spend This Life With Me," "has people crying," he said. "And Jim's percussion is the heartbeat that drives it home."

Other than the extreme weather, Derek has grown fond of Milwaukee. "It's got great festivals and lots of different cultures," he said. A great Irish network here helps. "We're all family, and they come behind us."

Eidir's live show has also evolved. Irish dancer Sean Beglan sometimes performs with them. A former Riverdance cast member (he was its lead dancer for three years), Beglan met his wife in Milwaukee, too. "It's because people here are real," Byrnes said.

Derek invited Beglan to dance with Eidir before Beglan joined "The Pirate Queen" on Broadway, and he came back to perform with Eidir the day it closed. "We never rehearse," Derek said. "Everything is improvised, and no two shows are the same."

Eidir has played in Minnesota, Iowa, and everyw - Article on Derek's music


“Seize the Moment” is the first solo recording for Kildare musician Derek Byrne. It is a personal, introspective work, one of a man who is finding the joys of life in the hand dealt to him. Byrne wrote ten of the twelve tracks. Byrne is primarily a banjo player, and he utilizes various styles of the instrument to very good manner. It is his songwriting, and his voice, which make this album work. His opening number, “Between Love and Home”, talks of the choices immigrants have. ‘Seize the Moment’ was written for his wife, in a search for time together. ‘Rhythm of Falling’ talks of stealing time in quick meetings in airports, when he was on the road with Riverdance. The highlight of the album is ‘Save Tara’, about the proposed highway that would impinge on the ancient Irish capital. Byrne’s a cappella singing opens with ‘Seal a na mbo na mbo’, and proceeds on to a litany of the legendary heroes of the island’s past. His performing partner, Cavan dancer Sean Beglan, provides impressive foot percussion, in this eerie and impressive song. The three instrumentals go from the traditionally based ‘Eidirian’, a somewhat dark jig, to the bluegrass-based ‘Hawaiian Pigeon Breakdown”, to the theme for the movie, ‘Running on Fumes’, a strident, yet evocative bit of music. The final tracks are the weakest, “Red is the Rose” and Maire’s Wedding”, performed live. They are well played, but after Byrne’s original lyrics and music, they tend to pale compared to the rest of the album. “Seize the Moment” grabs hold of the listener from the start, and clasps until the end. - Irish Music Magazine


Derek Byrne has three great loves, his family, music and Ireland. After spending six years touring with Riverdance, and several more with his band, Eider, Byrne has settled down into a solo career. Byrne released two solo albums in 2008. We were lucky enough to receive Seize The Moment for review. Seize The Moment is a rare album that builds into something more than just recorded muse; It’s an experience. Derek Byrne sings and plays as If these songs run in his life’s blood. The Milwaukee, Wisconsin (originally Kildare, Ireland) based singer/songwriter gives his all on the twelve songs presented here. Whether it’s outstanding instrumental work (Eidirian, Blue Eyed Canyon, Running On Fumes Theme) or amazing vocals, Byrne is on top of his game.

There are two songs on this album that are other-worldly, they’re so good. Seize The Moment is a beautiful song about keeping love alive in light of all the responsibilities and pressures that day to day life places on our shoulders. It’s a message we would all do well to stop and listen to from time to time, and the song itself is timeless. Expect this to be picked up and covered again and again by other artists. Likewise The Beautiful Truth; a paean written from father to daughter, filled with all of the love and emotion that relationship classically encompasses. A stone would failed to be unmoved by The Beautiful Truth. Both of these songs are special in that they represent a feeling or relationship in a fashion that is iconic and archetypical while remaining incredibly personal and touching. The musical arrangement for each is amazing.

Of course the rest of the album isn’t so bad either. Byrne is an amazing instrumentalist, and that runs through all of his songs, but Eidirian is a particularly representative piece. Rhythm Of Falling is a starkly honest song that is all heart and very memorable. Save Tara is a gorgeous a Capella piece that you’ll have to hear to believe. Red Is The Rose marches to a martial beat in a classic performance. Other highlights include My Land, Hawaiian Pigeon Breakdown and Marie’s Wedding.

I’ve never heard of Derek Byrne before this, and I am utterly amazed that a singer/songwriter this talented could stay effectively hidden from the world for this long. A gifted lyricist as well, Byrne represents the human heart in his music like no other songwriter I’ve heard, all done up in classic Celtic/folk arrangements. Perfect is, of course, unattainable, but for the 12 songs on Seize The Moment, Derek Byrne comes as closes as it’s possible to come. Seize The Moment is, of course, a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc. Make this CD part of your collection.



Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)
- Wildy's World


Derek Byrne was another performer who brought me his CDs at Oshkosh and, I have to admit, I have enjoyed his CD more than his live performance. I was busy at the time and wasn’t able to give him my full attention when he was on stage, but I sure have enjoyed his new CD, Seize the Moment. It features Derek and his song writing talents and his banjo. Here’s two of my personal weaknesses on one CD, good song writing and good banjo. Derek puts all his heart and soul in his music and after giving his CD the attention it deserves, you’ll agree. It’s an intensely personal CD that shares his innermost feelings. You won’t be disappointed in this one.

- Irish American News


From Riverdance to True Love, Naas Lad Captures Irish Soul
By Megan Mueller

Without music, life would be an error.
-Nietzsche

In Ireland, music is learned by ear. The familiar piano lessons are absent, as are the lectures on music theory.

Derek Byrne, born and raised in Naas, Co. Kildare, Ireland, is now an Irish musician transplant in Milwaukee. He explains that "you are given an instrument, whatever you want it to be. You just play with a toy. You discover what makes nice sounds and what doesn't. It's a very organic way to learn."

He also points out that few people in Ireland can read music, which makes his job as a telesales representative at Hal Leonard Publishing a little ironic. The Milwaukee firm is the world's largest music book publisher and a major sheet music distributor.

Byrne came to the United States in 1998 with Riverdance as both a singer and instrumentalist. Although the fast-paced production is often thought of as an Irish show, Byrne states that "it is a collection of the world, in dance and music. The common thread of music and dance is in all of us."

Despite the large mix of cultures, it was not difficult to work with the other musicians, he emphasizes. It was an opportunity to perform and to learn, as "we all brought our own spin to the music. We all played the same tunes, but in different, wonderful ways. You learn to respect other cultures and see the genius in them," Byrne says.

He performed with Riverdance for three years before the show came to Milwaukee. When it arrived in Wisconsin's largest city, he met a young woman and fell in love.

"I saw her a couple of times and knew she was the one right away," he says. Carrie Kessler worked backstage and was unconvinced that she was "the one" until they ran into each other at the mall food court one day. The two spent so long talking that they were both late for work.

That was the beginning of a three-year long-distance relationship, filled with red-eye flights for extended weekends and numerous phone calls. Eventually, Byrne left Riverdance and came to live in Milwaukee. He and Kessler married, and before he got his current job at Hal Leonard, he worked a variety of jobs: bar tending, bouncing, and even selling cars, calling himself The Irish Car Charmer.

Even though now he spends his days working for the giant publisher, he encourages his two young children to learn music as he did. He lets them play his instruments, saying that "to the kids, they're toys, they're not out of bounds. If they break them, I'll fix them." His 5-year-old-son, Cael, has been writing his own songs since he could talk, often accompanying himself with a drum or ukulele. Byrne's daughter, Kiera, is almost 3. She also likes to sing, but sticks to narrating what she is doing to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." Both like to dance.

Byrne still avidly pursues music. He performed with Jim Wirt as the music duo Eidir for four years, entertaining in pubs, at Milwaukee Irish Fest and recording a single CD titled Erin's Calling. Byrne went to see Celtic Woman, which he says is "another home for Riverdance people" and discovered that Sean Beglan, who had been the male lead for Riverdance, had also settled in Milwaukee. Beglan started dancing at Eidir's shows. After Eidir broke up, Beglan and Byrne continued to perform together.

They frequently do shows at Paddy's Pub and Brocach in Milwaukee, as well as the House of Guinness in Waukesha. Pub gigs are a far cry from Riverdance, but the difference is beautiful, according to Byrne.

"You know the moment when you know you have them, and it's brief, you better keep it going. It was different when I was in Riverdance. You don't even see their faces under the stage lights," he says. "You're only a small part of a big thing. In a pub, you can see the whites of their eyes and you know when you lose them. You know that they're listening to you and when you've taken them somewhere."

Also unlike the intensity of a show such as Riverdance, Byrne and Beglan don't rehearse. "We don't dare organize it," he laughs. The two have a set list, but it is more of a loose framework. They let the audience guide the show. Byrne loops percussion and Gaelic chants on site, which keeps the music real, as any mistake in recording the loop shows up every four bars.

Over the loop, he plays the banjo or banjo-mandola, which has the body of a cello but neck of a five-string banjo. Beglan either dances or syncopates with his feet. Byrne loves to perform with him because "he brings a whole bunch of energy I can't really describe that really gets the crowd going."

Byrne recently released his second CD, Seize the Moment, which is getting airplay in 14 states. His inspiration was his family and Ireland. "Some of the songs I write in a flood of emotions, like 'The Beautiful Truth.' which I wrote when my daughter was born. That came in a matter of hours. But other songs ta - Irish American Post


Festivals

Festivals have been lackluster so far this season, wet and windy, cold and dreary with occasional sunny spells, then along came Oshkosh, a first time festival that restored my enthusiasm and faith in the Irish Festival process. The sun came out and so did the crowds for Gaelic Storm, The Dublin City Ramblers, Athás, Leahy's Luck and the debut gig of Kathleen Keanes’ new band, Tantrum. What a rare treat for the thousands of revelers and a credit to all involved.

Brigids Cross, New Barleycorn and the Killdares put on a great show at Cuyahoga Falls in Ohio and further afield Barleyjuice and Raining Hearts attracted the Pennsylvania faithful to the Irish Festival in York, PA, despite the stormy weather.

OOPS! Nearly forgot to mention the amazing set from Derek Byrne at Oshkosh, he was brilliant in his "dare to be different" style.
- Irish American News


Festivals

Festivals have been lackluster so far this season, wet and windy, cold and dreary with occasional sunny spells, then along came Oshkosh, a first time festival that restored my enthusiasm and faith in the Irish Festival process. The sun came out and so did the crowds for Gaelic Storm, The Dublin City Ramblers, Athás, Leahy's Luck and the debut gig of Kathleen Keanes’ new band, Tantrum. What a rare treat for the thousands of revelers and a credit to all involved.

Brigids Cross, New Barleycorn and the Killdares put on a great show at Cuyahoga Falls in Ohio and further afield Barleyjuice and Raining Hearts attracted the Pennsylvania faithful to the Irish Festival in York, PA, despite the stormy weather.

OOPS! Nearly forgot to mention the amazing set from Derek Byrne at Oshkosh, he was brilliant in his "dare to be different" style.
- Irish American News


Discography

August 2004 - Embers - With Riverdance Band
July 2006 - Erin Calling
September 2008 - Seize the Moment
October 2010 - Paddygrass Live at the house of Guinness
June 2011 The Gospel According to Paddygrass

Photos

Bio

I am available as a solo act or with my band Paddygrass. My music kicks up the roots of Irish, bluegrass and old country with some covers from the sixties and seventies added for spice. Each show is built around an ever shifting groove that gets people dancing.
I toured the world with Riverdance as a singer and a percussionist for 6 years. Since 2001 I have built a solid following all around Wisconsin, through regular venues, Irish Fest and State Fair.
Since leaving Riverdance, I have released 4 CDs and shared stages with “The Elders”, “Kila” and “Rising Gael”. My music has been played extensively on NPR and community radio across 32 states. In 2009 the syndicated show "Celtic Connections" broadcasting on 98 stations featured my recent CD "Seize the Moment".
Recent Reviews include "Irish Music Magazine" Recommended release and Wildy's World 5 star "Desert Island Disk".
The show is high energy with lots of variety. This music will move you!