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Gráda @ Tour of Holland

Holland, Not Applicable, Netherlands

Holland, Not Applicable, Netherlands

Gráda @ Wilde Auditorium

U of Hartford CT, Virginia, USA

U of Hartford CT, Virginia, USA

Gráda @ Folkwoods

Holland, Not Applicable, Netherlands

Holland, Not Applicable, Netherlands

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The best kept secret in music


The Celtic band Grada has found respectfully quiet audiences in Japan, loud and enthusiastic followers in its native Ireland, and watched thousands of hippies dance to its music at a concert in Australia.

Now Grada (which is Irish for “illustrious”) will discover what America holds for it. Grada’s maiden US tour began this week and included a stop Thursday at the Knights of Columbus hall, 44 Circuit Ave., Worcester. The show begins at 8 p.m. and marks another coup for Bud Sargent, who for many years has been making Celtic connections in the area, both on concert stages and over the airwaves of community radio station WCUW-FM (91.8). Admission is $15, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting WCUW, which broadcasts Celtic programs Saturday and Sunday mornings. Info on the concert and other Celtic music happenings is available online at

“Bud came to one of our shows in Dublin,” recalled Grada guitarist Gerry Paul. “He introduced himself as the fellow who booked us to play Worcester, and we ended up talking about music and playing until about 4 in the morning.”

Hearing Paul talk about jams that could last into the wee hours came as no surprise, as Grada seems to be bursting with musical ideas. “The Landing Step,” Grada’s sophomore album, features songs that honor the melodic and harmonic traditions of Celtic music while also staking Celtic music’s place in the contemporary realm for roots music. Grada’s ethereal ballads and hard-driving instrumentals offer a little something for every fan of folk music styles.

Five players anchor the Grada sound. There is Paul, who plays bouzouki and sings in addition to playing guitar. Alan Doherty plays flutes and whistles, and sings. Andrew Laking handles bass pats and vocals. Anne Marie O’Malley sings and plays a bodhran. And Brendan O’Sullivan takes care of fiddle and viola duties plus vocals. Doherty’s sound is familiar to those who saw the “Lord of the Rings” movies, which feature the flute player in the soundtrack.

“None of us grew up playing traditional music. We all came to it later in life,” Paul explained. And the members of Grada arrived at traditional sounds after passing though other styles of music. O’Sullivan, for example, played in rock bands, Doherty was playing folk ballads before entering Grada. Paul said he was jamming on “bits of everything.”

The band spent the first 10 months of its existence word-shredding material. The players jammed and bounced around song ideas in a process Paul described as “organic growth.”

“It’s not like we sat down and said, ‘OK, we want to be a contemporary band with traditional elements,’” Paul said. “Things grew that way.”

“The Landing Step” features a mix of original and covers ranging from the Indigo Girls’ “Weight of the World” to an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s “Tread Softly.” The record nicely moves from catchy character sketches to complex musical workouts.

Compass Records in Nashville released “The Landing Step” last year, furthering the record label’s reach into the arena of contemporary Celtic sounds. Grada came to the rising roots music record label via one of Compass’ earlier Irish imports, Lunasa. Lunasa bass player (and Paul’s housemate) Trevor Hutchinson produced “The Landing Step” and helped steer Grada towards Compass. Paul also liked the fact that Compass was handling the U.S. distribution of records by The Waifs, an Australian band that the members of Grada admire.

“We did our first album (“Endeavor”) independently and came as fast as we could by ourselves. We did everything, including managing ourselves,” Paul explained. On its own, Grada did pretty good, touring throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, as well as through Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

“A lot of the music simply evolved and we ended up with a wide range of songs,” Paul said.

- Scott McLennan, Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, MA, Tuesday, February 1, 2005

The five musicians of Grada take a slant on traditional Irish-band sound by adding double bass and drum kit for a rhythmic punch, framing deft fiddle and flute lines and delicate vocals. The flute parts come courtesy of Alan Doherty, who is the featured flute soloist in the scores to The Lord of the Rings motion picture series; the fiddle is played by Brendan O'Sullivan, and Anne Marie O'Malley sings most leads. Gerry Paul plays guitars and Andrew Laking is the bass man. O'Malley sounds a bit like current Cherish the Ladies lead singer Heidi Talbot; her bandmates favor melody and interwoven instrument parts over flash and dash. It works well. Outstanding tracks include the original instrumental "All in One Day" and the fine lead and harmony singing, as well as instrumentation, on Kevin Moyna's tune "Back of Beyond." Trevor Hutchinson, bassist with the band Lunasa, produced the recording. - Dirty Linen Magazine - Dec 04/Jan 05

There are thousands of traditional Irish jigs and reels and other traditional tunes floating around the world. That means any Celtic band can make a long career out of mining the traditional melodies of the past. And many quite good ones have done exactly that.

But for Gráda, the tradition is a base for the group’s own original compositions. “Before we started the band, we had all been quite involved in the [Irish music] scene. We didn’t see the point in just doing traditional tunes. We just thought we’d try something else,” says fiddler Brendan O’Sullivan, who doubles o viola. “There was no point in competing with bands like Dervish that cover that ground quite well.”

The result is a band that mixes lush original instrumental tunes with stirring vocal selections featuring Anne Marie O’Malley. After several international tours and raves from the Irish press, the group makes it United States debut next Thursday at the Knights of Columbus Hall. Proceeds benefit WCUW-FM radio, which broadcasts several Celtic and Irish music programs.

“We certainly have a lot of respect for the old influence that has brought us to where we are,” says O’Sullivan; “but we are keen to see how far we can get away with doing our own material.”

While the lyrics on the group’s albums Endeavour and The Landing Step (both now available in the U.S. on Alison Brown’s Compass Records label), came courtesy of the likes of Linda Thompson and even Oscar Wilde, O’Sullivan says their live shows now feature more original songwriting as well. “Our bass player, Andrew Laking has been writing quite a few songs, and it has contributed to the development of our sound,” he says.

Having an acoustic upright double bass is rather unusual for a Celtic act. It is just one of several factors that give Gráda it’s unique sound, and make it a fresh presence on the Celtic music scene. (The group’s discs are produced by one of the other few upright bassists in the music, Trevor Hutchinson, whose band Lunasa made an early local appearance courtesy of WCUW host Bud Sargent’s Coolbawn Road Productions and are now an established larger hall attraction.)

While most of the quintet’s members grew up in musical families, they came from rather different backgrounds before meeting in Dublin some three years ago. “Only the flute player, Alan Doherty, is from Dublin,” says O’Sullivan. [Doherty was heavily featured on the Lord of the Rings soundtrack.] “Anne Marie and myself are from the West of Ireland.”

Both Laking and Gerry Paul hail from New Zealand, a country that, like the United States, has a vibrant Celtic music community founded by ex-pats. “We think the audiences in the U.S.—Massachusetts in particular —are going to be very educated about the music,” says O’Sullivan. “But even when we play to audiences that don’t know a lot about it, they tend to respond to the energy we give off.”

And while the albums contain their share off fine, subtle moments, O’Sullivan says the band has a different approach live. “We really try to keep it lively on stage,” he says. “If people want to hear all the intricacies they are on the albums.”
- Noah Schaffer, Worcester Magazine

Aidan O’Hara talks to members of the group Gráda about their new “The Landing Step” CD and their coming world tour.

You’ve heard the question, What’s in a name? An opportunity for word play for starters. Like, for example, the two men who were attending a seminar recently in Dublin, and friend of mine who was chairing the occasion, was dreading having to introduce them to the audience. One was Laffan, the other was Cryan. I mentioned this in a phone chat I had with an elderly relation of mine and she responded, “God, that’s terrible,” says she. “Is there no cure for that?” She genuinely thought that one was laughin’ and the other was cryin’ and they couldn’t help it, and nobody them.

Where was I? Oh yes, Gráda the group. When I met with two of the five members, Alan Doherty and Gerry Paul, I suggested that perhaps the competition of their second CD recently must have been Gráda-fying, and that it must bring them and their fans a great deal of Gráda-fication. They paused briefly before replying, smiled almost in unison, and said, “Oh yeah, indeed. That’s a good ‘un. Yeah, Gráda-fication.” I’ve a feeling they might make use of those words somewhere along the way, like, when thanking their audience at the end of an evening, perhaps, or telling them about this old guy they once met who has a prepossession for word play.

The clichéd phrase ‘full youthful enthusiasm’ applies in its most positive way to Gerry and Alan who genuinely love the music business. But it must be said as will that they are realistic about what’s involved, having been ‘round the block’ a few times, so to speak, and learned a thing or two along the way about the hard facts of gigging and touring. But at the moment they’re on a bit of a ‘high’ as they prepare to set out on their May/June tour of Ireland and the UK, and having recently been signed up to Compass records which is based in Nashville.

“The singing is a big thing for us,” Gerry Paul, guitarist with Gráda, said. “We’ve been independent now for three years, and as any band knows that has been distributing and marketing their own CDs, it’s a big challenge when you lack they necessary resources and time to do it, and the experience, as well.”

Compass Records he has made significant progress over the twelve years of its existence. It was started by Gary West and Alison Brown, of the Alison Brown Quartet. “They started small, “ says Gerry, “but are growing, and just recently they signed up Lúnasa, Paul Brady, the Australian band the Waifs, and they license Dervish in the States.” So that’s the record side of things. What about the concert bookings and the gigs? Alan Doherty plays flutes and whistles in the group and sings, as well. “We do a bit of the bookings ourselves, but we have different people in Europe, and we just brought on board a new manager, Jonathan Ford, He booked the Irish tour we’re on at the moment. We have various people in Australia like Seamus Finneran and Mike Considine in New Zealand. We do concerts and small theatres and no pub gigs.”

Gerry and Alan play a kind of two-hander role in the interview, with Gerry doing most of the talking, and Alan coming in with little asides and clarifications as he feels they are needed. Continuing on the concerts theme, Gerry enthuses about performances in Italy. “For example, we have done outdoor gigs for people like Gigi Bresciani who organizes then for city councils. They’re amazing, and there’s be audiences of around 2,000 people, and all free gigs. The mayor might be there and you’re brought out for a big flash meal afterwards. Some of the gigs we’d be escorted by armed policemen, y’know?” And he laughs. That was a good cue for a similar story, and so I asked them if they’d heard the one about Brendan Behan getting the same escort treatment in New York. They hadn’t. A journalist said to the witty Irish writer as he was being shepherded by motorcycle policemen of the NYPD, “I guess, Brendan, you’d never get an escort like this back home?” And Brendan gave his famous reply, “Oh I would, yeah. But normally, I’d be handcuffed to one of them.”

So how did the members of Gráda get together and when? Alan said that it all came about through a request their fiddle player Brendan O’Sullivan got to put a band together to do a two-month gig in the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. “We made a CD to sell out there because it was looking good, and we called it Off to Sardinia. A week before we were to leave the whole thing was cancelled. So there we were with 500 CDs and no gig.” Gerry continued: “A the time, myself and Alan were doing the Ceoltóir traditional music course run by Paul McGrattan through Ballyfermot College, and we used that period to rehearse and arrange material. That’s how the group got going.”

At this point I felt we needed to get to learn something about the reset of the group members, so I asked, where’s everyone from? “I’m from Tallaght, Co Dublin,” Alan said. “My father sang ballads in - Aidan O'Hara, Irish Music Magazine Vol. 9 No. 11 July 2004


The Landing Step - Compass Records - 2004
Endeavour - 2002
Off to Sardinia - 2001


Feeling a bit camera shy


Gráda came together three years ago, producing their own mix of music encompassing Irish, Breton, Eastern European, and other diverse styles. Gráda have since been cited as one of the forerunners of contemporary traditional music. They are signed with Nashville based Compass Records (Lunása, Paul Brady, Dervish, Kate Rusby, Alison Brown, The Waifs) and see their latest album “The Landing Step” being released worldwide.

They have toured extensively across Australia, New Zealand, Japan, UK, Italy Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Austria, Norway, Belgium and Ireland and just completed their first, and highly successful, tour of the US.

About the Musicians:

Alan Doherty (flutes/whistles/vocals)
Alan is widely recognised as a lead soloist on the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. His freewheeling, “soaring flute playing” is a major part of Gráda’s sound.

Anne Marie O’Malley (vocals/bodhrán)
Anne Marie “has a powerful voice that belies her tiny stature. She is a singer of substance with an obvious command of her vocal strength”. An outstanding bodhrán player in her own right, Anne Marie performs on almost all of Gráda’s instrumental tracks too.

Brendan O’Sullivan (fiddle/viola)
Widely known for his creativity and rock-steady fiddle playing, Brendan has spent the past 10 years touring with an array of vastly different groups, including the Reckless Pedestrians and Rea Garvey.

Gerry Paul (guitar/bouzouki)
Gerry has spent half his life living in New Zealand. Dubliners regard his anitopdean rhythm section pairing with fellow Kiwi Andrew Laking as the “engine room” behind Gráda.

Andrew Laking (double bass/vocals/guitar)
Born in New Zealand, Andrew comes from a varied musical background, including jazz, Latin, folk and gypsy styles. He has been in big demand as a session musician, having recorded for producers such as Bill Whelan (composer of Riverdance).