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"Everything old is NUA again."

I walked the several blocks from my house to one the most authentic and charming Irish pubs in Lancaster last week to watch and listen to Nua, an Irish music duo from York (Pennsylvania, that is). Between sets, we sat down together and before I could say a word, someone had bought them a round of whiskeys to go with their Guinness. Tommy McCann just smiled as he lifted the glass and said, "Holy water"! McCann is originally from Belfast, and his counterpart, Jim McDermott, is originally from southern New Jersey, from a family with strong Irish roots. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but I must say that Nua was refreshingly different from any expectations I might have had. When I imagine acoustic Irish music being played in a local pub or coffeehouse, I admittedly think of the stereotype. Ironically, the stereotype I imagine is likely one that has been perpetuated by musicians charmed by their romanticized version of Ireland and its music, as opposed to musicians from Ireland playing music of their homeland. The first image I might conjure is one of a sensitive actor/poet, a wire-rim-wearing, ponytail-having college professor playing a dulcimer or penny whistle to accompany a svelte and befreckled woman crooning traditional Irish ballads. Fortunately for Central Pa., Nua is here to bring us a truer and far more relevant and palatable taste of Irish music. McCann and McDermott's set at Annie Bailey's that night mostly consisted of songs written by other people, but they aren't a cover act. When covers are crucial to a band's description, it can be reasonably assumed that the selection is determined by the bar-going listeners, and not by the heart and soul of the performers. Nua's song selection is not remotely related to the Top 40 charts, past or present. McCann and McDermott perform songs that they love, that have meaning for them. They rely on the strength of the songs and the weight of their authentic delivery to connect with the audience, even when the material may be new and unfamiliar. Nua interprets and performs songs that inspire and have lasting importance. All of the songs also speak to the Irish experience in some way. Of course they play some of the standard traditional Irish folk tunes, but they also seamlessly pepper in their versions of folk-punk songs by Flogging Molly or big-sky Irish rock like U2, as well as original tunes. McCann and McDermott are a rarity even in local music. They are authentic; you might even say they are the real deal. I was curious how a South Jersey son of Irish immigrants met a musician from Belfast and ended up playing Irish music in Central Pennsylvania. McCann explains, I came here in 1986. I came over because I lived in Belfast at the time and I dont know if you know or not, about the Troubles. I had kids and we were living in the middle of it. The Troubles that McCann refers to several times was the bloody conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. McDermott grew up in a family that still lived and breathed the culture and music of its homeland. McDermott explains, When I was growing up, my dad was a rock and roll drummer, so I grew up with a regular kit of drums. I got away from that for a while and then I started listening to traditional Irish music. Some time later, he saw someone playing a bodhran, which is a traditional Irish drum. He remembers clearly the transcendent moment that drew his drumming past and his newfound love of traditional Irish music together. I saw somebody playing the bodhran and it just blew me away that so many different sounds could come from one drum, he exclaims. This is precisely the characteristic of the bodhran that has given McDermott a platform from which to push the boundaries of traditional playing. In fact, one of the first things that I noticed when I settled onto my bar stool at Annie Baileys was the way that McDermott seemed to be playing a single drum as if it were a full drum kit in a rock and roll band. As it turns out, this is exactly what he sets out to do. McDermott has gone so far as fashioning his own brush-sticks out of barbecue brushes and PVC pipes to maximize his unique style. He came upon this style when he began playing with McCann's larger band, Rossnareen, and sensed the need for a rhythmic rock and roll foundation. He says, I kind of had to adapt what I was already doing and add the rock and roll beats. McDermott's drumming aside, Nua is not setting out to reinvent the wheel in any way. Their strength and their appeal lies in the authentic storytelling and retelling that is at the historic heart of most Irish music. This is a rarity in itself, as we see the ballad (a song that tells a story) as a form virtually disappearing from popular music. Power ballads and R. Kellys saga about the closet notwithstanding, country music is about the only place on the dial where you might actually hear a verse-by-verse story being told. I would guess this is no accidental correlation, since co - Fly Magazine - Keith Wilson


Self-Titled - NUA
Featured in, "The Irish and Celtic Music Podcast #50" available from iTunes.



NUA was formed in 2005 as a side project that grew beyond the expectations of Jim McDermott and Tommy McCann. Originally NUA was formed to allow them to hone their singing and song-writing talents for a more intimate audience.

Tommy McCann comes from Belfast, Ireland. He pours into his music both stories and songs of his youth. His quit wit and ease with an audience make him a great entertainer!

Jim McDermott comes from Southern New Jersey and traces his Irish roots to Irish immigrants of the Great Famine. His singing and drumming comes from growing up in a household filled with music. The things he does with a goat skin is un-natural!