The Gas Men
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The Gas Men

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11
The Gas Men @ The Sleeping Lady

Fairfax, California, USA

Fairfax, California, USA

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The Old Blog Node
A forum for writing about the wide world of Irish music and culture that aspires to be informed, incisive, and inclusive
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Playing in the street with The Gasmen

The band in their natural habitat,
aka The Boys i lar na Sraide

The Gasmen are band of Irish musicians based in San Francisco. Their new album Clement Street (Gasmenmusic, 2008) presents all the best of their music: it’s lively, varied, engaging and entertaining. When I was growing up in Dublin, a “gas man” was someone quirky, funny, a bit of a character and, in a city overrun with characters, only a few got this prized title. With six in the mix, the Gasmen are ensuring that the band is much more than the sum and fun of its parts.

In true Californian fashion, everyone brings something unique to the band’s music. Vincy Keehan from Galway is a founder member and a long-term stalwart of the Irish scene in the city. He sings, plays mandolin and guitar and composes songs. His song Argentina draws from the little-known Irish contribution to that hybrid South American nation. (Argentina has two branches of Comhaltas, the organization dedicated to preserving Irish music and culture.) The Knotted Cord and Sheehan’s are two rattling reels Keehan recalls from 1970s sessions in Gort, Co Galway.

John Caulfield, from Cork, plays fiddle, mandolin, and sings. He has played in a number of bands in the U.S. and Europe. He combines the Wild Rose of the Mountain and The Star of Munster for a grand set, a mixed marriage between an American old time tune and an Irish trad staple. Caulfield also sings two unusual songs: The Dreadful Wind and Rain and Georgy Barnwell. The first is reputed to be one of the oldest known folk songs, a cheerful piece about sororicide and a rare form of musical cannibalism. (It is old enough to have been sampled by Bob Dylan from Paul Clayton back in the early 60’s to make Percy’s Song, according to the resident brains trust at the Mudcat Café .)

Barry O' Con nell also hails from County Cork. His rich and rumbling low tone on the accordion grounds a number of the tracks: The Silver Vale/Grainne’s Jig; The Boogie/The Controversial; The Maho Snaps/The Cat’s Meow; a robust set of hornpipes, The Liverpool/Plains of Boyle/Jolly Beggerman; and, from his own terra cognito, Johnny Leary’s Polkas, a rousing sidetrip to Sliabh Luachra. He has a fine voice too, soloing on The Kilnamartyra Exile with session-stopping passion and conviction.

Cormac Gannon from Mayo plays bodhran and sings. He works in a song called Up Mayo, composed by Padraig Stevens, that he learned from the singing of John Hoban, Castlebar’s ambassador to the wide world. Gannon organizes the band’s affairs and no doubt often has reason to recall with regret the name of their first album in 1998, Minding Mice at Crossroads.

Vinny Cronin on flutes and whistles began playing with his dad, Paddy Cronin, the well-known fiddler and his uncle Johnny Cronin. The Boys of Ballinamore/The Monks of the Screw are tunes Cronin learned from his father. Kenny Somerville represents County Fermanagh. He started out playing guitar and singing at Bundoran, in County Donegal. He sings a lovely version of The Hills above Drumquin written by Felix Kearney, paired withThe Belltable, a Stockton’s Wing tune.

Clement Street particularly The Plough and Stars is the epicenter of the current Irish music scene in San Francisco. The pub, where Sean Heaney has been holding down the fort for years, was featured in a Feilte music program on TG4 before Christmas, Ireland's Irish television channel, and showcased many of the Bay Area's Irish musicians including the Gasmen.

This is a completely enjoyable album with very solid performances, good set selection and a generous twenty tracks where songs and instrumentals get fair play. It opens with that old standby The Jug of Punch which the Gasmen performed in a scene for the Oscar-nominated film Milk. And it closes with all the members heading home from Clement Street, lilting into the sunset.
Posted by The Irish Blogman at 8:38 PM 0 comments
Labels: The Gasmen, The Plough and Stars

- Tom Clancy-The Old Blog Node-online


San Francisco Chronicle Datebook, March 2nd. 2008. Gas Men Interview with Delfin Vigil

"Irish music is like the redwood tree in the forest" says singer and fiddler John Caulfield of the San Francisco Irish band The Gas Men. "It's that old, beautiful thing that you want to build around. The important thing to remember is that, while some of the tunes and songs we play are hundreds of years old, the music is not dead," says Caulfield. "We're not playing museum pieces. We're playing pieces that are alive."
The Gas Men play tunes and songs. "In Irish music, tunes are instrumentals, songs have words," Gas Men bodhran player Cormac Gannon says.
Either way, the melody always finds them whenever the thought reminds them.
Starting out as Orla and The Gas Men with vocalist Orla Morrison in 1995 the band began for the reason all bands should: to have fun making music. While the lineup has fluctuated from as many as nine members to the current six and Morrison has since retured to Ireland, the original mission of fun has not changed and never will.
"Real music has nothing to do with money or popularity,"says Caulfield, who looks like a curly haired John Lennon while sitting with the rest of The Gas Men around a table at the Plough and the Stars pub on Clement Street, where the band can often be found performing.
"The fact that we play music as a hobby and that we are not professionals gives us a totally different and more relaxed outlook," Gannon says.
A hobby? Considering that The Gas Men perform numerous gigs a year, have hundreds of tunes (and songs) in their repertoire and have toured in Alaska and Argentina, then at the very least they ought to be called professional amateurs. Or maybe hobby-aholics.
As a band, the members of The Gas Men don't drink too much. They rarely argue, and they're always happy to see one another. Taking in one of their sets of traditional Irish dance tunes, bluegrass and country -and -western-inspired songs is, ... a gas.
"I guess that's how we got the name," says mandolinist Vincy Keehan and (though he won't acknowledge it) unofficial mayor of the San Francisco Irish. "It's a term used in Ireland for people known as funny characters. Guy walks through the door and everyone goes; "Ah. He's a gas man"
The band blames Morrison for the name because no one else wants to take credit for it.
Gannon was living in Australia before travelling to San Francisco. While there he was told the first order of business in San Francisco would be to look up Keehan. They first met at the Plough and the Stars.
When not playing their regular gig at the pub, the six Gas Men, including flutist Vinny Cronin and accordionist Barry O' Connell, put their musical earnings together and take the show on the road.
Recent passport stamps include Cuba and Argentina.
While in Buenos Aires, the band played at a pub, where they met an Irish-Argentinian woman in her 80's. "In talking to her, I was not only sure she was from Ireland but also, with her Midlands accent, I was pretty sure I knew roughly where she came from," Somerville says. "Eventually I asked her what part of Ireland she was from. She said she had only been to Ireland for the first time a couple of years ago. Her accent had been preserved from her parents, who had preserved it from their parents."
The Gas Men hope to do the same for Irish music.
Caulfield remembers playing a gig at an Irish music festival in Florida many years ago. After hearing him play, someone insisted that Caulfield meet an American musician in his 70's who played an eerily similar style of tunes.
"He had never been to Ireland. He might have heard of Ireland, and probably knew of its existence," Caulfield jokes. "But he and I had no problem playing all of these old Irish tunes, note for note, while nobody else at the festival may have known them."
The elderly man was from the Appalachians and had learned the tunes from his father and grandfather.
"It was like the music was preserved in ice or stone," Caulfield says. "The music was our missing link.
- The San Francisco Chronicle


Discography

Recent CD release : Clement Street
It has been played on College, Public, Irish National (RTE radio) Radio and regional stations.

Photos

Bio

After meeting at different Irish music jam sessions, The Gas Men formed in San Francisco in the mid 1990's. Vocalist Orla Morrison fronted the band until 2001, when she moved back to Ireland. The band who come from different parts of Ireland, have a unique sound featuring six vocalists and share a love of performing and sharing their music with others.