Since the early 1990s Sliabh Notes, the beloved trio from Ireland's Sliabh Luachra (Irish Gaelic for "Mountain of Rushes"), a geographically small and musically mighty region in the southwest of the country, has been bringing the distinctive music of their native place to a worldwide audience.
On Saturday, March 9, at 8 pm, Sliabh Notes will return to Newtown Meeting House for another concert in the regular series presented by Fairfield County's own Shamrock Traditional Irish Music Society. This will be their fourth visit to Newtown.
Accordionist Dónal Murphy, who kindly agreed to an interview via Skype, says he and his fellow musicians are looking forward to another show in the meeting house, which they remember as an excellent venue.
"We've got a load of new material that we can't wait to unleash on the Americans," he said.
Sliabh Notes is an equal collaboration between three master musicians.
Matt Cranitch, on fiddle, a native of Rathduff, County Cork, is not only a top-shelf musician but a respected academic and teacher. He has taught many times at Catskills Irish Arts Week, held each July in East Durham, N.Y., and is the author of The Irish Fiddle Book , considered by many fiddlers as the best written explanation of Irish style and technique for the non-native player.
Dónal Murphy was born in Birmingham, England, but his family soon returned to their roots in Abbyfeale, County Limerick, where he lives today. He began playing tin whistle at eight years of age, but soon switched to the button accordion, his father's instrument. He is also a founding member of the band Four Men and a Dog, and released a solo CD, Happy Hour , in 2009.
Singer and guitarist Tommy O'Sullivan was born in London but returned to County Kerry with his family as a young child. He grew up with a wide range of influences alongside Irish traditional music, including a wide variety of English and American folk singers, and has melded them all into a beautiful and highly individual fusion sometimes described as "Blackwater blues." He lives today in Dingle, County Kerry, where, as well as continuing his musical career, he owns and operates a successful pub, O'Sullivan's Courthouse Bar.
Family obligations and day jobs, such as Mr Murphy's tile company and Mr O'Sullivan's pub, mean that the members of Sliabh Notes can't tour for months at a time, the way that some bands might. But they play plenty of festivals and other gigs every year, in Europe, America, the United Kingdom, and home in Ireland as well, going out on short tours of a week and a half, much like the one that will bring them to Newtown. They plan to record a live CD sometime this year.
"It's exciting times," Mr Murphy said.
In 2010, the last time they came to Newtown, Sliabh Notes's American tour started here and ended in Texas, the birthplace of Mr O'Sullivan's wife, Saundra O'Sullivan. This year they will start at the North Texas Irish Festival in Dallas, on the first day of March, and finish up in Newtown. In every place they go, the three musicians of Sliabh Notes give their audiences a rare treat with their memorable repertory of "slides, polkas, reels, jigs, hornpipes, barn dances, slow airs, songs, and we're throwing into the mix a couple of ragtime tunes as well that we picked up in the States."
"The kind of music that we play, the Sliabh Luachra type of music," Mr Murphy said, "no matter where we play, if we're in the States or if we're in Europe or we're in Ireland, it's a popular kind of music. It's vibrant, it's energetic, and a lot of people seem to get into it."
Having seen Sliabh Notes myself, I can testify to the truth of that statement. Anyone who attends the performance at the meeting house on March 9 will be able to say the same by the end of the night.
Sliabh Notes concerts at the Meeting House have a history of selling out, and early reservations are recommended. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors (ages 62+) and $5 for children under 16. Visit www.shamrockirishmusic.org or call 203-362-5912 to reserve a seat.31 Main Street, Newtown CT 06470
31 Main Street, Newtown CT 06470