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Concert Review-Three Friends Made Some Great Music At Meeting House



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Concert Review—

Three Friends Made Some Great Music At Meeting House

By Andrew Carey

“A Brooklyner, a Dubliner, and a guy from upstate New York walk into a Meeting House...” might sound like the opening line of a joke but it is in fact one way of describing the arrival of Tony DeMarco and friends at Newtown Meeting House for their concert last Saturday night. Fortunately, this was not a setup for a corny joke, but the start of an evening of solid Sligo-style Irish music from Mr DeMarco, the piper Ivan Goff, and the guitarist and singer Ryan McGiver, the latest meeting house show put on by Fairfield County’s own Shamrock Traditional Irish Music Society (STIMS).

Corny jokes were made between the tunes and the songs, with Mr DeMarco taking full advantage of the opportunities for humor afforded him by his combined Irish and Italian ancestry. But the dominant feature of the night was the stunning music produced by three musicians, each a skillful performer in his own right, who have developed an easy rapport through many hours of playing together.

The evening began with a set of jigs — the session standard “Tatter Jack Walsh” in a unique version which Mr DeMarco learned from his old teacher, the great fiddler Paddy Reynolds, followed by “The Trip to Athlone” and ending with “The Cook in the Kitchen.”

Beginning with Mr Goff’s uillean pipes and Mr DeMarco’s fiddle, with Mr McGiver’s tastefully understated guitar coming in on the first repeat of “Tatter Jack Walsh,” these three jigs set the tone for the evening in unbeatable style.

Next were a set of reels, “The Wheels of the World,” “The Steam Packet” and “The Moving Bogs.” Mr DeMarco was kind enough to warn the audience that if they should see any moving bogs, they should stay away from them. “As we say in Brooklyn, these are t’ree reels,” he added, before ripping into the three tunes at a smooth unhurried pace that nonetheless carried all the excitement that anyone could ask for.

It was time for a song, and Mr McGiver took the leading role with “Rose Connolly,” which he described as “a traditional American murder ballad that I learned from an Irishman on the Lower East Side.” Sung to a melody with clear Irish antecedents, ably supported with Mr McGiver’s fingerpicked guitar, Mr Goff’s whistle, and tasteful fiddling with a hint of the American oldtimey style from Mr. DeMarco, “Rose Connolly” made the perfect break between tunes.

Hornpipes, the gently swung 4/4 tunes that are often pushed aside in Irish music by the driving 4/4 reels and the pulsating 6/8 jigs, had the turn in the spotlight next, starting with “The Tailor’s Twist,” continuing with a tune that the Irish-American composer Ed Reavy wrote for the New York fiddler Lad O’Beirne, and ending with “Alexander’s Hornpipe,” another standard in a version from Mr DeMarco’s teacher Mr Reynolds. Slipjigs, the light and airy 9/8 tunes danced only by girls in the feiseanna (Irish dance contests), came next, with “Ride a Mile,” joined by the contest standard “Fig for a Kiss.”

The fiddler Andy McGann was another of Mr DeMarco’s mentors, and he chose to honor him this particular night by playing Mr McGann’s version of the air “The Blackbird,” with a sparse pipe accompaniment of mostly drones and a few touches of regulator (the aspect of the uillean pipes which most differentiates them from other forms of bagpipes, regulators allow the piper to play chords) from Mr Goff.

Mr McGiver sang another classic American oldtimey song, “Raleigh and Spenser,” three more reels were played, and it was time for the break. Afterward, Mr DeMarco and Mr McGiver took the stage as a duo, playing the reels “The Bunch of Keys” and “Foxhunter’s.” Mr McGiver sang “Times Are Not What They Used To Be,” with Mr DeMarco displaying that he had not lost his oldtimey fiddling chops despite years of playing almost exclusively Irish music.

Mr Goff then returned to the stage and took up his wooden flute, leaving the pipes aside for the moment. The ensemble played Mr DeMarco’s own composition “The Sligo Indians,” the title track of his recent Smithsonian Folkways CD, named for an incident when, in his hippie days, he and a guitar-playing colleague were taken for American Indians in a Gorteen, County Sligo pub.

Having been asked for one at the break, Mr Goff gave a succinct explanation of the uillean pipes before playing a solo, the slow air “Port na bPúcaí” (“The Spirits’ Tune” — the Irish word púca can mean ghosts, spirits, or faeries), which is said to have originated in the Blasket Islands off Dingle, and may have been inspired by the songs of humpback whales as heard through the bottoms of leather boats, but alternatively might be a 1960s-era composition of the eccentric genius Seán Ó Ríada, which Ó Ríada inserted into a collection of traditional tunes as an experiment or a joke. Whatever the origins of the air, it’s a stunning piece which deserves to be played, especially with the sensitivity and grace which Mr Goff gave it.

A few more sets of tunes were played, and as the evening drew to a close Mr DeMarco thanked STIMS, the soundman John Brennan, and numerous others before starting off a final set of two jigs (“Richie Dwyer’s” and “The Greenfields of America”) and three reels (“The Greenfields of America,” “The Gooseberry Bush” and “The Boy in the Gap”).

The audience, of course, wasn’t satisfied, and demanded an encore. The air “Skibbereen” and the classic reels “Fearghal O’Gara’s” and “George White’s Favourite,” with Mr Goff playing the flute once more, brought the show to a satisfying conclusion.

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