Saturday, September 11, 2010

Aoife Clancy: Interview at Catskill Irish Arts Week

Aoife Clancy, the outstanding Irish singer, honored me with an interview early Saturday morning near the end of the Catskill Irish Arts Week, just after a long singing session at the Wayside Inn.

She lives in Fairhaven Massachusetts, near New Bedford, but was brought up in Ireland.

Her father, Bobby Clancy, was in the Clancy Brothers, the famous group that brought Irish folk music to America in much of the 1960s. Consequently she was brought up listening to and playing music at an early age.

Her father insisted his children all have their daily dose of Irish music.

She was playing the banjo at 7 or 8 years old, which she didn't really like. She progressed to the guitar when she was about 11 or 12.

Her mother came from an Irish speaking area, a Gaeilteach, in Ring (An Rinn, in Irish), County Waterford, Ireland.

As a result, she was exposed to a bit of both worlds of Irish music. She heard the ballads from her father, and then she'd go down to Ring and hear the sean nos songs in the Irish language and style. She stuck mostly to her father's style of songs, but she was influenced by the sean nos (“Sean nos” means “old style” and is the style of singing where a solo performer sings unaccompanied, usually in Irish, and often in free meter).

In fact, her mom often reminded Aoife of how she, Aoife, didn't get her Irish music heritage just from her father - her mom's traditions helped form her style as well.

Aoife started performing in her teenage years. She remembers at the age of 13 and 14, her father took her out to country pubs in the middle of nowhere. He'd say, “Come on, we've got an afternoon gig.” And she'd go, “What!?” shocked at the lack of adequate warning. Still, he'd take her to these beautiful little pubs. Some of them didn't even have electricity in them. The pubs sold only large bottles of beer, no drafts. Patrons bought large bottles or nothing. Such experiences were her early exposure to public music, watching her father and observing him perform in a small little intimate setting. The people in these places were very supportive. She was extremely shy and he would encourage her to sing. But many times he would tease her by introducing her as “kind of shy” and she'd think, “Why did you say that?”

Over the years, she got more confident singing in front of a crowd. She thanks her father, because of his attitude toward performing. He was very much about “enjoy yourself and sing from the heart”. He told her don't make it so much about performing for people and how they are all looking at you, as much as about how you are enjoying the song yourself and how you are bringing it across. She learned a lot from performing from that perspective.

Aoife was a solo performer when she came to the United States. She brought a CD with her titled “It's About Time” and was published by Rego (Irish Music) Records in 1991. Aoife did a tour with Patty Noonan who ran the Rego label. Joanie Madden heard the CD, Cathie Ryan was leaving, and Joanie and Aoife met on an Irish cruise Aoife's father and uncles had put on in the Caribbean. The Cherish the Ladies group was on the cruise and Joanie had a substitute singer to cover for Cathie. Joanie didn't say anything to Aoife at that time, she just kind of observed Aoife singing at the session. A few months later Joanie called Aoife and said, “Doll, we're looking for a singer. Would you like to join the group?”

Aoife had often looked at the group with admiration as they have so much variety, the dancers, the tunes, the instruments, the songs. Of course, Aoife jumped at the chance and the next thing she knew she was appearing with Cherish the Ladies.

She sang with Cherish the Ladies for about five years.

When she left, she was in bands of various configurations with her own band, the Clancy band, and Matt and Shannon Heaton. Fling played with her for awhile. She played with other musicians including Owen Marshall.

Now she's in the Clancy Legacy with her cousins Robin O'Connel and Donal Clancy. They just brought a CD out in March titled “The Clancy Legacy” (btw, they first performed together at a workshop called "The Clancy Legacy" during the Irish Arts week in East Durham, NY in July 2006).

Aoife came to be at the 2010 Catskill Irish Arts Week because she was there a number of years ago. Myron Bretholz, the bodhrán player, encouraged her. There was one year when he was in charge of the bookings for the event, like Paul Keating was in 2010 (and before). She met Myron at a festival in Philly and he was the MC. They started chatting. Myron asked her, “Do you ever teach?” and soon asked her to come teach in the Catskills.

She did it and loved it. She had a fantastic bunch of people. She just had to talk about her father and her uncles, and then led the group in the songs that had been passed on to her. She found a whole slew of songs that over the years she'd forgotten about until she started looking back on them.

She couldn't believe the number of people who wanted to learn the songs passed on to her by her father.

Then she started getting into it. She started teaching the songs at other workshop events too.

For the last three or four years she hasn't been to the Catskills Irish Arts Week because of a competing festival, but she was invited this year and she decided it was time to return to the Catskill Irish Arts Week.

She said the 2010 week was a great week, and everyone worked her hard. There is so much going on, so many people she knows, she wishes it could be spread over two weeks. The evening sessions at the pubs alone are a dilemma – if you are at one, you cannot go to another.

The students were exposed to such wonderful music that week.

Aoife said the standard of musicians and teachers here for the week doesn't get any better. You don't get any better than the Kane sisters, Edel Fox, Joanie Madden, Cherish the Ladies, or Liz Carroll. They are the crème de la crème of Irish musicians. Anybody would be so lucky to have these people as teachers. They've been playing since they were small and now they are passing on the music to their students. That's what keeps the music alive.

On a personal note, Aoife loves when she sits at a session and somebody comes in and sings a song that she taught them.

Aoife said the Andy McGann Festival on the last Saturday of the Catskill Irish Arts Week would be great because even more performers come in. Bua is playing. The performers represent the standard of the musicians the place attracts.

She hopes to be asked to return to the Catskills next year, but she hopes to arrange a night off that week to catch her rest!

Aoife's online calendar is here: .
More Irish Musicians in Shamrock Road blogs:

- Brían Ó hAirt (Brian Hart)
- Bernadette Nic Gabhann
- Aoife Clancy
- Matt and Shannon Heaton