Monday, March 12, 2012

Interview with Terry Kane

Terry Kane, one of the two performers in the Jameson Sisters, graced us with the following interview on the final Saturday of Catskill Irish Arts Week 2011:

How did you get started in Irish singing?

All of my great-grandparents came from the west coast of Ireland, mostly from Co. Clare ... one from Kerry, and one from Cork. They were all very much into the music. When they came over here, they worked and saved enough money to buy farms in upstate New York.

Which part of upstate?

I lived near Corning in a little town called Addison.

My father's family is from Corning.

My mother would probably say, “Shame on you!” to me - “You don't know the Aldriches?”

We would visit my relatives in Corning and close friends in Angelica.

One of my relatives just got married near there. It is beautiful, angelic even!

(We share a laugh!)

So your family settled in that area.

They were farmers basically and brought a lot of their family over here. Most of them worked in the tanneries and other factories. They all lived on the same hill and would get together. One of my great grandfathers built a dance stage in a glade of woods. They would come, play, and dance there.

As farmers, they would work hard all day, but during the night, they'd get together and socialize.

They were pretty well known for their dancing. They were asked to do Irish dancing at square dances, which were very popular in the wider community.

Did you get to experience the place in the glade?

My cousins own the farm now and we played softball next to the glade as kids but there was no stage left. The dancing was passed from my great-grandfather to my grandfather. My grandfather taught my mom her siblings a little bit but he wound up having a tree fall on his leg. He was not able to dance after that. There was a lot of talk of dance. I heard this dancing is what my grandfather used to do. Unfortunately, it wasn't physically passed on. The music, storytelling, and singing kept going. The family is all big into dancing, but more into swing dancing or American tap dancing. Once the Irish dancing faded, nobody could teach us as we were out in the middle of nowhere.

Did you learn musical instruments when you were young?

We learned how to play piano and band instruments but that was more a classical association, with school. Folk music was big at that time when I was growing up in the '60s. I have a big family. I am the youngest out of eleven. My older brothers and sisters were already adults when I was born. One of my brothers had gone to Paris, France to study to be a French teacher. He managed to scoot over to Dublin and got hooked on a lot of rebel songs and also singing the folk style ballads with the guitar. He came home and shared all that music with us. The younger half of the family got more exposure to Irish music than most of the older half. My brother, Pat, was inspired to take up the fiddle and start playing. I wound up getting the mandolin and guitar. So the music all came back to us. Now twice a year the whole family gets together. There are enough musicians in the family to play for céilí dances and we can get at least 4 sets dancing. After that we usually stay up till the early morning singing.

Then the singing? You grew up singing in English?

Yes, there was very little Gaelic speaking in my family. All of my family that came from Ireland, my great grandparents, spoke in Irish at that time. My great grandfather had actually been to England dancing. He was a really good dancer so he had already traveled around performing. He had learned to speak English a little better than the rest of my relatives. They spoke English by that time on the west coast of Ireland but even that was in heavy brogue. They called my great grandfather Yankee Jim, because he was the only one the English speakers could understand.

How did you get introduced to singing in Irish and sean nós singing?

I liked the style of it and the sound of it. I listened to a lot people who did singing in English, like Dolores Keane and people like that who were singing in a more traditional style back in the '60s and '70s. I had an opportunity to be inspired by them. I loved the ornamentation. Still, I didn't want to sing in Irish until I could speak it. When I got to Philadelphia, I found a lot of people there from Donegal and lots of places in Ireland. There was a strong Donegal influence and they still speak Irish in Donegal. There's classes to be had, and ways to be exposed to the language. I've been learning it for twelve years. My Irish isn't great yet, but at least if they interview me on the radio, I'd be able to talk to them. I'd probably sound like Sabatini or someone like that. When Gabriela Sabatini was first interviewed in English for her great tennis skills, having come from Argentina, her English skills were not so smooth.”

I remember that, “I – like – to – play – very – much.”

(Terry laughs and says, “Yah!”)

But getting back to singing, I get to ask you a somewhat unique question to an American. What is your favorite Irish song in English and what is your favorite Irish song in Irish?

Usually my favorite song kinda changes as I learn new songs. They aren't static things. Right now I'm singing this song “Ar Mo Ghabháil ‘na Chuain Domh.” It's a story about a fair haired priest that decided to get married. He leaves the monastery to go off, but then the girl decided to leave him. After that he became a soldier of fortune on the continent. He saw and experienced all these things, came back to Ireland, and wrote a book. He put this song in the book, with other poetry. It's an interesting story. The title of the book is An Caisideach Bán, which translates to the Fair Haired Cassidy.

In English, I like “The May in Morning Dew.” A lot of artists have performed or recorded it. Maybe it's Dolores Keane's version of it – it still plays in my head. Usually I don't try to memorize a song just as it's performed by an artist, but that one by her is so memorable to me...

Can you learn multiple versions of the same song?

Everyone has their own way that their brain works well. Some people remember lots of versions of a song. Some people can connect across songs. Last night at the singing session they were singing different songs from memory that feature the words, “Oh, really ...” Some people can pick a song to sing because of hearing another song by an earlier singer. They have these minds that can think across the songs they know to stay within a theme. So to answer your question, I try to find multiple versions of a song, I learn the best one or mix a few versions to get one that I like then as I sing the song over years my own style of ornamentation creeps in. I do remember the best versions I heard of most songs which were usually by Seosamh Ó hÉanaí, Sean ‘ac Dhonncha, Áine Meenaghan, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh.

How long have you been coming to the Catskill Irish Arts Week?

I have been coming for many, many years, but I wasn’t here for the first one.

During one of the early years, my brother-in-law, Joe Burke got asked to fill in for a performer who couldn't make it. Joe was kind of a quiet unassuming kind of guy. He didn't feel like he could teach students because he had never learned how to teach. I'm a music teacher so he asked me if I would come up and sit in to field all those questions he didn't really have answers for because he wasn't trained on music theory. My presence calmed him down and helped him overcome his nervousness because he knew I was there to answer the questions more formal training required. Joe was a terrific singer and most of the students just wanted to listen to the way he sang and ask for song recommendations. I only had to answer a few questions about vocal warm-ups and ornamentation.

I do something like that at the Banjo Burke Festival. I sit in with Aine Meenaghan a lot. When those questions come up about music notation or theory I chime in and answer them. It works very nicely. She knows what the music should sound like and how best to teach Irish singing. She is a fluent speaker who grew up in Connemara and has many songs memorized.

So you've been going to the Banjo Burke Festival since it started?

Yes, I've been performing for them since the beginning. They give me a place to stay, I donate my time doing performances with different bands I've been in. It's a nice thing to donate to, Parkinson's Research, and traditional music together. Sometimes the Banjo Burke Memorial Fund gives a scholarship to someone to attend this Catskills Irish Arts Week. And they do things to support people entering the study of Irish Traditional Music.

What did you think of THIS Catskill Irish Arts Week?

I had a really good time. The weather was so gorgeous. I couldn't actually come for the beginning of it because I was working. But as soon as I got off, we headed up here. I think it was 100 degrees Fahrenheit or very close to it when we left Philadelphia. I was worried about getting by New York City because I was driving through that area near 5 o'clock. We did get up here in time for the evening concert. That was our goal. When I stepped out of the van it was miraculously as cool as we could ask for. It's been bright and sunny during the day and cool at night, cool enough for a sleeping bag or extra blanket.

Do you know Roslyn Blyn-LaDrew? She's in Philadelphia.

Absolutely. She's a brilliant teacher.

I take lessons with her over Skype.

She is just a wealth of information. Sweet personality, she sings, and she writes poetry in Irish. It's great to hear original songs in the Irish language.

Where do you see yourself going in the next few years with your Irish Singing?

Without a doubt, I'll be at this year's Banjo Burke Festival. It's Columbus Day weekend. I'll be up with the harpist, Ellen Tepper. We call ourselves The Jameson Sisters. It's nice having the harp for Irish songs. For people who haven't ever heard Irish before, they can be a little lost when they can't understand the words in Irish. Sometimes there are 5 or 10 verses in these songs. The musicality can be different, the ornamentation, the tones. At least with the harp there is music there that they can listen to and connect.

I see myself studying Irish a lot more. I love speaking with more people in Irish.

Do you see yourself going to Ireland soon?

I never seem to have enough money. Maybe it's because I spend too much money buying Gaelic books?

(We laugh together).

Actually, I will be going to Ireland next year. My brother takes tours to Ireland 3 or 4 times a year. He has got some big trip going where he needs to take two buses, so I'm signed up to be the entertainment on the other bus. He sings to the people on the bus as they are going from one place to another. It's something different for this tour.

Now I've got to try to one up him. I've got to make my bus better than his bus (Terry laughs).

Any last thoughts?

They bring a lot of great artists here for Catskill Irish Arts Week. Everyone should come and enjoy the talent!


Click here to go to Terry Kane's Web site


More Irish Musicians in Shamrock Road blogs:

- Len Graham

- Mary Staunton

- Brían Ó hAirt (Brian Hart)

- Bernadette Nic Gabhann

- Aoife Clancy

- Matt and Shannon Heaton

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

St. Patrick's Day And Irish Events in the Capital District of New York

There is a calendar of Irish entertainment and cultural events on the right hand side of this blog.

However, to make sure the Irish events are publicized in the Capital District of New York, I bring you this page. Keep checking back this month! (If you have an event, tell me through shamrockroad (at thingie) gmail (dot) com.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!

Wed, March 21, 6:30pm – 8:00 pm

Irish Genealogy Session with Lisa Dougherty!!

Irish American Heritage Museum, 991 Broadway, Albany, NY 12204

(518) 432-6598

March 22

Gaelic Storm

Gaelic Storm plays high-energy, foot-stomping, rock-tinged Celtic music. The quintet brings influences from rock, bluegrass, Jamaican, African and Middle Eastern music that may surprise those expecting traditional Celtic music and have been described as a "whirlwind ruckus" by the Village Voice.
8 PM


Michael Flatley's LORD OF THE DANCE

Wed, March 28, 7:30pm – 10:00pm

Palace Theater, Albany, NY, USA

Described by the New York Post as "fascinating, rewarding and above all, entertaining," and by the Los Angeles Times as "a showpiece extravaganza," Lord of the Dance is a mesmerizing blend of traditional and modern Celtic music and dance. The story is based upon mythical Irish folklore as Don Dorcha, Lord of Darkness, challenges the ethereal lord of light, the Lord of the Dance. Battle lines are drawn, passions ignite and a love story fueled by the dramatic leaps and turns of dancers' bodies begins to build against a backdrop of Celtic rhythm. The action is played out over 21 scenes on a grand scale of precision dancing, dramatic music, colorful costumes and state-of-the-art staging and lighting.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Interview with Len Graham

I had the pleasure of interviewing the famous Irish singer and song historian, Len Graham during Catskill Irish Arts Week 2011:

How did you get started in music and singing?

I was born in a small village called Glenarm, which is in the Glens of Antrim up in the northeast of Ireland. My mother used to say I was singing before I could talk. She said she actually sung songs to me in the womb. I have no other recollections but of singing, singing, and more singing when I was young. My father was working in Glasgow during the war years (years of World War II) and he tried to get my mother to come over to Glasgow because he had acquired employment, which was hard enough to get in Ireland even during the war years. There wasn't an awful lot of work going but she wouldn't leave Glenarm. So I ended up spending an awful lot of time with my mother and grandmother. Both were what you would call compulsive singers so there was a lot of singing.

What age were you when you started in competitions?

I started singing very early and I started competing very early as well. Not that I was pushed by my parents to do that, it was more by my own desire. I probably was about ten years old around 1954 when my school entered me for a singing festival in Belfast. Then I started competing in the fleadh cheoils, which are festivals of traditional music. I was more into my teens at that stage, probably I was 18 or 19 when I started competing at the fleadhs. First of all the Ulster Fleadhs in counties Monaghan and Cavan and then the All-Irelands – Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. I retired from that in 1971 when I won the All-Ireland Senior sean-nós singing in English, as I decided I didn't want to do that anymore.

How early in your career did you meet Joe Holmes?

When I was young I sometimes sang in duet with my mother, not in harmony but in unison, and then I started singing solo a lot. There was an organization around then called the Antrim and Derry Fiddlers Association which started in 1953. They had some of the same members that started up Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann in 1951. They would have some singing in between the wall to wall instrumental pieces, which was mostly fiddle playing. There are a lot of fiddle players in Antrim. They soon started calling me up for a song at these gatherings and it was at one of these nights at Dunminning near Ballymena in Co. Antrim in 1963 that this fiddler came over to me and asked for a song I'd sung, which I had learned from my grandmother. He asked me for the words of the song and he turned out to be Joe Holmes.

Photograph at Right: Len Graham and Joe Holmes performing at Féile na Bóinne, Drogheda, Co. Louth, 1976.

Joe and I formed a friendship, not just a musical friendship, but a great close friendship which ended when he died in 1978. We had fifteen years of singing songs together and going all around Ireland. I took Joe around to see singers and musicians all over Ireland. Dennis Murphy,from Sliabh Luachra, Co. Kerry, the Keanes who were sean- nós singers in Co. Galway, the Dohertys up in Co. Donegal and many more.

How much have you performed in the United States?

I was over to the United States in 1976 for the first time when I was sponsored by the Irish American Cultural Institute. The Smithsonian wanted Joe and I over for one of the US Bicentennial Celebrations the same year, but Joe was in his seventies by then and didn't feel like taking on the trans-Atlantic journey. On that first US Tour which lasted for nearly four weeks, I think I did twenty-one lectures/recitals in twenty-four days, so I couldn't think of coming back again at that time. But I have been coming over to the US since 1976 for different festivals and events, such as the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Catskills Irish Arts Week, Milwaukee Irish Fest and various universities and events. I haven't visited all the states, but I've seen a lot of them.

So you grew up singing songs in English? Did you hear much Irish spoken when you were young?

The Glens of Antrim was what you could call a Gaeltacht “the day before yesterday.” The Irish language had died out recently. Irish is still spoken, but most of the Irish speakers have gone to the Donegal Gaeltacht to learn Ulster Irish. Irish had been spoken recently in the Glens of Antrim and my mother heard native Antrim Irish spoken back in the early part of the twentieth century. The last native Irish speaker in that area died in the 1960s. A man called MacAuley from the nearby glen of Glenann, and when he died there was an obituary saying he was the last Antrim native speaker of Irish and that was I believe in 1964. There are a lot of Irish speakers in the North of Ireland and there has been a big revival in the language in recent times with a big demand for Irish medium schools. But to this day the closest Gaeltacht to the Glens of Antrim are the Western Isles of Scotland and at their closest point the distance is only twelve miles. Scots Gaelic is just a different dialect of what was all one language.

The roads into the Glens of Antrim weren't built until the time of the famine in the mid nineteenth century and they were built as famine relief schemes. Before that it was much easier to go to Scotland than it was to go to Ballymena or Belfast as crossing the mountains over rocky roads was difficult whilst all you had to do was jump on a boat on a good day and you'd be over in Scotland in no time at all. I used to love the Lammas Fair in Ballycastle in North Antrim. It's gotten quite commercial now, but every August the boats would come from Rathlin Island and some of the Western Isles of Scotland and there would be music, singing, selling of animals, and all sorts of fun which went on for several days. That's a fair that's been going on for centuries and there’s another old fair in Co.Kerry called the Puck Fair and that's been going on for years and years as well.

What is your favorite song to sing?

Some of those early songs I learned from family and neighbors have a special place- like The Murlough Shore which came from my grandmother. The Keanes, Sarah and Rita, the aunts of Dolores when I first met them in the 1960s sang another version of this song called – The Moorlough Shore, which they got from a 78 rpm gramophone record made in New York by Joe Maguire from Co. Fermanagh in the 1930s. It's a different version from what I sing. Dolores Keane was the first singer in De Dannan and on their first band album Dolores sang – The Rambling Irishman which she got from me. I in turn got a fragment of the song in the 1960s from Joe Holmes from Killyrammer, Co. Antrim and managed to track down another three verses from the daughter of the man that Joe had heard sing it from in the early years of the last century.

For years I searched all over Ireland and beyond for more verses of the song and then a version with extra verses turned up in the Ozark Highlands under the title of – New York Bay. The collector was Max Hunter and he collected the song from Bertha Lauderdale in 1961 and Max transcribed – Lough Erne as Lauairen, but it is without a doubt the same song. More recently a three stanza fragment turned up in the parish records of St. Patrick’s Church, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania and here the song is attributed to Jerry Monaghan who left Ireland in 1790.

You've done a lot of research on songs. What experiences have you had with that?

Yes, it's been a fascination of mine, all my life. It's been a total fascination and I've been interested in the history of songs and singers as long as I remember. It gives me no end of pleasure when I come across a fragment of a song in the song tradition over here in Ireland, to begin a search in all the archives and libraries here and beyond to try and fill in the gaps and return it to the traditional music community.

I recall Joe Holmes again singing me another tantalizing fragment of a Co. Down song – My Love Nell and then coming across it on a nineteenth century song sheet in the Library of Congress. There are numerous examples – versions and more versions. A song taught in the local primary school in Mullaghbawn, Co. Armagh in the 1930s – Kitty Finnegan from Carrickadreen turned up on a nineteenth century New York broadside ballad and in this case the words were very similar to the Irish one, but the young lady in the US version is from Abington Green (Georgia) instead of Carrickadreen.

My Uncle, my mother's brother, was also a singer. My father, my mother, they were all musicians and singers. There was a fiddler in the family and a hammer dulcimer player. Yes, there was a famous relation of ours called John Rea, who made many BBC Radio programs and recordings for a Topic Records in London. His mother and my grandmother were full cousins. He was a tremendous hammer dulcimer player and he was born the same year as my mother in 1915. She remembered going around to his home as a wee girl as he lived just around the corner from us in Glenarm. She told me that he would be standing on an upturned butter box and the dulcimer balanced on two matching boxes on the kitchen table when he was no more than six or seven. So from the time he was in his teens he was broadcasting on the local radio from way back in the 1930s. He had music for dances and performed regularly with his father, who was a champion fiddler at concerts and dances all over the north of Ireland. Yes indeed, a lot of outstanding musicians came out of the Glens of Antrim.

My Uncle Willie presented me, when I was in my teens, with a shoe box full of songs he'd collected. He'd taken them down from family and neighbors and he'd taken the trouble to collect a series that had been published in a local newspaper, the Northern Constitution, and the collector was a man called Sam Henry. He published a song every week between 1923 and 1939. A good number of these were in the shoe box. He must have cut them out every week. There were some gaps. Then I heard in my late teens that Sam Henry had bequeathed two scrap books to the Central Library in Belfast and to the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C. I went to the Belfast collection and made copies, and filled in the gaps. There were songs that weren't in the Sam Henry collection that my uncle had collected. All together there were a lot of songs, a huge collection, over 800 songs. The University of Georgia Press in Athens, Ga., in 1990 published the whole collection. It's been out of print and they were fetching big money on the Internet. I’m told it's been recently reissued. It is called - Songs of the People, by Sam Henry, edited by Lani Herrmann. She did a wonderful job in giving lots of information, sources, and where other versions are to be found, etc.

Tell us about your book, please!

I brought a book out recently called – Here I Am Amongst You on Joe Holmes (1906-78). It was something I intended to do for years and I finally got a publisher after taking the manuscript around to numerous publishers here in Ireland. So I was delighted when the highly regarded Four Courts Press in Dublin published it in 2010. (See: ) I launched it at the Milwaukee Irish Fest in 2010 and at the Catskills Irish Arts Week along with a talk in 2011. I tried to follow the standard set by Lani Herrmann, by not just bringing out a memoir, but also to show where these songs could be found and discuss other versions, particularly the versions found in collections in the U.S.

What's been the role of those in the United States in keeping the songs going?

People were coming over from Ireland to North America for centuries and were arriving long before the famine in the mid nineteenth century. They left their DNA in the way of songs in the Appalachian Mountains, the Ozark Highlands, up in Canada and other parts. I tried to show how they are all connected. I actually was able to find more verses of songs in North America sometimes to what I had collected in Ireland. Yes, sometimes fuller versions of ‘old country’ songs turned up in the Appalachians, the Ozarks and other locations. Some of them came over here in the eighteenth century with some of the early settlers and they stayed largely unchanged and were handed down from generation to generation and were like time capsules when discovered.

There was a wonderful letter by the famous English folksong collector called Cecil Sharp. He did a lot of work in England and then he went over to the Appalachians in the early years of the twentieth century. He had filled books with ‘old country’ folksongs, much better and fuller versions than he had collected in England. In 1917 he wrote to Russell Smith at Knoxville, Tennessee after he had just returned from the mountains, joyful over a fruitful folksong collecting trip – “These missionaries with their schools! I’d like to build a wall around these mountains and let the mountain people alone. The only distinctive culture in America is here. These people live. They sustain themselves on the meanest food. They are not interested in eating, but they have time to sing ballads.”

What's your most recent CD?

I made my first solo album (LP) for Topic Records of London in 1975 and since then I have featured on many recordings – solo and in collaboration with other singers, musicians, poets and storytellers. My most recent recordings are two CDs brought out in 2010 called - Over the Hills and Far Away and another one called – Here I Am Amongst You, which is a companion sampler for the Joe Holmes book. I wanted to bring out recordings with the book, but the publisher wasn't interested in handling CDs. I hope at some stage to get the whole Len Graham Song Collection up on the Internet and make it accessible to everybody. So stay tuned!

Len Graham and Brían Ó hAirt are competing for a KickStarter grant at: In Two Minds: Irish singing collaboration w/Len Graham/

Len Graham has a web site at:

More Irish Musicians in Shamrock Road blogs:

- Mary Staunton

- Brían Ó hAirt (Brian Hart)

- Bernadette Nic Gabhann

- Aoife Clancy

- Matt and Shannon Heaton