Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Crossroads – Máirtín O’Connor, Cathal Hayden and Seamie O’Dowd

All text (c) Ita Kelly 2009

Although they have been performing together since 2001, Máirtín O’Connor, Cathal Hayden and Seamie O’Dowd are coming together at a CROSSROADS to release their first recording. Individually, they are recognised masters and virtuoso performers, as a trio they make powerful music together. Their new album ‘Crossroads’ is a fine showcase of their various tastes and styles which go from the pure traditional to jazz, and on to swing, rock and blues. It’s all executed with a touch of class and a healthy measure of enjoyment.

The trio’s musical relationship started with Máirtín’s recording ‘The Road West’ and continued through his album ‘Rain of Light’. They played together in various ensembles including the Máirtín O’Connor Band and now tour as a trio extensively.

At the end of last year they toured Europe with fellow traditional masters, Lúnasa, Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill and Iarla Ó Lionáird. Concerts in London and at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections in January were followed by a trip to Australia where they performed in the Sydney Opera House. Surprisingly it was Máirtín’s first time there. “I was supposed to go there in the 80s and I never had the desire since, but having been there, I found it completely charming as a country. Sydney is a bit like New York on valium. I got this sense that I was in New York but it was so laid back, it was amazing.”

To the fore on ‘Crossroads’ are Máirtín’s compositions. Six of them dominate the track list and one in particular is very special for him. “It’s a waltz called ‘The Road Together’ for my parents-in- law” he tells me. “They live in Friesland in the north of Holland and they have been together seventy years. The kids play on that track as well so it’s a nice dedication.” Máirtín has four children and three of them Tom, Sinéad and Ciara feature on the track playing guitar, fiddle and cello.
There’s a list of nine friends of the trio mentioned to whom the album is dedicated, amongst them Seamie’s Dad Joe O’Dowd, Máirtín’s Uncle Pat O’Connor who played harmonica and the incomparable Ronnie Drew. Máirtín also composed a tune ‘Flowers in the Wind’ for two special musical friends, Mícheál O Domhnaill and Jimmy Faulkner, who have sadly passed on recently.
“When you work musically with someone” he says “there is a great bond. They were both big losses and at such a young age.” Máirtín first played with Jimmy Faulkner in the 1990s and in more recent years with Mícheál.
Fin Corrigan who was soundman for the band Dervish, is also remembered. It was at a gig organised in his memory in Sligo that the trio first performed live together.

Handel’s joyful ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ is a tune resurrected from Máirtín’s past and his days with DeDanann. “There are a lot of those archival programmes on the television at the moment,” he says. “They’re fantastic until you see yourself and then you realise the passage of time.”
“On one of those programmes it showed DeDanann playing ‘The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’. It must have been 1986 or 87 or even before that and it just re-whetted my enthusiasm for playing it.”
“It’s a very uplifting tune and that’s what I remember from playing it in the old days. It’s like a good tonic. Hopefully it will lift people’s spirits.”
The music on ‘Crossroads’ is certainly uplifting with great verve and swing. There are plenty of tunes, slip jigs, polkas, reels and ‘The Cooley Set’ a great favourite of the trio’s.

Cathal, whose solo recordings and work with Four Men and a Dog place him in the highest echelons of Irish music plays mostly fiddle on this recording but also gives one delightful set of tunes on the banjo including the great ‘Liverpool Hornpipe’.

Seamie O’Dowd played with the group Dervish for years before embarking on a solo career as a musician, producer and arranger. His interest in the music of Rory Gallagher comes through in ‘The Barley and Grape Rag’ and his traditional roots in the closing track ‘As I Roved Out’. ‘The Cedars of Lebanon’ is a Thom Moore song written while part of the Sligo based band Pumpkinhead. Rick Epping who was also a member of Pumpkinhead and Cathy Jordan from Dervish join Seamie for this rendition of the song. Other guests on the album include Jimmy Higgins on percussion, Brian McGrath on piano and Cathal Sinnott on keyboards.

Energy, enthusiasm and downright good fun are at the heart of this masterful trio’s music. Watch out for the official launch of ‘Crossroads’ in May and their series of concerts around Ireland.

Check out more Mairtin O'Connor, Cathal Hayden and Shamie O'Dowd music at the .tradnet music store on Amazon.