Lunasa: New CD, New Show
It’s rare to find an Irish musician who could be described as “full of himself.” In my experience, and I’ve met quite a few, they tend to be pretty modest, more interested in playing music than anything else, including, in some cases, making money playing music.
Lunasa’s Trevor Hutchinson (the tall one with the stand up bass) takes humble to a whole new level.
When I asked him the other day about how it felt to be part of a group that was named “Performers of the Decade” in 2010 by popular internet radio-TV station, liveireland.com, this was his response:
“We were? I didn’t know that.”
When we both stopped laughing, he admitted, “I’m actually unaware of these things, which makes it hard to bask in the glory then.” And we laughed some more.
I didn’t ask him if he knew that when you Google the band, the website that comes up reads, “Lunasa, the hottest Irish acoustic group on the planet.” I’m guessing, no.
There’s no getting around that this is a hot band. After 15 years and soon-to-be nine releases, they’re till getting five stars on amazon.com. Still being showered with superlative adjectives like “exhilarating,” “superb,” “the new gods of Irish music,” and “better than the music you hear in an Irish pub.” Okay, so that last one was on one of those internet sites where any yahoo can make an unmoderated comment, but you get the idea.
When you’re that hot, you can take some chances, and with their new CD (due out April 16), they are. When the band performs at the Sellersville Theatre on Wednesday, February 27, you won’t be getting the full effect of their latest effort, “Lunasa with the RTE Concert Orchestra.” That’s because they’re not traveling with the orchestra, which has backed performers as diverse as Luciano Pavarotti, Cleo Laine, and Sinead O’Connor. The concert at which the two groups performed together last summer sold out Dublin’s Concert Hall.
I asked Hutchinson, one of the founding members of the group back in 1997, how this collaboration—an intriguing one—came about. The link, he said, was Niall Vallely, the concertina player and composer from Armagh, whose brother, Cillian, is Lunasa’s piper. RTE approached Niall Vallely about creating arrangments and working with a traditional band. For some reason, Lunasa sprang to mind.
“We jumped at the chance,” said Hutchinson, who is from Cookstown, County Tyrone. They knew that Vallely would create arrangements that would enhance rather than drown out the traditional tunes. “Niall is a traditional musician who understands the music so we knew we weren’t going to get something that was full of schmaltzy strings and that.”
In fact, says Hutchinson, Vallely chose tunes from Lunasa’s back catalog that would work with just a little orchestration. “He had to look for pieces that had a deeper kind of arrangement already there.”
On the CD you’ll find “Casu” and “Merry Sisters of Fate” from their 2001 CD, “Merry Sisters of Fate;” “Leckan Mor” from Se; and other Lunasa tunes that, as his band mate, Kevin Crawford said, “had been banished to the wilderness, destined never to see the light of a Lúnasa day ever again.” Vallely rescued them, rearranged them for trad band and orchestra, and made them into something very new.
The band would like to mount another orchestral concert. The first was exhiliarating, says Hutchinson. “It does work fantastic live,” he says. “At that concert in Dublin, to be surrounded by all those fantastic musicians and that great big wall of sound was incredible. We’re seriously considering doing it again, but so far nothing definite.”
The band is currently touring the US (Florida after Sellersville) and is known for spending many weeks on the road every year, though Hutchinson says they’ve cut back some. “We don’t do as much as we used to, though we’re gearing up to do a bit more again,” he says. “Most of our touring is really in America. Some years we go once, some years two or three times, usually this time of year. Every two or three years we tour Japan, a bit in the UK and Europe.”
Are there lots of Lunasa fans in Japan? “Irish music is very big in Japan,” says Hutchinson. “Big in the sense that we can do nice sized theaters and get a really good audience. The Japanese are a dedicated type fan. They take any kind of hobby really seriously there.”
How serious? “I think we might even have a Lunasa tribute band,” says Hutchinson, laughing.