No Rivalry Here: A Chat With Trad’s Top Sister Act
Seamless. Synchronized. Fluid. Flowing. Liz and Yvonne Kane are well used to hearing adjectives like these bestowed upon their beautifully matched fiddle playing. So it’s no mystery where The Kane Sisters got the name for their new CD, “Side By Side.”
“We get that all the time,” Yvonne laughed. “It’s a sibling thing, like. I think it happens for any siblings at all when they play together. Seamus and Manus McGuire are like that when they play. It’s nothing you could plan, it just happens naturally.”
The Kane Sisters, along with concertina player Edel Fox, are playing a Philadelphia Ceili Group concert at The Irish Center this Sunday, August 1, as part of their summer tour of the United States. It’s a routine that has become an anticipated annual follow-up to their presence at The Catskills Irish Arts Week.
“This was our fifth year in The Catskills, Paul Keating has kept asking us back,” Yvonne said. “It’s been great. And for the last three years, we’ve been down in Elkins, West Virginia, [for Irish/Celtic Week]. And then we do a few gigs.”
And this year, they launched “Side By Side,” their third CD, in The Catskills. It’s been six years since the release of their last CD, “Under the Diamond.”
“It didn’t feel like that long…but when we left the Catskills last year, we said, ‘We need to get to work on a new album.’ And we’ve gotten to know Edel through playing at CIAW. She was working on her first CD, ‘Chords & Beryls,’ so we also said, ‘We have to tour together next summer.’”
“It feels weird to have launched the album over here first… it hasn’t launched at home yet. We were supposed to launch it at Miltown Malbay, but we didn’t get the CDs until the day before we left for the States. But once we’re back home, we’ve got a good list of gigs beginning August 11th.”
Home for The Kane Sisters is their birthplace of Letterfrack in North Connemara.
“We love living there. We both lived away for a number of years. I was in Galway for 11 years, and Liz was in Cork for six years, then Galway for five. We’ve been back for nearly four years.”
“During the school year, we both teach… we love it. We have about 180 students, both kids and adults, and we travel all around Connemara. Liz commutes throughout South Connemara, and I have students in North Connemara… Clifden, Letterfrack, Inishbofin.”
Inishbofin? The island about five miles off the coast of Connemara?
“Yes,” Yvonne laughed. “I’ve got 10 amazing students out there… there’s only 18 kids in the entire school. I love going out there, and although I do now draw the line at taking the ferry in the bad weather, I have gotten on it before on bad days!”
Their musical heritage is steeped in the rich sounds of Ireland’s West. Their first instrument was the whistle because “everybody starts off playing tin whistles in school, whether you want to or not.”
They then moved on to the fiddle, being taught by musician Mary Finn as well as their grandfather, local fiddle player Jimmy Mullen.
“He would have us listening to all kinds of tunes. He just loved great tunes, flowing tunes. Like Michael Coleman from County Sligo, and Finbarr Dwyer.”
And they are much influenced by Paddy Fahey.
“He’s got great rhythm in his tunes… the East Galway fiddle style has got a good lift to it, similar to East Clare. The style’s not necessarily a slower one, I don’t know why people say that.”
The new CD, in addition to having tunes composed by Paddy Fahey, Finbarr Dwyer, Paddy O’Brien and Martin Mulhaire, also has three tunes composed by Liz.
“She’s the one who writes,” Yvonne explained. “I haven’t taken to it yet, but you never know…”
“When we make an album, we usually like to root and find new tunes, or tunes that haven’t been recorded. We’re always on the lookout for new tunes. We don’t work well unless we’re under pressure,” Yvonne acknowledged. “We’d be gone during the day teaching, and then we’d practice the tunes starting at 11 at night for about a week before we began recording, so the tunes were fresh in our minds.”
“We keep changing up the tunes all the time… we like changing the key of tunes, it makes them brighter, more enjoyable to play.”
And this time, esteemed musician and producer (and grandson of songbird Delia Murphy) Ronan Browne brought the recording studio to them.
“Ronan has a mobile recording studio, so we were able to sit at Liz’s house and record the tunes. We had great fun recording this CD… it probably has a different sound from the others, more of a live sound.”
And they are not alone; they are joined on “Side By Side” by Patsy Broderick on piano, Mick Conneely on Bouzouki, Dáith Sproule on Guitar and Ottawa Valley Step Dancer Nathan Pilatzke.
In fact, Nathan Pilatzke will be joining Liz and Yvonne and Edel onstage for some of the PCG concert, and his footwork is not to be missed. Seeing him dance last year in The Catskills was a thoroughly memorable experience.
And one last thing not to be missed: the notable and distinctive fashion style of these three brilliant women of Irish music.
“We’re all about our style,” Yvonne laughed when I couldn’t resist bringing it up at the end of the interview. “We love our style. When we get a day off, we go out and do some mini shopping. We love the fashion in New York, but it doesn’t compare to the fashion in Ireland—it’s too good.”