How New York Got Its Pride
Paul Keating can’t take credit for the amassed talent of the super ceili group, “Pride of New York,” but maybe he can take credit for the name.
It happened that in 2005, all four of what Keating now calls “the PONY people”—flute and whistle whiz Joanie Madden, fiddler Brian Conway, button box player Billy McComiskey, and pianist Brendan Dolan—were at the Catskills Irish Arts Week, where Keating is the artistic director.
“When I knew all four of them were there together, I wanted to put them on the stage for the Thursday night concert,” he recalls. “I’d had a lot of experience with them, and I knew they had a style of music that was spot on for dancing, with rhythms and comfort levels and a certain spirit and lift that was natural. I introduced them as the Pride of New York Ceili Band. I figured it was an appropriate name.”
The PONY people wowed the Catskills crowd, of course—how could they not?—but that concert marked the beginning of something bigger.
They came back and played again the next year, Keating said, and soon began looking for more opportunities to perform together. It wasn’t that they were strangers to the idea, after all. Keating recalls Joanie, Billy and Brian playing together with Brendan’s father Felix at the Eagle Tavern in Greenwich Village about 1989. Even then, he says, they had a “special sound.”
But this was something else. It was a concept that soon took on a life of its own. Not long after their 2006 Catskills performance, they landed a gig at the Irish American Community Center in East Haven, Connecticut. They played again at Lewisburg in County Mayo, and again at Lincoln Center’s outdoor dance series.
“It became clear that they really liked playing together,” says Keating. “I thought they should be documented—they should be recorded.”
With some grant proposal-writing help from Peter Brice, one of Billy’s students, funding for the project started to come together. Soon, the four were taking time out of their separately quite busy schedules to occasionally meet and record at Joanie’s home studio. The goal was to have a CD ready to go in time for launch at the 2009 Catskills festival.
“I encouraged them,” Keating says. I said that if you would do this, this would easily be the centerpiece of Catskills Irish Arts Week. We all agreed it was the right thing to do.
“They plodded ahead. They knew the end game would be to have it ready in time. They met the deadline.
“It was really an ambitious poject, but then again it wasn’t. This style of music and their respect for it is just second nature for them. they had exposure to the best players who came from Ireland to New York. They all mentored with people who came deeply from the well of traditional music. They had a heart and soul that went into the music, they developed a great respect for where the music came from. It stayed with them.
“They were also coming along at a time when there was a lot more comfidence and pride associated with the music. The music scene was evolving in part because of them, and around them. They kind of had this brash attitude toward it, and their music came across that way.”
Keating, naturally enough, is hugely proud of the band and the recording. “You have expectations,” he says, “but when they go beyond that, it’s especially satisfying.”