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Podcast: Interview with Oisín Mac Diarmada of Téada

In the world of Irish traditional music, you would be hard-pressed to find a more accomplished and creative group than Téada.

County Sligo fiddler Oisín Mac Diarmada, the group’s founder, recently sat down for an interview with The conversation was wide-ranging, starting with his earliest days in County Clare learning the fiddle—sometimes when he might have preferred playing football to practicing—to a time when it seemed his career path might lie in the field of education, and ultimately to the successful career he has carved out with Téada and his talented bandmates.

The picture he paints is one of a musical journey ever evolving and ever more creative.

Téada will be appearing Thursday, February 21, at Sellersville Theater 1894, 24 West Temple Avenue in Sellersville. The show starts at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7:30. Ticket prices range from $21.50 to $29.50.

Tickets and more information here.

Editor’s note: All Irish Philly podcasts are now available on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn and Spotify.

How to Be Irish in Philly

How To Be Irish in Philly This Week

C.J. Mills with singer Kim Killen at American Celtic Christmas.

C.J. Mills with singer Kim Killen at American Celtic Christmas.

This is the week for Irish Christmas shows, so if you’re not in the spirit yet, you have multiple opportunities to get your holiday act together. By the end of this week, your “bah humbug” bad mood won’t have a chance.

For the third year, An American Celtic Christmas—an extravaganza of traditional and modern Irish music—will command the stage at Bensalem High School for two shows on Saturday, December 6.

The annual holiday show was started by two local musicians, Frank Daly and C.J. Mills of Jamison Celtic Rock and Slainte, and has quickly become a tradition for many families in the Philadelphia area. Through their production company, American Paddy’s, they also produce The Philadelphia Fleadh, a multi-stage festival held in the spring in Pennypack Park.

Along with Jamison, this year’s lineup includes John Bryne, Raymond Coleman, Bob Hurst of the Bogside Rogues, and more than 100 other performers, including three local dance troupes.

Also on Saturday, Irish fiddler Kevin Burke will be performing solo at the Coatesville Cultural Center in Coatesville, and the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s production of John Patrick Shanley’s “Outside Mullingar” continues at the Suzanne Robert’s Theater in Philadelphia.

On Sunday, bring the kids to meet both Santa and the International Rose of Tralee, Maria Walsh, for a Christmas themed afternoon at The Saturday Club in Wayne.

Also on Sunday, the Divine Providence Village Rainbow Step Dancers, a group of developmentally disabled women, will hold their Christmas show at the Masonic Lodge in Prospect Park.

And in Philadelphia, the top trad group, Lunasa, will be performing its Christmas show with vocalist Karan Casey, formerly of Solas, at the Zellerbach Theater on Sunday evening.

On Monday, the Irish Immigration Center and the Irish Center are hosting their annual Christmas luncheon for seniors at the Irish Center. Copies of the Immigration Center’s fundraising calendar—in which the seniors recreate scenes from 12 popular Irish movies—will be available for sale.

On Tuesday, December 9, two popular Irish musicians – Phil Coulter and Andy Cooney—join forces for an evening of Christmas music at the Keswick Theater in Glenside.

On Thursday, December 11, Oisin McDiarmada and his group, Teada, are bringing their popular “Irish Christmas in America” to the Sellersville Theater.

Also on Thursday, the Irish American Business Chamber and Network is having its 12th Night Before Christmas part at LeMeridien Philadelphia Hotel on Arch Street in Philadelphia.

And next Sunday, December 14, popular Irish performer Cahal Dunne brings his Christmas show—and likely some interesting outfits and lots of laughs—to the Irish Center.


Review: “Ainneoin na Stoirme” by Téada

teada stormI believe the word I am looking for is “Wow.“

I refer to “Ainneoin na Stoirme (In Spite of the Storm),” the vibrant new CD from the Irish traditional supergroup Téada. It’s a jewel. Emerald, of course.

The band possesses a particular talent for resurrecting the great old stuff and making it seem like new stuff. A lot of bands play the old tunes with a good deal of flair, and a reverence for tradition. I probably like them all, in one way or another, for one reason or another.

Still, there’s something different and rare about Téada. The band’s world-class young musicians, led by founder Oisín Mac Diarmada on fiddle, know how to fill every corner of a room with rich, gorgeous sound. If you’ve heard them in concert, you know what I’m talking about. All the same, there’s a music box lightness and airiness to their execution of that sound that I’ve always admired.

So in that sense, “In Spite of the Storm” is more of the same. And that’s a very good thing indeed.

Now, add to the mix 2013 TG4 Traditional Singer of the Year and living legend Séamus Begley. He joined the band in March of 2012. His voice is like a branch of strong, solid mahogany, sanded down to a silky smoothness. It’s not as if Téada was ever lacking. Téada never needed anything to make it better than the already accomplished band that it is. And yet, Begley’s singing takes an already accomplished band and somehow completes it.

Begley’s singing produces many of the albums finest moments. I particularly liked the waltz “Ar A MBóithrín Buí/Tell Me Now.” Sung in Irish, it sounded like the gentlest of lullabies.

One cute little tune you won’t want to miss is Marty Robbins’ old chestnut, “Saddle Tramp.” Begley seems to delight in telling you a story, and this is a good one. You have to love the lyrics:

They call me a drifter, they say I’m no good
I’ll never amount to a thing
Well, I may be a drifter and I may be no good
There’s joy in this song that I sing

Couldn’t have said it better. Mac Diarmada might surprise you with his take on old-timey fiddling. It really makes the tune.

Of course, Mac Diarmada and his bandmates have always possessed the power to amaze. They hit the ground running with a blistering set of reels (“Dinny O’Brien’s/The Sweetheart Reel/Paddy Kenny’s”). You’ll be hanging on by your fingernails, but the boys hold the whole thing together with ease.

You’ll also a nice pairing of jigs and a slip jig, “The Jig of the Dead/I Have a House of My Own With a Chimney Built On the Top of It/Paddy Breen’s/The Bird’s Call.” Seán Mc Elwain opens the set with some terrific bouzouki licks, and he’s a key element of everything that follows, providing skilled counterpoint throughout.

Flutist Damien Stenson takes the lead on the final set, reels once again: “James Murray’s; Porthole of the Kelp/The Watchmaker/The Spinning Wheel. Very pretty.

I also have to say, I sometimes think its easy not to notice the contribution of the bodhran player. And I’m not just saying that because of my feeble attempts to play the thing. I think that’s because, if the drummer knows is business, he’s supporting the band in a very delicate, unobtrusive, but really indispensible way. It’s really not an easy act to pull off. Fair play, as the saying goes, to Tristan Rosenstock, who provides solid rhythmic  backing from the beginning to the end of this 11-track offering.

All told, a terrific and indispensable piece of work.


Review: Ceol & Cuimhne (Music & Memory) by Téada


The band Teada in a pensive pose.

We’ll start with track 4 from the new Téada CD, Ceol & Cuimhne. It’s a set of reels including “The Russians Are Coming,” “The Miller’s Daughter” and “The Boston-Sligo Reel.”

The set begins with a few bars of airy bouzouki flatpicking by Seán Mc Elwain. It’s a deceptively light introduction to a sudden, frenzied duel between flutist Damien Stenson and Tristan Rosenstock, the band’s bodhrán player. By the time fiddler Oisín Mac Diarmada and Paul Finn on button accordion jump into the set, just before the transition to the second reel, things are already rocketing along. If there is some physical law of music that says a performance cannot exceed the speed of sound or light, or the bounds of good sense, these boys just broke it.

They can get away with it. Téada is just that good.

Whether they’re playing the foot-stomping “Circus Polka” or the tender “Sligo Air” (accompanied by the gifted County Mayo harper Gráinne Hambly, who has performed with the band on its annual Christmas tour), these five young exponents of traditional Irish music don’t make artistic compromises. Expect excitement, expect invention, but don’t expect trade-offs. They’re like the Blue Brothers of trad–they’re on a mission from God.

“Ceol & Cuimhne”–Irish for “music & memory”–is all about fidelity to tradition. Téada is demonstrably bound by an obligation to the past, but with their exuberant style of play and the sheer force of their virtuosity, the band succeeds wonderfully well at making the old tunes revelant and compelling here and now. For Téada, temporal convergence seems to be a recurring theme. Their 2006 album, “Inne Amarach” means “yesterday tomorrow.”

Like “Inne Amarach,” “Ceol & Cuimhne” is also a loving tribute to the legends of traditional Irish music, like Junior Crehan, Paddy Fahy, Michael Coleman and Philadelphia’s own Ed Reavy. Diehard traditionalists will find a lot to like in tunes like “Paddy Cronin’s,” “All Around the Room” and “Seamus McKenna’s.”

There are many standout performances on this recording. Fiddle fans will savor Oisín Mac Diarmada’s fresh interpretation of “Clothiers,” a march here presented as an air. “All Around the Room,” the middle tune in a set that includes “Miss Cassidy’s” and “The Ballingra Lass,” showcases the fine talents of Paul Finn, as does “Merty Rabbett’s.” And of course, Damien Stenson is everywhere, generally setting things on fire.

A comment or two on Rosenstock and McElwain. (Sounds like a law firm.) Rosenstock is like the Ringo Starr of the bodhran. (Which would make John Joe Kelly, what … Keith Moon?) As with Ringo, I think it’s easy to underrate Rosenstock. He just sets down a rock-solid rhythm, really knows the tunes well, and sticks to the other players like glue. Do I like the flashier stuff? You bet. But I can also appreciate the artistry and sensitivity with which Rosenstock plies his trade.

In much the same way, I think it’s all too easy to overlook McElwain. He’s always in the background. But if you listen to what he’s up to, you realize that the question of whether a tune holds together or falls apart often hinges on how well he plays. A band couldn’t have a better backbone.

The point is, they’re all world-class. And “Ceol & Cuimhne” is a world-class contribution to the tradition.


Irish Christmas in Philadelphia

If you missed either “Once Upon a Winter’s Night” or “An Irish Christmas in America…” well, you shouldn’t have. But you’re lucky—we were there and have some videos to prove it.

“Once Upon a Winter’s Night’s” Gabriel Donohue, Caitlin Warbelow and Marian Makins have developed a lovely chemistry among their trio, both musically and as they interact with the audience. Their selection of songs for the Christmas holiday included the sublime ( “Christmas in the Trenches”) and humorous (“Miss Fogerty’s Christmas Cake), and their December 6 concert at The Irish Center set the mood for the season beautifully.

And then pair that with Teada’s “Irish Christmas in America” at The Annenberg Center 5 days later, and you have a feast of riches. Oisin MacDiarmada returned with Tristan Rosenstock on the bodhran and performing the role of master of ceremonies to great audience delight; Tommy Martin on the pipes and whistle, Grainne Hambly on the harp, with special guest Seamus Begley on the accordion and vocals. The extra special guest was guitarist Sean Earnest, who hails from Bethlehem and has made the transition to the big time.

Oh, and lest we forget, sean nos dancer Brian Cunningham with some wicked dance steps. Not for nothing that among the comments overheard at intermission were: “Oh, my…the ENERGY!!!” and “the funniest concert ever” (that was a nod to Seamus Begley who could entertain an audience with stories and limericks alone).

Watch Brian Cunningham’s dancing feet.

Two great evenings, two great reasons to be Irish in Philly at Christmas time!


How To Be Irish in Philly This Week

Teada's flute player, Damien Stenson.

Teada's flute player, Damien Stenson.

We’ve got one word for you: Teada. It’s pronounced Tay-da and it’s the name of one of the finest modern-day traditional bands to come out of Ireland. They packed them in at the Irish Center for their Christmas show, and they’re back on Saturday, May 16, to demonstrate again why “Living Tradition” magazine calls them “brilliant young musicians who present Irish music as it really is: the joy of it, the full breadth and depth of it, the power and pace of it.” The concert is sponsored by the Philadelphia Ceili Group. Don’t miss it.

The first of several benefits for the WTMR Irish radio shows occurs on Tuesday, with the Camden County Emerald Society sponsoring a night of Irish music at the Coastline Restaurant in Cherry Hill. Lots of local musicians are pitching in their talent and there’s a free buffet meal.

And you know, if this is the Philadelphia area, there’s an Irish traditional session going on somewhere just about every night of the week, usually in the proximity of some good draft Irish beer (with apologies to the South Jersey Irish seisun, which serves coffee at its new locale, the Coffee Garden in Audubon).

Check our calendar for all the local listings. And if you have an event, please add it to our calendar (yes, you can do it yourself).

Don’t forget to eat, drink, and buy Irish.


A Little Bit of Holiday Cheer

Sean nos dancer Brian Cunningham has flying feet.

Sean nos dancer Brian Cunningham has flying feet.

A couple of weeks ago, ticket sales were as sluggish as the Stock Market for Teada’s “Irish Christmas in America” show, a Philadelphia Ceili Group production scheduled for December 9 at Philadelphia’s Irish Center. But by that evening, there was a rally, and hundreds of people filled the vast ballroom for a little taste of Celtic Christmas–a full house to hear traditional Irish tunes and learn a little about Celtic traditions.

Karan Casey, a founding member of the group, Solas, was the featured soloist, and she wowed the crowd with everything from Irish carols to her paean to Barack Obama, the Nina Simone tune, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free.” “Barack Obama,” she explained, “was like an early Christmas gift to the world.”

Also on the bill: uillean piper Tommy Martin, harper Grainne Hambley, and the remarkable, 23-year-old sean nos (old style) dancer, Brian Cunningham. And, of course, Teada itself: founder and the show’s producer, Oisin Mac Diarmada, an All-Ireland fiddler from Sligo; Damien Stenson, also a Sligo native, who plays flute; guitarist Sean McIElwain, and Dublin’s own Tristan Rosenstock, who plays bodhran and was the night’s narrator and stand-up comic.

If you couldn’t be there and would love to hear some of the performance, Marianne MacDonald will be playing some cuts from the “Irish Christmas in America” CD on her radio show on Sunday, December 14, at noon. Tune in to WTMR-800 AM, right after the Vince Gallagher Irish Radio Show. You can hear it on the web at


And For All, a Very Good Night Indeed

Guitarist Seán McElwain, in "wren boy" guise.

Guitarist Seán McElwain, in "wren boy" guise.

If you weren’t in the holiday mood before the Irish Christmas in America concert Saturday night at the Irish Center, then you would have to have been made of stone not to be full of the yuletide spirit afterward.

Holiday or not, it would have to have been a deeply satisfying experience for lovers of Irish traditional music. The core of the band consisted of three members of the supergroup Téada: fiddler and producer Oisín Mac Diarmada, Seán McElwain on guitar and Tristan Rosenstock on bodhrán and serving as the show’s narrator. Singing and playing flute and whistle was Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, lead singer of yet another supergroup, Danú. Rounding out the ensemble was local favorite, harper Gráinne Hambly and the superb uilleann piper Tommy Martin.

Joining the band from time to time on stage were two fine dancers from the great Irish state of Texas, Abbey Magill and Siena Hickey.

Surely, all that A-list Irish entertainment on one stage would have to be enough to melt even the iciest of hearts on this, the iciest of nights.

The show, presented by the Philadelphia Ceili Group, artfully blended the Christmas traditions of Ireland and America—including one all-too-brief appearance by the “wren boys” (Oisín, Seán and Tristan in the guise of the costumed merry-makers who hit up their friends and neighbors for food and drink on December 26, the feast of St. Stephen, an age-old Irish tradition.

The musicians also blended some familiar tunes and sets from their own work, such as a set of jigs from Martin’s “Shady Woods” CD (“Wallop The Spot,” ”The Leg of the Duck” and “Temple Hill,” accompanied by McElwain) and Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh’s latest release, “Fainne An Lae : Daybreak” (“The Emigrant’s Farewell,” accompanied beautifully by Martin) and “An Spealadóir,” accompanied by everybody). Nic Amhlaoibh and Martin also paired up later on for a memorable whistle duet.

The regular performance closed out with Nic Amhlaoibh singing “Silent Night” in Irish, and then leading the audience in a verse in English. The band had time for precisely one killer encore before packing up the minivans and driving down to Charleston, West Virginia, in the freezing rain for a 3 p.m. performance on Sunday. (Anyone who thinks this sounds like fun is nuts. For all that, they stuck around and graciously spent time chatting with members of the audience, posing for pictures and signing autographs.)

Still, I could just swear I heard them exclaim, ere they drove out of sight, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”

If you missed it, don’t worry—we shot some photos.