Christmas is more than two weeks away, but from now through December 20, it’s going to be Christmas nearly every day for Irish music superstars Karan Casey and the members of one of Ireland’s top bands Lúnasa.
“Christmas with Lúnasa and Karan Casey” is touring the U.S. for the second year in a row, stopping for a concert this Sunday night at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. The show starts at 7. (Info and tickets here.)
To hear Casey tell it, performing with Lúnasa is a nice little gift all by itself.
“Musically, they are incredibly tight, well-practiced, and supportive. It’s lovely having the bass, with Trevor (Hutchinson). That adds a lot. To me, the Lúnasa tour is a kind of luxury. I don’t have to do much of the organizing. Cillian (Vallely, uilleann pipes and whistles) is very good at it. I just have to swan in, and sing my songs. And with Kevin (Crawford, flutes and whistles), sure, I laugh most of the tour. I can’t repeat a lot of what he says. It’s good fun more than anything.”
Casey travels a lot during the year, performing with the cream of Irish musicians, so the Christmas tour is certainly no hardship. For one thing, as any musician will tell you, it’s great to have work, and some of the stops along the way offer the prospect of warmer temperatures. “There could be no gigs … and from an Irish person’s perspective, you get to go to California. How good is that?”
It also helps that Casey really likes Christmas. Not the kind of Christmas that begins in the United States in October, with glittery snowflake decorations and cheesy carols piped over the P.A. systems in the department stores—Casey means the kind of Christmas that actually begins sometime around, oh, let’s say, Christmas.
“I love the way everybody sings together,” she says. “I like that everybody talks about peace, and sings the music of peace. It’s acceptable to say that in December.”
Casey, who tours with Lúnasa a few times a year, likes Christmas songs, if for no other reason than that they’re tunes she normally wouldn’t sing.
“We do a mixture. I’ll do a few songs from my own catalog, like ‘Lady Mary Anne’ and ‘Sixteen Come Next Sunday.’ But we’ll also do ‘Silent Night,’ and even a few well known jazz Christmas songs. I really love doing ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ and ‘The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire).’ And Kevin sings as well. I can’t get him to stop. We’re just doing ones we like.”
After the Lúnasa tour, Casey returns to Cork for a brief break, followed by a tour of Ireland with Maura O’Connell, Ed Boyd and Martin Tourish, and a stop in Glasgow for the annual winter music festival Celtic Connections.
Then it’s back to the United States for a brief tour (February 12 through March) with her second band (after Atlantic Bridge), the Philly-based supergroup Solas. Noriana Kennedy, who had been singing with Solas following the departure of Niamh Varian-Barry, took maternity leave. Last spring, with a Japan engagement coming up, Solas front man Seamus Egan asked Casey if she would step in.
“Seamus texted me, and said, Karan, this is a long shot, but can you go to Japan next week? I texted back and said, yes, I can, actually,” Casey says. “For Japan, I had to learn all the songs from the ‘Shamrock City’ album. That was a bit of a shock. I had to learn 10 songs in a week. It was a great week, though, really great. Then, he said, ‘Can you do a few more gigs this year? Noriana’s not fully back.’ So for 2015, we’ll be doing some of ‘Shamrock City,’ and some other ones.”
The last time she sang with Solas, Casey says, was in 2006, for the band’s 10th anniversary album. Soon, we’ll be looking at the 20th, so the tour represents an opportunity kick ideas around for the next big anniversary recording. With a smile in her voice, Casey says, “We can discuss, if not argue, over the songs we’re going to do.”