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Audio, Music

Interview with Lunasa’s Trevor Hutchinson

The latest episode of “Tea with Irish Philly” features Trevor Hutchinson, who got up early one morning just to talk to us.

The band’s Irish Christmas show rolls into Wilmington’s Grand Opera House next Friday, December 14. (Details here.) The show also features vocalist Ashley Davis, a spectacular artist in her own right.

We chatted with Trevor about the show, guaranteed to get you in the spirit, along with the band’s latest album, Cas.

Here’s what he had to say. Listen to the podcast.

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.

Music, People

Kevin Crawford’s Summer Song

Kevin Crawford, visiting sunny Sea Isle.

Kevin Crawford, visiting sunny Sea Isle.

Add another tune to the “Jersey Shore Sound” songbook—and no, Bruce Springsteen didn’t write it.

It’s called the “Shore House Reel,” and it comes from a surprising source: virtuoso flutist Kevin Crawford of Lúnasa. You can hear it on the band’s most recent recording, “Lá Nua.” It’s the peppy little number at the very end, and it is an homage to none other than Sea Isle City.

Crawford came to know one of our favorite shore towns courtesy of Bob McLaughlin (brother of Jim McLaughin, board member of the Irish American Business Chamber & Network), who lives outside Chicago. McLaughlin owns a shore house about a block from the beach. Crawford started staying there as a guest a few years ago.

“”I got to know Bob first and foremost because he’s an up-and-coming flute player. He came to flute camp at the Swannanoa Gathering in North Carolina about five years ago,” recalls Crawford. “He was in my class and we hung out together for about a week. we just got to be good friends.”

A couple of years into the relationship, McLaughlin mentioned that he had a beach house and wondered if Crawford might want to use it from time to time when he was touring in the States. Crawford jumped at the chance for a place to charge his creative batteries.

“It’s been very good, actually,” he says. “I come in periodically. I’ve been fortunate to have the odd four- or five-day stint down there. A few years ago, myself and Cillian (Vallely, Lúnasa’s uilleann piper) recorded our (2009) duet album “On Common Ground” at Maja Studios in Philadelphia. We just commuted in and out of sea Isle. We’d get up in the morning and go for a run along the boardwalk, go for a swim, and then head into Philadelphia. And then back to Sea Isle again. It was good to get out of the city.”

Crawford lives in County Clare—which boasts a few stunning shore towns of its own—but he says he doesn’t think of Clare in the same way. Touring and living out of a suitcase can be exhausting. For Crawford, Sea Isle offers a respite. For a few days at least, he can settle in and blend into a community and make it his own. “I go on lots of trips abroad with the band, but you never really feel like you’ve seen the place or been part of things for any period of time. It all worked out perfectly for this trip. We had a few days in New York City, and it was fairly mental. We were staying downtown amid all the hustle and bustle. Then we went down to the shore. It was chalk and cheese. After a few days there, I felt fully fit and ready to go.”

Jim McLaughlin understands why the shore—and the house—are so appealing. “I think he likes the feeling that this is Bob’s plce. Bob and he have become like brothers. If Kevin ever needed bail money theres no doubt who the call would go to. He feels like it’s an extension of home.”

Just like Philadelphians who annually migrate to a particular shore town, Crawford has come to know Sea Isle pretty well. He says he’s become a big fan of local eateries, including Braca’s, Mike’s Seafood Market and O’Donnell’s Pour House. “I usually kind of steer clear of Irish pubs,” he confesses, “but I’ve been there a couple of times, and it was brilliant.”

(Jim McLaughlin notes that Kevin has also become a major fan of Wawa.)

It was during one of those recent “chill out” visits to Sea Isle that the idea came to him for a tune in honor of his adopted South Jersey resort town. He had been thinking of naming a tune for Sea Isle for some time, but had no firm plans. It wasn’t as if, he says, “I went up to my music room and say, ‘I’m gonna write a tune for Bob.'” It came to him one night out when he and Cillian were out on the deck.

“You could hear the waves crashing one block over from us. It was a really serene vibe when we were there. I said to Cillian that it would be nice if we had a track (on the upcoming CD) that was a little more laid back. So we started rearranging things for different instruments. We wound up recording the tunes (there are two other reels in the set, “Inverness County Reel” and “The Beauty Spot”) on lower pitched pipes. It just made it sound not as mad and as upbeat. It just reminded us of the calmness of Sea Isle.”

Some writers going for “calm” might have opted for a slow air. Crawford penned a reel because, he says, Bob McLaughlin loves reels. “I know from teaching Bob at workshops that there are certain tunes he likes, that he’s attracted to. I wanted a tune that Bob would like. It’s made for him.”

Crawford hints that this won’t be the last composition in honor of his gracious hosts. “The McLaughlins have just been so good to us, they’re a great family, really love their Irish heritage,” says Crawford. “I’m sure there will be more tunes.”

Lúnasa appears in concert this week—Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 7:30 p.m.—at Calvary United Methodist Church, 801 South 48th Street (at Baltimore Avenue), in West Philadelphia.


CD Review: Lunasa’s “The Story So Far”

The Lunasa retrospective “The Story So Far” showed up in the mail the other day, and I thought: Great … what can I say about a compilation? How do you review tunes that already have been released and reviewed years before?

The answer is: You mostly don’t.

I say “mostly” because, even though all the tunes have been previously released on Lunasa’s previous six CDs, there are, as it happens, two brand-new recordings to reflect the band’s current lineup.

“Morning Nightcap” and “Aibreann” have been dusted off and given not remarkably new treatments—but they are still lovely to hear again, anyway. all the same.

“Aibreann” actually sounded better, I think, the first time I heard it, on the band’s 1998 debut album. The new version, produced at Compass Records in Nashville, does sound much cleaner—you can really hear guitarist Paul Meehan’s lush chordwork, and that’s unquestionably a good thing—but the more recent effort lacks the energy of the original.

“Morning Nightcap,” on the other hand, definitely sounds fresher and crisper, and, if anything, tighter than the already pretty fantastic version recorded in 2002 on “The Merry Sisters of Fate” (Green Linnet). Again, it’s not remarkably different from the original, but it’s a fuller, more complete and more vibrant performance.

As for all the rest, if you are a Lunasa fan, you’ll be happy to note that most of your favorites are there—”Eanair,” “The Miller of Drohan,” “Casu,” “Punch,” “The Floating Crowbar” (I just love that title) and more. (There are 16 tracks in all.)

If, like me, you already have all of the previous recordings, is there any reason to have this new CD? I would say yes, if only to have the benefit of a much more polished sound. And if, also like me, you keep your CDs in the car, they are caked with french fry grease and Coke syrup. It’s about time for a new one, anyway.

I’d recommend “The Story So Far” for newbies. If you haven’t heard Lunasa—and weren’t they great at the 2007 Ceili Group Festival?—this is surely a terrific introduction.

And it’s not as if all the rest of their stuff is merely passable. It’s all pretty phenomenal. So let this new CD be your first, and you’ll see what all the rest of their fans are raving about.


How Lúnasa Makes Music

There’s an old saying attributed to that funny old German dude Otto Von Bismarck which he used as a way of explaining the often ugly process of governing: “Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.” (The “Iron Chancellor” was always coming out with knee-slappers like that.)

Unless you are unnaturally patient (or musically masochistic), you might say much the same thing about how the top Irish band Lúnasa makes music. It’s a painstaking process indeed, according to Lúnasa flutist Kevin Crawford.

Speaking by phone from his home outside the town of Ennis in County Clare, Crawford says that, before the band began recording their most recent CD, , they began with what he calls a “short list” of tunes. By “short,” Crawford means about 90 or so.

“We brought that list to the table a good six to eight months before we even went in to record the tunes,” Crawford says. “We offered the list to (guitarist) Paul (Meehan) and to (bass player) Trevor (Hutchinson). Generally, Paul and Trevor troll through the tunes we give them, keeping the ones that work and throwing out the rest. They come back with at least half of them. From there we just start whittling it down. We get that list down to about 30 tunes and before you know it you have an album.”

If you’ve heard —pronounced “shay,” it’s Irish for “six”—or any of the five other Lúnasa recordings, you’d have to agree that all the fuss is worth it. The music of Lúnasa is brilliantly melodic, but what really sets it apart is its boundless rhythmic adventurousness. Crawford and colleagues have an affinity for mind-bending time signatures. They have a rare talent for bending and blending tunes together in ways that they really weren’t meant to go.

Developing that unique sound was always the plan, says Crawford: “It was always the case that we wanted it to be slightly different. We had all done different things. We decided that, when we came together, we wanted to try out a new approach. It was to give an equal share to both melody and rhythm.”

Maintaining that balance translates into an awful lot of work.

“We do spend an awful lot of time sourcing tunes and trying to figure out whether they’re going to fit the jigsaw,” Crawford says. “A lot gets discarded. We do actually drive ourselves crazy looking for the correct tunes. We’ve gotten more skilled at it over the last 10 years we’ve been working.”

“Skilled” doesn’t half describe Lúnasa’s virtuosity.

Find out yourself at the 33rd Annual Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival Friday, Sept. 7, starting at 7:30 p.m., at the Philadelphia Irish Center, Carpenter and Emlen Streets, in the Mount Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. Tim Britton will open. Tickets are $25 ($27 at the door).