Seán Laffey finds out about Artisan Row, a new traditional music group from London.
Artisan Row is Karen Ryan on fiddle, banjo, mandola and low whistle, Pete Quinn on piano, Conor Doherty (guitars, vocals), Elma McElligot (sax, flute, low whistle, backing vocals). To say Artisan Row are new is a bit misleading. Yes they have just released their debut album Wild Winds, but, they've been important musicians on the London Irish trad scene for two decades.
Yet they only performed together for the first in this combination in 2012, at the Ennis Trad Festival, launching Karen Ryan's acclaimed solo CD The Coast Road. The musical friendships that underpin Wild Winds have profoundly deep roots.
Conor Doherty tells me, "I studied music at University College Cork in the 1990s. Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin and Mel Mercier were teaching there then and made traditional music a respected part of the academic studies of the department. For me it was a fantastic mix of Irish, world and Western classical musics, and I was surrounded by some of the best traditional players in Ireland from whom I learnt a great deal."
"I met Pete way back in 1998 while we were both doing post grads in music at Goldsmith's College. We met at a local session in The Walpole pub in New Cross and hit it off immediately. As well as playing each week, we started playing every trad gig we could get in London and overseas. Pete was playing a lot of fiddle then and we had a fiddle, guitar and vocal duo. We were very poor students and the work was a great help financially. The worst and best gig we did was 4 solid days at a Christmas fair, playing a half hour set over and over again. Great money but mind-numbing."
Elma met Conor when they were both at University College Cork. "Conor and I did some collaborative work on some of his compositions, which had strong focus on percussion, this was as a part of his Ethnomusicology course. We also played sessions together. I first started playing the sax as part of Jazz Studies at the University. I experimented with Irish music on the sax while playing with great Cork musicians Deirdre and Donncha Moynihan" I asked Pete Quinn to unpick a few tracks from Wild Wood for us. "Texturally speaking, both Mary and the Soldier and Monk McClamont's Farewell to Articlave have lots going on. On the former, Conor and Karen provide really rich string lines on guitar and mandola, respectively, while myself and Elma sing backing harmonies on the latter to create a three-part vocal texture. My two Joyce settings, by comparison, are fairly understated–gentle, interlocking lines on piano and guitar on Sleep Now, stripped back to just piano on Dear Heart, with Elma and Karen supplying countermelodies on low whistles. I couldn't be happier with how they turned out. Conor sings them both beautifully."
Fiddler Karen Ryan switched to the tenor banjo in her late teens. "I was playing a number of weekly residencies on the banjo including The Fiddler's Elbow in Kentish Town and Vince Power's Powerhaus in Angel, Islington with West Cork musicians Johnny O'Leary (accordion) and John Coakley (multi-instrumentalist), alongside childhood London friends and fiddlers, Teresa Heanue and Elaine Conwell."
She switched back to the fiddle in her twenties and says, "the banjo only came out for teaching at music classes." Her journey back to the banjo began in 2009 when The London Lasses and Pete Quinn shared the bill at a festival in Alsace with the Galway band, Shaskeen. Karen takes up the story.
We were teaching workshops during the day, and since there was no sax workshop, the brilliant Sligo musician Tony Howley (who taught Séamus O'Donnell and was a huge influence on the next generation of musicians in his adopted home, Manchester), used to come and entertain us all during breaks by playing the sax. After the gigs in the evening, Tony and Tom would play the most uplifting sax and banjo music in the bar until the small hours. "Elma and I both recalled that we used to play the sax and banjo respectively and pledged to take the instruments out again for fun, to try and play together. After some practices in the house and a couple of tracks recorded on The Lasses' fifth album, we found we wanted to do more with this instrument combination."
So there you have it. Artisan Row are a new band twenty years in the making and all the better for it. Find out more @ www.facebook.com/artisanrowmusic.
First published @ Irish Music Magazine #261/2017 (www.irishmusicmagazine.com).
Return to Camden Town Festival 2017
For the third year, Return to Camden Town will be run by Irish Music and Dance in London. London’s classic festival of Irish traditional music, dance and song, will take place between Tuesday 24 and Monday 30 0ctober this year.
The line up so far includes
Artisan Row The London Lasses and Chris O’Mally Andrew Mac Namara, Karen Ryan and Pete Quinn CrossHarbour The Bonny Men Matt Molloy, John Carty and Arty McGlynn Noel Hill Gatehouse (feat. John Wynne, John and Jacinta McEvoy, Rachel Garvey) Mick O’Brien, Aoife Ní Bhríain and Caoimhín Ó Fearghail Dan Brouder and Angelina Carberry Niamh Parsons and Graham Dunne Claire and Sinéad Egan Peter McAlinden James Carty (fiddle) and Brian McGrath Star of Munster Céilí Band Jerry O’Reilly and more tba…
There will be festival events at a variety of Camden venues throughout the week – with a particularly high concentration at the London Irish Centre on Camden Square – see www.londonirishcentre.org) - on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 October. RTC will also be staging a number of preview and fundraising concerts.
Photo Credits: (1) ?? (unknown/website).