FolkWorld Issue 40 11/2009; Article by Seán Laffey

Gothic Nights & Happy Days
Caladh Nua - A New Band In A Creepy Castle

In October I met up with three lads from a very new band, so new that their debut album hadn’t come out and they were still to do their first official overseas concert. Of course I had a long conversation with them about their music and their ambitions and I’m sure this will find its way into a longer article in future, but to sum it up, they are mad for traditional music, are delighted to have such a distinctive singer as Lisa Butler in their line-up and are ready to play anywhere they can (are you listening festival organisers?).

Caladh Nua

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With years on the Fleadh and session circuit behind them they have a huge repertoire already. Under the management of Benny McCarthy they have worked to refine the music, as they told me the days of lads playing a session on stage are long gone, audiences are too sophisticated for that. But as box player Derek Morrisey is keen to point out, “what you’ll hear on the new album, ‘Happy Days’ you’ll hear live.”

Paddy Tutty one of the band’s two fiddlers, his face beaming with a huge smile agrees and adds “traditional music is what it’s about, sure we could have been tempted with overdubs and multi tracking when we went up to Grouse Lodge and yes we’d have made a good album that way, but if you can’t play it live why bother?”

This new band’s story goes back a wee bit further than that, well a good three months anyway.

This past June I got into a conversation with Danú’s box player Benny McCarthy, he mentioned that he was helping a new band that had recently formed after an initial meeting at the World Fleadh in Portlaoise last year and they’d be linking up again at the Willie Week (the big traditional music get together in Clare every July). I said tell me more when things come together for them. About ten weeks later he called me. It was my chance he said to see the new outfit in action at Gurteen Castle in Kilsheelan in Waterford. The concert I was told would be something special and it was going to be filmed.

OK so now you can go off for a few minutes and Google for Kilsheelan , it’ll let you place this story.

You are back.

Caladh Nua Yes I know Kilsheelan is in Tipperary, but the village is cut in half by the river Suir and the southern part is occupied by the old De Poer demesne, with the 19th century Gothic Revival castle as the centre piece, and all that is in County Waterford. The area these days is lush and rural, the Comeragh mountains rise up above the river in tiers of wooded slopes and clean modern industries such as pharmaceuticals and Bulmer’s Cider dot the little towns as the valley opens up towards cosmopolitan Waterford City. Five hundred years ago, the next door Ormond Castle was at the heart of the Elizabethan world, it was there that Black Tom Butler controlled the Royal wine trade of the Elizabethan court and as water wasn’t fit to drink he did very well for himself. So you see the area has always been well connected, is outward looking and has a knack of making the very best of business, no more fitting place then to launch a new group onto the world.

What followed can only be described in one word WOW. Everything was wow, the setting, the set up and the sets played by the band, who I was to learn are called Caladh Nua (Irish for a New Safe Harbour).

First the castle, it was warm and welcoming and more than a little different. Its owner is the Austrian hyper-realist artist Gottfried Helnwein. He paints monochrome pictures on large canvasses, he has a fondness for the darker side of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, his friend Marylin Manson posed as an evil Mickey Mouse for two very large portraits that now hang on the balcony of the hall. Helnwein paints pictures of blind-folded children, there are skulls in his library, when Dita Von Tease got married she did so right here and the bride famously wore purple. ‘Tis Hallowe’en all year round then.

Caladh Nua The TV set up was equally large scale and detailed. Benny had the TG4 Feilte TV camera crew and their production team on hand to record this fully acoustic concert. No small feat of filming either as the four camera set up included a jibby-jib boom together with three other cameras on tripods, all of which had to negotiate around the invited crowd who sat on the high backed baronial chairs or were perched on the marble staircase. There are some great shots of the night on the band’s website by the way.

The music was very much up to the high standards of the venue and with box playing mentors Benny McCarthy and Bobby Gardner in the audience the band were kept on their toes. Caladh Nua are Eoin O' Meachair (Banjo, Mandolin & Whistles), Paddy Tutty (Fiddle), Lisa Butler (Lead Vocals & Fiddle) , Derek Morrisey (Button Accordion) and Colm O'Caoimh (Guitar,Bouzouki & Vocals). They are based in Carlow, Kilkenny and Dungarvan and as they say themselves “a five hour drive is no problem if it leads to a weekend of music”. Their sound is tight and unusually they feature banjo and mandolin in the mix which works extremely well on sets of tunes from the Flanagan brothers. Songs are central to their musical philosophy and Lisa’s vocals were excellent on the night, no small accomplishment given the strange acoustic of the grand hall , which rises three stories to a domed glass roof, her voice projected easily to the folks on the creaky seats at the back of the audience.

That Caladh Nua could carry off an un-miced gig in front of a TV crew shows that they are more than ready to take this out live on the international circuit. The lads also recorded the new theme tune for the Feilte programmes at the Gurteen Castle gig.

Caladh Nua So what happens next? They will have a CD out very soon and is called “Happy Days”.It was recorded at Grouse Lodge, in West Meath, currently perhaps the best acoustic recording studio in the country and the one that Michael Jackson used on his incognito visits to Ireland. Paddy told me that Benny was an excellent manager and had everything written down for the band when they went into the studio, this meant there was very little time wasting or un-necessary experimenting and the group could get the best out of the studio and the engineer’s time. Eoin told me the title comes from a hornpipe he’d been playing for years in Carlow and had mistakenly given it this name, when it came to researching tune names for the CD they discovered it was a composition called “All 65 Pounds of It”. This refers to an Irish Harp, the tune is by the American whistle player LE McCulloch, his permission to record the tune was sought and won and the band worked this into the Happy Days Set, which became the name of their debut album. Look out for the new album which will be ready for their first overseas festival when the play the Copenhagen Irish Fest on November 6th. Irish audiences intrigued by the new group will have to wait until February and the UCC Folk Festival and Gathering festival in Killarney to hear them live, until then the album will have to suffice.

Solid traditional music with plenty of flair and loads of musical imagination, a manager in Benny McCarthy who knows the circuit and has a gut feeling for what traditional music audiences really want, looks like a winning formula from day one. We’ll have more on Caladh Nua I’m sure , for now they are a band to seek out, they are hungry for the work and mad to play, festival organisers out there, get them booked now before they become stellar.

Photo Credits: (1)-(4) Caladh Nua (by Seán Laffey).

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