Saturday Potpourri: The young pups are taking over…and a story of G.A.S.

I went to a party Friday night to celebrate Zeke McLaughlin’s 60th birthday. It was a very good party–good conversation, great food, bottomless drink, and good music (the very definition of great craic).

As a gift, the man’s brother hired two twelve year old musicians: one played fiddle, the other uillean pipes and whistle. The music was nice–the boys had even brought Zeke a whistle of his own as a gift (he is an Irish flute player as well as whistler.) It was good to see the young pups bringing in the music.  Here they are:

I only found out later that these two young men are quite serious about their music.  They have their own website The Ladeens and their own touring schedule.  And two more polite and charming young men you’ll never meet.

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After the party, I went to a pub to see some friends play where I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in many, many years.  He introduced me to the woman he had brought with him and riskily I asked her if he had told her about his G.A.S.  She knew right away that I was talking about Guitar Acquisition Syndrome.

A Small Case of G.A.S.

I met Richard while working in an advertising agency.  He was in the cubicle next to me. I knew he had had some success as a musician. He had opened for some pretty famous bands and had worked as a studio musician in Nashville.  And I also knew that he hadn’t touched a guitar in about ten years. I don’t know the whys or wheres, but he had just put that part of himself away and was now a talented graphic designer.

One afternoon, I took an extended lunch and bought a $300 dollar guitar that was on sale for $150. The day was sweltering and I didn’t want to leave it in a car so I brought it into my cubicle. Richard soon moseyed over and began noodling around. (It was immediately obvious that he was a very good player.)

Well a few days later, Richard asked me to go with him to a music store.  We wandered around a bit, and Richard left with a very good guitar. (Much better, more expensive than the low-end Ibanez that I had bought.)

A month later, he told me he had bought another.  I had re-awakened a monster.  He was teetering very close to the edge of G.A.S. Soon there was another…then another…then a humidifier or dehumidifier for the basement where he kept them. He was no longer teetering. He had a full-blast syndrome.

Since then, Richard has stopped buying guitars in music shops. Instead, he is having them made for him. In our conversation last night, he mention that he has a “luthier” who he works with.  I think he is down to eight, but they are sometimes different–he trades them or sells them in order to get another.

He plays very well, but refuses to play out anymore. (He had joined a band a few years back but his reluctance to play out was an obstacle to the band’s going anywhere.)

Anyway, it was good to see a long gone friend. And fun to talk music with him. Maybe, before too long we can sit down and play a few tunes together again.

Richard’s Olsen guitar


Barney McKenna–R.I.P.

So.  The mother-in-law of a fiddler I used to play with died last week. I went to  visit early Monday morning, but didn’t stay for the funeral.  When I got home, a friend called to say that he had just missed me at the church.  He also said–I thought –that the woman who died had been a relative of Barney McKenna, the great banjo player for The Dubliners.

Later in the week, I get another message from another friend that Barney McKenna had died earlier in the week.  Too weird.  I call my pal to tell him about the strange coincidence. Turns out that I had misheard his original message from the start.  The first friend knew about McKenna’s death and merely told me that Barney McKenna’s obituary was on the same page as the woman’s whose funeral I had just gone to.  There was no connection, no relation. Man, had I misheard.

A young Barney McKenna

One of the founding members of The Dubliners, Barney McKenna helped changed Irish music forever, moving it from the back rooms of O’Donahue’s pub on Merion Row to concert halls in the Europe and U.S.   With the original line up of Luke Kelley, Ronnie Drew, and Ciaran Bourke, Barney McKenna and the Dubliners were prolific and talented. In various incarnations and through changes of players, they played for more than 50 years.

As it happens, last week, McKenna was having tea at the kitchen table with a friend when he appeared to have “nodded off.”  If you gotta go–and we all have to–what a great a way to do it, place your chin on your chest and simply nod off.  Anyway, in memory of Barney McKenna, here’s a short clip of his playing in Germany sometime in the mid-90s.:

Sunday Music–Black 47

For the next two weeks, Philadelphia is awash with “Irish” bands.  Most of them are home-grown and are playing at bars that are on the maps of organized pub crawls for the next two weekends. (Why do so many “Irish” pubs have initials. P.J. O’Toole’s, J.D. McGullicuddy’s, J.P. Monaghan’s?  Wasn’t any Irish kid called by his full name? Or was calling him by his initials a way to ensure that  he becomes a bar-owner?)  Anyway, there is a lot of live Irish music around right now–some of it great, some of it less so.  It is also the time when a slew of national/international Irish-music acts come through the area.  The Chieftains played here Friday night; the SawDoctors are in town Tuesday night; and Lunasa is here on Wednesday night.

Black 47 was at the World Cafe on Friday night, the 9th.  They were brilliant. It had been 10 years since I saw them last, and they are still musically tight, politically raucous, and extraordinary fun. The front man, Larry Kirwan is a dynamo of energy, the brass section is still stellar, and the newer additions (for me, that is) have added to the fun and musicianship. Black 47’s music is raucous and tender,  a mix of Springsteen and the Clash, heavily infused with Celtic melodies and themes.  The songs are filled with stories about life in NYC,  paeans to Irish heroes, recollected broken hearts and broken bones, and clarions for political action.

Larry Kirwan, as I said, is prolific. I once saw a play of his on Governor’s Island at the Guinness Fleadh in 1997–now collected in his book of plays, Mad Angels: The Plays of Larry Kirwan.  At the moment he is doing publicity for his latest novel, Rocking the Bronx; he has his own radio-show Celtic Crush on Sirrus/XM radio, has put together a Celtic Kid’s album and book, and is working on a musical with Thomas Kenneally (author of Schindler’s List).

But put that aside for the time.  Two nights ago I saw Larry Kirwan and Black 47 do what they do so well–deliver a raucous, fun rock show.  Below is an old video from perhaps their most famous song–anyone who was in NYC during the 90s heard in every joint that had a jukebox.  So here it is: Black 47’s “Funky Ceili” (The video ends abruptly before the classic line, “Does he have red hair and glasses” and showing an infant with Larry’s horn-rims, hah!):