Out of the Solas and into the unknown
Mick McAuley, Winifred Horan and Colm Ó Caoimh are taking chances with their new album, writes SIOBHAN LONG
Musicians can sometimes wrestle with the constraints that band membership imposes on them.
Ironically, at a time when audiences for all kinds of live performance are under siege because of the disappearance of that now-elusive commodity we used to call disposable income, traditional music and the musicians who play it are appearing in unexpected venues and in unexpected combos. If there’s any truth in the suggestion that recessions breed creativity, then the traditional music firmament is walking the walk with chutzpah. Whether it’s the zest of Róisín Elsafty, Ronan Browne and Siobhán Armstrong playing the National Concert Hall’s John Field Room, The Unitarian Church’s summer Steeple Sessions, or Zoë Conway and John McIntyre’s Sunday residency in Carlingford Heritage Centre, the music is reaching (the unlikeliest of) rafters with as much gusto as it ever did – even if many of the musicians still struggle to eke out a living from it.
Mick McAuley and Winifred Horan are the accordion/fiddle axis of the Irish-American band Solas. Recently, they went into the studio with Caladh Nua’s guitarist Colm Ó Caoimh and produced an album of unassuming magic, Sailing Back to You. Taking the chance to stretch themselves in a direction not so readily compatible with a bigger band sound was a particular challenge, McAuley says.
“We don’t seem to really go for tunes like waltzes in Solas, and this gives us a chance to explore those directions,” he says. The opening track on the album is a beautiful French tune, Les Amantes Infideles, which jettisons whatever preconceptions most listeners might have about traditional music. Horan’s fiddle loops around its melody lines with balletic finesse, revelling in its exoticism, yet embedding it seamlessly in the company of the Irish tunes that follow.
“Win has a great love for French music, and she’s great at digging up waltzes and airs too,” says McAuley.
Horan makes no apologies for the vim and vigour that working outside of the band strictures adds to the music. “Over the years, we’ve become so accustomed to the way Solas works, and there’s a certain sense of freedom when you get away from that way of working. It’s definitely challenging.”
Guitarist Colm Ó Caoimh didn’t need to think twice when he was asked to record the album. “It was a no-brainer for me,” he smiles. “What I love about playing with Mick and Winnie is the likes of waltzes where you can add extra flavours that I don’t think go all that well with straight-down-the-line Irish music. I love that outside the box-ish stuff.”
This isn’t McAuley and Horan’s first foray away from Solas. Six years ago, they debuted as a duo with their album, Serenade. This time round, they’ve sought out new horizons, with McAuley taking on covers of The Low Anthem’s Charlie Darwin and Doubting Thomas by Chris Thile, of Nickel Creek and The Punch Brothers.
“It’s definitely a challenge to me as a singer to handle songs from outside of the Irish tradition,” McAuley says, “but I think it’s also what puts a different flavour on this album.”
Horan relishes the freedom that a stripped down, relatively unknown trio offers her – even if it comes without a safety net. “Once or twice we’ve stepped outside of our comfort zone with Solas and some of the reaction was very negative – it upset the fan base. But with this project, we don’t really have a fan base yet, so we didn’t have to worry about that. That in itself gives you the freedom to push and challenge yourself, and not be afraid of arranging in a different way.
“And it’s humbling, too. We definitely don’t take anything for granted.”
Sailing Back To You is now available on iTunes.