Sligo sessions: Irish music with an American accent
This weekend’s Sligo Live features Irish-American musicians such as Liz Carroll and local stars such as Seamus McGuire – and even the instruments have tales to tell
A Sligo Live trad session in McHughs. Photograph: Declan Courell
Liz Carroll: ‘It’s really flattering that Sligo Live would go as far as Chicago when they were thinking of who they would invite over this year’
Seamus McGuire. Photograph: Fergal Megannety
Traditional music is showing a remarkable resistance to the recession. Albums are tumbling from mixing desks, live (though largely unpaid) sessions are thriving, and theatre concerts feature new collaborations, albeit with the same challenges facing many hard-pressed punters whose social diaries are more limited than they might have been a few years ago. This year’s ninth Sligo Live festival continues the Gathering theme with the return of a flock of Irish-American musicians who bring a fresh approach to the music.
Baltimore-born Jesse Smith, Brooklynite Tony DeMarco and Chicago’s Liz Carroll are just three of the musicians who will bring fiddles and bows to Sligo Live this bank holiday weekend. Carroll, who won TG4’s Composer of the Year Award in 2010, has breathed fresh life into old tunes and composed almost 200 of her own over the years.
After a pair of highly successful collaborative recordings with guitarist John Doyle, garnering a Grammy nomination in 2009, and the publication of her own tune book, Collected, Carroll will next month release her first solo album in 11 years, On the Offbeat.
Sligo Live cuts to the heart of Carroll’s influences. “Although most people think of New York when it comes to Irish-American musicians, I come from a town that was very influenced by the big three [Sligo] fiddlers: Michael Coleman, Paddy Killoran and James Morrison, ” she says.
Johnny McGreevy, a fellow Chicago fiddler, who had a reputation for setting tunes on fire, breathed Sligo music and was a constant presence in Carroll’s musical life.
“It’s really flattering that Sligo Live would go as far as Chicago when they were thinking of who they would invite over this year,” says Carroll. “The truth is, that wherever I go, whenever I’m travelling, I have lots of music, but it’s the Irish music that I’m constantly listening to. It’s constantly in my head. It really does mean a lot to me. I haven’t strayed from it at all.”
The recent success of the Derry and Cavan Fleadhs struck a chord with Carroll, a professional musician who felt at home in the street sessions and on the pub trail.
Gone are the days when the fleadh was the sole provenance of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann members. “I really like the fact that there are these places for people who actually play the music for a living,” Carroll says. “It’s so great to see and hear everyone play together: from the youngest musicians to Sharon Shannon and Steve Cooney. ”