A First Class Party In Third Class
Gaelic Storm happens to be one of the more notable acts currently on the Gaelic/Celtic scene. From an inauspicious beginning of playing a small pub in Santa Monica, CA, to (within a year of their inception) appearing in one of the most popularly successful movies of all time (Titanic), Gaelic Storm has led a charmed life indeed. They appeared in Titanic in one of the most memorably pivotal scenes in the movie, playing John Ryan’s Polka for an Irish party in third class. From their, they were catapulted onto the scene, taking on a grueling tour schedule that has not relented in all the ensuing years.
One of the things that makes Gaelic Storm so accessible is the perfect blend and balance of traditional Irish and Scottish songs and melodies mixed with various influences from around the world and enlivened with an edge of rock and roll. The energy that flows from the stage when Gaelic Storm performs is very much real and the audience feeds right back into that energy, making it consummately genuine.
I was able to interview Steve Twigger, guitarist and part of the lead vocals for the band, as he took a brief respite from the road. What follows is the unexpurgated transcripts of that interview.
J.T.: How are you doing today?
Steve: Good, good.
J.T.: Where are you at in the world?
Steve: Uh, down in Austin.
J.T.: Well, I guess the first thing, before I forget to ask…I just now, literally ten minutes ago, got a copy of Cabbage, so I haven’t been able to give it a listen yet…is that going to be for sale at the Dayton Celtic Festival?
Steve: I think it is, yes. I think it is officially for release on the third and, if I’m not mistaken, we’re kind of sneaking it out there early for Dayton. I might want to confirm that. I’m not 100% sure.
J.T.: I can’t remember what year it was, but it was a similar circumstance and you guys brought and sold copies before the official release date.
Steve: Yeah, and that, as I recall, is sort of what we are doing this time, but I want to make sure.
(Editor’s Note: The new CD will be available at the festival!)
J.T.: Now, how is the album being receive critique-wise?
Steve: Well, it’s the early days yet. There’s a few reviews coming in, but people seem to be taking to it. There’s a mention of it being a little different than what we have done in the past, but I tend to think that it’s a lot of the Gaelic Storm that people are used to done with a lot more energy, if that’s possible. I think that we have taken off in a couple of different paths that might be interesting to people.
J.T.: There’s seems that there would always be a risk in changing or experimenting with new sounds. Did that cross your mind when you embarked on this?
Steve: Oh yes! You know, the music is sort of a vehicle for us to enjoy ourselves and for the night to be enjoyable for everybody. That is kind of how we set off playing. We had no ax to grind or soapbox to stand on. We just honestly and purely wanted to enjoy ourselves and so for us, as I said, the music is that vehicle to achieve that. We have nothing to prove and no artistic bones to grind here. But, as you go along, you realize that sometimes you are moving over familiar ground and you start wandering towards other influences. I think there are more than a few influences in this CD, musical genres that we’re all kind of interested in.
J.T.: Well, I had recently interviewed Scythian and when I read their bio, it touted them as having a Ukrainian/Celtic sound and I thought, ‘That sounds…horrific.’
J.T.: Well, I listened to it and the back beat and the Gypsy vibe lent itself well to the Celtic music. Do you guys, when you’re at some of these open folk festivals, do you find yourself listening to other forms of World music, are you influenced by these other genres?
Steve: Yeah, in fact, we were just in Spain. We played up in Galacia, up in the northwest of Spain, at a huge festival up there with like 30,000 people. Of course, there they had some of the usual suspects from Ireland and England, but of course the local Gaelic and Celtic music there is huge. They love the (uilleann) pipes, but it is a very different sound than what we are used to and especially to what Americans term to be Celtic music. There is almost a Middle Eastern influence throughout Galacian music. On tour, we’ll pass through France and listen to the music of Brittany, the Breton music. So, all in all, even within the subsection of Gaelic music, there are different sounds. You don’t have to step out of the genre to hear completely different sounds.
J.T.: Well, and I think that’s what a lot of people whom I term ‘The Purists’…I think it’s hard to explain to them that even when you are speaking about ‘traditional’ Celtic music, there are so many other influences in it, even back then, so to point at something and say, ‘This is Celtic music’ seems kind of difficult.
Steve: Yeah, I agree with you 100% on that and I think that people have picked one particular aspect of it and decided to cling to that as if it were the rarest of antiquities. Well, fine, put on a shelf, put it in a frame and keep it there, and meanwhile, the music just keeps on moving and changing.
J.T.: Exactly. Now, you guys have played Dayton…I can’t even count the number of times that you have been here. Do you have any special memories of Dayton?
Steve: Well, Dayton has always been family to us. We met Bill Russell, who runs the festival, many, many years ago. I remember his daughters were dancing out in the crowd and we brought them up on stage. They were young back then and they were Irish dancing and so we brought them up on stage. Then, they showed up at another theater that we played at somewhere in Ohio and we put them up on stage and then afterward, in the lobby, we met their parents and became friends with them and saw them at subsequent events. Through the relationship we had with them, they built up kind of a comfort to progress into promoting shows, so we really feel like we’ve been hand in hand with them through the process. You know, we were there at the very first Celtic Festival in Dayton and here we are again, however many years later. So, it definitely has a family feel in Dayton. We always try to make the music completely accessible and seamless with the audience and I really think that it’s come to fruition there in Dayton. That’s the way it should be! It’s not just about us going up on stage. We’ve made friends and those friends have gone on to create events that we play at, and that’s the heart of folk music right there.
J.T.: That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Steve: Yeah! Yep.
J.T.: Well, you were saying earlier about the different influences before and I think that it would work the opposite way where people that think that Celtic music is a certain type of music and that they don’t want anything to do with it will hear your take on it and be drawn in and maybe explore other facets of the genre.
Steve: Yeah, well, you know, we’ve certainly done our part. We’re on the road two-hundred days a year for the last fourteen or fifteen years and as we’ve gone along, we’ve tried to bridge a few gaps, I guess, and without stepping on toes. You know, the purists, the sort of elder statesmen of the Celtic world, they certainly looked down their nose at us when we first started. Over the course of time, we’ve become friends with them and they have, of course, realized that there is plenty of room for all kinds of adaptations and variations.
J.T.: Well, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Is there anything that you wanted out there that I haven’t asked?
Steve: Um, just ask people to go to our website and get a hold of us. Of course, we have a free download on the page if they don’t want to jump in and buy the CD, there’s a free download, so they can start to enjoy it for free.
J.T.: Well, and definitely to see you all live.
Steve: Well, you know, it really is fulfilling for us to see reviews that the first words are, ‘You have to see them live!’ Whatever goes down on that CD is fine, but we really put ourselves completely into our performances.
J.T.: And a lot of energy. Well, I want to thank you again for talking with me and I hope to meet up with you during the Celtic Festival.
Steve: Fantastic J.T. I hope you really enjoy the CD there.