The craic was 90

The annual Irish Heritage Concert at St Patrick's Cathedral in NYC was again a resounding success

Irish Heritage Concert last Thursday in St Patrick's Cathedral, New York. (Photo: youtube.com)

Bangkok's resident Irish music expert Prof Mick Moloney recently journeyed back to his old stomping ground in New York to perform with his musical mates at the annual Irish Heritage Concert at St Patrick's Cathedral. The concert is held each year to celebrate St Patrick's Day. This year it was held on March 10.

The concert began with music from Merynda Adams on harp and Christiana Liberis on violin, and a set of hymns from the St Patrick's Cathedral Choir.

Moloney was then joined by top Irish and Irish-American musicians who he has been playing and touring with, under the name of The Green Fields of America, since 1978. The troupe included All-Ireland champion accordionist Bill McComiskey, keyboard maestro Brendan Dolan, concertina player Brenda Castles and fiddlers Athena Tergis and Liz Hanley, as well as legendary traditional singer John Roberts. Also of note for amateur harmonica players such as myself was a beautiful solo song by chromatic harmonica master Don Meade.

The troupe was joined on some songs by members of local New York traditional music band The Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra, which Moloney said were one of the first bands set up as a tribute to the long-gone Irish dance bands of the early 20th century.

All the songs were magnificently performed but for me the standouts were Liz Hanley's moving rendition of the anti-war song Broken Hearted I Will Wander and a great rendition of the popular immigration song The Leaving Of Liverpool.

Moloney introduced surprise guests Ukrainian Village Voices as "ambassadors of peace". The vocal group performed two folk songs which they said were "soldier songs" -- their powerful voices perfectly suited to the majestic setting (and sound qualities) of the cathedral.

The concert ended with a rendition of the Irish national anthem.

I have seen Moloney perform here with good Thailand-based Irish musicians and always enjoyed his performances, but this time the quality of musicianship on show was first class. These are fine musicians who clearly really enjoy playing together. They should do it more often and event producers here in Bangkok should bring them over for concerts.

Over the past could of weeks several long-time readers asked me about an album of Ukrainian folk and popular music, Yiddish Glory – Lost Songs Of WWII (Six Degrees, USA), that I reviewed back in July 2018. The Grammy-winning album featured songs from Ukraine and East European ghettos that were lost in an archive for 70 years before being rescued and recorded.

As the album liner notes state: "Created during the darkest chapter of European Jewish history, composed by Jewish Red Army soldiers, Jewish refugees, victims and survivors of Ukrainian ghettos, men, women and children, these songs tell the story of resistance, life and death under Nazi occupation of the Soviet Union." Led by Anna Shternshis, the musicians involved with this project went on the road touring and the album proved to be a popular hit.

One of the producers on the Yiddish Glory project, radio producer and presenter Dan Rosenberg, told me recently that he put together a compilation, the Rough Guide To Ukrainian Music (Rough Guides cover many kinds of music, including Thai) but that before the project could be completed the owner of the record label died and the project was shelved. He sent me some of the songs on the proposed album as I don't know much about Ukrainian folk or popular music.

For the past week I have been immersed in Ukrainian folk music and since there is no compilation available, here are some names and songs to check out online. Legends worth checking out include the late great Yiddish folk music master Arkady Gendler (see his Kh'hob Nit Gezen song on YouTube), national icon and folk music master Nina Matviyenko and the trio Zoloti Klyuchi. You can find songs by all these artists on the internet.

Several of the younger performers also caught my attention, particularly the thrilling brass band Konsonans Retro, who play "get up and dance" wedding music, a glorious fusion of Moldavian, Ukrainian and Jewish tunes. If you like, as I do, Balkan wedding music from musicians like Ivo Papazov, then I highly recommend this spirited brass band.

Also worth checking out are Perkalaba, who blend music from different regions in Ukraine with punk and ska (with a nod to Manu Chao and The Pogues), Dakha Brakha and the Hudaki Village Band, the latter of which is hard to define as the band mashes up traditional music from the Carpathian mountains with archaic Slavic traditions, Romanian melodies, Jewish and Romani rhythms. Also check out the band's Dane Maya Dana, a Ukrainian Romani song.

Finally, one band from the Ukrainian diaspora that has been booming from my sound system this past week is Ontario-based Lemon Bucket Orkestra (Canada has one of the largest Ukrainian communities in the world), an eclectic fusion band with serious attitude. Check out the band's latest album If I Had The Strength (2018).


John Clewley can be contacted at clewley.john@gmail.com.


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