Arts and Entertainment

‘Fingal’ plays Irish music for the modern listener

For the cover of their first CD together, Irish music band Fingal chose this photograph taken of two Belfast boys during the conflict in Northern Ireland. - Jim Tynan photo
For the cover of their first CD together, Irish music band Fingal chose this photograph taken of two Belfast boys during the conflict in Northern Ireland.
— image credit: Jim Tynan photo

Fingal doesn’t fiddle around when it comes to music.

Well, one of them fiddles without “fiddling around.”

This band of three musicians are known internationally as some of the best players of their respective instruments.

James Keane (button accordion), Daithi Sproule (guitar and vocals) and Whidbey’s own Randal Bays (fiddle) know how to play the heck out of whatever they play.

But more importantly perhaps, Fingal knows how to play traditional Irish music for a modern audience.

The band is back to launch their first CD they’ve made together, simply entitled “Fingal,” which consists mostly of tracks recorded live last year on Whidbey Island. So, those of you who were at that concert may hear yourselves whooping in the background on this recording.

The album is being released on the New Folk Records label which also produced Sproule’s recent solo guitar album, “The Crow in the Sun.”

“Fingal,” Bays said, captures the true essence of the band’s performances, which is something not every recording can do.

Capturing the essence of these three musicians playing together may be a coup for this record label as all of these guys have been around the block a few times.

Keane — who’s brother, fiddler Sean Keane, is a member of the famous Irish band The Chieftans — grew up in Dublin in a home that was often full of musicians.

“My parents, my uncles, aunts, everybody I knew played music,” Keane said.

“All the great musicians would come to our house on their way to London or somewhere else. It was a stronghold of music in Dublin and in County Clare where I grew up.”

Keane became something of a young legend in Ireland and by the age of 10, he had become a fixture on the late 1950s Dublin traditional scene where he enjoyed the musical guidance of some of the greatest musicians of the era.

As a teenager, Keane co-founded what would become very quickly one of Ireland’s most trumpeted music ensembles, the Castle Ceili Band.

Now a New Yorker, Keane seems to be quite comfortable taking less of a limelight role in the present world of music.

Recently, he was asked by The Chieftans to sit in on stage at Carnegie Hall. Keane turned the gig down, claiming it was “a work night” and he had to get up early for a job he took at an investment firm in Manhattan. He was curious about what it would be like to do “normal work” instead of touring all the time.

“The best players are genuinely modest,” Bays said, referring to the humble Keane.

Bays and Sproule continue to tour full-time.

Sproule is also originally from Ireland but, like Keane, has lived in America for some time.

Sproule is also a member of “Altan” which in Ireland is probably second in line in fame only to The Chieftans.

As a guitarist he has been described as “a seminal figure in Irish music.”

Bays’ fame, too, precedes him.

His last recording “House to House” fiddling with Roger Landes on Irish-style bouzouki, was named by the Irish Times as one of the top five traditional albums of 2005.

Keane said playing with Sproule and Bays has created for him the “genuine article.”

“I always refer to the music that Fingal does together as having wiped the cobwebs off it before we play it,” Keane said.

The traditional Irish music that is sometimes played in the United States, he said, can seem a bit “Hollywood” and not at all authentic.

“One of the great things about Fingal is that I don’t think I have ever been as comfortable playing as what we do together,” Keane said.

“When Daithi is singing in Irish, the audience takes in the songs as if they understood every single word he is singing. It’s just a thrill,” he said.

Fingal’s release concert is at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 24 at Mukilteo Coffee on Crawford Road in Langley.

The band said to come early at about

6 p.m. to have a glass of wine or a pint and meet the musicians.

Mukilteo Coffee will be serving their regular menu of food and beverages.

Admission price is $20 at the door; $18 in advance plus tax. For tickets and info, call 321-5270.

Fingal’s Web site is www.fingalmusic.com.

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