The Kiltormer Group

Irish Music & Song from County Galway


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Details: Audio CD, 2001, Produced by Documentary Arts, Inc. Mixed and Recorded by Dave Ferman

From the liner notes by David Ferman:

Definitions are rarely definite enough.

To many Americans, a "traditional Irish band" conjures visions of the Chieftains or Altan, and concerts where the audience sits and watches and politely applauds.

Seeing The Kiltormer Group live at any number of pubs in County Galway or County Clare is a totally different experience: The band pumps out reels, jigs, hornpipes and songs for two solid hours for happy, sweaty couples that fill the postage-stamp-size dance floor until long past midnight.

Non-dancers discuss and dissect the latest news and renew old friendships; children look on and sometimes join their parents out on the floor; and young men and women flirt at the tables and the bar.

To these people, who live in and around such towns as Scarriff, Woodford, Craughwell, Gort, Loughrea and of course, Kiltormer (the last a tiny place just south of Ballinasloe), The Kiltormer Group is a traditional Irish band in the very best sense: Led for more than 25 years by the driving accordion of Tony Murray, they play dance music for people out to have a pint or three, kick up their heels, and cast aside the cares of the world outside the door.
But while the group's roots are definitely in ageless melodies and songs, the ceili bands that flourished in the mid-1900s, as well as the intermingling of Irish folk and American country, also shape their sound. As does simply coming from the Galway/Clare region, home to some of Ireland's best-known accordionists, such as Tony MacMahon and the master, Joe Cooley.

In fact, ceili bands are the group's real starting point. The Kiltormer Ceili Band was a nine-piece that played the area in the '60s and Tony was one their big fans. Born just outside Aughrim, he learned tunes off the radio and at house sessions, and was particularly impressed by the playing of the group's accordionist, Mike McKeigue.

"I heard fellas playing tunes and I'd play it myself the same day," says Tony, who still lives in the house where he was born and whose daughter, Marie, sometimes plays keyboards with the group. "Accordion music goes down the best with people who like Irish music."

Tony joined the band in 1975. By then, large ceili bands had long fallen out of favor - a group of four or so, such as the very popular and influential Shashkeen, was typical.

At the same time, American country music was undergoing one of its frequent surges in popularity in Ireland. Country is, of course, to a large extent reworked Irish ballads and tunes, and it continues to strike a deep chord with Irish music fans.

In the '60s artists such as Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash and Charley Pride were lionized by Irish audiences, paving the way for the success of everyone from Don Williams to Randy Travis, Garth Brooks and Nanci Griffith. Numerous Irish singers, such as Big Tom, T.R. Dallas and Mick Flavin combine traditional Irish and American country to form an extremely popular hybrid.

"When country came onto the scene in the '70s, you had to play so much ceili music and so much country," says Tony. "You had to have it blended."

Growing up in a large musical family, David Broderick absorbed both traditional Irish and American sounds. His father Peter was a champion flute player, and he also enjoyed Cash, Williams and other country singers.
"People like Irish songs with a country beat - it keeps the tradition but it blends it a little bit." David says. "There's groups that concentrate more on singing - we play more music than singing, where other groups do the opposite. We try to please everyone."

Broderick joined the group in the mid-'80s; members came and went, and many gigs were played, and in 1992 drummer Andy Gardiner signed on. His father Andrew was a drummer and, like Broderick, he's a veteran of another ceili band, The Drim Ramblers.

The lineup solidified in April 1996 when Carmel Burke joined. She was born in Portumna, grew up singing, was part of a ceili band in high school and names Dolores Keane as her biggest influence as a vocalist.
I first saw The Kiltormer Group in August 2001 in a pub in Craughwell, just west of Loughrea; the room was absolutely packed, the dance floor likewise, the music mighty. I met Tony and his family, and they treated me like an old friend.

A few days later, Tony came over to visit my relatives in Ballymana; we all sat in the kitchen and talked for a long time. I had assumed the band had already made a record, but no, he said, they never had. I was astounded, and immediately asked if they would be willing to. And so, three months later, we all met up on a cold, rainy weekday in Moate. The band adapted quickly to the studio setting and, with the tireless assistance of Roseland Recording Studios' Seamus Cullinane, the songs flowed one after another, all afternoon and well into the evening.

The CD was mixed the next day, and then many of the songs were remixed the next week. The tapes flew with me back to Texas, where my friends Jeff Ward and Jerry Hudson at Fort Worth's Eagle Audio Recording Studios worked with me on the mastering.

And that's pretty much that. What I wanted was a snapshot of what it sounds like to step into a pub where The Kiltormer Group is playing to their faithful followers. And that's what this is - minus rivers of sweat, pints of Guinness, long loud laughter and a weathered floor getting a serious workout.

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Track Listing and Samples

Track Listing:
01 Fisherman's Farewell/The Golden Keyboard (reels; 2:16)
02 Far Away a Light is Burning (song; 3:20)
03 Living in These Troubled Times (song; 3:01)
04 My Darling Asleep/Pat Burke's (jigs; 2:06)
05 The Banks of the Lee/Scatter the Mud (air and jig; 2:44)
06 Tommy Coen's/The Pigeon on the Gate (reels; 2:15)
07 The Bog Road/Off to California (hornpipes; 2:55)
08 Take Me Back Where the Grass Grows the Greenest (song; 2:15)
09 The Green Hills of Sligo (song; 3:57)
10 Maids of Mount Cisco/Come West Along the Road (reels; 2:15)
11 Marie's Jig/An Taithar Jack Welch (jigs; 2:08)
12 The Old Dungarvan Oak (song; 2:51)
13 Dowd's Favorite/Paddy Kelly's (reels; 2:11)
14 Galway Bay (song; 2:48)
15 The Shashkeen/McKeigue's Fancy (hornpipes; 2:54)
16 The Luck Penny/The Pipe on the Hob (jigs; 2:34)
17 Traveller's Prayer (song; 2:53)
18 Sweet Mary and the Miles in Between (song; 3:26)
19 Coleman's/Flaherty's Fancy (reels; 1:55)