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Rocky Mountain Bullhorn

March 2002 Vol. 2, Issue 7

Shamrockin'
St. Patty's Day draws attention to area Celtic bands.

by JJudy Brady

Regardless of color, creed or clan, St. Patrick’s Day is a day to rejoice. Why? Who knows. Don a kilt, grab a corned beef sandwich, and join the fun. Green beer flows freely, and the music–the music–comes bursting through the ruddy Irish woodwork from pubs to parades nationwide.

Colorado is no exception. Lucky Joe’s, Nallen’s and Conor O’Neill’s thrive. Browse through almost twenty Colorado Irish organizations at www.shamrocker.com. We even boast a number of talented representatives keeping Celtic music alive. But two bands in particular, The Indulgers and Bedlam Abbey, sit on opposite sides of the Blarney Stone.

While most of us can identify Celtic music, why does it sound the way it does?

Bedlam Abbey’s fiddle and mandolin player Mark Brissendon offers an explanation. "It’s the folk music of the Celtic parts of Europe–that is, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany. The people who live in those places are an ethnic group that once populated most of Europe but were pushed back by other groups into the small areas they inhabit today."

Brissendon explains that during the Age of Enlightenment (circa 1680 until the French Revolution) musical elements changed throughout Europe that led, in many ways, to what we now refer to as classical music (Haydn, Mozart, etc). "But somehow those changes missed the folk players in the Celtic world," Brissendon says, "so their sound retained a lot of those medieval-sounding features. To me, there’s kind of a mysterious quality to it that is a little bit like traveling back in time to a long-gone age when the world was a wilder and more chaotic place."

Bedlam Abbey began as a six-piece combination of "minstrels," who performed mostly traditional medieval and renaissance folk tunes. Guitarist Michael Engberg says the growth into Celtic music came naturally. "It has a lot of roots in common with the material we were already working with," he says, "and it’s just a lot of fun to play! Some of the Celtic stuff allows us to really take off."

Even though Bedlam Abbey skillfully uncovers the Old World sound and charm, the band decided to use "modern" acoustic instruments and write original arrangements of the songs. The debut CD, Under Loch and Quay contains beauties like "Wind That Shakes the Barley," "Blow the Candle Out" and "Banish Misfortune/Dinny Delaney’s Jig," displaying innovative instrumentation and the players obvious talent.

"I would say that one mission for us is to take a lot of this music that has survived the ages and sort of show why it survives," Engberg says. "We want to show the innate beauty and excitement in this music, and that it can be played in a very alive and exciting way today."

On that "note," pour me a pint!

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