It seems that every Celtic band is on tour in North America during the six to eight weeks that lead up to St. Patrick’s Day. Celtic albums tend to reflect this schedule as well, so it’s a rare and welcome event that August 3 Gaelic Storm released Cabbage, its seventh studio album and fourth on their own label Lost Again Records. It’s nicely out of sync with the norm, but when you are a band that spends over 200 days a year on the road, it’s a near miracle that you find time to write, record and release an album at all. Following the path of the band’s 2008 release, What’s The Rumpus?, Cabbage debuted at #1 on the Billboard World Chart, additionally peaking at #14 on the iTunes overall Album Chart and #11 on the Billboard Independent Album Chart.
After a start playing monthly gigs for friends at Santa Monica’s O’Brien’s Tavern in 1995, the band’s popularity skyrocketed when it appeared in James Cameron’s Titanic as the Celtic party band in the ship’s steerage. Unlike so many other bands that were unable to sustain a career after receiving near-blinding initial exposure, Gaelic Storm has amassed a large, loyal and ever-growing following. After three studio albums on Virgin/EMI early on, the band has since flourished in an extreme DIY fashion by not only launching their own label, Lost Again Records, and releasing their albums themselves but also by designing all their own album art, posters and advertisements, and spearheading all their own merchandising, book-keeping and marketing. Gaelic Storm is a truly self-contained entity; an indie model for the new music industry that knows its identity and audience, and stays in close contact with its fans.
Once they hit stage, however, its all about the music. According to band guitarist-singer Steve Twigger, “We are first and foremost a live band. We got together to play music. To enjoy ourselves and enjoy being out with the audience. As the world has gotten darker, people have come and found us as a means to escape.”
The band takes a distinct pride in the fact that its music and performances are a celebration of Irish culture as well as a medium of connection for many of the 36 million Irish-Americans who have at least some Irish blood in them. “I brought a few friends over from Ireland for the Irish Festival in Milwaukee,” band singer Patrick Murphy recalls with a chuckle, “and after three days of seeing people with elaborate Celtic knot tattoos and Irish flags on their shoulders, these guys were in shock about the amount Irish pride people displayed here in America.”
Yet while Gaelic Storm plays Celtic music that hearkens back to the traditional music of Ireland, they are hardly traditionalists, adding modern sounds and drawing influences from American rock and pop as well as music styles from around the world. This is a band with its feet firmly planted in the present, appearing on two EA Sports Games and their song “Kiss Me I’m Irish” has been used in a Hallmark greeting card in 2008. The band has made countless television and radio appearances, and there are official videos and heaps of fan-posted live YouTube clips (often with the crowd singing as loud as the band).
The quintet has seen a few members pass through its ranks over its 12 years together, but at the center of the band are Patrick Murphy (Cork, Ireland) and Steve Twigger (Coventry, England). As the main singer, accordion player and resident Irishman, Murphy is generally the recognizable face of the band and his knack for storytelling is the inspiration for many of the band’s songs. Guitarist and vocalist Twigger is the primary songwriter in the band and produced Cabbage, with co-production by percussionist Ryan Lacey (Pasadena, CA), who has been a member of the band since 2003. Pipes and whistle player Peter Purvis (Ottawa, Canada) joined Gaelic Storm in 2004 and violinist Jessie Burns (Suffolk, England) came onboard in 2007. The band’s line-up has remained unchanged for the past two album releases and the chemistry is apparent both in their studio recordings and their high-energy live performances.
This fruitful partnership is once again on display for Cabbage. The album opens with a new anthem called “Raised on Black and Tans,” an original that the band has already offered up as a free download on the official site. It’s a ringing Celtic rock anthem as well as a toast to the band’s rabid Irish-American fan base and how even the most distant of Irish forebears are strong enough grounds for claiming a proud Irish heritage.
“Space Race” was written in response to a compliment a fan paid, pointing out that it was remarkable how culturally influential the relatively small country of Ireland has been. The band agrees, adding to the list “Rascals, rogues and losers/Rapscallions, roustabouts and a bucket full of boozers,” but it also quickly adds in a great shout-along chorus that America has all the astronauts. Making sure to get that Gaelic Storm feel, the band laid it down during a party in the studio.
The mythical Irish lass has been with us since ancient times, but the band updates her story on a rave-up called “Red Hair, Green Eyes.” Far from being a mystical green-eyed angel in the mist, this Irish femme fatale plays “violin with a bayonet” and has “long legs and the devil inside her.” While that song finds the band at its most rocking, the tradition is anchored by four instrumentals (“Blind Monkey,” “Jimmy’s Bucket,” “Crazy Eyes McGillycutty” and “Buzzards of Bourbon Street”) that highlight their instrumental chops and roots. “Northern Lights” has a gentle Jamaican bounce that shows the band is capable of reaching well beyond the traditional Celtic stomp. Playing up the American side of the band’s influences is a soulful cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia,” which captures the song’s original yearning tone while adding Celtic and country music flair.
A band known for its drinking songs, Gaelic Storm has a new classic with “Chucky Timm,” which was also recorded during that party in the studio. The song is actually about a real life fan, friend and former Olympic bobsledder from Ohio who has been known to spend the night knocking back beers with the band – according to both Murphy and Twigger, the line “Here comes Chucky Timm, get your drinking boots on” is no joke. Yet the man lights up the room whenever he enters it, making him perfect subject material for a Gaelic Storm song.
Speaking with the band, there’s talk about good times for both the band and its fans at the concerts and after, but the true foundation of what keeps Gaelic Storm going is the ongoing comradeship amongst the group.
“We made a promise to each other that the day we stop having fun, we stop,” Murphy says. “If it becomes work or a hassle, just stop. And at the end of every year we look back and go, “Wow, that was a great year.” We just keep looking forward to the next year because each year it gets better and better.”