A Christmas with special meaning - how Superstorm Sandy was defied by Irish music


If you live in New York City you may be ready to celebrate Christmas with a little more gusto this year thanks to Hurricane Sandy. Just in time for the holidays, Cahir O'Doherty talks to producer and publicist Anita Daly about the terrific lineup of talent she’s assembled for Together for Christmas, the new album she’s produced with her partner Jim Leavitt, and about her own effort to put Sandy and its aftermath behind her.

After a challenging year like this one, the decision to have a happy Christmas can be a spirited act of defiance. Fate can conspire to break your heart somewhere between January and December, but if you’re lucky you’ll still gather the people you love around you on December 25 and resolve that life is still entirely worth living.

There’s no point in pretending that the Irish have not been particularly challenged by Hurricane Sandy at the end of October. It hit (and devastated) some of the most Irish neighborhoods on the East Coast. But along with the real heartache came our resolve to help each other heal and rebuild. 

Well known Irish American producers Anita Daly and her partner Jim Leavitt know all about it. They lost half their house under water when Sandy hit Long Beach and the Far Rockaways, so the promotion for their new album Together for Christmas was halted by the storm at just the point when they planned to trumpet it. 

Long before the storm hit Daly had planned Together for Christmas as a way to showcase the unique talents of the Irish and Irish American groups she has proudly represented for 17 years. But since the storm arrived it’s become a bigger project, a sort of mission statement for a battered community that’s determined to rebuild.

“Now more than ever is the time to get together for Christmas, because of everything people have been through,” Daly told the Irish Voice. “We planned the album over two years ago and unfortunately the promotion of it coincided with the storm. 

“Not only did we lose our house, we lost a little business that we have invested time, energy and money into. That’s why we feel especially close to this album and we want people to enjoy it.”

If you’re thinking this is going to be a predictable album of dozily presented Christmas standards, think again.  Daly isn’t interested in anything that obvious. 

“I wanted to put something very contemporary out there, to reflect what my world is. It’s more alternative and progressive, it’s real rock and roll,” she says.

“I wanted this album to reflect what I really like and give a format to the some of the best singers and songwriters out there.”

Once she had the concept, she reached out to the artists who she wanted to participate. One of them is Damien Dempsey, one of the most celebrated Irish singers and songwriters to come along in decades. 

“When I contacted Damien’s manager he told me there was a recording of him singing ‘Oh Holy Night’ that had never been released before.  I replied, ‘Are you kidding me? That’s perfect.’  I thought I’d struck gold. And the way he sings it is just genius.”

Daly was on to something, she realized. After all, there’s something about Christmas that has always spoken deeply to the Irish. It’s probably because it’s a time of year when you find yourself reflecting on the year that has passed (and all the years that have passed). The Irish can’t resist that. It’s no surprise that James Joyce set his most heartfelt and accomplished story in the heart of it. 

The uniqueness of Daly’s album is that the artists she’s selected aren’t generally known for Christmas tracks of any kind. 

“When people found out I was doing this album their managers called me. So we were kind of select about what we chose. I had to love the song and the artist,” she says.

“The truth is it was a vanity project because I love what I do and I want this album to reflect the career I’ve been pursuing for 17 years. This is what I like.”

There are well known names on Together for Christmas like the Celtic Tenors (whose specialty is their innovative spin on traditional Celtic, classical, and popular works) Larry Kirwan (the legendary Black 47 front man), Dempsey and the High Kings, but there are also terrific newcomer acts like the Wild Colonial Boys and Dave Browne and the Temple Bar Band. It’s the kind of lineup that keeps things fresh, and it’s an example of Daly’s longstanding approach.

Next up on December 13 there will be a public fundraiser and launch for Together for Christmas at Connolly’s (six of the acts on the album are scheduled to appear) with a portion of the proceeds going to support the communities in Long Beach and the Rockaways. 

“I know there are places that aren’t even on the TV that are still suffering, like Broad Channel and Howard Beach,” says Daly.