First impressions often stand the test of time and that is certainly the case when it comes to entertainer Gabriel Donahue who hails from Athenry in East Galway. Amazingly he is probably one of the most successful and respected Irish musicians flying below the radar screen when it comes to garnering attention to himself over here in America where he has made his home and living since 1978. Our paths first crossed in Ireland in 1984 in his native Galway where he opened one night for the Furey Brothers at the Great Southern Hotel. He not only came across as a gifted performer that night but he literally stole the show from the more well known Furey Brothers without question. I was happy to tell him so when I actually met him a week later in Miltown Malbay in the company of his cousin Carmel Dempsey who was attending UCC with my now wife Deirdre Danaher as all of us where there for the Willie Clancy Summer School.
He has built a very successful career as a singer and talented multi-instrumentalist with keyboard and plectrum instruments his forte over the years up and down the Atlantic Seaboard especially in regular residencies in places like Rosie O’Grady’s and Harbour Lights in New York City where his presence at the piano always signaled a classy evening. His repertoire was never commonplace or predictable nor was his style whether it was familiar Irish songs or from the popular culture as his voice and musicianship often quieted an already hushed room where he was playing.
But another cap sits very comfortably on his head as the owner and operator of Cove Island Production Studios which is marking its 25th year of operation as a recording studio to musicians in the trade who seek the personal touch when it comes to creating a CD. Blessed with an extraordinary grasp of music techniques and stylings and an innate sensibility to get the best out of performers, he can not only calm the nerves of the neophytes but also enhance the product of even more experienced musicians in the very personal setting that is the Cove Island Studio.
It started humbly back in 1989 in Stamford, Connecticut where Gabe converted an old garage into his first studio with the assistance of carpenter John Whelan who also became his first recording customer. Down through the years Donahue set up shop in Hawthorne, New Jersey and for the past two years in a spanking new state of the art facility in a Center City Philadelphia town house he shares with his wife Marian Makins. His clients read like a who’s who in the trad scene with Eileen Ivers, Joanie Madden & Cherish the Ladies, Seamus Connolly, Mike and Mary Rafferty, The Quinn Brothers, Donie Carroll, Morningstar, GIRSA, Marie Reilly, Kathleen Collins, Tom Dunne, Deirdre Connolly, Dan Milner and Julee Glaub among them.
On Saturday, May 3rd the newyorkirishcenter.org New York Irish Center in Long Island will present “25 Years A Rolling: A Celebration of Cove Island Productions” to mark Gabe’s remarkable tenure as a producer par excellence for Irish music. On hand to offer the musical salute will be Eileen Ivers and Joanie Madden whom he schooled in their younger days in a band called Jigsaw, James Keane, Brian Conway, GIRSA, Liz McNichol, Donie Carroll, Danny Quinn, Vonnie Quinn and Cathie Maguire among other special guests on the night. The show gets under way around 7:30 at the newly refurbished Irish Center at 10-40 Jackson Avenue in Long Island City.