The Vallelys keep the tradition alive

Around this time of year you start to get inundated with notices about tours and concerts having to do with a certain saint who is celebrated every March.

It is easy to overlook some very important aspects when faced with so many names and talents plying the seasonal boards, but sometimes it is important to take a step back and reflect on how all this great Irish music comes about.

The subject this week is another family, the Vallelys of Co. Armagh, that has my attention, seeing as the three sons, Niall, Cillian and Caoimhin, who make their money through music, are performing in upcoming shows around the country.

Their parents Brian and Eithne Vallely have been involved in Irish music most of their lives and have been mostly associated with the Armagh Piping Club they helped found over 40 years ago.

Since meeting in Miltown Malbay at music sessions organized by Willie Clancy in the mid-sixties, Eithne, a Donegal native (Lifford) who played the fiddle and Brian (Armagh City) who played the whistle, flute and pipes and an artistic painter by profession, have influenced hundreds of students over four decades from their base in Armagh.

And they did so through the height of The Troubles when Irish traditional music may have been a corollary cultural activity for the Nationalist community subject to harassment by the army and police when instrument cases were bandied about.

But they had a vision for educating working class kids through Irish music and found instruments and scarce funds to keep their school going all these years, exposing their students to festivals outside the North down in the Republic and Europe.

For the past 17 years they have also presented the prestigious William Kennedy Piping Festival in November with a worldwide focus on piping and other instruments inspired by them.

All of that would be a credit to them, but they also instilled that love of the music and painting in their five children (siblings Maire and Lorcan are musicians and Lorcan is a painter as well).

Niall Vallely eventually settled on the concertina after taking up the pipes and classical music through the trumpet and piano. He moved to Cork in 1988 to study at University College Cork for a bachelor’s in music, and then an master’s in ethnomusicology at UCC and University of Limerick.

He was also one of the founding members of NOMOS, a Cork-based band that was on the edge of tradition in the 1990s and a forerunner of many bands to come.

After partnering with singer Karan Casey, he worked in her band as well until child rearing made touring together complicated, and he launched into other projects including CDs with his brother Cillian (Callan Bridge) and with Caoimhin in a group called Buille along with guitarist Paul Meehan from Armagh, with Buille’s third album being launched this month.

Niall’s solo album Beyond Words contained many of his own compositions and presaged a future career as a producer and composer for many other projects and commissions, including a music score for a BBC TV show called Flight of the Earls in 2007.

Caoimhin Vallely followed his brother Niall down to Cork for a bachelor’s of music at UCC and then a master’s at University of Limerick in Irish traditional music performance after taking up the fiddle (with lessons from his mother) and classical piano.

He was a founding member of North Cregg, another outstanding Cork-based band that toured throughout Europe and the U.S., and he currently tours and performs with his sister-in-law Karan Casey.

His piano mastery is also on display on his solo CD Strayaway produced in 2005 and in various collaborations with a number of other musicians, including his North Cregg-mate, box player Christy Leahy, in a tasty album released late last year. No mere accompanist here and like his brother Niall, very inventive in his playing.

Cillian Vallely, the one son who stuck with the uilleann pipes promoted by the parents for so many years, has made a name for himself since joining the all instrumental ensemble Lunasa in 1999 with its sweet sounds and innovation earning a world-wide following.

From his base in New York, he has been a long-time contributor to the East Village music session scene when he is in town. He has recorded on 40 CDs overall and appeared at a number of internationally known festivals with a variety of artists.

His compositional skills and flair for tune arrangements for the pipes and low whistle in Lunasa have added to the band’s reputation. In particular the duet work he has done with Lunasa bandmate, flute player Kevin Crawford as evidenced in their CD On Common Ground, makes them a wonderful tandem to listen to as well.

You’ll have ample opportunity to see the Vallelys in different combinations, with Cillian and Niall starting off this week touring (Friday, February 18 in Newtown, Connecticut) and then Buille with Niall and Caoimhin from February 19-25.

Buille will appear at Club Passim in Cambridge on Monday, February 21 (also viewable at www.concertwindow.com) and then Joe’s Pub in New York the following night. 22. Check out www.cillianvallely.com and www.vallelymusic.com for full details.

Cillian and Kevin Crawford have a one week tour at the beginning of March before a more extensive March Lunasa tour. Those details can be found at www.lunasa.ie, including a March 21 gig at the Highline Ballroom in Chelsea.

Upcoming Events

There is a very rare opportunity (at least on the side of the Atlantic) to sit and play alongside the great East Clare fiddler Martin Hayes when he pays a visit to the Milford Comhaltas monthly session this Thursday, February 17. Tunes start off slowly at 7 p.m. for beginners and improvers, and then the pace quickens around 8 p.m.

It will be a special opportunity also to see branch chair John Whelan share some chunes with Martin Hayes as well, and perhaps some nostalgia from their early fleadh days when Whelan would come over from his home in Luton, England to compete in Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann in Ireland.

As usual admission as well as freshly brewed tea, coffee and soda bread are all complimentary at this Connecticut venue just south of New Haven. It takes place at St. Gabriel’s Parish Hall at 26 Broadway, Milford. Call 203-876-9973.

***

You can see and hear Martin Hayes with his customary partner, Dennis Cahill at this year’s World Music Institute’s Celtic show on Saturday, March 5, at 8 p.m. at Symphony Space in Manhattan (212-864-5400) .

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. .
Exciting news was announced out of Clare last Thursday when details of two amazing shows featuring Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance, along with the local favorites the Kilfenora Ceili Band and uilleann pipers Finbar Furey and Michael “Blackie” O’Connell, will take place high atop the Cliffs of Moher at summer’s end.

Described as the “end of the world experience” by Oliver O’Connell, whose MPO Promotions masterminded the ambitious project, it will take place on Thursday and Friday, September 1 and 2. It is hoped that the setting as much as the entertainment will be a magnetic attraction.

Doolin native Oliver O’Connell recently promoted a sold-out Chieftains concert in Ennis Cathedral as part of the Fleadh Nua and is very involved in promoting uilleann piping at the annual Johnny Doran Tionol in nearby Spanish Point.

His son, Blackie, who studied music with New York native Maureen Glynn Connolly when she lived in Ennis before her death, has taught at the Catskills Irish Arts Week for the past two summers and will be there in July again. Blackie has appeared in a Tourism Ireland commercial touting the scenic sights of North Clare and the Doolin area, and now his dad is also promoting a major arts performance to stimulate some tourism trade to the region.

A stage will be erected just opposite the Cliffs of Moher visitor center with views out to the Atlantic, the Aran Islands and of course, the majestic 700 feet tall landmark.

With a fierce competition underway to decide on the “New 7 Wonders of Nature” (www.cliffsofmoher.ie) by popular vote to be announced on 11/11/11, the timely attention in September could help push the popular Banner County tourist site over the edge in the voting.

The O’Connells’ dream that the 10,000 people who come along with tourist dollars to spend around the area and the show (75 euro admission price) will be just the ticket to stimulate much needed business along the beautiful North West Clare coast.

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