For more than two decades they were one of the most popular and recognizable duets in traditional Irish music, exhibiting a contemporary take on centuries old tunes deep from the wellspring of tradition.
The long curly mane of Clare fiddler Martin Hayes alongside his long-time compadre Dennis Cahill from Chicago in his back-turned cap was a fixture on posters adorning venues from coast to coast and around the world for the remarkable act they fashioned a few years after linking up in an Celtic rock band called Midnight Court based in Chicago.
Had familiarity, or worse for their artistry, changing tastes, forced them off the highways and byways of Irish music performing their ever-so-tight act to the delight of audiences everywhere?
Not to worry on that front as there were myriad reasons for a lower profile for the tandem in the past few years which really have found them as busy as ever and very much in the mix of the modern day Irish music scene.
Nonetheless, it is great to welcome back the duo for a brief East Coast tour next week and relish their intimate interactions musically on stage that made them a staple of many a great music festival and performing arts center as featured artists.
There was no parting of the ways for Hayes and Cahill really, but rather they were burrowing themselves more deeply in the wider interpretation and performance of the trad music canon. Both were becoming more increasingly involved in programming and executing a marvelous festival called “The Masters of Tradition” in Bantry under the aegis of the West Cork Music Society where opportunities aplenty sprung up to play with other musicians.
That classical milieu and the backdrop of the courtly Bantry House setting presented an ideal place to seek and play with musicians who were top-tier in the “tradosphere” in a very different way from the hard-core trad festival in Feakle that preceded it in the heart of the Tulla Ceili Band country where Martin Hayes was reared.
The Bantry venture has proven so successful that it has spawned Masters of Tradition tours to the Sydney Opera House and coast to coast in the U.S., and while it still provided an outlet for Hayes and Cahill to perform, it also upped their organizational focus and management coordinating more artists than just the pair of them on the road.
Bantry also stoked further fires and desires for collaboration with other artists also, especially for Hayes, and the most notable would be the Gloaming which has created quite a stir in the past two years for its very innovative presentation by a quintet of artists who have firmly distinguished themselves in other groupings or solo work with a strong reputation for moving the bar.
Featuring Hayes and Cahill and the intriguing fiddler Caoimhin O Raghallaigh along with the spectacular sean nos singer Iarla O Lionaird, the act is punctuated with the added talents of the young and multi-talented Thomas Bartlett from Vermont, who is a creative fixture around the New York rock and roll scene.
The past year has been a world-wind for them, with two amazing concerts in New York City at the Green Space at WNYC and Les Poissons Rouge (Bartlett’s regular haunt) in Greenwich Village organized by the Irish Arts Center. And last month they appeared in Australia and at three sold out shows in Dublin’s National Concert Hall, returning to the venue where they first performed together with total apprehension of how their act would go down over three years ago.
And to boot they just garnered the top prize in the Irish recording industry, a Meteor Award for their self-titled CD produced last year two weeks ago.
With Hayes also moonlighting into other musical trios like the Teetotallers, with Kevin Crawford and John Doyle honed from their Swannanoa Gathering summer school gigs and Triur with composer/concertinist Peadar O’Riada and again Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, his penchant for projects almost outnumbered days in the week.
For his part Cahill also found more time for producing music and talent in his native Chicago. And both gents settled down with new marriages as well.
So it is wonderful to see them back on the road, albeit briefly, as Hayes and Cahill, and I am sure they will bring their A-game readily to the stage.
The one week sojourn begins in Charlottesville, Virginia on March 22 and culminates in New York City at one of my favorite places to see Irish music, the Highline Ballroom just underneath the fabulous High Line park. On Friday, March 27 at 8 p.m. you will be able to witness the magical spell woven by these soulful artists in a setting that will enhance their virtuosity with its three-sided vantage points all offering an intimate view of the stage.