|Pride of New York|
And for the last seven years one of the kick starting events has been the junket up to East Haven, Connecticut for the annual appearance of the Pride of New York quartet hosted by the Irish American Community Center on Venice Place just north of New Haven.
The cozy center seems just the right size to gather a couple of hundred knowledgeable fans of Irish music who look forward to this special gig “reuniting” a foursome who make up a solid band of musicians not only steeped in the well of tradition, but are genuine tradition-bearers themselves replenishing the wellspring.
When Joanie Madden and the killer Bees (Brian Conway, Billy McComiskey and Brendan Dolan) take to the stage you know you are in for a night of great music. And this is one “pickup band” that knows how to pick up where they left off given how infrequently they have the chance to perform together which was about a year ago.
Looking back eight years ago when I first put the four of them together for a concert set as part of the 2005 Catskills Irish Arts Week, they have nothing but distinguished themselves as a quartet even while continuing their regular gigs, jobs and daily lives.
Because they come from a similar background in the solid Irish music scene well maintained by their musical mentors and family around New York, their approach to music onstage together is a joy to behold and listen to regardless of whether they have the time to rehearse or even compose a set list.
The excitement of playing with one another and the deep roots they all bring to the music all enhance the ability of these four great musicians to compliment one another so thoroughly.
The name given to them, the Pride of New York, acclaimed the important place they have in the music scene first as eager and very able students who kept putting heart and soul into the music all their lives into middle age now.
While their contributions to the Catskills has been huge, it is when they travel away from New York carrying the tunes bequeathed to them from their Irish masters with such care and reverence that we see the magnitude of the Pride of New York.
East Haven is a favorite retreat for them because the organizers and audience lovingly embrace them each time, and it affords them a chance to get together within a day’s drive.
But over the years, they have invited to play at the National Folk Festival in Butte, Montana, Louisburgh, Co. Mayo and the Cavan Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann and probably a number of places they had to turn down because of conflicts or logistics.
Later this month they will be special guests at two highly respected festivals overseas. On Friday, January 25 they will play Dublin’s City Hall as part of the Temple Bar Trad Festival as part of The Gathering celebration. The following night they hopscotch across the Irish Sea to Glasgow for an appearance at the huge Celtic Connections Festival.
But no matter what the venue is when the Pride of New York take their seats to play together, you get genuine music pouring out of their hearts that would melt any audience no matter what their musical IQ is.
The night in East Haven was one to savor and somewhat historic seeing that three mothers of the band members were in house that night, with Helen Madden, Joan Dolan and Rose Conway all making the trek.
In years past Billy’s mother Mae McComiskey, soon to be 88 next week, happily made the journey, but is confined to her Brooklyn home these days. She was certainly there in spirit.
Whether it was jigs, reels, hornpipes or exquisite slow airs, we were hearing Irish music at its best, exhilarating the crowd from start to finish. To hear them play “Sean McGlynn’s Waltz” (on Sean’s accordion left to his prize pupil McComiskey) with all the panache that a Waltz tune can hope for is sheer ecstasy in itself.
And because the hall has a fine timber floor, the night isn’t complete without a couple sets being danced led by the Droney Brothers and Jimmy and Claire Murrihy to the gorgeous dance tempo provided.
Much of their music can be heard on their self-titled CD Pride of New York, available for purchase at www.cherishtheladies.com.
While they won’t be aboard Joanie’s cruise at the beginning of February, there will be 55 other entertainers. Visit joaniemaddencruise.com.