So we start the new year with lots to look forward to, and a great new CD from Máirtín de Cógáin to listen to. Máirtín has formed a new group, The Máirtín de Cógáin Project, and has recorded the first CD From Cork With Love. Featuring songs from his native Cork, this CD has tunes that I guarantee most of us haven’t heard before but that you’ll quickly fall in love with, as I did. Backed by Brian Miller on guitar, Norah Rendell on flute and whistle, and Nathan Gourley on fiddle, Máirtín sings, plays bodhrán, and tells stories. I particularly liked his story “The Tae Man.” With 15 tracks on the CD, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth on this fine recording. Now don’t be worrying that you’ll no longer see Máirtín with Fuschia Band because he’ll still be playing with them. Matter-of-fact, they’re booked to play at the Dublin Ohio Irish Fest this year. He’ll also be singing with Jimmy Crowley as well as doing solo gigs. The boy is tireless, and, in my humble opinion, one of the finest Irish performers working today. Do yourself a favor and pick up any of his excellent recordings, sit back and enjoy. If Máirtín can’t help get us thru the winter doldrums, no one can.
Lots of news from the pipe band community and all of it good. We were sweating it at the Stockyard Kilty Band dance when Dave McKee collapsed during the set. It was hot in the hall and the band was wearing tunics and plaids and Dave is 80+ years, but after the paramedics checked him out, Dave walked out under his own power to a standing ovation. Great to see this piping legend still going strong.
The Champion Supreme ratings were announced by the Midwest Pipe Band Association at their annual general meeting and it was no surprise that City of Chicago Pipe Band took Grade 2. Minnesota Police Pipe Band took Grade 3. Detroit Caledonian Pipe Band took Grade 4 and Tunes of Glory Pipes & Drums took Grade 5. The following re-grades were also announced; City of Chicago Pipe Band went from Grade 2 to Grade 1 (yeah!), Chicago Celtic – Grade 4 to Grade 3, Detroit Caledonian, Grade 4 to Grade 3, City of Chicago, Grade 5 to Grade 4 and Tunes of Glory, Grade 5 to Grade 4. All this is the end result of countless hours of practice, practice, practice. You really can’t imagine how much time and effort goes into the development of a competition pipe band. I highly recommend going to the local highlands games and observing the pipe band competition. We have some great bands in the Midwest, and you owe it to yourself to take advantage of the music these bands perform.
One more bit about one of the oldest bands in the Chicago area. The Chicago Highlanders will be fielding both a Grade 4 and a Grade 5 in 2011. There’s plenty of room here to fill the ranks. I’ve known this band for more years than I care to think about and they’re a great bunch. I used to be in their color guard 20+ years ago (yeah, I played a flag!) They hold practice on Thursday evenings in Palatine with instruction from some of the finest instructors available, Adrian Melvin, Jim Sim and Jamie Stewart. If you’re interested, you can check their website at www.chicagohighlanders.org.
Have to tell you about a fun place I went to recently. My buddy, Shay Clarke, has been working at McNally’s Pub in St Charles. He talked me into going out for the session on Sunday night. It was a fairly long drive but I went, and it was great! The place is beautiful and comfortable. I had a couple pints, heard some real Irish music, had a couple laughs with Shay and went home. A lovely evening. I had seen, while there, plates of enticing food coming from the kitchen, so we made plans to go there for dinner. We took the family there and had one of the most enjoyable meals out in a long time. Food was great, simply superb, service was friendly, fast and expert. The only thing that could have made it better was for someone else to pay for it. We are blessed to have so many fine pubs in the Chicago area and McNally’s is one of my favorites. St Charles is a gem of a town on the Fox River and McNally’s is a gem of a pub, surely worth the trip.
One of the grandest Celtic music festivals in the US takes place in February in Valley Forge, PA. Specifically the 19th Annual Greater Philadelphia Mid-Winter Scottish & Irish Music Festival & Fair, (take a breath) which takes place on the 18th, 19th & 20th of February, 2011. Indoors, three days of music on two stages with plenty of good food, friendly people (not for nuttin’ is Philly known as the city of brotherly love) and great music. I’ve yapped about this show in the past and some local folks took heed and flew out and had a great time. The lineup this year is simply huge, loaded with old favorites (like the Elders) and new bands I can’t wait to see (like the Paul McKenna Band). Bill & Karen Reid run this shindig and do a heck of a job. I highly recommend it. You can get the full lineup and all pertinent details at www.eohebrides.com. If you make, stop by the booth and say hi.
Before I head off into the sunset I have to take a moment to say thank you and praise a lovely lady who is not only wonderful at her job but has a great big heart to boot. Erin Brennan runs the Rosin Eyecare shop in the Outpatient Center at Loyola hospital. Recently it was my good fortune to take my Mom there to get a new pair of specs. It’s not too easy for Mom to get around these days, she has to use a wheelchair but, when she entered that shop, she was treated like a queen. They say that personal service in retail is coming back, well they could take a lesson from Erin Brennan. So Thank you Erin, you turned a chore into a lovely time.
Thanks to all you folks who read my ramblings and are kind enough to say so. I truly appreciate your input, assistance and critiques.