Bohola brings a bold mentality to traditional Celtic music.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
When a traditional Irish ensemble starts citing thundering rock bands as an influence, you know you’re not in Dublin anymore.
Bohola, one of the most respected bands on Chicago’s vibrant traditional Irish music scene, is built on Jimmy Keane’s extraordinary accordion work, Sean Cleland’s soaring fiddle, and Pat Broaders’ lead vocals and percussive attack on the dordan—a flat-back, Irish-style bass bouzouki (which is essentially a Greek lute). What sets the group apart is its huge instrumental sound, marked by textures so full and thick that they seem to emanate from a band twice Bohola’s size. The acoustic power trio performs at Monterey Live on Wednesday.
“If there was a model it would be Cream or Rush,” says Keane with a chuckle from his home in Chicago. “We approach everything in a rhythmical way. The dordan is really a percussion instrument, in addition to being chordal. I play the accordion in a percussive style and Sean brings up the tail end, filling up all the little holes and gaps with the fiddle.”
The band’s sophomore recording for Shanachie, Bohola 4, captures Bohola’s knack for stringing together long medleys, such as the 13-minute third track. Opening with the set dance “Queen of the Fairies,” the breathtaking minor song medley flows into “In London So Fair,” a love song culled from a field recording of the County Louth singer Mary Ann Carolan, and concludes with an intoxicating reel that Keane learned from its composer, the County Clare fiddler Bobby Casey.
In concert, the band has gained a reputation for even longer medleys, often playing more than half an hour without a break. The effect can be both trance and dance inducing, as the audience is carried along by the sublime melodies and insistent grooves.
“We’re using a different form of music than jam bands,” Keane notes, “but it’s the same thing. Plus, some of the melodies are as lovely as any melodies you’ll find in any music in the world. It feels natural to play a tune 10 times, and then much like constructing a sentence or a story, we move onto another piece. We can play for 40 minutes before we stop.”
The three original members of Bohola all have deep Irish roots. Broaders, the dordan player, is actually a fairly recent Irish immigrant who relocated to Chicago in the 1990s. Keane was born in London to Irish-speaking parents, and grew up listening to his father, a sean nos (old style) singer. The family moved to Chicago when he was about five and within a few years he was performing on the radio. A multiple All-Ireland accordion champion, he is widely considered the foremost accordion master in traditional Irish music.
Cleland was born into an Irish family in Chicago and has been a mainstay on the city’s Irish music scene since the 1970s, though he gained widespread attention in the ‘80s with the alternative Celtic rock group The Drovers (and also as an actor, in the films Backdraft and Blink).
The band has become a regular presence in Northern California in recent years, appearing at folk clubs and Celtic festivals. Keane, however, has been performing in the region for almost three decades, including a string of gigs at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall in the late 1980s and early ‘90s with Robbie O’Connell and Mick Maloney.
Northern California is a key market for traditional Irish bands, but in the past two decades bands that want to work steadily have to “think globally,” he says. “In the past year or so we’ve toured in Australia, Japan and Europe. Irish music is accepted worldwide now.”
BOHOLA PLAYS MONTEREY LIVE, 414 ALVARADO ST. IN MONTEREY, WEDNESDAY at 8PM. $15/IN ADVance; $17/at the DOOR. 646-1415 or WWW.MONTEREYLIVE.NET.