The troubadour school’s nomadic musical tradition of lyric poetry and music began in the late 11th century in southern France.Christy Martin, half of Four Shillings Short, keeps it moving.
“It’s a very old tradition and we’re essentially modern-day troubadours,” Martin says. “It’s just the two of us, on the road full time.”
“We live that life,” husband Aodh Og O’Tuama says. “The road is our home.”
Back in the day, the well-known fine dining outlet St. Michael’s Alley in Palo Alto was a classic folk coffeehouse, and that’s where the two players met.
“I was working at other things and pining away for a life as a musician when I met him,” Martin says. “He was a penniless artist having the greatest time in his life and I thought, ‘That’s for me.’”
O’Tuama first came stateside as a Stanford fellow in medieval music performance in 1983, and started version 1.0 of Four Shillings Short in 1985, with a rotating group of players. Both he and Martin came from musical and artistic families, and their musical alliance began in 1995.
More than 30 different instruments populate their performances, some familiar (guitar, banjo, mandolin, spoons, washboard, dulcimers and pennywhistles) and others far more obscure, like bowed psaltery (a modern cousin to an ancient Greek, harp-like instrument) and the double-reed curved crumhorn. They usually sing in English, but also employ Gaelic, Irish, French, Spanish and Sanskrit.
Their playlists are as diverse as their instrumentation, traversing traditional Irish, Celtic and Americana folk, along with Renaissance and medieval madrigals, north Indian sitar ragas, and their own songs. The duo plays nearly 200 dates a year in America and Ireland, but avoids concert halls. In troubadour fashion, they frequent atypical venues and offer educational programs via schools, libraries, house concerts and museums.
They have a dozen studio efforts out, and will add a 13th after their show here using the Unitarian Church in Palo Alto as their studio. For their appearance in P.G., they plan to perform the pieces they will be recording, plus everything from Appalachian to South American tunes.
“It’s a huge variety of material,” Martin says. “We’re pretty unusual and fun for all ages, and we’re certainly not something you see every day.
“And,” she adds, “my husband plays a mean set of wooden spoons.”
FOUR SHILLINGS SHORT 7pm Saturday, July 22. Pacific Grove Art Center, 568 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove. $10/members; $12 non-members. 375-2208, pgartcenter.org.