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On the 15th of September, I was lucky enough to get tickets with my mam to go see Cherish the Ladies, who were performing in the Dunnamaise Arts Centre in Portlaoise, Co. Laois. When we heard they were only a half an hour away from our own doorstep, we couldn’t miss an opportunity to go see the band. At the time, I was writing about Joanie Madden for my Grade 7 research project, so I saw it as an excellent opportunity to go and meet Joanie and speak to her myself.
After emailing her and asking if I could speak to her afterwards, she said she would only be delighted. The show began at 8pm, but, needless to say, we were there when the doors opened at 7pm to get the best possible seats we could. To say I was excited was an understatement!
The show began with the band racing into a set of reels. When they changed into the third reel, they were joined by Canadian dancer David Molesky.
The audience went wild as he danced. He didn’t dance traditional Sean Nós Irish dancing, but he was still excellent. Next they were joined by a Clare singer from Tulla, Kate Purcell. The first song she sang was called Green Hills of Clare, accompanied by the band, and it was about a man who travelled the world but always returned to his hometown Clare. Throughout the night, she also sang many other songs, including Shades of Glorial
The band members all took turns during the show playing a tune and introducing themselves.
Next in line was the piano player, Kathleen Boyle, and she played a jig she composed for her music students – brothers – called The Murphy boys. She continued this into a Turlough O Carolan tune called Planxty Baptist Johnson. The band joined in on the planxty. It had been twelve years since the band played in Portlaoise, and this time they were opening their newest Irish tour for their newest album Hearth of the Home. Joanie Madden gave a brief history of the band. The band started in New York city, starting with three or four different concerts but the band formed and they are still playing together 34 years later.
They were founded by Mick Moloney, because he thought it was a great idea to form an all-female Irish traditional band, in what was a male-dominated scene. Since then, they have played over three or four thousand concerts in all the different continents. The band consists of five members – Mary Cougan, Joanie Madden, Mirella Murry, Nollaig Casey and Kathleen Boyle. On guitar, banjo and mandolin is Mary Cougan, a former school teacher, and one of the founding members of the band. The piano player of the group is Kathleen Boyle from Glasgow – Mirella Murry from county Galway, Connemara, is on the accordion. Nollaig Casey is a former musician with Riverdance and she originates from Bandon, Cork, and she plays the fiddle, and finally Joanie Madden, on the whistle and flute.
After Joanie Madden introduced the band members, they were joined on stage by another special guest – 5 time world champion Irish dancer from Dingle, also known as The Dingle Dancer, David Geaney. I really enjoyed his dancing and I thought it was unbelievable how quickly he was able to move his feet. Next was Kate Purcell singing another song called The Glenties, accompanied by the band once again, followed by a set of reels composed by the band members. Mary Cougan wrote the first one Gloruis Travels, in honour of her aunt, who travelled the world. Nollaig Casey wrote the second one, entitled Galloping to the Glen, and Joanie Madden wrote the third one, called The Montana Reel, and both David Geaney and David Molesky joined in for the last reel.
With the first half almost closing to an end, the band played a few more sets of tunes. The first one was an air from the 1700s that Joanie played on the whistle, Cailin an Ghruaige Donn, and this was followed by a set of two reels, The Palm Tree and a Paddy O Brien tune. They finished up the first half with a final set of jigs, and then there was an interval of fifteen minutes. During the break you had the opportunity to buy their CDs and the band members were outside signing them for you. The second half began just after nine o clock, and they started off with the opening track off of their new album Hearth of the Home. It was a march called Portumna Workhouse that Joanie Madden, dedicated to all those who were lucky enough to leave the workhouse, followed by a reel The Hurling Boys of Portumna.
Mary Cougan started off with a riff on the guitar and was joined by Joanie on a whistle, and I found the tune name very appropriate because it really was a fabulous, haunting march in b minor. Next up was Kate Purcell singing Isle of Hope, followed by a set on the accordion by Mirella Murry. She played two beautiful hornpipes from the 1800s, Princess Beatrice and Fly By Night. The next tune was one Joanie wrote herself, a waltz named Fairwell to the Catskills, and this was by far one of my favourite tunes of the night. Following this was a set of reels, and another song Slán Abhaile from Kate Purcell. As I mentioned, I had emailed Joanie Madden previously to the concert and told her I was coming. Little did I know that she would very kindly ask me to perform on stage with the band and other young traditional musicians.
I was over the moon at this huge opportunity, and she sent me on the list of tunes. I didn’t know any of them, but needless to say I spent my afternoon learning them and I was on cloud nine when she announced from the stage that me and two brothers from Laois were to join her on stage to play The Boat to Boffin into a set of reels. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and it was honestly one of my best memories of any traditional concert I have played in. David Geaney and David Molesky joined once again for the last set of reels and the show reached its peak. The audience began to file out of the arts centre, and when we went outside Joanie and the band were waiting to get photographs with everyone.
I was delighted with my photograph and the opportunity to meet the band and the dancers. The band are a huge inspiration to all musicians, both female and males included, and what I particularly liked was they kept the traditional regime but yet managed to incorporate other genres of music into their playing, such as syncopation on the accompanying instruments, riffs, and the Canadian style of dancing. I thoroughly enjoyed the concert and it is one that will stay with me when I play music and I’ll never ever forget it.
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