The whole, long version …
We all have plans for our lives and our careers, but usually, the serendipitous circumstances of living moves us in strange and sometimes wondersome directions. My music career has not followed any particular path, and so my style has developed over many years, drawing on many different sources.
My earliest music memories are of my father, playing a few notes and tunes on an old Kay guitar, and sometimes playing some polkas on his harmonica.
My childhood music education was haphazard, but my parents did provide a few years of piano lessons at a very young age. For better or worse, I think this sealed my fate as a musician. Throughout my life, try as I may to develop a meaningful interest in other things, I was always drawn back to music. So, like many folks growing up in the late 60s and 70s (including my brother), I picked up guitar playing when I was about fifteen.
At that point, I was really into the new folk movement that had grown out of the 60s. In the mid 70s, when I was in high school, John Denver was very popular, but I was also listening to and learning the songs of Don McLean, Pete Seeger, Gordon Bok, Michael Cooney, and others; it was also right about this time that Celtic music started to work its magic on me. At the time, the Irish Rovers had a few albums out, but I also heard a few from the Clancy Brothers, and, of course, the Chieftains. I was also fortunate enough to have a fabulously knowledgable music teacher, Nita Conley, who furthered my Celtic education (folk fans will know her from the first version of the Baltimore band, Celtic Thunder). I played a few duo shows with my girlfriend at the time, Lois Holcomb (she went on to bigger and better things in Boston, being featured in at least two major bands, Athens and Gotham City).
In college, I originally studied music, so I had a fairly thorough background in music theory, history, and playing technique. I was still attempting to play the piano – half heartedly – but my real focus was on singing and playing guitar. I found, however, that I didn’t really know what I wanted to study, but I wanted to play music. Because of this, I eventually dropped out of college – for a short time – and moved to Florida (disaster – since I’m a fan of cold weather, Florida was not my favourite). This was an important career move, as it turns out, because my girlfriend at the time gave me a violin for Christmas. That gift, truly, changed my life (thanks, J!).
Over the next decade, I played solo, and I was in several bands – the two most notable bands were Lifeboat (with Jack Ramey and Bernie Ozol), and The View (with Jack Ramey, Ward Morgan, and Brian Badger). Both bands played around the Baltimore metro area in the mid 80s.
At the same time, I was continuing to learn the violin – studying both classical technique and celtic repertoire; I was fortunate enough to study with guitar master and multi-instrumentalist, Robin Bullock. I was also trying to continue my solo, singer-songwriter career. In 1984, I released my first ever formal recording, a vinyl EP, “Walking the Median.” [For those who love vinyl, you may be interested to know that I still have a few copies of this release, and I’d love for you to have one!].
In the 80s, I was listening intently to many, many things — lots of celtic music, but also lots and lots of Irish and British rock, including The Who, plus Pete Townshend’s solo work, U2, Kate Bush (who I firmly believe made careers possible for so many of today’s great female artists!), and above all … XTC – possibly my favourite band (always hard to commit to only one. I have to thank a good friend, Gary Bass, for turning me on to XTC).
Along the way, the music industry changes from vinyl to cassettes. My band The View releases a cassette, “Taken,” and a short while later, while I was preparing to go to London and Dublin seeking a recording deal, I prepare and release a casette collection of home recordings, “Demorealization.”
Needless to say, throughout all of this, my “big break” never really happens (otherwise, you’d already have heard of me, right?). But I am travelling, playing lots of music, and having a grand time. I’m still learning the violin, on and off, and becoming more and more enamored with Celtic music, particularly the music of Ireland. My love for the music makes me curious enough to go to Ireland for a few visits – and naturally, I do a bit of playing here and there. I do the same in London. Great fun! Great friends in all places.
So, as bands do, they fall apart, and I go off to Berklee College in Boston to study a bit. And then, all the steam seems to go out of the music part of my life, and nothing really happens for a few years. I’m still playing, doing a little writing, and learning the violin, but the demands of surviving — that is, working for a living, etc — are threatening to overwhelm all of my music pursuits. So, I’m leaving out lots of boring details, but, suffice it to say, I realize it’s time to take drastic action, or I’ll never play music again, so I seize an opportunity to move to Germany and play music full time. Away I go!
1991 – for the next two years, I’m playing in Irish pubs all over Germany. I also take several long trips to Ireland. I use these breaks to write and practice, and I record another cassette, “Lost in the Land of Beer Without a Husky.”
I don’t really speak German, but the Irish community is fairly well-connected and strong. I do make many, many wonderful friends from Germany and elsewhere, but these two years feel somewhat like living in Ireland – I work with Irish people, I have Irish roommates, I play Irish music, and I sing in Irish pubs. Quite naturally, after two years of this, I move to Ireland.
I only get to live in Ireland for about 15 or 16 months – but it’s a blast. I play music all over the place, and I am now proficient enough on the violin that I’m “busking” and adding, a bit, to my income. I had done that in Germany as well. In Ireland though, I’m fortunate to make friends with Ailbhe Carroll, introduced to me by her brother Eoghan, and we start playing classical violin duets on the streets of Galway. I heard lots of great buskers in Buttermilk Lane, but nothing compared to hearing Bach echoing down the narrow walkway. [To this day, busking is one of the activities I really miss, but playing on the street doesn’t seem all that welcome (or safe) in the USA].
I’m lucky enough to get a little trio together, Brigand (with Trish Connor and Colm McLoughlin). We have a great sound, with lovely three-part harmonies. We had some of our own songs, but we also covered interesting stuff from REM and the Washington Squares. It seems we’re only getting going, when the band sort of falls apart — too bad too, because I felt that band could have done big things. Nonetheless, we had a great time playing from Westport to Mullingar, and of course in lovely Loughrea as well.
I’m also playing a few solo gigs here and there, including at a couple of pubs in Tuam – home of the Saw Doctors. When the band isn’t playing and I don’t have a solo gig, I’m out listening to music and sometimes sitting in with my friend, Martina Flaherty.
So, all good things come to an end, and financially – as usual – things weren’t reallly working out in Ireland, so I make the extremely difficult decision to head back to Baltimore, and go to graduate school.
After three plus years of living in Europe, and living and breathing music, returning to Baltimore was like walking into a silent crypt. I definitely felt the very real, physical effects of culture shock and spent the first few months trying to adjust. Since I was in town for a purpose – grad school – I get that process moving.
For the next three years, I’m intensely studying writing, but, while I’m doing that, I decide to also pick up a Bachelor of Music Composition. So, during the day, I’m an undergraduate music student, and in the evenings I’m a graduate student in the writing program at Towson University. For a whole year, I don’t play a single gig – very disheartening. But, while I’m in music school, I meet a few folks who suggest we should put a band together. Out of this, I end up in Bohandy (with Dan Hope, Rob Hartman, and Scott Bohandy). We record a few demo songs, and we play a few gigs, but the band doesn’t really hang together – but while it lasts it’s good craic. Also at this time, I meet up with, Terry O’Neill – formerly with the local band Dogs Among the Bushes. As it turns out, he is also getting a music degree, and we start playing traditional Irish music. Through sessions at Mick O’Shea’s Irish Pub, we meet Lucien Walsh, and, in 1997, the three of us form the local traditional Irish band, the Windy Gap. After a few years, we change the name to Kinsale, and release a CD, “Playing Favourites.”
Lucien’s wife, Kirsten, turns out to be a fab cellist, and along with their Texas best friend, Darin Lang, on drums, in 1998 we form Move Like Seamus – a celtic-acoustic folk-rock band. We mostly play cover songs in local pubs, but we develop a bit of a following and have a grand time gigging for a few years. Our fan base includes some very fine musicians in their own right, including Eli Wirth, Liz Jones, Ellen Cherry, Mark Lortz, Geoff Godfrey, and (a bit later), Kristen Turner. Over the years (from 1998 until 2010, basically), all of these fine folks end up joining Move Like Seamus, as the line-up changes.
Also during this time, Ellen Cherry and I form the Simon & Garfunkel tribute duo, the Scarborough Affair. We have a great sound, and play quite a few shows; Ellen even gets us a few gigs in far away places, before we wrap it up in 2007.
Meanwhile, beginning in August 1999, Terry O’Neill helps me get a job teaching violin at Appalachian Bluegrass Music Shoppe, Ltd, located in Catonsville, Maryland. This turns out to be great fun, and I continue to teach there until the great pandemic of 2020/2021. I use this forum, along with my students, to explore lots of repertoire, including classical duets (2 violins, and violin/viola), Irish music (of course), and in recent years Scottish music. I began attending several of the local Scottish Highland Games Festivals, and competing in the Scottish FIRE sponsored fiddle competitions. This has turned out to be amazing, introducing me to even more wonderful people and rockin’ tunes. And all of this goes on while wearing traditional highland attire.
So, in short, I’ve had a lifetime of music, and I have no intention of stopping any time soon.
A few years ago, a friend noted that, over the years, I’d played a lot of shows. He asked, “out of all the shows and gigs you’ve played, which one was your favourite?”
Without hesitation, I answered, “the next one.”
Getting Around …
- guitar, voice, & violin
- private lessons
- ceol, cultúr, craic – the celtic music club
- a quick “five fav tunes” from fantastic fiddler, jim eagan
- do you need a shoulder rest for your violin?
- how thick is your pick?
- so what is the proper use of a diaphragm?
- shifting up is easier than shifting down
- so, how fast is too fast?
- all this music