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1 + 1 + 30 instruments = Four Shillings Short


This article was published November 29, 2012 at 3:09 a.m.

Christy Martin and Aodh Og O’Tuama are Four Shillings Short.

— Four Shillings Short is perhaps an apt description for a musical duo that plays, between the two of them, some 30 instruments from around the world.

With that many instruments, they no doubt have depleted their bank accounts and found themselves, yes, several shillings short.

At least one of the pair may be counting his shillings — Aodh Og O’Tuama from Cork, Ireland. His wife and duo partner, Christy Martin, is from California and may still think in dollars. Well, chances are they both do these days, as they are based in San Francisco.

Together for 17 years, they perform on hammered dulcimer, mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, tin whistles, recorders, medieval and renaissance woodwinds, north Indian sitar, charango, bowed psaltery, banjo, bodhran, guitar, percussion and krumhorn.

They also sing: him in English and Gaelic, her in English, Irish, Spanish and Sanskrit. Their songs are from Ireland, Scotland, India and the United States. Four Shillings Short tours in the United States and Ireland, performing 150 concerts a year at festivals, theaters, performing arts centers, schools, libraries, coffeehouses and folk societies, such as the one in central Arkansas that has brought them back for all but one of their fourth or fifth shows in Little Rock (the one non-LRFC show was held at a now-defunct coffeehouse on Chenal Parkway).

O’Tuama grew up in a family of poets, musicians and writers, and got a degree in music from University College Cork. He then won a fellowship in medieval and renaissance performance from Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

Martin grew up in a family of musicians and dancers, and from the age of 15, studied sitar with a student of Indian master sitarist Ravi Shankar. In her 20s, she added hammered dulcimer and many other instruments. When the two musicians first met, Martin had a band, Your Mother Should Know.

“Back then, there were six musicians in my band,” O’Tuama says. “A couple of the band members knew [Martin], and when she came to see us, I found out she was a musician, and I made sure she left her phone number on my mailing list. I didn’t want to be too pushy, so I waited a week to call her.

“We talked about our music, and I also asked her, ‘But can I see you socially?’ which really struck her as interesting. She came to see me in a theater show, and by the second time we went out, we knew we wanted to get married. And by then, I was a bit tired of six in a band — getting them to all show up for rehearsals, and to all agree on an arrangement. It was a bit like hauling a halfdead horse around!”

The duo released their first CD in 1996, and a year later, the couple played 60 gigs in 90 days, across 30 states, covering 30,000 miles. They fit their 30-odd instruments into a Chevrolet Express van — the type used by tradesmen, O’Tuama explains — along with their clothes and a bed, so they can take turns napping, if need be, as they roll down the road toward their next show.

“We have built up such a circuit of places where we like to play, that a lot of times we design our tours on who we like to visit,” he says. “We’re free-range people, but domestically trained, I always say.”

The duo list as their influences Woody Guthrie, Robert Burns, Joan Baez, Ravi Shankar and Richard Thompson. They further note that their musical heroes include Frank Zappa, Sandy Denny, Bruce Springsteen and Northwest Arkansas’ Still on the Hill.

Folk Club organizers are calling the show a Celtic winter concert — a celebration of the season with stories, poetry and song.

4 Shillings Short

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Little Rock Folk Club, Thomson Hall, Unitarian Universalist Church, 1818 Reservoir Road, Little Rock

$15; $8 for students with IDs; free for accompanied children 12 and under

(501) 663-0634

Weekend, Pages 37 on 11/29/2012

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