LITTLE ROCK The Brock McGuire Band is as real as it gets. And that has nothing to do with the members’ lilting accents, which hardly matter since they play traditional Irish tunes as an instrumental quartet.
Friday the group kicks off a three-week American tour, which includes free concerts at Dugan’s Irish Pub and the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville - emphasis, please, on the word “concerts.”
“Dugan’s will be a formal performance, not a background-type, atmosphere thing,” says Paul Brock, tworow button accordion player.Among the most common misconceptions about Irish music, he adds, “is that it’s just for dancing. Some bands play it for dancing. We play it for listening.”
It’s an important clarification. There are roughly 40 million Americans with Irish roots, which means that Irish culture is inextricable and oft-parodied in the United States. Commonly, Irish music evokes shamrocks, green beer and rowdy riffs on Riverdance. For 13 years the Brock McGuire Band has offered something different.
In addition to Brock, the quartet includes Manus McGuire on fiddle, Garry O’Meara on banjo and Denis Carey on piano. The band hails from County Clare, a renowned cradle of Irish music, and its members are conservatory-trained, with solo albums, side projects and a dozen decades in combined experience. Carey even runs his own music school, and his arrangements are played by symphonies all over Europe.
Each member started playing for his own reasons, but Brock says traditional music is pervasive in a country where even the currency bears harps: “When I was growing up, it was played on the radio. When television came in the early ’60s, it was played on television. It’s played in concert halls, in pubs, at festivals. It’s orally transmitted, a music of a living tradition, in a constant state of development andchange. Some tunes get left to one side. Others are reintroduced into the repertoire.”
Ireland enjoyed a roots music revival in the late ’50s. Even as it was rediscovered at home, popularity waned across the Atlantic. In the first half of the 20th century, during the golden era of Irish music, dance and concert halls sprang up along America’s East Coast. In the ’60s, reduced immigration and social upheaval sparked the evolution of rock music and renewed American interest in its own roots music, relegating Irish jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas and mazurkas to private clubs.
But the borders between Irish and American roots music are broadly overlapped. The banjo, a regular component of traditional Irish bands, was introduced to the country in 1843, by Joe Sweeney, an Irish-American minstrel performer. And a defining Irish instrument, the fiddle, made its way to Appalachia via Scots-Irish immigrants in the 1700 and 1800s, providing the basis for old-time or hillbilly music. The Brock McGuire Band acknowledges this intermarriage with theirt2011 album, Green Grass, Blue Grass, a collaboration with the Grammy-winning, Kentucky-bred mandolin player Ricky Skaggs and other bluegrass musicians.
Despite the influence of Irish folk tunes, which extends deeply into contemporary country, it’s easy to dismiss the loops and bouncy rhythms as whimsical and precious. It doesn’t help that County Clare is the stuff of myths - bluffs, castles, rolling meadows and ancient ruins - and therefore, even more susceptible to romantic simplification. But those loops, which may sound tangled and free, are actually precise and layered; the tempos are stylized, and the repetitious bars hold subtle variations.
“To some people who haven’t been exposed or understand, there’s a certain sameness about the music,” Brock says. “But when they dig in and start to appreciate, there’s a lot going on.”Brock McGuire Band
8:30 p.m. Friday, Dugan’s
Irish Pub, Third and Rock
streets, Little Rock (with
another performance at
7 p.m. Saturday at the
University of Arkansas in
Weekend, Pages 36 on 02/21/2013
Print Headline: Band’s Irish sound flows deeper than Riverdance