|Shaskeen with its full compliment of musicians
at the Ard Ri House Hotel, Tuam
The town of Tuam is already on the map thanks to folk rockers The Saw Doctors who are the west of Ireland's equivalent of U2.But in the latest of its Trad Festivals the town, which is celebrating its 400th anniversary, showed it has so much more to offer.
The festival brings together world class musicians for three days of music, celebrations and instruction in almost every art of folk musicianship you can imagine.
Festivities were officially opened by town mayor Imelda Kelly first with an art exhibition at the Town Hall followed by her officiating at the start of the festival proper, featuring top musicians, at the Corralea Court Hotel.
This kicked off a whole raft of concerts and sessions in pubs and venues all over Tuam. These included Teresa Canney and Pat Sweeney, The Rambling Rogues, The Kings of Connaught and The Whiskey Rovers all of who fill the town pubs with their own particular sounds.
The Ard Ri House Hotel played host to Shaskeen which has had a long and happy association with the town.
They were playing with a full complement of musicians led by banjo player and maker Tom Cussen with the line up being, on flute-Eamon Cotter, accordion-Gerry Hanley, bodhran-Johnny Donnellan, fiddle-Áine McGrath Drooney, concertina-Bernie Geraghty, tin whistle-Geraldine Cotter, uilleann pipes-Pat Broderick and vocals Dick Hogan.
The band treated the audience to lively jigs such as Cook in the Kitchen, reels which included The Flogging Reel and Fitzmaurice's polka to show some of the range of styles the band had in its repertoire.There was also a smattering of barn dancing tunes with the toe-tapping Around the Fairy Fort/The New Broom. There was even an old favourite of The Dubliners with All For Me Grog.
Shaskeen has had a long association with Tuam and the man who has been part of many of the changes both in the band and in the town is Tom Cussen who is originally from Limerick but has been a Galway man for more than 40 years.
"Back in the 70s there were a lot of pubs and singing lounges, they were very popular and every pub, and there were a lot of them, had music going on as many nights of the week as they could afford it, and as many nights of the week as people would come in," said Tom.
"We started back then and like everyone else we were doing pub gigs and we would finish up in Tuam of a Monday night because it was the only night we had free. Then one Monday night led to another and then another and we ended for two and half years doing every Monday night in Tuam from '73 to '75.
"That was a time when people did go out socially and people would go out five and six times a week, and although they were tough times, people still went out.
|Tom Cussen who not only plays the banjo with Shaskeen
but also makes the instruments
"So our association with Tuam goes back that far and is based around the music."
Shaskeen, very much like contemporary folk band Bellowhead, are group of musicians who have their own particular musical lives and then choose to come together to make up the sound which is the group's.
"Every musician here plays their own thing with different people and occasionally we do get together for events such as this, such as the Trad Festival to ply our wares because as a unit we like playing together and considering we have aged together, there is a lot of experience in the band and in that respect we are used to each other, we know the sound we need to get and that sums it up really."
This means that the line up has remained fluid while the sound has remained fairly constant.
"I think it (Shaskeen) has a sound of its own and perhaps some people could tell you better than I can about the mainstay. The band has changed over time and one of the mainstays was the drummer, we have no drummer now and so we have gone in more for concerts rather than set dancing and Caellidhs and hence we can do the big band rather than the small band.
"Well as a seven or eight piece band we like to say look this is what we do.This is the expanse of music we can do, it's not just jigs and reels full stop, there's a little bit more to it. There are different tempos, different rhythms and different genres of music, touching on a bit of country and on a bit of rag."
Tom also sees festivals such as the Trad Festival as crucial both to the bands and to people who visit the events.
"I think any festival is important and any one that employs musicians is doubly important. I would hope it would promote Irish music in the area and certainly Tuam has a long tradition of music and certainly it's had its fair share of show bands.
"An awful lot of high class musicians have come out of Tuam, mostly due to the show bands. A historian would have a better idea of this but certainly Tuam was synonymous with a lot of country bands and pop bands and the show band era going back to the sixties and seventies.
"I would hope I could inspire younger people but we are getting a bit long in the tooth to inspire.We like what we do and that's the bottom line, it's not the money for sure anyway. Just to get together as a unit and play together and expand on the type of music we like to do."
From a tradition point of view Shaskeen sees that they are keeping an interest in traditional music alive.
"Music has been part of my life for more than 40 years, it's not going to change overnight and that would be the case for all the musicians here tonight."
To see part two of this review please click the link below