FRANKIE GAVIN, Gradam Ceoil’s 2018 Traditional Musician Of The Year, and long-time stalwart of De Danann, has launched a brand new, high-octane fiddle group, The Provenance, who play the Town Hall Theatre on Saturday June 3 in a gala birthday celebration for Tigh Choilí.
Led by Gavin, The Provenance comprises Sorcha Costello, Eadaoin Ní Mhaicin, and Ciara O’Brien, three powerful, highly experienced fiddle players and stars in their own right. They have won numerous awards and All-Ireland competitions, and toured the world both as solo performers and in a range of groups and orchestras. The full line-up also includes accompanists George Grasso (bouzouki ) and Brian McGrath (piano ).
Last Friday afternoon, I caught up with Frankie to chat about The Provenance and his other upcoming Galway gig, with harmonica wizard Rick Epping. The previous night Frankie had been at Croke Park to see his old buddies The Rolling Stones strut their stuff. "It was a great gig, they were on top form," he enthused.
We can be sure Frankie himself, and The Provenance, will also be on top form and deliver a great gig in the Town Hall. He tells me how the band came together. “I was recording in California last year," he says, "and did a couple of tracks with two fiddles and brought them back to Ireland and started adding stuff onto it, like Brian McGrath on keyboard, and a few more fiddle tracks of my own. Then I thought it would be great to have a team of fiddle players and I could have more fun doing tunes and playing around with them, because I love to improvise and do harmonies and stuff like that when playing. It would be great to have a few other fiddle players onstage.
"I also was thinking that every band seems to have four or five guys and one woman as a singer or whatever so I figured, let’s have some gender balancing, and I got three really great women fiddle players - Sorcha, Eadaoin and Ciara. They are superb players and great people to be with. The band has a lovely, big, rich fiddle sound with three or four fiddles playing pretty much in unison and a few harmonies thrown in here and there. The sound is very exciting and very uplifting and cheerful and it does the heart good.”
While his three new bandmates were already highly esteemed in trad circles, Frankie had not played with them prior to the group’s formation. "We just got together and one day we did a session in Tigh Choilí and 90,000 hits later on YouTube we knew we were onto something good. We did our first full concert in the Everyman in Cork in February and we got a standing ovation which was very nice and the gig was really enjoyable. There’s something very special about it I find, the music is like fiddle heaven!”
Given the members of the group are also proficient on other instruments, I ask whether these will also feature in the Provenance palette? “For the time being we’re happy in the department of fiddle magic,” Frankie replies. “We probably will become a bit more diverse later on; Eadaoin, for instance, is a beautiful harp player and she’s also a fine singer and dancer as well. This is all about music for me at the moment and playing great tunes – hornpipes, jigs, reels and so on. There is something wonderful about four fiddles playing together plus George on bouzouki and Brian on keyboards, it is a very full, rich sound and a very enjoyable sound.”
Frankie and The Provenance have also been busy laying down tracks in the studio with producer Bruno Staehelin. “I’m hoping the album will be out by the time of the gig in the Town Hall,” Gavin reveals. “The album itself is done, I just have to do a small bit of tweaking on the mixes and then it will be good to go and hopefully it’ll be out on the occasion of the Tigh Choilí Anniversary gig.”
Frankie at The Galway Sessions 2018
As well as his Town Hall gig, Frankie will be in action for The Galway Sessions festival where he will perform with Rick Epping at the Róisín Dubh on June 14. “I did an album with Rick a few years back on the Greentrax label in Scotland, called Jiggin’ the Blues,” he tells me. “Rick was in Pumpkinhead back in the day and he had been living in America for years.
"I was over in Virginia and I met this person who was talking about their friend Joan Epping, and I just happened to ask was she any relation to Rick Epping the harmonica player, and it turned out she was his wife. I hadn’t seen Rick in years so I got in touch and we arranged to meet and I went to visit him in his home near Richmond. Our friendship opened up again so we did that album which is a mix of Irish fiddle and harmonica tunes. It’s a good album I feel and I look forward to playing with Rick again, it’s been quite a while since we played together. Seamie O’Dowd will be joining us on guitar as well.”