THE FIRST six months of 2014 have been pretty good for Galway roots, trad, and bluegrass band We Banjo Three, and they are set to cap it all with the release of their new album.
In March, the band were nominated in the Best Newcomer category in the Songlines Magazine Awards; they are currently playing the Banco de La Republica festival in Columbia; and they play the Galway International Arts Festival with a gig in Monroe’s Live on Wednesday July 23 at 8pm.
Before that comes an appearance at the Galway Sessions Festival where they launch their second album Gather The Good with a show in the Róisín Dubh on Wednesday June 18 at 8pm.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” band member Enda Scahill tells me. “The last six months have been really busy, we’ve played some major festivals such as Temple Bar Trad Fest and Celtic Connections in Glasgow, we had a sold-out Music Network tour of Ireland, we spent a month in Texas and Florida in March, and then recorded, mixed, mastered, designed and printed our new album in four weeks flat! We’re also going to be in six different countries in June.”
One of those countries is Colombia. How is the band - brothers Martin and David Howley, and a second pair of brothers in Enda and Fergal Scahill - being received?
“So far we’ve played one concert to a sold-out audience of 500 in Villavicencio,” says Enda. “The reaction was overwhelming, we were swamped afterwards for photos and autographs. We were like a taller and slightly better looking One Direction - albeit a little poorer.”
Although they are called We Banjo Three, they are actually a quartet. What is the reason for this semantic anomaly?
“We started out as three banjo players - myself and brothers Martin and David Howley,” says Enda. “We quickly realised we needed an actual musician in the band and asked my brother Fergal to join. He plays fiddle, guitar, bodhrán, mandolin; we like to say he’s multi-talentless!”
The banjo is originally an African-American instrument which eventually made its way into Irish trad via Irish musicians living and working in the States, before being popularised in Ireland by The Dubliners’ Barney McKenna.
“The prominence of the Dubliners worldwide meant the banjo was forever associated with Irish music,” says Enda. “For me, I got into it as I always loved the sound of it. When I was eight the music teacher, Bernie Geraghty, in my school in Corofin asked ‘Who wants to play the banjo?’. Being a cheeky so-and-so I stuck my hand up straight away.”
With Gather The Good about to come out, what kind of evolution does it mark from We Banjo Three’s debut, Roots Of The Banjo Tree?
“The new album is more mature, the sound is bigger and bolder, closer to our live sound,” declares Enda. “It captures quite a broad range of our musical influences. We spent a lot of time in Nashville last summer and got to meet and play with some great bluegrass and country musicians. There’s definitely some influences from that.
“We also did some gigs along the Appalachia Way and met some musicians there. One of the songs on the album, ‘Prettiest Little Girl in the County’, came directly from an old-time banjo player and singer Alex Caton we met in Virginia last September.
“There’s an old tune we learned from Frankie Gavin who recorded it way back in the seventies, ‘The Bunch of Green Rushes’, but we put an old-time twist on it and matched it with an old bluegrass reel ‘Salt Creek’. There is a new song, ‘Tell Me Why’, composed by David Howley, we’ve been playing this at festivals for the last year and it goes down a storm. There’s a blues song by Eric Bibb, and much more to be discovered.”
With an excellent first six months under We Banjo Three’s belt, what is the plan for the remaining six?
“Travel, travel, travel,” says Enda. “We’ve some huge gigs coming up. We’re totally excited to launch the album and over the moon to be part of the Galway International Arts Festival. In early July we’re playing at Rudolstadt, the biggest folk festival in Germany; Tonder Fest in Denmark; we’ve got trips to Switzerland, Norway, France, even the Outer Hebrides happening. We also have a two week tour of the US. Then we'll check into the Mystical Rose for a month to recover!”
Admission to the Rósín Dubh gig is free. For details on the Monroe’s show see www.giaf.com