by Robert Tobey
Ellery Klein 96 on board with dance band from
Its minutes before the Los Angeles-based Irish band Gaelic Storm
will hit the stage in Springfield, Massachusetts with its trademark pub-band
show. The energy level is far beyond the norm for a concert in a suburban
high school auditorium. While some in the crowd got the evening started
with a tailgate party in the parking lot, others staked out the front
doors to grab the front-row seats. The shrieks and shouts build until
the band takes the stage with a traditional sea shanty called Rolling
Down to Old Maui.
Gaelic Storms rowdy approach to Celtic music hits swiftly. Lead
singer Pat Murphy offers up an interesting tale that features a catchy
chorus with some good three-part harmony. Underneath the lyrics is a driving
rhythm section of acoustic guitar, bodhran (Celtic drum), and percussion.
Their sound is relentless and infectious. Feet tap; hands clap; and soon
theres dancing in the aisles.
Behind and around this cacophony of sound, are the enticing strains of
a fiddle. Sometimes haunting, sometimes alluring, sometimes whimsical,
fiddler Ellery Klein 96 fills the spaces with sweet notes, sort
of the cherry atop the hot-fudge sundae, as the band rollicks along. The
notes come fast and clear as a high-speed solo from Klein closes the song.
This is my favorite [band] that weve had, says guitarist
Steve Twigger in an interview after the show. A key ingredient of this
incarnation of the band is Klein, who joined Gaelic Storm in 2003. Weve
been through a lot of fiddle players. And shes absolutely brilliant
in the studio, too.
For Klein, this is her favorite band as well. Theyre just
out to have a good time, says Klein, which isnt always
true of bands, especially in traditional music, a lot of people are so
super stuffy. Theyve [Gaelic Storm] really captured that, lets
just have a good time spirit, which for me is great fun. You just
get up and jump around. Do silly things. That may be the simplified
version, but Gaelic Storms winning formula mixes danceable high-energy
songs, a boisterous, self-deprecating sense of humor, and an intangible
knack for making the audience feel like its Saturday night down
at the pub and everyone knows everyone.
Its a formula that has worked since 1996 when Twigger, Murphy, bodhran
player Steve Wehmeyer, and percussionist Shep Lonsdale started the band
as an excuse to get together, sing songs, and drink beer on Sunday nights
at a Los Angeles Irish pub. Soon they had a following and a Hollywood
storyline. A casting director for the movie Titanic came looking
for a group to be the band for the steerage party scene. Gaelic Storms
style jubilant and a little bit sloppy was just what he wanted.
When the movie hit blockbuster status, Gaelic Storm began a wonderful
ride that hasnt stopped. Theyve toured widely and continuously
ever since. Their first four albums hit the top 10 on Billboards
World Music charts. The additions of Klein, piper Tom Brown, and young
percussionist Ryan Lacey (who took over for Lonsdale) has expanded the
musical depth of the group. For me, its the easiest Ive
felt walking on the stage every night since we started the band,
says Twigger. It seems like another great starting place. It always
feels like we just started. Its very exciting with this new CD under
our belt. The new album, How Are We Getting Home?, was released
1996 was also an important year in Kleins own musical evolution.
She graduated from UVM with a geology degree, and spent the next three
years playing Celtic music around New England (working days at Lake Champlain
Chocolates in Burlington) first with popular Celtic rock band Whiskey
Before Breakfast and then later with jighead. That band was even
more out there than Whiskey, remembers Klein, groove rock
with Irish music and bluegrass.
Deciding to look at Celtic music from another angle, in 2000, Klein enrolled
in the one-year Masters of Traditional Irish Music Performance program
at the University of Limerick, Ireland. The immersion in Irish music helped
Klein find and define her own musical voice. She realized that for 12
years she had been striving to play like an Irish fiddle player. But
then I found the longer I was there and just doing Irish music and Irish
music, the more I felt my American sensibilities, Klein recalls.
So all of a sudden I felt like I was from somewhere a mix
of Irish fiddle and then just my own personality in the playing. I felt
like I found that voice.
Its a voice you can easily hear if you listen to her background
playing. The little trills and runs behind the choruses of a song like
I Miss My Home (from the new album) have bluegrass and swing
touches reminiscent of someone like Vassar Clements. Gaelic Storm gives
Klein a lot of room to be creative. Here I improvise all the stuff
in the songs, says Klein. I have a basic framework that Ive
developed for a song, but I dont play the exact same notes every
night at all. With the back up stuff, Im always playing around,
trying new things.
Finding her voice led to recording a solo album, entitled Salt and
Pepper while she was still in Limerick. After the album got great
reviews in the Irish and American press, Klein booked fall tours of the
Northeast in 2001 and 2002. By early 2003, everything that came out of
the year in Ireland and her solo CD had quieted. She was in New York City
waiting tables and trying to figure out her next musical move when an
e-mail arrived from the boys in Gaelic Storm. They were looking for a
new fiddle player and Klein had been recommended.
Klein was interested, but first she asked herself some questions. So
Im going to be the fiddle in this song-based band, am I going to
enjoy it? Will I get along with them? Up till now Id really
been only in instrumental based bands, recalls Klein. Soul searching,
and a successful audition weekend behind her, Klein joined the band.
Its been a year now and Klein is pleased with her new direction.
Im enjoying it a lot, says Klein. This is the
first time Ive done music full-time. Id done little spurts
of full-time, but Ive always had to go back to some little job.
big job means 130-140 concert dates a year and being on the road close
to 200 days. Many of those days are traveling in a fifteen-passenger van
with a trailer full of equipment. Pull in. Unload the gear. You
sound check, you play, and maybe you go to one bar. Then the next day
youre out of there, Klein says with a chuckle and a groan.
On this night in Springfield, the concert ends with a raucous jig that
has the whole crowd standing, dancing, cheering, and screaming wildly.
Then its out to the lobby to hang out and sign some autographs.
On many nights, everyone will be invited to adjourn to a local establishment
to raise a glass or two (not an option on a Sunday night in Springfield).
Its a fun band, says Klein with a smile. The fans
really are like friends of Gaelic Storm.
Kris Garnjost 78