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PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2008 2:20 am    Post subject: The High Kings Are Rich In Irish Folk Music Tradition Reply with quote

The High Kings, from left, Martin Furey, Brian Dunphy, Darren Holden and Finbarr Clancy bring strong Irish legacies and ballads to the Phillips Center tonight.

Finbarr Clancy was 10 years old when he noticed his father disappearing after dinner in their home near the southern shore of Ireland.

His father, Bobby Clancy — a member of the famous Clancy Brothers, the group that in the '60s had taken Irish music from beer halls of Dublin to audiences around the world — would go upstairs, close the door and start playing an unusual instrument to Finbarr's young ears: a banjo.

"I'd go to my mom and say 'What's Dad doing up there?' and she'd say 'Well, why don't you go up and take a look and see?' " Finbarr Clancy remembers today.

He did and thus Clancy, at an age when many kids were more interested in playing soccer than folk instruments, began a love for folk music, one that led from banjo to flute, guitar and bass — and decades later from a small town in Ireland to playing on stages around the world himself.

Tonight at the Phillips Center, Clancy will play guitar and sing with three other Irish performers in The High Kings, a group that by reinvigorating Irish folk music is becoming a sensation not only in the Emerald Isle but in much of the rest of the world as well.

Together for just over a year, and not too long after opening shows for the female group Celtic Woman, The High Kings have embarked on their first headlining tour of the United States, a jaunt that has had them performing from Boston and Baltimore to Grand Rapids and Gainesville — while somehow finding time to slip back to Dublin to perform before 82,000 fans in the Irish equivalent of the Super Bowl.

Such is the reaction to what Clancy and the three other Kings — Brian Dunphy, Martin Furey and Darren Holden — are accomplishing with their mission, which is to re-energize and reintroduce the Irish folk song to the world.

"Basically, what we've done is we've taken songs that were in the Irish folk-music lexicon for years and years, which everybody knows, and just do a kind of makeover in terms of production," Clancy says from a tour stop in Columbus, Ohio.

"And I don't think that Irish folk ballads have really been performed before at this level of production." A typical example, Clancy says, is the popular tune "The Parting Glass," a song that when Clancy himself played it with the Clancy Brothers in the 1990s (subbing for his father, who had had quadruple bypass surgery), it was done with a simple strum of the guitar.

Today, when the song often ends a High Kings performance, it does so with "a big sound," Clancy says. "A big, percussive sound with those big drums they play in the orchestra; boom, boom, boom!"

Clancy's description is an equally big hint that while the group's music is often billed as "Irish ballads," that's not to say it is soft, low-key or downbeat. Along with the voices and instruments of the three other musicians, the Kings have a dancer and a six-piece backing band, with instrumentation ranging from button accordion and fiddle to keyboards, bass and, of course, the bodhrán, the Irish folk drum that's held and played vertically and becomes a focal point of the players onstage.

While Clancy plays guitar for much of the Kings' show, Dunphy and Holden keep time on the bodhrán in climatic moments that Clancy knows his father, who died six years ago, would approve of with Irish eyes smiling, if he could.

"I think he'd be very proud," Clancy says. "I know he'd be very proud."

By Bill Dean
Sun Entertainment Editor

Published: Wednesday, September 24, 2008 at 12:33 p.m.
Special to The Sun
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