Gaelic Storm enjoyed early fame after appearing as the steerage section band in James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster Titanic. Founded by Irish singer Patrick Murphy and English guitarist Steve Twigger, the band followed up their movie cameo with a series of albums showcasing their talents for fusing traditional Celtic instruments with modern (and often quite humorous) lyrics. 2003’s Special Reserve compiled some of the group’s first “hits,” and still provides a nice entry point for newcomers today.
Though its membership shifted subtly over the years (particularly in the fiddle department), Gaelic Storm’s penchant for writing and performing acoustic ballads, reels, and Guinness-fueled jigs hasn’t waned. On the contrary, these guys (and gal) are masters when it comes to making even the largest venue feel like an intimate corner pub with their uplifting craic.
The multinational act now features (in addition to Murphy and Twigger) Canadian bagpipe sensation Peter Purvis and Michigan-born fiddler Kiana June Weber. Percussionist Ryan Lacey—who often drums with his bare hands—is the group’s original Yankee. Together, the quintet has shared stages with The Zac Brown Band, Emmylou Harris, and Lyle Lovett. They’ve rocked the Telluride Bluegrass Fest and Milwaukee Summerfest. They entertain cruise ship crowds annually and routinely sell out theaters across the continental United States.
Gaelic Storm performed at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights for the first time last August.
Their most recent effort, 2013’s The Boathouse, has all the trademarks of a classic Gaelic Storm album—from rollicking reels propelled by Peter’s Highland pipes and Kiana’s fiddle to sing-along folkies driven by Steve’s jangly acoustic guitar and Murphy’s accordion and raconteur storytelling.
But the disc came together a little differently than Chicken Boxer, Cabbage, and other Gaelic faves. We spoke with Twitter by phone last week to discuss his impetus for shacking up in a bona fide boathouse to track the sea-faring tunes. Naturally, our discussion turned to other topics: Influences, cruise ships, Led Zeppelin—and the band’s ever-rowdy Cleveland audiences.
CLEVELAND MUSIC EXAMINER: Thanks for talking with us again, Steve. So, has the band started touring again? Bracing yourself for some cold weather?
STEVE TWIGGER: This is truly the first day of this leg. We were down in Florida before that. But we hit cold weather before that. We came through North Carolina, and we were supposed to play Atlanta—but Atlanta was closed when we got there [laughs]!
EXAMINER: We’ve been getting nailed in Cleveland.
TWIGGER: Yeah, a couple inches of snow, and that ground the city to a halt.
EXAMINER: Can you talk a little about The Boathouse? It was kind of unusual for the band, in that you booked an actual boathouse and knocked out the new tunes in short order.
TWIGGER: We did, yeah. It was kind of one of those wild hairs, you know. We just sat at the bar one day, having a couple beers and some oysters. And I found a little pearl in one of the oysters. I just realized how many ocean songs, sea songs, we’d done in the past, and how much I really love them. The whole band loves them. I’m from England, Pat’s from Ireland—and they’re islands, you know? All that water, you grow up with that in your blood. I don’t sail or anything like that. I just love the songs. And I just really wanted to do these old songs that I’ve loved over the years. So I called Pat and was like, “We’ve got no time at all to do this, but let’s make it happen.” So we pulled some favorites, and got this boathouse by a bay, and we brought the studio to us so we could look at the water and the boats while we were recording. And we literally just came down and stayed at the house there, and had coffee in the morning, and just played live. We just went for it. We enjoyed the process immensely.
EXAMINER: Can fans expect to hear a few of those bits in the set?
TWIGGER: Absolutely, exactly that. We’ve been introducing the songs, one or two at a time, over the course of the last couple tours. And we’ll be playing some of them in Cleveland for sure.
EXAMINER: Speaking of boats, Gaelic Storm has been doing these Rock Boat cruise shows for a few years now. What’s it like for the band out on the high seas?
TWIGGER: I was skeptical the first one of those we did, but they’re actually very sophisticated set-ups. They’re basically floating festivals. The Rock Boat—we’re about to do another one in about ten days time. There’s something like thirty-plus bands on there, music from eleven in the morning till six in the morning. It’s people jamming at all hours, seven bands playing at any one time all over the boat. It’s an intense musical experience, because you get bands from all over the world. We’ve done ones with reggae bands, folk bands, and of course rock bands. It’s great to meet those guys and hang out and get some musical ideas. But above everything else, it’s just a riot. It’s so much fun, and I didn’t expect to have as good a time as I had.
EXAMINER: How’d you start off playing guitar? Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
TWIGGER: I started off on the keyboard, taking music lessons. But it just didn’t fit with me. It was too stuffy. And then, really, it was Led Zeppelin that got me into it. My music teacher brought in—he had a Gibson Les Paul, and he brought it to class and plugged in his amplifier and played some Led Zeppelin licks, and I was hooked right there. It was a thrill for me, actually, because a few months back I got to meet Robert Plant face-to-face and have a chat with him. I live in Austin, Texas, and Robert’s been hanging out down there.
EXAMINER: Austin, another big music town.
TWIGGER: Big music town, yeah. And him and Patty Griffin were down there, and he came in to a session we were playing, and I got to talk to him, then I met him at the pub and watched some football and had a chat. He’s an amazing man, just a super-nice guy. I got to see a little show he did, too, to about 150 people. Patty Griffin did a night at The Continental Club, and Robert got up and sang about seven songs. Unreal [laughs]! Unreal to have him just a couple yards from you, single “Ramble On.” Incredible.
EXAMINER: Watching you play onstage—or listening to a Gaelic Storm CD—I don’t imagine a lot of folks would pick up right away on the Zep influence. But then again, those guys worked a lot of unplugged, folk-type stuff into their songs. Led Zeppelin III’s full of it.
TWIGGER: Absolutely! And you know, they started off from that folk kind of influence. You listen to things like “Stairway to Heaven,” with [guitarist] Jimmy Page, and a lot of those modal tunings they did. You hear it, and there’s a definite Celtic influence.
EXAMINER: Can we talk a little about specific song’s you’ve done over the years? “Me and The Moon” is a concert favorite. How’d you and Patrick come up with the idea of splitting the audiences in half and having them compete during the refrain—the “I brought the whiskey and he brought the light” routine?
TWIGGER: Yep. I was literally walking home. I think we played in upstate New York, and it was snowy, and I was walking back to the hotel. I was just looking out, and it was a clear night, and I was walking back trying to ignore the cold. I was just having a conversation with myself and the moon up there. And that line came to me on the way back to the hotel. And unlike many other lines that come to me, I actually remembered it in the morning. That’s how the song started. I jotted down the lyrics and we got the song together. And on stage, you know, we love to invite the audience to sing along and participate in the night wherever we can. It was spur-of-the-moment one night, getting people singing along on that one, and it gradually evolved from everyone singing the chorus to just one side singing—then the other—and it became like a competition. And for every time we’ve done it, I never tire of it. And everyone seems to enjoy it. We play all kinds of venues. We play House of Blues-style rock clubs, but we also play a lot of theaters. And the audiences there have more of a reverence for the space, and they’ll come in and sit down quietly. So I’ve found that that song is a bit of an icebreaker. That’s when they realize, “Oh, this can be fun, and we can be a part of it!”
EXAMINER: How about “What’s the Rumpus?” You guys often pull someone up onstage to crash the cymbal on that one.
TWIGGER: Yes, exactly. That’s pure Patrick. Murphy is just so good at connecting with the audience like that. I think he just noticed some kid out in the audience one day and brought her up to hit the cymbal, and it became a great moment. We love the fact that we have this multiple-generation thing at the shows, you know? We’ll have folks from 4 to 94 at shows. And it’s nice to get the kids up there, even if it’s not a strictly “family” show—we’d never title it as that! But the families come, and it’s good-natured fun up there. The kids have a great time.
EXAMINER: Last time you played Cleveland—the House of Blues, I mean, not Cain Park—there was an altercation at the end of the show. You guys had quit the stage and were playing atop the bar, and some lunk-head tossed a drink Patrick’s way. I didn’t catch all of it, but I heard security prevented Pat from sending the guy to the hospital. Was that a fluke thing? That’s kind of out of the ordinary for a Gaelic show, no?
TWIGGER: It was very out of the ordinary. I’ll tell you this. People ask what my favorite show is to play around the country, and it’s that—the Cleveland House of Blues shows. There are bigger shows, more musical shows, and other places I enjoy. But that one has an edge, you know? There’s an edge to that show that I really enjoy. And when you’re on that edge, it can topple one way or the other. And there was just a little over-exuberance from a crowd member, and was dealt with pretty swiftly. But it’s pretty rare. In all the years we’ve been touring—it’s been sixteen years, 1,800 plus shows now—and it’s honestly very rare that we have any altercations.
EXAMINER: We thought something was amiss when you guys didn’t come out to mingle after the show—because you’ve very good about making yourselves accessible for signings, photos, and whatnot.
TWIGGER: I would say we’ve only missed a signing two or three times in our history. That one just…It upset us a little bit. But again, you have to expect it. And Cleveland’s one of those places where they bring their game—in one form or another [laughs]!
EXAMINER: Well, March 8th is a Saturday, so I’m guessing it’ll be a lively crowd. We’re looking forward to it!
TWIGGER: We’ll probably bring our game, too! It’s going to be a good night!
Gaelic Storm (with The Danny Burns Band). Saturday, March 8, 2014 at House of Blues Cleveland. Tickets $22.50 general admission / $25.00 DOS or $35.50 for reserved balcony seating. Doors at 7:00pm, show at 8:00pm.
Tickets available now: http://www.houseofblues.com/tickets/eventdetail.php?eventid=83480