Trad/Roots: Brighter days ahead as Téada join forces with Hollywood star John C. Reilly

Téada bring listeners on an energetic new journey on their latest album, Coiscéim Coiligh - As the Days Brighten. Picture by Damien Stenson.
Robert McMillen

I HADN'T spoken to Oisín Mac Diarmada since 2019 BC so we had a lot to catch up on. BC is of course Before Covid - we're not that old - but there was still a lot to discuss, first and foremost, the new Téada album, Coiscéim Coiligh - As the Days Brighten, which has just come out.

It's been nine years since their last album, Ainneoin na Stoirme, was released with each of the band doing their own projects in the interim but it is definitely a case of absence making the heart grow fonder as there is always a sparkle in what Téada, 21 years old this year, do.

"Yes, we've got the key to the door," agrees Oisín.

"The original band members are around the same age and we've kept our friendship alive over the years.

"Musically speaking, we don't live close by and that means that we sometimes don't see a lot of each other in between playing and recording together and that brings a freshness to what we do, I think.

"We wouldn't see a lot of each a lot of each other, but it's the great thing about knowing people well - you don't need to be seeing them all the time, once you get together, that bond is still there."

And that certainly comes through on Coiscéim Coiligh, 12 tracks of power, grace and beauty, from the muscular set of reels which open the album, through songs from Séamus Begley, slow airs and dance tunes.

The current line-up features Oisín Mac Diarmada on fiddle; Paul Finn on button accordion; Damien Stenson on flute; Seán Mc Elwain on guitar/bouzouki and Tristan Rosenstock on bodhrán.

Oisín's wife, Samantha Harvey, adds keyboards to the Téada sound, an innovation that works supremely well, especially on The Snowy-Breasted Pearl, thought to be written by the great Turlough O'Carolan with the the words translated from Irish by George Petrie.

However, getting most attention is the rollicking Eileen Óg, featuring as it does, Hollywood actor and producer John C. Reilly.

"Back in early 2019, when visiting Ireland to promote the release of the Stan & Ollie movie, John C. struck up a friendship with Séamus Begley, inspired by their mutual love of Irish songs and of Kerry," explains Oisín.

Later that year in Los Angeles, John C. joined Séamus and Oisín on stage when they finished their Christmas tour in Hollywood, and a collaboration idea for the new Téada album was born.

Pandemic restrictions made the process of recording John C.'s vocals trickier than normal, but the stars finally aligned in spring 2021 when John C. made it into a Hollywood studio to record the Percy French song, Eileen Óg.

The song provides the ideal tapestry to blend John C.'s rich theatrical vocal talents along with Séamus's unique sensitivity and nuance.

Listening to Coiscéim Coiligh, you can't help but wonder how it would sound live. The energy just bursts out of the speakers and while a studio is great for recording with all its technology and sound engineers, there is nothing like being at a live music event.

"It's a little bit like having a conversation with people," Oisín suggests.

"If you're talking about a subject matter in your own head, you'd move slowly through your thoughts. But when you get together with people, and there's a dialogue, life speeds up, and I find that in the band.

"One of the things I enjoy about playing with other people is that spark, which maybe moves too quickly at times, but I certainly enjoy that energy that comes from playing, and while most traditional music is dance music whether you are playing for listeners or for dancers, listeners respond to that energy as well."

(I can verify that as I found it hard to stay still when listening to the album at home...)

There is a broad geographical mix with tunes from Donegal's Teelin to Ed Reavey's USA (via Cavan), a movement that is reflected in the flow of the tunes. The album is also a testimony to the wealth of new tunes being composed within the tradition, featuring reels from Richie Dwyer, Michael McCague and Johnny Óg Connolly and perhaps not enough credit is given to composers who write tunes.

"Without a doubt, Robert," Oisín agrees.

"It is such a vibrant tradition as as we have that is definitely worth celebrating.

"Charlie Lennon is someone that we've recorded with over the years, although not on this album, but his tunes are always fabulous and at the same time there are many young composers, like the ones you mentioned, with a distinctive voice and there's also something so exciting about playing a tune that you haven't heard too many interpretations of in the past."

And so, the music of the past has a bright, exciting future and Téada, despite being together for 21 years, are part of that journey into the future.

"It really is fabulous in terms of how the landscape has opened up, even in my own my own lifetime," says Oisín.

"It's fascinating the journey that it's taken, with so many people getting involved and doing hugely creative things. I think it's a very positive."

Now that Covid has abated, there seems to be tsunami of creativity being unleashed, in the traditional world as much as anywhere else.

It's time to get the surfboard out and enjoy the ride.

::Coiscéim Coiligh - As The Days Brighten by Téada is out now on the Gael Linn label.


AN Droichead's annual Belfast Song Gathering/Tionól Amhránaíochta Bhéal Feirste kicks off today.

The two-day festival starts with a singing session with the Belfast Singing Circle in the American Bar at 9pm, while tomorrow (Saturday May 14) sees a family/young singers workshop with Katie Boyle which will take place in the the Green Room at the Black Box, beginning at 11am.

However, the main event is It's of My Rambles: My Journey in Song with Len Graham, also in the Green Room at the Black Box, starting at 1pm.

Tomorrow afternoon, singers and listeners alike can head to the Sunflower Bar at 4pm for a singing session with The Nightingale Singing Session.

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