Trad/Roots: The Goitse secret to making magical music

Goitse's Colm Phelan lets Robert McMillen into the secret of the band's special sound

Goitse are a great musical team. Picture by Colin Gillen/

LIKE a Swiss watch or a Mary Berry fruit cake, the best things in life are made up of many ingredients which when added together create a kind of magic.

It's the same with music of course and a band that encapsulate the chemistry needed to bring all its disparate parts to together into one special sound is Goitse, a five-piece drawn from all over Ireland – and a guitarist from Philadelphia.

The band members met at the renowned Academy of World Music and Dance at the University of Limerick and while some might question the mix of traditional music and academia, Goitse bodhrán player, Colm Phelan says the experience was invaluable.

"Well, first of all, it was a great meeting point because our members are from all over," he says.

"Conal O'Kane is from Philadelphia, for example, Tadhg Ó Meachair is from Dublin, Áine McGeeney is from Louth, Alan Reid, the banjo player, is from Leitrim and I'm from Laois.

"We're really spread out geographically so what was great about Limerick was that you're meeting like-minded people who have the same interests as you straightaway and what is great is that we all came together as friends first.

"We weren't a band who came together just to tour and to make money and to be successful, that wasn't it. We just enjoyed each other's company, hanging out every week and having band practice and so on.

"But the course itself exposes you to so many different styles, so many different ways of thinking about music. So it really opens your mind on what's possible, arrangement-wise as well."

Colm says the biggest benefit of the course was how it "gave us time to develop as musicians, as a group".

"I'd never really done any ensemble work before but my style on the bodhrán changed when I started to play with Conal on the guitar. His guitar style definitely changed me," he explains.

"Others when they're starting off as a band might have another job on or other responsibilities so it's really hard for them to put all their your energy into it – and to not be absolutely bankrupt.

"So for us, just having time and space for those four years to really hone our sound was amazing."

And the band has certainly been picking up the plaudits with four albums under their belts, ecstatic reviews and major awards.

Their latest album is Rosc, a mixture of traditional and self-penned tunes and four songs from Áine, however, Colm says that it is different from their previous albums. So how was it put together, I ask.

"We always pool ideas, so even though I'm the percussionist, I might suggest an unusual version of a tune that I've heard before and say, look, I think we could do something nice with this and rearrange it to suit Goitse but generally speaking, the lads would compose a lot of music," explains Colm.

"Áine, Alan and Tadhg all compose and they would send in tunes that they had composed and suggest them for a set to go with maybe another tune that we'd collected.

"So we try to get a bank of music that we can then select from and see if the tunes work together and if not we'll try another one.

"Or maybe sometimes if we have a gap in the arrangement where we need a tune in the key of F sharp minor. Maybe someone will compose that but on the last album there was a couple of times when we had those gaps that we decided to compose together, all of us as a band."

The tighter co-operation can be heard on Rosc, which Colm says is closer to what Goitse do live.

"It's the first album that we've recorded with Sean Óg Graham and the first where we could all record at the same time. That meant that we could add little things going on in the background on some of the tracks with Sean Óg adding some of his electronica here and there," he says.

"There's always more tune sets and sounds really on an album but Áine has done a great job getting such a different range of styles across, from the delicate Come You Not from Newcastle while the Green Fields of Canada is more of a typical ballad which we've rejigged with different arrangements, then Margadh an Iúir, the only song in Irish on the album, is a catchy little number, while Write Me down is like a lullaby with a sort of reggae vibe – totally unlike what we usually do but we really enjoyed it," says Colm.

::You can buy Goitse's new album Rosc from their website at or from Bandcamp.