Réalta: How travel helps this trad band’s creative juices

The band’s upcoming Irish gigs should be something special

The essential Réalta sound which is firmly rooted in tradition
The Réalta sound is firmly rooted in tradition

Getting an interview with a singer or band who travel a lot is a bit like Whac-A-Mole, opportunities arrive and disappear until KerPlunk (if that’s not a mixed metaphor) the stars suddenly align.

That’s the way it was with Deirdre Galway and Conor Lamb from trad band Réalta. Not only do the duo travel the oceans with Joanie Madden’s Folk and Irish cruises around the Caribbean, but they also tour extensively and are on the eve of an Irish tour which kicks off tonight in Leitrim.

The full Réalta line-up also includes Dermot Moynagh, Dermot Mulholland and Loïc Bléjean. I managed to catch up with Deirdre and Conor between their sound check and them getting a bite to eat somewhere in Germany, and took the opportunity to talk about the band’s latest album, Thing of the Earth, as well as a new band member and the special guests who add to rather than change the essential Réalta sound which is firmly rooted in tradition, as Deirdre explains.

“We’re all quite mindful of being kind of keepers of the tradition and being respectful to the source material. But we’re also quite happy to try and put our own interpretation on it as well,” she says.

“We like to create layers and textures and have fun with the rhythms within the melodies as well.

“As a guitarist working with Dermot Moynagh on drums, I have a lot of fun, kind of bouncing off rhythmic ideas with him kind of weaving in and out of the melody, but also we do that with harmony as well. So as well as just playing the tunes, we try to create texture and different levels of sound and feeling within the music,” she says.

That’s true of the well-known tunes on the album as well as the newly-composed material.

Travel helps the band’s creative juices so the jig on the album, The Red Rock, came from a visit to the Garden of the Gods, a beautiful National Park in Colorado
Travel helps Realta's creative juices and the jig The Red Rock came from a visit to the Garden of the Gods park in Colorado

“We enjoy taking the classics and having a go at them,” laughs Deirdre. “But we enjoy playing new stuff as well. So this new album has a set of slip jigs from Patrick Davy but for the first time, we’ve actually included some of our own compositions. That’s kind of a first for us recording-wise life, to be able to put some of our own material on it. There’s a jig from myself and our guest singer, Myles McCormack, we recorded one of his original songs was well,”

Unsurprisingly, travel helps the band’s creative juices so the jig on the album, The Red Rock, came from a visit to the Garden of the Gods, a beautiful National Park in Colorado.

“We were on tour in the States, just as Covid was sweeping across the planet. Towards the end of the tour, the last couple of gigs were cancelled. So we were in a remote area of Colorado, sitting still for a couple of days until our flight. We took a hike in the beautiful sandstone and just that feeling of being in that landscape and all the uncertainty that when you were going on in the world, that’s where that came from,” Deirdre explains.

The video that accompanies the first track on the album, Skidoo, features our intrepid musicians on snowmobiles on a day off in New Hampshire.

“We’ve been pretty lucky having days off in really cool places,” says Deirdre.

New band member, piper Loïc Bléjean, had been around the world too but has found a new home in Réalta.

The Breton will definitely add a fresh sound as his style of piping is different to Conor’s.

“Loïc had a kind of groovy style because he listens to a lot of funk music. It’s a sort of wailing Spillane-esque type of playing.

“When we were making arrangements for the new album, there were times when he just decided to let Loïc loose and let him do his own thing,” laughs Conor.

It was while playing in Spain that Réalta got the chance to play with singing legend Kathy Jordan of Dervish.

“Yeah, that was that was really fortunate. We were playing at a festival in Spain, a beautiful walled city called Cáceres who have a brilliant festival there in the autumn time.

“We’re playing and also, The Unwanted, which features Kathy, Seamie O’Dowd and Rick Epping,” explains Deirdre.

“A guy we know called Peter Curran has been working with Kathy on a project called Crankie Island songs.

“A crankie is like a scroll of paper on which illustrations are done and as it is unwound, it tells a story.

“Kathy and Peter are featuring a song for every county in Ireland on crankies and we had wanted him to to one for The Wind That Shakes the Barley. He suggested Kathy could sing the song and of course, we jumped at the idea,” says Deirdre.

The result is a beautiful rendition of the song which is set during the 1798 rising.

Also adding his bit of magic to the mix is Myles McCormack, a prolific singer and songwriter and founding member of Lonesome George, whose song, Thing of the Earth, has given the album its name.

With the album out since last October, it’s now time for some gigs at home and the band are looking forward to it.

Réalta, Thing Of The Earth album cover
Thing Of The Earth is Réalta's latest album

“Aw, we’re delighted to be doing some Irish gigs this month and Myles will be with us so they should be something special,” says Deirdre.

March 15: The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon
March 16: Flowerfield Arts Centre. Portstewart
March 17: Portico Arts & Heritage Centre, Portaferry
Mar 22: The Séamus Ennis Arts Centre & Café, Naul
Mar 23: Dún Uladh Cultural Heritage Centre, Omagh