Gaelic Storm (Contemporary Musicians)
Celtic music group
While Celtic music is often associated with the mournful sounds of tragic loss, Gaelic Storm has added a completely new dimension with energetic music that encourages people to get off their pub stools and dance. This element of their music caught the attention of the directors of the blockbuster Hollywood movie Titanic, leading to their appearance as the steerage band in the film. Gaelic Storm has been going strong ever since.
On St. Patrick's Day in 1996, Patrick Murphy officially formed a band with Steve Wehmeyer and Steve Twigger. Murphy became the lead singer for the group and also played the harmonica, accordion, and the spoons. Wehmeyer, a New Yorker in love with Irish music, played the bodhran, the digeridoo, and provided vocals. Wehmeyer earned a doctoral degree in folklore and mythology from the University of California at Los Angeles, where he has also taught and lectured. He has appeared on the Learning Channel's Unnatural History and has published materials in New York Folklore, Western Folklore, and African Arts. Twigger, a self-taught guitar player from Coventry, England, played the mandolin, the bouzouki, and provided vocals. Twigger completed an art degree and worked as an art director, graphic designer, and illustrator in England for three years before moving to Los Angeles, where he worked designing movie posters for Hollywood studios.
According to their official website, the trio wanted to present a different side of Celtic music. "Feeling that traditional Celtic music did not have to be boring, the trio focused on the rowdy hand-clapping character of a traditional pub party. They wanted to create a sound that would remain true to traditional Celtic music while adding an original twist of live energyence the name Gaelic Storm." Twigger brought in British drummer Shep Lonsdale, with whom he had previously worked in a band called "Spit." Tom Brown from Ottawa, Canada, was brought in as an open grade highland piper as well as a sound engineer.
The group began playing at music festivals, and as the luck of the Irish might have it, ended up at the right festival, playing at the right time. In an interview on the Gaelic Storm website, Randy Gerston, the musical supervisor for the film Titanic, described how he and the film's director, James Cameron, decided to place a group of Irish musicians as travelers in the steerage compartment of the ship in the movie's screenplay. While they did not have any historical proof that this occurred, they did know that there were Irish immigrants who traveled on the ship, and that some brought musical instruments. Therefore, they set about trying to find a band. Gertson and his wife attended an Irish Fair at the Santa Anita racetrack. Gertson recalled his discovery, which happened just as they were leaving the fair. "We were already under the tunnel, almost to the car, and from afar now, almost a mile away, we hear these drums start up. They were echoing across the parking lot. It wasn't a sound we had heard all morning. It was real raucous. That's what we needed. These were supposed to be tough steerage passengers who were playing that kind of beer-drinking, crazed Irish music. We didn't want anything polite at all," Gerston said. "Everything we had seen all morning was nothing but polite. To me, it was like I'd found it. These young guys playing all traditional Irish instruments, drunk on stage, going crazy playing really loud traditional Irish bar music." Gerston approached the band, asked if they were interested, and they were soon cast in the movie.
The attention brought by the film became a catalyst for the group's popularity. The band began touring throughout the United States and Europe. Their first album, self-titled Gaelic Storm, was released on July 28, 1998, on the Higher Octave label. The album soon jumped to number five on Billboard 's World Music Chart. The band drew record-breaking crowds at Milwaukee's Irish-Fest, where they appeared in 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, and 2003. They also drew record crowds at the Celtic-Fest in Chicago, the Dublin Ohio Irish Festival, Pittsburgh Irish Festival, and at the Festival Interceltique, the largest Celtic festival in the world, held in Lorient, France. They released Herding Cats (1999), Tree (2001), and their fourth album, Special Reserve, in 2003. This release quickly reached number two on the Billboard World Music Chart. In 2003 they broke the attendance record at the Albuquerque BioPark, and in August of 2004 they released their fifth album, How Are We Getting Home?. This was recorded at the legendary Jack's Tracks studio in Nashville, Tennessee, and featured Texas folk singer Nancy Griffith.
Over the years the band changed. Ryan Lacey replaced Shep Lonsdale on drums. Lacey had earned two degrees from the Los Angeles Music Academy, one for percussion with his hands and the second for percussion with sticks. Ellery Klein was added on the fiddle. She had earned a bachelor's degree in geology from the University of Vermont, which included a year of study at University College Cork in Ireland. She also worked on a master of arts degree in traditional Irish music at the University of Limerick. Before joining Gaelic Storm, Klein had played with a band she founded, called Whisky Before Breakfast.
A mini-documentary about Gaelic Storm has aired frequently on Cinemax. On a visit to his hometown of Cork City, Ireland, Murphy met another popular Irish entertainer, Michael Flatley, the brilliant dancer and artistic director who introduced the world to Irish dance through Lord of the Dance. Murphy stated on the Gaelic Storm website, "I told him he did a superb job of advancing Irish culture throughout the world, like the Chieftains have for years." Flatley replied, "In fairness to you, you've probably introduced Irish music to five minutes of fame with that little film clip."
"We just set out to play for the fun of it," Twigger recalled, in an article from the Stevens Point Journal that was posted on the group's website, "We are just grateful that we were given this opportunity. It has changed all of our lives. We are aware that we wouldn't be able to do this if we didn't enjoy it, so we are enjoying every minute of it."
Gaelic Storm, Higher Octave, 1998.
Herding Cats, Higher Octave, 1999.
Tree, Higher Octave, 2001.
Special Reserve, Higher Octave, 2003.
How Are We Getting Home?, Gaelic Storm, 2004.
Sing Out!, Winter 2002; Summer 2004.
Gaelic Storm Official Website, http://www.gaelicstorm.com (October 28, 2004.)
Additional information was provided by the Gaelic Storm media packet.