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Support the name of the game as Dusty Banjos launch debut CD

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A project which began in the Crane Bar in 2002 when three adult learner banjo players came together to offer each other some moral and musical support, has now evolved to become one of the biggest success stories in traditional music locally.

The Dusty Banjos, as the three banjo beginners called themselves, have grown over the years to become a forceful community group playing a wide variety of instruments including fiddle, flute, mandolin, whistle, concertina, guitar, harmonica, accordion, drums. . . and of course, banjo.

The members meet once a week in the city for a student session in the Western Hotel, Prospect Hill, while there are also open sessions on Thursdays in Rabbitts of Forster Street and in Áras na nGael on the first Saturday of the month. Several of the group also play regular sessions in Oliver’s Bar, Cleggan.

Next Monday, November 23, the Dusty Banjos enter a new phase when their debut CD, entitled Dusty Banjos Live at the Crane, will be launched by well-known Inisbofin musician and regular Crane performer Johnny O’Halloran. The recording, featuring 48 of the group’s members, was funded by a grant from the Arts Council under the Deis scheme for traditional arts, and was recorded at the well-known music venue in January, explains Mary Lovett, of the music organisation, Community Music Crew, who was a key figure in establishing the Dusty Banjos when she was beginning the banjo in 2002.

The original target audience was adult pupils who were coming back to music, she says.

“If you are learning an instrument as an adult there aren’t that many support structures, so the uptake has been great and it means that people don’t feel as though they are isolated.”

The membership is fairly diverse, she adds. “There are a lot of Irish adults and we’d also have people who have come to Galway for a few months and want to get involved.”

Membership of the Dusty Banjos is about being in a team and helping each other, says Mary. While it’s not for complete beginners, “we do try to make room for people at all levels”. As part of that, sheet music and recordings are available for members.

The nature of the project means that membership of the Dusty Banjos changes regularly. Some people who join, get good very quickly, and move on from there. And, says Mary, the group gets a lot of people who are good on one instrument, but who want to learn another, and that makes for greater diversity.

The musicians on the CD are mostly the current members, although also some people from abroad, who were previously involved, returned for the recording in January.

That came about when the group applied a year ago to the Deis scheme in the Arts Council,” says Mary, explaining that the CD proposal was put together by group member, Heather Greer, a driving force behind the recording. “We wanted to do a CD because the group is good.”

She’s right about that. The album, which includes a selection of jigs, reels, hornpipes, and polkas, is high-energy stuff, and if you close your eyes, you could actually be in the middle of a lively session.“We picked a good selection of tunes and practised a lot of them and then selected the ones for the album that came out best on the night,” says Mary.

There are 14 tracks on the recording – all tunes. Despite the lack of songs on the CD – which was mostly for practical reasons – the Dusty Banjos welcome singers to their sessions and they don’t have to be strictly trad performers.

Stressing that the group is open to many influences Mary says, “there are lots of foreign instruments coming and going”, including everything from continental accordions to Japanese banjos and, occasionally jazz instruments.

“It’s non-competitive, about making people welcome and helping each other,” she emphasises. The album fulfilled a long-held dream for Mary, but making it was a more complex process than she or Heather Greer originally realised, she says. “It was an incredible amount of work. After the recording, there was the mixing and the mastering in studio. We had to find a company to produce it. Then we had to decide on the art work [for the sleeve], and there’s the whole promotion aspect.”

The musicians involved hope that, as well as being enjoyable to listen to, “it’ll also be a valuable learning tool for student musicians everywhere”.

Given the work involved in the production of the CD and the likelihood of cutbacks in Arts Council schemes, it looks like it could be a while before there’s another one in the pipeline. The Dusty Banjos invited melodeon and accordion player Johnny O’Halloran to perform the launch because so many of the learners like to play with him.

“He is very supportive – he understands about people learning and gives them a chance,” says Mary.

The group hope to target the Christmas market with this lively CD which costs €15. Admission to the launch is free to all, and an invite is extended to those learner musicians, who might like to participate in the session. Like the group and the album, this promises to be a real community event and is well worth checking out. Doors for the launch are at 8pm.

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Maria Tecce’s seductive Vida for Town Hall

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American jazz singer Maria Tecce brings her acclaimed show Viva, featuring Argentinian and Spanish songs, Italian arias, jazz, and the poetry of Pablo Neruda, to the Town Hall Theatre on Saturday, November 28.

The former Galway resident, who is now based in Dublin where she also has a busy acting career, has been singing from a very young age.

“When I was a kid my mom was always singing in the house,” says Boston born Maria. “She was a classical pianist. All of us played instruments – all the kids – and we all played and sang. It was a little Italian Von Trapp family! We were always playing at reunions and stuff like that.”

Despite this background, Maria didn’t plan a career as a professional musician.“To be honest with you I never thought of making my living through music, at all,” she explains. “I wanted to be a veterinarian; I wanted to ride horses, when I was a kid. I didn’t have any notions of becoming a professional musician; it just happened when I came over to Ireland.

“I came here about nine years ago now, “Maria continues. “And it was just a way of picking up extra money. I really like Irish music, the whole sitting down and playing and having jam sessions, which was very similar to what I grew up with in folk and blues.”

Returning to Galway with this show has a special resonance for Maria, who had her first paid work as a singer in the town.

“My first gig was the best gig, I think, I’ve ever had,” she recalls. “It was in Nimmo’s Wine Bar. It was every Sunday night, I played for an hour and I sat in the corner with my little Spanish guitar and sang songs. And I got 40 pounds and my dinner and as much wine as I could drink. Great gig!” With an accomplished band backing her up, the singer’s latest show was described by The Irish Times as “seductive”, and given that Maria is such a theatrical performer, this is a show that promises to enliven the senses.

“Viva was inspired by a poem by Pablo Neruda, called Me Gustas Cuando Callas,” Maria explains. “I’d studied Spanish when I was in high school; I loved the language. I started collecting songs in Italian and Spanish, and it was the music of the language that attracted me most; the sensuality, the fecundity and the stories of these songs.”

Maria is also influence by artists like Carmen McCrae, Joni Mitchell and Annie Lennox. Recently, she’s been expanding her tastes further.

“I’ve been influenced by opera lately too,” she says. “It’s all about telling stories, the drama and theatricality of opera. It’s about love and sex and death and all sorts of juicy stuff like that!”Maria Tecce’s other career as an actor means her schedule is pretty hectic, but it’s something she enjoys.

“This year was a great year for me as far as acting goes. I did a film with Jack L, which was great fun. That’s called I Love Musicals. Then I did an encore performance of [Hugh Leonard’s] Roman Fever, in Bewley’s Café theatre

.“The acting has been very good for me, and I learn a bit more each time I do it,” she adds. “I’m not a trained musician; I’m not a trained actor. The way I’ve learned is just by doing.”

Is juggling two busy careers not a strain?

“No, I don’t find it difficult at all,” she states. “I find they dovetail quite easily. There’s a conflict in projects coming up in March so we’ll see what see what happens. I tend to think that these things work themselves out, they go the way they’re supposed to go.”

Maria finds that the disciplines of acting and singing can complement each other.

“I do think it comes from a similar impulse,” she says. “For me the catalyst in singing is the music; in acting I have the text. In songs you have the text as well, but you also have the music as an extra catalyst. But I think there’s musicality in language as well; and if you’re lucky and you get a great writer, like Hugh Leonard, there’s so much musicality in his language that it’s a joy to play the role.”

So far this year Maria Tecce has had a month’s run in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as well as playing shows in Dubrovnik, Prague, Paris, Amsterdam, London and New York. Where do all these gigs come from?

“I do all my own booking,” explains the singer. “I don’t have a manager, I do everything myself. It’s a lot of administrative work; I’d be more than happy to hand it over to someone who wanted to do my bookings. That would be the best thing since sliced bread, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon that I see.”

Being your own boss allows a certain freedom but it can have its price artistically.

“It does take a lot of my energy and it does take a lot of hours,” says Maria. “If I had my way I’d devote more energy to the creative side of things, where I could develop more music or another show, or I could try to find money to record my next album. There are lots of little hats to be worn and the last thing I get to do sometimes is step on stage.

“I think it has its pros and cons, like any job,” Maria says about her career. “It is insecure, inconsistent – sometimes – but I’ve lots of friends who’ve lost their jobs recently. The benefit of it is to do something I love, something I have passion for. Once I step on stage all the problems, anything, it all falls away. I can lose myself in the music and that is a gift; it’s a gift I could never put a price tag on.”

Maria Tecce’s love for what she does comes through in her winning performances, and Viva is a show well worth catching.“I feel like the luckiest woman in the world some days, I really do,” she says. “It’s tough, and I wouldn’t recommend it anyone, but if it’s in your heart and you can’t live without it, you have to do it.”

Maria Tecce plays the Town Hall Theatre on Saturday, November 28 at 8pm. Tickets €18/€16 from www.tht.ie or 091-569777.

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Life in the frontline can be tough for trophy homeowners

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When Pat Kenny told us that the Frontline would be a different sort of current affairs show, he wasn’t joking – but even he must be surprised to find his own financial situation under infinitely greater scrutiny than that of the nation at large.

First Jack O’Connor – a man who could hardly be deemed to be living anywhere near the breadline himself, despite his socialist credentials – raised the issue of Pat’s ‘trophy home’ in Dalkey before apologising for talking what Pat termed ‘crap’.

Funnily enough he never apologised for talking it so many times before.

But then Alan O’Brien broke loose from the Frontline audience to wade into Pat on his wages and his big house and how the nation might be able to get rid of Mary Hanafin but there’s no chance of shifting Mr Kenny because he’s not up for re-election.

He did seem to concede in the course of his rant that Pat was worth a salary of somewhere in the region of €300,000, which is not far off half of what Pat now takes home ever since he took a 35 per cent cut from his high of €950,000.

Pat, in fairness, let him rant to his heart’s content and came out smelling of roses after his retort that everyone’s opinion was welcome on the Frontline, proving that he remains the coolest head in the tightest of corners.

And maybe stony-broke Ireland can no longer afford the luxury of a €900,000 or €600,000 presenter, but this is a lot better than Questions & Answers where there was as much chance of a real good row as there would be of late drink at the DUP annual conference.

Alan O’Brien is clearly a man with issues, but he might feel a lot better in himself now that he got quite a bit off his chest. Certainly Mary Hanafin has reason to be grateful because suddenly the threat of cuts to social welfare was wiped off the Frontline agenda.

Pat Kenny is perfectly entitled to put the tough questions to whomsoever he feels like; the problem now is that he is having to answer a growing amount of his own. And sometimes shooting the messenger isn’t off limits after all.

Gerry Ryan – that voice of the working classes and idol of the bored housewives – found himself strangely out of touch with both when he refused for so long to take a wage cut. See, it’s not just politicians who can occasionally be accused of living life in an ivory tower.

We’d all love to be dropping in on Bono – preferably from a height and attached to a large boulder – or hanging out with Gerald and Lisa, if only to prove that money can’t buy you everything.

But we’re not Premiership footballers or rock stars – or hacks for the Sunday Independent for that matter – so we have a pint which we pay for in our local pub and go home to our houses that do not boast a €1 million strip of wasteland to one side of it.

Pat Kenny is a fine broadcaster and, despite the ratings to date, the Frontline is a massive improvement on Q&A – and not only because of the unique style of audience participation.

But it’s hard to align questions on social welfare cuts with life in a plush Dalkey pile, even if it was paid for through the good times on the back of blood, sweat and tears shed in the radio and television studios of Montrose.

Alan O’Brien may never become the poster boy of the recession generation – he’s more likely to end up as a “Where Are They Now?” trivia question after his 15 minutes is over – and his outburst may have been well over the top.

But if you’re going to deliver the punches, you must learn to roll with a few too – because in these straitened times, the messengers can be up for a bullet as well.

Customer service has had its chips

The Restaurants Association of Ireland has warned that over 20,000 jobs are at risk in the sector.

The Association says 80 per cent of its members are losing money and one in three restaurants could close in the next six months with a potential loss of €700m to the economy.

Well they better get the news fast to Basil Fawlty, who is alive and well as masquerading as a restaurant manager in the heart of Galway.

We’ll spare his blushes and those of his restaurant by not naming them (this time) but if he reads this, he’d do well to rethink his views on customer service.

A week or so ago, four of us were out for dinner and like many in these changing times, we opted for the Early Bird menu with two courses for €19 – not a fortune but hardly a giveaway either.

One of the menu choices was a steak with mash.

Asked how I’d like this steak, I was told I could either have it medium or well done. But my request for medium to well done was out of the question – it could only be medium or well done. A further brush off the grill to take one of the pre-cooked mediums up to the next level was a step too far.

As to the possibility of changing the mash for chips – hardly an astonishing request given that chips were on the menu as well, and are hardly an unusual accompaniment to steak – that was also a non-runner. The steak – either medium or well but nowhere in between – came with mash and not with chips. You could have chips if you paid for them, but then they came in addition to the mash as opposed to instead of it.

And it wasn’t that they didn’t have chips – it did come with a battered fish of unknown origin whose life look like it ended from natural causes, given the withered size of it.

This might seem like a personal rant but it’s more down to the sense of frustration that such appalling customer service is still to be found in a city that depends on tourists to survive.

In fairness, it was an isolated case and it also explained why this restaurant had six other customers while its adjoining neighbour – where we’d actually wanted to go, if the truth was known – had a minimum 30 minute wait for a table on a wet Sunday night.

The fact that the meal was the worst I’ve ever been served – and there have been some bad ones in the past – was, pardon the pun, the icing on the cake.

And it didn’t seem to come as a huge shock to the manager that I was refusing to pay for it. He looked like a man who’d been down this road once or twice before.

We won’t be going back there but I’m sure that won’t bother the management. What would worry me more is if we’d been visitors to Galway and that this shoddy approach was our first impression of the city.

Galway has many wonderful restaurants to suit every taste and pocket – a point in hand is that the friendliest, most efficient waitress in the entire country is Brid, who works in Rodeo on Quay Street – and it is not right for one bad egg to spoil it for the rest.

As Early Bird menus go, €19 for two courses is not a freebie – in most European cities that would constitute an average price for which you’d be entitled to expect good food and proper service.

We hear so much about how the hospitality business is being hurt by the downturn in our economic circumstances – but frankly service like this would bring the whole thing crashing down a whole lot faster than the property bubble could even dream of.

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Portumna in a different class to bitter rivals

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MOYCULLEN MAN APPEARS IN COURT OVER ALLEGED CITY ATTACK

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