music for fun and profit

An interview by Tom Knapp,
March 1999

Not many people enjoy doing the same thing at home, at work and on vacation. But Cathy Jordan, lead singer for one of the hottest traditional music groups to come out of Ireland, said she and the boys in the band just can't get enough. After winding down a world tour Sunday evening (21 March 1999) at Elizabethtown College's Leffler Center in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, they'll head home to Ireland, kick back and play some tunes. "It's important for us to play it home," Jordan said during a telephone interview from New York City. "It's important to us as musicians to keep playing in pubs and at sessions, because that's the source of the music."

That may sound like research, not relaxation, but Jordan insists it's purely for pleasure. "Oh, absolutely," she said. "That's the best fun, it completely recharges the batteries. There's no one watching you, there's no pressure on you. It's just sitting down with a drink and a bunch of friends enjoying the tunes."

The Sligo-based band also tries to spend one week each year at one of Ireland's annual music festivals, sharing their passion with as many musicians as they can. It's relaxing, Jordan said, because they don't have to worry about getting "star treatment" from their peers back home. "People don't go overboard in Ireland. People that are much more famous than me will find Ireland laid back," she said. "They're not hassled for autographs or 'wowed' at all the time. Particularly for me, these are friends, people I know. They're glad I'm doing well, but it's no big deal."

Jordan spends a fair amount of her off time playing obscure recordings and searching through manuscripts for new songs to learn, but it's the tune, not the words, which snags her interest first. "It's the air of it, the melody," she said. "Airs get into our heads quicker than lyrics. But sometimes it takes a while for the melody to sink in." So she never rejects a new song after just one or two hearings, she said. "I'll give it maybe 10 or 15 first."

Dervish has four studio albums (one recorded as an instrumental album before Jordan joined the band) and a double live album to its credit. Newly expanded to seven members, the band plans to release its next album by midsummer. Dervish, Jordan said, is riding the crest of a wave. "Ireland has become a boom all over the world," she said. "And Ireland is much prouder of its roots and heritage than it ever has been." Stage shows like Riverdance, numerous film soundtracks and never-say-die bands like the Chieftains have brought the world "a new awareness of Irishness," Jordan said. "People hear it for the first time and can't get enough of it."

However, she is sometimes frustrated by the narrow view Americans have of Irish music. "A lot of people tend to think of Irish music as just ballads, which is not what we do at all," she said. "A lot of genres of music come under the general heading of Irish music, and a lot of people don't know how to distinguish it. They see an advertisement for an Irish band and avoid it, thinking it's more ballads. The market is a wee bit confused here yet."

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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