By David Hennessy
The London Irish Centre in Camden will host highly-rated fresh trad band CrossHarbour on this Monday March 17, St Patrick’s Day, giving London-based trad fans a chance to hear material from their eagerly awaited debut album.
2013 was a special year for the band with a sold-out appearance at Return to Camden Town, an appearance at The Temple Bar Trad Festival in Dublin, playing on TG4’s Christmas Special Feilte and in front of a mammoth crowd at Trafalgar Square for St Patrick’s Day.
The band is made up of Oralith McAuliffe, the 21-year-old flautist from London who has been crowned All Ireland Champion an incredible 19 times, fiddle player Sam Proctor from Nottingham whose solo debut album Natural Progression was chosen by The Irish Times as one of the traditional albums of 2008 and The Irish World said made him a “force to be reckoned with”, multi-instrumentalist Philippe Barnes who plays guitar in the band but is renowned as a jazz flute player in his other musical life, in demand session musician and teacher Tad Sargent plays bodhran while is also gifted with the bouzouki and singer Rosie Hodgson who was a finalist in the 2013 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards and won Best Newcomer at the Ely Festival in 2011.
After the other four had met at London sessions and gigs and played together quite a lot, they met Rosie, who completed the line-up, at their first gig at Gate to Southwell Folk Festival.
Their stunning debut is a mix of tunes and songs with the tunes given striking names such as Voldemort’s and Trigonometry that hint at a story behind them. “All the funny names tend to be stories that Tad, Sam and Philippe have encountered. They’re quite good though, they stick with us so we remember them really easily,” Orlaith tells The Irish World.
Unforgettable for Tad must be the set of reels that takes its name from his episode with a Thai lady who turned out not to be all she seemed: “The Surprise package would be the funniest one. It can be interpreted nicely, that could be something nice but for Tad it wasn’t.
“I think Sam just decided to name it when we were onstage, we hadn’t got a name for the set yet and he just decided that we were going to call it The Surprise Package and told the story too of Tad meeting the Thai lady that was not a lady.”
Is not sharing his secrets with Sam a lesion Tad’s learned? “No, I don’t think so. He left it as a voicemail on Sam’s phone. As soon as Sam heard that message, I think everyone knew about it. It was too good not to tell. He (Tad) loves telling it too, I think.”
With all members bringing different talents, how are the tracks written? Sam answers: “It’s different for different tracks. Rosie brings some of her songs that she’s been working on for a while and then we do new interpretations of them and then Orlaith writes quite a lot of the tunes. More and more we’re writing as a group. I think the next lot of stuff will be more like that.
“We’ve got a couple of new songs and new sets of tunes that will be definitely going on album two so that’s already in our mind. Actually one of our new tracks, we’ve tried to combine the two a little bit, tunes and song, trying to bring Rosie more into the band so she’s a bit less of a walk on, walk off singer. We’re trying to work on songs intermingled with tunes a little bit more which I think will work really well.”
And it doesn’t seem too soon to be thinking about the album’s follow-up. Orlaith explains: “We started recording it last June but I’ve never recorded anything before so I thought the CD was going to be ready by July! It’s nearly a year now so it’s a long process. It’s a learning curve for me because I’ve never done anything like this. I had no idea it would take so long with the editing and mixing and mastering and designing. I thought it would all be done in a month. And I thought that would be a long time so I was a bit naïve. I’m glad it’s finally here.
“I think because album one has taken so long, it doesn’t even feel like thinking about album two is really soon, it feels like it’s about time. We’ve already got half an album’s worth of new stuff already because we’re working on new ideas all the time.”
The band played to an excited crowd at The Green Note as part of The Return to Camden Town Festival, the band are excited to return to Camden. Sam says: “Camden’s become our home in a sense, we’ve done lots of gigs there and we did Patrick’s night last year in The Irish Centre which was great fun. There’s always a good atmosphere in Camden, it’s kind of the spiritual home of Irish music in London for the last 30 odd years with The Return to Camden festival and The Irish Centre as well as the session scene. There’s still three or four sessions a week in Camden.”
Established about two years now, how did they come to be named after an overground station? Sam answers: “We started a couple of gigs before we had a name so the pressure was on. We wanted to frame it as a London thing because my feeling was, especially if you think about America and Germany and places where we’re hoping to go gigging, people don’t understand an ‘Irish band from England’ but people do understand an ‘Irish band from London’: That’s an idea that makes sense to people. We were looking at a tube map one day when we were trying to think of names and Crossharbour was one that jumped out.”
Future gigs will see CrossHarbour playing at Greyshott Folk Club, Festival in the Park and Gate to Southwell Folk Festival as well as supporting Scottish folk band Breabach at Bush Hall in May.
CrossHarbour play the London Irish Centre in Camden on March 17. CrossHarbour’s self-titled debut album is released on May 12. For more information, go to: www.crossharbourmusic.com.