Adam Shaw spoke to a Celtic trad band that takes its namesake so seriously it is made up of members drawn from different Celtic countries.
These days the Viking ruler Ímar is known to historians of the period as King of the Norsemen of all Ireland and Britain.
An impressive title, indeed, and history shows that he, along with his father, held power in Dublin, the Isle of Man and northern Scotland. He might not carry the same weight as Erik the Red, Harald Hardrada or Sweyn Forkbeard but his legacy does live on; in the form of a Celtic trad band.
The Glasgow-based five-piece collectively have roots in the lands once occupied by the man who gave them their name – something which has given their sound its own identity.
“It’s very important to preserve the rich musical traditions across the Celtic territories,” Cork-born uilleann piper, flautist and whistle-player Ryan Murphy said. “Music, along with language to an extent, reminds us all of a shared history and cultural past.”
The group met while separately performing on the Glasgow folk scene having all grown up listening to trad. Whether it was family members or people in the local community who introduced them to music, the thing that tied them together was Celtic trad.
And while two of the band are Manxmen – fiddler Tomás Callister and bouzouki ace Adam Rhodes – one hails from Suffolk – bodhrán player Adam Brown – and another from Scotland – Mohsen Amini – it is Ryan’s native Ireland which, for the time being, dominates the sound.
“It probably identifies most with Ireland just now. We have included some old and newly composed Manx tunes with music from Quebec, Scandinavia and Scotland in our set as well but the Irish influence is definitely the strongest,” he explained.
As an Irishman, he might be biased, but it seems as if it is more of a coincidence – in addition to the fact that Ireland churns out more trad offerings than most – that this is the case. These details are arguably insignificant and what Ryan prefers to focus on is the success and progression Ímar are experiencing. He and his bandmates continue to promote their shared backgrounds and have expressed delight at seeing the trad scene thrive across the UK and Ireland.
They recently released their first album, Ímar, and this is something which he ranks as a personal milestone in his career.
“I think the highlight of the whole journey so far is having our debut album completely finished and ready for release for this year’s Celtic Connections festival,” he said.
Also the success of our video launch and opening the 2016 Cambridge Folk Festival, but the album trumps both for me.”
It represents the latest achievement for an up and coming trad band from the British Isles and Ryan believes it is important for the industry to continue to support its fresh talent.
“From what I can see in both the UK and Ireland, the music is just as popular as it ever was,” he said. “There are hundreds of events, festivals and sessions happening across both countries all the time.
“And there seems to be an abundance of new acts creating new music within the genre all the time.”
This strength means there are plenty of opportunities for the band to perform and they gain extra enjoyment from playing in front of their ‘home’ crowds.
As Ryan explained, while there is lots to be said for branching out and experiencing new things, sometimes the best opportunities are right on your doorstep.
“It’s always best playing closer to home. I love touring in different countries and exploring new places as we travel but nothing beats the audiences here at home,” he said.
His new home, of course, is Britain, though Ireland will forever be his true motherland. He noted how, such is the life of a professional musician, that it is a struggle to get back as frequently as he would like. But fortunately, his life in Scotland isn’t too far removed from what it was like growing up and he admitted that sometimes he doesn’t even realise things have changed.
“To be honest, being Irish in Britain is very easy,” he said. “Sometimes I forget I live in a different country. There are always different musicians from back home passing through and the diaspora is quite big here in Glasgow.
“I hear Irish accents all the time around the city centre so I never feel too far from home.”
This is just one example of similar cultures and communities coming together. The best, in terms of his own experience, comes from his band.
If things carry on as they are, with support from trad fans across Europe, he and the rest of Ímar might soon be seen as the new musical rulers of the Celtic lands.