Matthew Crampsey and James O’Sullivan told David Hennessy about their new band Ceol. Created by Nathan Carter and Liam McKenna, the band aim to bring new life to traditional music.
Partly created by Nathan Carter, Ceol are injecting new life into folk music.
The quartet of multi- instrumentalists are from all over Ireland and is made up of Matthew Crampsey from Donegal, James O’Sullivan from Wexford, Dubliner Cathal Dervan and Kildare’s Daryl Philips.
Founded and managed by Nathan Carter and Liam McKenna, Ceol are looking to take inspiration from greats like The Dubliners and The Chieftains but with a modern twist for a new generation.
Nathan’s vision for it has been described as, ‘Ed Sheeran meets Mumford & Sons meets The Pogues’.
Nathan Carter said: “The idea came to me whenI was travelling around Ireland and seeing so many talented young musicians singing and playing in pubs every night of the week. I thought to myself, there is an opening here for a great young band who play a mix of the old folk songs with a contemporary modern twist.”
The other creator Liam Mckenna was a member of pop band Six and now runs tours for artists including Shane Filan.
Matthew Crampsey told The Irish World: “We want the traditional element to really, really feature.
“We want people to look and go, ‘Oh, there’s an accordion’. You don’t often see an accordion on stage or in big venues, or you don’t often see a bouzouki or a fiddle player.
“When you’re watching these big bands, you see them in the background but we want to bring everything very much to the forefront and that’s what we’re kind of driving towards.
“We want to get into writing our own material and that’s something that we really want to push on and do.
“That’s something that I’m very passionate about. It’s something that I have been brought up with. We’re looking forward to seeing how that goes for us.”
The lads performed their first ever live gigs supporting Nathan Carter in front of 5,000 fans over 2 nights at the Waterfront in Belfast.
“It was a baptism of fire,” Matt says of it.
“It certainly was,” adds James.
Mathew says: “I think we had done a couple of songs in the LTL Theatre in Drogheda a couple of weeks before that but I think we did two songs that night.
“But then suddenly we had, ‘Lads you’re on for 20 minutes the first night and 30 minutes the next night’.
“And it’s a strange thing because when you’re with Nathan’s crew and stuff, because they’re all doing it so much and it’s so professional, there’s an eerie calm about it. You’re not that worried. Everyone is just used to doing this.
“You don’t even really have time to be nervous because you just walk out and the lights are on and you just go, ‘Right lads, let’s give this a go’.
“It was just insane.
“I think we’ve all kind of been preparing to get to that level and then suddenly we were just at it and it was like, ‘Just go out and enjoy it’.”
James adds: “I think it’s a couple of days after you’ve done it you realise the size of what you’ve done, ‘Jesus, we did that the other night. Holy moly’.”
Matthew continues: “The first night the restrictions were still in and the second date, the restrictions had lifted.
“It was an absolute privilege to be at a venue that size.
“There was like a sigh of relief among the whole crowd that they could get up and dance and hug each other and shake hands and have the craic.
“And I’ll always be grateful that I was at that venue on that night to witness that because that was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life.”
How is it working with Nathan and Liam?
Matthew says: “We’ve a great dynamic. Liam and Nathan, are quite similar to us.
“Whenever you’re involved in something like this where there’s additions, you’re always wondering, ‘Where will this go?’
“Or, ‘How can this go?’
“Whereas I think very quickly everybody realized that we’re actually on to a good thing here.
“We’ve been very lucky the way this whole band came about.
“Obviously having the lads Liam and Nathan behind us just gave us a massive advantage.
“We’ve only done a couple of gigs together and then to be able to play The Late Late Show, it’s some experience so we’re very lucky.”
Founded in mid 2021, after a nationwide search, Ceol released their debut single The Mermaid in January.
They launched the second single Beeswing last Friday with an appearance on The Late Late Show.
Within 6 weeks of joining TikTok they have amassed over 1 million views, making them Irelands fastest growing debut music artist on the platform.
Matthew says: “Beeswing was kind of like a favourite song of all of ours.
“We do kind of a different version of it. Ours is a little bit faster than the Richard Thompson version.
“Other artists that have released it have kept it very, very slow and stuff.
“If you know the song, the story is the song.
“The story is the be all and end all and it is a fantastic story.
“It’s a love story.
“It’s about someone that finds love and one person wants to settle down and then the other person wants to keep roving and raving and traveling and stuff which is probably one of the reasons it’s so popular among young people, especially over here.
“I think it is down to the fact that people find it relatable because there are relationships that break up because one person wants to stay at home when the other ones wants to try and find a better life and so on.
“It’s just perfect, the build up through it, the story, the tension, the release the resolve, everything: It’s just a perfect song.
“We wanted to really keep the story intact but also give an element of life to it that we haven’t seen anybody else doing.
“We’re looking forward to playing that live.
“We hopefully did a justice to it with our version of it. That’s all I’m hoping.”
Neither Matthew or James were strangers to Nathan before this project and James reveals Nathan had intimated he may call him for a future endeavour.
James says: “I knew Nathan from a different project a couple of years ago.
“This was actually a few years ago, but I think he knew what he was doing.
“He kind of just said, ‘We might give you the shout at some stage if this thing’s comes into fruition’.
“And here we are now.”
Nathan saw Matthew playing at a venue in Omagh although they would have known each other as Matthew’s father Shunie Crampsey has written songs for big names including Daniel O’Donnell.
Matthew says: “My story of joining the band was one of those weird ones.
“I’m not a massive believer in fate but it was definitely a matter of the right place at the right time because I was supposed to be playing a gig in Derry and the guy that had booked me had to cancel me that night.
“And then I woke up the next morning with a message from a guy in Omagh like, ‘Man, you hardly know anybody that’s free tonight because I’ve just been let down…’
“And I was like, ‘I do know someone who’s free. I’m free’.
“Just then when I was on my way up, he rang me, ‘Just a heads up. Nathan Carter’s in here on a stag do’.
“I was like, ‘No bother’.
“The restrictions were still in place at that time so nobody could really get up and dance. The set was a bit more relaxed, which I think probably did better for me.
“Nathan came up to me after and told me about it.
“I was supposed to go down and do the addition process and then I ended up getting COVID that week.
“So I couldn’t go down and it was just one of those things.”
But Nathan had been sufficiently impressed to not let Covid get in the way and Matthew was invited to join anyway.
“But luckily then just from kinda chatting to the boys and telling them that I was interested luckily it came together and now we’re on the Late Late Show.
“It’s been a mad couple of months.
“I’m really thankful the restrictions were in place because nobody could get up and dance. They weren’t allowed to do anything. The poor fella getting married didn’t get much of a stag do to be honest, because he was just sitting there. He couldn’t do anything.
“But it worked out great for me.”
James has a similar story.
James recalls: “I was meant to attend the auditions and due to a situation which was out of my hands, I couldn’t make it on the particular day.
“I kind of wished everybody the best of luck with the project and was just, ‘Thanks so much for even considering me’.
“And then I got a phone call the next evening and it was Liam and Nathan.
“They said, ‘Would you like to come up and meet the other lads in the band and have a jam on Tuesday? See how you get on?’
“And it’s kind of rolled from there really.”
Matthew continues: “I often think back to that. I had never met the boys before.
“We were brought into a room and there was just a camera there.
“We didn’t even know each other and it was a really strange situation.
“I don’t think people understand.
“But you go into a room like that and you have Nathan Carter sitting here going, ‘Right lads, just play a couple of tunes yourself’.
“You’re sitting there for 20 minutes going, ‘What do we want to play here? What do we do?’
James adds: “A bizaare scenario absolutely.”
Although the band had five members initially, Daragh O’Connor could not commit due to his studies.
Matthew continues: “I think the five of us, and the four that we are now, fell into a rhythm from the moment we met. We kinda clicked.
“And I’ve been involved in many projects before where that is not the case so we were very lucky.
“It’s the one thing that I have been involved in where there’s no real person in charge.
“We’re all very, very evenly matched. And everyone’s like, ‘Oh, well, maybe we could try this’.
“And it is a group decision to go, ‘This works and this doesn’t’.
“And that was very much the case from the very, very start.”
James adds: “Everybody brings something to the table. Everybody has an idea about something. And everything everybody suggests is always solid ideas.
“Everybody would have a lot of experience gigging for a number of years on their own and with various different projects so I think when we all met up, we kind of knew what was what, and we could just get in and get it done.”
Matthew mentions Covid interfering with his ability to audition, and the pandemic has not made it an easy time to form a band.
James says: “I think we’ve all had COVID now.
Matthew says: “It’s a hard time to put a band together but the one thing that it has done is it has made each one of us very, very grateful for where we are and what we have.
“It’s so funny, when there was chat that we might get on The Late Late, I remember we were on a call, and we were like, ‘A year and a half ago, I was sitting in my house with no gigs, no nothing. Now they’re talking about maybe putting us on The Late Late Show’.
“So it’s been a massive rollercoaster but we’re very, very grateful that we’re getting the opportunity and we’re very, very grateful to Liam and Nathan for everything they’re doing to help us get the chance to do it.
“But we’re also more than ready for it and I think we’re all chomping at the bit. I just can’t wait to get going.”
Unsurprisingly considering the family he is from, music came to Matthew early.
Matthew says: “I was bred into it.
“On dad’s side, the majority of family are musicians, and it shapes you from a young age.
“I started playing professionally when I was 15. I’m 27 so that’s 12 years of gigging.”
James’s story is different although his father is also well known but in a different field. His father Jim O’Sullivan won ten All- Ireland boxing titles, the first to ever do so.
He says: “I knew I wanted to be a musician when my older sister, who played concertina, won our local Fleadh and my grandparents gave her €20.
“I saw her getting the money and I said, ‘That’s what I need to do now’.
“So I got a fiddle, learned how to play it and here we are.”
Did his father ever encourage him to box like himself? “No, not at all. My entire life my parents only ever told us to follow our dreams and do what your heart’s telling you to do so that was music and I would be nowhere without my parents really.”
Matthew, from near Malinhead in Donegal, went to North West Regional College in Derry and then Leeds College of Music.
“I spent a year in Leeds and it was one of the most bittersweet years of my life.
“It was a great year but I also missed home and stuff as well.
“I would definitely like to bring the lads to Leeds.
“When I moved over there, obviously I’d never been that far away from home.
“I couldn’t get over that people were so nice and so civil and it was just so much like being at home.
“I haven’t been back since, obviously with the pandemic, but I was actually looking at flights the other day to go back for a couple of days.”
Matthew may get the chance when the lads play Craic by the Creek in Manchester. The lads have a busy summer of festivals ahead of them.
The single Beeswing is out now.
Ceol play Craic by the Creek in July.
For more information, click here.