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Brighter days

Oisín Mac Diarmada of renowned band Téada told David Hennessy about having Hollywood star John C Reilly guest as a vocalist on their new album, Coiscéim Coiligh (‘As the days Brighten’).

Renowned trad band Téada have released their latest album with none other than Hollywood star John C Reilly as a guest.

Reilly has been nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his work in Chicago. He has acted for Martin Scorsese in Gangs of New York and The Aviator. He is also well known for his comedy roles that have included starring alongside Will Ferrell in Step Brothers, Walk Hard and Talladega Nights and with Steve Coogan in Stan and Ollie. He has also been nominated for a Tony Award for his work on Broadway in Sam Shepard’s True West alongside the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The Irish-American actor was the International Guest of Honour at this year’s national St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin and was recently seen on The Late Late recently sharing his renditions of folk tunes like Raglan Road.

The actor sings the classic Percy French song Eileen Óg alongside resident Téada vocalist Séamus Begley on the acclaimed group’s sixth studio release, Coiscéim Coiligh.

It may seem like an unlikely collaboration but John C’s appearance on the album came naturally from him striking up a friendship with renowned Kerry accordion player Séamus Begley, inspired by their mutual love of Irish songs.

Fiddle player with Téada Oisín Mac Diarmada told The Irish World: “It was great fun to collaborate with him. We’re not quite at the level of the Chieftains yet now- They were amazing, amazing collaborators- But this one just came together in a very easygoing way.

“John C was over in Ireland promoting the movie Stan and Ollie movie and he ran into Seamus.

“They met down in Kerry and got on like a house on fire.

“John C has a great, very genuine interest in Irish singing and he’s very drawn to that.

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“And Seamus is amazing.

“So the two lads got on famously, and they exchanged numbers and stuff like that.”

Later that year in Los Angeles, John C. joined Séamus and Oisín on stage when they finished their Christmas tour in Hollywood, and a collaboration idea for the new Téada album was born.

“I happened to be on tour with Seamus a couple of months later in America and over the few weeks, Seamus was telling me he was texting John C, they were trying to figure out if they could meet.

“And then the last show of the tour was in Burbank, which is basically kind of in the Hollywood area in LA, and John C came along, and he joined us on stage for a song.

“We had great fun with him.

“The friendships developed from there and we were in the middle of recording the album at that point.

“The issue of possibly doing a song came up, and he was all up for doing something.”

But the pandemic would hold things up for a long time.

Although the rest of the album was done, the band would hold fire for a ‘tantalising’ collaboration.

It would be the Spring of 2021 when John C. made it into a Hollywood studio to record Eileen Óg.

“But then with the pandemic, we couldn’t travel over to America to do something with him and obviously, he wasn’t going to be in Ireland.

“It was one of those tantalising things that was nearly there, and everyone wanted to do it, but we just couldn’t get it finished off and we had the rest of the album pretty much done.

“So it was like, ‘Should we bring out the album? We’re not doing much, maybe we should just put out the album?’

“But it was such a tantalising thing to have John C and he was so up for it so we eventually said, ‘Look, however long it takes, we’ll wait’.

“Then my wife Samantha Harvey, who plays with the band, is originally from California so that kind of gave me an ability to get into the US during the pandemic because obviously nobody from Europe was allowed in unless you’re married or if you’re a US citizen or whatever.

“So myself, Samantha and our baby boy headed over to Samantha’s family at some point and then while I was there in California myself and John went into the studio and we got the guts of it done there.

“That was brilliant. Very exciting.”

The song blends John C’s rich theatrical vocal talents along with Séamus’ nuance.

It was the 100th anniversary of the death of Percy French, who is buried in Formby, that inspired the idea of doing one of his best known songs.

“That’s what kind of put it in my mind.

“It wouldn’t be a song that Seamus would probably sing on his own.

“Seamus tends to go for the more expressive kind of songs in general though he does have some great humorous ones as well.

“I put it to John C to see if he was up for it because I thought John C has that theatre, dramatic voice so trying to find something that would have a bit of fun in it.

“He seemed to like it, at least he was he was good enough to say he liked it anyway,” Oisín laughs.

“It worked. The two different voices are so contrasting, Seamus and John C, but they both have a bit of devilment and enjoy the fun.”

Indeed anyone who has seen John C on The Late Late or even in videos on YouTube will know that he doesn’t necessarily need a microphone and would have no problem hushing an entire pub.

Oisín has seen it firsthand.

“We actually went to a pub with him after that gig I was talking about in Burbank. And that was exactly what he did. He stood up and just suddenly started singing and the place goes quiet because he’s got that huge projection, he really does.”

Teada, Co. Sligo on Monday, 26 October 2009.
Photography by Brendan Duffy.

John C has been working in film for decades now with films such as Boogie Nights, Magnolia and The Thin Red Line being among his early work.

“It’s great to have the support of people out there in different fields that support the music and bring other people into it as well.”

Is this something Oisín has seen? People taking more of an interest in the album due to John C’s involvement? “Maybe the curiosity factor is there but at the same time, I wouldn’t be under any illusions over it anyway.

“This particular music has a worldwide following, but at the end of the day, it’s not a mass market thing.

“I think there’s a lot of people out there who would genuinely enjoy traditional music if they gave it a listen.

“You’ll every so often meet people that say, ‘I never realised the music was so good. I never had a chance to listen to it properly’, and stuff like that.

“I think while traditional music has its core audience, it’s a good thing to be trying to reach out to other people, because there are people waiting to be brought in to the fold.”

Could John C appear on another song for the band or was it a one time thing? “He has a great love for Ireland.

“He is mad about Ireland.

“Who knows what will happen in the future but I don’t think it’s one of those collaborations that’s just a gimmick or whatever.

“He has a very genuine love for Ireland, and the music.

“So you never know what can happen.”

What if he asked the band to appear in one of his films? “That would be gas.

“We’ve played on a few soundtracks, but it’s always been off camera.

“Maybe we have good faces for off camera,” he laughs.

“Working with Seamus Begley has been an amazing, amazing honour.

“It kind of touches on what this tradition offers, has offered to me all my life.

“When I was younger, I had such great times with so many different generations and right up to musicians playing in their 80s, which is so inspiring to see people just carry the music and carry the love for it all the way through the lives.

“Playing with Seamus and being on the stage with him and just being in his company has been such a privilege and he’s definitely one of those characters that in a lot of ways I’m not around anymore.

“He is born entertainer, he just feeds off people and whether it’s just sitting down having a chat and talking to people or singing a song or playing the music, it’s just beautiful to see.

“We’ve had marvellous times with Seamus. He really is a living legend.”

The album’s title Coiscéim Coiligh translates as ‘As the Days Brighten’.

“Given the times, it was very, very fitting, and I suppose, in general Irish music has been brightening all of our lives for generations.”

On the hardship of the last two years, Oisín says: “What I found weird was just not being able to actually focus on planning for the future.

“That was the hard thing because you have to be thinking, ‘What are we going to be doing next year and the year after?’

“But that was just sucked out of you, maybe it’s a little bit of laziness too when you say, ‘Okay, what’s the point of planning for next year because it might not happen’.”

With things opening up again, the band are looking forward to a busy summer of music.

“We have some lovely festival gigs coming up in Ireland now over the summer.

“I think we’re getting back into our stride now and there’s plenty going on, it’s going to be a crazy summer. It’s going to be a great summer musically, I think, in Ireland.”

Téada have toured all over the world appearing as a frequent headliner at major music festivals throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Africa, Russia, the Middle East and Australia.

Highlights include a 30,000-capacity stadium concert in Brittany, along with performances at Penang World Music Festival in Malaysia, Edmonton Folk Festival in Canada, Harare International Festival of the Arts in Zimbabwe, and Rainforest World Music Festival in Borneo.

In 2014, the band performed to 40,000 people during an extensive 7-week tour of Japan / Taiwan, and continue to have a strong touring presence in the United States, where Téada has toured actively since 2001.

“In the early days we covered an awful lot of ground in America and it was such great fun going to the various Irish festivals, soaking up that summer atmosphere in America and exploring the country.

“You couldn’t ask for better fun with a group of lads. It was fantastic.

“Then over the years since, your mind would probably go to the more unusual places that you’ve travelled.

“We did two great trips down to Africa over the years and a marvellous tour in Asia, seven weeks in Japan and Taiwan, which is unbelievable.

“It’s a blessing really to have been able to do it.”

The band has been established since 2001 with their eponymous debut album coming two years later.

Does it feel like they have been going for 21 years? “It doesn’t, it doesn’t at all.

“We’ve had the band now for most of our adult life really, I started the band fresh out of college.

“It’s been there, sometimes in the foreground, sometimes a little to the background.

“It’s been wonderful, but it’s like life in general. I can’t say I started off with a vision of doing this 20 years later.

“But I suppose when you’re young, you’re just living in the moment. That’s what being in the band was. The moment has continued for 21 years, but it’s marvellous and a privilege, I have to say.”

Will they still be doing it in 21 more? “I’d like to think we would be.

“Over the last 21 years, our musical tastes definitely came from being very in awe of a lot of the older traditional music.

“Let’s face it, that’s the culture of traditional music. You’re brought up learning from the generations. You don’t just jump in and start creating something new, that isn’t the way.

“You kind of grow and you start to assimilate what has been there, and then I suppose you hope to get to a stage where you might do something a little original or add to it in your own way when you assimilate it.

“That’s very much part of the culture and that has been a big part of Téada .

“We’re always looking back.

“The Chieftains made all this possible in a lot of ways, they started it.

“And over the last 50 years in Irish music, there’s been them amazing bands in my own neck of the woods. Dervish are trailblazers as well. And Altan, and Lunasa, and Danu.

“There’s been a lot of great bands.”

Coiscéim Coiligh –As the Days Brighten is out now.

For more information, click here.

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