SAN MARCOS — Unlike most bar bands, the Paradise Street Band has no use for the latest Top 40 hits.
Instead, its repertoire includes traditional Irish ballads like "Whiskey on a Sunday" and "Finnegan's Wake"; an assortment of 16th- and 17th-Century English jigs and reels, including "The Rover Reformed" and "The Fine Companion," and two Irish harp tunes written in the 17th Century by blind composer O'Carolan, "Come Give Me Your Hand" and "Sheebeg Sheemore."
"These songs are so different from the music you hear today on the radio," said Catherine Espinoza, who founded the Paradise Street Band four years ago with her husband, Patrick, and another couple, Jim and Theresa Hinton.
"They're so much more simple and innocent," Espinoza said. "They evoke feelings of merriment and beauty, and tell tales of love and enchantment in a charming, poetic sort of way that you just don't find anymore.
"Over time, too many of these songs have been forgotten. So our primary goal is to present them as faithfully as we possibly can, just as they were originally played hundreds of years ago."
To accomplish this goal, Espinoza said, she and the three other members of the Paradise Street Band have mastered half a dozen old-time Celtic instruments.
She plays the Irish harp, which is still used today by classical musicians; the Celtic harp, which produces a more resonant, almost bell-like sound, and the pennywhistle, which has long been the national instrument of the Irish.
Her husband, Patrick, plays the Irish drum, or bodhran, which is made of wood covered with goat skin and produces a deeper, more hollow sound than the modern snare drum.
Theresa Hinton, who is Patrick's sister, plays the recorder, the pennywhistle and the Irish drum.
Jim Hinton, who arranges the band's music, plays guitar and mandocello, a sort of baritone mandolin.
In many instances, Espinoza said, the Paradise Street Band enhances the old songs by adding vocal harmonies or writing new lyrics.
"A lot of these songs were originally sung by only one person, so the vocals were pretty raw," she said. "But because all of us sing, we're able to add four-part harmonies and come up with a fuller, richer vocal sound.
"The words to some of the tunes have gotten lost over the years. But because the melodies are just so great, we make up new words. That way, at least part of the past lives on."
The Paradise Street Band also performs some original compositions written by Jim Hinton, Espinoza added. Among the favorites is "I Remember Erin," which talks about "how beautiful Ireland was when there wasn't any fighting and warring, and when poets could wander freely throughout the land," she said.
"Jim's songs fit in very well with the old ones. They're visionary, but they're also reflective. And since he's written dozens of songs over the years, we're able to constantly update our repertoire to keep things fresh."
The roots of the Paradise Street Band date to the early 1970s, when the Espinozas and the Hintons shared a house in Carlsbad.
"We were all fans of the Incredible String Band, which was one of the earliest pop bands to revive Celtic folk music," Espinoza said. "And realizing that this fascinating, poetic type of music even existed made us want to play it ourselves."
For the next decade, she added, the two couples listened to "every record of Celtic music we could find." They learned hundreds of old songs, and taught themselves to play the traditional instruments.
In the meantime, the Espinozas began playing local folk music clubs as the Two Magicians, while the Hintons did the same under their own names.
In January, 1983, Espinoza said, their shared love for Celtic music led them to give up their separate careers and concentrate solely on the music of Merry Olde England as the Paradise Street Band.
Since then, the quartet has appeared in nearly a dozen nightclubs around the county, including Drowsy Maggie's in North Park, where they play every Saturday night, and the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, where they'll be Sunday along with Alan Stivel, an internationally known master of the Celtic harp.
They have released two cassette albums that have sold nearly 3,000 copies around Southern California. They have marched in the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade downtown, been guests on Channel 8's "Sun-Up San Diego" and entertained audiences as far away as Las Vegas as part of the touring Steve Powers Crafts Festival.