St. Patrick's Day is again upon us and soon all the Irish and would-be Irish will be celebrating in traditional ways. Americans have really taken good old St. Pat to heart, snakes and all, but I wondered how the holiday is celebrated back on the Old Sod.
So, I asked the most Irish person I know, Peter McGowan, the leader of the band Finn Mac Cool. McGowan, a Valley resident who is only nine years removed from the Emerald Isle, says the holiday is more of an urban thing back home.
"In the cities, there are major parades, but in the country, there's not much going on," he said. "There's not much attention paid to it. Americans keep these traditions alive."
Finn Mac Cool, a Celtic-influenced rock band, is busy this holiday weekend. Friday, they're playing at Molly Malone's over the hill; Saturday, they're at Ireland's 32 in Van Nuys; Sunday afternoon at the Raven Playhouse in NoHo; Sunday night, Club Sirius in Beverly Hills; and Monday, the holiday itself, they'll be at Ireland's 32 again. Their busy schedule does not surprise me.
I first heard Finn Mac Cool about a year ago. I thought their tape was good, but I was blown away by their live performance. Their music blended the instrumentation of Celtic folk music with rock music intensity. All four members of the band--bassist McGowan, singer Swan Montgomery, guitarist Chris Field and percussionist Mark Griskey--were excellent musicians, their tunes were interesting and their presentation passionate. In the words of Ira Gershwin, who could ask for anything more?
Since then, the band has gone through major personnel changes. So major, in fact, that the only member remaining from the old band is McGowan himself. The breakup involved differences over musical visions, goals and perspectives.
"We've added different instruments," McGowan said. "But, musically, it's going in the same direction."
The new band consists of McGowan and three female musicians. Even before the first band's breakup, McGowan wanted to include an Irish fiddler in the instrumental mix. He finally found one in Lovely Previn, the daughter of internationally renowned composer-conductor Andre Previn. He then added Myrna Neuberg on percussion and Marta Collier on Irish penny whistle. Additionally, he still writes much of his music with his wife, Kathleen.
For McGowan, who began his musical career in a family band with six sisters, working with all these women seems like going home.
"It's wonderful, they've all been lovely," he said. "They're more in tune with this type of music."
McGowan said that, considering Ireland's history, it's not surprising that Irish music is often about tragedy and struggle, but it's also about survival.
"That's the strength of the Irish people," he said. "It's the same passion expressed in the music which kept the culture alive."
McGowan said his vision has always been to bring Irish music to contemporary audiences, but without losing its original passion.
"I do try to make the music more accessible, without swaying too much to that side," he said. "But I do love taking the songs in a different direction than people expect."
* Finn Mac Cool plays Saturday night and Monday afternoon at Ireland's 32, 13721 Burbank Blvd., Van Nuys, (818) 785-4031; Sunday afternoon at the Raven Playhouse, 5233 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, (213) 462-6844.
Fata Morgana, a band with a name rooted in Celtic mythology, will have a record release party for their new CD, "Fatology," Saturday night at the Rock in Canoga Park.
The band started out about seven years ago with the name Mirage but morphed into Fata Morgana about four years ago. Interestingly enough, Fata Morgana is a type of mirage, reflected on the surface of the sea, that's named for Morgan le Fay, the mysterious sorceress of the King Arthur legends.
Guitarist John Gregory said his band likes the name because of the imagery it suggests. He describes his band's music as somewhere between what radio programmers would call "alternative rock" and "active rock."
"Nothing glamorous, weird or quirky, we're in for the long haul," Gregory said. "Our strengths are our melodies and our hooks."
He's right about that. Fata Morgana plays its own brand of melodic '90s rock. "The song has got to grab you and lead you down a path," Gregory said. "If we can break down the wall of the industry, we'll have a good shot."
* Fata Morgana has its record release party at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Rock, 7230 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park. (818) 347-7668.