When you’re born and raised in a place like Lakefield, Canada, ancestral roots reach rather deep. And when those roots also tap into a rich Celtic heritage, it’s only natural that music will play a major role in your life. That is how it was for champion step-dancer Julie MacDonell and fiddle player Frank Leahy. And after music brought those two together, it was only natural for their sons and daughters to inherit their parents’ musical souls and want to share their music with the world.
Schooled in the finer side of fiddling by their father and enlightened into the magic of piano, song, and dance by their mother, Leahy first came to prominence as the Leahy Family Band. The 11 children spent the better part of their youth touring Canada and the United States, but the wide age range ensured that life’s callings began to exert a conflicting influence. And as the elder siblings entered college, the Leahy Family Band went on hiatus.
“It was originally all 11 children who traveled and performed and we did that for about 15 years,” explained guitarist Maria Leahy. “Because we were working so very hard musically, the time came when we needed a rest. And it’s not until you lose something or you’re away from it that you realize just how important it is. After the break we started up again, but things took a different direction. We had a chance to establish a new identity for ourselves and we became much more serious about what we were doing. We have now been playing music together in this capacity for well over 10 years.”
With an Irish father and Scottish mother, Celtic tradition is at the core of Leahy’s music, but so are the country and folk influences they grew up around. But despite what one might expect from an ensemble that consists of eight brothers and sisters who were raised on a farm and play Celtic-tinged roots music, there is nothing traditional about Leahy—the sound is a swirling mix of styles, full of freedom and endless possibilities.
“Although we are influenced by many musical styles and genera, we have developed our own sound,” said Maria. “The category that the music we make is put into is not what’s important. We approach each piece of music with the same attitude. And respect plays a big part in it too. Music is about sound and timing and space and rhythm and words and communication. … And no matter what we are playing, the respect and reverence is the same.”
Leahy has released three critically acclaimed albums and spent almost as much time on the road as at home, which is no small task for a group of eight siblings. The upside to such a rigorous schedule is the opportunity to see diverse perspectives from around the world, and that in turn ensures an endless source of enthusiasm, even when recording.
“Whenever we jam or play, we always go off on different tangents and explore different things,” offered Maria. “One or two people will come up with a musical idea and then bring it to the rest of us. Everyone will start playing and it will then turn into something very different. Everything ultimately goes through the group process. But that’s not always a good thing, especially when you are recording. During our last recording we would be putting something down and then someone would want to try something a little different and off we would go on this other tangent. Which is very exciting, but it also gives you a lot more recordings to go through at the end of it all!”
4·1·1 Leahy plays UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Sunday, February 12, at 7 p.m. Call 893-3535.