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.