Christmas is not likely the first association you make when you hear traditional music from the great green isle of Eire. “We’ve been doing a kind of Irish Christmas for the past five years,” said Benny McCarthy, band manager and button accordion player for Danú, who spoke to The Santa Barbara Independent from his home in County Waterford, Ireland. “We initially thought, ‘Oh no, that’s not our thing, you know — it’s commercial.’ But, we did [a tour] in 2008 across Canada, and it was just so enjoyable. It was a very different tour. There was a different spirit about it compared to a March tour, St. Patrick’s Day, an Irish month, if you like.”
Next year will mark the 20th anniversary for the award-winning ensemble. The core of Danú formed after the 1995 Festival Interceltique de Lorient in France: Dónal Clancy (guitar), Donnchadh Gough (bodhrán), Daire Bracken (fiddle), and McCarthy. In 2003, the lads invited beguiling County Kerry singer Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh onboard as lead vocalist. Danú’s albums and shows alternate instrumentals and songs. “Yeah, it’s a great mix,” continued McCarthy. “People relate to songs. If we sat down playing jigs and reels all night — to somebody that doesn’t really understand it or follow it, it would probably seem a little monotonous. It’s all very happy, you’re dancing around, and it’s fun. Then you sing an Irish ballad, in Irish language — it will just break your heart.”
Southern California is not alien to Danú, who performed at the Hollywood Bowl in 2012 and at the Live Oak Music Festival in 1998. “That was a very memorable festival. My god, those people there, they really know how to enjoy themselves!”
“The listener is actually as important to the occasion as the musician. It’s a very social music in that sense, and it’s always been about that, always been about people around, listening to the music, or singing with the song. That’s one of the things, I suppose, that’s kept the Irish music very strong.”
“That’s what put us thinking about ‘The Gathering.’ That’s the big thing about Ireland, especially around Christmas — it’s all about the people gathering, and the people coming from wherever they are.”
Danú, A Christmas Gathering will be at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Friday, December 12, at 8 p.m. Call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.