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Listen to Gaelic Storm Here!

It’s been a long road with stops around the world, but somehow band leader Patrick Murphy found home.
Gaelic Storm Blows Into Annapolis
It’s been a long road with stops around the world, but somehow band leader Patrick Murphy found home.
by Paula Anne Delve Phillips
Gaelic Storm toured relentlessly throughout their first decade as a chart-topping, Irish band fusing the traditional, original and world-music sounds that have made their reputation. Finally, the six musicians have a bit of time for home lives.

“It’s changed over the past two years,” says Patrick Murphy, focused and calm amid the bustle of the Hard Bean Café at Annapolis City Dock. “ROAR, the new
management, has it fine-tuned where we tour four weeks, then we take three weeks off. So that gives you time to recuperate.”
After nearly a month off, Murphy, Gaelic Storm’s front man and singer was upbeat and cheery, despite going on the road the next day. “It’s a lot easier than when we started,” he says. “Youth is certainly an advantage.”

The change is timely. At 44, guitarist Steve Twigger, originally from Coventry, England, is about to need a home life. “He’s getting married in October,” reports Murphy. “She’s from Cape Cod, and they just moved to Austin, Texas.”

Murphy, however, calls Annapolis home.
Flirting with Annapolis
“I’ve been to all 50 states and this is my favorite place in the United States of America,” Murphy says. “I’ve got a lot of friends here.”
            So, in the old days, if the band had a day off, Annapolis was where they came — even, he says, “if we had to drive out of our way.

“I was here last October for a friend, John O’Leary’s, wedding. Last September we had four days off after the Pittsburgh Irish Festival, so we came here. I also came here for New Year’s Eve.”

After a huge New Year’s Eve party in D.C., Murphy stayed with a friend. “We were driving to a Baltimore Ravens game on January 3,” Murphy recalls. “He told me the prices of homes around here, and I couldn’t believe how cheap they were — I mean compared to Los Angeles. I was back out within four weeks and had a place bought in Annapolis Overlook.”

‘I’ve been to all 50 states, and Annapolis is my favorite place,’ says Patrick Murphy. ‘I’ve got a lot of friends here.’
An Annapolitan for less than a month, Murphy moved into an empty condo. He had left just about everything in L.A., donating to Goodwill and Salvation Army.

While it was good friends and a friendly housing market that beckoned, there is a Susie from Anaheim who sustains the appeal. Working in the boating industry, she expects to be spending a good bit of time between Annapolis and Ft. Lauderdale. A storm on a recent voyage left her with a broken leg, so her plans may need some altering.
It’s About the Music
Murphy’s life is still very much about the music. “All of us are getting better, year after year,” he says. “Steve Twigger is good at coming up with good ideas to improve our show. You have to remember, we started it for a laugh. Now, it’s a full-time business and we have employees: the agents, the management, the record label.”

For Gaelic Storm’s fifth album, the band was excited about working again with Nashville producer Mark Miller (Garth Brooks, Emmylou Harris, Mary Black) at the legendary Jack’s Tracks studio. The album includes songs written with a number of Grammy winners, Nanci Griffith among them.

Describing their unique sound, Murphy looks to instruments they play and those they don’t. “We have all the different world drums,” he says. “We don’t have a bass. Twigger does a great job of playing guitar with a lot of bass lines and chords. So straight away there, you’re missing the bass and you’re missing the drum kit.”It’s a sound that drives crowds to delirium.

A second difference is the songs they play. “We’ve taken a lot of traditional Irish songs and freshened them up,” Murphy told Bay Weekly.

The result is that Gaelic Storm is not easily pigeon-holed. Their recordings are placed in the wide World Music category, and the band plays diverse venues.

As at the Columbus, Ohio, Irish Festival — the second largest Irish festival in the world — where Murphy reports that “both the rock stage and the traditional stage wanted us. So they ended up putting us one night on one stage and one night at the other.”

Gaelic Storm continues to break attendance and merchandising sales records while pushing beyond the world-music genre through the same side door taken by many Nashville cats. ROAR — the new management team that’s given them lives beyond music —has bases in Nashville, where they last recorded, as well as New York and Los Angeles.
Building the Storm
When Patrick Murphy sat eating his first chef’s salad on the shores of the Pacific Ocean at 21, he had no plans to start one of the most successful Irish bands in the world — or to appear in any movie, let alone the modern classic Titanic.

With a sister and brother (the family is comprised of four of each) already in the L.A. area and his school career pretty much kaput, he simply meant to get on with his life. That meant tending bar to pay the bills and making music for fun. He plays spoons, harmonica and accordion.

In the decade since, the darkly handsome young man and his band have recorded five top-selling albums. The fifth, How Are We Getting Home, on Lost Again Records/MRI/Ryko, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard World Music charts. The Irish lad from Cork City has toured the world many times over, meeting heads of state as well as Hollywood bigwigs.
Murphy’s grandfather burned peat for heat in his house in County Mayo. But his father served in the U.S. Army from 1959 to 1961, and his mother was a flight attendant for American Airlines before the family returned to Ireland.

Entering St. Finbarr’s Seminary at age 11, Murphy was greeted at the office door by Friar Wright, known these days as Finbarr Wright of Three Tenor fame. He later spent three years on the University College Cork campus, but on a steady diet of Guinness, his life was going nowhere fast.

Deciding that a change would do him good, he came to L.A.

It was 1992. At a bar called Apples, he met Steve Wehmeyer, who sang and played bodhran and digeridoo. “So, we started the band, ’cause I was bored out of me mind,” recalls Murphy. “For the next couple years, we just played every two months or so, just for something to do.”

When a friend opened a bar called O’Brien’s, Murphy was hired as bar manager. A second O’Brien’s opened in Santa Monica in 1995. “That was where I met Steve Twigger,” Murphy recalls. “It was opening day and Twigger dropped by to welcome the new establishment, saying, I’m delighted you opened a bar half a block from my apartment.”

Twigger was working as a graphic artist, but Murphy and Wehmeyer heard that he had played guitar in rock bands. When their guitar player left on St. Patrick’s Day in 1996, they asked Wehmeyer to sit in, offering him free beer. “It would have been a shame not to have Irish music on St. Patrick’s Day,” says Murphy, who had booked his own band at O’Brien’s for the holiday.

“I was the only person that would hire us,” Murphy recalls.

The new lad had a friend, Shep Lansdale, who sat in on djembe, a West African drum.

“What happened that one hour on stage was phenomenal,” Murphy recalls. “We had a great time on stage that night.” They think of that night as the birthday of the band that had limped along until the right mix of players came together. Thereafter, Gaelic Storm played weekly at the Santa Monica O’Brien’s.

Which is where the music director of Titanic heard them. Before they knew it, they were making music and appearing on screen in a movie. After that two-week gig, they claimed the luck of the Irish. The group went full-time in September of 1998 with its nucleus the five musicians who had started at O’Brien’s and performed in Titanic.
Winds of Change
The core of Gaelic Storm remains strong, but a grueling touring schedule took its toll. In 11 years, nine fiddle players came and went. The first person to break away was Shep Lansdale.

“He was 54 and had been on tour for 17 years with other bands like The Doobie Brothers and Toto,” explains Murphy. “He had finally settled down in L.A. and had his own studio. Gaelic Storm had just been something to do, and before he knew it, we were in Titanic and he was back on tour. So he really didn’t want to quit the band, but his wife and house and daughter were back in L.A. We’re still very good friends.”
Enter Ryan Lacy.

Now an international touring group, Gaelic Storm wanted a drummer with an interest in international music — not someone on a drum kit. Twigger thought of music schools. At the Los Angeles Music Academy, they found Lacy. Lacy had two degrees, one in hand drums and one in sticks.

Current fiddle player Ellery Klein also has equally strong credentials, holding a degree from the University of Limerick in Ireland. The band brought her down from New York City to audition at Rams Head.

The latest addition, Pete Purvis from Ontario, plays the Highland pipes and is a Grade I piper, no small achievement. “He just joined the band in November,” says Murphy. “After 14 years of marching, he’s a little stiff on stage.”

As of June, 2005, Gaelic Storm is —
  • New Annapolitan Patrick Murphy on vocals, spoons, harmonica and piano;
  • Steve Wehmeyer of New York on bodhran, vocals and digeridoo;
  • Steve Twigger of Austin on guitar, mandolin and vocals;
  • Ryan Lacey of L.A. on drums and other percussion;
  • Ellery Klein of Massachusetts on fiddle;
  • Pete Purvis of Ontario on Highland pipes.

You might catch Patrick Murphy and Gaelic Storm on Cinemax, which periodically airs a mini-documentary about the group. We caught them on television last week in a special airing of the film Titanic. There they were, rousing the passengers in the steerage section, in the scene that ignited their career. On June 11, the band played at the Potomac Celtic Festival in Leesburg, Virginia, and on June 15 at the Columbia Arts Festival. The band travels far and wide before landing again at Rams Head in Annapolis on September 6 and 7.

About the Auhor:
Paula Phillips is an arts promoter, radio producer and writer. Her last story for Bay Weekly was “The Blues Are Back” (May 20, 2005).

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